This story is a work of fiction. It contains descriptions of violent behaviour, as well as descriptions of moments of physical affection. If you find this type of story offensive, or if you are underage and it is illegal for you to read it, please exit now. All characters are fictional and in no way related to any persons living or deceased. Any such similarity is purely coincidental and uncanny.
This work is copyrighted by the author and may not be reproduced in any form without the specific written consent of the author. It is assigned to the Nifty Archives under the provisions of their submission guidelines but it may not be copied or archived onto any other site without the direct consent of the author.
I do not know how well received these chapters are. The only clues I get are in emails from readers. Do you like the story? Hate it? Have liked it since its emergence? Feel it is getting too obsessive? Not Tarantino enough? Think Evendal should take a vow of silence? Let me know. I can be contacted at Bookwyrm6@yahoo.com
Special thanks to Rob for editing.
Copyright 2003 Kristopher R. Gibbons. All rights reserved by the author.
This chapter got delayed, as before, because of medical concerns: a two-week hospital stay related to my Crohn's. Blame any incoherence in the tale on Prednizone.
SongSpell 38 To Double Business Bound
Claudius: Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will:
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect.
Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 3, lines 38-43
The King bent to bestir Minfal, when the Moonchild's reedy voice halted him. "Swordbrother, a little bird tells us you have a whelp of your own."
He glanced up with a lurch, having assumed the Ancient of the Sea had fled to colder and darker fathoms. The comment startled him as well, until he guessed that she was being precise, not whimsical: Some avian intercessor from Surn-meddil, flesh and breath sacrificed to initiate a bridge between two realms more disparate than Evendal's own was to the Moonchild's, must have played messenger.
With no other observer, the sea-creature chose to forego accommodating the royal sensibilities. Evendal straightened up to see a facade that could pass for a collection of different-size hemispheres with blue and white striations radiating out from the highest point of each dome. A thick, quivering, nearly transparent ectoderm covered all but the tentacles drifting with each ocean wavelet, and a manubrium(212) she forced above water. The King thought her oddly beautiful, and deceptively fragile-looking.
"Yes, I have. Are you...?"
She interrupted. "We can endure. We presume that your companion will remain stunned until we depart, remain unaware of us, and so live to labour for you through yet another tide(213). We shall... relax enough to cover our eyes. That will help filter the Lurer's brilliance. You and your elders never admitted sustaining an elder self still able to remain supple after they had yielded up all territory."
"I do not grasp your meaning."
"When an elder self gives up his domain to his successor, the elder becomes stiff, unbendable. That is true for you sand-crabs and for us. Or so your Eldest once told us."
She was referring to death, though the rigour she described, in humans, was only temporary. A dead king claimed no dominion, but relinquished it to his heir. Then it dawned on Evendal. Surn-meddil. She was curious about Surn-meddil.
"Your most recent elder self," she meant Menam, "can he... talk with you as we do?"
"Nor can our elder selves. But the elder who attacked us even as your shell left the mountains is of your pod and kin to you, and yet many previous selves old. We have been communing with him since the soft-rock anemones sought to infest our home a second time." By mountains, she signified the shore; and 'soft-rock anemones' signified Nikraan(214); that much was simple to correlate.
This meant that Surn-meddil had been 'talking' with the Ancient of the Sea since the Nikraan's second and third failed attacks, centuries ago. That as Evendal was leaving the pier, Surn-meddil had begun to 'speak' with her.
"So why have you never herded him toward us? It is less damaging to our extremities for us to convey our thoughts, feelings and perceptions to him than to you. We thought him rogue, fled from his reef, when first he spoke with us."
"He labours as you do, for us, as guardian of a lake of ice nearby." Evendal did not know how to convey the concept of a forest, an adequate oceanic corollary. "Also, he preferred that his children's children not attack him for every minnow's fright, agitating to him over every grain of sand in their food. Few of our elder selves knew of him, at his choice."
"As is still our choice, also. An arid-dweller of yours violated our covenant, encroached upon our home, this past season. Did you know?" She spoke of Mar-Kestlen.
"We learned. He was brought to Our justice, and lives at Our sufferance. His tongue wags only at Our will. And his loins have been rendered sterile, he shall not pass on his froward nature or the memory of any anomaly he might have seen."
"Yet he breathes." Was that a protest? An objection? Or merely an observation she wanted confirmed.
"Stone-still, the shoal would quickly forget him and the wages for his disobedience. Breathing and moving, he reminds the simple and too-young to caution. And bears the mark of Our authority over him."
"Wise," was all the comment that drew. "Your deep-water elder has prepared the whelp you would present to us. Why?"
"I would provide an heir."
"Do not try to glide under our tentacles, clown-fish. Why do you not drop him into our demesne yourself, as your elder did you?"
"We did not ask it of our most elder self, he offered. Attack him over the 'why', not Us."
The Ancient of the Sea rotated deasil and thrust up another manubrium.
"What did our elder advise?" the King enquired, feeling utterly frozen.
"Waiting for another tide."
