|Lavina, Canto 5: Anarolyni and the Harem (Part 2 of 2)|
by Julian X  /  poetry  /  28 Sep 2007
None in the harem knew what had happened to the nursery,
nor heard from Anarolyni or their guards:
Lavina did not know her noble lover’s ignoble fate,
nor Juheimi her younger sister’s.
But when the new king,
who’d publicly purged the monarchy of Cesinare’s
reputed patricide and sister-killing and infanticide,
had finished with the nursery, he began to call
one harem girl a night
to be delivered to his bedchambers.
Anna, Cesinare’s statuesque youngest sister, had been first;
then Juheimi, Cesinare’s own daughter;
then one daughter of Sevanna, Cesinare’s older sister;
then the other;
then one daughter of Maldinni, Cesinare’s younger sister;
then the next such daughter;
then the third –
that was the first week,
and it cleared the harem of Borheya’s living relations.
None would return to the harem.
During that week, the harem-girls talked openly,
debating whether their new owner
was killing the former king’s relations.
But then the eighth, unrelated girl was requested
and failed to return.
The next day, they speculated all morning,
hoping she’d reappear throughout the afternoon.
But then came night, and with it
the ninth was escorted away.
She too did not return.
The tenth, when selected by the guards for removal,
began to kick and scream,
saying “he’s not gonna kill me too!”
The guards held her and she thrashed about
until she was beaten into submission
and dragged from the room.
And still none had returned.
Another was selected and taken away, then did not return,
then another and another and another
until none hoped anymore for any returns
and most thought the chosen girls dead.
The girls waited with beating hearts
when the guards arrived, each hoping she
would not be summoned, would not be next.
After all, where would a king keep his harem-girls
if not in his harem? – so long, at least,
as it yet had open beds, and it assuredly did,
one more bed left vacant each night.
A few hypothesized that the girls
were being released, one at a time,
pointing out what they’d heard of Anarolyni’s reputed piety.
But others questioned why a king,
wanting to release his harem,
would not do so all at once. To this,
those hopeful girls could only guess
that he wanted one night with each,
perhaps even merely asking and not forcing,
though perhaps not – though the girls
hardly cared: one more humbling
beneath a plying king
mattered little; what mattered
was the hope in this hypothesis,
since hope was a vanishing
commodity in the harem of Guyesp.
The girls who had, during Cesinare’s brutality,
come to appreciate Guyesp, even knowing
how he’d grown rougher over his year as their master,
now idolized Guyesp all the more:
most had been taken from the countryside
at fourteen or fifteen, thirteen or sixteen,
and they’d known over two and a half years in the harem –
everything before had become abstract in the memory.
Now a deep sadness, a depression of silence,
fell over the harem: girls sat in the garden
and talked idly; they played less,
frolicked together less – even their lovemaking
had become a bulwark against their uncertain future,
against their not knowing who would be called next.
The wonderland Cesinare had observed from the balcony
had died; even doing the same activities, the very air felt different.
The bedrooms were emptying.
Lavina was summoned
after over one hundred days of such summonings,
one a night for one hundred and thirty nights.
She was the one hundred and thirty-first;
young Simone and voluptuous Clarissa,
who had once pleasured Guyesp
beside and on top and beneath and inside of her,
were already gone.
The harem had emptied to ninety-five, including Lavina.
Of the twelve who’d birthed Guyesp’s children,
thrown back into the harem by Cesinare,
eight had been taken away
and had not returned.
Lavina had made up her mind to fight back,
to not allow herself to die
as she thought the others had,
to escape if a chance could be seen and seized,
even to risk death in angering the king
by attempting to escape and failing.
But Lavina knew that others before her
had professed the same and secretly planned the same,
yet there was no word of any success,
no word of any escape,
nor word of any death, any daily female execution,
nor any word at all.
And so Lavina walked off with the guards
calmly, serenely – anxious but certain
to exploit any opportunity for escape.
Three helmeted guards with swords
led her through Guyesp’s old palace,
winding through corridor after corridor,
each seemingly more splendid than the last –
corridors filled with paintings from ceiling to floor
or oriental mirrors, or trinkets and wonders
from around the known world.
At last, a guard opened a door that led
not to another room or corridor
but to an exterior courtyard.
Lavina breathed the outside air
for the first time in nearly three years.
And it was then that Lavina decided to strike:
she would get no better chance
than now that she could see the night sky
but before anyone else could notice her,
traipsing through the courtyard under guard.
She knew the odds were against her –
three armed men she would have to surmount –
but she felt that she had to take the chance
and bolted into the courtyard ahead of the guards,
who quickly gave chase.
She had not made it thirty feet before
the first grabbed her by the arm,
sending her toppling,
careening upon the cold night tile.
Lavina began to struggle beneath him, and hit him
over and over, trying desperately to stun him at least.
As she scrabbled hopelessly for her freedom,
she and her higher foe heard a scream
from one of the other guards,
though Lavina herself could not see,
her face pinned at the moment to the tile,
facing the other way. But she felt her foe
let loose of her. Looking up, she saw him pause
a single second to stare back in the night
towards where he’d come, then rush
out of Lavina’s sight.
When she strained to turn, she saw this same man
impaled on another guard’s sword,
gasping strangely, and he seemed
to Lavina to be almost hovering there,
stuck with the sword, before he collapsed,
sliding off the blade to the cold tile court.
It was then that Lavina saw the third guard,
twitching and bloody on the ground
not far behind the killer,
who presently approached Lavina.
The harem girl scrambled to her knees,
thinking of running, but the approaching soldier,
his blade still bloody, called for her to stop
and took off his helm. His daughter
recognized him almost immediately,
even in the dark after nearly three years
so far away from where he’d ever been.
His face was filled with wrinkles she’d never seen,
and hung on his cheeks and below his jaw
like the floppy skin of some dog,
he’d aged so much since last she saw him.
Saying nothing, she ran into his arms
and he held a daughter who to him too had changed,
grown tall, become a woman before her time,
and now carried herself far differently
than that girl he’d seen married
and taken away in Guyesp’s carriage.
Their sentimental reunion, however, was short-lived:
“We have little time, Lavina,” he informed her.
“We must escape at once.” When she began to ask why
and how he had come to be there, he told her only
“there’s no time” and “we must hurry.”
They made their way to a waiting carriage,
the horses already drawn,
and Lavina’s father pushed her inside.
She saw her father thank the man,
putting his hands on the man’s with heartfelt warmth,
before her father took the reigns and drove her away
into the night and away from the royal palaces.
“You should sleep,” he told his daughter.
“We’ll talk when we’re safe
and further from prying eyes.”
Lavina found sleeping a hard task,
her heart beating so, and her head
filled with thoughts both of the harem
and the life she’d left so long ago.
When she awoke, the sun had dawned
and they were already in the rural outskirts
of Triemte. Her father waked her,
and he had her stand outside the carriage
to stretch their legs before continuing.
They had yet to begin to converse
when Lavina spoke:
“Can’t we rescue the other girls?” she asked.
Her father looked down in seriousness.
“I would if I could,” he replied, “but
it was hard enough to rescue you.”
“What will happen to them?” she asked.
“Let me tell my story,” he replied.
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