Broken Branch: Chapter 6

[I am afraid that poor Uncle comes off as especially pedantic in the following testament, but to do him justice, he wanted to make it as clear as possible what he did and why he did it. And with some success, I think, as neither his reputation nor Thereus’s were tarnished by this incident, not in the long run. “Let the sons of my sons’ sons judge what I have done this day.”]

I set my pen to paper for a specific purpose. Recent events among our people have left many unsure of their future, and that of Avazin as a whole. Some murmur against me and some against Thereus, but everyone is murmuring something. So, encouraged by my nephew, I lay aside my phoenix crown for a short while to write this account, my account, of why I argued with Thereus and what came of our argument in the end.

Let me say first of all that I have given this account to Thereus for his approval. He seemed amused by much of it, I am afraid, but he told me, and allowed me to write, “It is true enough.” And now to explain how it is that a king asks for permission to write.

There are many, I am aware, who say that Thereus and I were at odds even before the first ships came to Avazin. They say this because they can only see the past with the eyes of the present. When we led our people out of the eastern islands, we were united in our purpose. The prophet sent by Heaven, returned after long centuries from the sleep of death, and the king who inherited his throne from countless generations of rulers, going back to a time when men walked with Heaven, perhaps. He had his mission and I had my visions and together we brought the children of the sun from their doomed home into the new land that was promised us.

It was only after that, once we had actually arrived in the promised land, in the new island Heaven had set apart for us, that the troubles began. No one admired Thereus more than I, who had seen him in my dreams before he was revealed to the world. But many understood him better than I, even my own heir Alad, who told me once that there was a light on Thereus that would blind us if he lingered too long. I dismissed this as the hero-worship of youth, but I was not wise to do so.

At first Thereus seemed inclined to retire into private life with his wife Niviem, but this proved impossible. There were too many who came to him for advice and blessings, and he was too kind to abandon them and live in the hills as a kind of hermit. It would be wrong for me not to mention Niviem’s patience and practicality, without which Thereus might have been driven to madness by his own followers.

I will mention here one typical event of the sort that demonstrates Thereus’s wisdom. It was hard for some of us, as eager as we had been at first, to make the adjustment to our new way of life. Many, especially kelp farmers, simply sat down and refused to do anything, to the point where some refused to eat. Matters were not helped by the slowness with which the first new kelp groves grew. We had our sheep, of course, and their were plenty of fish and birds, but kelp shortages have always been seen as a sign of Heaven’s disfavor.

Soldiers became quarrelsome, fearing that more ships might arrive carrying our foes from back home, the king and queen of Radandh or the cult of the Silver Blades, though there was no reason to expect either. The Silver Blades had been defeated and scattered, and the rulers of Radandh had made their choice to stay.

On the occasion in question, a soldier had grown sufficiently irritated with one of the despondent farmers that he struck him and compelled him to carry a burden and help him hunt deer. He refused, however, to give the farmer more than a token portion of the meat, asserting that as the farmer had done nothing of his own accord, he deserved nothing more. Those of you who remember the law courts of Jaladh and the great books of precedent will laugh to observe how far we had fallen from our grandeur back home.

The farmer’s unfortunate wife went to Thereus seeking justice. It was believed among many that I would take the side of the soldiers in any quarrel, which is of course untrue. It was my hand that enforced justice and discipline among the soldiers, even those who had come from old kingdoms other than my own. When I heard Thereus’s decision, I approved it fully. The soldier, however, thought himself treated unfairly and stirred up some of his compatriots to cause trouble.

Thereus came forward himself to speak to the mob, while I was still deliberating. The voyage to the west had stripped me of many of the staffs on which I had been accustomed to lean: both the council of lords and the tribunal were tied to the land, and that land was far across the sea. Many of my old subjects had remained behind and I was given new subjects to replace them. So I hesitated, but Thereus acted at once. With his calm, reasonable words, he dampened the anger of the soldiers and even persuaded many of them that in the future they should have more mercy for those who were overcome by despair: it was good to have them work but not to deny them their reward.

We were, as I have written, in accord at first. There were troublemakers among the people who wanted to make a division between us: those who claimed to be loyal to me and accused Thereus of trying to steal my authority, and those who claimed to be loyal to Thereus and accused me of suppressing the word of Heaven. Thereus and I met frequently to laugh at their absurd arguments.

Despite all their best efforts, it was not these knaves who made the first rift between us. It was, in fact, those nearest to us. Here I must write with caution, not wanting to betray those who deserve it least. I intend to show all I write to my nephew and his wife, to Thereus and his wife, and to all whom I love and fear to betray.

