On the fifth day, we took him to the King
to be received. The Queen was beside herself.
She intoned constantly under her breath,
part-lullaby, part-charm, words bubbling
out of her mouth like water from a spring
in the language of her home, not hard to understand –
the cloak-you-from-harm, the defects-invisible,
shining in the eyes’ charm, the paternal love
and fidelity charm, the song of may-he-know-you-for-his-own,
and most of all the beloved, be calm; you are safe, you are mine.
We’d know these songs in whatever language they were sung.
She wouldn’t put the infant down, kept tucking
the cloths in round his head. No good.
He rarely showed an interest in his offspring now;
somebody must have tipped him off.
He ordered the child unwrapped for his inspection.
When he saw its bulging skull and long face
he stepped back: blood-drained and staggered.
He declared the child deformed, ordered it exposed
on the city road, wanted it gone.
Then he turned on the Queen. Called her whore,
called the child an illegitimate.
At first we thought we’d misheard when he started to scream
that she’d fucked his precious bull –
the white one, come from the sea,
that this was their progeny,
but he went on and on, his face dark with blood,
spittling, white foam gathering at the corners
of his lips, the veins in his neck
standing out like monstrous umbilical ropes,
bellowing, bull-whore, cattle-mother.
The Queen stood pale and quiet for a long time,
then began to motion with her arms as if calling to the gods,
began swirling them round her in a strange dance
at which he stiffened.
Her keening began to swell and fill the hall,
the hairs on our arms and necks prickled
as we shivered. When he was completely quiet
she said in the language of our island:
hurt this child and I will not be responsible for your pain
or healing
. Then she picked up the infant
and left. We scurried after, kept guard
over her chambers, waited for what would come next.

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