ysabetwordsmith: (paladins)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem came out of the May 19, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer, [personal profile] eseme, and [personal profile] chordatesrock. It also fills the "getting a tattoo or piercing" square in my 12-20-14 card for the Rites of Passage Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Path of the Paladins.

Warning: This poem contains detailed descriptions of body modification and altered states of awareness.  Consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"Ink"


"Whatever is bothering you,
it's not going away, so you may as well
tell me what it is," Althey said.

"It is foolish," Johan said
with a wave of his hand.
"Just a dream."

"We're paladins," Althey observed.
"Is anything ever 'just a dream' to us?"

Johan sighed. Even as a novice,
Althey saw things that he had not been
taught, showed a deeper insight than Johan
probably had after years of service.

"Perhaps not," Johan admitted.
"I keep dreaming about thorny vines,
roses and blackberries wrapping
all up around my arm."

It was a dream, but it hadn't
always been a dream. He had
been there once, reached into
a thicket that he could still find
even years afterward.

But why remember it now, so persistently?

"That sounds oddly specific," Althey said.

"Well, it is ... I've seen it before,"
Johan said. His left hand rubbed
over his right arm, from the elbow
up to the shoulder and back down.
It felt like the image had gotten
under his skin, itching like nettles.

"Where?" Althey said. "Maybe
if you go there, you could
get it out of your head."

They last thing Johan wanted
was to drag Althey clear across
the countryside and maybe get him
into even more trouble. The past
was in the past, and there was
no going back to it; better
to let it stay buried.

"I don't think that's a good idea,"
Johan said, shaking his head.

"All right, I can tell that it means
something important to you that you
don't want to share," Althey said. "So what
about some other way to let it out, let it go
so that it won't distract you anymore?"

"It's not that simple," Johan said.
His voice dropped. "I don't want to let it go.
I want ... I want to make it real."

"Then let's find a way to do that,"
Althey said. "You could draw a picture of it,
or make it into a piece of jewelry."

"Or visit a marksman," Johan said.
He cupped a hand over his shoulder,
imagining the silken crumple of rose petals
and the hidden prick of thorns.

It wouldn't be that hard to find someone
to cut the image into his skin; he only
needed to visit the towns until he found
a priest whose artwork he liked.

Althey smiled. "When do we leave?"

"Just like that, I decide to visit a marksman
and get a tattoo, and you'll go along with me?"
Johan said, raising his eyebrows.

"It's a vision," Althey said.
"Whether you know what it means
or not, whether you tell me or not,
it means something and it won't
turn you loose. So we'll work with it."

It was that certainty which solidified for Johan
the need to make this thing real -- to find out
what it held for him, hidden in imagery,
if he could only bring it forth.

"We leave in the morning," he said,
secretly grateful to have Althey
to help him work through things,
however out-of-place Johan might
feel about having a novice.

So Johan followed his instincts
and went in search of a marksman.

The town was quiet, and the little shop
was empty except for the priest of Alazar
leaning on the counter as he sketched
something on a wide slate.

When Johan came in, the man
set aside the slate and listened carefully
to the vision of blossoms and berries
bound up in thorny vines.

The priest's name was Aureol,
and he chattered about his work as he
wiped the idle sketches off his slate
and with swift lines laid out a sample
of what Johan had described.

"Yes," Johan said, "like that."

"Agreed," Aureol said, then turned
to Althey. "You may as well attend
to the rest of your errands. This will
take some time to complete."

Althey looked at Johan, who
waved him off. "Let's not argue
with the expert, shall we?" Johan said.
"Go do the trading and shopping,
then come back for me."

As soon as Althey left,
Johan peeled off his shirt and
let Aureol scrub him from the waist up
with soap that smelled sharply
of rosemary and thyme.

Then Johan settled into the chair,
and Aureol asked, "How good
is your pain tolerance?"

Johan gave a bleak laugh.
"You really have no idea.
Don't worry about it.
I will be fine."

Then he closed his eyes
and waited for it to begin.

Aureol had a delicate touch on
the knife, sweeping the blade over
Johan's skin with such perfect skill that it
parted the surface just deep enough to draw
lines of blood from elbow to shoulder.

The vines went on first,
long swirling streaks that
wrapped up and around his arm,
each curving thorn cut into him
with two careful nicks.

Despite the warning, Johan
felt more heat than pain --
until Aureol started putting on
the dark paste that would turn
the shallow cuts into actual art.

The color was so deep that
the green looked almost black,
and it stopped the bleeding at once,
but it also burned like fire.

Aureol chuckled. "You all right?"
he asked. "We've got a long way to go."

"I'm fine," Johan said through his teeth.

