Wellan Speaks

Here is what Wellan said when Alba’s kawntradd met
The year the feud began, “honored friends and kinsmen,
Strangers and visitors, and free men of Alba:
For uttering falsehood instead of prophecy,
Truly a hateful crime for one wearing the shawl,
The fair eye of Alba, Arlean, lies murdered,
Slain by her uncle’s hand. A woman must be chosen
To replace Arlean, and become Alba’s eye,
Our window to the world. Our need is most urgent,
Someone must be chosen, a woman of great skill,
To guide us through trouble in these desperate hours.
I have a proposal, a proper substitute
To take Arlean’s place and be Alba’s new eye.
My man Ovan is dead; his wife is widowed,
And she is a weaver. She should make the white shawl.”

Pramil stood in support. “Young girls can be flighty;
Their skills are often weak, their knowledge somewhat short.
Let us have a widow weave the White Shawl this time,
And she can be the Eye, already strong in mind,
Endowed with discretion and wise in women’s ways.
Let us name Ovan’s wife, or his widow, rather,
To be the white shawl here, and read omens for us.
Marina can do it; she has the skill and sense.”
Other men stood witness and agreed to this plan,
But Kembirel shouted, and demanded order.
“White Shawls must be virgins, thus does the law demand,”
Shouted Alba’s master, crimson upon his face.
“A widow can not serve, nor should she hold office
and be an island’s eye. This cannot be allowed.
I will not hear nonsense spoken on kawntradd day.”

But the Black Cloak spoke then, and recited the law,
Such as he remembered, as his duty commends.
“A white shawl woman sleeps in a lonely bed,”
so the black cloak quoted, “never becomes pregnant,
nor takes a man for love, else her power leave her.
From the White Shawl’s weaving, she is inviolate,
‘til such time she marries, or fails to prophesy,
as she is required.” The Black Cloak stood silent,
and Wellan rose again. “From the White Shawl’s weaving
a woman sleeps alone. The black cloak speaks the law;
you heard what he uttered: Custom seeks a virgin;
the Law does not insist. Ovan’s wife Marina,
skilled in the weaver’s arts, single by widowing,
is most acceptable. Am I right to say this?”
The black cloak nodded, then. “The nomination stands.”

Kembirel answered this with his own candidate.
“Custom chooses virgins for sensible reasons,
Wellan from the mountains. City folk know better
Than to trust widow’s words; and should our Eye be marred
By some singular fault unique in Orien?
We should elect a maid, a suitable White Shawl,
Most virginal and pure, to guard the loom for us,
And speak of prophesy, and read omens for us.
Here is young Dhannorli, a girl from Chof district,
Who can be our White Shawl, and also Alba’s eye.
She’s meek yet capable, eager to do us proud,
And serve as fate commends.” Dhannorli came forward
At Kembirel’s gesture, and indeed she was meek
And fair to look upon; but her eyes were downcast;
And she flinched at his touch when he presented her.

“Are there any other conditions in the law,”
said a man from the south to the stoic Black Cloak,
“regarding who may serve as a White Shawl or Eye?”
The Black Cloak pondered this, and then spoke his answer.
“Any woman at all can take up the White Shawl,
and serve as Alba’s Eye, if she sleeps all alone
and does not love a man. No mark or scar bars her,
except having the skill to weave her shawl herself.”
Then there was a flurry as other clans and kin
Put forward candidates: widows in their households
And daughters shamed by rape. Then disfigured nieces,
And cousins cut with knives, serving-women dandled,
even brides to sea-men away on Long Passage.
Every house in Alba had a woman or more
Injured or disfigured who might become the Eye.

In all, forty women were named to be the Eye,
To weave the shawl of white and watch the threads of fate.
None of them were virgins but for Kembirel’s choice,
A meek-faced girl from Chrof who would do his bidding.
But why so few virgins? The answer became clear
As every householder declared his candidate.
This one was injured; that one was molested;
This other had been raped. She had been cut with knives,
That one had her face burned, this other lost an eye.
Hardly any woman of a suitable age
Anywhere in Alba had been left unruined.
Strangers had done this here, raiders had done that there,
Guests from over the sea abused their host’s shelter.
The men’s fury gathered, it reached the breaking point,
Rage boiled up in them for harms wrought over years.

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  1. Wonderful! I am giggling with delight here! The way our tapestry is woven is simply astounding, all of us together weaving such a thing of marvelous beauty. 🙂

    • Thank you. I’m slightly weirded out by the idea of you “giggling with delight” about this story, though, in which a bunch of men gradually come to the realization that their island community has been savaged for years, and that their women have been greatly harmed…

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