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The Rowan Canticles: Odds Bodkin's Epic Poem/Cantos and Comments

Hello, fellow wordsmiths at Professional Storyteller.

I took fifteen years to write an epic poem in iambic tetrameter which I've recently begun to serialize at www.oddsbodkin.com at my blog under The Rowan Canticles: A Tale Told in the Ancient Manner. I'll add Cantos regularly for your amusement.

Thanks.

Odds

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The Rowan Canticles

A Tale told in the Ancient Manner
by

Odds Bodkin


CANTICLE I

Some say the spirit lives alone
Within its cage of flesh and bone
And that one never truly hears
Another's song, though sung for years.
Perhaps those sad empiricists
Should hearken to the lyricists
Who, 'gainst the odds, to hope still cling,
Whilst in imprisoned souls they sing.
Here then, a tale, not told, but sung,
Its faux anachronistic tongue
Silvered on purpose for the rhyme,
Its syntax bent. Now how much time
‘Twill take to lure you down these trails
The ancients walked, before the tails
Of verse grew rhymeless with ennui
And self-absorbed modernity,
Well, who can say? A game to play,
This poem is: a longish lay
Of couplets, quatrains, whorls and more—
Anachronisms, well, galore—
As well as free verse here and there,
Which to itself one must compare
To find the far-flung symphony
Splashed ‘cross its blank cacophony.


CANTO I

A thoughtless act can change the world.
Its seed--by Time’s thick mists enswirled—
Will slowly grow beyond mind’s reach
To gather weight and girth as each
Ensuing day compounds the woe
It spawned, until, life’s quid pro quo
Comes due. ‘Twas so one fateful morn
When Asmo--he to kingship born—
The High Prince of the Rowan Hills,
Boot-splashed his way through sparkling rills
And drew his blade. “I dare you!” laughed
Calmon of Clu, mead-sotted, daft,
And wild-eyed, too. Before them stood
A Rowan tree, its gracile wood
And arc of limbs alone within
A ring of trees. “Oh, dear. A sin,”
Asmo’s drinking companion grinned;
“What, look! The braggart looks chagrinned
And chastened. Lost your nerve then, eh?
I should’ve known you’d cast away
Your only chance to break a rule
In your whole life!” “Shut up, you fool,”
Growled Asmo, “I’ll do it. Just watch.”
He flipped away the sweat-stained swatch
Of long dark hair hung down his cheek
And felled the little tree. A smeek
Of sizzling sap burned in his nose
As Asmo danced back ‘pon his toes.
Then he and Calmon, slapping backs,
Rode off along the well-worn tracks
That wound down from the sacred copse
Of hilltop Rowans. Both made stops
To empty bladders ‘midst the brush,
Then elbowed through the mead-house crush
Up to the bar to drink yet more
And chuckle o’er their land’s quaint lore,
Thou shalt not harm a Rowan Tree.
“Aye, p’raps for them. Not you and me,
Though,” Asmo quipped and quaffed his mead.
T'was then the Rowan's vengeful rede
Commenced. The old, dead wood shot sprigs--
Quick serpents’ tongues of twisting twigs--
From out the brim of Calmon’s bowl
And gripped his head. The Rowan-soul
Within the ancient bowl yawned wide,
Then bit his face to seal inside
His nose and mouth. He reared and fell,
Struggling to foist the choking swell
Of pintish waves at his breath’s shore.
Though flail and kick he did, three more
Tough leaf-blade withes strapped his head
Then bore into it. Shot with dread,
Asmo leapt down and tried to tear
The horrid things from Calmon’s hair.
But lo, those leaves, like razors, fell
Upon his frantic hands, pell-mell.
He kicked away in magic-dread,
Afraid to help. Calmon lay dead,
A bloody shrub grown 'pon his head,
His face a bowl. And there--in red
And smoking script across the bowl--
He spied words, writ as ‘pon a scroll:

"But your blood, hewer of my wood,
My wind-tossed flesh, by seasons ringed,
Will gush when life does sweetest thrive
Like flowers berries soon to be.
Then will the lifeblood in your veins
Flood my old roots, and nourish me."

