ysabetwordsmith: (paladins)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is from the May 19, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] rix_scaedu and LJ user The_vulture. It also fills the "prostitution" square in my 7-31-14 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Path of the Paladins.

Warning: This poem contains references to prostitution and to past sexual assault. If these are touchy topics for you, consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"Such Strong Needs"


The town of Coulter was larger than
the villages they usually visited, giving
Shahana and Ari more opportunities
to trade what they had scavenged
for things that they needed.

They had quite a collection this time,
bits of vividly colored glass from
a shattered shrine, and wagon fittings
from the remnants of a caravan.

Shahana regretted the necessity of
paladins scrounging to survive, but
it wasn't just for their own sake --
the world needed people to pick up
the pieces, because they just couldn't
afford to let go of the resources.

They had just finished trading the shards
to a glassblower who exclaimed in delight
over the bright colors and filled their hands
with coins, and stood surveying the street
to see where to start shopping, when
something else caught Ari's eye.

A boy no older than the novice herself
leaned against the wall of a building.
He had blond hair streaked with locks
of darker red-gold, now hanging in
unwashed rattails past his shoulders.
His eyes were an odd shade of golden-grey
that Shahana had never seen before, standing out
from the dark bruises along his high cheekbones.

The tight trousers and shirt open to his waist
left no doubt about his profession.

Ari marched across the street,
trailing a riffle of grace in her wake
that made Shahana wonder what
was about to commence.

"What would you have of me, customer?"
he asked in a dull tone, not meeting Ari's gaze.

"Is this truly the best work you could be doing?"
she asked. "Is this what you really want?"

"Doesn't matter," he said with a shrug.
"Me da says that it's all I'm good for,
after the bandits had their way with me.
What kind of a man can't defend himself?
So he said if I was as useless as a floozie,
I might as well work as one, and sold me here."

"I am Ari, novice of Gailah. My mentor is Shahana.
Come with us, and we'll help you find a better place,"
the girl offered, holding out a hand to him.

"Cadmien," the boy replied. "I would go
with you if I could, but my owner won't sell me."

"That's all right," Ari said, "because we're not buying."

A fat man blustered out of the brothel and said,
"You there! Don't fondle the merchandise
if you're not paying for the privilege."

Ari turned and drew her sword all in
one smooth movement, laying the blade
along the side of his neck under the jaw.
"People are not property," she said.

"He's mine -- I paid for him,
a fair price --" the man stammered.

Ari's sword moved in a small, precise line
and blood began to flow freely down the fat neck.

"They're like little rivers under the skin,
these vessels that carry the blood through
a body," Ari said in a conversational tone.
"I've seen them in the fall, butchering pigs.
Open enough of them, and it's like loosing
the sluices in a dam to drain a millpond
when scum makes the water smell bad.
Shall I do another of yours, then, and see
how long it takes to let out your stinking life?"

Shahana stepped up to the shaking boy.
"Cadmien, is there anything you need
from inside, before we leave?" she asked.

"I don't want anything from here,"
he said fiercely. "I'd rather freeze."

"We won't let you freeze,"
the paladin assured him.
"Here, borrow my cloak."
She covered his thin clothes
with a warm layer of wool.

Ari dropped the bloody tip of her sword
to the threshold, cutting a deep groove
in the weathered grey wood. "May all
your 'merchandise' run out the door
on its own two feet, and take your
filthy profits with it," she intoned,
power flaring with her words.

The owner of the brothel blanched,
then edged away from the angry novice,
heading for his back door.

"I hope I didn't scare you too much
to come with us," Ari said to Cadmien.

"You're not as scary as some of the customers
I get in here," he said, then rephrased, "Got."

He followed them willingly enough
back to their room at the inn, but then
balked at the suggestion of a bath.

"You're dirty, and I'm fairly certain that
you have more injuries than we can see,"
Shahana said. "This door latches from
the inside. Ari and I can carry hot water
to fill the washtub for you, then leave."

"You're not saying it just because
you want a shower scene?" Cadmien said,
his fingers clutching the borrowed cloak.

"Neither of us are interested in that sort of thing
with anyone," Ari explained to him.

"Paladins are weird," he muttered.
"Fine. Fetch the water then.
But I haven't any soap,
nor clean clothes either."

