When 16-year-old Winifred determined that she was pregnant, she knew she had to take action immediately. It would not be long until her mother would start asking questions. Her mother, in turn, would doubtless tell either Winifred’s father, or her maternal grandfather, depending on how angry she was. If she was really angry, she’d tell both. In any of these cases, the consequences did not bear contemplation.
So Winifred packed a small bag and exited the house through her own bedroom window. Her mother was not the sort of person who could imagine exiting any building through a window, so Winifred was relatively certain this was safe.
She made her way to the home of the Keretian commercial representative.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters, places, and events to those in the real world is coincidental.
Copyright © 2013
Henry E. Neufeld
To understand her decision, one must have some understanding of her home town, the small seaport of Aroqra. Despite having a relatively good seaport near several major shipping lanes, Aroqra was a poor town. It was multicultural, not in the sense of having developed a diverse mix of thriving cultures, but in the sense of having collected the remnants of many cultures. Specifically, those who were unable to leave for some reason.
Aroqra could, by the very optimistic, be called a city-state. At the moment it was ruled by someone who styled himself the sultan, though less than a decade earlier, it had been ruled by a king, and before that by a mayor. Few remembered any further back than that. It mattered very little to the inhabitants. The same man had been chief of police through all those changes of government, and he and his people enforced a sort of consensus law as best they could. The mayor, king, or sultan could decree, but the police enforced, and they enforced what they thought they could get by with enforcing. What they couldn’t manage to solve in this way, they let people solve for themselves.
The Keretians were primarily a seagoing people, with widespread commercial interests. They preferred to establish commercial representatives, who served as their ambassadors, wherever they could. In general, they expected these to be treated as embassies, unless they could manage to arrange extraterritorial rights for their citizens. In the case of Aroqra, they had simply stacked silver coins in front of the sultan until he guaranteed them their extraterritorial rights.
But to get back to the world as Winifred knew it, the Keretian ambassador had a son, also 16 years old, who had become quite popular in the community. His name was Malkish, and it was to him, not the building, that Winifred ran.
Malkish hid Winifred in one of the unused rooms of his father’s rather large home. It should be noted that this home was also his father’s place of business, and that it was surrounded by a substantial wall and guarded by armed guards. None of these guards paid any attention to the activities of the teenagers, however.
However long it might have taken Winifred’s mother, Marga, to discover that her daughter was pregnant had the girl stayed home, it took practically no time at all for her to come to that conclusion when she discovered the girl had run away. It took very little time after that for her to discover where Winifred had gone. Winifred was sneaky enough to climb out the window, but not sneaky enough to avoid the many witnesses who had seen her walk from her home to Malkish’s home.
And thus began the trouble …
“Our daughter is pregnant,” Marga said to her husband.
“Pregnant?!” he yelled. “Impossible!”
“Nonetheless it is so.”
“You have failed in your duty as a mother! You should have prevented this.” He would have struck his wife, but he restrained himself. After all, she could enter any room while he slept and she cooked his food.
“It is you,” she said, “who permits her to roam the town. What did you think would happen?” He was unhappy to be reminded of this, but it was true that he was very indulgent of his daughter.
Winifred’s father thought throughout the afternoon. Finally he decided that he would have to take a little trip into the countryside to the west, a trip from which Winifred would not return.
“Honor demands that this stain be erased,” he told his wife.
She had expected precisely this result.
“Bring her to me!” he demanded.
When he found out that Winifred was not available, he was furious. He went out and told his relatives who told their relatives. By the next morning, there was a crowd gathered in front of the Keretian commercial representative’s building.
Yarub, the representative, could not understand what the problem was. The crowd was demanding that he bring out a girl he’d never heard of. He asked his staff, but nobody knew. He asked his guards, and finally someone said that Malkish had brought a young woman into the compound the day before, but that wasn’t particularly unusual, was it?
So Yarub called for Malkish, who admitted that he had hidden the girl in the compound.
“She has sought refuge here,” said Malkish. “Doesn’t honor demand that we protect her?”
Yarub couldn’t see any reason why honor would demand that he protect a random girl, but then he thought of one circumstance in which it would. If Malkish was the father of this pregnant girl’s child, then honor would demand that he protect them both. Keretians were very protective of their offspring, even if they had not been conceived after the wedding.
Yarub allowed Winifred’s father to come into the compound to talk.
“Honor demands that my daughter be given to me, so she can pay for the disgrace she has brought on our family,” said the angry father. He didn’t specify just how the girl would pay.
“But she is carrying my son’s child,” said Yarub. “Honor demands that I protect her and my grandchild!”
One of the guards whispered to Yarub. “What?” he asked. “This man would kill his daughter!”
“I didn’t say that,” muttered Winifred’s father.
“But you didn’t deny it either. That’s what you mean, ‘pay’. You mean to kill her, and my grandchild at the same time! I will not allow her to leave this compound! You will leave immediately!”
“You are a dishonorable man! Who are you to stand between me and my daughter!”
