Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Swimming Against the Tide"

This poem came out of the May 1, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from siliconshaman, wyld_dandelyon, and rowyn.  It has been sponsored by the_vulture.  This poem belongs to the series Path of the Paladins, which you can explore further on the Serial Poetry page.


Swimming Against the Tide


Radd wondered when his life had gone off-kilter
but could not manage to pin it down.

He'd still been in firm standing this spring,
he was sure of that, raiding villages under the raven's wing
and rounding up what goods could be found there.
If he refrained from destroying what couldn't be carried off,
well, it was easier to shelter in a whole barn
than one burned to ashes, wasn't it? 
The army might need it later.

Summer, too, he thought
hadn't gone badly.  He'd done his share
of marching down the dusty roads,
fought this battle and that one as a mercenary should.
Well, there had been the time that the peasants
snuck in behind them and stole livestock from the camp.
He'd gotten the sheep back, some of them, and what
did it matter that he hadn't killed the cringing shepherd?
Man surrendered at once when Radd demanded, didn't he?
Can't tax a dead man, after all.

Later, well, coming on to autumn was the problem.
There was that smuggler girl who fell in the river
and couldn't swim a lick.  So Radd fished her out,
gave her a quick lesson, and thought nothing of it.
The smugglers hadn't lasted, but the flood
had kept the rivermen from harassing the army.
Why was it such a sin that Radd piled up broken goods
while skimming the flats for loot after the flood?
How else was he supposed to remember where he'd searched?
Might as well let the orphans clean up what the army couldn't use.

Full autumn, then, and Bodil finally caught him
at what he couldn't excuse -- sharing a bit of bread
with a boy who turned out not to be from the camp,
but some village brat not yet conscripted.
Supplies always flowed to  the army, not from  it.
Radd tried to argue that he was just keeping order,
but looked down her beak of a nose at him and said,
"Order you make keep.  Kindness you may not.
Take your pay and begone from your company."

So there he was, cast on the road in the fall rains,
with winter not so far off and no company like to hire him now.
Mercenaries hired before the campaign season, not at the end.
He hiked his way up a steep slope, the narrow road hugging it.
Then he rounded a corner to find the way blocked by a landslide
and two women slinging stones at something -- or no,
one older woman with grey-gold hair and a slip of a girl,
both wearing armor and more than he cared to mess with.

"Trouble ahead?" Radd asked, wondering if they'd gotten
separated from their company and if it might hire him after all.
"No way past the rocks and mud," the older woman replied.
"The keystone's there -- that little white rock at the edge --
we've been trying to knock it loose, but no joy so far."
"I still think we should magic it," said the girl.  "It's blocking our path."
"I never had much skill with destructive spells," the woman said.

Radd brightened.  "Well, I'm no mage,
but I can cast a hammer cantrip," he said.
So he worked his little bit of magic, such as any mercenary
or even a peasant might know, tapping away at the rock.
Presently it crumbled and then a hard hand yanked him to safety
as the landslide went its way down the slope,
leaving the road no more than ankle-deep in rubble.

"We thank you for the aid," the woman said solemnly.
His cloak had come off in her hand,
and she looked it over, flicking away the pin of Gorrein
before passing the cloak back to Radd.
Oh, he'd spent enough time around Bodil to know
that  look she gave him -- paladin gauging a man's soul.
Radd still had no idea how a simple mercenary
had gotten himself into so much trouble.

But they didn't bother him at all, let him walk
quietly behind them until a path forked off the road.
They turned to take it, leaving him to the muddy road.
"When you've been swimming against the tide,"
the girl said to Radd over her armored shoulder,
"you might consider getting out of the water.
It's likely a lot easier just to walk along the shore."

Radd thought about that, then, instead of
fretting over when his life had skidded off its course.
Perhaps, he decided, since he was already off it,
he should think about where he was going now.

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