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Poem: "Shine On" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Shine On"

This poem came out of the July 5, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a detailed prompt from marina_bonomi who wanted to read about a world-weary paladin and/or a novice paladin in training.  Then haikujaguar chimed in with her interest in same, and the_vulture mentioned a favorite iteration of paladin (from a series I also love).  So that got me to thinking about what a paladin is and does, and the relationship between paladin and deity, and the nature of faith in a world that has some magic but no inclination to move obstacles out of anyone's way just because of that.

"Shine On" was sponsored by marina_bonomi, with an extra tip from chrysoula.  I'm really pleased to be able to share this poem with you.  For me it was one of the most potent poems that I wrote in this fishbowl.  You can also read the sequel "The Ones They Leave Behind," which shares Larn's perspective of the aftermath.

[EDIT 7/13/11] See a sketch of Shahana and Ari, illustrating a scene late in the poem, as drawn by meeksp.

[EDIT 7/13/11] Also inspired by the poem "Shine On" and its accompanying sketch is the haunting and beautiful story "Holy Walking Warrior" by siege.

WARNING: "Shine On" contains imagery that may prove triggery for some people, so think before you click.  There are fairly detailed descriptions of the aftermath of a raid on a village, and references to two different rapes with varying levels of detail though neither is exhaustive, along with background about cosmological violence and upheaval.  The overall tone is weary and gritty but determined.  People who are readily depressed or upset by what they read might want to skip this poem.  People who are tired of pristine paladins with perfect lives will probably appreciate it.


Shine On


Shahana the Paladin rode her mule into the ruined village,
a day late and a ducat short, as usual, but there nonetheless.
The surviving boys threw rocks in addition to taunts,
all of which bounced off her battered armor.

Shahana helped to put out the last of the fires.
She missed the quick cataract of her old water spell,
but there was no shortage of buckets,
and those did the job just as well in the end.

She rounded up what cows hadn't been eaten.
They didn't need a beast-speaking spell,
just a kind voice and a gentle hand
to guide them into the remaining barns.

Every equine in the village had been stolen,
so Shahana sighed and hitched her mule to a plow
so the old men could begin replanting the ravaged fields.
She could always get herself another mule later.

By that time, the boys had quit harassing her
and started helping out; after all, it was their home too.
One of them plucked at her elbow with trembling fingers.
"Please," he said, "it's my sister."

So Shahana followed him to the room full of casualties.
She gravely surveyed the two black eyes and split lip,
the bite marks on the small breasts and belly,
the blood drying ominously all over the girl's hips.

The paladin stripped off her stained gloves
and knelt to lay her hands upon the still body.
She descended into the silence within herself and prayed,
Great Gailah, lend me Your grace for the good of this girl.

The magic welled up around her, not with the force of a furnace,
but with the slow promise of spring sunlight warming winter soil.
Shahana crouched there, channeling, until her back cramped
and the girl sat up with a ravenous grumble.

A withered old woman brought out a kettle of mutton soup
from a sheep that hadn't gotten out of the way of the fighting.
Firmly she placed bowls in front of each of them
and said, "Eat up, dearies, before you fall over from hunger."

As they ate, the boy Larn told Shahana all about his sister Ari,
and their five brothers who had gone off to war,
and their aunts and uncles and cousins dead of famine,
and their parents just killed in the recent raid.

Larn looked at the paladin with his huge brown eyes
and whispered, "Please ... I know I can't protect her here."
Shahana sighed.  He was right; there was no leaving a girl
like her in a village like this.  They'd sell her.  They'd have to.

The next day, Shahana set out from the village
with Ari trailing behind her like a lost puppy.
The paladin taught her how to find her way
and set up a camp and lay a campfire safely.

When Shahana drew her sword for arms practice
and danced her weary way through the figures,
Ari's shining eyes followed her in the firelight
until the older woman reached the end of her workout.

Shahana led Ari through the slow stretches,
handed her a stick and showed her the First Five Blocks.
The girl was stiff and clumsy and altogether too timid.
Well.  There will be other nights, Gailah willing.

The next day, they hiked uphill through thickening forest.
Ari struggled not to limp around her healing pelvis.
Shahana shortened her own stride so the girl could keep up.
It drizzled, off and on, and the paladin watched for hidden threats.