The Lord of the Thronelands thought on this. He could fathom no valid reason for his own celerity to present Kri-estaul to the Ancient of the Sea. The opprobrium of such as Aldul? Drussilikh's uncertainty? Wytthenroeg's newfound propriety? He knew better. "We agree," he decided.
"Then let us return you to your carriage."
"When do you begin your search?"
"We set our will to the hunt when your vassal first gave over his person to us. The link to his son's earlier condition helped. We all are in agreement that he is not within our holdings nor retreating during these cold tides to the more buoyant waters."
This son of Alekrond's was not sailing the salt-water seas.
"So quickly you have determined this?"
"We told you. We are the confluence of all waters, when it suits us. But as we ourselves thrive on the miniscule creatures of this vast plain, we commune most readily with like elders. The elders for the heavier waters, moving or still, are of lower estate. They have not the sense or memory we maintain. But we shall prevail on them to reflect our ways back to us as best they can."
"We had best begin back to Our shell," Evendal opined.
"Why were you so careful of your whelp?" she reiterated.
"He is not hale. At this moment he would not survive the dunking I had endured."
She bobbed in silence for a time.
"That manner of presentation originated eleven of your elders ago. Begun by an anemone that would not tarry, would not truly meet with us as sovereign to sovereign. He smelt of your kin, but also of fear and fury."
"Kahalam," the King guessed. "He never wanted to be lord."
"Want? Were we what we wanted, we would be one of our between-beasts. One of the messengers, the sophomores. Those that need both our waters and your aridity."
"Dolphins," she affirmed. "Such levity. Daring. But none of us who guide and caretake can do what we 'want'. We would not endanger your whelp. Bring him to us when we are more alert and well fed. And keep him within the shelter of your tentacles, if you wish. While we do not understand you sand-crabs and your nurturing weak whelps along with the whole ones, we can encompass this custom in you without objection."
She submerged without ceremony, leave-taking being a human construct. If she wanted a fleeing minion to stay, she simply went after it and retrieved it or lured it.
And the boat turned about, impelled northeast, back toward Traitor's Wash and the Seal's Down. To Evendal's bemusement, the raft proceeded in a steady press towards its parent ship. Being securely held and propelled from beneath did not guarantee comfort, a sense of security, or calm. So long as the Ancient remained close by, Minfal would remain oblivious to the resistance and percussion of waves, to the damp cold wind, and to any perils. Evendal was not so fortunate. And moving against the current of a waxing tide added to the rough ride.
The sun had cleared the horizon and many people had mastered their own boats well enough to unwittingly form a tight barrier between Sceptre and Witness Cays, blocking his way back. Most folks caroused in various stages of celebration. Others rowed and shoved, determined to stare a captive royal in the face or taunt one for the feeling of power it could give. All mulled or bullied about for a better placement to watch the ocean's slow work on someone they did not know.
The array of cockleshells, barks, sculls(215), punts(216), and coracles reminded Evendal of the gulls at a pier: scavengers waiting for the offal from a day's catch. Unable to signal his boat's motivator to any good purpose, he braced himself for a collision with the first milling cluster of frustrated spectators.
To Evendal's relief and dismay, the vagrant vessels all rammed against one another, clearing a path for him through their traffic. Cries of surprise turned to cries of alarm -- and terror for those who could not swim or float -- and then turned to shouts of outrage. Any who might recognise the royal cerements would doubtless ascribe this reckless wonder to their King's will and glamour. And remain safely ignorant of the Moonchild, their ancient cohabitant.
Looking back beyond his tender's(217) small wake, Evendal searched in vain for any passenger disgorged amidst the jumbled shallops(218): The work of the Moonchild admitted no impediment to their pact and her safety, yet treated the King like the guest he was when away from shore.
Regardless, Evendal's skiff proceeded without hesitation as he himself looked about queasily. A number of small sea-crèches had occupants working to row themselves onto Traitor's Wash, wilfully ignorant to the fact that all their exertion gained them not a finger-length.
As the King skimmed slowly near, he noted that the moss on the Wash's coral now retained a sheen of water at the ocean's lowest pause, and that Onkira had her head turned slightly shoreward gulping at air avidly whenever waves and wavelets permitted. Of Iliamarro there remained but shreds of her garb pushed up and snagged onto the bar by the vehemence of her eliminators, her bones no doubt scattered or sealed away by command. Once more Onkira lay alone on Traitor's Wash.
Anger and grim determination kept his gaze on the hapless woman, and doubtless shone on his face. Too often as a youth in the Curiae Regia(219) he had kept just such a fixed and forbidding pose in order that he might seem as watchful, chill, and impassable as his father, while behind that pose he had often wished himself elsewhere.
Not so on this occasion. Rather, Evendal struggled to examine and hold in his memory the woman's nacreous skin colour, the predominantly black-irised wildly blind stare that -- to him -- signalled a mind emptied of all but desperate instinct. The white cloth of her vestments buoyed around her at every crest and dragged her down at every ebb, the restraints roughing her ankles and wrists, scraping the edges of the outcropping into her back.
