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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Landfather"
This poem came out of the April 16, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from janetmiles and the_vulture.  It belongs to the series Path of the Paladins. This poem was selected in an audience poll to be opened for microfunding.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them. The rate is $.50/line, so $5 will reveal 10 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses.
So far sponsors include: general fund, rix_scaedu, Tumblr user Axelerate13, janetmiles

209 lines, Buy It Now = $104.50
Amount donated = $94
Verses posted = 37 of 42

Amount remaining to fund fully = $10.50
Amount needed to fund next verse = $1
Amount needed to fund the verse after that = $4


It's winter by the time
they reach Ari's village.
Johan and Althey and Rakel
have to carry the three littlest children
to keep them out of the deepening snow.

Johan follows what he can remember
of the description of the village and the farm.
There is a boy hauling firewood
with the help of a ruddy mule,
and yes, Johan can see a hint of Ari in him,
his light brown hair cut straight so that it falls
along the edge of his strong jaw.

The mule lifts his head and gives a happy bray,
dancing in the harness until the boy gives up
and turns him loose. Johan and Althey
are nearly bowled over by the mule's exuberance,
his soft nose bumping their chests and hands.

"Reckon Apricot likes you,"
the boy drawls.
"Yes, I suppose he does,"
Johan says with a smile.

There is a subtle brightness
to the animal's energy
that Johan recognizes.
"You miss Shahana, don't you?"
he murmurs to the mule.
"Tell you a secret: so do I."
Apricot whuffles agreement.

"So you're one of Shahana's paladin friends,"
the boy says to Johan. "I'm Larn, Ari's brother."

Johan looks at him, weighing his own response;
nothing feels quite right to say anymore.
At last he sighs and says,
"I am Johan, paladin of Gailah.
This is my novice, Althey."
Johan beckons to the others
and they introduce themselves.

"What brings you to our village?"
Larn asks him.

"I found these folks in an abandoned village,"
Johan said. "Gailah has bound Althey's fate to mine.
We don't want to leave the others by themselves.
I'm wondering if you might have space for them here.
They're old enough to make themselves useful,
and according to Ari, you're the landfather on the farm."

"I'll think on it," Larn says,
which is generous of him
in the face of so many mouths to feed.

"We don't come empty-handed,"
says Rakel, holding up a small bag.
They're laden with all the supplies
they were able to scrounge,
but that's the last of the loot
scavenged from the dead mercenaries:
melted lumps of metal that used to be coins,
blackened gems that might come clean
with a good scrubbing.

Larn takes them to the house,
where they meet a girl about Ari's age,
roundly pregnant, with a long scar down her face.
"Dalka, these folks are friends of my sister Ari,"
Larn explains, though only Johan
has actually met  Ari before this.

Dalka waves them inside
while Larn tugs a reluctant Apricot
back toward the abandoned firewood.
She pokes at supper on the hearth,
sighs over it, and puts on another pot of beans.

"Whatever you have will be fine,"
Johan assures her. "We're not picky."

Something about the way she moves
prompts Althey to reach for the curve of her belly
and ask, "May I?"
Dalka crosses her arms
and growls  at him.

Her response makes Johan grimly certain
that there's some kind of unpleasant history afoot.
So he unlaces the front of his tunic
to show Dalka the healing scar on his shoulder.
"Althey may look young for it,
but he's a good healer," Johan says.

"Fine," Dalka concedes,
"but he keeps his hands outside  my dress."

"Fine," Althey says.
There are spells for this sort of thing,
but Johan doesn't know them
and neither does Althey.
He spreads his fingertips over her belly,
closes his eyes, and concentrates
on his inner senses. Smiles.
"Healthy, I think. Boy, I think."

Dalka can't help smiling back at him.
"Thank you," she says softly,
and goes to look for tasks
that can be done by little hands
to keep the children busy.

"We're staying," Althey says to Johan.
"She's not a week from her childbed."
Johan raises his eyebrows.
"You ever catch a baby before?"

