Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Noblest of All Animals"

This poem is spillover from the March 3, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] rix_scaedu. It also fills the "drama" square in my 3-16-15 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Frankenstein's Family, and is a direct sequel to "Man's True Nature" and "Between Power and Vulnerability" so read those first.

Warning: While this poem does not have the gore of the first one, it is much heavier on social and legal tensions. If those are touchy issues for you, please consider your headspace before clicking through.

"The Noblest of All Animals"

After breakfast, Victor went to the back of his closet
and pulled out what he privately thought of as
his "lord clothes," the gold-piped black suit and
his best white shirt with pearl buttons all down
the front placket, gold cufflinks and stickpin,
tall black boots hugging his legs, then
a top hat and frock coat over it all.

Usually he felt pretentious putting on
such a show, but today it felt different.
Today it felt like armor, like a knight
girding himself for the battle to come.

Victor found Igor, predictably enough,
fussing over the cravat he almost never wore.
Mother-of-pearl cufflinks glinted at his wrists
and silver buttons down the black sweater.
With the ease of experience, Victor batted
Igor's hands away and tied the knot for him.

"You need only bear witness for Fridrik," said Victor,
"and perhaps hand about our orders to the butcher
and the village children. If there is trouble,
you may leave it to me and Shandor."

"Good," Igor said faintly, "that's good."

When they went downstairs, they found that
Shandor had got himself into his long tunic,
his silver groundskeeper's pin of a young hart
amidst branches fastened to the collar, plus
a pair of borrowed trousers as a concession
to the village sentiments, although he
had buttoned the fly all wrong.

Victor reached out and quickly
corrected the arrangement, then
led the two men out to the wagon.

The ride down to the village was tense;
Shandor kept giving him little sidelong glances.

"We will have justice," Victor assured him.
"I will find out who has been causing trouble
if I have turn this whole valley upside down.
The culprit will pay for the harm done."

"We will see how the trail runs,"
Shandor said noncommittally.

The werewolf's dubious mood further fed
Victor's frigid rage, which built up like ice
in a river piling itself into high jagged dams.
If people had treated him decently in the past,
then Shandor wouldn't be clutching the seat
as if he expected to be the one punished.

When they reached the village, though,
it was the clothes that got the attention,
for people saw the black silk and fine gold
and dropped into low bows before even realizing
just who was dressed up so formally.

It took them a moment to recognize him,
and when they did, startled murmurs
went all around, for Victor was not
in the habit of lording it about the village.

Igor passed the word about their need for
organ meat and fat to Reznik the butcher,
and set the village children a bounty
for small game and vermin.

Soon Kálmán the priest came up to them
and said, "Mazil, is there something wrong?"

"Yes," Victor said simply. "We go first
to the blacksmith, but then the mazil
has need to speak with the village.
Start gathering people in the square."

He had no intention of saying more and
perhaps warning the culprit beforehand.
Over the recent months, both Victor and
his new groundskeepers had scolded
several people who couldn't seem to mind
the laws about hunting and trapping, so
there was no shortage of suspects.

The priest seemed to understand
the situation even without words.
"It is a pity that man can be both
the noblest of all animals, and yet
the vilest beast when he takes
leave of justice," Kálmán said.

Victor led his small party to the smithy,
where the heat poured out to shimmer
in the winter air and the bright chime
of Imre's hammer rang forth.

The blacksmith startled to see them all dressed up;
at once he set aside his hammer and said,
"Mazil, what may I do for you?"

"Identify for me the owner of this device,"
Victor said as he held out the trap,
dangling from its chain.

"I swear to you, I have not made such things
since you came to our valley," Imre said,
taking the trap from Victor.

"I know you have not," Victor agreed.
"Look at the rust upon it; the trap is not new
and has clearly been left out for some time.
That is precisely the problem: Fridrik
stepped in it yesterday and is badly hurt."

Imre examined the trap, rubbed at it
with his thumb, then finally shook his head.
"You are right about the rust; I cannot see
my mark beneath it, so it has been left out
in the wet for a year, year and a half at least."

He went back inside to fetch a chisel
and a brush with stiff wire bristles,
then set about cleaning the trap
until both the maker's mark and
the owner's mark could be seen.

"Artúr," the blacksmith declared,
a thunderous frown clouding his face.
"I have told him and told him to take care!"

"I've caught him poaching when he should not,"
Shandor said, "more than once."