By design and convention, the position that the shackles held a criminal in forced their diaphragm forward and narrowed their laryngeal passages so that they were promptly reduced to short and shallow gulps of air that only fed the body's demand for more. Thus a feeling of choking, a panic and hyperawareness, ruled the felon(220) before any sea spray touched their lips.
Evendal fancied that, unable to encompass anything in the extremity of her exhaustion and terror, what remained of Onkira's awareness had submerged into a frantic and inescapable obsession over the ocean level rising in unhurried inevitability, and the curls of sea and spume assailing her, teasing her, foretelling their future conquest on her numb and waterlogged skin. It took fortitude to watch, to watch and do nothing as this part of his past struggled against the effects of hypothermia merely to breathe.
Despite the claims just spoken in those rites initiating intercourse between land and ocean-beings, no creature of either realm was going to scavenge this body. None would even touch her. Evendal could leap onto the Wash and fillet Onkira, and dolphins or some other sea-beast would intercede as necessary to keep any sharks in the throes of bloodlust from tainting themselves with her flesh.
Oblivious to the cordon for others, the Ancient of the Sea brought the skiff in close to the Wash, stopping it before its hull could touch. This served two purposes: The ruler above publicly set his seal on the execution while, unseen, the ruler below set her wards against the executed.
"You could not let go, could you?" Evendal asked softly, too softly for Onkira to be able to hear were she even cognisant. "You let your sense of being deprived govern your every action. You could have wielded such influence as would have satisfied a true ambition. But instead you felt keenly the lack of the titles and reverence, more than the authority. And so every scheme of yours was half-done, incomplete or lackadaisically planned.
"Did you never consider how wondrous your life could have been? Legal fictions aside, you yet had the chance to make a marriage of two peoples, had you followed your instincts and not your injured pride and aggrievement. You had your own potestatis, the potency to put Our Songmastery to shame. 'Tis why you lie here enduring this annihilation, why your choices and estate made you such a danger, a passive catalyst for degradation and maleficence.
"Fare not at all, Onkira. We grieve for the hopes Mulhassoir and Aguandit might have harboured of you, Our expectations of you when We thought you Our mother, and We accept as fitting Our own relief at your dispersement. Our burden is lightened, and a wellspring of peril to Our home eradicated."
Before Evendal had finished that last comment, his dory began moving northward again and ignored the battering of the waves until it fetched up against the Seal's Down. By the time the King secured a line from the ship, Minfal had opened his eyes.
Only after Evendal managed to press the seaman back aboard, command a rope to haul up the Sceptre, and pull himself tiredly up as well, did Minfal think to ask a cogent question.
"Where hied the captain?"
The King waited until Drussilikh, Melianth, and Surn-meddil holding Kri-estaul had clustered about him. "He is sleeping with the fish, and will return with his son anon."
"I can make nothing of your words," Minfal complained.
"Then do not try," Evendal countered. "Just know that he is hale and is assuring the succour to his need."
"You did not leave him on the Wash," Melianth reported. "Did he disembark on either of the cays?" Neither Sceptre nor Witness was safe for ingress, even at low tide.
"What have you done?" she demanded. "Do you think I desire emancipation? Return to me my husband."
"Indeed We shall. But not this moment. And do not, Our vassal, think to question Us. Had We sought Alekrond's death, Minfal would be swabbing his blood from the boards even now. If We speak obscurely or give you silence it means you have no need to know."
"He is my husband. A good man."
"We are in conditional agreement with your assessment. And We hope for him to continue being your spouse for many years yet. Did We not love and trust him We would have ventured out from the Seal's Down alone. Now We can only wait."
"Wait for him?" Drussilikh spoke up. "All of us? For how long?"
Evendal grinned, pleased and braced by the bluntness of the question. "This aspersion is not ended until the peak of the tide has passed. After midday the gentry may begin their return to land. We, however, shall remain to wait upon Alekrond's return."
Two bells passed, and a bemused Evendal stirred from the nest of cloth he had fashioned for himself and his son. Nausea at the goalless rocking of the ship made any thought of food a cruel one. He peered off portside to the dark green and black patch of Traitor's Wash, and discovered the question his restlessness had sought an answer for. Given his physical closeness and privilege(221), why had he not felt Onkira's demise? The King saw the answer struggling and sliding about on the Wash: a pair of entrepreneurs.
Two figures had abandoned their boat and swum to the rock. One had wedged himself -- no doubt painfully -- under Onkira's upper body as best he could. The second figure worked, with many loud epithets from the first, to pry the shackles loose.
"Besayle?" Evendal whispered.
"I see them," a breeze rasped, twisting repeatedly by the King's ear. "They have been under my eye for the last half-bell."
"They could not be discouraged?"
"I thought them the Moonchild's detainees once they abandoned their shell. It may be that she failed in her watch."