Silently Shahana unpacked
a cake of soap and a washrag
while Ari laid out some spare clothes.

"We're not so different in size," said Ari.
"These should fit you until we can get
something for you to keep. I saw
a clothes-wagon coming into town.
You should be able to find things there,
if you're not too picky about it."

"I'm not picky about anything,"
Cadmien said. "I don't get to be."

"You needed a place to stay.
You needed food to eat, clothes to wear,
even if they were bad for you," Ari said thoughtfully.
"It's hard to have such strong needs, when you
don't have a proper way of meeting them.
So you did what you had to do, but now
you don't have to anymore. You can
start doing what you want instead."

"I don't know how," he whispered.

"Neither did I," she said, "but I learned."

Shahana and Ari carried bucket after bucket
of steaming water up the stairs to the little room,
filling the washtub enough for Cadmien to bathe.

As soon as they stepped outside and shut the door,
Ari planted herself in front of it, her sword
naked in her gauntleted hands.

"Do you think you'll be able to heal
whatever's wrong with him?" she asked.
"I saw the way he was limping when he walked."

"No," Shahana said confidently.

Ari gave her a shocked look.
"Why not?" she said. "He's not --
he's not dying, is he?"

"I doubt it," Shahana said. "What I meant
is that I won't be able to heal him, because
he's not for me to help. He's for you, Ari.
You're the one who turned your head to him,
and you did a very fine job of handling
a downright appalling situation.
You just need to finish it."

"But I don't know how to heal people!"
Ari protested. "I'm only a novice."

"Gailah thinks you're ready, or She
wouldn't have put you on this path
and you wouldn't have picked up on it,"
Shahana said. "Therefore, you're ready.
I'll guide you, but the work is yours to do."

Shahana mused that it was a good thing
Cadmien was so dirty it would take him
a while to get clean. That would give Ari
time to have a proper panic and get over it
so that she could go take care of him.

They needed every last bit of that time,
for Ari almost shook herself to pieces, although
she never broke her stance at the door.
When they heard the latch open, Ari
lifted her chin and stepped back into
the room as if nothing was wrong.

"You look better," she said to Cadmien.
Clean, his hair held the colors of sunrise,
alternating pale streaks of red and gold.
The bruises stood out even worse
against his fair skin, though.

Ari took off her armor and then
sat beside him on the bed.
Her gentle fingers traced over
the mottled blue on his forearms.

"No bite marks," she murmured.
"When I was attacked, the raiders
left bites all over my body."

"Biting costs extra," Cadmien said.

Ari scowled. "Men are pigs."

"Women too," the boy said, shrugging.

"Well, maybe we can do better,"
Ari said. "I'm learning to be a paladin.
I don't have a lot of power yet, but I can
try to heal these if you'll let me."

Cadmien gave her a long, searching look
before he finally consented.

"Bring out your star, and light it,"
Shahana said to Ari. "By that light,
you'll be able to see whatever is wrong
with his body, although it won't show
for anyone else who's watching."

The cool blue-white light made Cadmien gasp,
but he didn't pull away from Ari.

It took a while to smooth the bruises
from his skin and deal with the deeper injuries
that Ari reported in a grim tone, her hands
moving slowly over the boy's body.
In the starlight, her face looked as
smooth as a temple statue.

Gailah's power pooled and trickled
through Ari's fingertips, nothing like
the potent cataract that Shahana recalled,
but enough to do the job at hand.

She handles it well, Shahana thought.
She truly is ready for this.

By the time Ari finished, Cadmien
had fallen asleep and she could
barely keep her own eyes open.

"Didn't realize what it felt like,"
the novice mumbled.
"How'd you do this all the time?"

"I have you to help," Shahana said
as she arranged the two of them
more comfortably in the bed.
Then she laid Ari's sheathed sword
between them so that Cadmien
would not get the wrong idea.
"Get some rest. When the cook
puts supper out, I'll go downstairs
and fetch a tray for everyone."

"Mhmm," Ari agreed.

Shahana kept watch over
her two charges as the afternoon
crept onward. It was never easy
to manage such strong needs
as called a paladin to service,
but it was always worthwhile.