He'd walked for miles with his arm
smashed to bits, once. He could
certainly put up with a few scratches.

The pain ebbed and flowed as Aureol
carved the nubbled blackberries
and the delicate rose petals.

Johan found himself drifting with it,
dizzy and dazed, almost as if
he could float about of his body.

"If you feel the pull, go with it,"
Aureol advised him.

"Hmm?" Johan said, too fuzzy
to manage anything more coherent.

"Go on then," Aureol said, this time
backing the advice with an inward nudge
that sent Johan tumbling out and up.

The corner of heaven in which he found himself
was bright and strange, with too many colors
and shadows pointing every which way,
like something from a fever dream.

Alazar caught him and steadied him,
saying, "Take a moment to get your bearings."

Johan tried to obey the god of art,
but the curiosity just ate him up,
making him look around even though
it brought waves of dizziness.

Alazar chuckled. "Darling boy.
Go and see Her, then," he said,
kissing Johan's fingertips.

A powerful flex of the god's will
sent Johan flying upward.

He landed in a garden as familiar
as the one he had grown up in,
and there waiting for him was the Lady
whom he loved with all his soul.

Johan ran to Her, and She embraced him,
as warm and real as She had ever been.

"It's so good to see you again," Gailah said,
stroking over his hair and down his back.
"You've done so much with so little,
and I am very proud of you."

Johan listened to the praise,
helpless, all his usual protests
silenced by the weight of Her regard.

The comfort of Her presence filled up
spaces that had been empty inside him
for far too many years.

Eventually, of course, Johan
had to go back down to his body,
but he took with him the memory
of Gailah's love and grace.

He opened his eyes to find Aureol
tucking in the last tail of bandage
around his shoulder. "Leave this on
for three days," the marksman said.
"No healing, no bathing, no tampering,
no scratching when it itches, nothing.
Leave it alone. On the fourth morning,
you can unwrap it and wash off."

Johan had never gotten body art before,
but he'd seen it done, and knew that
the colors would take time to develop.
Besides, his arm stung so much that he
couldn't imagine wanting to scratch it.
"I'll be careful," he promised.

Althey was there waiting for him,
so Johan counted out the coins --
only to have Aureol push half of them
back across the counter to him.

"Remember that you have allies,"
the marksman whispered, and
shooed them out of his shop.

Waiting turned into a torment.

'No healing' was as annoying
to Althey as it was to Johan,
trying to ignore the patchwork
of cuts without taking care of them.

'No scratching' was easy the first day
and seemed almost impossible
by the second day.

Althey caught Johan's wrist
for the fifth time and said,
"What do I have to do,
sit on your hands for you?"

"I can't help it," Johan whined.
"Everything itches."

"Here, let me rub your feet,"
Althey said. "It will help
take your mind off your arm."

"Yes, yes, whatever," Johan said.

"As much as you've gotten hurt,
I'm kind of surprised that you
haven't come up with any
distraction methods of your own,"
Althey said as he peeled off
the boots and the socks.

Johan shrugged with his good shoulder.
"I never saw any point trying to avoid pain,"
he said. "It doesn't work, so I just let it happen
and try not to pay too much attention."

Althey gave a wry chuckle.
"If I ever wondered why Gailah
sent me to you, there's my answer,"
he said. "Clearly you need someone
else to take care of you, because you
sure as shucks won't do it for yourself."

Johan snorted at that, but
the foot rub really did help him
to relax and forget about his arm.

Althey kept a sharp eye on him
and never let Johan so much as
touch the bandages.

On the fourth morning, Althey
unwrapped them, and they both
got their first glimpse of the finished art,
half hidden under crusted stripes
of the multicolored paste.

Carefully the young healer
rinsed off the residue to reveal
the images underneath.

The narrow cuts had mostly healed,
the colors spreading outward in shades
as delicate as those of nature itself,
bidden by the priest's magic to create
a living tapestry on Johan's skin.

Down near his elbow lay a bunch
of unripe blackberries surrounded by
blood-tipped thorns, then ripe blackberries
hidden on the inside of the arm, and a cluster of
red roses enclosing a single white rose at the shoulder.

Johan touched it, tracing the design with fingertips
that tingled in awe, wondering how Aureol
had managed to capture it so perfectly.
He could all but smell the heady scent
rising up from the thicket of memory.

Johan wondered, too, what the god of art
had meant by lifting him up to visit his goddess,
and the only thing he could think of was that
perhaps some of his private projects
weren't so private after all.

With a sigh, Johan unfurled his bedroll
to produce a little packet hidden within it.

"What is that?" Althey asked,
leaning over to peer at it.

