ysabetwordsmith: (paladins)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem came out of the October 2, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] aoife and LiveJournal user rowyn. It also fills the "hostile climate" square on my card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. You can read other poems in the series Path of the Paladins by visiting the Serial Poetry page for links. I recommend that you double back to "Swimming Against the Tide" if you haven't already seen it, for an introduction to Radd and his challenges.

This poem is posted here as the participation perk for Winterfaire 2012. All of these activities will reveal a new verse each time someone does them:
* link to this Winterfaire page to boost the signal
* comment posting a Booth of your wares/services in the Winterfaire
* buy something from a vendor listed in the Winterfaire
* host a similar holiday market in your own blog or other venue
LiveJournal and Dreamwidth will notify me of comments to the Winterfaire post and links to it elsewhere on those services; for everything else, you need to TELL ME in order to get credit for it.


There are 28 of 28 verses posted.  Participants so far include:  Ellen Million, [personal profile] alexseanchai[personal profile] kajones_writing[personal profile] thesilentpoet[personal profile] technoshaman[personal profile] catsittingstill[personal profile] ravan[personal profile] beth123bvalarltd, msstacy13, flutterbychild, robling_t, cissa, rix_scaedu


"With Its Head Cut Off"


Radd slogged along the trail,

ankle deep in wet snow,
the white flakes caking heavily
in the folds of his tattered cloak.

Suddenly he tripped over a stone
and sprawled along the muddy ground.
Radd cursed and kicked at the thing,
which went spinning into the leaves.

It was not a stone at all,
but rather a severed head.
At first he thought it part of some
frozen corpse hacked apart,
but no, on closer inspection
it proved to be the head of a statue,
pure alabaster crafted in an age long gone.

He sat on the wintry ground
and laughed at the bitter irony,
for his life had been running aimlessly
as a chicken with its head cut off
ever since he'd gotten himself
kicked out of Gorrein's army
for being halfway decent.
Most everyone had made mock of him
for that, not least of them Radd himself.

The statue was not mocking him, though.
Its head lay smooth and cool in his hands,
marred only by the ragged edge of the neck.
The face was fair yet androgynous;
it might have belonged to any man or woman.
"Who were you?" Radd murmured,
his fingertips stroking the sleek stone;
but the alabaster lips did not reply.

For no reason he could name,
he brought it along when he stood
and trudged on down the trail.
Maybe it could keep him company
when the nightmares woke him.

Radd had never felt guilt before,
but it had crept up on him lately,
and the night demons were drawn to it
like sharks to the scent of blood in water.
He hadn't gotten a full night's sleep in weeks
for all their gnawing at his soul.
A conscience was a blighted inconvenient
thing to have, he had decided.

Radd pushed his way through a thicket
and found himself staring at
the ruins of a church.
In what had been the courtyard
stood a headless statue
with an offering bowl full of snow
held in its graceful alabaster hands.

Out of habit, he picked up a rock
and flung it at the nearest windowsill,
knocking loose a jagged piece of blue glass.
Then he remembered that there was no one left
to joke with about the world going to wrack and ruin.
It left him feeling cold and hollow inside.

Radd looked around through the dimming light.
The stubby walls stood shoulder-high in places
and might, with a little help, offer shelter
from the miserable early-winter storm.

So he hurried to cut boughs from a stunted evergreen
and fashion them into a roof against the weather,
wedged in the corner with the least amount of snow.
He gathered loose rocks fallen from the church
and used a hammer cantrip to tap them into place,
making a crude hearth and a low wall against the wind.

He piled up enough firewood for the night
and then kindled a spark, carefully
cupping his hands around it
to shield it from the rough wind.
As the little flame grew, he fed it twigs
and larger sticks and finally logs.

Radd fastened his cloak over the entrance

of his makeshift shelter to hold in the heat.
The damp cloth of his garments began to steam.
He made a sort of stew with dried meat and water
in his dented tin cup.  It tasted terrible,
but at least it was hot, and it helped
drive the chill from his stiff limbs.

At last he could put it off no longer.
Radd curled up on the hard ground
with his back against the church wall
and stared at the darkness until he fell asleep.

The demons of his past came,
as they always did these nights,
gibbering shadows that bit and clawed
at his dreams whenever he slept.

Radd whimpered as he tried to get away,
but there was nowhere to go,
the surface under him impenetrable as armor
yet sinking slowly into some unimaginable abyss.
He could see chains above him,
glinting in firelight, and beyond that,
some sort of ledge hopelessly far from his reach.

The demons in the abyss howled in glee
as they scrabbled along the rim
of whatever Radd was huddled upon,
trying to pull themselves up to devour him.
"Go away, go away," he chanted,
kicking at their spindly black fingers.
Nothing he could do ever kept them away
for long, though.  He belonged to them.

"Child," said an unfamiliar voice,
"put something in the other pan."
Startled, Radd looked around
and realized that he was crouched
on one side of a gigantic scale.
There was the other pan, all right,
but he could never climb up to it.
"I have nothing to put there," he said.

"Yes, you do," said the voice.
Radd dropped his gaze,
and there was the alabaster head
speaking with warm living lips
but still just as heavy as stone.