In the ditch, a faint silvery spark caught her eye.
So, then, my instincts were correct after all.
Shahana gently scooped up the fallen star, its feeble light
barely reaching her muddy fingertips before she closed her hand.

She told Ari the tale of how the great goddess Gailah
was thrust from Her throne by Her brother's war-priests,
bent down in Her own temple and fucked over the altar,
then cast aside to dwindle into memory.

Shahana told how the bright temple was torn down
and the paladins of Gailah scattered to the five roads,
their powers diminished ... but never extinguished.
"Someday," she said, "the temple will rise again."

Ari dragged a torn sleeve across her tear-streaked face.
The story sounded entirely too familiar to her,
and she'd already seen the ending, and didn't like it.
"How can you believe that?" she said.  "You've already lost."

"Because our faith is stronger than theirs, and it shines on,"
said Shahana.  She patted the sword against her thigh.
"We have been tempered in fire, our souls turned to steel,
and they will never suspect our power until it runs them through."

When she opened her fist, the starry gem
blazed forth with a white-hot light.
It filled the twilight forest with razored shadows
that danced and flickered alongside the trail.

She caught Ari's wrist in a steady grip,
and dropped the fallen star into the girl's startled palm.
Shahana resumed walking, then glanced over her shoulder.
"Well, girl," she called, "aren't you coming?"

Ari rolled the starfire in her small hand.
She shifted from foot to foot, body still aching.
Then she took a deep breath and lifted her narrow chin,
straightened her spine, and started forward.

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36 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
purplefrog26 From: purplefrog26 Date: July 6th, 2011 06:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
mmmmmmmmmm no words now but a deep humming in my chest.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 07:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad this poem resonated with you.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: July 6th, 2011 06:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think this is the hardest poem I read from you (as in 'dealing with the brutality of life'), it's difficult to read but it's also potent indeed and uplifting as it points to resilience and hope.

Thank you.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 07:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

You're welcome!

>> I think this is the hardest poem I read from you (as in 'dealing with the brutality of life'),<<

It was hard writing, too, in the same sense of "hard."

>> it's difficult to read but it's also potent indeed and uplifting as it points to resilience and hope. <<

I'm glad to hear that.

This is what attracted me to the poem -- that tension between hardship and hope, wear and resilience. Thinking on it further, I realize that such is one of the key things that makes low fantasy appeal to me. LF protagonists can take a licking and keep on ticking; they get the job done even without the 'favored' status of high fantasy protagonists.
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aldersprig From: aldersprig Date: July 6th, 2011 07:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, my.

Well done. I cried a little bit.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

*offers hanky* I am touched by the depth of your response.
ideealisme From: ideealisme Date: July 6th, 2011 08:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Not a genre I usually read, but that came from the heart and so has power. Well done.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 09:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I appreciate the feedback.
fayanora From: fayanora Date: July 6th, 2011 09:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Some of the scenes remind me a little of an ethical dilemma Lyria is about to run into.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 09:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Cool!

Ethical dilemmas can make for gripping plot tension, if they are well handled. I don't like it when the author basically just goes, "Life sucks, and there's nothing you can do about it, ha ha!" But when the story reveals how a character works through the challenge, and why they make a particular choice, the result can be quite memorable.

One example that sticks in my mind is from Torn World, shortly after the village of Itadesh burns to the ground. An old woman, Marda, decides to end her own life. Several contributors discussed this idea in the forums, and it appears in two places: Marda's perspective in "The Last Walk" and Fala's perspective in one scene of "Leaves in a Bitter Wind."

Ethical dilemmas also correlate to one of the auxiliary story types, the story of idea. Theme is one of the minor story components (the major ones being plot, setting, character) so there are fewer stories that focus primarily on that but it is often a strong supporting aspect of the major story types (action, milieu, personal). Story of idea can overlap plot and character especially well. It focuses on how a particular person chooses to deal with a moral quandary and why they make certain choices.

