|Lavina, Canto 3: Cesinare and the Harem (Part 1 of 2)|
by Julian X  /  poetry  /  23 Sep 2007
King Borheya was forty-nine when his son Guyesp
married the daughter of King Hironamti,
cementing the allegiance of the two kingdoms.
Borheya had ruled for six years, following the death
of his father, the king, and the earlier death,
in childhood, of his older brother.
Borheya, too, had been sickly, even as a child.
At twenty, he’d married a young girl,
the daughter of one of his father’s barons.
She’d bourn him five children: the first
was a girl, Sevanna; Cesinare came second,
and Borheya had been overjoyed, at his birth,
to have a son and heir at last;
Guyesp came next; then Maldinni,
the second daughter; and finally the youngest,
Anna, who was only thirteen
when she watched her brother
marry the princess Isabella
in the largest, finest church in all Triemte.
Sevanna, Cesinare, and Maldinni had already been married off
to the sons and daughters of local landlords and nobles.
And so, when the possibility of an alliance through marriage
with the Hironamti clan arose, Guyesp had been chosen
to play his role for father, city, and state.
For nearly a year before his son’s wedding,
Borheya had been unable to rise from bed;
many thought it would be his deathbed.
Arranging the union between his own line
and that of Hironamti
had been his last major effort.
To his sadness, he had not even be able to attend the wedding,
needs requiring him to rest well, assured
of this royal blessing upon his son, his inheritor, and his line.
When news came of Isabel’s demise
from a particularly deadly strain of flu,
she and her husband not yet married a month,
Borheya became despondent.
Her body had been burned, with several
servants who had also died ill,
to prevent the contagion’s spread.
King Borheya asked his nation for prayers
and thanks for his son’s continued well-being.
He had the sad word sent with his condolences
to King Hironamti, father of the beautiful Isabel.
The good king did not know the truth:
that his son had invented the contagion and had ordered
his servants burn some servant girl in place of Isabel,
nor that the need for dead servants to prove the contagion
had provided Guyesp with an opportunity to purge
his palace of any hint of disloyalty –
nor still did the good king know
that his daughter-in-law was, at the time,
licking his secret concubines’ excrement from the floor
lest she once again be beaten.
No, King Borheya could not know:
he no longer had the means to know,
sick in bed and dependent on his sons
and his system of servants
to convey to him information.
Borheya died, sick from grief as well as lifelong illness,
not long after he learned of Isabel’s demise.
Cesinare, known for his piousness
both inside his family and without,
assumed his father’s place,
and was crowned in the same church
where his brother had married the fated Isabel
not two months before. Any such transition
is fraught with risk, but most accepted Cesinare.
One who did not was the baron Anarolyni,
who saw the opportunity to seek power for himself,
or at least concessions from the crown,
and to this end publicly disparaged Cesinare’s ability.
Anarolyni seized upon the growing rumors and reports
from the countryside that the king’s brother had wedded
innumerable women, fine innocent country lasses,
and must be keeping some sort of secret harem.
The powerful baron helped spread and increase these rumors,
charging that Cesinare tolerated the seraglio –
suggesting that, if all the family line were not contaminated
with such dastardly drives and instincts,
then the good King Borheya had been a fine king indeed,
but his sons were not of the same cloth.
Cesinare dismissed the rumors, refusing to believe
his brother would commit such a brazen crime,
and for a time the new king preoccupied himself
with moving from his princely palace
into his father’s grander, titanic dwelling.
He had with him his wife and their two daughters,
and they went about redecorating the old man’s varied rooms
while Guyesp’s defenders asserted the whole story
too ridiculous to be true, and that satisfied a few –
“If you’re going to commit crime,” Guyesp in private said,
“do it grand, so grand that they’ll strain to believe it.”
But as time passed, and the rumors and attacks
by Anarolyni continued, King Cesinare had to respond.
He began with inquiries that, in time, confirmed the missing girls,
then invited Guyesp for dinner so that the king
might ask his brother directly.
It was thus just over a year after Guyesp had formed the harem
when Guyesp not only informed his brother the king
that the rumored harem did indeed exist,
but promised to bring Cesinare to see it the next day.
In doing so, Guyesp had risked his brother’s wrath,
and he knew his brother as a good man, but he trusted
in his brother’s reason and the fact that they were kin:
nothing would be gained by confirming such a family crime.