"So too, I have warned him about keeping things
set well back from the trails where people go,"
Victor said. Evidently shoveling out the privy
in the village square had not made an impression.
"This time he has left sign enough for more trouble."

Though fishhooks were too small for such marks,
Victor also suspected Artúr of leaving out
the trot-line that had tangled Tivador earlier.
It would not have been the first time he had
done such things, and there was also
his assault on Csilla to consider.
Truly, the man was a menace.

"Damning as it may be, mazil,
an owner's mark is not proof,"
the blacksmith pointed out.

Victor gave a grudging nod. "We will therefore
speak with Artúr before pronouncing justice,
and continue the search if necessary," he said.
"Wrap the trap in cloth and take it to the square."

"Yes, mazil," said Imre with another bow.

Then Victor put a hand on Shandor's shoulder
and said, "You know Artúr well enough. Find him,"
for all the world as if commanding a dog to trail.

Shandor lifted his head to scent the wind,
and listened to the flow of conversations
filling the village all around them.

He set off, moving slowly at first,
casting back and forth, then he
picked up speed so that Victor had to
lengthen his stride and Igor was all but trotting.

Soon Shandor made a sharp turn at the brewer's,
and there was Artúr swilling beer at a table
as if he hadn't a care in the world.

Victor let his hand fall heavily on Artúr's shoulder
and said, "I should like to know what you
have been doing in the forest."

"Ah, looking for lost sheep this past week,
and perhaps a bit of ... well, a man's got to eat,"
Artúr said as he wiped foam from his mouth.

"Having trouble with your sheep?" Victor said,
the words smooth as ice between his lips.

"Wolves it is, I've seen them sniffing around."

"So you set a few traps, did you?"
Victor said, angling for a confession.

"Well what was I supposed to do then,
let the mangy beasts eat up my sheep?"
said Artúr. "Of course I set traps!"

That was enough right there, but Victor thought
that he might learn more, and so kept going.

"You were supposed to keep watch
over your sheep, and obey the laws,"
he said coldly. "If you kept your fences in
good repair, you would not be losing livestock."

"Wolves don't eat sheep with a forest full of
deer and rabbits," Shandor said.
Well, he would know.

"They do too!" Artúr protested. His eyebrows
pinched upward in distress. "I, I lost two ewes
already this winter, and found only scraps of them.
The wolves ate them! I had to try to catch the wolves."

"You caught something, sure enough,"
Victor informed him. "You caught
my groundskeeper Fridrik."

"I never!" Artúr said, his face paling.
"I only -- well, there might have been
a few old traps by the far end of the valley,
it's mostly been fishing for me recently -- "

Victor's eyes narrowed as he gauged
the man's response and found it wanting.
Sweat was starting to sheen his skin,
though the air was cool, and Artúr's foot
tapped restlessly against his chair leg.

"He's lying," Shandor said flatly. "He stinks of it."

Victor felt tempted to call it done, then,
with Shandor's opinion to bolster his own,
but he looked first to Igor.

"He's lying about the sheep and the traps,"
Igor said slowly. "Plenty of people
have seen Artúr going all around
the valley, not just the far end."

"And coming back with game," Shandor added.

"He's telling the truth about the fishing, though,"
Igor went on. "See those snags on his sweater?
You get those trying to lay a trot-line from shore,
like only a damned fool would do."

Victor noted the snags and mentally compared them
to the mess that an abandoned trot-line had made
of Tivador's clothes -- and the skin beneath.

"That will do," the mazil declared. "Shandor,
haul him out of that chair and follow me."
He turned on his heel and strode to the door.

Behind him came the loyal shadow of Igor,
and stern Shandor dragging the panicky criminal.

Already the square held a small crowd,
with more people arriving every minute.
Victor stalked toward the little rise of stone
at one end of the square where people
often stood to give announcements, and
everyone scuttled out of his way.

With an effort, Victor held onto his temper;
it would not do for him to go shouting
at his people like some petty tyrant.

"Let us begin with the basics," Victor said.
"Who here can recite the rules about trapping?"

Lóránt stepped forward and said, "No traps with teeth,
you've never allowed those. No metal traps, except with
special permission so it's known where they are. No snares or
trigger-traps outside of the proper seasons, ah, those are ..."

Imre put his hand up. "I've memorized
the whole list of times, mazil, and everyone
knows they can come to me for reminders."

"Now let's go over the rules for trot-lines," Victor said.