The King considered. "No. We think she interpreted a complaint We made, regarding her forebear, as an injunction to do no harm, to not interfere." He watched the now-raucous efforts on the cay. "No delights reward their toil?"
"None. They do not know how to accomplish their purpose. All they have done is inflict pain on each other and on the pestilential."
"They may not depart that rock. They are guilty of treason."
Grey eyes met gold in mutual chill. "How do you want it achieved?"
"I don't. But it must be done. The one keeping her head aloft made no allowance for how a body might swell in salt water."
"Breathing ones don't."
"This one could. And doubtless, were anyone to espy the body later, it would bear such scoring as to suggest that Onkira, in her mindless desperation for breath, fought to keep him under her."
"So the one is to share Onkira's agon. And the other?"
"Can you find me a decent bow, and creditable arrows?"
"Then he is tended to. Just keep his carcass on the Wash, after."
"They are two youths," Surn-meddil reported, as he handed Evendal a strung bow. "By my winnowing, siblings to Iliamarro."
The King winced. "I cannot care." He accepted a colourfully fletched arrow from the spectre, tried the string, balanced the bow as he drew, made what allowance he could for the winter sea-wind, and released. That the shot struck solid and sure, Evendal ascribed more to Surn-meddil's likely assistance than his own skill. The skewered figure fell on its side, throwing dead weight onto Onkira's legs, beyond the reach of her bound arms.
Calmly, Evendal handed the bow back to his forefather. "I dare not try for the recumbent one, Onkira could retrieve the arrow and shorten her own travail, aborting the rite and endangering all." Surn-meddil nodded his concurrence as the Songmaster gripped the ship's flare(222) and endured the stricken boy's slow, stomach-knotting todeslied.(223)
The supporting conspirator began to squirm and shout, alarmed at finding himself trapped. Alert now to the ruthlessness of the royal quarantine, no spectator made a move toward his aid or voiced a protest. Those people on the Seal's Down not involved in keeping the ship's relative position drifted back to the port side, drawn by the new set of lungs crying for rescue.
Ignoring the Guard and nobles about him, Evendal barged back through to his wide-eyed son.
To the King's surprise, Kri-estaul voiced no complaint. "Who's calling out? The ironed woman?"
"No. Another. One who thought he could restore Onkira to liberty."
"His co-conspirator is dead. I shot him down. This one must remain as he lies and suffer Onkira's fate." Evendal waited, knowing Kri had more to say.
"You sang at her? The woman you shackled? I heard your voice, but not the words."
"And the other ones, too?"
That question brought more to m'Alismogh's mind. What would happen if the aspersion accomplished its purpose, but did not encompass the twin interlopers? Would the Moonchild yet keep her wholesome predators safe from these two? For how long? What could he do to keep both realms safe should he need to act again? Prevention served all, or so Wytthenroeg would say. A coda might be in order.
You sought to spare this mother,
Like ivy, shielding what you cling to.
From durance and death you'd free her;
Like ivy, you pry at what you cling to.
Nurtured in her delusion --
Like ivy, hiding what she clings to --
Then share her dissolution,
Or like ivy, you'll kill all you cling to.
This creation(224) you strive to sustain,
'Tis ivy, starving what she clings to,
O'erhangs your hungering grave(225),
Like ivy, killing all she clings to.
Your defiance, a tossed gage,
Like ivy, conquering what she clings to.
You grip Treason, and warrant her wage:
Ivy, withering with what you cling to.
"When will it act?" Kri-estaul asked of the songspell.
"My wonder-hungry nisralur! Be patient along with me and you will see."
With no word to anyone else, the King relaxed with his son in their nest of sailcloth(226) to wait out the tide. After half a bell had passed, the shouts and pleas from the restrained youth had turned to noisy sobs that carried too well over the water.
"Papa," Kri-estaul whined, "can you not make him stop?"
Evendal had no doubt but that the young man's despair and fate troubled everyone. Some would protest the torture and death of an innocent. Some might weave a fancy of a royal vendetta(227) with Iliamarro's family -- this when the King had deliberately opted to ignore chronicled precedents and treat Iliamarro's unfortunate loyalties as hers alone. Some would take Evendal's present inaction -- his choosing to not deliver the grace-stroke -- as a sterling example of his ruthless impassibility, his indifference to suffering. Most would simply want the young man muted because his cries evoked their own unnamed anxieties and disturbed them as Onkira's could not. They had gathered and braved the winter waters to watch a criminal -- a foreign traitor and monstrous evil -- die, not to witness two daring Thronelanders die first.
Suddenly there was no entertainment in this drawn-out execution. Any illusion these needy spectators had that this occasion would reinforce their own virtue and puissance was shot down with the felling of the first youth. And no satisfaction could be had in how the second lad vented his distress, with a terror and a persistence that haunted.
"I could, my son, but I shall not. It is the only gift I can offer him. This execution is not for to make Osedys feel itself virtuous or superior, or relieved of responsibility in any way. Our people have already abused the Rosette to that purpose. It is to safeguard Osedys from an insidious and baneful influence. That wretched boy's dreadful clamour assures that this execution shall not be sequestered to a nebulous half-memory of mixed pleasure and guilt, or recapitulated with callous glee. His caterwauling makes it difficult for these spectacle-seekers to so easily forget that flesh-and-breath no different from their own is dying today.
