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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Nutshells"
This poem fills a square on my card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This fest encourages the creation of boundary-pushing material that explores what happens when things go horribly wrong and people actually care about each other. Remember, things always go wrong; what matters is how you deal with that. Some of the content may be NSFW. Read the FAQ and rules here. The signup post is here. I'm hoping to attract some new readers.

The following poem belongs to the series Fiorenza the Wisewoman; it is a sequel to "From the Free City" and will make more sense if you read that first. This is historic fantasy set in Renaissance Italy. It features a young woman who handles the healing and magical tasks for her village. You can read more about this on the Serial Poetry page.

Fandom: Original (Fiorenza the Wisewoman)
Prompt: Amnesia
Medium: Poetry
Wordcount: 396
Rating: PG
Warnings: Non-graphic, minor self-harm through carelessness.
Summary: Mad Ercole searches for lost memories in the autumn woods, and Fiorenza keeps watch over him.
Notes: Angst. Caretaking. Aftermath of traumatic brain injury.


In autumn, Mad Ercole crept through the forest
on his hands and knees, gathering nutshells.
At first, Fiorenza the wisewoman tried to dissuade him;
but he wept so piteously that in the end,
she let him have his way
and tended the inevitable scrapes that resulted.

He gathered them in his hands, not a basket --
hands that shook a little, sometimes,
when shadows passed by overhead.
Fiorenza would look up, then,
and see the shifting leaves or migrating griffins
but understand that Mad Ercole
saw something altogether different and far away.

It had been a cannonball that cracked his skull
and let half his wits leak out along with a quantity of blood,
Fiorenza recalled, when he had served
in the army at Fermo to keep the Free City free.
One of his fellow soldiers who lived in the village
had brought him home, since he had none of his own,
and Fiorenza had taken on his care.

On good days, Mad Ercole would garden and remember to feed himself;
on bad days, he would forget to dress and huddle under the table.
At times he spoke to the plants in Fiorenza's garden;
at times, perhaps, they answered.

Yet it could not be denied that Mad Ercole
had forgotten some things forever,
while other memories lay scattered
across the floor of his mind like shattered nutshells
in the dry brown leaves of an autumn forest.

These were among the things that Mad Ercole had lost:
the names of his kin and their village,
the color of his mother's hair,
the recipe for his favorite tea,
the way to tie the laces of his shirt,
and why to be careful of fire.

He muttered over his losses as he collected his nutshells,
poor replacements for his memories of old.
Sometimes Fiorenza knelt to help him,
and if her face was wet, there was no one to see
who would likely remember it later.

Mad Ercole had also forgotten
how he saved the lives of every man in his squad;
but Nicilo remembered, and so the tale lived on
even if the hero himself could no longer tell it.

Fiorenza thought privately that he never would have anyhow,
and so when she told it to the village children,
she changed the names and the dates
and forged the hero a happy ending
for them to remember.

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