|Lavina, Canto 9: On the Island of Gyneclia (Part 2 of 2)|
by Julian X  /  poetry  /  23 May 2008
The warriors stood their prisoners up,
and Lavina saw Ishtanni’s thigh
bleeding copiously, pouring
down her leg, coating the flesh. They
punched Ishtanni and slapped her, shouting
at her unintelligibly while she cried. Then one stabbed
her breast with her spear,
opening it up. Ishtanni, bound, could not move her hands
to stop the bleeding, and when her legs gave way,
they held her aloft, shouting at her angrily,
then hitting and beating her more.
“Shut up!” Lavina told her friend.
“I think they want you to be quiet.”
Ishtanni stifled her cries to an occasional whimper,
and the punches that had tossed her head about
now lessened. Lavina could not stop the tears
to see her friend’s breast so torn apart.
The two then were marched, tugged forward violently
when they lagged behind,
all the way back to the encampment.
Along the way, Ishtanni’s thigh and breast bled horribly,
and Lavina could plainly see her friend’s pain
as each time a step renewed the piercing pain in her thigh.
But Ishtanni suppressed her ache, fearful of new wounds.
Once, along the march, Ishtanni collapsed,
and the warrior women had begun again
to beat her and shout at her. Lavina begged her friend
to stand, to walk, to not provoke their captors –
but Ishtanni had not responded quickly enough,
and so Lavina’s pleas led her to be punched as well.
At length, Ishtanni had gathered the strength to continue,
and at last they’d made it back to the base of the bay.
Every woman and girl in the tribe, it seemed,
had gathered to greet these two outsiders
as the tribe’s warriors pulled them in like fish,
gutted on the hook. A thousand faces stared:
old grandmothers, their faces like rags with folds,
mothers with their children,
little girls curious to see the two nude strangers,
bruised and bloodied, tugged into camp.
The two were brought before the largest hut,
where a massive woman sat fat upon a throne of reeds,
elevated by a dozen women holding skinned, carved branches
than ran horizontally beneath the throne.
Another dozen stood all around this queen,
fanning her with large, thick, verdant leaves.
Approaching, the warriors kept their heads low, respectfully.
The two were dropped ten feet before the throne,
and Ishtanni fell to her knees, one bloody from its thigh.
The warriors instructed their prisoners in shouts,
then grew angry and pushed Lavina to her knees,
then pushed both their bodies down into the sand
and both their hostage heads down into a bow
of deep and ritual submission.
The prostrate warriors talked with the queen,
not daring to make eye contact.
She asked them questions, and they responded.
Then one pulled the bound, nude, and bloody Ishtanni
up by the hair and carted her away.
The queen waved her finger and had Lavina’s head brought upright,
then asked the girl from Halyptus questions.
“I do not understand,” Lavina replied repeatedly,
but they beat her anyway
when the queen was not satisfied by the captive’s response.
This time, it was Ishtanni’s turn to plead for her friend,
and, in doing so, the bleeding girl broke
into language after language,
hoping one would stick.
When she tried the clucking tongue of the neighboring island Firanet,
one of the warrior women stepped toward Ishtanni
and began to converse in that patriarchal tongue.
When the other warriors saw this parlance,
they stopped beating Lavina and dropped silent.
After some time, the warrior listening to the bleeding Ishtanni
translated for the fat queen, who waved her hand.
In response, a few of the warriors escorted
the two prisoners and their translator
out of the queen’s presence and down the beach.
As they walked, Ishtanni spoke again to her friend Lavina:
“She says her name is Namibaku
and that she knows the language of Firanet,
the island from which we’ve just come.
We are to be taken to a doctor, thank the gods.”
They soon arrived, further down the beach
at the edge of the bay, at a woman
who made quick inspection of their wounds.
The doctor spoke to Namibaku, who translated the diagnosis
into the tongue of Firanet for Ishtanni, who in turn
translated for Lavina: “She says I’ve lost much blood
from my thigh and my breast. The solution –
no! These women are primitives – worse than Firanet!”
“What is it?” Lavina asked her only friend.
“It seems that… they believe in threes…
three is a kind of sacred number to us.
And so, to heal me, they propose a further wound –
a third. They’re – she’s asking where I want it,
though she… she thinks the foot best…
three wounds in three spots… what horror!”
“You must resist, Ishtanni!” Lavina pled.
But Ishtanni hung her head low as she replied:
“What does it matter? I’ll die soon anyway
without real treatment. Better I should die faster
from all the wounds combined
than suffer a slower death from the two.”
Ishtanni spoke again to Namibaku, who in turn
spoke to the doctor, and quickly the doctor set about
with a thin knife, stripping the flesh from Ishtanni’s foot.
Ishtanni howled in pain, and Lavina cried in sympathy.
The doctor tossed the skin of the foot
into the waves, and Lavina watched it dance there,
back up and down the shore, pouring pink into the foam.
The doctor spoke, then Namibaku to Ishtanni,
and soon the three, with guard, departed the doctor,
Ishtanni limping down the beach, the sand sticking
into her raw flesh.
They came to rest beneath a small hut, and there
Namibaku left them under a small guard.
“I’m dying,” Ishtanni confided, staring down at her skinned foot.
Lavina held her
and thought of that peaceful view from the rocks that morning,
of how little she’d imagined
the bay might hold such horrors.
Night fell, while Ishtanni drifted in and out of consciousness.
Torches were lit, and soon a procession of female warriors
began to march, chanting ominously.
Lavina wondered if she was not to be sacrificed –
it would not have surprised her in this place.
But soon they saw a man in their midst.
He was naked, bound by ropes,
and looked pale in the flickering torchlight.
As the chanting continued, they led him up the bay
before the obese monster of a queen.