"Oh, Kri-estaul! Had those two come to Us and pled for their sister's life, they might have succeeded in that ambition. But treason was their intention from the first, for their kinswoman's fate did not move them as strongly as Onkira's."
Melianth intruded. "Might it have been that they did not anticipate their sister's so swift death? And thought her peril the lesser?"
"Only if they were deaf," Evendal refuted. "The Criers read out her sentence, along with Onkira's, and left written notice on every Post."
"She might have been spared?" Kri-estaul asked.
The King shook his head. "She could have continued breathing but like Nehaleidda, requiring permanent vigilance."
"When first I met her, she claimed fifteen years. That was a lie; she has twenty years, and has sat at Onkira's right hand for six of them. Much of her public and private aspect -- how she thinks and allows herself to feel -- is fashioned and informed by Onkira's and would be a distillation of my foster-mother's. The ordeal, the sifting that would free Iliamarro of that maleficence would also cripple her in a similar manner."
Kri-estaul scrunched up his face in consideration. "So, do I need to be sifted?"
"Why do you think that?" Evendal knew, but let his son vocalise what he struggled with.
"I don't know..." the boy began to prevaricate, then abruptly ignored his own learned deference. "Mama said that I wasn't bad, but I did bad stuff sometimes, and that everyone was exactly like that. She was wrong. The Beast was bad; he was evil. So was Nisakh. Just like your foster-mother. And I spent two... two years owned by them."
"Kri-estaul," Evendal murmured, leaning back against the aftercastle(228) and wrapping his son in the smelly circle of his wool-and-oilskin-draped arms. "And so you think you must be evil by association, as Iliamarro? You were never evil in act, thought, or habit. If I were to ask Drussilikh over there what you were like before your capture, I can already guess what she would describe: a Scrivener ùruisg(229)."
The King stopped and rested his chin on his collarbone. Glowing gold pensively regarded his child's crown. "Do you even know why, if I were to spare Iliamarro, it would be only after a glamourous ordeal?"
"It's to punish her. Isn't it?"
"No. The ordeal would uproot Onkira's command of her, it would render impotent Onkira's subtle reshaping. You have no need of such, Kri-estaul. Your choices, and your rationale for them, make that clear -- they contain nothing of my foster-mother.
"You know how, in your worst days in the under-grounds, you dreamt of me, were comforted by the hope of me?" Kri-estaul nodded, hitting lightly against Evendal's chin. "Entertaining no expectation of compensation, you were compensated. I have no doubt that every day you lived through a series of chances to harbour resentment, fury, despair, to hate your dead mother, your sister, to fashion daydreams in which they suffered what you suffered. You could have chosen to dwell obsessively on those fancies. What you lost and what you suffered could have mattered most to you. As it does for Onkira.
"Had you done so, your dream of me would have meant nothing; you would likely never have recalled it. And you would now either be dead in the under-grounds, or have become Abduram's page and Nisakh's catamite -- and so be dead aboveground."
Glancing up, Evendal found himself and Kri-estaul to be the object of the quiet attentions of a grim Drussilikh and Melianth, a serene Aldul and Sygkorrin, and a wide-eyed Cheselre. Without uttering a word they yet begged of their King an apologia for their attending this harrowing and unseasonable rite.
"The Beast embodied public ambition and undisciplined lusts. Polgern submitted himself wholly to private vanity and public ambition. They were perilous figures, but not as much so as Onkira. The duumvirate's harm was overt, immediate, and evident. Onkira embodied and submitted to an insidious, cumulative dangier(230). Were she merely a woman of royal estate, she would yet remain alive in Our detention." He paused, striving for clarity of thought.
"There is a catalysis, a compression of events, and an intensification of their consequences that priests have chronicled." Sygkorrin nodded confirmation of this. "Sometimes it seems a manipulation by circumstances, the result of the decisions of many people ignorant of each other, yet all serving to accomplish an unchampioned goal or debase a previously unremarked period of beneficent influence. Sometimes it enfolds and radiates from one person in a critical period. Such was Onkira.
"But she was no will-less flue. Onkira made choices, too. Nurturing fancies of compensation, she received none. She but lightly knew herself, so there was nothing more important in her sight than her sense of injured merit. She elevated her whims and dearest-held fancies to the valuation others place on their needs. But that cardinal motive force remained, making of her a fulcrum point; only her lack of discipline and visceral indifference saved us from greater devastation. As a consequence of her significance, however, because of that very antipathy and self-absorption, her agency corrodes whatever she bends her will toward bending. Her influence can alter people -- not turn them to her will necessarily -- but can append her dominant flaws onto their natures even as it magnifies their own flaws. Polgern, being closest in estate to her, filtered the effect from her the most clearly. Abduram, having been granted equal proximity of position, power, and locale, served as a lens for her also. Indeed, I would not be surprised if Onkira's puissance(231) drew out, quickened, Abduram to his ambition."