To Asmo’s knowledge, Rowans rose
To make crops grow. Now terror froze
Him in his place--the guilty kind--
For now he’d learned the truth behind
His people’s ancient homily:
Thou shalt not harm a Rowan Tree.
In his young life he’d never thought
To probe the adage much. Now caught
In his own folly, Asmo stared
At what he’d wrought, at what he’d dared
To do. The young prince rose and fled.
To ride on home--his best friend dead,
A sacred grove tree felled as well--
Was more than he could face. To dwell
Near Rowans, now that he’d been cursed
By one, seemed madness. Wyrd-coerced,
Panicked and fearing ev’ry tree
He saw, he galloped hopelessly
For his land’s borders, ‘neath the arch
He’d always loved, and t’ward the march
Between his Uncle’s Rowanwolds
And forests dotted with freeholds
Where Rowans did not choke the slopes
Along the road, and he had hopes
Of p’raps gaining some lost plateau
Where Rowan-magic could not go.
Past farms he rode, their streams ablaze
In sunlight; through the smoky haze
Of villages he’d never seen;
Past goat-strewn hills where treestumps, green
With withes, sucked the elder light
From earth’s dark realms. In mindless flight,
On through the night beneath the moon
He galloped, a dark shabaroon
Whom no one knew, and on t’ward dawn,
Until, exhausted and withdrawn,
He slept against his horse’s back
Next to the dusty, lonely track
He’d followed last. It passed through fields
Well clear of any Rowan-wealds.
By noon-time, sun red-lit his lids
And wakened him. Two katydids
Were mating ‘pon a nodding stem
Above his face. Disturbing them
Seemed not the thing to do just then,
So he lay still and thought again
Of what he’d done. “Great Gods, I’m dead,”
He sighed aloud, shaking his head.
“Will Uncle Bruss forgive me this?
I don’t see how.” No cowardice
Had Asmo ever shown--t’ward men
At least. But this plant specimen
Used magic for its weaponry,
Not swords or pikes. “ ‘Tis time to flee
A little further then, I guess,”
He moaned and gently pulled the tress
Of grass to one side. Clinging tight,
The bugs seemed bent on their delight
As he stepped lightly by. The road
Led onward ‘til the distance showed
A wide lake, burning in the sun
With coruscations. Two hour’s run
Brought him to hills splashed pink and blue
By springtime’s recent rendezvous
With autumn’s seeds. Far off, a town,
Its upper outskirts dripping down
The hillsides, puddled at the lake’s
Northwestern shore. On through the brakes
And wildflowers, Asmo approached
A cattle fence whose rails encroached
‘Pon meadows at the town’s purlieus.
Knee-deep in blooms, she bent to choose
Her flowers there, a maiden did.
Braids roped her long dark hair amid
Bright ribbons wound in here and there.
If she saw him, she didn’t care
To show it, as he slowed to stare
At her intriguing derrière.

The Rowan Canticles © 2008 Odds Bodkin/Rivertree Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Replies to This Discussion

Odds... this is great stuff.. I want to read it again... I want to think about it and perhaps learn a line or two. By the way... your picture is broken in the Member gallery... I think it can only receive a jpeg file. I goofed and tried to upload a pdf file and it didn't take it.

Thanks for the poem
Buck
Hello, Buck. This is the first Canto of ninety-three. The entire work is slightly over
15,000 lines. It will take a while for me to post the entire thing, but I'm glad you
enjoyed what you read.

Odds

PS: I think I was able to fix my broken picture. Thanks.
What a delightful verse indeed!
As we all know, our world’s in need
Of more wordsmiths who tell the tale
Just like you did, and I can say
It’s woven by a master’s hand,
Of silken threads and all colors spent
From thousand rainbows, as I see.
I feel like you gave a gift to me,
The joy of story, sung in rhyme,
And I can tell, the joy isn’t just mine,
Nor is the feeling: “I can’t wait
Till he tells us the prince’s fate…”
I shall read it one more time.
Maybe two. (Three?) ‘Tis the sign
I give to you for all the things
You cannot see like a bard who sings
To people who are sitting close –
How their eyes shine, seeing those
Places, people, miracles
Their master singer paints with words.
Now it is for you to see
The little sister (that would be me)
Listening to the tale you sing
Quiet in awe, her eyes shining,
And the only thing she wishes for
At the end is “Tell us more!”

(Just a silly game of rhyme.
I wouldn’t compare your song to mine.)

:)
To find myself having stirred up spontaneous poetry (nice lines, too) somewhere out on the web has made my day. Thanks for the rhyme, Csenge, which I happily accept. Enjoy the Cantos as they appear. It's a long story.

Odds
Thanks ;) I can't wait.
Dear Epic Reader:

I thought it would be wise to add more Cantos to move the story along, since at the rate of one per month this will take years. Here are Cantos II and III.

Odds

--------------------

CANTO II

Few fortunes come to those who choose
To stay secure, afraid to lose
The safety of familiar things;
For though uncertainty’s strange wings
Convey us into mystery,
They set us down unerringly
Much closer to our destiny--
Whatever that may fin’lly be.
Now Asmo, stopping there to chat,
Unmindful of this caveat,
Would much rather have been at home
Gnawing black bread and honey-comb
Whilst downing ales, yet here he was,
Doing what ev’ry young man does
When girls appear. With telltale hair
Aflutter in the swirling air,
This lovely frigate in a sea
Of swelling blooms sailed fulsomely
From isles of pink to isles of blue,
Ignoring him. Now, hitherto,
Asmo had had his share of girls,
Bar wenches mostly. All his whirls
Had been in bushes or in barns,
And none had touched the distant tarns
Of his emotions. Something ‘bout
This maiden’s bearing made the lout
Within him cautious, so he called,
“Why is it that you’re so enthralled
With flowers, lady? They just die
Right quickly.” “No, not if you dry
Them,” she replied then--looking up
For the first time. If beauty’s cup
Could e’er be filled to brimming’s lip,
Then Nature’d made this flower ship
To sail right over that sweet edge,
Thought Asmo, dropping to the sedge
That grew along the cattle fence.
He summoned all the eloquence
That he possessed and took a breath.
“Though pretty, they’re not moist in death,”
He said. “Is not their petals’ wet
What makes them soft? One can’t forget
That fact.” “With herbs their potency
Does not go limp,” she smiled sweetly,
“When they are dried. In fact, they last
Much longer that way, in contrast
To this discussion.” Off she walked
Into the meadow. Asmo stalked
Off after her once o’er the fence
He’d leapt. “I offer no offense
Against your wisdom’s firm redoubt,”
He purred. “Then leave now or I’ll shout
And bring the townsfolk,” she replied,
“And claim you hurt me.” “You’d have lied.”
“And you’d be in the South Stitch stocks
And wish you weren’t.” She liked his locks,
The way they hung down jauntily.
“Then helpless either way I’d be,”
He answered, “for I’m helpless now.”
“How’s that?” “Well, I got lost somehow
Yet found myself here, in this place,
Helpless before your lovely face.”
The girl fell silent, picked some herbs,
And gazed out t’ward the town’s suburbs.
“South Stitch, you say. That’s this town’s name?”
He asked to change the subject’s claim
Upon them. “Yes. You say you’re lost?”
“I am. I’m learning now the cost
Of chopping down a Rowan tree.”
The girl looked at him owlishly.
“A magic Rowan, from the south?”
“The Rowan Hills.” She bent her mouth
Into a thoughtful, pursed display,
Then said, “And it has yet to slay
You? That’s obscure.” “You know of them?”
“My father does. So this mayhem
You caused was your own doing, boy?”
“I didn’t think it would destroy
My life. It killed my best friend, too.”
Thus they pursued their interview,
He, posing as a common man,
She, fiddling with a talisman
That lay atop her bosom’s cleft.
Squinting, they talked, as to their left,
The stippled lake flashed silver spoons
Off rippled wavelets, carved like runes
By sculpting winds--fate-winds derived
From gath’ring clouds, clouds which contrived
The sunset's rose to frame in gold--
‘Neath which, oblivious, they strolled.