Shahana hadn't expected to find
a novice in this poor wreck of a world,
but there was in Ari a brightness like
that of a fallen star alight in the mud.

The old paladin was grateful to have found her.

* * *

Notes:

“When basic human needs are ignored, rejected, or invalidated by those in roles and positions to appropriately meet them; when the means by which these needs have been previously met are no longer available: and when prior abuse has already left one vulnerable for being exploited further, the stage is set for the possibility these needs will be prostituted. This situation places a survivor who has unmet needs in an incredible dilemma. She can either do without or seek the satisfaction of mobilized needs through some "illegitimate" source that leaves her increasingly divided from herself and ostracized from others.

While meeting needs in this way resolves the immediate existential experience of deprivation and abandonment. it produces numerous other difficulties. These include experiencing oneself as “bad” or "weak" for having such strong needs; experiencing shame and guilt for relying on “illegitimate” sources of satisfaction: experiencing a loss of self-respect for indulging in activities contrary to personal moral standards of conduct; risking the displeasure and misunderstanding of others important to her; and opening oneself to the continued abuse and victimization of perpetrators who are all too willing to selfishly use others for their own pleasure and purposes under the guise of being 'helpful.”
J. Jeffrey Means

A coulter is a U-shaped fastener often used on plows.

Prostitution involves sex workers, mostly female but also male. Boys can be victims of human trafficking. Most prostitutes are survivors of abuse and other hardships, which makes it difficult for them to escape that life. (However, some people choose sex work as a profession, and for them it can be empowering.) Organizations and individuals can help prostitutes find better options.

Thresholds symbolize the protective barrier between indoors and outdoors. A moderate expression of disapproval is to scrape one's feet on the threshold of a business, as if removing mud, to kick off negative energy. Actually damaging the threshold destroys its protective quality, so that the good luck or profit will run out and bad things can get in. When a pissed-off paladin takes her sword to it, well, that guy can bend over and kiss his business goodbye.

Sexual violence comes in many variations. Know how to overcome it for yourself and for others.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-25 01:13 pm (UTC)
helgatwb: Drawing of Helga, holding her sword, looking upset. (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
I love this. I especially like that the light of the star will let Ari see his injuries, but not anyone else. That's important.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-25 03:13 pm (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
«the world needed people to pick up
the pieces, because they just couldn't
afford to let go of the resources.»


Let alone the most valuable resource of all.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-25 03:59 pm (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
WOW. Amazing.

Ari really comes into her own here.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2015-05-25 10:20 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
If you're ever done learning, you're done living.

Homeslice got karma mammothed?

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2015-05-25 10:33 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
I'd say "pass the popcorn" but I'm guessing what happens next might be a snuff flick, and homey don't play dat way.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2015-05-25 10:54 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
Some things are worse than death....

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2015-05-25 11:39 pm (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
And a chance to maybe, just maybe, learn, and improve a bit.

anachronism

Date: 2015-05-25 11:41 pm (UTC)
thnidu: blank white robot/avatar sitting on big red question mark. tinyurl.com/cgkcqcj via Google Images (question mark)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
«shower scene»

Do they have showers?

Or would you want to retrofit it as "golden showers"?

Re: anachronism

Date: 2015-05-26 01:13 pm (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu

Oh, yeah. I'd forgotten about camp. showers.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-26 02:04 am (UTC)
gingicat: woman in a green dress and cloak holding a rose, looking up at snow falling down on her (Default)
From: [personal profile] gingicat
I continue to be amazed by how many plot threads and characters you keep track of! (I always enjoy your writing.)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-25 11:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rix-scaedu.livejournal.com
Ari's cursed the brothel keeper, hasn't she? :)

Well...

Date: 2015-05-25 06:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
Actually she cursed the brothel. Though given her handling of the keeper, it's entirely possible that another paladin might be able to see that he'd run afoul of Ari, which could affect how they'd deal with him.

Re: Well...

Date: 2017-06-19 08:08 pm (UTC)
kengr: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kengr
>> Though given her handling of the keeper, it's entirely possible that another paladin might be able to see that he'd run afoul of Ari, which could affect how they'd deal with him.<<

Well, that might get him some "positive" attention if it was a paladin of Gorrein. Not sure if that'd be a *good* thing for him though.

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