This poem came out of the July 2011 donor perk prompts; that month met the $150 threshold for a free series poem, and I wound up with some extras. It was inspired by prompts from janetmiles who wondered how Shahana became a paladin, laffingkat who wanted to know about paladin training, and angela_n_hunt who was curious about day-to-day life for paladins. "The Canticle of Days" takes place shortly after "Shine On" and "The Ones They Leave Behind," when Shahana and Ari set off together. It gives an early look at how their relationship begins to develop, and sketches in some background about the followers of Gailah in general. You can read more about the Path of the Paladins series on the serial poetry page of my website.
"The Canticle of Days" is presented here as a free epic, selected by the audience in a poll, as an impromptu perk for the August 2, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl reaching the unprecedented $300 threshold. Thank you all. I am deeply grateful for your support.
Ari huffed under a heavy armload of firewood
as they set up their camp.
Shahana laid the fire with precise motions.
"Why do I have to do all the heavy work,"
Ari asked, "while you just sit there?"
"You need to build up your muscles,"
Shahana said. She picked up a log
and tossed it lightly from hand to hand.
"I made my muscles long ago."
"I worked on a farm! I have muscles!"
Ari protested, through her arms shook.
"Then you'll have even stronger ones soon,"
said Shahana, "strong enough to swing a sword."
Ari's gaze fell to the long blade at her mentor's hip.
"One more trip to the creek for water,
then you may rest until supper," said Shahana.
After they ate, Ari watched
as Shahana polished her sword,
the smooth steel gleaming in the firelight.
"Why do you always do things
in the same order?" Ari asked.
"When I came to the shining city as a novice --"
Shahana began, then stopped abruptly.
Ari made a small encouraging noise.
The paladin took a deep breath, then continued.
"There was a book. We all studied from it.
It told off the days of the year,
and the tasks of an ordinary day,
and the holidays with their special duties."
Shahana smiled at the memory,
tracing an elaborate design on her palm.
"It was so beautiful, we were almost afraid to touch it.
Jewels encrusted the leather cover. The pages
were illuminated in blue and green and red,
the holy things picked out in gilt or silver leaf."
"What happened to the book?"
Ari asked quietly.
"None of us know for certain," Shahana said.
"I have not heard that any one of us
took it from the bright temple.
So perhaps it was destroyed there,
or stolen by the war-priests."
"It's sad to lose so much knowledge,"
Ari said. "I would have liked to see the book,
even though I don't know how to read."
Shahana chuckled then. She shook her head,
hair glimmering dark gold and silver.
"Nothing is lost," said the paladin,
"except for the parchment and the jewels.
Each one of us knows the Canticle of Days by heart.
I will recite it a bit at a time, and you will learn it,
though I will certainly teach you to read as well."
"I would like that,"
Ari said, leaning forward.
"We'll begin with the Canticle of the Traveler,"
said Shahana. "It lists the duties
of a paladin on the road."
She slapped her hands against her thighs,
and after a moment, Ari followed suit.
Then Shahana began to chant:
Sun one fist above the east,
Rise and wash for morning feast.
Stretch your body, wield your blade;
Practice means good muscle made.
Break your camp and lift your load;
Sing Her praises on the road.
Should your path cross one in need,
Stop to render aid and heed.
Sun at center in the sky,
Pause for lunch then on you fly.
Whatsoever you may find,
Keep the Goddess in your mind.
Travel lightly, travel far:
Those you pass will watch your star.
Clouds and light and breath of air:
Mind the weather signals there.
Sun one fist above the west,
Choose your camp; prepare for rest.
Tend your gear and swing your sword;
Soundly sleep as your reward.
"So that's why you sing while we walk, sometimes!"
Ari exclaimed once the chanting stopped.
"Yes, it is," Shahana said.
"Tomorrow, I'll recite the Canticle of the Traveler,
until you know all the verses. You will find
that some of them repeat in other canticles, too."
"Like the morning one and the practice ones,"
Ari guessed. "We always have to get up in the morning,
and you practice with your sword all the time."
Shahana nodded. "Now, this is how the words look
when they are written out." She traced them,
line by line, in the soft dust beside the fire.
With Shahana's help, Ari sounded out the words.
Then the girl plucked a sprig of flowers
and laid it alongside the lines.
"Now the book has red and green in it again,"
she said solemnly, "just as it should."
"And gold," Shahana said, tipping her head at the fire.
"Someday, we'll remake the Canticle of Days,"
the paladin promised.
"Yes," said Ari. "Will you teach me
the traveling songs, too?"
Shahana draped a fond arm
around the girl's shoulder.
"I will teach you," she said,
"everything I know."