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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Storm Wrack"
This poem came out of the March 20, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from the_vulture, wyld_dandelyon, and morrigans_eve.  This is a direct sequel to "Follow Your Heart" and it belongs to the series Path of the Paladins.  You can find the other poems through the Serial Poetry page.  A recent poll selected this as the next open epic.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them. The rate is $.50/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: general fund, kelkyagtabardthe_vulturejanetmileslaffingkatmorrigans_eve

FULLY FUNDED!
161 lines, Buy It Now = $80.50
Amount donated = $58.50
Verses posted = 18 of 27

Amount remaining to fund fully = $22
Amount needed to fund next verse = $1
Amount needed to fund the verse after that = $3



Storm Wrack


Rain poured down on the roof of the inn,
along with an occasional hammering of hail.
The river that ran through Three-Town Fork
was flooding, but at least they'd had time
to lay down sandbags and protect the towns.

The inn was crowded as people took refuge
from the miserable weather, but the innkeeper
saved a space for Shahana and Ari
in thanks for their help against the smugglers.

They were shocked to see Johan
slog into the common room, muddy and dripping,
hauling a wet bag of gear along with him. 
"Ladies," he said politely as he flopped onto the bench.
"The innkeeper directed me over here.
We just wrecked on -- oh, something, I didn't see it,
I was busy poling the flatboat.  And the inn's out of rooms,
but the innkeeper said I could dry off by the fire
and have a bowl of soup."

"You can share our room," Shahana said.
"They gave us one for finding a den of smugglers."
"Stay here," Ari said.  "I'll go get your soup."
"Thank you," Johan said,
raking his wet black hair out of his face.

Ari came back with a bowl of soup and a bun for Johan,
and a fruit dumpling to be shared as dessert.
"So you're a riverman, now?" she asked
as he dug into the soup.
"Not much of one, I suppose, without my flatboat,"
Johan said.  "It was a fair job while it lasted, though."

"Here he is, boys!" crowed a voice.
"Oh no," Johan muttered, hunching lower.
But the rivermen eddied around him anyway,
slapping his shoulders and congratulating them.
"He's our hero of the day," the flatboat captain said.
"Without him, we'd be feeding the fishes alongside our cargo."

"He snuck away after he hefted us up on the docks, though,
the sly little blighter," said the second hand.
"You forgot your pay," the captain said,
and dropped a small clinking pouch on the table.
"And here's from the crew, a coin for each of us you pulled out,"
said the second hand, adding a knotted handkerchief.

Johan buried his face in his hands.
"I am not a hero," he said blurrily.  "Please go away now."
"He's shy, too," the captain said, "but don't let him fool you.
He's a hero, right enough."
"Yes," said Shahana, "I know."
The captain nodded to her, and took his men away.

"Are they gone?" Johan asked.
"Yes," Ari said.  "Did you really pull them out of the river?"
"Of course," said Johan.  "I had  to.
Some of them couldn't even swim.
I mean to say, what kind of imbecile works on a boat
when he doesn't know how to swim?" 
He applied himself to his supper again,

plainly hurrying so as to escape more attention.

Shahana divided the dumpling
as Johan mopped his soup bowl
with the last scrap of bread.
"Is it really so bad to give your crewmates
a chance to express their gratitude?" she asked.

Johan tucked his chin against his chest.
"It hurts to be reminded of what I was," he said,
"though I can't seem to stop stepping on it anyway."
"Hm," said Shahana, glad to see him
eating his share of dessert rather than refusing it.
"Come upstairs," she said when he finished,
and Johan followed her as readily as Ari did.

"Hang up all your wet things," Shahana told him.
"Everything I own is soaked," Johan grumbled
as he obeyed.  Ari helped him.
Shahana pulled out a spare shirt and trousers.
"Change into something dry," she said, and he did.
At least that stopped him shivering.

