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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Frightening the Horses"

This is today's freebie.   It was inspired by prompts from siege, the_vulture, and janetmiles.

"Frightening the Horses" is a direct prequel to "Opening the Gate" in Path of the Paladins.  Based on audience suggestions, however, "Frightening the Horses" is filed after  "Opening the Gate" on the Serial Poetry page.  Taking advantage of the bonus fishbowl, this poem shows one of the side-stories; it tends to make more sense if you already know what the main action is, even though that upends the chronology a bit.  Take a look at how and why some other folks work against Gorrein.


Frightening the Horses


They wore no insignia,
no special robes or holy symbols.
They spoke rarely but listened always
and no one seemed to know them
when they passed.

They traveled in pairs or small groups,
parting at the edge of a village
to flit through its streets.
One stopped by the livery stable
with its empty corral
and said, "Now."

The blacksmith, who wore the sign
of Syvera, lady of beasts,
set down his hammer and said, "What?"

"The servants of war are all out of the camp,
making food for the ravens," the traveler said.
He cocked his head as if listening to something,
and regarded the smith with bright black eyes.
"They have left the herd of remounts unguarded."

Messages delivered, the flock of wanderers
regrouped at the edge of the village
and resumed their journey.

It was left to Graufin the blacksmith
to gather the followers of Syvera
from among the farmers and herders,
to make a hasty plan and
sally forth to steal back their beasts.

The little valley was a mess of hastily pitched tents,
camp followers and their children,
cooking fires and livestock.
The peasants went in hard and fast,
whooping and swinging their tools overhead
to scatter the women.

They aimed first for the herd of remounts
and loosed the milling, skittish horses.
Graufin, as one of the few who could ride well,
claimed a fast-looking mare and mounted up.
Most of the other horses would likely follow
with a little help from the herders.

Over his shoulder he saw a shepherd
let the scruffy sheep out of their pen
and head for the hills. 
Meanwhile a swineherd
drove the pigs toward the forest.

Someone had grabbed several crates
of squawking, flapping chickens
but the horses had kicked over more than that
and now there were hens dashing everywhere
and a hysterical rooster atop the nearest pavilion.

Sunlight glinted on steel,
slanting under the red awning,
and Graufin spied an altar to Gorrein.

Get the shrine,
whispered a voice in his head.
Graufin closed his left hand
around his horseshoe pendant
and replied silently, As you will, my lady.

His gray mare obligingly swerved near the pavilion
and Graufin leaned over to swing his hammer,
smashing the ugly little icon on its blade-flanked table
and shouting a blessing for the lady of beasts.

The horses stampeded out of the valley
and it was all the blacksmith could do
to hold fast and keep some semblance of order.
When they finally slowed, he took stock --
they had three dozen horses, two of them stallions,
all more or less sound but none too fond of humans just now.
Graufin murmured another blessing,
lulling the restless mounts.

They had lost two men,
one killed by an ambitious youth
and one trampled in the stampede.
But they had made an unexpected gain --
a girl with black braids and a wild grin
who clung to the back of a blue roan gelding
and could not be more than twelve.

Now came the hard part:
they had to scatter the horses far and wide
so they couldn't be recovered quickly.
These would go back to villages, one here and one there,
pulling plows or carts and carrying messengers.

Swiftly Graufin helped to divide the large herd
into half a dozen smaller herds,
each heading in a different direction.
They would shed horses slowly as they traveled,
leaving them where they would be most needed
and least easy to locate.

Gorrein's men would surely give chase
but not even they could cover eight directions at once
with any chance of recovering all they had lost.

When he headed his little herd to the east,
Graufin found the wild girl riding beside him.
"I'm coming with you," she said.  "Name's Caprina.
"I'll not be anyone's whore.  I just keep up the horses."

Well.  Gorrein's men owed him a life.
They'd taken his last apprentice
and gotten the lad killed in a raid.
Graufin would just see how this girl worked out.

In the high heavens, Syvera stood at her gazing pool.
"That went well," the lady of beasts declared.
"Yes," said Ligia of the birds
as they watched the war-priests
running about madly like chickens with their heads cut off.

"I'm tired of those thugs frightening the horses,"
Syvera grumbled. 
'"Just look what they've done to my poor herders."
The scene shifted to a battleground littered with corpses.
"See, though -- the priest is pulling them back now,"
said Ligia.  "Some of your herders have survived,
and there, so has the stallion and three of his mares."
"For now," Syvera said sadly.

Gailah slipped between them,
leaned down, and touched the water.
"Call your scavenger birds," she said.  "Help is on the way."
As she walked away, the scene in the pool shifted again
to show two women walking through the empty pastures.

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11 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: March 21st, 2012 12:19 am (UTC) (Link)
A new alliance among goddesses, or an old one, I wonder?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 21st, 2012 12:32 am (UTC) (Link)

Well...

Ligia and Syvera have neighboring spheres of influence, so they've always been closely allied. What's new is the way that so many of the other deities are starting to come together and work against Gorrein, each using their own sphere of influence to thwart him. It's subtle but pervasive.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: March 21st, 2012 04:34 am (UTC) (Link)
<nod> I'm wondering why Gorrein hasn't run into this sort of opposition before, and/or who his allies are or were. I imagine you'll get around to developing the full pantheon in time.
my_partner_doug From: my_partner_doug Date: March 21st, 2012 12:49 am (UTC) (Link)

Chronology

Here's a point for folks to discuss regarding this poem: while it's certainly a prequel to the events in "Opening the Gate", I personally find it quite satisfying to be reading this *after* having already read the original poem. So, if/when the Path of the Paladins series gets published as a collection, where does this poem get included? In strict chronological order, before "Gate", or as a 'behind the scenes' glimpse of what was going on outside of our heras awareness, *after* the reader has seen what Paladin and 'prentice were perpetrating? Inquiring minds want to know! {grin}
janetmiles From: janetmiles Date: March 21st, 2012 01:39 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Chronology

At the moment, I think I'd rather have the look behind-the-scenes after the one from Shahana's and Ari's point of view, but that could change.

And I had a flash of an idea about interleaving the poems somehow, but I think it probably wouldn't work, because the time frames are sequential, not overlapping.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: March 21st, 2012 02:18 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, this is an interesting turn of events! :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 21st, 2012 02:34 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

If you annoy most or all of your peers, it becomes increasingly difficult to get anything done.

I'm glad you liked this.
siege From: siege Date: March 21st, 2012 02:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Those wondering where Caprina's name comes from, caprines are goats. This is also the root word for "capricious", but I doubt Caprina will be all that awful to those who care for her.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 21st, 2012 05:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

I have such a perceptive audience. Yes, that's the denotation of the name. The connotation is "wild" or "willful." (This will make sense to anyone who has ever been around goats.) Caprina may be a handful, but she's neither malicious nor random.

Caprina is one of the several examples of religious flexibility in this setting. She was born among Gorrein's people and her personality traits are compatible ... but she doesn't like Him, so she takes an opportunity to leave and find a better patron.
eseme From: eseme Date: March 29th, 2012 11:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I do think the look behind the scenes works best after the first poem.

I do like the alliance of Goddesses. I get the impression that the world is at a turning point.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 30th, 2012 01:29 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>I do think the look behind the scenes works best after the first poem.<<

This is helpful to know.

>>I do like the alliance of Goddesses. I get the impression that the world is at a turning point.<<

It is! Things haven't really hit critical mass yet, but the momentum is becoming more tangible as more and more changes accrue. I'm intrigued by the way this series has such a tangible sense of force, balance, and flow. It's very tactile.
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