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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Will Not"

This poem came out of the September 13, 2011 call for prompts.  It was inspired by prompts from haikujaguar, aldersprig, laffingkat, and minor_architect, plus a previous conversation with the_vulture.  People wanted to know more about the world and its background, particularly how others view the paladins of Gailah; and there were requests to explore the character of Johan in more depth.  You can find the other Path of the Paladins poems via the Serial Poetry page on my website.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them. The rate is $.50 per line, so $5 will reveal 10 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses.  

So far sponsors include: the_vulture, idhren24, general fund, Shirley Barrette, Anthony Barrette

FULLY FUNDED
168 lines, Buy It Now = $84
Amount donated = $36
Verses posted = 9 of 28

Amount remaining to fund fully = $48
Amount needed to fund next verse = $3.50
Amount needed to fund the verse after that = $4



Will Not


The road sloped slowly upward
beneath Johan's feet as he walked.
He flexed his fingers around a rag ball,
kneading it against his palm.
He had already regained most of the use
of his right arm, despite how badly
it had been shattered from the elbow down.
He was forced to admit that Shahana did good work,
and that she had been right to press her care upon him,
loath though he was to owe her anything.

Johan had no particular place to go,
and that rankled.  He abhorred being at loose ends
like this, but there was nothing else for it.
The bright temple was broken long ago,
the paladins of Gailah flung to the five roads.
Out of the remaining gods he had considered,
those he wanted most would not have him,
and those who would have him, he did not want.
Sometimes it left him weeping, on a lonely forest road,
where no one could possibly see.

For a time, Johan had given himself to a mortal lord
and that had started out well enough.  However,
their relationship had soured over the years,
as the man asked more and more of him
that grated against what little honor he had left.
Johan had gone from right-hand man
to errand boy, by the end.

Even that might have ended with some grace,
had the lord not sent Johan to pick up a package
that he needed for some ritual of sacrifice,
but when the package had turned out
to be a little girl with cornsilk curls
and brown eyes as bright as a calf's,
Johan had determined to let her off
with her uncle in a distant village,
and damn the consequences.

His lord had inquired why it pleased him
to throw away years of service over such a trifle.

"I may be a throwaway and a disgrace,"
Johan had said in an even voice.
"There are still some things
that I will not do."

His thoughts looped around, even as
the forest path forked and curled on itself.
It had been the same in his youth,
when he was the youngest of ten children,
always the least and the worst and the most picked upon.
He would not sell himself to the rich old widow
that his father had chosen, nor apprentice himself
to the barrister his mother offered as an alternative.
He had thrown himself to the road instead, seeking the city
that rose in his mind's eye like a star.

It was vital to him, as it always had been,
to find some external support for his standards,
some kind of guidance for his goals.
He sought the strength to protect himself and others,
so as not to be a victim of those
who believe that might makes right.
No one ever had any respect for a victim.
Johan found strength to be a fleeting thing,
though: he might as well have tried
to clutch rainwater in his bare hands.

Johan walked and walked,
but he could not leave his thoughts behind,
not the memory of the shining city and the bright temple
the day he came to give himself to Gailah
nor the day he shook its rubble from his boots
and turned away from his Goddess.
He could not escape the mocking laughter of the lord
whom he had served until he could bear it no longer,
nor the unwelcome blessing of his former fellow Shahana
and the calm regard of the girl who stood by her side.

Dusk came, and Johan was no closer
to an answer or a destination than he had been before.
The road widened ahead of him, though,
and he welcomed what it promised.
There was a travel shack beside the road this time,
not just a little shrine with a bland-faced statue for all the gods,
and a spark of firelight gleaming golden through a hole in the wall.

Inside, Johan found a priest of Talaton, god of balance.
The stout man stood on tiptoes, reaching overhead
to restore a faded mural of the gods
that covered the whole back wall of the shack.
He looked absurd in his motley robes,
white-spotted black over black-spotted white,
but he turned at once to welcome Johan
as if they were old friends.