CANTO III

To kiss the shambling harlequin
Of destiny, ‘tis best to sin
A little; otherwise, like sheep,
We’re herded into pens to sleep
The death of the incurious--
Convinced of creeds whose spurious
And ancient doctrines keep us there,
Too docile, really, to despair
Of our condition. Thus the girl,
Known as Gudrunlod, a fine pearl
Of eighteen years, took Asmo back
To her old father. He, a hack
Of sorts, a Skinmage, earned his keep
By chanting ‘til his blood would creep
Out of his back in sundry shapes--
Stigmata in the form of apes
And dragons, wheels in wheels, strange signs—
All subject to his frank designs
‘Pon making money. This blood art
The thaumaturge made ‘pon a cart
Built like a stage parked in the square,
Attracting crowds who’d stop to stare,
Applaud in wonder, then drop coins
Into his hat. As Fate enjoins
The bold to act, with herbals bagged,
Gudrunlod showed him what she’d dragged
Into their lives—a hulking lout
Who stood there armed and peering ‘bout
The place, with horse and sword. “Old One,”
She whispered, “See what I have done?
I’ve brought us a fine quandary:
A youth, engulfed in heresy,
Who trembles in his mighty frame.
With Rowan-dread his mind’s aflame.
Look ‘pon him with your second sight
And tell me of his auric light.
I fancy him, yet fear some wyrd
Hangs ‘bout him still. Or has it cleared?”
That karcist, once with demons leagued,
Lifted his rheumy eyes, fatigued
And old, and gazed at Asmo’s form.
Like leaves on trees bent in a storm,
A darkling, incandescent swarm
Of fatelights, bent in dendriform
Displays, swirled ‘bout his auric sheath.
The old magician ground his teeth,
For there, too, ‘gainst a black background,
A Rowan-wyrd revolved, profound
And heavy, as if dark shoots hung
And snapped like fly-trap futures strung
Along the path of Asmo’s life.
“Daughter,” he whispered, “I see strife
And woe attending this one’s tale.
My precious loinfruit, though he’s hale
Today, he dies an unknown way.”
Missing his whispered resumé
--Masked as it was by market din--
Asmo, distracted, peered within
Gudrunlod’s herb bag, which he held.
He’d thought it strange, how strong it smelled.
Clumped Bluets, tiny gold-filled skies,
Lay next to sheaves of Maidens’ Lies
And Mungwort leaves, their streamlet veins
Bound stemward though small counterpanes
Of red-green. He saw Crone’s Heads, too--
White bonnets set atop dark blue
Florets. He found it worrisome
That he, typic’lly quarrelsome
And loud, now stood here timidly
And gazed at flowers. Peevishly,
He raised his eyes to search for brawls
Amidst the market’s carts and stalls,
Or p’raps some bully, loud and tall,
Whom he might match in brawn and gall.
No luck. He stood there, beetle-browed,
Until she pulled him from the crowd.
Weeee, thanks :) Made my day.
I like the maiden. She's smart.
The last 10 lines are the best :)
Cs
For Epic Readers: Cantos IV and V of The Rowan Canticles.

