|Lavina, Canto 12: The Courting of Lavina (Part 2 of 2)|
by Julian X  /  poetry  /  30 May 2008
From that day forth, all was different.
The king still called Lavina from the harem each night,
though now he shared the day’s events with her,
seeking her council, talking idly but deeply.
At Lavina’s urging, Naharim showed the harem with gifts,
and as soon as they realized their own position not in jeopardy
from the king’s preference for Lavina,
the harem began to open up to her,
and she grew friendships there, too numerous to recount.
The king kept his wives, and at times partook
of the sex of other women, though
Lavina spent more time with him throughout the day
than any wife or any adviser.
To those who whispered she had too much pull,
the king said only that she gave good council
and was a harem girl, nothing worth the jealousy.
In time, Lavina bore the king a child,
then another, then another, and saw them grow,
learning from Jafrezen and other instructors.
Prince Galehmad, who had delivered Lavina to the king,
eventually fell out of favor, with rumors stirring
that he had foolishly sought to depose the popular king.
The prince went into exile and died, a few years later,
in a cottage deep in the kingdom’s countryside.
After several years, King Naharim announced
that Borheya’s king would be visiting Bahtud.
Naharim had arranged the visit, hoping
it would please his lover. Lavina awaited
for king’s arrival for months, asking many questions
but refusing precious few answers:
details were scant about old Borheya’s little realm.
When the king at last arrived, after months of travel,
it was with so little procession and fanfare
that Lavina felt embarrassment for her old kingdom,
knowing others in Bahtud would judge him
and offer cruel barbs behind his back.
Lavina was present at the court when Naharim
received the other king, who was smaller in stature
as well as in power: this king was still an adolescent.
His assistant introduced him as King Michael,
and the King Naharim went so far as to introduce him
to Lavina, saying that Borheya’s kingdom was known there
and that, indeed, the court already had a member of that kingdom.
As the foreign king approached her to shake her hand,
Lavina saw his face and knew at once
that it was the same little boy her own parents had adopted.
Lavina held her tongue, but was allowed an audience
with King Michael later in the day.
She told him that she could guess that he had been adopted,
that he had been raised in little Halyptus,
and she described the house, and his adoptive parents,
in great detail while he grew more and more quizzical.
When she was through, he asked her how she knew
these things, and she said that she was Lavina,
the king’s sister through adoption. He threw open his arms warmly
and thanked God for such luck as hers.
After she’d told him her tale in brief, he’d told her his:
how the ruthless King Anarolyni was killed by his own military,
leaving no children to inherit the crown.
Illegitimate royal children had been farmed
out to the palace guards under King Cesinare,
but Anarolyni had systematically tracked them down
and put them to slaughter. It was, Michael now told her,
only because of her that he had survived to become king.
Had she not suffered in that harem, he said,
their father would not have gone to Triemte to rescue her,
joined the royal guards, and been in a position to adopt him
when the guard who’d taken him had died.
And so, through kidnapping, death, and the awesome power
of unpredictable fate, had Michael been spared to unite the kingdom.
“How are mom and dad?” she asked.
“Dead,” he replied. “But of natural causes.
He went first, but she got to see him assume the throne.
In fact, she’d moved into the palace and died there,
in Triemte.” “That was nice of you,” Lavina observed.
“I’m very glad for her,” she added. “It was the least
I could do for her,” Michael replied, his words covering
the deep appreciation of a life demonstrably saved.
Lavina thought of how young little Michael had been when she’d left,
of how much time had past, of how old she was,
how much she’d grown up, how much closer to death,
and of her own three children, which she promptly summoned.
Michael greeted them happily, and as he knelt
to speak to the youngest, Lavina recalled her goodbye words
to the young adopted boy she’d left behind and smiled,
knowing life at base unfathomable, a game of the gods.
“We haven’t done too badly for two children of Halyptus,”
Michael observed. “We have Guyesp to thank for it,”
Lavina admitted. “If not for his lust, his audacity,
or for Jafrezen, an instructor here who, many years ago,
first described the harem to an intrigued Guyesp
while on a stately visit, I wouldn’t be here, nor you,
nor these three sons. Truly, as we say here, God is great.”
“God has a sense of humor,” Michael offered, smiling.
“A cruel one at times,” Lavina confessed, “but redemptive.”
Michael stayed for several days, dining and talking with King Naharim,
talking with Lavina and her three children about Halyptus,
about his realm and their parents,
in all the intricate detail of childhood recalled at length.
After many days, Michael and his men took their leave,
over Naharim’s stately objections, and said his goodbyes.
King Naharim and Lavina shared many years of happiness,
and had all the pleasures and the pains of watching
their three children grow and marry,
before dying at old ages. Naharim died first,
mourned throughout the kingdom. His successor, first son
of one of his noble, local wives, knew well Lavina’s place,
and cared both for her and her three sons,
who lived with their wives in the city of Bahtud.
Jafrezen retired after Naharium’s death, and using
his copious funds to see the world, and its many changes,
all over again. He’d died looking at the ocean,
further west than he’d ever been,
of a heart attack, an old man.
For her part, Lavina lived out her days in the harem,
imparting to the new king’s girls the wisdom of an old woman,
sharing her life story with the few interested,
listening to that chirping curiosity, the bird of gold
that Naharim had given her and still that never failed to work,
and leaving as she liked to visit with her sons.
She thought some days of her parents,
and hoped her mother had died happy,
that she hadn’t grieved too much for her wayward,
once-kidnapped daughter, and instead praised
her adoptive son, the king, and her own luck;
she thought of brave Ishtanni, killed by the matriarchs,
and whether that had really been her head, now preserved
only in dim memory, held aloft on the pike as Isabel fled;
she thought of Namibaku and her man,
whose name Lavina had never learned, and hoped
they’d found love, that she’d relieved herself of her jealousy,
to partake of their fortunate escape.
She thought rarely of the villains, the dead royals,
the sailors and their captain, the tribesmen,
the warrior women, the slavetrader and his translator.
Spurred by those old tales told to girls who still bled
between the legs, she thought most of Isabel
and hoped to see her soon, to introduce her
to Naharim, and smile together without burden.
She died tending to the harem garden.
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