"Come in, come in!" the priest said with a grin,
rubbing his plump hands together.
"The tea is nearly ready, and
I have a partridge roasting in the coals."

Johan gritted his teeth and admitted
that he had half a loaf of bread in his backpack.
He detested the servants of Talaton,
for they always seemed determined to make fun of him
and he had rarely seen one take anything seriously.

This one merely introduced himself as Matin,
setting aside his paintbrush to take up their supper.
He carved the partridge deftly into two portions,
tore the bread in half, and bade Johan pour the tea.

Well, so. It would be entirely out of temper
to start an argument. Johan poured the tea.
It was better than he had tasted in ages.

The leaping firelight made the mural
seem to come to life all along the back wall, as if
the gods and goddesses were sitting down to supper with them.
Johan flinched and looked away, focusing instead
on the perfect golden skin of the partridge
and the rich brown crumbs of the bread.

After supper, Johan watched Matin
whittling a stick with his nimble fingers.
It seemed an odd waste of time for someone in service.
Then Matin stood up and used the wooden sole of his shoe
to hammer the plug into a hole in the front wall.

Johan hunched himself even smaller,
remembering the harsh lecture at his lord's displeasure,
the cruel power in the guards' grip as they held him down,
and the sickening smack of the mallet against his hand.
The rhythmic sound continued until the knothole was mended.
Johan rubbed his left thumb over his right palm
and stared into the coals of the fire.

A gentle touch at his back startled him
so much that he almost fell off his seat.
"Softly, now," the priest said in a quiet voice.
"You seemed a thousand leagues away, Johan.
Best come back here where it's safe."

"I've met priests of Talaton aplenty,"
Johan said slowly, looking at Matin.
"You are really nothing like any of them."

"We serve balance, son of Gailah,"
Matin said. "You are not so full of yourself now
as you once were." One corner of his mouth quirked up.
"You need to be shored up, Johan,
not taken down a peg."

Johan didn't even ask how Matin knew that.
The gods had their own ways of knowing things,
and dispensed those to their followers as they saw fit.

"Come, you can help me touch up the mural,"
Matin said to Johan, urging him toward the center
where Gailah sat in Her place at the long table
as if the bitterest piece of history had never happened.
The priest held out a block of pigment and a paintbrush.

"I cannot," Johan said, shaking his head.
He rubbed his hand again,
remembering how it had been broken
along with so much else.

"I believe," Matin said firmly,
"that you have regained strength enough for this."
With that, he tucked the brush into Johan's grasp.

So Matin and Johan worked together,
restoring the picture of heaven's hall
that had been painted during a brighter time.
Johan was weeping again, silently,
his tears splashing into the little well of water
hollowed into the top of the pigment for mixing paint,
but the brush in his hand held steady
as he traced over the lines of his Goddess.

Johan found it easier to sleep that night
than it had been in a long time,
wrapped in the warm blanket of Matin's grace.
Heaven was as near as it had ever been,
just around the heart's corner.
When the dream came at last,
he heard Her voice the same as always,
intimate as a whisper in his inner ear:

Beloved, there are some things
that I also will not do.
One of them is give up on you.

Tags: , , , , , , ,
Current Mood: busy busy

16 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
janetmiles From: janetmiles Date: November 9th, 2011 08:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, my.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 10th, 2011 01:12 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad you like it.

I love your heart icon too!
jenny_evergreen From: jenny_evergreen Date: November 10th, 2011 01:10 am (UTC) (Link)
Awwwww. *hearts*
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 10th, 2011 01:18 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm happy to hear that.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 10th, 2011 03:28 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad this poem touched you.
siege From: siege Date: November 10th, 2011 05:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
By the sense of it, she's gaining strength.

And a lever is being built for its use...

(also:

You need to be shored up, Johan,
not taken down a peg."


is missing a quote mark)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 10th, 2011 10:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

Fixed!

