Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Enlighten the Dark Corners"

This poem came out of the April 16, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from rowyn, laffingkat, and kelkyag.  It also fills the #16 Enlighten slot in the Rainbowfic Sunlight list.  This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.  It belongs to the series Path of the Paladins.

Here's a juncture of different plotlines.  It will make more sense if you have already read "Grit and Grace," "Swimming Against the Tide," and "With Its Head Cut Off."

Enlighten the Dark Corners

It was snowing again.
Radd pulled his cloak tighter
and hastened his work on the roof.

He had traded with travelers,
exchanging shelter and blessings
for tools and supplies.  It gained him
just enough to turn a corner of the ruins
into a tiny little one-room church,
scavenging stones to mortar together
into something approaching solid walls.
Now only the roof remained to finish,
a low slope of wooden shingles.

The light was going,
blue shadows creeping down
out of the forest slopes to cover
the church and the road that lay beyond it.

Radd whacked the last few shingles
into place and then scrambled down
the notched log he used as a ladder.
He glanced toward the road out of habit,
to see if anyone was looking
for a place to spend the night.

There was a traveler on the road,
shuffling slowly downhill
without any sign of stopping.

Radd paused.
If called attention to himself,
he might bring trouble in;
but if he did nothing --
well, it looked to become a cruel night
to spend outside with no shelter.

A gust of wind blew snow
between him and the traveler.
The figure stumbled,
fell to the ground,
tried and failed to rise,
finally slumped back down in defeat.

Cursing his newfound conscience,
Radd hurried out to the road.
The man was short and rounded,
shaking from cold, not very heavy in all
as Radd dragged him toward
the shelter of the church.

Inside the single room it was dark
until Radd stirred up the fire,
adding wood to raise the heat.
He took a splinter and lit
the stub of a candle in its holder framed
by large shards of red, blue, and yellow glass.
Then he lit the oil lamp whose chimney
consisted of smaller shards wired together,
fragments of rainbow that cast
a soft enchanting glow around the room.

The man lying on Radd's bed
had scars all down the side of his face,
no more than a few months old
from the look of them, still pink and shiny.
He wasn't hideous, but no one would
call him handsome now, if they ever had.
His stubby hands bore patches of callus
from holding the hilt of a sword, fading now,
weeks if not months out of use.

Radd shucked off his cloak
and climbed into bed with the stranger
in hopes of warming him up.
"I wonder who you are," Radd murmured,
"and what happened to you."

"Nahum," said the man.
"Picked the wrong fight,
and my luck's gone off since."

"Well, you were lucky that I saw you
and brought you here before you froze,"
Radd said.  "Perhaps your luck is changing."

"Lucky I found a priest forgiving enough
not to leave me out there on purpose,"
Nahum said with a wheezing laugh.

"I'm --"
not a priest,
Radd meant to say,
but what came out was,
"-- happy to be of service."

After all, who was he
to say that anyone else
was or was not worthy of saving?
The alabaster statue in the courtyard
had not turned Radd away from this place,
and he was minded to believe that
it could have done so.
He was simply passing along the favor.

Radd lay pressed against Nahum
until the smaller man stopped shuddering
and gradually warmed up again.
Then Radd left him in the nest of blankets
and went to make supper.
There were bits of dried vegetables
and a little rabbit meat left to make soup.

"It's very beautiful,"
Nahum said.
"What is?" Radd asked.

"The light," Nahum replied
with a nod at the broken glass
shielding the candle and the oil wick.
The colors blurred together,
turning the gray walls into a fantasy
of summer fields filled with flowers.
"Yes," Radd said, "I suppose it is."

There was still only the one bed,
so perforce they shared it
and the warmth they held
beneath layers of ragged blankets.
The forced intimacy was awkward
because they did not know each other,
but it was preferable to freezing.

"I can't sleep,"
Nahum said.
"I'll keep you up."

"I have nightmares,"
Radd confessed.
"I'll likely kick you in the night."

"Aren't we a pair,"
Nahum said wryly,
and Radd agreed that they were.

"What god does this church serve?"
Nahum asked him.
"I don't know," Radd said.
"Any of them, I suppose, all of them.
It's not really mine -- I just got here
a few weeks ago."

"What gods do you know of, then?"
Nahum asked.
Radd wasn't a proper priest
but he'd listened to them often enough
to lay out something of a list on request.

"There's Gorrein, he's --"
the lord of war, mightiest of the gods,
the catechism said; but Radd bit it off
and said only, "-- in charge of conflict.
Then there's Barzay --"
ally, enemy, traitor!
"-- god of smithcraft, and Gailah --"
bitch-sister, goddess of weaklings,
"who oversees peace, and um ..."
That was all Radd could remember for now.

"I don't suppose anyone else would want me,
after Gorrein cast me aside," Nahum said.
"I thought the same," Radd told him,
"but I think I may be wrong about that.
Sometimes the statue in the courtyard
talks to me, but I don't know Who it is."

"I think it might be nice to talk to Gailah,"
said Nahum, "because Gorrein was mean to Her too.
But I can't imagine her taking anyone that used to be His."

Radd thought about all the awful things
that the war-priests used to say
about the goddess of peace,
turned them around in his head
to imagine them as praise
instead of condemnation.

"I don't think," he said slowly,
"that Gailah is the type to turn anyone away.
It probably couldn't hurt to talk to Her."

"Do you know any prayers?"
Nahum asked in a wistful tone.
"Not ... really ..." any nice ones,
Radd thought, and this
was becoming a problem
because it wasn't the first time
he'd been asked for that.

In desperation, he told a story instead,
about the good things he'd done
without necessarily meaning them as such,
and how that had brought him to this place.

Nahum fell asleep long before
Radd got to the part about the two women
and the landslide blocking the road,
and how they had helped him
enlighten the dark corners of his life.

The next day, Radd went out to collect firewood
and when he came back, Nahum was busy
fastening the statue's head in place
with a wrapping made from scraps of rawhide.
"I was talking to Gailah," Nahum said
with a self-conscious little smile,
"and I thought, well, maybe She would
like it if we patched up the broken things a bit."

Something shifted underfoot,
and Radd flung his arms out
to avoid slipping on the ice,
dropping the firewood in a jumble.

"I guess most of the gods would like that,"
Radd said with a sigh, as he bent down
to gather up the scattered wood.
Nahum tied off the last of the rawhide
and knelt to help him.
"That's a nice thought," Nahum replied.

"So where are you going?"
Radd asked him.
It had stopped snowing overnight,
leaving a decent day for travel.

Nahum shrugged.  "Nowhere,"
he said.  "I was just ... going."

Radd estimated what supplies
could be gotten from the few travelers,
how much food and fuel might be gathered
from the forest with four hands instead of two.
He wasn't sure how the balance worked out,
but then his gaze snagged on the statue
and the solemn alabaster head
seated more-or-less where it belonged again.

"You could stay here," Radd said to Nahum.
He patted the statue on the shoulder.
"The landlord's a quiet sort.
I doubt there'd be any objection."

"All right," Nahum said.
Then he glanced toward the wall.
"I saw more pieces of glass over there,
thought about making a lantern ..."

"Let's go take a look,"
Radd said, and so they did.

* * *


The title comes from this quote:
O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams.
-- Saint Augustine

Nahum was introduced without a name in "Grit and Grace," then explored further in an audience poll.

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