CANTO IV

Like wild young horses, lovers are:
Free of the bridle’s shackle-bar,
At first, they meet. Untamed, they balk,
That is until their pillow talk
‘Tween trysts eases their panting plight
And they the bit of mating bite.
‘Tis then, relishing nights inflamed
With love, they tend their stalls, now tamed,
Behave themselves, ache when apart,
And snap the reins ‘pon each one’s heart.
Asmo had no such thoughts as he
Shadowed the girl, who, airily,
Walked ‘mongst the chantmongers and thieves,
The harlots wiping off their sleeves,
The nodding sots with pockets out,
The insect worshippers, devout
And bitten badly ‘bout the face,
And all the folk who, in that place,
Festooned the alley near her door.
“Some places one should not explore,”
She said, then, from between the creased
Warmth ‘tween her bodiced breasts, capriced
A key and spun it in the lock.
“There is no need,” she said, “to knock.
For no one’s here but you and me.”
“An enviable life, that key
Must live,” smiled Asmo in reply.
She entered in a linen sigh
And said, “Depends on what life is,
I ‘spose. And if it’s her’s or his.”
He wasn’t too sure what she meant
By that. Felt like admonishment.
For what? Flirtation? Why then bring
Him to her door? “Your bandying
Of words makes me think I’ll move on,”
He muled. She listened, whereupon,
After surveying her kitchen’s floor,
She turned. “Be sure to shut the door
On your way out. But there’s no need.
Your stomach’s empty. I can feed
You. Then, go, if you truly must.
A roasted goose will do, I trust?”
“A roasted goose will do, indeed,”
He nodded, willing to concede
That he was hungry, and alone,
And unsure why this strange moonstone
Before him, whom he barely knew,
Tugged at him so. “Good. First I’ll brew
Some special tea, my fav’rite sort,
Which when imbibed will soon transport
You past yourself. I drink it strong.”
“A good ale and I get along
Quite well,” he said, “But, oh gods, tea?
Won’t touch the stuff.” Amusedly
Gudrunlod stoked the sleeping coals
And swung the kettle in. “Our souls,
You know,” she said, “are buried deep.
They try to speak when we’re asleep
Most of the time--their language, dream.”
“That’s nice. I love a good moonbeam
Myself,” he giggled. “Laugh for now,”
She smoothly warned, “You’ll disavow
Your glib response once you’ve been served.
I’ll not indulge, though. Quite unnerved
One can become from Minlet Tea—
The herb that frees forth fantasy.”
“It’s just a flower.” “Oh, it’s more
Than that, believe me. Let me pour
You some. There. I’ll go catch the goose,”
Gudrunlod winked. Sunset’s diffuse
And rosy light dimmed gradually
As stormclouds pushed forebodingly
Above the town. The girl stepped out.
Asmo yawned as the teapot’s spout
Puffed languidly. He drained his mug.
This wasn’t bad. He felt quite smug:
Shelter, a fire, a girl, and food
He’d found. ‘Twas lucky. A calm mood
Descended ‘pon him. All his woes
Seemed far away, as, in repose,
He put his feet up. ‘Twas then, rain,
First pattr’ing ‘gainst the windowpane,
Began to growl across the roof
As if it offered gruff reproof
For what he’d done. Like flick’ring whips,
Roof runnels spouted drumming drips
Which coiled in splashes, wild, confused.
“Like worlds they fall,” he darkly mused,
"Or lives like mine, transparent, small,
Bound 'round by some clear, tremb’ling wall
One cannot see, until it breaks.”
Loud lightning flashed. Roof drips, now snakes,
Hissed down as waves of Minlet-mind
Floated his thinking, unconfined
Away in all directions--‘til
An emptiness rushed in to fill
Him, hurting, lancing at his heart,
As if he’d played some cheap, bit part
In life. Then, suddenly, the door
Burst inward, spitting gusts of spoor.
There stood an aged, horrid bride,
Shrunk-apple faced and hollow-eyed,
Her crone’s cracked teeth like needles bared.
His foot dropped to the floor. He stared:
She clung to something tightly bound
In swaddlings, which she then spun ‘round:
A baby dropped into her grip.
Her vein-swelled hands began to rip
It into pieces, which she ate.
Asmo, poised to asphyxiate,
Fell off his chair. He couldn’t move.
Paralysis had cut a groove
Straight down his backbone. Then, the crone
Fell ‘pon the floor, commenced to moan,
And gently birthed, becoming young,
The babe again. Sweetly she swung
A milking breast around to feed.
He stood. The table swayed. Knock-kneed,
He tried to back away but slipped
And fell again. His shirtsleeve ripped.
‘Twas then the mother’s newborn wailed
A sound so grating, Asmo quailed:
A high-pitched, bird-like sqwawk, or scree
It was; and then, impossibly,
Long feathers sprouted out its face
And limbs, as, still in her embrace,
It hung its two wings down, now dead--
Gudrunlod’s goose, exhibited
By her as she stood in the door.
“Methinks you see a good deal more
Than me. The Minlet Mind works here,
I’d guess,” she smiled. “Please, do not fear,
But tell me, boy, what did you see?
For from your face you saw not me.
Look, here’s the goose, though not yet plucked.
Forgive me, for in here I ducked
To wring its neck. Rain fills the air
Outside.” Asmo crept to his chair,
Sat down, relieved, then raked his hair
From off his face, wont to compare
Realities. She plucked the goose,
Then hung it, headless, in a noose
By its two feet. “The Minlet works
Like pebbles splashing, causing cirques
Upon the water of the mind;
It opens eyes hitherto blind
To what your Rowan truly knows—
A Water-Knowing. Where it goes,
It sees more than a trav’ler’s eyes.”
So spoke Gudrunlod, fair and wise.
But Asmo's thoughts were far away
As stared he at the gooseblood tray
A’filling slowly ‘neath the bird;
And though at first it seemed absurd,
A pounding froth of crimson spray
Hissed past his petal-sails’ array
As he, riding a Minlet Cap
Grown large, sailed t’ward some distant gap
Whilst sparkles rose, borne by the gale,
And crowned him, as some fairy-tale
Might tell, with royal, wind-cast light.
Thus did the Blood Sea King sail tight
‘Tween Straits of Witness, eyes on peaks;
Past Caves of Madness, in which shrieks
Resounded, shrieks of blind wormthings,
All fat and swollen, strapped by rings
Of pinching gold, bechained to thralls
Who flensed their blubber; past rock walls
Whose crescent, blackened armatures
Eclipsed the long pink curvatures
Of beaches, their sands congruent
‘Tween waves and rocks. The firmament
Exploded then; red suns and moons
Fell t’ward that sea, lifting typhoons
Before which scurried that Sea King.
His sails folded, each like a wing.
His Minlet craft faded to clear
Into a voice close at his ear:
"You seem by gooseblood much enthralled,”
She whispered. Asmo, quite appalled
At her strong tea, looked up to see
Her smiling there insouciantly.
“The fowl hangs drained; so too, the sky,
For look, the rain has ceased to fly.
Soon now, my sire shall creak the door,
My aged father, home once more.
Roast goose in gravy, p’raps some wine—
That’s all he’ll want. Though in decline,
He knows how curses alter fate
And may well help you extricate
Yourself from this one, if you’re…sweet
To me.” Reluctant to entreat
Much more of anything from her,
Asmo concluded to confer
With her old man might make things worse.
Indeed, he knew the Rowan’s curse
Was on his head, yet magic’s cure
Seemed more contagion--immature
As his soul was. Of darkened hue,
Like truths he’d rather not think true,
Like felons better left in cells,
Like demons better kept in hells,
All magic seemed, and always had,
To Asmo. Wizardry was bad,
‘Twas obvious. “Your drugging tea,”
He muttered, rising warily,
“Has lost it charm. Though not insane,
Something’s still wrong inside my brain,
And since I’ve got an appetite,
I’ll go devour a bit of night.”
Gudrunlod, shocked, watched Asmo turn.
She felt her cheeks flush red and burn.
Perhaps she'd brewed the tea too weak?
Wherefrom drew he this will to speak?
To speak, yea, and to stand and walk
And even offer surly talk?
Of all the Minlet’s rare, bleak gifts
The strongest was to open rifts
‘Tween thought and action. Who was he?
No man had e’er fought off her tea
Before. “Asmo, before you go,”
She tried, but he just answered, “No,”
And, staring through her, shut the door
Then disappeared, alone once more.


