The Fiction of Philip Kaveny
If you missed Part I click here
Marshal Milos clutched the hollow silver shaft of his spear and waited.
From the hill one Viking said,
“By Odin’s goats, if they come out, we are all dead. What’s happening now?”
As they strained their eyes, they saw a shape appear in purple robes, wearing a leaf cluster of gold on his forehead. Basil was only a few years older than Igor was but he seemed wraith like in appearance, while Igor battled across the world, Basil had spent his life in political and intellectual pursuits.
Thousands had died over the question of whether or not the deity could appear in the icon, and a empire had been split over the form the Prelate would deliver a benediction.
“You will have Zoë. You will marry her and the dowry will be ten times your weight in gold. “
The Marshal whispered something in Basil’s ear, and Basil smiled grimly, and then even laughed more than anyone had seen laugh in years, and then he said.
“Make that five times your weight in gold; we don’t have that much gold in the Empire. Better yet make it five Zoë’s weight.
Then the Byzantine Emperor continued in his very grave and imperial voice,
“You will be baptized as a Christian and you will be required to take a certain Father Cyril north with you when you to maintain the sanctity of your marriage with my daughter. Your offspring will not be raised as heathens, the will be raised as Christians. But, most important Father Cyril will hear all to hear your confessions, Igor because you sinned enough for six lifetimes. Furthermore, know Father Cyril though he may be a thousand miles away from me is still under my protection, as is my beloved Zoë. Be it known that if any accident or harm befalls Father Cyril there is no place in the world where you can hide from my wrath.”
Igor was dumbfounded because things he had never thought or cared about were part of his life, and he was trapped, and there was no going back.
So he asked a series of questions
“What is a priest, what is baptized?” said Igor. “What is this Married?”
Basil continued like he was reading a proclamation.
“I would not send her to live as a concubine. I would not send her without a priest to meet her spirit’s needs.”
Igor looked up at Zeno’s bow, now pulled back to the breaking force, and hundred like it drawn just as taunt. The Viking shuddered for an instant, and then Igor smiled. He smiled because he sensed the archers could not hold the arrows back from release for another instant. Yet he also smiled a bit thinking that the hail of one hundred arrows might not only pick himself off, but also the Marshal, and the Emperor The irony of that thought made Igor wish to live, not out of courage, but out of amusement, and a wish to see the next thing happen.
Then Igor spoke and a hundred bowstrings slackened
“Then I will have an emperor for a father-in-law.”
Zoë wished she could drive a dagger into her father’s heart. But she knew that he had a web of chainmail woven into his purple robe. It had turned an assassin’s dagger back many times before. The choices were clear to her, and there were only two, it was Igor or poison, and she chose life over annihilation, at least for now.
Zoë stepped out of the great gate that creaked open just enough to let her form slip through.
She forced herself to look up at Igor, who was three hand spans taller than her. Her eyes moved from his heavy boots to his leggings to his short thick legs, past his belly to his chest, which was like a boulder. And then she saw the red woven Danish gold chain. With his hands, he reached inside his heavy shirt. The silver clamshell sparkled in the midday sun; Igor looked directly into her black eyes and opened the locket with slow and certain hands.
She looked into his eyes, and said with a deadly measured voice in poetic Norse Ivan had taught her..
“Did you kill him for it?”
“No,” said Igor, “it is a curse for a man to kill his son.”
Zoë looked into his eyes and tried to find some reason to keep her from killing him the first time he tried make love to her.
They were married immediately after the priest baptized Igor. Within five minutes, the donkeys were loaded with gold. Zoë rode in an ivory cart pulled by white asses as Igor walked in front with his Vikings that came down from the ridge, and Zoë’s pack train and servants.
. Before they left, Basil kissed his daughter on the forehead. The Vikings looked at each other scratching heads No one had died this day and there was enough gold and glory for all.
When the wedding party rode beyond earshot, Basil turned to the Marshal of the Empire and said,
“You will send a dispatch to all towns and all the stations
of the empire. It will read like this…”
A scribe was summoned instantly.