"Trot-lines only between dawn and dusk,
or dusk and dawn," said Ilona. "They're not
to be left a whole day or longer, nor set in
the creeks or the river too close to the village.
No cleaning fish where the guts can get in the river."

"A share of the hunting or gathering to the mazil,
or to whomever needs it most in the village,
as thanks for the use of the land," Dénes added.

"Well said," Victor acknowledged with a nod.
"I have set these rules not to keep people from
poaching the mazil's game, but to keep the land safe
for everyone and the forest able to support us.
My laws are mindful, not arbitrary, and they
each have reasons behind them."

He spied Nandru and Tivador at the front
with the other children, and beckoned to them.
"I could use your help, but you're young still,
so I won't make it an order," Victor murmured.
"Would you tell people what happened to you
with the trot-line, so they understand why
it's important to follow these rules?"

"Yes," the boys chorused, though Tivador
was fingering his fishhook memento
for comfort, or perhaps courage.

"I went to gather wood by the river,
but Tivador got tangled in a trot-line
that someone left in the wrong place
and way too long," said Nandru. "I lost
a good axe trying to get him out of the river."

"We both got wet and almost froze," Tivador said.
"The fishhooks tore up my winter clothes. Some
of them got under my skin and really hurt. Then
later I caught a fever too. People are always
telling me to pick up my toys, but when
grownups leave their things out,
somebody can get hurt a lot."

"Good job," Victor whispered to them,
then raised his voice to address the crowd.
"So that's one thing that can go wrong when
people break the mazil's laws. For another --
Igor, come tell everyone what happened to Fridrik."

Igor turned out to be nursing his own anger, for he
stepped up and described the injuries which the trap
had done to the groundskeeper's leg. He named
every torn muscle and nicked tendon and
slit vein until the villagers were starting
to go a bit green just from listening.

"Next we come to preventing future accidents," said Victor.
"Anyone who may have old equipment lying about had
better pick it up now. If you have anything unsuitable
already stored away, I will buy it at the metal weight
and give it to the smith to be made over into something
more useful. Likewise the children should stay close
to home while the adults comb the valley to take up
any hazards they can find. There will be amnesty for
all this until the next market day. After that time, any
unlawful gear will bring a considerable fine, levied in coin."

Lóránt volunteered, "I will organize search parties
in the forest. For a few days, Clyde can just fill
orders for firewood from what we've already cut."

More hesitantly Nandru put a hand up. "Mazil,
the common meadow has no livestock in winter.
May we pour water on the low part to make
an ice patch for the children to play? It would
help keep them out of the woods for a while."

Victor compared the chance of injury on grounded ice
to the ever-present risk of someone falling into the river,
and heartily approved the plan. "Very good," he said.
"Lóránt and Nandru will organize these projects."

"What about the one who caused all of
this trouble with mislaid traps in the first place?"
That was Tivador's father Egyed, who
had every right to be displeased.

"Imre, come forward and name the owner,"
Victor commanded, and the blacksmith
held up not just the trap but several hooks
from the dismantled trot-line as well.

"This trap, which has teeth as you can see,
belongs to Artúr," said Imre, lifting it high.
"Both Shandor and Victor have warned him
about rules he has broken, and so have I.
He's not the only fool who's mishandled
a trot-line, but he's done it more than once,
and what the boys tripped into is just exactly
the kind of setup Artúr uses with his."

"Thank you, Imre," said Victor.
"The mazil will now pass judgment."

He'd been thinking about this for hours,
and the solution had come to him based on
the local system of land management, where
everything was kind of held in common and one
had to buy in if not inheriting -- even Victor had to
put up a lord's portion to take over the title and castle.
But the mazil had considerable say over who was
allowed to live within the territory, as well as fines
and confiscations for breaking the laws.

"Artúr, you have ignored the rules repeatedly,
and your foolishness has injured innocent people,"
Victor declared. "You are no longer welcome
in this village. Shandor will escort you back
to your farm, where you may take whatever
you can carry and no more. The rest is forfeit
in recompense for your crimes. Then you will be
taken beyond the valley, to find your own way."

The cold, cutting rage finally found its mark.

Artúr's squawk of dismay was drowned out
by the rumble of response from the crowd.

"What about the farm?" someone called out.
"There's livestock that need care, and a house
to be kept against the winter weather."

