Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Crossing the Line"

This poem came out of the March 6, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from the_vulture, lilfluff, meeksp, marina_bonomi, aldersprig, eseme, and siege.  It has been selected as the free epic in an audience poll, based on the May 1, 2012 fishbowl reaching the $200 goal.  This poem belongs to the series Gloryroad Crossing, and you can find the other poems through the Serial Poetry page.

Crossing the Line

Hob the Beggar was the first to realize
that something somewhere had gone horribly wrong
when a highway patrolman rode into Gloryroad Crossing
on a horse dripping with foam and nearly foundered.
Hob caught the highwayman as he fell from the saddle.

"I managed to sound the alarm,"
the highwayman wheezed,
"but we'll have to hold them off until help comes."
"Them who?" Hob demanded.
"Goblins," said the highwayman, 
and went limp in Hob's grasp.

Nika and Whim, the would-be bards,
rose from their seat by the bakery's wall.
"I'll run to the bar and warn Dron about the action,"
said Whim as he shouldered his lute.
"He can organize the fighters."
"I'll just duck into the bakery and tell Brilla,"
said Nika, tucking her flute into her pack.
"She'll know what to do with everyone else."

Petal, the flower-selling girl,
helped Hob carry the highwayman
to the corner house where the cleric lived.
Eleazar came to the door quickly for an old man,
flicked a glance over the highwayman,
and declared, "He's just exhausted."

One cantrip later, the highwayman revived.
"Now what's this about goblins?"
Hob demanded, and saw Eleazar twitch.

"I caught one of their human spies when
I stopped an overloaded wagon,"
the highwayman explained.
"With the whole goblin horde
come howling down from the north,
their raiding bands were bound to get this far
sooner or later.  Now it's later."

Eleazar and Petal both turned away.
"Hey, where are you going?" Hob said.

"I'm going to start praying," said the cleric.
"We'll need all the help we can get."

"I heard that the goblins live so far north,
almost nothing blooms, so they're allergic
to a lot of things that grow around here," said Petal.
"I'm going to pick all the ragweed I can find,
and we'll see just what it does to them."

So Hob walked the highwayman to the bar
where Dron was rallying the fighters.
By then Brilla had started gathering
the housewives from the houses and
the farmwives who had come to sell produce
from their little patio beside the well.
Everyone in Gloryroad Crossing
was prepared to fight for it.

Inside the bar, the experienced fighters
crowded around Dron to plan their attacks,
muttering things like "enfilading fire"
and "flanking maneuver" and "rout."
Hob sent the highwayman over to Dron
and pulled himself onto a bar stool.

The bar had turned into an assembly line
of some sort.  Tee the barmaid
handed Hob a bottle and said,
"Half bottle of alcohol, handful of soap flakes,
handful of wood shavings, rag in the top.  Go."

Hob went to work.  "What do these do?"
he asked.  An apprentice wizard leaned over
and explained, "Light the wick, throw it, BOOM!
It's not Florizel's Instant Hell, but then,
it doesn't cost anything to cast either."
"Except the booze," Hob pointed out.
"Oh yeah," the apprentice said sadly.

When the goblins crossed the line into town,
the whole place seemed deserted.
They charged down the main street,
such as it was, pounding on doors
and spoiling for a fight.

A hay wagon rolled into the street
just ahead of them, and another behind.
Goblins swarmed over the wagons
looking for loot.

A horn blared.
Hob lit his first bottle
and let fly.
The nearest haywagon
burst into flames.

Screaming, burning goblins
ran madly through the center of town.
The horn blared again.
Archers opened fire from atop the buildings,
along with two apprentice wizards
and a great many villagers heaving rocks.
More goblins went down.

Then some of the goblin warriors
rallied around a taller goblin clad in furs
all sewn with bones. 
A skull-topped staff shook the air
and daggers of ice rained down.
Hob dove for cover behind a barrel.

Something bit the beggar's ankle.
He shrieked and kicked at it.
A skeletal rat tumbled away.
It attracted a goblin, though,
who nearly spitted Hob with a spear.

As Hob dodged,
Petal popped a sack of ragweed
over the goblin's head and
yanked the drawstring tight.
Hob was not sure whether the pollen
or the drawstring did the strangling, but either way
the goblin's heels drummed in the dust as it died.

A shining creature that looked like a sunbeam with wings
suddenly appeared next to Hob behind the barrel.
"Hi, can I help?" it said.
"Who are you?" Hob asked.

"I'm Blaise, angel of fire," it said.
"My god is kind of busy killing the goblin king right now,
so he sent me to help out a favorite cleric.
Do you know where Eleazar is?"

"Haven't a clue," Hob panted, "but I'm sure
he'd love for you to take out that goblin shaman."
He heard Dron's battle cry
from where several warriors were trying
to break into the tavern.

Hob risked a peek and saw
the fire angel reduce the goblin shaman to ash.
Cheers went up from both sides of the street.
The remaining goblins broke and ran.
"Rout!  Rout!  Rout!"
chanted the village fighters.

The goblin raiders fled
straight into the spears of the relief force
as the highway patrol rode them down.
The commander trotted into town and announced,
"We picked off the second raiding party
that was coming down the road after this one."

Petal looked at Hob.
"That's good," she said faintly.
"I'm all out of ragweed."
Hob glanced down at his own arsenal
and saw that he had just one bottle left.

He hobbled toward the tavern.
On the way, he heard the highway commander say,
"I'm sorry we couldn't get here sooner.
Your town looks pretty trashed."

Hob looked around at the two smoldering haywagons
and the well with a dead goblin draped over its side
and the hysterical chickens that had somehow gotten loose.
"This is nothing," the beggar said.
"You should see it on Wizard Masterworks Day.
Last year, some idiot turned the livery stable into a dragon,
which ate two horses and set the general store on fire."

"Oh," said the highway commander,
and hastened to get his men out of town.

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

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