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Speaking to Shade

Poem#1 for my Gotham on-line poetry class

How is it full Darkness commands the night?
Yes, Darkness holds power, I will confess,
Causes courageous men to hide in fright.
Dark controls nightmares of stark wickedness.
But Shade, your appeal holds both dark and light.
In defined lines drawn that could seem a jest,
Seeming harmless, you shrink from hot noon’s might.
Then you stretch long as sun sinks in the west.
Curious of contrast, I stand safe in the bright.
Mystery draws me–I reach for to grayness.
Wonder what lurks there? Please give me a sight!
Sudden movement reminds me what’s for the best.
Recoil, I giggle! Don’t think it a slight.
Instilled now with caution; thanks for the test.

Shade’s dark and light sides have more allure.
So, full Darkness, you’ve become quite a bore!

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This is an Ottava rima – abababcc/10 syllables per line (iambic pentameter)

Waking Cat, Perhaps

Red cat sleeping on the softest blanket,
Dreaming of squirrels, birds, and going out.
He opens one eye, yawns, rising to sit,
Grooms with his pink tongue, perfection no doubt.
Smooths down the ruffled fur, shines up the bits.
Fans out his whiskers, then wipes clean his snout.
Yawns wide and stretches long, ready to prowl.
With second thoughts, lies back down with a growl.

Part 3

Arwen got up, left her room, and strode to the study.  She stood, staring at the sword Hadhafang hanging from its brackets.  She reached up and traced the blue-dyed scabbard leather carved with stars and stylized waves.  The hilt was chased with mithril and wound with gold wire.  The curved blade, like a mirror when unsheathed, was engraved with runes that spoke of its first owner Elwing.  The blade had been forged for a female to wield and now her hands itched to feel its weight.

“By rights, it’s yours.”  Her father spoke from behind her.

“Times are troubled, Ada.”  Arwen hesitated to broach this subject with Elrond, fearing he would forbid it.

“After—after the Pass, I charged Glorfindel to train you, as he had your brothers.  You had no interest then.”  She remembered walking blindly through those exercises, defending herself because she was quick and smart and didn’t like the pain of getting struck by the training sword, not because she had any interest in learning swordcraft.  At that point in her life and for a long while after, she felt nothing, heard little, and only wanted her mother back.

Elrond knew what was in his daughter’s heart.  Stepping around her, he took down the sword and slid it from its scabbard.  He studied the bright blade a moment, remembering it covered with black orc blood when he had wielded it at Dagorlad.  Turning it, he presented the hilt to Arwen.

“I’ve always told Glorfindel I’d welcome you learning more, when you were ready.”

 

The next morning, the sword master sat beside Arwen adjusting the laces on her gauntlets.  He tugged them so tight, she felt her hands would soon be numb from lack of blood.  She was about to have her first lesson.

“Lady Arwen, you are an excellent horsewoman and a fair archer, but in the past, you’ve not had the patience for this training.  Your lack of skill with a blade has worried me often when you ride to Lorien.”  Glorfindel stood and pulled her to her feet.  He tugged the belt on her protective vest tighter.  “Along with your father, I carry guilt still for not being there when your mother was taken.”  He handed her a practice sword.

Arwen hefted it and then clasped both hands around the hilt, remembering Aragorn’s words.  Glorfindel smiled.  She turned and realized the practice ring was empty.

“Where are the rest—the others?”  Arwen asked.  Glorfindel raised a brow.  “I want no private lessons.  I want to train with the other pupils, with the patrol recruits.”  Arwen named the Elves and men, male and female, who were trained in Rivendell to guard the North.

“Are you sure?  It is not an easy training the Elvish soldiers and the Rangers endure.  They are an elite group and will not bow to your standing in the household.”

“Or because I am female?”  Anger burned through her.
Glorfindel laughed, “I find women can be the most brutal fighters.”

“I want no special treatment or quarter.  I want to be treated as the others are,”  she said slowly, almost regretting each word.

“If that is what you wish in a week when the next group begins training, then you will be.”

 

Part 2:  Decision

Arwen awoke suddenly, breathing hard, fear causing her heart to race.  She was in her own bed, safe, in her family house, safe, in the safest of all places:  Rivendell.  But still she trembled and fear consumed her.  Throwing off the blankets, she lit the candle on the stand next to the bed, rose, and walked to the fireplace, stirring the banked coals into flame and adding a log.

It was still dark, barely pre-dawn.  Wrapping herself in a shawl, she sat, tucking her feet under her, staring into the flames, and concentrating on what had frightened her.  A dream—the dream.

Arwen stared into the flames and saw her mother’s eyes, haunted and distant, as she had last seen them, as her mother had cordially—there’s a word for a mother taking leave of her daughter for the last time—wished her good bye and a peaceful life.  They were standing on the docks in the Greyhavens.  Her father, in pain but stoic and silent, formally bid her wife, his love, goodbye with a chaste kiss.  Her brothers: Elrohir, simmering with pent-up rage about the orc attack that had caused this and still grief-stricken over his bride’s death, and Elladan, his usual wit missing, looking sad and lost.  Good Glorfindel was there, nearly weeping at his lady’s departure, but remaining strong, his arm supporting Arwen.  And she, her mother’s only daughter, remaining silent until Celebrian stepped onto the swan ship.  Then the tears flowed.  She was sure she would have sunk to the cobbles of the dock had not Glori’s arm tightened around her, and he whispered ‘Be brave’ into her ear.

So why had something awakened her?  Brought back that horrible scene of parting?  She sighed.  She had dreamed of the attack many times, and always in that dream, witnessing it as if she had been there.  And she nearly had.