Also vitally important to the success of these stories is whether the character just accepts the (usually awful) choices presented to them by circumstance and other people, or struggles to change the context enough to create some other option that is at least tolerable. Looking at examples in "Shine On," Shahara chooses to keep serving her goddess despite the defeat and loss of power, rather than quit adventuring or switch to another deity. She takes Ari with her, because they find that a better option -- however uncomfortable -- than what would happen if she stayed behind. None of the choices are really appealing ones but some are more honorable or productive than others.
From: siliconshaman Date: July 6th, 2011 09:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, that's the believable sort of hero.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 10:01 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm happy to hear that. Verisimilitude was a key goal here.
siege From: siege Date: July 6th, 2011 11:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Brava, all of you.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 11:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

*bow, flourish*

Thank you! marina_bonomi really did the foundation work for this piece; those characters are there because of her. I've already had requests for more, and the storyline is certainly open.
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ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 7th, 2011 01:55 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>There are many things that will readily depress and upset me when I read them. People who are deep in the shit, but still dealing with it, and carrying on, though, I find incredibly inspirational.<<

That's good to hear. It is what I was aiming for, but that's a hard target to hit.

>>Shahana is only the second Paladin I've read about and really clicked with.<<

Yay! This makes me happy. I think Shahana is a more ... accessible kind of paladin than usual.

>> The other is Elizabeth Moon's Paksennarion, and in both cases, a lot of it's because they go through hell and then use it not only as a source of strength, but as a reminder of why they are paladins and what that means.<<

Sooth. I am flattered by the comparison. Paks is a favorite for me too.
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chrysoula From: chrysoula Date: July 14th, 2011 04:03 am (UTC) (Link)
I really liked this. Thank you.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 14th, 2011 05:02 am (UTC) (Link)

You're welcome!

I'm happy to hear that.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: July 19th, 2011 03:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Finally, I get to read this. It is most certainly a tale of true faith, the type that enables one to endure. I think I'm going to really enjoy this series, even if it does get hard to read at points.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 19th, 2011 03:16 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>Finally, I get to read this. It is most certainly a tale of true faith, the type that enables one to endure.<<

Yay!

>> I think I'm going to really enjoy this series,<<

Currently available poems are linked on the "Serial Poetry" page, and unsponsored poems are listed. I have ideas for some others. However ...

>> even if it does get hard to read at points.<<

... yeah it does that real fast. You can see that in the comments. Hard to write, too, in the same sense.
je_reviens From: je_reviens Date: April 12th, 2012 02:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was interested in your Paladins series as you listed on your monthly newsletter so I followed the path to this poem. I have a new small business I am getting off the ground with a Paladin name and theme. This poem was excellent. Has nothing to do with my business but explains why the image of the Paladin was so electrifying to me. I love love love the message of hope at the end.

My one little word this year is "water" from the quote thought by Roland of Gilead, the last gunslinger (paladin):

There will be water if ka wills it.

I love how the paladin in this poem has Roland's same attitude. Roland does what he can do and what he must do, the rest is in the hands of ka or fate. No matter how hard or how impossible he just does what he is supposed to do and what is in his power to do. He says this line to himself as he enters a great desert, with no food and no water. He must cross the desert, and whether he survives or not, is not up to him, He has to do what he can do.

I look forward to reading and keeping track of the rest of the series.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 12th, 2012 06:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>>I was interested in your Paladins series as you listed on your monthly newsletter so I followed the path to this poem.<<

Yay! I'm glad you found it. This has grown into one of the more popular series and there's quite a bit of it now.

>>I have a new small business I am getting off the ground with a Paladin name and theme. This poem was excellent. Has nothing to do with my business but explains why the image of the Paladin was so electrifying to me. I love love love the message of hope at the end.<<

That is such a cool connection.

>> No matter how hard or how impossible he just does what he is supposed to do and what is in his power to do. <<

Sooth. This series is very much about putting one foot in front of the other, and doing what you can with what you have. The faith is not so much about believing that things will turn out all right, because they don't always, but rather about trusting that you won't have to do it alone.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 28th, 2016 11:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Illustration

I really like this poem, don't know why though.

I'd really like to write some of the poems of this series out and try to illustrate them. Would that be okay with you? I don't want to take your work or anything and I'm not a great artist, but some of this is just begging to be drawn.

Anyway, thanks for writing these!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 29th, 2016 03:43 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Illustration

>> I really like this poem, don't know why though. <<

Sometimes that happens. I'm glad it resonated with you.

>> I'd really like to write some of the poems of this series out and try to illustrate them. Would that be okay with you? I don't want to take your work or anything and I'm not a great artist, but some of this is just begging to be drawn. <<

Go for it. I would enjoy seeing copies of the pictures, and if you post them online, please let me know so I can link to them.

>> Anyway, thanks for writing these! <<

*bow, flourish* Happy to be of service.
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