This poem came out of the March 5, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from Dreamwidth user Jjhunter. It also fills the "panic" square on my card for the Dark Fantasy Bingo fest. It has been sponsored by Shirley Barrette. This poem belongs to the series "A Conflagration of Dragons" and follows "The Chant of the Return of Sebak." You can read about the six races; Astennu belongs to the Shu.
Warning: This poem deals with PTSD, nightmares, and claustrophobia. There are descriptions of remembered violence as part of that. If those are touchy topics for you, think carefully about whether or not it's something you want to read right now.
Astennu is one of the lucky ones,
and well she knows it,
but that hardly helps.
She survived the fall of Jehuti the City of Trees,
home of the Shu and their allies,
when the dragon Sebak burned it down;
she fled to the mountains
and the stronghold of Hildeburh,
where the Eofor welcomed her.
The people of the mountains
do what they can to comfort the refugees.
They pet the soft leather of her golden wings,
comb the tangles from her brindled hair,
and blot the tears from her yellow-grey eyes.
The Eofor are kind to Astennu,
but she feels that the city itself hates her.
There are too few windows
and too many solid walls,
too many straight lines
and not enough gentle curves.
It is so much harder to work stone
than to shape wood, whether living or dead.
She feels the stone close around her
like a fist crushing her fragile ribs
until she cannot breathe, cannot breathe,
Astennu wraps her memories around her,
pastes them to the flat stone like wallpaper.
She imagines roofs of bough and leaf
with windows of sky, landsilk awnings
to keep off the warm rain,
forest whispering familiar lullabies.
It is not enough.
It is never enough.
In the night the dreams take her
back to the burning city.
Her nightmares are filled
with flagrant yellow flame
and evil green vapor,
the knowing look in the dragon's eye
as he sought and almost caught her --
and in dreams, he does, sometimes, he does.
sweaty and overheated,
lungs heaving for air
as she kicks free
of the cocoon of blankets,
her tail bushy with terror
and tangling around her legs.
She wakes, going
from one nightmare to another,
burning forest to mountain belly,
swallowed whole by panic,
finding refuge neither then nor now.
Astennu does what a bard always does,
turns to her music and her storytelling,
drags weeping notes from a flute
until she can remember
what the wind sounded like in the heights,
what the sun looked like through the leaves.
She imagines roofs of landsilk and wood,
steeped in history innocent of dragonfire,
houses untouched by stone.
She lies on her back in the bed she was given
and imagines herself back home,
before she earned her seat,
when her worries only concerned
whether she could prove herself worthy.
Now she has earned the seat,
but the fine wooden chair
is ashes under Sebak's claws
and her triumph is ashes in her hair.
Astennu falls asleep beneath imaginary roofs
and hopes that someday the panic will fade
and she will find new things to dream of again.