I suspect that none of my readers will be unaware of the curse upon our people, how back in our home our children were few compared to those of the fecund Lytiorn, and how despite all our hopes, our barrenness continued in Avazin. I myself had only one son, and he is dead, though he left behind a grandson to be my heir. My sister, my only sibling, was more fortunate and had two sons. One remained behind in Karei, but Alad and his wife Riane came in the first ship with Thereus.

They longed for children at first, but none came. When the wife of my champion Lanzauk conceived, Alad and Riane celebrated with the rest of us, but even such a virtuous couple as they could not help but envy the parents. There was some difficulty between them, I believe, but they overcame it. They were never in any risk of the sort of true disharmony that was beginning to pose a problem for all of us, when the question of divorce arose.

Strictly speaking divorce was forbidden by the laws of Karei except under certain circumstances: adultery; violence; a union that was invalid due to consanguinity, bigamy, or lack of consent. In practice, it was not uncommon in those last days for a husband to simply abandon his wife or a wife her husband, claiming some absurd minor pretext or other: foul breath or getting up at the wrong time. Indeed, some even took lovers without bothering to get a divorce at all. Thereus and I forbade all these abuses once we came to Avazin, and most of the people were happy to obey. After all, we were those who had chosen to answer Heaven’s call and leave our homes, to make a purer nation in the west.

Yet there were among us men and women who had left their spouses behind in the old islands in order to follow Thereus’s words and my visions. The separation would seem to be a final one, and the ocean between us and our old home as wide as the gray waters of death themselves. Some of these men and women desired to marry again, and argued that our departure from the old islands was equivalent to a death, which gave the surviving spouse freedom to rewed.

I found this argument persuasive in itself, but I pointed out before the Assembly that there were still more of the great ships resting in their cave in the old islands, ready to be used. There was no guarantee that those left behind would not come after us, given time, and so we all agreed that divorce was not to be allowed in this situation. Still, it was a sympathetic situation that gave impetus to the next challenge.

There were at this time certain influential men who had either changed their mind or hidden their opinions earlier, but now came forward and sought to divorce their wives. Their excuse was not a bad one, however, and this was what made the split between Thereus and I. The wives of these men had failed to bear any children, and so the men sought to take other wives in the hope that they could thereby produce heirs for themselves. The men were the chief movers, but there were women too who longed for children and blamed their husbands for their lack.

The way I have described it is essentially that of Thereus, which puts the blame on individual greed and self-conceit. But there were greater concerns as well. Avazin has yet to be fully charted, but we know it to be at least the size of the largest of the old islands, large enough for all of us who had come to the west. Meanwhile the census-takers had returned with unsettling news. Our population increased as slowly as ever, but we were beginning to experience the first signs of the Moon’s Death, so named because of a superstitious belief prevalent at the time that it struck those who wandered out at night under a full moon.

“It may be that the Moon’s Death will outweigh our natural increase, and that we will perish from under Heaven,” they said. “Nothing like this is recorded in the histories of the islands.”

It seemed a simple enough problem to solve. The answer had come before the question. Why not allow divorce in the case of infertility? It would at least increase the chances of conception if each individual was allowed another chance. This was the reasoning that tempted me, and although I certainly did come up with counterarguments, none of them prevailed against the simple fact that our people, my people, faced annihilation. After all Heaven had done through me, through Thereus, and through others to deliver us from the ruin of the old world, it seemed impossible that we would be lost like this, when there was such a simple way to deliver us. No dreams came to guide me, so I trusted in my own wisdom and began to speak to the Assembly concerning the matter.

Thereus was never a member of the Assembly, as you are no doubt aware. For reasons of his own he saw it as unfitting. But word came to him of what I was planning, and he marched to the Assembly chamber to confront me. At the time I was not there, but with my wife discussing a private matter. I heard about Thereus’s speech soon afterwards, though what I heard was distorted by the errors of memory and wishful thinking. Thereus’s own thoughts were more subtle than the distorted version that came to me at first.

I went to see Thereus as soon as I was able. I found him at home, with his wife and the orphan child they had adopted. It would only be the very gravest of matters that would take him away from them, so I knew that whatever he had said to the Assembly was something he meant and something he took very seriously indeed.

Our first conversation went well enough, given our disagreements. I don’t mean to say that our underlying beliefs were different, though his attitudes were often those of a confident prophet while mine, I’m sad to write, were often enough those of the tired ruler of a decadent court. But we differed on the proper application of our beliefs.

I doubt that any of my readers will be unaware of the details of the dispute between Thereus and me, so I will not repeat them here. But there was little room for compromise: either my law prevailed or his did. The compromise that eventually did emerge was in essence an abandonment of law, leaving the judgment of an individual case up to the whim of the Assembly. Neither of us are pleased, which according to certain philosophers means that the compromise was a satisfactory one.

