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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Chamomile and Honeycrack"

This poem came out of the December 6, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was prompted by westrider who wanted to know about any special holidays that the paladins might celebrate.  It was selected as a freebie in the serial poems poll.  This poem belongs to the Path of the Paladins series, and you can read more about that on the Serial Poetry page.  I've also posted about making honeycrack and other traditional candies.

Note that this takes a big jump forward in time, from early summer to midwinter.  It's okay because there's nothing in here that has a strong plot-continuity aspect, beyond continued character growth and deepening relationships.

Chamomile and Honeycrack

The sun was long gone
on this, the longest night of the year,
as Shahana and Ari sat by the fire.
Outside the wind whispered softly with snow,
but inside, the tiny snug cabin
smelled of summer.

Dried flowers of chamomile
steeped in the teacups,
releasing curls of steam
with the fragrance of new-mown hay.

On the hearth, a small pot
of candy syrup went plurk-plurk-plurk,
waiting for the next stage of its making.

Shahana passed a teacup to Ari,
took a slow sip from her own,
and began:

"When all is well with the world,
it is like the sun in the summer.
Good shines forth for everyone to see,
and people's souls bloom like flowers."

The paladin breathed out,
watching the ripples form and still.

"When the world turns from good to evil,
it is like the turning of seasons 
from summer to winter.
Days grow short, nights lengthen,
everything seems cold and dark.
People huddle in their houses
and wonder what happened
to the light and warmth."

A fingertip stirred the floating petals.

"So we learned to pick the flowers
while the sun shines,
dry them and store them,
that we may have their comfort in winter."

Shahana looked at Ari.
The novice sat on the edge of her chair,
leaning forward, barely concealing
a wriggle of anticipation.

The paladin smiled and said,
"All right, you may go now."

Ari sprang out of her chair,
snatched up the big empty bowl,
dashed across the floor,
and whisked through the door
before Shahana could remind her to wear a cloak.

That was all right.
Shahana remembered her first
celebration of Long Night
in the shining city.
She  had stood outside
for almost an hour, waiting for ...

Ari bounded back inside
with the big bowl overflowing with snow,
more snow slopping off her boots and clothes.
She plunked the bowl on the table
and said, "Now?  Now?"

"Dry yourself off first, love,"
Shahana said as she went
to fetch the pot from the hearth.

When she came back with the candy syrup,
she found Ari staring at her hopefully
from under a towel, all tousled hair
and huge blue eyes.

Shahana poured the syrup
over the mounded snow,
making graceful loops and curls.
They listened to the loud tak-tak-tak
giving way to fainter pings
as the hot spiced honey
cooled suddenly on contact with the snow.

"Honey is sunlight made liquid,"
the paladin said quietly
as they watched the candy harden.
"The flowers first catch it
and turn it to nectar,
then the bees gather that
and thicken the nectar into honey."

"I used to watch the bees,"
said Ari, "in the fields outside my village.
I would lie on my belly in the clover
and wonder how they did their work."

"Ah well, you're one of the bees now,"
Shahana said.  "For it is the work
of paladins to gather holiness
and make it into something
that other people can touch and hold."

She picked up a piece of hard candy.

"Molten honey is too hot to touch,
hot enough to burn if you're careless with it.
So too, divine power is too intense
for most people to handle.
But cool it -- transmute it --
and then it becomes a blessing
that people can use safely,
just as the snow turns candy syrup
into honeycrack."

She handed the golden curl
to Ari and took another for herself.

"Sometimes we're the bees,
sometimes we're the snow,
but all of the time
we're dealing with something
that is both sweet and dangerous.
We help people to remember
the light in the darkness,
the summer in the winter.
This is what it means to be a paladin."

Shahana savored her own piece of candy
as she watched Ari's face light up.
The honeycrack was intensely sweet,
sharpened with a bite of ginger and cinnamon.

Carefully the two women
picked the shards of candy out of the snow.
"Tonight we'll indulge ourselves a little.
Tomorrow we'll take some chamomile
and the rest of this honeycrack
into the nearest village to share
with the poor children there,"
Shahana said as they wrapped up the candy.

"Will you tell the stories again?"
Ari asked.

"No," said Shahana.
"You  will."

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7 comments or Leave a comment
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: January 9th, 2012 02:39 am (UTC) (Link)
I really like all the analogies in this piece. I also like the contrasts between responsibility and child-like indulgence.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 9th, 2012 02:45 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>I really like all the analogies in this piece.<<

When you're working with people who are mostly illiterate and uneducated, you need ways to teach that are based on common experiences and/or practical examples. Some of what Shahana teaches Ari is based on more esoteric matters of religious theory, but a lot of it is just everyday practice. So for these aspects, I'm drawing on what I know of oral tradition and the transmission of beliefs in earlier times.

>> I also like the contrasts between responsibility and child-like indulgence.<<

That's part of the charm to this series, I think. Ari is very young to be coming into so much power and authority, and she didn't get much of a childhood before due to her wretched circumstances. With Shahana, Ari has a chance to be playful, as well as a chance to learn and grow. Conversely Shahana is much older, and worn down from a hard life, yet she retains a sense of joy and whimsy. Gailah's path is serious but not somber.

To borrow a phrase from Paganism, "let there be mirth and reverence within you."
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: January 11th, 2012 03:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

I suspect that, in ensuring that Ari gets some measure of her childhood back, she's also reminding herself to reconnect to what joy there is to be had.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 12th, 2012 04:28 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Oh yes. They are good for each other that way. Shahana may be worn down by the world, but she still looks for opportunities to laugh and play. Her sense of wonder is still in there.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 10th, 2012 07:20 pm (UTC) (Link)


>>I'm glad to see that this one got posted. Thanks, everyone who voted for it!<<

I'm happy to be able to share it.

>>Chamomile Tea is my morning ritual, and I feel much the same about it as Shahana says here <<

It's a favorite evening tea for me. The descriptions and associations overlap mine a fair bit, too.
eseme From: eseme Date: January 13th, 2012 01:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, this is a lovely poem. I can really see all of it, and I love the metaphors.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 13th, 2012 06:15 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm happy to hear that. I was aiming to include all the senses.
7 comments or Leave a comment