"I've watched," Althey says.
"I've helped," Rakel adds.
"I was the oldest before -- well. Before."
She cuddles the little ones
clinging to her legs, who are not
her siblings or her children
but beloved all the same.

"All right, we're staying, if Larn lets us,"
Johan agrees. "I'm sure we'll manage
to cope with whatever comes along."

Larn lets them stay, clearly relieved
at having a healer in the village
even for a little while.

Dalka gets more work done the next few days,
because she can't card and spin and knit
all at the same time, but now there are more hands.
Rakel takes over the cooking, and she's better at it,
while Dalka sits in the rocker with her needles clicking.
The younger children card the wool, ready
for Rakel to spin after each meal.

The baby comes at the end of the week.
Dalka snarls at Althey, fierce as a wolf bitch,
until he calmly takes out his fallen star
and blows it alight, ethereal glow
filling the whole room with peace.

Shine on, star of health and healing
Soothe us with a soft embrace,

Johan thinks to himself.
He has not taught Althey the hymns,
but he will. It's time and past time
for Johan to quit dragging his feet
and start doing his duty for the boy.

At the end of it, Althey beckons to Larn
and says, "Come meet your son."

Larn flings up his hands in alarm
and says, "Whoa, no, he's not mine!
I didn't get Dalka in trouble,
I just offered her a place to stay."

"Well, you're the man of the house,"
Althey says firmly.
"That makes him yours now."
He shows Larn how to hold the baby.
"Just hang onto him for a few minutes
while Rakel and I get Dalka cleaned up."

Poor Larn looks too terrified to move.
The baby is not crying,
but his little face is scrunched up
and he's making unhappy squeaks.

Althey is busy with Dalka,
so Johan steps up to deal with Larn.
He puts a hand on Larn's back,
and sure enough, the muscles are rigid.

"Relax," Johan tells him. "Rock in place
and he should settle down. Here, like this."
Johan sways a little, guiding Larn,
and the taut body loosens enough to follow him.
"Remember the world is scary and new to a baby.
You want to make him feel safe and loved."

"Do -- do you know any -- baby songs?"
Larn stutters, looking at Johan.
"Lullabies, no. Hymns, yes,"
Johan says softly.
He lifts his voice to sing 'Star of Gailah'
as he should have done for Althey long since.
The baby stops squeaking to listen.

"All right, mama's ready to feed him,"
Althey says eventually,
and Larn hands the baby over.
"Dalka, what are going to name him?"

"Dunno," she says. "I don't have
any family names I really like.
Larn, what about you?"

"You want me to name him?"
Larn says, and now he's squeaking.
"Just give me some ideas,"
Dalka says with a roll of her eyes.

"My father's name was Von,"
says Larn. "I had an uncle called Charo ..."
"Von means hope," Johan adds,
though nobody has asked for his opinion.

Dalka smiles then, star-bright and beautiful.
"Von," she says. "I like it. That'll do."
She cuddles the baby against her breast,
and Johan sends a silent prayer of thanks
to Gailah because he's grateful to see that,
however ghastly the past he's not asking about,
something good has come of all this.

"You -- you can stay as long as you want,"
Larn says. "If I didn't say so before, I mean.
You've more than earned your keep."

"Thank you," Johan says.
"I'm sure Rakel and the children
will be glad to stay her with you.
Althey and I will need to move on
as Gailah guides us --"
A soft ripple of grace touches him, then,
light as a feather against his cheek.
"-- but not just yet.

Larn leans against him.
"Oh good," the boy says,
clinging a little, or more than a little.

Johan goes back to rocking him,
because Von isn't the only one
finding the world scary and new right now.
They'll get each other through it, though.
Johan starts singing again.