But the guards threw the angry father out of the gate. The crowd continued to yell and occasionally throw rocks, but there was little they could do other than block the entrance.
Marga also told her father what had happened, and explained how her husband was going to kill her daughter if he could, because honor demanded it.
But Marga’s clan did not have the same custom’s as her husband’s.
“Honor demands that we kill the man who has defiled my grandaughter,” said Marga’s father.
Soon there were two competing crowds in front of the Keretian commercial building, one demanding that Winifred be sent out to them, and the other than Malkish be sent out. From time to time, men from the competing groups would get into fights.
Jeloran was a captain in the city police. In fact, his task was criminal investigation. And despite the fact that he had no tools or training, and was paid very little, he took his job seriously.
For some time he observed the groups gathered in from of the Keretian commercial building. He heard the crowds yelling at each other about honor and what it demanded. Perhaps, he thought, honor demands that someone find out exactly what has happened here!
So he started asking around. Very quickly he discovered that Winifred was not known to be regularly in Malkish’s company. Like most of the young people of the town, she hung around the group that hung around him. He was rich, he was flamboyant, he was exotic, and the young people did that. But Winifred was not especially closely connected to him.
He kept asking, and finally he discovered that there was a young man, from the wrong side of town (there were lots of wrong sides in Aroqra). He contrived to corner the young man out of sight of any of the contenders. This was easy to do, as the contenders were all gathered at the gate to the Keretian compound.
“Pregnant?” said the young man. “How could she be pregnant?”
“The usual way,” snapped Jeloran. Surely the young man knew how babies were made.
“We played around,” said the boy, “but we didn’t go all the way. I swear it! But if she is in trouble, she can come home with me.”
Jeloran thought about that for a moment. It would never do! The people who were now outside the Keretians’ gate would burn this poor kid’s house down around him in a moment.
“Don’t tell anybody what I’ve said. I’ll see to it she’s alright. But things will go very badly if you say anything. Understand?”
The kid understood.
Jeloran went and found a healer, and they both went back to the Keretian compound. They made it through the crowd because Jeloran listed so sympathetically to the demands of both sides that he bring Winifred and/or Malkish out with him. Instead, Jeloran went to Yarub’s office.
“I would like to see Malkish and Winifred,” he said.
“I am not going to let any of you barbarians kill my grandchild!” said Yarub. “Honor demands that I protect both the child and its mother!”
“Are you sure there is a grandchild?” asked Jeloran.
“What do you mean?”
“Are you sure the girl Winifred is pregnant?”
“My son said she was. Why would he say that if it wasn’t true?”
“What if he just took her word for it? What if he even knew he couldn’t be the father?”
Yarub sat there silently. “He always did have a soft heart,” he said finally. Then he called both of the young people to his office.
When Winifred saw the healer she tried to run. The healer just said, “What do you think I’m going to do to you, girl?”
“I don’t know!” said Winifred.
“Are you actually pregnant?”
“No. I thought I was. I was late. I now know I’m not.”
“Could you have been the father?” Yarub asked Malkish.
“No, father, but honor demanded …”
“Yes, I know. Honor. Everyone is talking about honor.” He turned to Jeloran. “What can we do? Everyone wants to kill someone.”
“Oh, I think this can all be solved, if you’re willing to spend what will be, for you, a small sum of money. The healer here will confirm that the girl is not pregnant. There’s no way he can really be sure at this early stage, but the people out there believe he can. He’ll want his bill paid, by the way. Then your son will swear that he did not have sex with the girl at any time. If the two men, the girls father and her maternal grandfather are satisfied, then the crowds will disperse. Then you offer her a job that requires that she go elsewhere for training.”
“In my experience, men around here are not anxious for their daughters to get jobs,” said Yarub.
“That is quite true, but in this case, they are going to have problems marrying this girl off to anyone after this. There will always be a taint. Her father will accept that she’s innocent, because he never really wanted to kill her in the first place. But everyone else will have doubts. But you’ll need to offer a bit of money to keep the father happy.”
“It seems I’m paying a lot for a girl who is not my son’s girlfriend,” he said, looking pointedly at Malkish.
“But,” said Jeloran before the boy could speak, “you’ll end the disturbance at your gates, and you’ll have several people in your debt.”
“True,” said Yarub.
And so it happened that Winifred was recruited for a job in a distant land, and her father gave her permission to accept.
After all the negotiations were complete, Jeloran had one more task to complete. He called Yarub aside.
“There’s a young man,” he said, “who is actually Winifred’s boyfriend. I’m wondering if you could do something for him.”
“And why would I do that?”
“Might I suggest that my honor demands that I do something for him, to reward him for honestly answering the question that led me to the solution to all of this.”
“That’s your honor, not mine.”
“But would it not, perhaps, be helpful for you to have the chief investigator of the city police in your debt as well, a debt of honor? I take my honor very seriously.”
“Oh, I see,” said Yarub. And he did.
(This post was written for and submitted to the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival – Honor.)