"Set one of the elders to watch it for now," said Victor.
"Some of the loose goods will be claimed as restitution
for Artúr's victims. As for the farm ..." He paused for effect,
and then smiled. "... that returns to the village. Come
the next market day, the young adults who are not set
to inherit a parent's farm may put their names in a drawing
to win this one. There's no waiting until spring in hopes that
someone may buy in, and whoever does the work of tending
the place through winter frankly deserves to keep it."

Startled whoops rose up from the potential contestants
as they realized the opportunity before them.

Artúr was still protesting, and trying
to scuffle with the much larger Shandor.

"Oh, please, little man," the groundskeeper
said through his strong white teeth,
"pick a fight with me."

"Get him off my land," Victor said,
suddenly exhausted from the show.
"I'm sick of looking at him."

Shandor dragged Artúr out of the square.

The rest of the villagers seemed shaken
by how far wrong Artúr had gone, although
most had nodded after the judgment.

They also looked at Victor a little strangely,
as if they'd seen a different side of him
than the calm mazil and gentle doctor
they had come to know, and weren't
quite sure what to make of this yet.

God in Heaven, he was turning into
his father after all, and that was
the last thing he needed.

In the aftermath of his anger, Victor
felt empty, but a lingering chill
clenched itself around his chest,
making it difficult for him to breathe.

Was this all it came down to, nobility?
This flash and gabble and handing down
of justice that left everyone rattled?
He felt almost cheated.

Someone pressed a hot cup into his hand,
and he found it full of supă de roșii.
Only then did Victor realize that
he hadn't eaten since breakfast
and it was now nearly suppertime.

The tomato soup helped a little,
although Dorottya still frowned at him
when she reclaimed the cup.

Igor got him back to the wagon
and then wouldn't hand over the reins
even though Victor usually drove.
Igor tried talking, too, but it was such
an effort for Victor to find the words
for anything, they soon gave up.

When they reached the castle,
Igor sent Victor inside while
he put the horse in the barn.

Victor stopped at the ornate hall tree
to pry his boots off and then couldn't
quite seem to get going again.

Igor found him still sitting on the bench
and said, "We are checking on Fridrik,
then I am putting you to bed."

Ena had the cubs again,
they saw as they walked past
a pile of softly snoring fuzz
with Adam tucked in the middle.

Fridrik turned out to be napping,
too, black and furry, with Janika
and Mircea curled beside him,
Csilla still keeping watch from her chair.

As Igor approached, though,
Fridrik woke and whuffed at him.
Igor ran his hands over the dark wolf,
and obligingly launched into a report
about what had happened in the village
so Fridrik would know justice had been done.

Victor found himself a spare chair
and sat down, leaning back
to rest his head against the wall.

The next thing he knew, Igor was
hovering over him. "... don't know
what could be wrong with him, Csilla,
he's hardly spoken to me since
the meeting and I am really
starting to worry about him!"

Victor opened his mouth to say that
he was fine, when suddenly
Csilla sealed her lips over his
and breathed into him.

It was like inhaling the sun.

For a moment everything was heat and light;
then Victor started coughing, and it faded
back to normal, leaving just a hint of
warmth behind that melted the ice
which had formed from his anger.

"I'm sorry to be so forward," Csilla said,
"but you were scaring Igor and that's
the fastest way I know to snap someone
out of a fugue like that."

"It worked," Victor admitted.
Except now he almost wanted
to cry, and that was just
ridiculous, it really was.

"You can take him to bed now, Igor,"
said Csilla. "You might want to hurry."

Igor got a shoulder under him
and hustled him off to their bedroom,
which was a good thing because now
Victor felt all slushy and strange,
even though the day had gone
as well might be imagined and
nothing had really happened to him.

There were still things moving inside him
that he'd been shoving down since yesterday
and now couldn't seem to get a grip on.
as they bubbled up uncontrollably.

Igor got them both out of their fancy clothes,
then draped everything over the chairs and
dressers to deal with later. Next he got them
into their sleepwear and tucked Victor
into bed, crawling in beside him.

That warmth melted the last of Victor's resistance.

He turned his head into his partner's shoulder
and cried, muffling the sobs in soft flannel.
"That's not me," said Victor. "I'm not that.
I'm not, I don't want to be ..."

"Of course you're not," Igor soothed.
"You only bring out the high hand when
we really need it. It's not your silly title
that makes you a noble creature, Victor.
It's how you take care of your people."

In the shadows, under the covers, Victor
could finally confess the dark things that
he'd been trying not to think of for days.

"I just kept imagining ... what if it
had been you, or worse yet, Adam ..."

