An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

The Flight from Tos Carvesh

To anyone else in the room, Anya Ryderon’s face would have appeared as a mask of unwavering calm and serenity. Carvesh, however, could see the subtle tightness of her jaw and neck, and faint lines of tension framed her dark, grief-filled eyes. But it was more than just grief. Her father’s death had only been the first gust in a whirlwind of events that had led to the abandonment of her home, her country and everything she had ever known—all to follow the man she loved.

“I’m sorry for the loss of your Father,” said Aurin Carwell softly. “But I’m not sure I understand exactly what that has to do with your being here.”

“It’s complicated,” responded Carvesh. He was struggling to find the clearest means of explaining what had happened next. The events were so deeply affected by cultural details that he know the story would sound strange and foreign to everyone else in the room. For Anya, there was no such struggle.

“In Mesinia,” she said flatly, “we do not marry for love.”

“Yes,” Carvesh agreed, “I suppose that would be the best place to start. You need to understand that, for the vast majority of Mesinians, honour is held above all else. Here, we tend to think of honour as something that is given or earned. Gregor might say that he’s honoured to have Lord Carwell in his home, for example. Or, a man might be given a medal of honour for his bravery in battle.

“In Mesinia, however, honour forms the very fabric of their society. It determines rank and position, and is measured by a wide range of factors, such as accomplishments, wealth, health, and even physical appearance. Perhaps most important of all are your relationships. If you’re related to somebody of great honour, then some of that honour is passed on to you.”

“Sounds bloody confusing,” muttered Madik.

“You have no idea. But it also means that marriages are more about the exchange of honour between two families than they are about the people getting married. If the two parties involved love each other, or if they come to love each other later—it’s merely considered and additional blessing from God.”

“That doesn’t sound so different from us,” said Aurin. “I seem to remember your father being less than thrilled on his wedding day. Alleriana Tyne was not the bride that he would have chosen.”

“No, I’m sure she was not,” responded Carvesh. Even to a young boy, he knew enough to understand that his parents never really loved each other, at least not in the way some of the other couples he had known. Certainly not in the way that he loved Anya. If they had loved each other, would his mother still have sent her husband to his death? It was hard to say for certain, for Carvesh had learned first-hand how hard of a woman she could be. “The difference is that, for us, those arranged marriages tend to be reserved for the House of Lords and the… Flameborn.”

Strange, he thought, that the word should still sting after all these years.

“Yes,” said Anya. “In my homeland, everyone lives in this way. Even the lowest servants and common labourers seek to marry their sons and daughters for the greatest possible honour. Negotiations can often begin years before a child even comes to a marriageable age.”

“Which is what made Gyrus so unusual,” said Carvesh quietly. “Unlike everyone else around him, he valued love over honour. I don’t know why. It might have been the influence of Relenian merchants that he liked to trade with, or the mysterious Alns from the far, far west. Whatever the reason, he refused to enter into any marriage agreement for Anya unless she first loved the man.”

“But you two were—are—in love,” said Quelana, regarding them both with her intense, green eyes.

“Yes,” admitted Carvesh, “and it took me years to work up the nerve to ask for her hand. When I did, Gyrus just smiled and asked me why I’d taken so long. I told him I was afraid I would not bring enough honour to his family. He just laughed and called me the son of a king. What more honour could I bring? That was strange to me. Nobody else had thought of me in that way. Most saw me simply as castaway from a different place, and there was no honour in that. Still, Anya and I were elated. Everything was working out better than we could ever have hoped.

“Three days later, Gyrus was dead.

“They told us that his heart had failed, but I’m sure he was poisoned by a man named Tuen. We’d barely sprinkled the last bit of dirt on the grave when that viper descended upon us, claiming to have finalized a marriage agreement just before Gyrus’ death. Anya was an only child, and all of her fathers’s wealth would have passed to her—or to her husband. His family also has connections to the Imperial line, which made Anya a distant cousin to Emperor Tozashai himself. Marrying her would have brought great honour to Tuen.

“There’s no way to know all of the details, but I would guess that he must have heard about Gyrass agreement to allow Anya and I to marry. That would have angered him. He was a successful merchant in his own right and I was nobody. How could I be chosen over him? He would also have seen it as a lost opportunity for his own personal gain. Whatever the reasons, he must have acted quickly, poisoning Gyras and forging an entire collection of papers that would allow him to marry Anya.