"Have you heard about Darthur?"
Shahana asked Johan.
His breath hitched as he replied,
"My mentor killed in battle, yes.  Gailah sent me a dream.
There are not so many of us as there once were."
"You have me," Ari said softly,
"though I am not a novice in the bright temple."
"It is Gailah, not the temple, who makes a novice,"
Johan said, "or a paladin."

Shahana and Ari sat on the floor
and began the meticulous process
of cleaning and polishing their gear.
It was a familiar ritual, and they said nothing
aside from Ari murmuring verses --
she was still learning the names of all the armor pieces.
"May I ... join you?" Johan said hesitantly.
"Of course," said Shahana.  She passed him
her breastplate and the little pot of polish.

Ari stroked an oiled cloth along her belt knife.
"Shahana, what makes a paladin, really?"
she asked suddenly.  "Look at us --
we've hardly anything in common,
not to mention that crazy woman today."

Shahana wasn't surprised that the conversation
had come back around to this.
It was a weighty consideration, after all.
"What makes a paladin is partly the nature of the soul --
a certain clarity of purpose -- and partly a choice,
the willingness to serve," she said.
She stroked a whetstone along her sword,
listening to the whisper of stone on steel.

"But is it the gods who decide, or us?"
Ari asked.  "Can anyone be a paladin,
or do you have to be something special?"

"It's both," Johan said suddenly,
picking up the thread of the lesson.
"It's something that you and the goddess
decide about together.
Some paths just ... need to be followed,
and this is one of them."

He laid down the polishing cloth for a moment
to interlace his fingers, then said,
"First you do something that makes Her notice you.
It can be anything -- a prayer, a valiant deed, a kind word.
Then She sends you a fallen star.  Then you accept.
Then She fills you with Her power.  Step by step."

Ari pulled out her fallen star and buffed it carefully.
"We met a paladin of Gorrein today,"
said Ari, and Shahana saw Johan's flinch.
"She made my skin crawl, but she said that
being a paladin was about following your heart,
not just about being good."

"No," said Johan, shaking his head.  "You do
have to follow your heart, but there's more than that.
"I think being a paladin is about accepting power
and then giving it away, not clinging to it.
That's the hard part.  Few people can do it."

"Well, I bet you know more about that 
than Gorrein's crazy lady does," Ari said firmly

as she tucked her fallen star back into its pouch.
Johan scrubbed hastily at the breastplate again
but Shahana had already seen
how he had responded to a novice's questions.

"So how is your heart, Johan?" Ari asked.
"I'm not sure you were following it when we met last."
"It's still broken," he said with half a smile,
"but it's not quite as useless as it was before."
Shahana wondered what in the world he meant by that,
but he was already setting the armor aside.

"That reminds me," Johan said
as he rummaged through his pack,
"I have something for the two of you."
He passed a tiny packet to Shahana and one to Ari.
Shahana unwrapped hers to find a necklace
made from a piece of porcelain painted with roses.

Ari held up a matching necklace, face shining with joy.
"Thank you!" she exclaimed, throwing her arms
around Johan's neck and hugging him.
"It's the prettiest present anyone ever gave me.
But I don't have anything to give you."

"You gave me my heart back, I think," Johan said.
"I'd lost it for a while, until I met you and Shahana on the road.
I'm glad to have it again, even if sometimes
I cut myself on the sharp edges."

Ari sat back on her heels and put on her necklace.
She ran a finger over the shiny foil and said,
"Don't worry.  Gailah will show you how
to cover the sharp edges with something wonderful."

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16 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 9th, 2012 07:18 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad you like this.

>>I love the break between Johan's conception of what he did there and the Crew's conception of his actions. That's one I've lived through a few times, if not in such extreme circumstances.<<

That seems to be a key part of Johan's personality. He has an idealized concept of how the world "should" be, and is perpetually disappointed because it's rare for anyone or anything to live up to that. In this case, he thinks of a hero in the moral sense rather than the practical sense, and the shear between his own perception and other people's can be miserable. But he is slowly learning that "imperfect" does not necessarily mean "worthless."
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 10th, 2012 01:10 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

I'm glad this resonated with you. It's hard when you can't live up to an ideal, but can't change the ideal because it's something you honestly believe.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 5th, 2012 10:57 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

It is a hard lesson. I'm enjoying the process of discovery through this part of the story arc, though. I think it makes a nice counterpoint to the path that Shahana and Ari are taking.
zianuray From: zianuray Date: May 6th, 2012 12:36 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes! This x 1000!!!