Kri-estaul appeared hectic, confused, so Evendal simplified matters a bit and ceased referring to Abduram. "The character of her actions, decisions, commitments, and finally the clarity - or lack of clarity - of her thoughts, came to permeate downward and inform the realm. 'Tis a consequence of the authority she half-heartedly aspired to. Her estate rendered her virtues and vices qualities that suffused the kingdom."
"But now yours do!" Kri-estaul blurted.
The King looked as though he had eaten something sour. "Yes. Now that, once again, the rightful King rules in Osedys, and this hinge of Menam's generation is about to die, the realm's health may become determined by mine."
Evendal paused a moment and considered aloud. "Do not be surprised if you find your feelings of worthlessness not quite so overwhelming, hence. Nor would I be astonished to learn anon that Magister Penneklys of the Kestrel Tidebreak finds his grief less all-consuming(232), or that Astalendh has acquired a degree of equanimity(233). Effects like that may eventuate from your continued survival and Onkira's utter annihilation. Conversely, it may also come to pass that nothing remarkable results, which is yet better to be hoped for than continued degradation and a further blossoming of weaknesses."
Cheselre tendered a question. "But if Onkira shapes people close to her, why did you not bind Iliamarro on that slimy looking rock beside her?"
"A gamble on my part," Evendal murmured, looking embarrassed. "One person suffering the slow drowning of aspersion seemed horrid enough. I saw the matter as dealing with two gateless sluices, one in disuse due to the greater declination in the other. Murdering Iliamarro before Onkira got aspersed prevented the quiescent aqueduct from replacing the active one. I do not know but had I not arranged her prompt beheading, we might have had to wait for the next low tide and asperse Iliamarro as well."
"But you make it sound..." Kri-estaul still looked confused. "Isn't Onkira bound to that rock because she was the most bad?"
"Thunders, no!" Evendal countered, surprised. "By my own estimation of those I have met, the Beast, Robiliam, and Nisakh share that honorific between them."
"But she is evil?"
"Yes and no," the King answered, causing Kri-estaul to groan. "If by 'evil' you mean physically and emotionally lazy, and utterly curved in on herself, then Onkira qualifies. But so do a number of former magistrates who yet breathe. If by 'evil' you mean someone insensible to the condition of the wretched around them, someone without compassion like Nisakh, then Onkira is not evil. 'Evil' has no single defining cluster of buboes, my son. Onkira is both utterly self-involved and was always prepared to be both kind and nice."
"Then I don't comprehend why we are killing her so horribly." The pinned conspirator had yet to stop his cries, clearly distressing the Prince.
Tired and still gnawing on his doubts, Evendal nearly snapped an angry response, just catching himself. He inhaled deeply of the morning cold and guarded his tone. "Even though Onkira never sat as Ruler she yet served as a receptacle, exercising an authority to mould matters, promoting -- from its root to its crown -- an unwholesomeness in Our demesnes. For as long as her body breathes(234) she will continue to blight this kingdom, with all public and private life warping to mimic her attributes. And this is the only rite we ken that disperses the accumulation of such influence from all the living realms."
"Why is that important to us? Why can't others kill her meanly? Elsewhere?"
The King grimaced briefly. "I tried to arrange that. Once. But Murlesnad was valourous in the face of my sentimental cowardice, and returned her. Whatever made her the royal she was, it was Osedys' duplicity and intolerance that tempered what she has become since her family's sacrifice of her. She is our responsibility."
Irrelevantly wishing for a warmer change of garb, Evendal pivoted his head to the side in a soundless request to his entourage. As proximity and the activity about them allowed, the peers present made a show of disengaging. The King knew he could rely on Thronelander sensibilities to reinforce his conversational privacy. For Kri-estaul to do more than endure the next hours of waiting, he would need to comprehend a personal investment in this gruesome task.
"Surn-meddil is dear to you, is he not?"
The Songmaster ignored the sharp warning slap of ice-wind against his already numb face; he knew his voice had carried no farther than his son's ears.
Kri-estaul's old haunted look, that anticipation of cruelty, which had been scabbed over by all the novelties of a winter's morning lived outside, resurfaced with one wary honesty.
"As he is to me. Yet I suspect the strength of your regard is greater." Kri-estaul's reaction to Evendal's bait was to burrow, and grip the King more tightly. Such behaviour suggested confusion of feeling in the boy. Evendal grimly wondered of the spectre, 'What truly impels you? What is most important to you? Your wanting your lover? Or the lover himself?'
"Surn-meddil," he whispered, barely a gust of shivering breath before his own face. "Wledig. It will be well. Do not root like a hog in this child's heart. Retreat. I know. It is not your wish or will to harrow him even the slightest. So re-consider, and then re-approach."