“Today was a noble day for the Empire of Byzantium, Prince Igor, at the head of host of 100,000, walked alone fearlessly to the gate of Constantinople. In his huge hands, he carried only a shield, a steel pike, and a silver mallet. With three blows he drove the spike through the gate and demanded an audience with the Emperor Basil, protector of the true cross and bane of the Eastern Hordes. The Emperor bravely faced the intruder, the scourge of the whole world, and asked what he wanted. He demanded the Emperor’s daughter. Basil agreed, but only if Igor would accept the True Cross-and Christian marriage. Basil touched Igor’s spirit, and he accepted. It was a great day for both the Emperor of the North and the Emperor of the South. Anyone who disputes this testament and who writes another will roast inside The Brazen Bull.”
The Marshal looked at Vasil, perplexed.
“But why, good Emperor?”
“A thousand years from now, we will be part of the saga of the great warrior Igor. Besides, if she had stayed another night, she would have killed me.”
At the end of the first day’s journey, Zoë was heard to scream at the priest.
“I would die before I let that … thing touch me.”
The priest only smiled as he explained to Zoë the obligations of the Empress of the North to her royal husband. He further explained that despair was the only sin that royalty could not escape eternal fire, by paying indulgences
Igor stood somewhat away from the din and looked at the last lines of light in the pale evening sky. He opened the locket and looked at Zoë. They were the same woman; but the woman in the locket seemed so much younger.
Part II: Igor’s Wedding Night
Princess Zoë reached inside her bodice and pulled out two tiny hollow glass daggers. She had decided that eternal fire was a better fate than a night with Igor. One dagger was filled with the slow excruciating poison for her enemies; the other was filled with the purple poison that would mean an instant and painless death for her. One was for Igor and one was for her, but as yet, she was not sure when she would use them .She thought that, perhaps, at the instant that Igor would have her, she would bury the slow death in his back, and then is done with herself.
Just as she fastened them back inside her bodice, Igor entered the tent. Had she ever seen and uglier man, she wondered. Yes, she had–and for the good of the state, and at her father’s bidding, she had once entertained a powerful eunuch from the East, whose pleasure came in giving her unspeakable pain. If she had done that for Byzantiyum, perhaps, for herself she would say alive a bit longer. Something inside her made her speak to him in his own language. It was as if womanly disdain and disgust overwhelmed her passion for murder and suicide and made her speak.
“Igor, you smell like a stable. You smell like the Latrines of my father’s soldiers,”
Perplexed Igor shrugged his broad shoulders and answered.
“Smell?, What smell? This is the way that we all smell. Every spring, in the chilled water, we bathe off the winter’s evil spirits. I have done that now for two score and five winters.”
“If you step inside my tent, husband of mine, you will wash the filth off your body, or “(her voice trailed off).
What she thought, what does it matter, she was going to kill him anyway.
Zoë could hardly believe that she had said that to Igor. Did she really mean to think of him, to take him as a man? What would he do, she thought? If he tried to rape her, he would die an exceeding painful death. She turned from him and rummaged through her chest. She found a cake of sweet-smelling soap and threw it at Igor, along with a tunic made of fine linen.
“Bathe…bathe?” Igor mumbled this as he backed out of the tent.
This was surely not what he had expected. He was supposed to die, impaled like some fat hedgehog, stuck through like some giant pincushion. The story was supposed to be over. All Igor had really wanted was to die in battle for an unreachable prize with his men at his side so a great song could be sung of him In the northern halls, they were to sing of his quest; and here he was being ordered to take a bath by woman who seemed more like his mother than like a mythical princess whose picture he carried in the lock he had wrested from his son in that night match six months before.
By now the sun had set, and Igor thought he could sneak off to some shallow pool and wash himself, as he had been ordered.
The moon was full and the night was warm. As Igor disrobed, he could see his reflection in the pale moonlight. His memory was a curse to him; some days, he could remember what it felt like to be fifteen, and some days, he could barely lift his battle-axe.