CANTO V

Past sense and mem’ry, well below
Instinct--but near it--an outflow
Of ancient expectations gleams.
These flick’ring pictures--nascent schemes
Convincing us that we should live,
Find love at some point, learn to give,
Do work, renew the species, dance,
And other things life’s stunning chance
Affords--implore us, through our dreams
(Whose archetypes suggest extremes
Our forebears lived) to wiggle loose
From where we swing, caught in the noose
Of passive living’s dull routine.
Now poor Asmo had never seen
Such elementals. ‘Cross his crown
Strange heavens opened, pouring down
Deep singing voices. Rainbow stairs
Emerging out of everywheres
He sensed but could not see, revealed
Advancing orbs which hung concealed
Above black depths--a breathing void
That fell forever. Crystalloid,
His heart of hearts turned in wan light
Assuring him that he, despite
His worldly birth, eternal stood,
And always had, and always would--
Even as Rowans, sown in rings,
Laughed at the lives of human kings
And hemmed him in. ‘Midst all this doubt
He stumbled to a fountain’s spout
And shoved his head in. Splashes, cold,
Brought back the world, a story told
To his five senses, fighting hard
To win his mind back, trued, unmarred
By predatory sophistry
And visions loosed by Minlet Tea.
"Stairways to Haven," Asmo thought,
"All things are color, simply caught
A moment, as we slowly see
Them, hov’ring there imploringly.
Pure, frozen color makes the world."
He groaned, then, like a baby, curled
Against the fountain’s polished cold.
Eventually sleep took hold.
As even great floods drain o’er time
Til all that’s left is fertile grime,
So too did Asmo’s drowning mind
Return to landscapes he might find
Familiar, had he been awake.
A gnawing hunger will o’ertake
The deepest sleep, though, so he groaned
And sat up just ‘fore dawn. Sore-boned
And stiff, he spied a Rowan there,
An ancient one, across the square.
Back home, in groves, they spread at will,
Their sacral claims 'pon field and hill
Where they engorged the heads of grain
And vine-grown beans, coaxing the rain.
To boast a Rowan 'pon one's land
Was much like gold held in one's hand.
Since childhood Asmo had been taught
As through those groves he'd run and fought:
Thou shalt not harm a Rowan Tree--
'Twas law of tribe and family.
This edict in his head he heard,
His uncle's voice, each tone and word.
A law unthinkable to break--
His unforgivable mistake.
Grimly he shook his throbbing head.
"Had I slept there I'd now be dead,
A stain upon that Rowan's bark.
Well, here's to fountains, noise and dark."
'Twixt sun and earth a cloud did drift,
--Like life's own restless, passing gift—
Its shadow rippling o'er the roofs,
Down mud slick alleys pocked by hoofs
Until across a door it passed
Wherein sat two souls breaking fast
On scones in goosegrease, eggs and tea.
"How many fish swim in the sea?"
Old Harcto queried of his child.
"Why wish you this one, trapped, so wild?
He thrashes in an unseen net,
This burly boy you've barely met.
A vengeful tree is to be feared.
Each place he goes he brings its wyrd.
His cage travels with him, daughter.
Its bars say he's marked for slaughter."
Gudrunlod listened to his speech
And sprinkled crumbs of dried, ground leech
Upon her fluffed and beaten eggs,
Tilted her teacup to the dregs,
Then fixed left eye upon her sire
And softly spoke, as smoke hides fire:
"Your treatment of his chances shifts,
Old One. Full well I know your gifts,
Yet wonder do you use them now
Or p'raps to wishful thinking bow?
Two days now since that stump he fled.
Two days now cursed but still not dead.
'Midst Minlet dreams he rose and spoke
As if I'd served him milk with yolk.
You know as I the Crone Head's strength.
That one I chose for girth and length,
Puissance of hue--black purple blue.
Strong men do live, but I've known few
Who swig such tea as I can brew
Then walk forth in an hour or two."
The Skinmage belched and tasted grease.
He wondered when this talk would cease.
Yet, she was right; no sense to lie.
Who was this youth who would not die?
Harcto's child was his subsistence.
Worries clung to her insistence
'Pon his aid to this tree killer
Who, if he should trick and will her
Off somewhere—and she left town—
Bereft would leave him, an old clown
Left all alone to grill his scones
And keep lean flesh on aged bones.
"His Fate's a rag at Warog’s Gates;
It flutters there 'midst loves and hates,"
He muttered, donning robes of red,
Then sandals, sitting on his bed.
"The biggest club no cloud can break.
The strongest oaf, no mage will make.
Sad truth, for he a mage must be
To fight this calculating tree.”
Old Harcto rose, grunting, to go.
"Well, I can teach him what I know.
You’ve taught me much of Warog’s Gates.
Surely we’re not trapped in our fates,"
Piped Gundrunlod, heart gone cold.
Her father sighed, heart sad and old.
Archly she gazed about the room:
Her lifelong home; her childhood's tomb.
CANTO VI

