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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Loaf Mass"

This poem came out of the March 20, 2012 bonus fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from morrigans_eve and kelkyag.  It has been sponsored by rix_scaedu as part of the half-price poetry sale.  This poem belongs to the series Path of the Paladins, and you can find the other poems through the Serial Poetry page.




Loaf Mass


Larn kept his hands steady on the plow
as the dutiful mule pulled the blade through the short stubble.
Not far away, old Calger and his wife Aude
forked the last of the alfalfa into the hay wagon.
Once the plowing was done, they'd wait a week or two
for the stubble and roots to start rotting down.
Then they could sow winter wheat as a cover crop.

He glanced up at the sky. 
They could sow, if the weather held.
It was a nervous time of year, late summer,
when the hay needed cutting and drying
and the grain was heavy in the head but not yet ripe.
Fair weather now meant they could keep gaining,
and they'd done better than expected after that spring raid.

"Please gods, just keep the weather fair," Larn muttered.
He didn't have a whole lot of use for gods, truth told,
for they seemed to use the world as their fighting-ring.
At least they rarely touched down themselves,
preferring to work through mortal men and women.
"Please gods, just stay out of the way," Larn said.

Apricot flicked an ear at him.
"You know I don't mean to insult you or your lady,"
Larn assured him.  He still felt grateful to that paladin
for leaving her mule to the village.
There would be no hay and no grain
if not for his hard work in the harness.
They were getting back on their feet, even if it meant
boys like Larn and oldsters like Aude and Calger
had to do it for lack of any better hands.

Larn lifted his head and suddenly spied a girl
walking down the road at the edge of the field.
Few traders made the rounds these days,
but there were always people set adrift in the world.
Something about the lay of her dress
and the hand she spread at the small of her back
made him wonder if she was walking for two.
Something about the long red scar down her left cheek
made him think he hadn't ought to ask about any of it.

A hand on his shoulder startled him.
"Larn, take that girl on up to your house,"
said Calger.  "She looks worn to a stub, and
a few minutes missed won't harm the plowing."
So Larn unhitched Apricot from the plow
and led him to the edge of the field.
"Offer you a ride, miss?" he said.
"You're welcome to stay at my place for a bit."

She unset her jaw enough to say,
"Yes, I got a baby coming. 
No, I ain't got a husband with it.
No, I don't want to talk about it anymore."
"So is that a yes or a no on the ride?" Larn said.
"Reckon I could sit a while," she said.
"You can join us for Loaf Mass next week, 
if you like," Larn offered.  She nodded.

So Larn helped her onto Apricot's back,
and took her to the house, and helped her down.
"I won't owe you anything," she said.
"Have you got --"
"I've peeling or mending, take your pick,"
Larn said, guessing her angle.
She took the mending, and he left her to it.

Larn finished plowing the field, switched Apricot
to the hay wagon and hauled it in.
He found the mending done and folded,
the girl asleep on his bed.
Carefully he draped a blanket over her.

Outside, Aude and Calger were singing
some old love song as they walked to their house.
The late summer breeze blew warm and gentle
without a hint of storm.  Maybe it would hold
and they could have a proper Loaf Mass,
get the grain in safe.  Maybe, just maybe,
things would come out right in the end,
gods and weather willing.

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4 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
rix_scaedu From: rix_scaedu Date: May 17th, 2012 09:31 am (UTC) (Link)
I would suggest that the gods have stuffed up if people just want them to stay out of the way.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 17th, 2012 09:41 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

In a way, that's true. Right now, the world is a real mess, and a substantial part of that is due to divine action. (To be fair, humans also share a large part of the blame, as they can choose which deity to follow.) Also Larn doesn't have a strong connection to a patron deity, which may color his opinion on the matter.

On the third hoof, the gods do have their own layer of reality and they have to find ways of getting along with each other. They're actually moderate in that regard: they tend not to interfere in each other's spheres of influence unless things go completely haywire. Since things have indeed gotten that bad, we're starting to see some major shifts in affiliation. It will take a while for that to reach the awareness of ordinary people, but it is in motion.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: May 17th, 2012 04:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
(I do wonder occasionally just how intelligent Apricot is.)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 17th, 2012 07:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Okay...

Paladins tend to enhance things, being a nexus of divine energy. They attract people and creatures who resonate with them, and then magnify that. So if you start with a good mule, you wind up with a really great mule.

Apricot is a very dependable, very hard worker as long as he's treated well. But he's still a mule; if you try to make him haul too heavy a load or if there's noticeable danger ahead, he will park his fuzzy butt and refuse to move. Mules are clever; he's smarter now. He's not fully sentient, and he still thinks like a mule, but he can do things like understanding a larger set of words. Animals often have a sense of whether a person is good and safe, or nasty and threatening. So Apricot's people-sense is quite keen now. Similarly, he has become attuned to divine energy in general and Gailah in particular. So he's likely to notice when people are paying attention to those kinds of things, either from familiar words or a shift in energy or some combination of the two.

Of course part of that also depends on the paladin's affiliation. Suppose you had a paladin working in a smithy with a bellows powered by a dog mill. You'd wind up with very smart dogs who were totally unafraid of fire, and who might do things like sounding an alert if a house started burning. An evil paladin might ride a particularly bloodthirsty warhorse.
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