More loudly, the King elaborated on the potential corrosive of his foster-mother. "He is a precious essential in the construct of our life now. But consider how he was -- and would be -- while Onkira abided, a focus of quiet, passive power radiating, anchoring a web that extends and influences so that Surn-meddil could come to know no reason to demonstrate clemency, no cause to exercise mansuetude. Still loving you, yes, but exclusively, jealously -- planting anyone who might call you friend and be a rival in his sight. Without care but for your continued ignorance and regard, killing indiscriminately and without counter."
"But he is not like that!"
"Were we to simply let her blood taint the earth, Surn-meddil could prove dishonoured in just that way. Were we to execute Onkira as I permitted Iliamarro, and see her blood and main feed the hunters of the waters, I can only speculate: Flowing water is fickle, forceful, and traditionally a female persona. An unseasonal change in speed, in temperature, could wreck ships and boats that have run these currents for generations. It could kill off eggs and whelps before they mature, leaving the Moon... other creatures of the sea to starve. Or seek human prey. There is an alga, a rust-coloured water-born scum, that can infest bays, rivers, and lakes and... suffocate fish and fresh and salt-water life."
"Couldn't she just think differently?"
Evendal knew, without effort, part of what drove Kri-estaul to plead so.
The King had grown up in a household of fiercesome rages, liquor-aided emotional rapids and tumbles, and shameless histrionics. For him, his birth-mother became a haven; Wytthenroeg's safe-feeling regard for him, her consistent exercise of mental and emotional discipline, kept him from killing himself trying to imitate his father (as he saw the man) or sacrificing his will entire at the altar of his foster-mother's ready affection.
Kri-estaul knew his Papa's mother as cold, critical, emotionally distant, when what he felt the need for was -- just as Sygkorrin insisted -- closeness: people who vented emotion like a hypocaust. Onkira was always good for such; that it was all artifice, hand-crafted only for the moment, would not be readily discernible -- or a major concern -- to a child who knew only that he needed.
And Kri-estaul needed all he currently had, in friends, confidantes, encouraging adults; but he also needed someone who could mirror the intense furies he had spent two years smothering, someone who might be an eikhon of shameless emotional immediacy. It was a need Evendal knew himself constitutionally incapable of meeting.
Seated with his back braced against the treated wood, Evendal felt keenly his isolation: He was but one man, ringed about, encircled in others' confidences, secrets, and needs. And while he told himself the truth that this was ever the experience of monarchs, the thought made it no more palatable. Alekrond's pain and shame, Ierwbae's and Metthendoenn's, Aldul's griefs and trust. Drussilikh's, Mar-Depalai's, and Heamon's acerbic, precious, and fragile trusts. The Guard honour. Bruddbana and Falrija's recovered joy, contingent on his earlier intervention. The disappointment of Niem Dïr's personal and political myopia. Luom's repenting his own courage. The Moonchild, his secret again, tendering a small but unprecedented change in the deeps, risking exposure physically and publicly out of trust in her Swordbrother. All the people looking to him for what he offered, what he promised simply through his continued presence home.
Expectation piled onto expectation, secrets, and lies by omission left their wounds in his heart and his intention, like the death of a thousand cuts. So many decisions and reactions conspired to put a felt distance greater than the deck of the caravel between the King and the others. Evendal ald'Menam struggled with a feeling of exhaustion and sorrow, clutching still an ignorantly responsive Kri-estaul who hugged him in turn.
The Peerage assumed they knew what had impelled him to adopt Kri-estaul. Sentimentality. Pity. Such would have served had he only one reason, and if Kri-estaul had ever evoked pity in him. Metthendoenn, as Ierwbae would have expected, first intuited a greater depth to Evendal's choice and felt certain enough to voice it.(235)
But it was not only in his wounded condition and vulnerability that Kri-estaul stood proxy for Osedys. The intangible arenas in which Kri retained innocence or naïveté, and those in which he was too adult -- what he understood and what no amount of explication could convey to him -- made him a model of his people. The lessons the child had learned and the tenets he had failed to learn rendered him an epitome for the Thronelands.
The King suddenly linked his own dream of drowning in some ordeal with the emotional need he had recognised in his son.
When himself a child with eight years, Evendal had been furious, and while he had not held certainty about much going on around him, he knew that the source of his pain and fear and rage lay in some understanding, some complicity, between his public parents. And so he learned. He submerged his anger at his father and his ostensible mother in wilful incompetence over those skills and lessons that mattered most to his pride-bound King. Menam took his embarrassment out on his son promptly -- the most conversation in any given day, if one-sided, that he had with his heir -- and on his faux-wife in their facade of privacy.
Anger had yet spewed from Evendal in arrogance, conceit, and pointless criticism -- anything but honest expressions of anger or blunt admissions of fear and powerlessness -- even with and well after Wytthenroeg's mentoring. Until, sometime within the last nine years, in learning humility he had also learned much more:
The hard-to-learn lesson that anger expressed does not invariably result in abandonment.
The hard lesson that anger does not need an audience to be useful.
The humiliating lesson that anger treasured, without use, uses the angered.
