HERAKLION: OUTCAST by Paul Edmund Norman
Kronos Heraclius dufiarchen dindrienfiardu - alfiov drichen dinfiar enfiardu - kwayulka (Year of Heraclius Six hundred and thirty-nine - day three hundred and forty-nine - morning)
The morning dawned cold and bright, but the snow was melting. It would be difficult pulling the sled through mud, but then if it was only mud they had to contend with, they could walk, taking turns with the baby. In this way they made good progress, and by nightfall that day they were within sight of the smallholding of Trovistus, where Malthennior had perished. There were lights on in the house, and Cormac rapped sharply on the door.
'Ho! Trovistus! I have brought Maralien! Hurry, open the door, she has with her her baby daughter, and both of them are cold! Hurry, man!'
They heard voices exchanged within the house, and then the bolt was thrown and there stood Trovistus and his woman, Eliena.
'Come in out of the cold, quickly!' Eliena said, taking the baby from Maralien. 'You too, Cormac!'
Cormac shook his head.
'I shall continue on to Perpanis,' he informed them. 'I will return for Maralien and the baby tomorrow. I have promised her sanctuary at the palace of my father. I should let my mother and father know that I am safe.'
'They were out looking for you until it got dark again today,' Trovistus said. 'No-one knew where you had gone.'
'No-one knew that Malthennior had a daughter,' Eliena said, bending over the baby and making the kind of noises that women make to babies.
'I knew,' Cormac said. 'Someone had to tell her.'
'So where were you the day before yesterday, and the day before that, after Malthennior was killed?'
Cormac raised a cautionary finger to his lips, as Maralien's head came slowly round, realising that they were talking about her dead man.
'She is not over mourning yet, in fact she has not properly begun.'
'I am aware of that, Cormac,' Trovistus said testily. 'But where were you?'
'I went straight to Malthennior's hut.'
Trovistus frowned. He started to say something, but thought better of it. Cormac turned on his heel and walked back to the trail which led to Perpanis and to his father's court. Now it was properly dark, and though some of the servants' buildings had candles lit inside, his parents' own house was in darkness. It was Beneric who admitted him.
'Welcome back, brother! Where have you been?' Cormac told him briefly, and Beneric was delighted to know that his brother had been on a errand of chivalry.
'What is she like, Cormac?' he asked, after they had crept up to their room, taking care not to awaken Tiberis and Dara. Waking them to tell them he was safe after they had spent the day in appalling weather searching for him would serve no purpose, he decided, and in this he was quite wrong. Explanations to them would be made in the morning, and then he would journey to Trovistus' to bring them back to his father's house.
'She is so beautiful, and so young!' Cormac said, lying on his couch, his eyes closed.
'And the baby? Tell me about the baby!' Beneric cried, but his brother was asleep. In the morning he was up at dawn, Beneric watching him from beneath the warm blanketing of his own couch.
'What is the rush?'
'I have to get to Trovistus' house. Will you tell father I am safe and where I have been?'
'That will not be necessary,' Tiberis said, sweeping into the room. He was not smiling.
'Do not speak until you are told to speak,' he said, 'and then be warned that whatever you say will firm it in my mind as to what is to be done with you.'
Cormac stared open-mouthed at his father, but knew better than to incur his further displeasure by interrupting him when he evidently had something of great import to say.
'Beneric, this does not concern you. Leave us.'
Beneric started to protest but a look from his father silenced him and he went quietly.
'Your mother and I are of course pleased beyond measure that you are to be found safe and well, Cormac. I have heard how you went to the aid of Malthennior's widow and brought her safely with you from the flood plain to Trovistus' house. I applaud you for your courage and determination. However, I have it from Trovistus that when you left the scene of the tragic accident more than two days ago, you went straight to Malthennior's house. Answer me correctly. Is this the truth of it?'
'Yes, father, that is the truth of it.'
'And tell me who you found in Malthennior's house on your arrival.'
'Maralien, his widowed woman, and her baby daughter, whom she has named.....'
