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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "The Shadow of His Passage"

This poem belongs to the series Path of the Paladins.  It was not based on prompts, but rather on exploring the setting and the sources of conflict there.  I felt that it was important to take a closer look at some topics that have been hinted but not tackled directly in earlier poems, and it sets the stage for more of that later.  This also shows a little more of what Shahana can do, and furthers the relationship between her and Ari.  It currently falls between "To the Five Roads" and "A Night More Full."  You can find the other published poems in this series on the Serial Poetry page of my website.  "The Shadow of His Passage" has been sponsored by the_vulture.


The Shadow of His Passage


The trail was muddy after the night's rain,
slick and treacherous underfoot.
Shahana and Ari moved with care,
especially where the ground sloped.

The trail crossed a larger road.  Shahana paused,
tempted by the promise of easier travel,
but the tracks coming and going made her frown.
Beside her, Ari shifted restlessly from foot to foot.

Then a trickle of energy, bitterly familiar,
raised the hairs on the back of Shahana's neck.
Looking up, she saw the dark shape of a raven
gliding along the same line as the road.

Shahana grabbed Ari and pushed the girl ahead of her.
"Back into the woods, quickly!" she said.  "Hide in the brush."
They flattened themselves against the damp ground.
Shahana flung her cloak over both of them.

"Clear your mind," the paladin commanded.  "Leave nothing
of yourself.  Be moss.  Be stone.  Be air."  Ari huddled
against her side, a soft warm weight.  Not quite a prayer or a spell,
just a way of turning the soul sideways to the world ...

Awareness narrowed to the brilliant emerald of the moss
upon which they lay, a forest no taller than the nap of a rug,
then sank into the tiny pebbles that flecked the soil
and the great slumbering boulders beside the trail.

Then thought became air, invisible, all-encompassing,
warm and moist with the breath of many trees.
The air held a jingle, a tramping of feet and hooves,
sharpened with the sound of harsh voices.

Ten soldiers marched past, led by a war-priest and his acolyte.
Gorrein's banner flapped above them, its dark red field
surmounted by a white skull gripping a knife in its teeth.
Overhead, a raven cawed, raking the air with raucous cries.

Air and stone and moss remained, after the shadow of his passage --
and two women, slowly returning to themselves once the sounds faded.
At last Shahana rose from the ground, her cloak sliding away.
Then she took Ari by the hand and pulled the girl to her feet.

"Why did we hide?" Ari asked.  "Why not fight?"
"Did you want to fight?" Shahana asked in return.
"Yes.  No.  I don't know," Ari grumbled.  "I don't like
how they made me feel."  One hand rubbed at her chest.

"How did they make you feel?" Shahana said.
"Angry," Ari said, "but not a clean kind of anger, like when
I see bullies picking on a smaller child and make them stop.
This time I wanted to hurt  someone.  I would have enjoyed  it."

"Such is Gorrein's power," Shahana said.  "He calls out
to the darkness that lies within everyone.  Some people answer."
"You stopped it, though," Ari said.  "I felt your magic protecting us."
"I deflected it," said Shahana.  "Nature knows violence, but never malice."

"They're our enemies, though, aren't they?" Ari asked.
"The followers of Gorrein bring war and misery."
She shivered.  "They still frighten me, Shahana."
"I know," the paladin said.  "They frighten me too."

"Is that why we hid?  Because you were afraid?" Ari said.
"Fear is a cause for caution, not cowardice," Shahana said.
"How many men did you observe pass by us just now, Ari?"
"Ten soldiers and the two priests," the peasant girl replied.

"Six to one odds would leave us precious little chance of survival,"
Shahana pointed out.  "For a good reason, I'd risk it; otherwise, not."
"Oh," said Ari.  "But Shahana, how do you know when to fight?"
"That is the art of strategy," the paladin said.  "I'll teach you that too."

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9 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: September 16th, 2011 07:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Very interesting. It certainly adds a good deal of explanation and detail. I find the idea of Gorrein being the source of a 'tainted' kind of anger to be an intriguing one and it certainly explains how this particular god continues to draw adherents; if one survived enough battles with them, one might find oneself joining them (after having proven oneself a worthy addition by virtue of surviving the previous encounters).

And now Johan's fall makes a lot more sense...
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 17th, 2011 02:24 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>Very interesting. It certainly adds a good deal of explanation and detail.<<

I'm glad to hear that. Up to this point, Gorrein's presence has only been implied. I wanted to start showing him and his followers as a concrete threat.

>> I find the idea of Gorrein being the source of a 'tainted' kind of anger to be an intriguing one and it certainly explains how this particular god continues to draw adherents;<<

In this, it bears some resemblance to the Christian idea of temptation and the Pagan idea of berserkers. Plenty of people use religion to justify what they want to do anyway. They seek out patron deities who share similar interests. Gorrein capitalizes on that -- humanity has no shortage of lust for destruction and torment. Because of the way divine magic works in this setting, it's possible to use all that negative energy as fuel, so that anger and hate power the spells of the war-priests. The more messed up the world is, the more power they have; and the more attractive it becomes to get on their good side by joining them so you won't be a target when they're in a bashing mood. Which is always.

>> if one survived enough battles with them, one might find oneself joining them (after having proven oneself a worthy addition by virtue of surviving the previous encounters).<<

That's also a possibility.

>>And now Johan's fall makes a lot more sense...<<

Sooth. He is painfully aware of the dynamics of strength and weakness. Gorrein would take him in a heartbeat, and Johan knows that; he can feel the pull. Yet there is something in him that balks and refuses to answer. What he wants most is to walk away from the whole struggle. That plan isn't working out so well for him.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: September 18th, 2011 05:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Gorein's anger dynamic reminds me of both Darth Vader and the Emperor trying to tempt Luke to strike out of anger, so as to lure him to the Dark Side. I hear they have cookies.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 18th, 2011 06:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>Gorein's anger dynamic reminds me of both Darth Vader and the Emperor trying to tempt Luke to strike out of anger, so as to lure him to the Dark Side.<<

Something like that, yes.

>> I hear they have cookies.<<

Everyone talks about the cookies, but no one talks about the recipe. You have to wonder what goes into them, besides the dark chocolate.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: September 18th, 2011 06:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>Everyone talks about the cookies, but no one talks about the recipe. You have to wonder what goes into them, besides the dark chocolate.

I do believe that's a prompt waiting to happen... perhaps for a Fiorenza poem? Or Monster House?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 18th, 2011 07:22 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Well, it derives from a Star Wars reference, so it would pretty much have to be Monster House.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: September 18th, 2011 08:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

I suppose that's true; my brain got derailed by scary pies.
eseme From: eseme Date: September 20th, 2011 12:46 am (UTC) (Link)
An important lesson. Choose your battles.

I like the method they used to hide.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 20th, 2011 02:43 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

>>An important lesson. Choose your battles. <<

Sooth. There is much of that in this whole series, I think.

>>I like the method they used to hide.<<

I'm noticing that Gailah's paladins sometimes take an unusual approach to solving problems with magic. I suspect it's partly because they use divine magic rather than wizard magic ... but also because they're warrior-priests. What Shahana did was an elegant little parry, using minimum effort to deflect rather than maximum effort to block an attack directly. More discreet, less work.
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