An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

The Exile’s Secret Carvesh

It was well after noon—and several hours since coming face to face with Lord Aurin Carwell—when Carvesh found himself sitting in Gregor Corbit’s home. There were ten of them in all, more than enough to make the Mayor’s spacious parlour feel cramped. Carvesh sat with his family, Anya close at his side, Alek on his lap and Jayne leaning against his arm. Jadoc, Madik and Quelana were seated on a long couch, while Trent stood leaning in the corner, absently scratching at his bandages whenever he thought that the healer was not looking. Gregor paced nervously at the back of the room, his eyes fixed firmly on the floorboards, as if they might provide answers to the questions running through his mind.

In the centre of it all was Aurin Carwell, Lord of the province of Nevhen. He sat as intent and unmoving as the rockcat upon his breast, his eyes never straying from Carvesh for more than a passing instant. It was as though he half-expected the late King’s son to vanish into thin air.  At that particular moment, Carvesh would have liked nothing more. He was dreading what was to come, but there was no way around it. Not now. The truth that he had tried so hard to hide away was about to be exposed. Some already knew it. Others surely suspected.

Now, it was up to him to make it real, to give voice to that truth. There was no stepping back. His life was about to change forever.

At least, as much of it as he had left to live.

“Thank you all for coming,” he began quietly. “I… I don’t know of any easy way to say what I want to say, so I’ll just get right to the point. With the exception of Lord Carwell, I’ve lived here, among you for eight years now. You know my wife and my children. You also know my name, though not all of it. You’ve been gracious and never asked.”

“Every man’s entitled to his secrets,” said Madik.

“And I thank you for that,” replied Carvesh. “But some secrets have more weight them than others. Some are far more dangerous. And though you may not have know my full name, I feel it is necessary to share it with you now…” He hesitated, looking from face to face. How could he tell them the truth? After all this time, how could he reveal who he truly was?

It would bring danger on the town. Even if he left that very night, the danger would remain. His presence in Kervale could not be wiped away. When his enemies came looking for him, they would start here, in this village that he had so desperately tried to make his home. Will these people suffer because of me? Am I just bringing more fear, uncertainty and pain down upon them?

There was no way to know, but the very idea made him pause, if only for a moment. There was no going back now, however. The truth was there, hovering like a dark cloud over them all. It remained to be seen whether that cloud would give rise to a storm or merely pass on, but one thing was certain. There was no way to escape it. All that was left was for him to speak the words.

“My name…” he began. “My full name is Carvesh Rayderon. I am the son of Merek Rayderon, the last King of Relen’kar.”

For a long moment, no one said a word. The silence hung heavy in the room, like a grindstone chained around his neck, pulling him down with a weight that threatened to crush all the air from his lungs. He felt Anya reach down and take his hand, her soft, slender fingers entwining with his own. Jayne’s own grip on his other arm tightened as she drew herself closer.

That, at least, was something of a comfort. He had been sickeningly unsure how his children would react when he and Anya had told them the truth, mere hours earlier. Alek had simply nodded in the same, quiet way that when they had explained the death of Badger, the old family dog. At six years of age, he was just too young to fully grasp all the implications of what he had been told.

Jayne, however, was just that much older and surprisingly mature for her age. She might not understand everything, but she knew enough to realize that her life was changing forever. She could not be the daughter of a farmer anymore. Now, she would be seen as something different, though even Carvesh could not say exactly what that something might be. He had worried that his daughter might begrudge the change, but so far he had seen nothing to indicate such feelings on her part.

“Well,” said Madik, breaking the awkward silence. “That explains a few things.”

“How so?” asked Gregor. He looked up, but maintained his troubled pacing.

“Well,” replied the hunter. “I’d always felt that our friend here carried himself differently from any other farmer I’ve met. Doubly so after last night. I found myself wondering where’d he learned to use a sword. Now, it seems, I’ve got an answer. I’d bet swordcarft is an integral part of a prince’s training, no?”

“Very integral,” said Lord Carwell. His tone was flat. His face was unreadable. “I gave him lessons myself when he was just a boy. He showed promise. But what I don’t understand is what he’s doing here. By the Holy Nine, Carvesh! You were exiled for life. Do you not understand what that means? If the Queen… if your mother were to find out… You’d be decorating the same gallows as your father. Why the bloody hell did you come back? And why, oh why did you bring your children?”

“I didn’t bring them. They were born here.”

“But your daughter, she must be nearly…”

“Eight years old, sir,” said Jayne.

“Eight years,” muttered Carwell. “You’ve been living right under my nose for eight bloody years? How? Why?”

“It’s a long story, uncle.”

“I think we have time for it,” replied Carwell. “And if we don’t, we’ll damned well make time.”

Carvesh looked to Anya. It was as much her story as his own and, with the exception of his brother, Jayslen, they had never shared it with anyone on this side of the Yeartide. Looking into the depths of her eyes, he found strength and assurance and an unspoken affirmation. She was granting him the permission to tell that story. No, he thought, it’s more than that. She never liked the all the secrets. She wants me to tell this story. She’s wanted it for years.

“Very well,” he said, taking a deep breath. “To be frank, I almost didn’t make it to Mesinia at all. After leaving Relen’ayar, we sailed for about a week and a half before a storm came up and nearly destroyed the ship. As it was, we were barely able to make port in Highspire. Our captain was a stubborn man who refused to accept the dishounour of failing to deliver me to Mesinia, as he had been hired to do. But he wasn’t about to set sail again until he was sure his ship had been thoroughly repaired. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it through the locks before the tide went out, so I spent my first summer of exile in Highspire, mostly being tutored and tested on the honour systems of Mesinian society or the basics of their language.”

“I know it probably seems like an unimportant detail, but as it turned out, the family that I was supposed to be fostered with in the city of Neva had recently fallen apart. The father had died of some sickness and his sons had scattered.”

“That is not uncommon,” interjected Anya. “The father is the head of the family. If he dies of sudden sickness, it can often be understood as the displeasure of God. Sons will often flee from their homes in an effort to escape that displeasure and maintain their own honour.”

Carvesh half expected some off-handed remark about Mesinian religious practices. To his surprise, everyone remained silent. Aurin nodded, as if in understanding.

“I never ended up going to Neva at all. Instead, when we finally made port, I was sent hundreds of miles inland, to a much smaller city called Tos. There I was fostered with a wealthy textile merchant named Gyrus.”

“I must confess,” said Aurin, “that I’ve often wondered what happened after you sailed away. Was it difficult for you?”

“At first,” replied Carvesh. “I was still having trouble with the language and I was so obviously different. By and large, the Mesinians are a smaller people, and since I was already tall for my age, most of the other children were afraid of me just because of my size. And, since Tos is an inland city, I was the only Relenian most of them had ever seen. But Gyrus was a kind and dedicated man and treated me like his own nephew.”

“Nephew?” asked Jadoc.

“Yes,” said Anya. “A son is always an heir to his father, but a nephew is thought to be a beloved one, held in high esteem and honour. Carvesh could never have been my father’s heir, at least not directly, but he could still earn his respect and esteem.”

“Your father?” said Aurin. “Then you grew up together?” Anya nodded and the Lord of Nevhen scratched the stubble of his face. “If your father was a wealthy merchant who respected Carvesh, why would you have left the safety of his home to come here? Surely you knew the dangers?”

“Yes, I knew. But in coming here, we were given at least the chance at safety, however slim. In Mesinia, there was only death.”

“But why? What happened?”

“Very simply, my father died.”

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