Few measure drink by mug or bowl,
Most by loud boasts and lost control,
By thoughts and hands now liberal,
By single toasts turned several.
Now Asmo, glum, in a corner,
Watched the second toast the former
Of two fat merchants draped with gold.
The first one, rising, took firm hold
The table's edge, then steady,
To toast yet again made ready.
"Grodoo, my friend, to you again!
Here's profits, mooing in the pen!
More cows we've sold this fattened day
Than all the days in ev'ry May
Of ev'ry year since we've come here!"
At this he downed his wine like beer.
"Well said! Quite true! Our fortune's made!
Indeed, the fates have blessed our trade,"
Agreed Grodoo, who laughed and leered
Then licked the wine spilled down his beard.
"Our foolish farmers are well pleased
With cows they'll soon learn are diseased,
Once sores appear on hoof and mouth.
Alas, by then we'll be far south,
A lifetime's gold in our coffers!
Ha! Ha! Here's to clever offers!"
So toasted they their larceny
As Asmo, ‘gainst the masonry
(For no wood wall would he now trust)
Heard all. He roiled with dark disgust
At such conniving and deceit.
"Such hogs are better as dogmeat,"
He hissed beneath his beerish breath.
"Useless in life--yet wealth in death--
Are swine, though they seldom know it.
Bad luck finds those who bestow it.”
He who steals from thieves--what is he?
A wrong half-righted--can that be?
Asmo cared not for wrongs or thieves
Of fools who purchased dying beeves.
The ignorant their own beds make.
Slumbrous illusion lives can break
When wishful veils, torn off too late,
Reveal the cankered face of Fate.
Grodoo and Goodpelf lay asleep,
Bellies and goldbags in a heap.
Night's shroud lay wrapped about their flight,
Its darkness stabbed by campfire light.
Their snores, like roars, began to chase
All creatures from that sylvan place.
All beasts save one; it tracked the sound
As on four legs it crawled the ground.
First, sword to throat, Grodoo it bound
At ankles, knees and wrists all 'round.
Then Goodpelf. “Hope some luck takes hold,”
It hissed, then rode off with their gold.
What fell to them, he could not say.
His notes read: Travel half a day
The southbound road. You'll find them tied,
The men who sold you cows that died.
Their gold is mine; their Fate is yours...
On parchments, tacked 'bove farmers' doors.
Off south, to fool the merchants' eyes
He rode, then north as the crow flies.
And as he rode each haunted mile
He forced away Gudrunlod’s smile.
What likens love, if not one's breath?
Once drawn, once felt, both lost mean death.
Life's breath, when stopped, parts soul from frame;
Love's chance, when lost, slays life's best aim.
Like breathing's tide, in ebb and flow,
A loved one's smile will come and go,
Haunting the shores of memory
Like sea things washes in ecstasy.
"Where goes she now?" he asked his mind.
"Off to the fields, Minlet to find?
Down that foul alley, fool in tow
Who'll drink her tea and mindless go?
The world is color, nothing more!
Here, here! Meet Light, Old Time's sweet whore;
To her, thoughts and things seem one sum;
To think the thing makes it become!
So, shall I think that Rowan's dead?
Will thoughts keep withes from my head?
No, no; thought-magic strong must be,
Strong like the Law or King's Decree,
Well muscled, like one's arms or back--
A rope, tight sinewed, free of slack.
Think you this way, Gudrunlod maid?
Can you such ropes to magic braid?
Or are your ropes the girlish kind,
Your ropes just hopes which soon unwind?
If brawn or beauty magic made
Both I or you might wield its blade
And thousands of old Rowans fell
As if mere clover in some dell.
Alas, my brawn no magic grants.
And beauty? Well, I doubt its chance."
So Asmo mused, as he galloped
T'ward a sky by mountains scalloped--
A sky outreaching to the sea
Which lay twelve versts, northwesterly.


