This poem came out of the November 1, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from morrigans_eve, siliconshaman, the_vulture, siege, ellenmillion, and aldersprig. It was sponsored by Shirley Barrette and Anthony Barrette. "Uplifted" comes after "Will Not." You can find the other Path of the Paladins poems through the Serial Poetry page on my website.
The village bustled around Shahana and Ari,
busy with market-day, the little square
filled with booths and bodies jostling for room.
Here they could restock their supplies --
Ari's appetite was growing along with her training
as Shahana advanced the regimen.
As they walked, the two women saw
a priest of Talaton, god of balance, clad in robes
of white-spotted black over black-spotted white.
He wobbled precariously on a board atop a large ball,
his uplifted hands tossing several small balls and a red apple,
which he was eating one bite at a time as he juggled.
A laughing audience tossed coins into his upturned hat.
When he spied them, the priest hopped onto the ground,
bowed to his audience, and hastened toward them.
"Have you need of us?" Shahana asked him.
"I have not need, but news for you," he replied.
"My name is Matin, and I crossed paths with Johan recently."
"Oh dear," Shahana said with a sigh.
"What's wrong?" Ari asked.
"Johan takes things so very seriously,"
"He doesn't like the priests of Talaton much."
Matin chuckled. "Everyone in my order
has heard of the Paladin Who Would Not Laugh."
"I haven't heard that story," Ari said.
"One year during the novice examinations,
Johan spent all his time studying and never paused
to relax with the other novices. So some boys in my order
began doing tricks in a competition to make him laugh.
They told jokes and painted themselves funny colors.
One even replaced Johan's textbook with a book of cartoons."
"Did any of it work?" Ari asked.
"No, he never laughed at any of it,"
Matin told her, "and the boy
who put Johan's armor on the fountain statue
had to repeat a year for causing mischief instead of merriment."
Ari giggled. Shahana asked Matin,
"What happened when you met Johan?"
"Oh, we shared supper and talked
and touched up the mural in the travel shack,"
said Matin. "He was quite shocked.
Still no sense of balance, alas,
but we've not given up hope."
"Never give up hope," Shahana said.
"You never know when it will show up
like a cat on your doorstep."
Matin grinned at her and said,
"Help me put on a show?"
So they went back to the corner,
where Matin juggled facing the northerly street
and Shahana gave her most serious lecture
facing the easterly street that crossed it
and Ari trotted back and forth holding out
Matin's hat in one hand and Shahana's helm in the other.
The audience nodded thoughtfully at the lecture
and laughed gleefully at the juggling,
so that soon the performers had plenty of coins
plus a half-peck basket of apples left by a farmer.
"There is something else you should know,
paladin of Gailah," said Matin as they packed up.
"The balance is shifting."
He kicked one wooden shoe against the ground.
"I could feel it even before Talaton told me."
Shahana had sensed something, all right,
but she was no servant of balance
to be so certain of such things.
"Do you think it will turn heaven's table?"
she asked him.
"Who can say?" Matin replied.
"But peace and balance have long been allies."
"War has its own balance of power,"
Shahana pointed out.
"Not anymore," Matin said, and walked away.
"Well," said Ari,
"that was interesting."
"Indeed," said Shahana, mentally prodding
at her bond with their goddess.
She could feel Gailah's cheer at Matin's antics,
the whimsical performance uplifting Her mood
from its intermittent gloom. Under that,
dimly glimmering as a star fallen in a muddy ditch,
was a new mote of hope.