The Bride Show

by E.C. Traganas

There would be no return now. Not for a long time. The infamous deed was done, and unlike her fellow believers, she had fortuitously made her departure before incurring further wrath. The die is cast, thought Kassia, reflecting on Caesar’s bold crossing of the Rubicon centuries earlier. And like Caesar, this new upstart emperor had crossed the line of no return. Actions have consequences. I made my bed, and now I must lie in it, she said, quoting the words now mimed by every young scholar of a well-born upbringing. Yes, she was educated, and perhaps in her own iconoclastic way, far too much so for her own good.

The merchant ship was gently rocking and the rows of oars plashed rhythmically through the still, glassy waters of the Bosporus. A rosy bloom was opening in the east like a ripening summer fruit scenting the air with a mystical glow that filled her soul and washed over her like a honeyed balm. “The die is cast, Loukía,” she repeated, wincing as her handmaiden and companion carefully brushed out her silken chestnut hair and plaited it into a lustrous braid.

“Yes, m’am. Your back is still raw with welts,” Loukía replied recollecting the lashing her mistress had endured. “The calendula salve will help it heal, m’lady.”

I was a fool, Kassia pondered as the dawn slowly flowered. I could have been the Queen of all Byzantium if I had truly desired. “Was I truly foolish, Loukía?” she said addressing the girl who bowed submissively like a faithful lapdog.

“M’lady, you were magnificent! May I speak?”

Kassia nodded. Loukía may have been a distant cousin, reared from a different station in life, but had become as familiar to her as her own sister.

“M’lady, when the Emperor heard you sing and play your psaltery, everyone could see he was awed beyond words. The melody was so original, so haunting…If I may, he might even have been a little threatened by you—”

“Threatened, eh?” Kassia’s hazel eyes glinted with interest. “Well, he was a sight, wasn’t he? Theophilus with the swarthy brows and stocky gait. He was a swaggering, arrogant puppy!”

“M’lady!” Loukía gasped at the treasonous words. “But, yes, we could all see he was trying to put you in your place.”

“A woman’s place, right? ‘Through a woman, evil came to man,’ he said.”

“You might have chosen to humble yourself to him,” Loukía suggested.

“No,” Kassia replied. “He wanted to parry with me, verse by verse, and I replied in kind.”

“You said, ‘And through the Virgin, better things began,’ not exactly what he was expecting.”

“Clever, wasn’t it?” Kassia mocked. “If Eve begat original sin, then Christ, born of a lowly woman, brought redemption. That pompous sixteen-year-old couldn’t handle the truth. Did you notice how he scowled, how his mouth twisted and tetched with annoyance? You could see a sooty black cloud erupting over his head, spilling volcanic ash all over his features.” She recalled how he had abruptly spun around on his jewel-encrusted sandals and walked off to the young girl on her left, a pretty dark-haired contender in that ridiculous competition of nubile young maidens his stepmother Euphrosyne had staged to curry favor with the wealthy nobles, and impulsively offered her his hand. ‘You shall be my empress,’ he had said with haughty grandeur to the bewildered Theodora as he offered her the coveted prize of the golden apple with a kiss on her forehead. “I never wanted this, Loukía, you know that. It is all a sham. And I have other plans.”

“No, m’lady. And yes, it is—and you do.”

Each noiseless swing of the oars brought them father and farther away from the seat of their misfortune. Kassia paced around the cramped superstructure that served as their quarters on the aft of the vessel. She reached down into her carved wooden chest and grinned cynically at the neatly folded russet-colored brocaded gown she had worn at the presentation. “It will fetch good money,” she thought, admiring the fashionably narrow sleeves and hem embroidered with gold thread and trimmed with precious pearls and cloisonné glass stones. I will never wear this again.

“Hold still, m’lady,” Loukía murmured softly behind her as she affixed a veil over her mistress’s freshly plaited hair.

Kassia searched behind the sumptuous garment and carefully pulled out a velvet parcel secured with gold clasps. Unfolding the wooden panel, she gazed with admiration at the sacred icon revealed before her: an image of the Virgin Theotokos seated with the infant Christ holding a scroll in his miniscule hand, the scroll of Holy Wisdom. A forbidden image, a likeness the possession of which had nearly cost her her life. She gazed upon it in reverence. Could he not understand? she wondered in exasperation. It is not the exquisite but inanimate wood and tempera painting I am worshipping. Or the priceless rubies and emeralds affixed to the polished rosewood frame. It is not the depictions of the apostles, or even the Christ Pantocrator himself that I am idolizing. The Virgin’s otherworldly pensive aspect seemed to smile upon her benignly, as if leaping out from its earthly boundary, touching her innermost soul so profoundly that she shuddered with emotion. All for this, she mused, sensing a sharp, momentary soreness tingle her lacerated back. “Is it so wrong to find such beauty in this created treasure, Loukía…or this?” she asked, cradling a stack of precious parchments stashed in a hidden compartment containing her music and poems.

“The Emperor did proclaim it an evil art, m’lady.”

“Yes, and we have all suffered for it. ‘Satan misled men,’ he said, ‘just as he misled Eve, so that they adored the creature instead of the Creator.’ Can he not understand that these are not idols representing false gods? We are not offering burnt sacrifices at a pagan altar.” Kassia clenched her fist with indignation, thinking of the thousands upon thousands of priceless icons smashed and desecrated by Theophilus’s rabid iconoclast henchmen. “What a loss—such mindless tyrrany.”

“I don’t believe he realizes yet that his new bride Theodora is one of us, does he?” Loukía hinted. 

Kassia scowled. “He chose well, then. She will play his bluff. And we will be patient.” She swaddled the precious bundle in bolts of fabric, hiding it carefully in the secret folds of her casket, closed her eyes at the vanishing horizon and began to sing softly to herself.

Author of the critically applauded debut novel Twelfth House, E.C. Traganas has published in Möbius, Ibbetson Street PressThe Penwood ReviewSacred JourneyAgape Review, and numerous other literary journals. Hailed as ‘an artfully created masterpiece’ and a ‘must-read’, her new work, Shaded Pergola, has recently launched in Amazon’s poetry bestseller list. A resident of New York City, Ms. Traganas enjoys a varied career as a Juilliard-trained concert pianist & composer, activities that have earned her accolades from the international press. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s