Thanks for the proofreading assist.

You're right in your other conclusions, too!
eseme From: eseme Date: November 14th, 2011 02:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, her message is lovely, I am glad to hear what happened to him. Things seem to be better.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 14th, 2011 06:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

Johan is, very gradually, rediscovering clue. Some things can't be walked away from, no matter how much you try. At this stage, he's still fighting it, but Gailah and her people are back in his life again.
helgatwb From: helgatwb Date: May 18th, 2015 01:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am so glad she's not giving up on him.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 18th, 2015 06:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

Johan is stubborn. Gailah is stubborner. :D
torc87 From: torc87 Date: February 27th, 2018 06:58 am (UTC) (Link)
I swear, it's only on rereading this series and reading all the comments that I begin to understand why I find Johan so much more compelling than the actual main characters.

It's weird for me to be more interested in him and Radd and Nahum than Ari or Sahana or the Smith even - but those three are the uncertain ones trying to figure things out, fixing their path and stumbling and uncertain. I resonate with them at more than Sahana/Ari's almost perfection.

They are such varied characters, different readers can be drawn to the ones that capture them more. It's wonderful.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 27th, 2018 07:45 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> I swear, it's only on rereading this series and reading all the comments that I begin to understand why I find Johan so much more compelling than the actual main characters. <<

I'm glad you like him.

>> It's weird for me to be more interested in him and Radd and Nahum than Ari or Sahana or the Smith even - but those three are the uncertain ones trying to figure things out, fixing their path and stumbling and uncertain. I resonate with them at more than Sahana/Ari's almost perfection. <<

Ironically, this series started with a request for an imperfect paladin. Shahana is grungy and tired, but still has her faith. Ari is young and fumbling, but gains confidence over time.

The guys you named, though? Hot messes, all. :D

>>They are such varied characters, different readers can be drawn to the ones that capture them more. It's wonderful.<<

Sooth. I'm glad you're enjoying the spread!
torc87 From: torc87 Date: February 27th, 2018 07:58 am (UTC) (Link)

RE: Thoughts

Ah, but grungy and tired don't detract from perfection. She's tired but she Always does the right thing, knows what she should do. She isn't really torn, not confused on what the right course is. She seems to always just Know what to do, who should do it, how to act.

That's a perfect paladin. Even more so bc she is doing it despite being weary and heartsore.

Ari too - she has stories of self doubt, overeagerness bc of naivetee ( first few fights), emotional reaction to rape - but in dealing w her path? Dealing w others? Asking questions and eager to learn and do? She seems to always say the right thing, figure it out, be what's needed.

Neither of them make mistakes.

Johan? We see him dealing w the consequences of his mistakes.

He left. Right when he was needed most. Then he hid and did things he regrets now. And now he is - well, a hot mess. Unsure, going moment to moment, doing his best and sometimes it's not enough - but it is his best and it gets things done.

He feels more human. More - reachable. Relatable.

Ok the other two are a bit bc I like redemption stories. Screwing up then working to fix it, make up for it. Grew up w too much Xena lol.

But the imperfect paladin? I think it's Johan way more than Shahana.

She isn't storybook knight - gleaming armor w white horse and a castle behind her for supplies. But that's more pretty picture than what a paladin is. Unshakeable faith is an ideal paladin.

So the prompt was kinda fulfilled?
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 9th, 2018 08:46 am (UTC) (Link)
He doesn't need a God or man to serve. He serves his own code. A lonely path, but am honourable one. But not one he is destined to walk for long, it seems.

-not a supervillain
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 9th, 2018 10:30 am (UTC) (Link)

Well ...

>> He doesn't need a God or man to serve. He serves his own code. A lonely path, but am honourable one. But not one he is destined to walk for long, it seems. <<

Johan is lonely and unhappy like this, which is not good for him. Some things are changing; he'll have more company soon. But you know, I think he's going to keep following his own code, and that's a good thing.
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