The lesson that the fury inside him, which seemed so monumental, so all-encompassing and consuming, could manifest in mundane proportions and yet prove therapeutic.
The lesson that it is better to voice needs loudly, that offering others the chance to meet your needs by merely hinting at them is not noble, proves nothing of generosity or miserliness of heart, and is stupid and cruel to all.
The truism that not everyone in durance wants to be freed.
And finally, the lesson that Osedys herself had never learned, not through the well-chronicled, bloody, dwoemer-infused revolution that followed Ganil's and Surn-meddil's deaths, and not through her equally bloody and dwoemer-infused deliverance from the Nikraan: The lesson that rescue did not result from need, no matter how dire. Imminent peril did not eventuate its own salvation. Somewhere, somewhen, Evendal had learned this, as more than an intellectual hypothetical. And that lesson rendered him Other, a heresiarch.
Hramal, he had always been told, meant 'faithful,' 'the trusting.' Not 'ones who trusted in a person or power,' though a number of Hramal did so without perceiving it. But trust that life has worth and purpose inherent in the living of it. That it is flexible enough for all that breathe: Any who need to carve a legitimate purpose out of the stone of their lives can succeed in doing so, while life also provides other people with clearly ineluctable purposes invested or predisposed in their very character or personality. Mutabilitie and diversity infesting ontology. If living was its own justification, it followed that virtue truly was its own -- and only -- reward, and sufficient reward to anyone who chose to act 'rightly'.
Folk of light minds further reasoned that, if life was sufficient unto itself, freedom must eventually be restored to those Hramal oppressed in living, so endurance was the only rational response. Fortune's Wheel must turn, and turn again, and unfortunate Hramal crushed under it must eventually be raised up by it. Evendal felt, in his very marrow, the lie in the passivity that such thinking recommended. To his mind it was a false comfort, a sop, but nothing more.
Yet here was his son, who had waited for a rescuer, had needed a rescuer because his only strength, his only weapon, was stubbornness, endurance, stolid intransigence -- no weapon at all, really, yet as it had been for Osedys in the distant past, sufficient. So Evendal contented himself with being a heresiarch who refrained from teaching his unique, divisive precept. He needed no mallet over the head to see that it was one instruction not intended or valid for Osedys.
Which simply reinforced his loneliness and weariness.
On the rock, Iliamarro's sibling finally drowned. Evendal m'Alismogh shuddered through the song, and gasped in breaths he could not feel. Watchful, Surn-meddil surreptitiously kept Kri-estaul from sliding out of suddenly nerveless hands and, with the incorporate peers, waited out the seizure.
(213) ~Llyssh recognises periods of activity like day and night. But "the Lurer" is, by her reckoning, a nuisance and inconstant; it can be lost, sometimes for days, behind storm-wracked skies. The tides are her common measure of time and action.
(214) ~'Soft-rock' is limestone. The descriptive stems from the typical Nikraan pallour.
(215) Racing shells propelled by one or two persons using oars.
(216) Long, narrow, flat-bottomed boats with square ends usually propelled with poles.
(217) (1) A ship employed to attend other ships (as to supply provisions); (2) a boat for communication between shore and a larger ship.
(218) Small open boats propelled by oars or sails and used chiefly in shallow waters.
(219) Royal Courts: In this context, the gathering of the leaders of the various municipalities to 'discuss' the business of the Realm with the King.
(220) http://www.locksley.com/locksley/med-law.htm. Felony: A breach of homage, a violation of the contract between lord and vassal, a violation of feudal customs.
(221) Privilege: Private law, personal relation.
(222) Up-and-outward spread of the hull form at the top near the bow.
(223) 'Death song', schwanengesang.
(224) ~Closest parallel is Hebrew's 'nefesh hayah' -- living breathing thing -- and applies to both flora and fauna.
(225) ~The word is actually 'ravening pyre', the common 'last rite' to a Hramal. Only some kings or ruling queens choose entombment.
(226) Traditionally, hemp- or flax-based linen.
The name was derived from early similarities to fortress turrets. The forecastle and aftercastle (or sterncastle) are at the bow and stern of the vessel. A top castle was perched on masts of some ships about the 13th century.
Old captains who perished in hassles
Haunt their quarterdecks wearing gold tassels.
Nowhere else would they be
But hereafter at sea,
Spending afterlives in aftercastles.
(AF-ter-CAS-ul) On old sailing ships, the raised platform at the bow was the fo'c'sle, and the one at the stern (where officers are quartered) was the aftercastle (or sterncastle), which today is called the quarterdeck.
(229) ~Their lares familiares and domestici, their brownies or domovoi.
(230) Power, dominion, influence; generally seen, in allegory, as an aspect of a woman's nature. See p. 124, The Allegory of Love, C.S. Lewis, Oxford University Press, 1981.
(231) The ability to exert effort for the accomplishment of a task.
(232) Chapter 30.
(233) Chapter 28.
(234) ~Decomposition falls under that rubric for Hramal.
(235) Chapter 11.