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Poem: "Conquests and Competitions" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Conquests and Competitions"

This poem came out of the February 5, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from wyld_dandelyon and ravan.  It has been selected in an audience poll as the free epic for the August 6, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl reaching the $200 goal.  This poem belongs to the series The Steamsmith.



Conquests and Competitions


Maryam Smith was sitting in the lounge
of the Steamsmith Guild
when Old Henry finally succeeded
in blowing a square smoke ring.
He hastened to write down the settings
on his pipe that had produced it.

"I say, old chap," she said,
"that is rather spectacular!"
Old Henry was quite handy at
learning new ways to do things, though
hardly anyone believed it at his age.

"Yes, I do believe that constitutes a win for me,"
Old Henry said.  "I've been in a competition
with a friend on the mainland for,
oh, a decade or so now.
He owes me a case of champagne."

"What was the competition?"
Maryam asked, curious as a cat.
"We wanted to see who could first
find a use for something new in alchemy --
soap bubbles for him, smoke for me."

"What were you trying to do with the smoke,
aside from turning it square?" she asked.

"Well, it's a dynamic illustration of
advanced alchemical mathematics.
It's meant to be the beginning
of a ... sort of cube of cubes, you see,"
Old Henry said.

Maryam did not see.
She had no idea he was going on about,
but she felt confident that he would
figure it out sooner or later
and show them all.

"I don't see much use in that,"
said William Percy.
"It won me a case of champagne,"
Old Henry pointed out,
jabbing at the young man with his pipestem.

"He's got you there,"
George Cavendish said
as he smirked at his friend.

"I'd like to see you do better,"
Percy muttered.

"Capital idea, lads!" Old Henry crowed.
"We should launch a new competition
to celebrate the conquest of the old."

"But Percy and I have different specialties,"
Cavendish pointed out.  "Pick mine, and I'd win.
Pick his, and he'd win.  That's no competition."

Old Henry turned his sly gaze on Maryam.
"You and Percy aren't the only young bucks
with special interests in alchemy," he said.

Cavendish snorted.  "I'd still win," he said,
"not that I'll be playing against that."
"I'd still bet on you," Percy added.
"That's easy money, it is!"

"What makes you so sure?"
Maryam said, piqued as much
by the thought of competition
as by their crass manner.

"I'll not insult my station
by playing the likes of you,
as if you were a proper gentleman,"
Cavendish said.  "Blood will tell --
and you don't have what it takes
to be a real alchemist."

Maryam skinned her lips away from her teeth
in something that might have been mistaken for a smile.
"Then as I am a woman, half African, and baseborn
you should have no trouble defeating me," she said evenly,
"if you are man enough to stake your reputation on it.
Should you win, I'll admit you have a point in your politics --
and should I win, you'll concede the same to mine."

Cavendish fumed, then, twisting
the silver-and-onyx buck's head ring
that adorned his finger.
She had him dead to rights
and the whole room knew it.

He ignored her as much as he might,
addressing Old Henry instead,
"What competition do you propose?"

"As you both work with phos lanterns --
I've seen you playing about with new variations --
let's see who can make the smallest
by, say, Whitsuntide," Old Henry proposed.
It was just after the Easter holiday, which gave them
about four weeks until Whitsuntide.

Cavendish perked up then,
intrigued in spite of himself.
Maryam, too, turned to the chase
with a right good will.

"Now shake on it like gentlemen,
and we have ourselves a competition,"
Old Henry instructed.

Cavendish grimaced, reaching out gingerly
to clasp Maryam's hand and let go as quick as possible.
"I am honoured by your courtesy," she said smoothly.
Cavendish made yet another face.
So far, he was the most entertaining part of this game.

Maryam could hardly wait to get home to her lab.

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Current Mood: busy busy

15 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
thnidu From: thnidu Date: August 12th, 2013 03:09 am (UTC) (Link)
I can't wait (well, yes, I must) to see.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 12th, 2013 06:55 am (UTC) (Link)

Well...

You can always prompt for more.
From: technoshaman Date: August 12th, 2013 10:47 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

if he doesn't, I will. I wanna see him get his comeuppance...
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 13th, 2013 07:17 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

Everyone is welcome to pitch in with prompts. I'm kind of amused by how many people want to see George get his arse kicked here.
ravan From: ravan Date: August 12th, 2013 05:41 am (UTC) (Link)
I hope she toasts his ass.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 12th, 2013 06:54 am (UTC) (Link)

*laugh*

Why, you vindictive little fan, you!

Next theme up is "Conflict Resolution" on September 2. I'm actually expecting this storyline to take a while to resolve, because it's not a simple contest. But feel free to prompt for more of this if you're enjoying it.
From: technoshaman Date: August 12th, 2013 10:49 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: *laugh*

*nods* people don't change their whole worldview easily. Besides, he's looking at a massive reduction in the number of people he can call "servant".
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 13th, 2013 02:28 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: *laugh*

>> *nods* people don't change their whole worldview easily. <<

Yes, that's true. George is looking at massive cognitive dissonance.

>> Besides, he's looking at a massive reduction in the number of people he can call "servant". <<

Also a good point, in terms of general categories, though his family has no trouble affording decent help.
zianuray From: zianuray Date: August 12th, 2013 01:41 pm (UTC) (Link)

I just love Maryam!

"What competition to do propose?" Is it possible this should be "do you propose?" If not, what is this structure called, please,so I can learn about it?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 12th, 2013 05:11 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I just love Maryam!

That's a typo, and it's fixed now.
From: rhodielady_47 Date: August 13th, 2013 12:22 am (UTC) (Link)
Now this is going to be an interesting poem cycle!
I look forward to reading the next one in this series.
:)

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 1st, 2013 07:18 am (UTC) (Link)

Yay!

I'm happy to hear that.
siege From: siege Date: August 13th, 2013 12:52 am (UTC) (Link)
The smallest phos lantern, with that world's alchemy?

I'd start with peridot, actually. Peridot above and ruby below, with quartz lenses on the sides and onyx wood between. Inject a slow stream of aer across the ruby, while a stream of pyra comes in through the peridot. Charge it with a hand-crank spinning a rod of amber against wool, leading to a gold tip within the lantern where the reaction should occur.
siege From: siege Date: August 13th, 2013 12:53 am (UTC) (Link)
A similar lantern can probably be made using ge and phos, but it's probably a bit more dangerous.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 10th, 2013 07:39 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I used your ideas in "Turning the Crank."
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