CANTO VII

Love, at its best, wipes commonsense
Away. Much as drops will condense
From hidden liquid in the air,
So, too, do lovers quick compare
Their temp’ratures, til, happily,
Their judgement fogs up suddenly.
"The talk is all about the town,
Father," she said as he sat down.
"They found them on the southbound road,
Trussed tight and lightened of their load.
If it weren't for the missing gold
Those two would now be dead and cold.
But they the robber's face have seen--
Quite tall, they say, both strong and lean
With long dark locks and downturned mouth.
They say he laughed and rode off south!
In the square the farmers clamor,
Each one with his scythe and hammer.
I wonder could it Asmo be,
His mind atilt from Minlet tea?"
Old Harcto hoped the thief they'd catch
Then hang him high with swift dispatch.
If Asmo, so much the better.
Rowan branch or iron fetter--
It mattered not which held him fast
So long as he soon breathed his last.
"My precious loin-fruit, hearken here,"
He said, his daughter's thoughts to steer:
"Perhaps a periapt needs he;
A charm of arcane symmetry:
Half--Rowan magic to deflect;
Half--him from farmers to protect,
He he, but daughter, oh, alas!
Without six clumps of new sea grass
Plucked as they tremble 'pon the dunes
No waxen trees or skin-scribed runes
Will pluck him from Fate's slamming jaw!
Now, that sea grass but once I saw.
You wish to save him? Yes, quite so.
Then north it is that we must go,
To hunt among those humps of sand
And pluck the grass where sea meets land."
Cleverly, without insistence,
Harcto plotted to put distance
'Twixt the oaf and his fair daughter--
Not to mention see the water.


CANTO VIII

War is a mighty term for greed.
Honor's proud cloth wrapped 'bout its creed,
It masquerades as destiny,
This rotting thorn of history.
Its mind sees simply: black and white.
How else to judge, to hate, then fight?
Complex souls awkward soldiers make;
They know no God their side will take.
In battle's heat, 'tis skill and chance
Which slay the foe and shield the lance.
So when war comes, the simple shout;
The complex shake their heads and doubt,
Yet in the end all take up arms
Amidst the ragtag of alarms.
So when his kingdom's bells rang sound
And foreign feet 'cross sov'reign ground
Tramped the drumbeat of invasion
T'ward his lands to make occasion
With demons born of rape and siege,
'Twas then that Bruss, the lord and liege
Of Asmo's Rowan-feathered hills
Lamented how war's bloody ills
Visit men like vagrant seasons,
Spawning storms of lies and treasons.
A leader wears both wings and yoke:
In peace he soars above all folk,
His widespread shadow casts the laws--
Offenders struggling in his claws.
In war, ah yes, how things do change.
Now he must wings for yoke exchange
And trussed, drag armies through the mud
To death and distance, grief and blood.
Across his reign's unblemished sky
Such stormthoughts rose, dark clouds on high,
'Bove Bruss' ancient, war-tired mind.
Long years before peace he'd declined:
Brutal war he'd prosecuted;
All his foes he'd executed--
Scabs of rabble from the flatlands:
Dunks and Corlius, Lades and Catlands--
Tribes of proud yet stupid liars,
Smiling cheats and niggling buyers
Who the Rowan Hills did covet
As a swamp might hills above it.
But now, their offspring, come of age,
More Lades and Catlands, hot with rage,
Like biting bugs swarmed at his feet,
Avenging their tribe's old defeat.
"Where then is Asmo? Damn that boy.
He plays with duty like some toy.
Poor Calmon's end...there's mystery...
Black arts at work, and yet, why flee?
What did they such a death to make?
A vine-grown corpse...some dire mistake...
A magician they offended?
Some whelpish prank, badly ended?
'Tis dark luck, this disappearance.
Might as well be interference
With an aging warrior's plans
For nephew good as any man's.
My heart's too old, my blood's too thin
To fight these flatland fools and win.
Yet where's my heir as times grow worse?
Eloping with some mage's curse?
Fie! I'm some god's belly laugh.
Who ho! Let's slice Bruss' dreams in half,
Drag off his only able heir
Then sink his country in warfare!
Oh crap of wisdom, what to do?
Ere he returns, our country's through."
So worried Asmo's father's twin
'Bout matters mixing war and kin.


CANTO IX

Beware the bluebells, so they say.
Avoid the dells where fairies play.
When withes bristle, death lurks near.
Where three ways meet, portents appear.
An oak's roots probe deep as its height.
A pond sylph's kiss soon turns to bite.
At man's last breath, spirit will flee.
Thou shalt not harm a Rowan tree.
"What tell wive's tales of stolen gold?
Of looted loot; is that one told?"
Asmo conjectured as he bent
And through his mind directions went:

To the crossroads, east through the dells,
Then past the oak where grow bluebells.
Past the pond with mussel midden.
Ten steps west, there gold is hidden.