'The child's name is of no importance!' Tiberis snapped. 'Where did you spend the first night?'
'In Malthennior's house, father.....'
'And what is the furniture of Malthennior's house? Describe to me its interior.'
'One room. Shuttered windows. A hearth and a fire. A work surface. One stool. A couch, and a crib for the baby.'
'Yes, a couch, what did you expect, them to have slept on the floor?'
'It is not their comfort that concerns me, Cormac, but yours. Where did you sleep that first night?'
Without hesitation, Cormac replied, 'On the couch.'
'And the girl? Maralien, if that is her name.'
'She - slept on the couch too.'
Tiberis' countenance never altered. He had not smiled since he entered the room. He was not smiling now.
'The two of you slept on the couch.'
'Yes. Is there something wrong?'
'Let us move on to the second night. You claim to have journeyed through the first day, when the blizzard was at its height, yet you stopped overnight in a forest. Tell me how you slept that night, Cormac.'
'In furs, father. We wrapped ourselves in furs against the cold.....'
'You wrapped yourselves in furs against the cold!'
'Yes! It was below freezing, father!'
'Enough! My humiliation is at its zenith this day! Come with me!' Cormac, who had never disobeyed his father in his life, followed him out into the street. Tiberis led him to a small courtyard opposite, where a powerfully-built man was casting steel over a flaming brazier.
'A weapon, Pavlus, if you please. A sword, your finest. How long will it take?'
Pavlus looked up, pausing from his work.
'Call back tomorrow, kjal,' he said. Tiberis nodded his agreement and turned to walk away. 'How much will it cost?'
'Two silver coins for my finest, kjal.'
Tiberis took a gold coin worth twenty times that amount from his purse and tossed it to Pavlus, who did not even bother to examine it. The kjal's money was good.
'We will collect it tomorrow.'
'For what purpose do we need a sword?' Cormac asked, as they walked back into the house.
'A session of my court has been arranged for this morning,' Tiberis told him curtly. 'At the fourth hour after sunup, you will attend.'
'A session of court? Why? What am I supposed to have done?'
'Your questions will be answered in session, Cormac. Know that I am greatly disappointed in you! At the fourth hour! Do not attempt to go to Trovistus' house.'
'Why should I not? Have I not always been allowed to go where I please, in Perpanis and anywhere at all on the island?'
'You have. But you have now forfeited that right. Do not, I repeat, attempt to visit Trovistus' house. You will be restrained.'
'I do not understand, father!'
'You will understand at the fourth hour, Cormac. Until then you are confined to the palace. Speak to no-one on this matter.'
'Since I do not know the nature of the matter to which you refer, father, that will present me with no difficulty whatsoever!' Cormac said with a measure of sarcasm which was not lost on his father.
He watched Tiberis enter his own quarters, and for a time heard heated discussion between him and his mother, Dara, though what was being said was indistinct. Sadly, he returned to his own room, where Beneric was waiting to question him on the morning's unexpected turn of events, but Cormac was reluctant to talk, and Beneric was left to his own devices.
The hours passed agonisingly slowly, and then a servant came to summon Cormac to the session of court. He entered the state room, ornately decorated with colourful friezes depicting moments in history of the island's past, and the past of the family of Tiberis and his forebears, to find only his father and Trovistus present.
'I expected a session of court,' Cormac murmured. Whilst he had been waiting for the summons, various ideas had been running through his head, and with the appearance of Trovistus a semblance of what might have been postulated against him was beginning to form in his mind.
'This is a closed session of court,' Tiberis said. 'Sit down, Cormac.'
'Am I on trial for something? If I am, I prefer to stand.'
'You have forfeited the right to trial. The purpose of this session is to pass sentence,' his father said quietly. Trovistus avoided Cormac's eyes.
'Then, in my absence, you have found me guilty of something?' Cormac said, his eyes blazing with fury.
'By your own evidence to me, you have admitted your guilt in this matter. Now,' Tiberis said, 'it is the decision of the session that you be sent to the northern land, where you will join in the defence of the northern territory from the Korissians. This will last for a period no shorter than two years.....'