As Lavina strained to see through the leaves,
she saw them bind this man, limb by limb,
and stretch the ropes out to nearby trees,
leaving him spread eagle, nude, and face upright
on the sand and earth before the queen.
The warriors knelt down before him
and began to masturbate him.
But Lavina detected some resistance on his face,
with its gritted teeth. Never had she seen a man
resist such gratification – rather the opposite,
and so she began to watch with confused interest.
He continued to resist, but the warriors continued to stroke,
and soon he was standing on end.
With this, the plump queen took to her feet
and tore off her gown of leaves – a motion that sent
her rolls of fat undulating. When she stepped over him
and sat down upon him,
her belly seemed to engulf half his body.
She gripped the sand and moaned deeply
for fifteen or twenty minutes
while the man buried beneath her
writhed in what seemed like pain.
At last, she moaned and stood, nude before all.
The warriors bowed in reverence
while the man looked exhausted,
more from her weight than his expense.
Then some knelt before him and stroked him again
while he resisted, and each began to take their turn.
Several women took their turns.
Then, when he seemed too exhausted to continue,
and was weeping, one warrior knelt over him
and slit his throat, spurting blood on virgin beach.
When Ishtanni stirred to consciousness,
Lavina related the whole sad tale.
“It was horrible – just horrible… worse than my own,
worse than Firanet. They take his seed and…
this should not be done to a man.”
Ishtanni felt such sympathy for Lavina,
who had suffered so much yet still felt such compassion,
that she wanted to touch her friend’s cheek,
caress it, embrace. Yet she was too weak
and knew death not far off.
Namibaku returned alone, a few hours after
the crowd had dispersed and all were asleep.
Ishtanni had a terrible fever and could not sleep,
while Lavina was roused by the commotion.
Namibaku was crying.
It was then, as Lavina watched and listened to them converse,
that she realized Namibaku had not been among the women,
neither in the procession nor the mob around that poor man.
After some time, Ishtanni, still lying on the ground and bleeding,
turned her face to Lavina to tell Namibaku’s tale.
“She says that they keep all men under captivity here.
They must each wait their turn to be enjoyed and slaughtered.
Tonight, the queen decreed the man she loves will be next.
She… she is despondent. She can tell no one
of her tribe, only the two of us.”
Lavina saw her opportunity, but felt loathe to speak,
lest she abandon her friend. Yet she knew
only Ishtanni could translate, and Ishtanni was dying.
Ishtanni watched Lavina, felt her reluctance,
and then began to speak again with the weeping warrior.
When she turned again to Lavina, she pronounced her own death.
“She says… she is willing to escape… can help you do it.
I told her we have a boat. But she wishes to go tonight,
before her lover can be called to serve and die.”
Lavina protested, but Ishtanni stopped her.
“Hush, sweet stranger. I am dead. Think nothing of me.
I died when they captured us – nothing can be done.
Save yourself, help this woman, help her lover
as I helped you. Only together can you escape.”
Lavina continued her protests, saying “I cannot leave you”
and “I won’t even be able to talk to them,”
but Ishtanni rebuffed her again and again.
“I shall not last the night,” Ishtanni spoke without moving
and without tears “We both knew the risks,
and Namibaku knows to follow you to the boat.
You don’t need to speak the same language
to paddle a canoe. Now, go.”
Lavina knelt above her friend’s head and kissed it,
weeping silently as she did,
then left with Namibaku.
They made their way to the men, held in a hut under guard.
Lavina could not understand Namibaku’s excuses,
whether she’d claimed removing her lover was the queen’s orders
or whether the guards were merely sympathetic.
It mattered little to Lavina
compared with her friend, bleeding to death on the beach.
The native of Halyptus thought of Isabel, dead
some unknown miles away
and under torture.
However it was done, Namibaku procured her lover
and the three departed. Once in private,
Namibaku kissed the man, and he returned her passion.
They spoke together, then spoke to Lavina,
but she did not understand. Instead,
Lavina led the couple through the trees and up the shore,
towards where she thought the boat lay hidden.
It took some time in the finding,
but they found it hanging still from the trees
where Lavina had left it with Ishtanni.
As they drug it down the beach into the waves,
the man spotted torches down towards the bay.
The warriors were giving chase.
The three made haste, and the man got in first,
then helped Namibaku climb inside.
With the torches approaching, Namibaku held out her hand –
not to lift Lavina inside
but to bar her.
Lavina stood aghast in the glittering, moonlit waves.
But the man swatted Namibaku’s arm downward,
and, at his insistence, Lavina was allowed
to climb inside as the torches approached.
The man paddled fiercely, knowing his life depended on it,
his forearms rippling with muscles
that he could not have kept idle long in his cage.
As the warriors neared, Lavina’s nervous eyes caught
a pole of some sort, not a torch like the others carried.
Squinting, she met the last horror that isle held for her
as she recognized Ishtanni’s features.
She could not be certain – and never would be –
but she knew in her heart it was her friend’s head
impaled upon that pike’s terminus.
The women arrived at the water’s edge.
Some rushed headlong into the waves,
while others stood where water met sand,
cursed, and threw their torches helplessly into the sea,
none reaching far enough to threaten the tiny vessel.
The swimmers continued towards the escapees,
but gave up soon enough as those biceps propelled the craft
further and further into the sea.
Now clearly in the open sea,
Lavina pointed the way:
East, away from Firanet,
towards the unknown which she sought
for no reason other than she had once decided to seek it.
The man nodded and grunted his ascent,
but his eyes were all on Namibaku.
Lavina knew his intent all too well:
these were lovers who had never known each other,
and she would have to cramp herself into the far corner
to grant them space to enjoy each other,
free at last, however tenuously,
before she could steer him towards the East.
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