Moreover, he trusted in the awesome rightness
of the harem itself – that all men understood in silence
not to disturb such a collection of delights,
wondrous enough to augment the world in secret.
Guyesp led the king to the balcony the next afternoon,
and from there Cesinare witnessed a most beautiful sight:
an interior garden, with tall trees and innumerable flowers,
in an even larger courtyard suspended beneath an enormous vault.
In the garden played some two hundred and twenty-eight
of the most beautiful women he had ever seen:
they danced and played and talked by the pond;
they sung and walked and caressed each other
with wild abandon. As Cesinare scanned the landscape,
he saw not one but two early afternoon orgies.
A girl of perhaps fifteen, beautiful enough to make men cry
merely to see her, was lying on her back beneath the tree,
legs spread up and out into a “V,”
while another beauty, gorgeous from the rear,
licked her and caressed her inner thighs;
two others lounged by this girl’s prostrate, working head,
playing and laughing as the girl on her back
reach upwards and grasped their breasts,
their faces, and necks in the throws of ecstasy.
“Is this not the most delightful scene ever beheld?”
Guyesp asked his brother after some time.
With a lump in his throat and eyes unwavering,
Cesinare admitted it was so.
“Can any deny that my culling of these women
was a good thing, to see them assembled so,
to merely survey this beautiful thing?”
Still surveying, Cesinare shook his head in silence,
adding, entranced, without ever looking away,
“It is a marvel the likes of which I could not dream.”
Guyesp put his hand upon his brother’s shoulder,
looked him in his still-fixated eyes, and said:
“But I could dream it. It was my dream.”
Cesinare continued to stare, and then observed:
“They are, each in them, a beauty
the likes of which stir men to action
and poets to their verse, or rock to become sculptures.
But taken together like this…
it is breathtaking. The eyes, the mind…
they cannot take in so much beauty at once –
the possibilities! I feel as if I have dreamed of this place
all my life, in all my dreams as a man
and as a conqueror, a prince, a statesman, and a king.”
But then Cesinare noticed one girl in particular.
“Good God, is that,” he stammered, then continued:
“That woman, she is the splitting image
of your departed wife.” He expected
Guyesp to say that she’d been selected for that reason,
perhaps to soothe a wounded heart, to ease a loss.
But Guyesp was honest, and brutally so:
“She is, my brother. Isabel did not die
but is preserved here for my use.”
Cesinare at last could turn away
and stared at his younger brother in shock.
“What’s more, do you remember how obstinate she was?
The heckling, the prissiness, the demands she made?
No, you could not imagine it all, but still –
you’ve some inkling, yes? Well, dear brother,
you shall find that the Isabel below
is another Isabel entirely.”
Guyesp turned to leave, to take Cesinare down
to visit the seraglio. But the king,
having seen this wondrous sight,
naturally coveted his brother’s harem
and thought his brother would not share
what had been so assiduously assembled and protected –
or that, if he would, jealousies would inevitably arise.
As staring at a gorgeous being one desires
can make a man lost in pondering futures,
sex and love and marriage, all;
how he might become enslaved to her by lusty need or love,
or find a million annoyances enclosed within such beauty
like birthmarks, scars, and stretch marks hidden under those robes;
how he and she would long for others, drift apart,
and all the forms of disease and ruin she might bring him;
how one is taunted by the impossibility of compatibility
even in looking at her, speculating as if time stood still;
so Cesinare, staring down from that balcony,
had already played out a thousand scenarios
within his mind: none ended without Guyesp
killing his brother, not wanting to share
the luscious women, or perhaps
after a dispute over some most prized girl,
and taking the crown as his own,
exhibiting the same deviousness
with which he had built this garden.
No scenarios ended otherwise, except
those in which Cesinare, fighting over some girl
or realizing his brother’s murderous plans,
killed Guyesp first. And so,
when Guyesp turned to leave, Cesinare
drew his curved knife from his belt
and plunged it into his brother’s back.
Guyesp’s back spurted blood and Cesinare,
his face mad with need, plunged down the blade
two more times, blood pumping out in rhythm
with each pump of the crooked brother’s cleft heart.
Guyesp lay dying, face just before the balcony,
blood bubbling up against his lips.
The dying prince whispered through the blood:
“I would have shared.” He knew at once the motivation.
And that was all. Prince Guyesp was dead.
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