Argument The following poem is a dramatic monologue in four sections, based on a brief passage in a barbarian legal text. In the sixth-century law code Lex Burgundiorum, an account is given of the widow Aunegild, who betrothed herself to Fredegisil, sword-bearer to King Gundobad, ruler of the Burgundians. Aunegild, soon after receiving the bride-price from her fiancé, began a liaison with another man, Balthamodus. On the complaint of Fredegisil, both she and her lover Balthamodus were condemned to death, but the Burgundian king commuted their sentences to heavy fines. A severe warning was inserted in the law code, to the effect that this act of mercy would not be repeated in the case of any other woman who dishonored her betrothal vows. In this poem I add the further details (absent from the Latin text of the incident) that the mercy shown by the king to Aunegild and Balthamodus was due to the intercession of Fredegisil, who asked that the life of his betrothed be spared; and that Aunegild lived the life of a shunned outcast after her release. All else is exactly as the law code tells us. A convenient English edition of the Lex Burgundiorum is that of Katherine Fischer Drew, The Burgundian Code (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1949, rpt. 1984). Stress placement on Burgundian personal names: AU-ne-gild Bal-tha-MO-dus Fre-de-GI-sil GUN-do-bad I. The Sin Fredegisil was all wealth and status: The king’s sword-bearer, with the apparatus Of courtly manners and a sure entrée To seats of power. All my friends would say See how she rises upwards with this marriage! But Balthamodus—when I saw his carriage Tall and erect, as lithe and full of grace As a young deer, and blessed with such a face! I did not think I’d ever catch his eye (Poor Balthamodus! So reserved and shy!) But in the end I had him. Men are weak. Traps to ensnare them are not far to seek. I thought: Before this marriage, one brief turn To dalliance. My first husband made me learn The rudiments of pleasure, nothing more. Balthamodus promised such a store Of love-play that resistance was in vain— I had to have him, though I might be slain. II. The Accusation They say if something can go wrong, it will— Fredegisil learned of it. Until That moment I could count on his affection. After that, he broke off our connection And went for satisfaction to the king. What could I plead? The bride-price and the ring Were in my hands; the priest knew what I swore. There is no space between a wife and whore. The outcome that I faced could not be plainer: I had dishonored Gundobad’s retainer, Not just a man unlucky in his bride— I would go to the axe for royal pride. Balthamodus also faced such doom. We met the night before, in his small room, Consoled each other with a final kiss That, more than any other, gave me bliss Beyond all fleshly acts of love. Fell death Hovered above us with his wintry breath. III. The Judgment The court was filled, for interest in our case Ran fire-fast through Burgundy. My face Was veiled for shame. My lover stood apart. Gundobad had anger in his heart And seemed intent on speedy retribution: Charges, defense, quick judgment, execution. I saw my life as over and complete Till Fredegisil rose up from his seat And spoke: Dread lord, please hear your servant’s mind. Although in Aunegild I cannot find The wife I wanted, let your rigor bend— To spill her blood will serve no useful end. The king relented, mulcted us with fees, Put me and Balthamodus on our knees, Declared us without honor, and we owed Release to the mercy Fredegisil showed, Decreed: To errant fiancées and wives— All future faithless women forfeit lives! IV. The Punishment So, we were freed. The consequence that followed? More than my self-respect, my heart was hollowed. All friends and family turned to me their backs, The fines had left me poor, the mute attacks Of smirking silence and averted eyes Marked me the sort of woman all despise. For a few weeks of love’s sublime elation I pay a lifetime’s savage expiation. No marriage now. No honor. No esteem. Balthamodus, were you a mere dream That tantalized with evanescent joy As flimsy as some silly childish toy? You have not come to see me since that day. I keep to my small cottage, forced to stay Far distant from the marketplace where crowds Might laugh at me and jeer. I hope for clouds To keep the streets in windswept swirls of rain While I walk friendless as the exiled Cain. First published in TRINACRIA, Issue #15 (Spring 2016). Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide. He is the editor of the literary magazine TRINACRIA. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.