So Radd heaved the head
up onto the other pan of the scale,
which lifted him out of the demons' reach.
He could still hear them --
and then, that too faded away,
until there was only Radd,
rocking softly in a pan of firelit brass,
drifting into a dreamless sleep.

He woke the next morning,
cozy inside his makeshift shelter and
rested from the first good night he'd had
since washing out of the army.
He remembered only hazy fragments of dream
and an unexpected sense of comfort,
as if someone had covered him with a cloak;
but no, his was still tacked over the entrance.

Outside the world was fresh and calm.
The sun shone in a pale blue sky,
the day cold but clear, the snow
settled into a soft layer over the ground.

Radd went to the statue
and brushed the snow from it.
He was startled to discover
that the offering bowl was not plain,
but woven of alabaster twigs
and lined with multicolored glass.

He brought the severed head
but saw no way to reattach it,
so he settled it carefully in the bowl --
and felt something shift  inside,
like a dislocated joint popping back in place.

Radd rolled his shoulders uncomfortably
and wondered what to do next.
He had given up hope of finding a job
or even a village to take him in.

His little shelter beckoned, small but warm.
Perhaps he could stay here for a little while.
From the courtyard he could see a road
wider than the game trail he'd followed.
If he rebuilt the church, even partially,
he might barter with travelers for food.

Here at least there was something useful to do
and protection from the winter weather
that, probably, nobody would run him out of.
Here too was the statue with its strange head
that made him feel oddly safe, even though
he could not recall why that should be so.

"You don't mind my company, do you?"
Radd asked the statue.
It gave no objection,
so he stayed.


(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-26 11:08 pm (UTC)
ravan: by Ravan (Default)
From: [personal profile] ravan
I wonder who is about to get a new paladin...

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-27 01:24 am (UTC)
ravan: by Ravan (Default)
From: [personal profile] ravan
Oh, I put my booth, such as it is, on both DW and LJ.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-26 11:28 pm (UTC)
catsittingstill: (Default)
From: [personal profile] catsittingstill
I boosted on Facebook. (I will also boost on LJ/DW but guess you're set up to know about that.) And I opened a booth! We'll see how that works out.

No...

Date: 2012-11-27 07:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
That one I missed; I think the notifications are being patchy. Some I've gotten, others not. :P I have added your verse to the perk poem -- only three left to reveal.

Re: No...

Date: 2012-11-27 07:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rix-scaedu.livejournal.com
Thank you.

On a completely different subject, what's something that would be on a fantasy tavern table that a character could break in half with their bare hands? Without starting a bar room brawl.

I know what I want the character to do but my mind's gone blank on what they could do it to.

Re: No...

Date: 2012-11-27 07:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> On a completely different subject, what's something that would be on a fantasy tavern table that a character could break in half with their bare hands? Without starting a bar room brawl. <<

Trencher -- sort of a cheap wooden plate.

There's not much else that would be on a tavern table. The mugs would be sturdier and harder to break without hitting them against something.

Re: No...

Date: 2012-11-27 07:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rix-scaedu.livejournal.com
Thank you. I think the wooden trencher will work...

She is very, very annoyed.

Re: No...

Date: 2012-11-27 07:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
Yay! Your ladies are not safe to annoy.

She: "I shall break your thick wooden head like--" *SNAP* "--that!"
He: eep

Re: No...

Date: 2012-11-27 08:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rix-scaedu.livejournal.com
Not quite. The story is here http://rix-scaedu.livejournal.com/123856.html.

Thank you for your help. :)

Re: No...

Date: 2012-11-27 10:12 pm (UTC)
zeeth_kyrah: A glowing white and blue anthropomorphic horse stands before a pink and blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah
Or a fat wax candle in a clay bowl. That's as opposed to overhead lanterns or simple firelight and waxed-leather windows.

Re: No...

Date: 2012-11-27 07:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rix-scaedu.livejournal.com
I have a feeling Radd's life is going to get better in the next three verses.

Re: No...

Date: 2012-11-27 07:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
;) Boost and see, it's one verse per service if you link the Winterfaire in different places.

Re: No...

Date: 2012-11-27 07:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rix-scaedu.livejournal.com
I have now tweeted about it too.

Re: No...

Date: 2012-11-27 07:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
Woohoo, only 2 verses left!

Re: No...

Date: 2012-11-27 08:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rix-scaedu.livejournal.com
Perhaps not a paladin but there are other forms of service.

Re: No...

Date: 2012-11-28 08:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
Yes, I think he's leaning more priest than paladin.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-27 10:15 pm (UTC)
zeeth_kyrah: A glowing white and blue anthropomorphic horse stands before a pink and blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah
I've felt that little pop before, of inner pieces snapping into place and reconnecting with the rest of one's spirit.

Yes...

Date: 2012-11-27 10:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
I'm glad this worked for you.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-12-03 04:23 am (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
*processes a bit*

Ah. Radd finds Place... something I have been searching for for a bit, and may have found for myself. The resonance, then, is why this is as satisfying for me as it is for him.

It occurs to me that I have learnt more about myself reading your stuff than I have in .... quite a while. Thank you for that, too.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-16 11:28 pm (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
YES, that pop! For me it's a 'click' and it's just everything FITTING and it's WONDERFUL. (I'm autistic, I like it when things fit. :p)

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