This poem was written outside the fishbowls, filling in a gap in character development. It has been selected in a poll as the free epic for the April 3, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl. It belongs to the series Path of the Paladins, and you can read more about that on the Serial Poetry page.
The late summer sun beat down on the dusty street,
thickening the air with the heat of the day.
Johan tugged the ridiculous straw hat a little lower
in an attempt to keep the light off his porcelain skin.
The last thing he needed was a blazing sunburn
on top of all his other difficulties.
He wanted nothing more than to replenish supplies
and abandon the trading town for the open road again.
"Alms," croaked a withered voice as Johan passed,
and when he hesitated, the beggar continued,
"or if you have no alms, perhaps a blessing."
Johan sighed at the fresh reminder of his status.
"I'm afraid that I'm out of blessings," he admitted.
The beggar rustled a tattered grass basket
holding a few coins, along with more buttons and pins.
"Then may the gods bless you, stranger," he said.
Looking at the basket gave Johan an idea.
He unhooked the dented tin cup from his belt
and laid it in the old man's lap. "Take this," Johan said,
"that you may catch whatever comes your way."
Johan bartered carefully for the provisions he needed.
Money was hard to come by, and more often people traded
what they found, or exchanged services with each other.
He had a knack for finding dyestuffs and rare earth pigments;
a few nuggets of precious red ochre could keep him fed for a week.
At the end of the street stood a shop selling
pottery and metalwork for home and travel.
A tinkling crash sounded from inside just as
Johan opened the door. He raised an eyebrow.
"That's the beauty of glass," the shopkeeper said cheerfully.
"If it breaks, you just sweep the shards back into the forge."
Johan sniffed over a display of large cracked urns
for sale as self-watering containers for gardens.
"That does not work with pottery," he observed.
"Some things, once broken, cannot be mended."
"Pottery is different," the shopkeeper agreed.
"Once there was a gardener who only owned two pots,
one whole and one cracked.
Every day he filled them with water,
but the cracked pot leaked all the way home.
When that pot lamented that it wasn't doing its job,
the gardener pointed out the row of flowers
growing along that side of the road,
and said it merely had a different job than its fellow pot."
He spread his hands and concluded,
"The gods always have a use for us,
no matter what condition we happen to be in."
Johan shook his head, dark hair flying.
"Shattered people are as useless as shattered pots,"
he said. He had seen it often enough to know.
The shopkeeper merely smiled. "You are quite certain
that shattered pots are useless, are you?" he said.
"I'm certain that you can't keep water in them,
nor anything else," said Johan, "not even
long enough to irrigate a garden."
With a quick motion, the shopkeeper lifted up
a section of countertop and beckoned Johan toward
a closed door at the back of the store.
"Come and see our garden," he invited.
From the narrow doorway,
Johan could see the smoking enclosures
that held the glass forge, the ceramic kiln, and the metal forge.
Between them lay a garden burgeoning with roses and blackberries,
squash vines twining long green arms up lengths of string,
and the green-and-gray tufts of an herbal bed.
Enchanted, Johan stepped forward --
and something crunched under his boot.
He yelped and sprang back into the shop.
Then he looked down.
The path of the garden was covered with ceramic shards.
Here by the door the shards were the color of red clay,
but as Johan looked out he saw that other branches
held different colors: white and black and even
the pale verdigris of old copper. The beds, too,
were mulched with a thick layer of crushed ceramic.
The colors seemed to shimmer in the sunlight
like fragments of a rainbow after a storm.
"This is ... amazing," Johan said,
reverence tinting his voice.
"For everything under the sun there is a purpose,"
the shopkeeper said solemnly, "and the potential of beauty."
He patted Johan on the shoulder. "It merely remains
for us to discover what those might be."
Then he turned and walked back into the shop.
Johan wandered through the garden,
trailing his fingers cautiously over the rosebushes
and the fragrant, leathery leaves of sage.
The shards of ceramic still crunched underfoot,
but the sound had ceased to startle him.
He merely admired the colorful display.
At last he returned to the shop to pick out
a tin cup to replace what he had given to the beggar.
As he lifted one from the shelf, his sleeve brushed
against a stand of peasant necklaces,
making them tinkle against each other.
Tiny shards of what might have been teacups
were wrapped in metal to cover the sharp edges,
and strung on plain leather thongs.
Two of them caught his eye, matched shards
fitting together along one foiled edge.
Hazy pink and yellow roses
decorated the fragments of white porcelain.
Johan smiled. He knew two women
who had once been peasants.
"I'll take these as well," he said.
Johan traded away the last of his barter goods
and then packed up his purchases.
He left the town with a lighter heart, and when
the gravel of the road crunched underfoot,
it made him smile all over again.
Some broken things might not be mendable,
but he was learning to look for the beauty in them.