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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "The Reluctant Villain"

This poem came out of the April 6, 2010 poetry fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from janetmiles and siege.*  It was sponsored by janetmiles.

The Reluctant Villain

Zenobia Ravenne was the
white sheep in her family.
Her hair was the color of oak, not coal,
and she refused to dye it.
She hated black.
Her laugh was a giggle, not a cackle.
She could not make even imps obey her.
She could not cast the simplest curses.
Her evil plans always fell apart,
for the parts that were evil were not well planned
and the parts that were well planned were not evil.

She wanted  to please her parents.
She wanted  to make them proud of her.
Really she did.
Her family had provided the archvillains
for half the plots to take over the world
as long as there had been  a world
(or at least history).
Most of the rest had been provided by the Thornsteles,
including her betrothed, Dark Prince Saphrax.
She tried  to like Saphrax.
She tried  to admire his evil plots,
but mostly she wondered if she could crib from them
without anyone noticing.
Not bloody likely.
Zenobia was a great disappointment to everyone,
including herself.

There was only one thing to do:
She would have to prove herself.
Zenobia spent all day researching ideas
in the library, disturbing the spiders.
She kept four candles lit at all times, because
the little black book-guardians disliked her
and tended to nip if she grew careless.
She wrote out her evil plan
in black ink (the only kind available)
on the palms of both hands.
Then she packed her bags
and went down to the stable. The black unicorns,
who could only be ridden by adulteresses,
snorted at her as she loaded the mule.

A month later, Zenobia reached her destination.
She hadn't needed a map after all.
Everyone knew where it was.
She huffed her way up the mountain
and proudly crossed off the first line:
1) Go to the Temple of Golden Light.

Zenobia came to the Bottomless Gorge,
which was probably not bottomless
but definitely had clouds floating down there,
which was quite scary enough, thank you very much.
She shook out her enchanted blackweed rope
and lassoed the first gryphon she spied.

When she had the gryphon neatly bound at her feet,
and was preparing to cast Dominion (and hope
it actually worked this time), the gryphon said,
"Do you need a lift across the gorge, dear?"
"Um," said Zenobia.  "Yes, please."
So she unwrapped the rope and climbed on,
and the gryphon carried her quite comfortably.
Somewhat dubiously, Zenobia crossed off:
2) Capture gryphon for ride across Bottomless Gorge.

At this point, Zenobia realized a flaw in her evil plan,
which did not surprise her, because that always happened.
She stared up and up and up at the Golden Gate,
wondering how in the name of all the unholy demons
she was supposed to get it open after completing
the next step.  Then the dragon stepped out of the cave,
clad in a perfectly pristine guard uniform, and said politely,
"May I open the Golden Gate for you, miss?"
Zenobia hunched her shoulders and said, "Yes, please."
She tried not to wince as she lined through:
3)  Defeat the Dragon at the Golden Gate.

Maybe the next step would go better. 
It could hardly go worse.
All around her, the Temple of Golden Light
rose in glorious splendor.  Zenobia was surprised
to see that it was not all gold -- there were silk hangings
of pink and yellow, sky blue and pastel green,
peach and lavender and white. 
Potted plants flowered on pedestals.
Aquamarines, amethysts, and citrines winked in statues.
It was altogether the prettiest place she had ever seen,
and her traitor heart wept at the thought of destroying it.

"Welcome to the Temple of Golden Light,"
said a cheerful voice.  "I'll be your guide today."
Zenobia whirled around to see
a slim girl with black hair and blue eyes
dressed in robes of white and gold.
Then the girl grinned.  "Zenobia Ravenne!
Well, this is a pleasant surprise," she said.

Something tugged at Zenobia's memory.
Blue eyes, blue eyes ... hadn't there been
some kind of scandal in Thornstele a few years back?
"Aldornia Thornstele," she said,
"for hate's sake, what are you doing  here?"

"It's Aldornia Morninglight now," said the girl,
bouncing lightly on her toes, "and this
is where I wound up after running away from home."
"Whyever would you do that?" asked Zenobia.
Aldornia rolled her eyes at the gilded ceiling.
"There was this spell, you know, Infernal Blight...?"
she said, and when Zenobia nodded, went on,
"I botched it, and now the back garden is under
Eternal Blessing.  I couldn't face Mother after that!"
"Say no more," said Zenobia, throwing up her hands,
"I understand completely."

"Oh hey, I thought was the only one who did that,"
said Aldornia as she stared at Zenobia's palms.
Zenobia blushed and stuffed her hands in her pockets.
"At least this way I get past the first step
before failing miserably," said Zenobia.
"You should try another school of magic," said Aldornia.
"You wouldn't believe  how easy blessings are.
I haven't written on my hands since I got here."

Zenobia thought about that,
and the complete impossibility
of ever pleasing her parents or her betrothed,
and while she was thinking a breeze blew through
the temple and made all the hangings flutter beautifully.
"Shall I show you around the temple?" Aldornia invited.
"Yes, please," said Zenobia,
"but first I need to visit the washroom."

Zenobia looked down at her hands.
4)  Kill everyone inside.
5)  Loot temple.
6)  Destroy whole mountain (& temple).

Then she scrubbed both palms,
making a clean break with her past.

Zenobia was about to open the door
when she stopped and scribbled
a replacement plan:
1)  Fall in love.
2)  Live happily ever after.

(* Recently I was reading about the dead/evil lesbian cliche, and it occurred to me that somebody ought to write a story in which the lesbian is the only survivor and/or the only non-evil character. I jotted that down and filed it away. Only on re-reading this poem did I realize that I'd written something in which all the other people are crazy-evil and it's the lesbians who go sane, become good, run off and live happily ever after.)

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12 comments or Leave a comment
endlessrarities From: endlessrarities Date: April 8th, 2010 05:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's another fun fantasy poem!!

I particularly liked the polite gryphon and the concept of the black unicorn...
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 8th, 2010 06:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad you enjoyed this. I had fun tilting the usual motifs in peculiar directions.
datalore From: datalore Date: April 8th, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love this poem. :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 8th, 2010 07:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm happy to hear that.
fayanora From: fayanora Date: April 8th, 2010 08:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

I love it when stereotypes/cliches are bent. I have characters that are good demons; and I have a character who is a sweet little girl full of love and cuddles, who also happens to be a murdering psychopath.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 8th, 2010 10:11 pm (UTC) (Link)


I'm happy to hear that. Cliches are fun to twist for poetic inspiration.
filkferengi From: filkferengi Date: April 13th, 2010 07:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Fun; hee!
fajrdrako From: fajrdrako Date: June 13th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 14th, 2010 03:34 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad you enjoyed this poem. Next up will be Sociological Science Fiction on July 6, if you want to drop by and see the Poetry Fishbowl in action.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: August 4th, 2011 01:35 am (UTC) (Link)
Awww! Hee! :)
aldersprig From: aldersprig Date: January 6th, 2012 06:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
How did I never mention that I love this?!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 9th, 2012 04:57 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad you got around to it now. It will be fun to watch the current poem unfold too -- Horace the porcupine is a riot.
12 comments or Leave a comment