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Poem: "Guarding the Change" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Guarding the Change"

This poem came out of the February 5, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from kelkyag, siege, and wyld_dandelyon.  It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.  This poem belongs to the series The Steamsmith.

Guarding the Change


Easter brought a break in the London Season,
when the lords and ladies customarily travelled
to their country houses for the holiday.
The Carrington holdings were spread across
England and Ireland, not to mention
the fine display of Wycombe Abbey
where John Smith generally lived
and where his daughter Maryam had grown up.

This year, however, they were not going home,
nor abroad to Ireland as they sometimes did.
This time it was to be a tour of Warwickshire
looping out from the modest little townhouse
in Leek Wootton for the comfort of Baron Carrington,
who had until recently been John and was now Maryam.

It was John's intention to present Maryam as his heir,
in person, to the people of their holdings,
now that the title had passed from courtesy to substantial.
So he arrived on her doorstep, dressed as neatly as ever,
to make the journey from London to Leek Wootton.

Maryam noticed, suddenly and quite sharply,
the silver threads brightening in her father's dark hair.
It made her heart skitter to think that,
as she had been growing up,
he had been growing old.

She realised that he might be giving her
the reins not just to let her take more responsibility,
but to let himself take a little less  of it
and perhaps -- hopefully! --
a bit more time for himself.

The route was familiar,
the rolling green slopes of the Cotswolds
and the little rural villages
and small towns beginning to burgeon
with the promise of industry brought by
coal and textiles and cement
but especially the steamsmith engineering
that connected and lit and uplifted so much.

The routine ... that was different, now.
Before, Maryam had sat at her father's elbow,
observing, as he and the land steward
went over the books together.
Today, it was Maryam who sat
in the big leather chair with ornate wooden frame,
the land steward explaining everything to her
while John lounged by the fire with a book of Tennyson.

They were all day at it, which was usual,
and when the servingmaid brought up tea,
Maryam and the land steward ate with one hand
while working with the other, which meant
simple things like cucumber sandwiches
that would tide them over until dinner.
Meanwhile John set aside his poetry
and indulged in slivered pork dripping with gravy.

Maryam tamped down the little spark of envy
and reminded herself there would be a roast lamb later.
She was lucky to have an experienced land steward
to go over the books with her, and a father who --
luxuriously sloppy sandwich notwithstanding --
would drop what he was doing at a moment's notice
if they needed his advice for anything.

The next day was the Lord's Court --
an old custom whereby any tenant of the land
could petition the lord in residence for justice
if they could not afford charges in the Crown's court --
and nearly a quarter of the petitioners tried to walk out
when they saw not John but Maryam take the bench.

Well, John had no kind of patience with that:
he marched them all right back to their places in line
and insisted that once they put their names on the docket
they were obliged to present their cases to the court
unless they  wanted to be brought up on charges.

So Maryam listened to the usual tedium
(and occasional hilarity) of stolen pigs and strayed cows,
girls who had gotten pregnant with no husband in sight,
and arguments over who had assembled a waggon
around the steeple of the church.
She handed out a few fines and a great many chores,
and collected for her trouble a modicum of respect.

Only once did Maryam step aside for her father,
as he had said she might if she felt out of her depth,
for the matter of a family dispute with roots a century old.
He muttered to her in passing that he had once
passed an earlier version of this to his  father,
and hoped today would put paid to the judiciary heirloom.
Listening to the whinging tangle of he-said-she-said,
Maryam thought that was a bit optimistic.

Over the next few days, they rode through the towns,
visiting Kenilworth and Alcester, Nuneaton and Rugby,
and the scatter of farms around Shipston-on-Stour
where tiny white lambs scampered across the green fields.

When needed, they opened the Lord's Court again,
dealing with the misdeeds of young hotheads and old conmen,
most of them poor, but once there came up a case
involving a baronet's son and allegations of assault.
Maryam firmly redirected that one to the Crown's court.

By the time they returned to London,
Maryam was in equal parts rested and exhausted,
heartened and daunted, by her first turn
in the country as Baron Carrington.

Her father confidently --
and perhaps just a bit heartlessly --
assured Maryam that she would get used to it.

She would have to.
Warwickshire was hers  now,
and she could no more return it
than water could run up the Avon to the hills.

Maryam wondered, a little uneasily,
if this was how new parent felt
when the midwife handed them a baby
that they couldn't hand back.

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6 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: siliconshaman Date: February 9th, 2013 02:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
People often forget that the phrase "With great power comes great responsibility" cuts both ways...
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 9th, 2013 05:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

That's a good point. People often don't realize how much power they hold based on the responsibility they have.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: February 11th, 2013 03:23 am (UTC) (Link)
The last verse is ... perhaps an understatement.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 11th, 2013 03:59 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

*cackle* I am mean to my characters. I rarely give unmixed blessings (or damnations). But they angst so beautifully!
cadenzamuse From: cadenzamuse Date: February 13th, 2013 03:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Love this one. The responsibilities of new maturity and the laying them off of old maturity. (Particularly apt to me today, after the Pope's resignation, which I quite honestly admire as someone deciding that stepping aside to allow someone who can better do the Papal duties is better than martyring oneself for an ideal of the Papacy that often leaves a long expanse of administrative standstill as the old Pope dies in the chair.)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 14th, 2013 06:04 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>Love this one.<<

Yay!

>> The responsibilities of new maturity and the laying them off of old maturity. <<

This is an important part of life, and one that rarely gets much attention. When you have sensible people in charge, though, they do things like this. There will be more of it in the series over time, because it takes place at a pivotal period in history, when Queen Victoria is just taking up the reins of power. So a bunch of other youngish people are going along for that ride.

>> (Particularly apt to me today, after the Pope's resignation, which I quite honestly admire as someone deciding that stepping aside to allow someone who can better do the Papal duties is better than martyring oneself for an ideal of the Papacy that often leaves a long expanse of administrative standstill as the old Pope dies in the chair.) <<

Agreed.
6 comments or Leave a comment