The pit he filled with stones and soil
Rolled o'er a log, then ceased his toil.
“This place I shall remember well.
Please guard it, fairies of the dell.
Oaks, leaf this place to leave no trace
And let no Rowan take your place."
Then, rising, Asmo turned to leave.
He glimpsed some purple past his sleeve.
There reared a Crone's Head 'pon its stem
Cupping a droplet’s nectar gem.
Without so much as thought's consent
He plucked the bloom then turned and went.
Long leagues he rode, hard to the north,
Until the mighty sea came forth
From 'neath horizon's distant rim--
Salt breath and thunder, wooing him.
'Pon mount, 'pon mountain, stood he there
And breathed the laden, rushing air.


CANTO X

"Discomfort is a fool's virtue,
Save when comfort's bliss can hurt you.
Then, 'tis folly to be soft,"
Reflected Harcto as he coughed.
"So quibble not upon my health.
Body is poor; 'tis thought that's wealth!"
Gudrunlod worried 'neath her smiles.
His coughs had lengthened with the miles
And though to wrap him she took pains,
His coughs, like mushrooms, grew in rains.
Night past had dropped a chilling storm
Her skins and blankets could not warm.
Like fists the winds had rent the tent;
Beneath the stakes a flood they'd sent
Which numbed the knees and swelled the bones,
Unjerked the beef and soaked the scones.
"Our periapt useless will be
If fever blinds you at the sea
And you the grasses cannot find.
One can with courage, too, go blind,"
Gudrunlod urged, then snapped the reins.
Green counterpanes of fields and lanes
Crisscrossed by birdlets chanting trills
Lay like sargassom 'pon the hills
Which rolled like waves, wind insistent,
T'ward a shore of mountains distant.
Deep warmed by blue sky's drying sun
And lulled by oxbacks, tough and dun,
Swaying 'neath him in the traces,
Harcto dreamt of days and places,
Days when his powers great had grown
And he that power's pelf had known
As he the winds and waves had stilled
And Warog’s demons had o'erwilled;
Of places tall, above the sea;
Of rare and able company;
Of ocean tempests pounding ships
And spell-saved crafts, safe in their slips.
For once a Water Mage he'd been,
Pure bred, pure hearted, free of sin,
One of that blue-robed brotherhood
Who'd always done just what he should.
Patrician born, his ev'ry trait
Drew him to magic's high estate:
Strong he was and pure of spirit;
When pond sylphs sang, he could hear it;
When seastorms boiled beyond earth's curve
He felt their force in ev'ry nerve.
Since dimmest days of history
The Reach’s kings had bought the sea
With magicks of the spirit realm
So ev'ry captain at his helm
Might know full sails and currents kind
And not in creeping fogs row blind.
Hence the Brotherhood of Mages--
Sundry scribes, soothsayers, sages.
Robed sea-blue these magic makers
Built a Temple 'bove the breakers,
Fulfilled the bidding of those kings
And culled the wealth that power brings.
Elite, austere, they lived removed
'Midst halls held high by columns grooved,
Lying 'pon the sheen of satin's furls
'Neath ceilings of mosaic pearls.
But no loved ones kissed they in sleep.
Celibate's lives they'd vowed to keep.
To hoard his seed each one did swear
'Pon Warog's gates, 'pon sea and air--
Magic's conditions, carved in stone,
'Bove bedsteads, where each slept alone.
A depth of days this law had forged--
The will of Demons, light-engorged:
Capricious norns with fur-tuft pates
Held back from earth by Warog's Gates.
In numbers endless there they swarmed
In feral glee, by love unwarmed.
Yet tethered to a Leash of Will
And besworn not to burn and kill
These selfsame beasts could currents sway
Whilst holding baleful winds at bay.
Symbols in liquid, deep immersed;
Long nights of chanting, well rehearsed;
Fates burning in the crucible:
Warog was thus reducible
To magework in the columned halls
And mages in their satin stalls.
But woe to him who vow did break
And still the Leash of Will did take,
For purity wound at its core;
Once lost, 'twas gone forevermore.
Best not to take yet doubt its strength
A leash with demons at its length.
"Sire, what mountains rise there yonder?"
She asked, seeing his thoughts did wander.
"Be they the dunes of which you spoke?"
She'd stopped the cart to tend the yoke.
A linchpeg 'bove the brace was loose.
Besides, she'd found two legs of goose
Unsullied by the rain and rot.
"If dreams were wine, you'd be a sot.
Come, down Old One, no argument.
Yes, body's poor and yours is spent!
That's, certain; yet feed it we must.
Without it, thought's gold is but rust.
Wish you poor twice around to be?
Ha! Ha! So there! Now, 'neath that tree
Look to be grasses dry and good
As if 'bove carpets that tree stood.
No mountains will we cross tonight.
The sun, 'tis west'ring out of sight.
With dark this day soon fails its fight.
I say we camp here for the night."
Old Harcto listened to his child
And watched her, how she winked and smiled.
How fast a woman she'd become.
This past year, like a ripened plum
She'd swelled to fullness dark and bright--
One clear place in his fading sight.

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