"the shear between his own perception and other people's can be miserable"

Edited at 2012-05-06 12:36 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 6th, 2012 01:08 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes! This x 1000!!!

I think it's one of the things that distinguishes Johan from other characters in this setting. Shahana knows who she is, and she's honest about that. Actually Bodil, the paladin of Gorrein, fits that too. Ari is young, just beginning to discover herself, but she has a very practical and straightforward approach. In contrast, Johan's self-image is greatly at odds with his performance; he's always fighting himself, and the world, and the gods, and everything.
rix_scaedu From: rix_scaedu Date: April 17th, 2012 07:43 am (UTC) (Link)
I know Johan believes he has left Her service but maybe She thinks he's out there getting life experience, being tempered and finding out who he is...
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 17th, 2012 07:55 am (UTC) (Link)

Well...

What Johan thinks and what he does ... seem to cross only at widely separated intersections. Poor guy. He's tried so hard to get away from his past, but none of it does much good because he can't get away from himself. I think Gailah is mostly standing back so as not to mash him. She certainly hasn't taken his departure to heart. I don't think She's the sort to give up on people.
rix_scaedu From: rix_scaedu Date: April 17th, 2012 08:34 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

And while he's been busy not being her paladin, he's saved a child another man might have taken to her death and now he's saved a whole bunch of rivermen. He done good things he might not have been in the right place to do if he still thought of himself as a paladin.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 17th, 2012 08:42 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

0_o

Has anyone ever mentioned that you're more than a bit god-sighted? Because most people can't see around that kind of corner. Even *I* hadn't noticed that particular bit, as I was tracking a bunch of other stuff, but I'm quite sure Gailah has. Just, wow. Thanks for pointing it out.
rix_scaedu From: rix_scaedu Date: April 17th, 2012 01:09 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

I don't think anyone's mentioned it because I've never heard the phrase before.

He's not one of the focal characters of the series & sometimes characters do things you don't expect - mine do, anyway. If I helped, that was my pleasure.

siege From: siege Date: April 18th, 2012 02:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
I mean to say, what kind of imbecile works on a boat
when he doesn't know how to swim?


Heh. Used to be, most sailors learned how to swim around the time they first fell off the boat... but if you grew up around the water's edge, you were swimming from the time your parents could put you in the water. Those people did all the useful small tasks of rivermen, like ferrying and river-gathering (and body retrieval), while the crews of larger boats came from people who heard there was work and/or adventure.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 18th, 2012 06:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

I knew that this happened with wet-navy sailors. But it was also pretty common with riverboat crew -- a river being narrower than the ocean, it was more prone to attract people outside its immediate beachfront. I've read a fair bit about the riverboat trade on the Mississippi River, so I'm drawing from that in this poem.
catsittingstill From: catsittingstill Date: May 6th, 2012 01:40 am (UTC) (Link)
I love the end.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 6th, 2012 03:12 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

Ari does seem to have a knack for saying things that are both prosaic and profound.
eseme From: eseme Date: May 10th, 2012 03:11 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh good, they got their necklaces!

I am glad they all met up again, and I do love the deep conversations that poems in this setting generate.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 10th, 2012 03:23 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>>Oh good, they got their necklaces!<<

Yes, this poem picks up threads from some earlier ones.

>>I am glad they all met up again, and I do love the deep conversations that poems in this setting generate.<<

That's good to hear. (There's another conversation about the quality of divinity in "Supernal Nature" which isn't published yet.) This kind of introspection is challenging to do well. The series seems to shift between numinous topics and practical survival.
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