'Two years!' Cormac gasped. 'What I have done must surely be terrible!'
'Be silent!' Tiberis roared. 'You will not mock this court!'
'This court is a mockery to itself!'
'Be silent or I will have you restrained!'
'Am I to say nothing in defence of myself, then? Am I to at least know what it is that I am supposed to have done?'
'You are son of the kjal,' Tiberis said quietly, regaining his composure. 'You are my son, son of the kjal. Certain standards are expected of you. You did not live up to these standards.'
'In what way?'
'You slept with Malthennior's woman, the day he died.'
Cormac stared at his father open-mouthed.
'I kept her warm.'
'You slept with her again the following night.'
'I kept her warm.'
'It is done. It cannot be undone. There are two choices available to me. Either I can disown you as my son, and I choose not to do that. Or I can exile you from Perpanis for the foreseeable future, in the hope that people will forget.'
'Forget your conduct unbecoming.'
'Father, I did nothing.'
'What you did was serious enough, were you not son of the kjal,' Tiberis said.
'I do not believe this!' Cormac said, his anger reaching boiling point. 'I did not touch her. I kept her warm. We kept each other warm.'
'And you did this by not touching her?'
'Aye! Our bodies touched, naturally, but there was nothing sexual about it.....'
'Your bodies touched.'
'I said so. But she would not have had me. She was in love with Malthennior.'
'She would not have you. Did you want her, then?'
'I wanted only to protect her, and to keep her safe, and to keep her warm. Is that wrong?'
'I put it to you that you wanted her!' Tiberis said, his eyes narrowing.
Cormac studied his father, then turned his gaze to Trovistus, who would still not meet his eyes.
'He has put you to this,' Cormac said. 'I thought of going to Maralien before he did. He is jealous.'
'Do not be stupid!'
'He came running to you, saying that I had been alone with Maralien for two nights, and did you think that was right, did you think that was politically correct. I will tell you why he came to you, father, he came to you because he is jealous that I got to Maralien first!'
'Enough of this! The sentence has been passed! You leave for the north tomorrow!'
'And Maralien, and her baby? What of them?'
'The baby will be well-looked after. I am sending her to Dyarbekkr, to your uncle Darien.....'
'What do you mean, you are sending her? What about Maralien? You are not going to split them up!'
'They will both be well-looked after and treated properly, you need have no fear on that score.....'
'No! You cannot split them up!'
'Cormac, it is done!' Tiberis snapped. 'The court is no longer in session.' Before Cormac could say anything more, Tiberis had swept out of the court room, with Trovistus hard on his heels. Cormac caught up with the latter in the doorway.
'You harm one hair of her head, and you are dead!' he said. Trovistus glared sullenly at him and shook himself free.
'Fighting in the north will knock out some of that cock-sureness you have in you, Cormac!' he said sarcastically. 'As for Maralien, don't you worry, she has seen the error of her ways. She is returning north, to Koriss, where she comes from. She knows her duty, which is rather more than can be said for you, you impudent upstart!'
'You did not dare say any of this to my father! You would not meet my eyes in the court session, because you were afraid that my protests might lead my father to reconsider. Now that the session is over, you believe you have nothing to fear. Well, let me tell you, if you touch her, if you do anything to her that she does not wish you to do, you will answer to me!'
A strange smile came into Trovistus' eyes.
'Did you not know, it is the way with the Walfenlanders. When she gets back to Koriss, she will take a new man. They take a new man almost straightway.'
'I do not believe she would agree to such a thing!'
'You can ask her yourself - if you can find her when you return in two years' time! I wish you well, Cormac!' Trovistus said, giving the younger man the traditional Herakian greeting of farewell with as much sarcasm as he could muster. He pushed past Cormac through the doorway.
Cormac went to see his mother, Dara, but his efforts with her were fruitless, as he had known they would be. Dara obeyed Tiberis in everything, and though she showed Cormac some sympathy, she was in reality powerless to help him.
Continued next month