Stories by Colin Burke

The Kryffyr Quest

by: Scymnus de Berg

Elodoban of Norrimnos and Ealina his beloved, who were of wizard-kin, walked silently into the Judgement Hall of Korferd, in the southwest of Narbicana, where the trial of a woman of the dukedom, charged with slaying of a kind forbidden unto women, was about to be begun. Duke Orlonuis was not yet in the Chair of Judgment, or they would not have been allowed to enter, but Elodoban could see the Duke was soon expected. They made their way to places on a bench that was nigh empty, and sat down. As they did, the duke came out into the hall, attended by his Adviser in the Kingdom’s Law, and the jury and the spectators stood. The woman Miolona was brought up the middle aisle between two guards and stood before the Bar of Judgment.

The Duke then said, “Miolona of Norrimnos, you are accused that you, on the seventh day of Nommolos, in this formetnith year since the Tellarian Manifestation, did wilfully slay Woulun of Fomnos, for a cause other than that he did attempt dishonourable or harmful assault on you or other woman or upon a child of less than fourteen years. How say you, do you admit to guilt in this cause, or do you challenge the King’s Accuser to prove that you be guilty?”

Miolona stood defiant. “I challenge the King’s Accuser to prove that I be guilty.”

“He is so challenged,” said the Duke. “Have you a lurnden to uphold your challenge?”

“I challenge unassisted,” said Miolona.

The King’s Accuser called his witnesses, and their evidence was forthright and simple, and Miolona did not attempt cast doubt on any word of it. There were three witnesses, two serving-girls and a ploughman, who said that Woulun had been visiting Burcu and his wife Miolona and had suggested jokingly, as they were saying a farewell in the yard, that Miolona might return some night that visit, without Burcu, and Burcu had asked how Woulun could help him have children, who had five while Woulun’s wife had had none given her. Woulun then had said he meant not that Miolona should bear a child of his but only that he should make use of her as whore.

Burcu then had asked whether Woulun would beg forgiveness of Miolona and accept his punishment at Burcu’s hands or go to formal judgement where his shame would be made public and he would be in public punished. Woulun then replied, “I’ll take such punishment as thou hast foresight enough to mete,” and rushed at Burcu, who was unarmed, and cut his leg from under him. Burcu fell, and Woulun raised sword to cut his head off, when Miolona, who had seized a heavy stone when sword came out, struck Woulun heavily where spine meets skull. He died at once. Then Miolona tried to get the others and Burcu to agree upon the tale that she had screamed at Woulun, causing him to turn, and Burcu had flung the stone unto his neck. But they would not agree thereto and be forsworn. Thus ended the evidence brought forward by the King’s Accuser of Korferd South. For Burcu did not give evidence against his spouse.

The only questioning of the witnesses that Miolona did, brought out more strongly the fact that Woulun had truly aimed at Burcu’s neck the stroke that he had been about to strike.

Then said the Duke, “You have heard the evidence that the King’s Accuser brought against you, Miolona. Do you desire to give evidence in your own defence?”

“The evidence the witnesses have given to the court has been the truth,” said Miolona. “I seek only to address the court upon the merits of the case.” Elodoban and Ealina looked at each other. From what they knew of the Law of Narbicana, the merits of the case were clear.

“Will you so address the court before or after the King’s Accuser hath so done?” the Duke asked. “Because you gave no evidence, the choice is yours.”
“I choose address the court after the King’s Accuser hath so done,” said Miolona.

The speech of the King’s Accuser was brief. He said the evidence made it clear that Miolona had killed a man for that he meant to kill her husband, and for that cause only. He said that Woulun who was slain had not attempted harm to Miolona herself or to a child, and the Law of Narbicana clearly forbade a woman to kill or to fight in defence of man or country, or for any cause other than the defence of her person or of another woman or a child, except that she might fight other women in single combat to oppose a law upheld by other women.

“Our Law is clear on this,” the King’s Accuser said. “It says a woman may not resort to violence even in defence of those she is permitted to defend, unless it is manifest to her that no man’s help for them may be had. Our Law does thus preserve the sacredness of woman as the bearer of life, in forbidding her the taking of life unless it be for the defence of others who have borne life or who may bear it, or of those who are still properly within the care of women. So sacred is the place that woman hath as bearer of life that she is forbidden to fight even in the defence of Narbicana, the mother of us all.”

Then was Miolona’s time to speak. “You men of Narbicana who are the judges of the facts in this my trial, I ask ye whether the greatest of facts is not the love that is between a man and wife. That love is made for the getting and conceiving and the raising of children, but it is also an end in itself, as the Fathers of the Church have told us. It is through their love for each other that men and women have reflected in their lives the deep, true, and particular love of God. It is for those who are not priests their deepest partaking in the Love Divine. I hold that this love is a fact so noble that it is greater than any man-made law, and I call on ye, who are the judges of the facts in this my trial, to support for me this holding. I deny not that my action was wilful, and I have not claimed that my will was overborne by sudden passion. My love for Burcu was higher than the law of men. I hold ye may overrule therefore the holding of our Lord the Duke, who is but judge of man-made law.”