In any case, Thereus and I agreed to a debate before the Assembly, a friendly one of course. It was only in the next few days that I began to realize how dangerous Thereus’s proposals were. He argued not for a continuation of traditional Karei law, but for the imposition of something altogether new: a total rejection of all divorce. This was not the law of ancient Thalata where he had been born, but an innovation based on his own judgment. We all believe that there is a sense in which the light of Heaven shines through him, I hope, but he is not a perfect lens, and at this point it has been many years since his time in the courts of Heaven. The proposals he put forward were, I came to believe, extreme and unsuited for Avazin in its current condition.

There are rumors that our debate degraded into a childish shouting match, but it was the members of the Assembly that shouted, not we. Indeed, we were forced to leave the chamber so we could talk in peace. I suspect some malign force behind the sudden degradation of the Assembly’s decorum, but I haven’t yet been able to find out more. In any case, our private discussion resolved nothing, and we parted after some fairly bitter words. Perhaps they were not bitter in an absolute sense, but between the two of us who had been friends and allies, they seemed so.

It was over the next few days that Thereus began to speak publicly. He called the people to walk in the light of Heaven, to live by the highest standards of purity. He even said that anyone who followed ‘the king’s new law’ had departed from Avazin in spirit and might as well go back to the old islands. There were many who were delighted by his words, but many who were not. It came to the point where I became aware that there were at least three plots to assault or even kill him, and so I took action to protect him.

Some still believe that I arrested Thereus to silence him: let them ask him themselves! I allowed his pamphlets to go out even while he was confined to his house. I did not deprive him of the company of his wife and friends, only provided him with guards to make sure no hired ruffian did him any injury. Let those who compare me to the high priest of Rhos (he who locked Thereus up in the cells beneath his palace) repent of their lies!

The second crisis came when a group of Thereus’s partisans, misunderstanding the situation, attempted to rescue him. I cannot fault their caution: they suspected that I would read any message that they sent to him, or that his reply would be constrained, but it led to tragedy and the shedding of blood. Although Thereus refused to go with them willingly, they took him anyway, carrying him into a stronghold they had made for themselves in the hills overlooking the towns.

Eventually they sent an envoy to me and the Assembly, claiming to speak for Thereus. His demands were unreasonable and certainly had not been conceived by Thereus. I was to abdicate, giving the phoenix crown to my little grandson, for whom Thereus was to serve as regent. All of Thereus’s proposals were to be adopted as law, both those regarding marriage and any he might make in the future. The priesthood was to be abolished entirely.

Fearing that some harm might be done to Thereus by his supposed friends, we delayed, treating the envoy as an honored guest and discussing his proposals as if we were seriously considering them. At the same time, I sent Lanzauk and some others I trusted to scout the hills for the partisans’ stronghold.

There are two contradictory stories that are told about the events that followed. In one, I sent my butchers to slaughter the partisans and force Thereus to submit to me again. In the other, Thereus called down warriors from Heaven who set him free and force me to submit to him. I am not quite so bad, I hope, as I am drawn in the first story, but I fear we all are not holy enough for Heaven to send such warriors to judge our disputes, as in the second.

The truth of the matter is this. Lanzauk was able to elude the partisans and speak to Thereus, offering to help him escape. But Thereus replied, which somewhat shocked Lanzauk, that he was talking with his captors and trying to convince them of their error. I doubt very much that he would have succeeded, but he still disagrees. In any case, Lanzauk was able to convince him to escape, and brought Thereus safely to the soldiers’ camp near the foot of the hills.

I went to meet him there in order to discuss the controversial matters in privacy before his return became widely known, at which point it would become impossible to speak to him without a thousand listening ears surrounding us. Here I am afraid I did act unworthily of the archon, but I saw no other choice. Thereus could not be persuaded by the presence of a whole army of soldiers, but he could be persuaded by my promise to spare the lives of the partisans, to the extent it was within my power.

So we announced to them that Thereus was no longer their prisoner and that they could either surrender to the king’s justice or go into exile, never to return to the towns over which I ruled. To a man they chose the latter course, and disappeared into the hills. Those who doubt me can ask Lanzauk, and those who doubt both of us can ask Thereus. Those who doubt all three of us I cannot help.

The rest I have no need to retell. Our compromise was accepted by the Assembly, and Thereus returned to his wife and home. As for me, I have been given rough and crude tools with which to work, and I must judge how to use them the best I can. The crown is at my elbow; now I must take it up again.

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