|Lavina, Canto 6: Return to Halyptus (Part 2 of 2)|
by Julian X  /  poetry  /  30 Sep 2007
As they approached the small town of Halyptus,
Lavina’s father, having gone days without sleep,
shouted over the horses back to her:
“There was one other that I saved.”
Lavina heard but did not understand, and asked him to repeat.
“I managed to save one other, besides you.
It was after I’d joined the king’s guard
but before I’d joined those who took girls
from the harem to King Cesinare.
One of the other royal guards had just died,
and he’d left no wife or family of any kind.
The guard’s own servants had cared for his infant child,
but now the king wanted it cared for by another guard
and that guard’s family – it was the will of Cesinare,
or so we were told, though Cesinare by then
couldn’t be bothered with anything.
The child, I learned, had itself been
one of the infants in the nursery,
a child of Guyesp farmed out to his guards
when his brother threw the nursery’s mothers
back into the harem. I’d learned all that only then.
You must remember that it had been some time
since I’d left your mother in Halyptus,
and still I’d never seen you, knew not if you lived.
I took pity on the child, just one year old.
I thought it should not suffer for its father’s sin
and volunteered to take it into my own household.
The commanders of the royal guards
liked that I lived so far away:
Guyesp’s blood would be spread in this fashion,
and they thought Cesinare would be pleased
if he could take his mind off the harem to think of it.
And so I went home for the first time,
carrying with me a baby boy, a new child
for your mother, who could no longer have them
and had birthed only you, our one daughter,
who’d been taken from us – who, until the night
I stole you away, could have been dead,
so far as we knew.” He paused.
“His name is Michael.”
They rode back to Lavina’s old home,
and her mother, who looked much older than Lavina recalled,
threw her arms around her lost daughter
and cried and cried and cried.
“I knew you weren’t gone,” she said, letting
without embarrassment or even thought
the tears fall unwiped from her face.
“My daughter,” she affirmed, her arms tight.
“Your horrors are over. I can’t… I can’t imagine
what you’ve been through. I don’t even know
if I want to know. But I love you
and you are always welcome here.”
Lavina’s mother also cried
when she embraced Lavina’s father,
saying nothing but radiating thanks.
Lavina came inside, and there saw a young boy
in his first few years of life, running around and falling
down. She knelt and met her adopted brother
who she’d never known nor imagined,
and, as she traced Michael’s tiny face,
she thought that she was touching Guyesp,
touching some unknown harem girl
with whom she’d once lived.
Those were awkward but wonderful days.
For a time, Lavina was kept indoors, away from the town’s eyes,
but, after some days, her father took Lavina
to the church in which she’d been baptized,
and there demanded she confess her sins.
“I have none,” Lavina replied.
Her father put his arm on her shoulders
and told her, “We all have sins.
Did they have a confessional in the harem?”
His daughter leered at her, saying “of course not.”
“Then you have much to confess,” he told her.
“As do you,” she told him. “Daughter,
I have confessed my sins in Triemte
and will do so again. But I am not the subject.
Your salvation is.” Lavina threw off his arm:
“And what, father, would you have me confess,”
she began, her voice echoing in the tiny stone structure
in which townspeople were already watching
and whispering. “That I was raped?
That I loved a woman? That I licked her cunt?
That I loved the warmth of her breasts on my face?
That I watched her soul animate her loving eyes
and knew that I was not alone? What is it,
dear father, that you think so weighs upon my soul?”
Her father stood for a full second, thinking
in vain of a response, before he hit her.
Her head shot to the side,
and he suddenly apprehended the eyes upon him.
“We should leave,” she told him, and they did.
On the way home, her father said not one word,
but let his daughter speak.
“Guyesp should never have taken me,
but he knew your daughter well
and I came to love him once he was gone.
I did not rejoice at word of Cesinare’s execution:
he was mad, as you had heard, but better
than Anarolyni, who alone deserves the scorn
you heap so unmixed and pure upon his predecessors.
The harem was my home, for better or worse,
as your house was once my home.
It could be sad, but there were wonderful days.
I am not the country girl you raised.
Perhaps I am a girl of the harem
and ever will be. But
the Church has no place in the harem;
there is no need for it there.
There is only need for love, for companionship,
for hope that one will not be called,
nor hope to become a favorite of the king,
nor simply to not to be killed.”
The two were arriving at his house,
so her father gestured to it and told her,
“This is your home, Lavina.”
“No,” she replied, her head hung low.
“This is a place that existed best
in my memory. Thank you
for rescuing me. I owe you my life.
But I am leaving.” “Daughter, you cannot!”
her father said with shock.
“How will you survive? Where will you go?”
Lavina shrugged. “I don’t know.
that I can.”
Her father stood mute, and he could see
that she was, in her way, older than him.
Lavina went inside and kissed her mother,
who cried and begged the man not to let her go.
“She’ll be back,” said the father.
Lavina knelt and talked to infant Michael,
knowing he understood nothing. And then,
she said goodbye to her father
and her crying mother together.
“You were good parents,” she said.
“I hope the three of you live long and happy lives.”
The mother wept and begged, but the father said again,
“She’ll be back. She’ll be back.”
And he continued as she walked out the cottage door,
then down the bumpy country road
and at last went out of sight.
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