After a moment, Althey joins in,
his voice wavering over the unfamiliar words,
but already growing stronger.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Current Mood: busy busy

13 comments or Leave a comment
houseboatonstyx From: houseboatonstyx Date: April 23rd, 2013 05:53 am (UTC) (Link)
OT: Just came across this, which sounds like your kind. ;-)


When you wrote your letter it was April,
And you were glad that it was spring weather,
And that the sun shone out in turn with showers of rain.

I write in waning May and it is autumn,
And I am glad that my chrysanthemums
Are tied up fast to strong posts,
So that the south winds cannot beat them down.
I am glad that they are tawny coloured,
And fiery in the low west evening light.
And I am glad that one bush warbler
Still sings in the honey-scented wattle...

But oh, we have remembering hearts,
And we say 'How green it was in such and such an April,'
And 'Such and such an autumn was very golden,'
And 'Everything is for a very short time.'

-- Mary Ursula Bethell
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 23rd, 2013 09:11 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad that this resonated for you.

Lovely followup poem.
siege From: siege Date: May 14th, 2013 11:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
That mule knows good souls.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 15th, 2013 12:34 am (UTC) (Link)


Apricot is wise for a mule.
rix_scaedu From: rix_scaedu Date: September 16th, 2013 08:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
This sounds like the sort of situation where a chaperone would not be an outmoded or inconvenient idea.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 16th, 2013 08:34 pm (UTC) (Link)


Essentially, yes. Dalka has been through enough hell that she doesn't really trust anybody anymore, and it's made her prickly. But she's a little more willing to play along if there are several people than only one.
siege From: siege Date: October 2nd, 2013 10:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
This comment comes just as Althey lights his star... I wonder if someone is about to sing a welcome to the child.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 5th, 2013 10:35 pm (UTC) (Link)


Something like that, yes. It's a good way to keep people calm in general.
janetmiles From: janetmiles Date: October 21st, 2013 08:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've just been rereading some of the Hart's Farm poems, and am caught by the similarities and differences between
Larn flings up his hands in alarm
and says, "Whoa, no, he's not mine!
I didn't get Dalka in trouble,
I just offered her a place to stay."

"Well, you're the man of the house,"
Althey says firmly.
"That makes him yours now."
He shows Larn how to hold the baby.
"Just hang onto him for a few minutes
while Rakel and I get Dalka cleaned up."


"Sorry! It's just another family custom.
If a baby's born without a father who lives on the farm,
the mother can choose a man to do the father things.
They'll all pitch in anyway, of course, but it's nice
to know who's officially responsible for it.
You can pick any of them; it doesn't have to be
one you want to lie with or live with.
Or none of them, if you don't like the idea."
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 21st, 2013 09:29 pm (UTC) (Link)


In both cases, there's an effort to make up families as needed from available components.

The Hart's Farm folks have the advantage of a healthy community and a large family with a huge fault tolerance. They can easily afford to take in foundlings, and to them, it's a convenient source of offspring for the residents who can't have children of their own but want some. If there's a single parent, a complementary parent can be found if one is wanted.

Larn on the other hand is the "man" of the farm because everyone in the family who was older has either died or left. He's ... probably about 14 at this point. That was past the age of marriage and householding, historically, but he's still a teenager who's barely scraping by in a world gone to hell. He can wrap his mind around giving Dalka a place to stay, but he hadn't equated that with becoming a father. That's panic-making. To a baby, though, it's plain invisible: man of the house = Daddy. Johan and Althey could have been more tactful about explaining this, but their social skills have war-made gaps too.

You do what you can with what you've got. You take care of each other as best you can. That's a running theme across much of my writing.
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: January 14th, 2015 02:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Just coming back to this; I'm not sure I ever read the last few verses. Excellent. Yeah; fatherhood changes things, and it's hard to wrap one's mind around at any age.

I didn't think I'd take to it as well as I did. But I still think my own father was better at it than I've been.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 14th, 2015 02:26 am (UTC) (Link)


It sounds like you had a wonderful father. That's lucky.
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: January 14th, 2015 06:20 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

Yes. I miss him. Gentlest person I ever knew.
13 comments or Leave a comment