"A folly," Johan said as he opened it,
"or so I thought. It would seem that
the gods disagree." He laid bare
the loose pages of liturgy which
he had illuminated, sunlight
catching on leaf-of-gold.

"You made these?" Althey breathed,
one hand hovering over a garden scene
picked out in green and red and blue.
"The colors are so bright, it's like
something that belongs in a temple!"

A goddess of peace who thought of
her people as art. A god of art who
appreciated peace. Allies of old.

A broken paladin and his pudgy novice,
neither of them with any idea
what they were doing.

An image woven of thorns and
blossoms and berries, and there
at the edge of his armpit where
Johan had missed it at first glance,
a single sprig of nettle leaves --
he'd forgotten seeing it in the clearing --
all of them the kind of plants that could be
trampled flat at the edge of a clearing
and regrow again as dense as ever.

Colors on parchment, hinting at purpose
unlooked for and yet unavoidable.

"We don't have a temple to put it in,"
Johan said as he put away his pages,
"but someday ... we might."

* * *

Notes:

Dreams are vivid images that form in the mind, which can send powerful messages. There are thoughts on interpreting them from psychology, spirituality, and other resources. A dream dictionary offers ideas for common meanings of symbols, but ultimately the symbolism is personal so you need to understand yourself before you can really understand your dreams.

There are many types of wild roses and old garden roses. Many hybrids exist, and some of the earlier ones are highly prone to naturalizing. Albas are white roses. Old Gay Hill is an example of a red rose often found in hedgerows. Blackberries and nettles also appear in Johan's vision. All of these prickly plants have a combination of postitive and negative traits.

Body modification includes a wide range of techniques. Tattoos are made by pricking into into the skin with needles, which can create designs with vary subtle shading. Ink rubbing involves making shallow cuts and then applying ink to create a permanent mark without heavy scarring. In this case, the art is a combination of the two techniques, first using a knife to create the design and then using magic to spread out the colors. The result is body art with the crisp outlines of ink rubbing combined with the delicate shading of a tattoo. Tattoos and other body modifications have long been associated with spirituality, and there's even a church based on that now. Because the pain releases endorphins and influences the mind, it causes many people to have visions or other spiritual experiences. Some religions incorporate this on purpose, as in the Sun Dance ceremony practiced by many Great Plains tribes.

Certain herbs have potent cleaning qualities. Here is one recipe for antibacterial soap.

There are various ways to overcome pain or other discomfort with your mind. One is simply to focus attention on a different part of your body.

Illumination features in many books of liturgy. See a layout for making an illuminated page, and a video demonstration.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-25 03:38 am (UTC)
pinkrangerv: White Hispanic female, with brown hair, light skin, and green eyes, against a background of blue arcane symbols (Default)
From: [personal profile] pinkrangerv
Oooh. I've had visions, but I don't think I'd get them tattooed unless I was very sure of them. But SQUEE, he's remaking the book! That's WONDERFUL!

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-25 06:34 am (UTC)
corvi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] corvi
This is lovely!

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-25 07:01 am (UTC)
thnidu: "ND" disarmament symbol, and "Fiat Pax" (let there be peace) (peace)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
This is so rewarding to read, although it's led me into a long stretch of distractions. Thanks.

"Leaf-of-gold" :-)

I don't suppose you have a way I can go back and catch up specifically on Johan and Althey?

• bade by the priest's magic
→ bidden
Edited Date: 2015-05-25 07:04 am (UTC)

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2015-05-25 02:32 pm (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Thanks.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-25 05:55 am (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
My N got some pretty extensive tattoo work, turning some fairly serious scars into something beautiful. Need to find someplace to go off to this summer where she can wear her new bikini and show it off. :)

(It seriously upgraded her self-image... especially since she bartered for her work, i.e. she didn't just plunk down benjamins, but earned that with her own hands... )

Edited Date: 2015-05-25 05:56 am (UTC)

Yes...

Date: 2015-05-25 06:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>>My N got some pretty extensive tattoo work, turning some fairly serious scars into something beautiful.<<

That sounds lovely!

>> Need to find someplace to go off to this summer where she can wear her new bikini and show it off. :) <<

:D Go for it!

>> (It seriously upgraded her self-image... especially since she bartered for her work, i.e. she didn't just plunk down benjamins, but earned that with her own hands... ) <<

I'm happy to hear that.

For Johan, this is definitely a healing experience. It helps him integrate a lot of what has happened to him, even though he's still trying not to think of some of it.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-25 02:37 pm (UTC)
eseme: (Default)
From: [personal profile] eseme
This is beautiful and I am very proud to have helped prompt for it. Love it.

Thank you!

Date: 2015-05-25 06:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
I'm glad you're so satisfied with the results of your input. :D

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