The Duke, in his charge unto the jury, said that the judges of the facts must make their findings within the rulings of the judge of the law and may not overthrow his rulings on the basis of what they might feel to be the importance of a single fact. He said the facts in the case were clear, in that Miolona had slain a man who was about to harm her husband and none other, and that the law did clearly forbid that slaying.

The jury was out of the hall for five minutes only, and brought back a verdict of guilty as accused. The Duke then condemned Miolona to death, ordering that she be beheaded a week from that day, for she made no claim to combat against other women in opposition to the law she had defied. And it was widely thought she did forgo such claim because her making it would have entailed her killing many friends or dying at the hands of one of them.
As they left the Judgment Hall, after Miolona was first moved from it with look of bitter resignation on her face, Elodoban said in a low voice to Ealina, “It seems a hard law that denies a woman the right to save her husband from his death, while it allows her to save another woman’s children.”

But Ealina said, “Nay, it is a good law, as all the laws of Narbicana are, being given to us by the High Ones. For the wise who have learned from the High Ones have told us that the gentleness which belongs unto woman is so greatly valued by the Lord Most High, in itself and as the source of lesser gentleness in woman’s sons, that men should rather die most willingly than have that gentleness shattered by violence in woman for the sake of man. And if a woman be allowed to fight for her own children as the nature of a woman, and even of her very gentleness, must compel, it is only fair that she be allowed to fight for children of others, for the child of another woman is not less worthy of life than one’s own, whatever a mother’s feelings may incline her to imagine.”

“You repeat most well the teachings of the Wise,” said Elodoban, “but does your inmost heart agree with what your mouth repeats?”

“Aye, most deeply,” said Ealina. “My feelings and my instincts teach me that it is true.”

“And you believe most truly, then, that a woman should not fight for her mother Narbicana as she may fight for the honour of her body?”

“Aye. The motherhood of Narbicana is but a symbol of the motherhood of woman, and the personality we attribute to our country is but a shadow of those personalities that belong to women. At least to other women, for I feel I have no personality.”

“How can you say that, when I love you so, who are so much a lovely person unto me?”

“That is reassuring,” said Ealina. “But how can your impression of a personality be so valid, when you feel like questioning the worth of woman’s gentleness and of the laws of Narbicana that safeguard it? Are these not verities?”

“Can they be more than one woman’s personality, of which Narbicana is but a shadow?” asked Elodoban, and they both laughed.

But as they walked along, Elodoban spoke further: “I am minded to ask Father Aleuris whether it was sin for Miolona to disobey the law and save her husband.”

“Do outlanders know the way of the High Ones as well as do the Wise?”
“It is not disobedience of the High Ones that makes an act a sin, but the contravening of the will of the Lord Most High, as you well know.”

“But the High Ones are the servants of the Lord, and they convey His Will to us.”

“Still, a High One’s will is not the same thing as the Lord’s Will; there is a distinction.”

“Methinks you play with the word ‘will’,” said Ealina. “Nevertheless, if it will content you on this question, I am content to visit Father Aleuris for the answering of it.”

So they wended to the house of the village priest, a man from Sassenter who had answered Narbicana’s need (for men of Narbicana may not be priests in Narbicana while the land maintains its privilege of converse with the High Ones), and Elodoban then asked him, after casual words of welcome had been exchanged, “Is it always a sin to disobey the law? Was it a sin for Miolona to use force to save her husband’s life?”

“Methinks it was a sin, in the objective sense,” said Father Aleuris. “Whether Miolona herself did truly sin is a question only God can answer. But in general it is a sin to disobey the laws of one’s country, unless those laws are clearly contrary to the Will of God. God does not say that one must always kill a foe to save one’s life – a man may choose to die rather than send his murderer straight to Hell – and the men of Narbicana have a right to say that they do not want their women’s gentleness defiled for their own saving from mere death of body, which men of Narbicana, like the warriors of Sassenter, do not greatly fear. (Perhaps not as greatly as they should, some of them).”

“But is it fair to woman that only men can make such law?” Elodoban asked.

“Women can influence men to change the law, if they should desire,” the priest made answer. “The will of woman is carried out more often than a young, unmarried man might think.”

“But the men of Narbicana make their laws according to the counsels of the High Ones, and the women of Narbicana have no say in that at all.”

“Methinks you will find it is from the devotion of their mothers that the men of Narbicana first learn hallowing of the High Ones,” said Father Aleuris.

“Methinks rather from their fathers, to whom the mothers are devoted,” said Elodoban.

“Howbeit, women are as much in reverence of the High Ones as the men are,” said Aleuris.

“That is so,” said Ealina. And after talk of other things they left the priest.
On their way home, Elodoban said, “Meseems from what the father said, that the laws of Narbicana are not always the laws of God, or at least do not begin so. I wonder whose law it is that wizards may not marry if they are to practice of their art, but must either practice and remain single or marry and only breed wizard-kin.”

And to that Ealina said nothing. She had known for a long time that Elodoban had wished he might both marry and practice wizardry, but she thought he knew he wished in vain for practice of the art.

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