Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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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.

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, spirituality, writing

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