Igor's hand ruffled through his hair.
"I was thinking exactly the same things,
love, have been ever since the boys
got tangled in that trot-line," he said.
"We'll have more work to clean up
this whole mess, but leave it for later.
You've done enough for today.
Just go to sleep now."

He didn't seem to mind
Victor falling apart all over him.

"Mmmhmm," Victor managed
to reply as he drifted toward sleep,
held safe in a loving embrace.

* * *


"At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst."
-- Aristotle

Fashion history for the late 1700s includes crisp black suits, top hats, frock coats, and cravats. The front of Victor's outfit shows more of his shirt, though, because he likes shirts with embroidered or smocked fronts. Clothing can be worn as psychological armor and/or personal expression. It can also signal authority, and in this case Victor's "lord clothes" function similar to a police uniform.

Historically, a castle could have quite a large staff, organized in a hierarchy of various styles. Here, a groundskeeper combines the duties of gamekeeper (managing wildlife) and forester (managing plants). The pin shows a deer amidst branches. A gamekeeper's pin shows a game animal, often with a hunting weapon; while a forrester's pin usually has a tree. These are not universal, official insignia but rather local ones made according to a general custom.

Trust issues most often stem from betrayal, abuse, or other psychological trauma. All of the werewolves are traumatized from being hunted and losing their packmates, but it shows in different effects. There are ways to know if someone is trustworthy, build trust between people, and overcome trust issues in a relationship. Victor builds trust primarily through reliability and authority. He says he'll do something and then he does it; he has the power to make things happen according to his will. Igor takes a more nurturing, emotional approach. Both are helping.

A maker's mark (aka trademark, hallmark) identifies the crafter who created an item. An owner's mark (aka property mark, brand) identifies the person who currently possesses an item. A personal mark identifies a specific individual, serving as a signature in a preliterate culture. A personal mark is often used on documents, but may also serve as a maker's mark or owner's mark. In this setting, the basic form of a personal mark is surrounded by a square when performing as a maker's mark and by a circle when performing as an owner's mark. That way, you can tell who made and who owns an item. Here's a good discussion of marks in rural Norway.

Solving a crime benefits from using the crime triangle (offender, place, target) and trinity of crime (motive, means, opportunity). Victor holds himself to a higher standard of accuracy than the letter of the law requires, because he's more interested in solving problems than punishing a random person. You can see him trying to triangulate the culprit based on multiple points of information. Understand how to investigate a crime, interrogate someone, and detect lies.

Wolf diet consists mostly of wildlife. They will eat livestock, but very rarely: most often when other prey is scarce or the wolf is too unwell to hunt easily. They may not find the behavior or taste of livestock appealing. Killing wolves does not protect livestock very well, and may even increase predation.

This article on how to lay trot-lines safely also explains why not to try doing that from the shore: you can hurt yourself that way.

In this poem you can see aspects of the manorialism, manorial court, and the manor house systems. In essence, Victor and Igor serve as the local justice. In theory, there are limits to this kind of power. In practice, those limits apply mostly to other nobles and nobody cares what a lord does to commoners unless they are very rich or well connected. Victor hates the manipulative examples he has seen, so he's aiming for a higher standard than any of his superiors would probably hold him to.

Traditional forms of punishment include shunning, exile, and penal transportation. All of those express variations on the theme that people just don't want to be around someone who is dangerous or otherwise unpleasant. Nobles often have a say in who's allowed to live in their territory.

Survivors of childhood trauma often fear becoming like their abusive parent(s). Victor's parents are not so much physically abusive, because they consider it crude, but they are manipulative control freaks. His father's temper is mostly contained, but Victor knows it's there. Understand how to break the cycle of abuse.

Supă de roșii is a Romanian tomato soup.

A hall tree is a piece of furniture that contains some combination of a bench/trunk, back with hooks, and often a mirror. The one in the castle is carved from dark wood.

Stress can lead to acute overload or chronic exhaustion on an emotional level. In this instance, Victor's upbringing has left him with good skills in leadership and delegation, but much less in the way of personal awareness or self-care. He has resources; he simply doesn't realize that he needs to take better care of himself now that he has taken on a great deal more responsibility. He also doesn't understand how something like this can impact him when he isn't the one in trouble, even though it just flattened him completely. Know how to handle emotional overload and prevent emotional exhaustion. Fortunately some of Victor's friends do know about this stuff and are learning how to take care of him.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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