“We denied it, of course, but had no proof. Our agreement had only been verbal and Tuen’s papers bore Gyrus’ own signature. With his death and no brothers to support her, Mesinian tradition dictated that, as her husband-to-be, Tuen would become Anya’s guardian. He came to claim her the next night, but she refused to go. I tried to reason with him but, in the eagerness of his greed, he grabbed her and tried to drag her from the house. When she fought against him, he struck her across the face.

“And something in me snapped. I hit him back. Harder than I’d ever hit anyone before—or since. I know I broke his nose, and might have fractured his jaw too. Either way, he crumpled to the ground.”

“You truly are your father’s son,” said Aurin through a thin smile. “He would have done the exact same thing. In fact, he did, once. What happened next?”

“We ran,” said Anya. “there was nothing else we could do. Though he was a pompous ass, Tuen was an important man in Tos. I knew he could turn the entire city against us quickly enough. We gathered only what we could carry on our backs and left that very night.”

“And decided to come back to Relen’kar?”

“No, that came later. At first, we were just focusing on staying alive. There is a Sun Temple about two days north of Tos, so we made for there. My father had an old friend who was a member of the priesthood. He could hardly condone what we had done, but he had little love for Tuen and my father had been a generous patron of the temple. The priest hid us, even when the Emperor’s Dragons came to report the gendwen—a sort of Imperial bounty—that had been declared on us. They searched the temple, though not as diligently as they might have. I am of the Emperor’s own blood, however distant.

“If they ever caught us, Tozashai would have had no choice but to fulfill the terms of the gendwen, but that did not mean that he had to dedicate himself to finding us.” She smiled. “Once or twice, I suspect that his Dragons even prepared the the way for our escape.”

“So you continued to flee?” pressed Aurin.

“Yes,” said Carvesh, picking up the story. “When we left the temple, we joined with a pilgrimage heading east, towards the holy city of Pen Ti Vogan. They dyed my hair and wrapped me in bandages to hide the recognizable paleness that would have marked me as a foreigner. Traveling under the pretence of being afflicted with a rare sickness called red scales, I mostly rode in the supply wagon. Anya played the part of a servant girl, until we reached the city several weeks later.

“From there, we purchased horses and cut across country. We’d decided to make for Neva, where there were enough Relenian merchants and sailors that I wouldn’t stand out quite so much. Your lessons proved invaluable, uncle. We lived mostly on fish and root vegetables. Our meals weren’t always all that appetizing, but the food was hearty and nutritious, and lent us strength when we needed it the most.”

“Well done,” said Aurin. “Even a prince never knows when he might need to rely on his own skills and cunning just to survive.”

Carvesh nodded, remembering those long, difficult weeks, when they had made their way through the vast wilderness, sleeping in makeshift shelters with only each other and a pair of damp, tattered blankets with which to keep warm. There had been times when he had thought they would not survive, that he was leading the woman he loved to her own death. With every passing day, Anya had grown quieter and quieter, to the point where he was sure that her love was turning to bitter resentment. It was only later that he came to realize that she had been grieving for the death of her father—something that she had had little opportunity to do in the weeks of hiding and running.

He shared none these private thoughts. They were all too personal, and nothing anyone else needed to know.

“When we did finally reach Neva, we were able to find employment quickly enough. Anya used her experience with fabrics and sewing to become a weaver’s assistant, while I worked as a labourer down at the docks. We lived like that for several months and were growing reasonably comfortable in what we thought was going to be our new life. We were even preparing to get married at the small, local temple.

“And that’s when he found us.”

“Tuen?” asked Aurin.

“No. We’ve never seen Tuen again, thank the Nine, though we weren’t quite finished with that mess. This was someone else. He came at night, like a ghost from the past, a black-haired and thick-bearded Relenian who appeared at the door of the small shack we were renting. Without a word, he embraced me with all the strength of a bear and called me brother.

“It was only then that I realized that this stranger was no stranger at all, but Jayslen himself.”

Stay Up to Date

There are all kinds of ways to keep up with the latest instalments of An Unfolding Tale. Subscribe to the newsletter for exclusive content, or follow the Tale through RSS or social media!