 

The household had risen early on the morning that the Lady and her guard set out for the Golden Wood.  The six archers, her protection on the road, were already waiting by their mounts, when Celebrian and Nauriel, Elrohir’s bride, accompanied by Elrond and Arwen came down the terrace steps to the courtyard.  The lady pulled on her gloves and turned to her husband and daughter.

“Take care, dearest.”  She patted Arwen’s arm.  The girl felt provoked.  There had been another discussion over the morning meal, about her going with them.

“We could have your things packed and your horse saddled in a trice,”  Elrond cajoled, joining his wife’s suggestion that Arwen change her mind.

“No, Ada.  There are things I must do here!”  ‘And things I don’t want to do there.’  Arwen thought of the long hours she would spend indoors in Lothlorien, being inundated by her grandmother’s training on how to be a high lady.  No, she would rather read in the recesses of her father’s library or ride the hills around Imladris.  So she impatiently endured the farewells, wishing them gone soon.  She watched Mother and Nauriel ride away accompanied by only six guards, and turned back to doing what she wanted.  It was a small party of travelers, but six Elves should be a match for anything.

The tale told later, after death and capture and rescue, was not of the bravery of six archers, but of the death of four immediately, pierced by thick, black arrows loosed in a valley by a hidden—a very well hidden—orc pack that numbered near two gross.  And of the death rained on that pack by the two remaining and Celebrian and Nauriel until, overwhelmed, the orcs beheaded the Elven archers and captured the two women.

When word of the abduction reached them, Elrohir and Elladan rode hard from the north where they were patrolling the Great Road..  She remembered them galloping into Imladris on lathered, nearly dead horses, sparing time only to change mounts, welcome Glorfindel to their ranks, and get direction from their father.  The horns blared, as the Elvish host rode out to battle.  Her father stood watching for a long while as they rode south, as the dust of the road settled, then went into his study and shut the door, shutting the world out, shutting his daughter out.  During that chaos, she was all but forgotten, a very young girl.  She had sat in the garden, crying as they all rode away, sure she would never see any of her family again.

It had taken nearly a fortnight to track down the pack and rescue their mother and Elrohir’s wife.  And when her mother returned with them, Arwen felt she was still lost.  The distant pale woman was not her laughing mother.  This woman would rise abruptly from her seat whether it be in a hall gathering or at dinner with her own family and scurry from the room.  She never laughed again.  She never talked to her daughter.  And the day Arwen came upon her, sobbing, scrubbing herself in the water of the lake, she had slunk away, embarrassed.  She realized at that moment her mother had never returned.  Celebrian had been left with the orcs and this pale, shadowy creature was not her.

While they were returned, alive but pale, bruised, beaten, misused, neither could forget.  Nauriel had taken her own life within a month, and Celebrian, though she tried, could no longer live in this world, and left a husband and sons who loved her and a daughter who so desperately needed her.
Arwen shuddered.  Perhaps she should take a ship into the West, leave this world, leave her beloved to his fate, like her mother had.  Or she considered darkly, she could stop all of this abruptly like Nauriel had.  Arwen still felt abandoned and empty, but she had never said that to her brothers.  She certainly had never said it to her father who dealt daily with his own grief.  She was stronger than that weeping child had been; she needed to prove that.

The fire hissed.  The log must be green, Arwen thought.  The hiss became a whisper.  “You are strong.”  The warm flames seemed to cheer her dark thoughts.  “You are strong.”

The burning logs crackled, warding off the night’s chill.  For a long while, Arwen sat unmoving before her bedroom fireplace, looking into the dancing flames.   Aragorn and Gandalf had ridden out the day before bound for Meduseld in Rohan.  As he said goodbye, Aragorn had warned her again to stay safe.  She had nearly lost control and screamed.

She stared into the fire, seeing her golden-haired, laughing, fearless mother who was so like her grandmother Galadriel:  strong, magical, a leader.  She wanted to be strong like her grandmother, but she fear she was weak and unworthy.

 


Part 1:  Treated like a Princess

The days were lengthening.  Sunlight painted the greening trees, and the wind tossed the opening apple blossoms in the orchard.  Below, a rabbit hopped out, nibbling on new shoots, and two tiny bunnies cautiously followed their mother.  It was early spring in the hidden valley.  Frost could still touch the new buds, but like the inhabitants, they were hardy:  they would survive.  The young woman staring into the garden below believed she was as hardy, even though she already felt the sharp, familiar pain of parting.  She knew her love was about to leave, perhaps be away for months, or in a foul twist of fate common in these troubled times, forever.

He was leaving, and Arwen was about to explode with anger at Aragorn’s casual remark.  She drew in a deep breath and turned back to his questioning silver-grey eyes and hesitant smile.

“I can defend myself!”  Arwen was surprised by the petulance she heard in her own voice.  The whiney response was to Aragorn’s seconding of Elrond’s reluctance to allow her to make a spring trip to Lothlorien.  He had just echoed her father’s litany about the danger of roaming orcs, unpredictable now they had been driven from Gundabad.

“I really can defend myself!”  The second declaration sounded weak even to her.  She stood, hands on hips, watching for the corner of his mouth to curl in an indulgent smile.  She knew that if it did, she would be driven to rage.  All of these males felt she was a fragile possession; a commodity that needed protection; that she couldn’t take care of herself.

“Legolas is going to Mirkwood to spend time with his father.  Elladan and Elrohir ride north with the Dúnedain to drive off any stragglers from Gundabad.  And you—”  Aragorn interrupted her.

“—ride for Rohan tomorrow with Gandalf.  Stay here where it’s safe,”  he cajoled.  He tried to take her hand.  She pulled away.

“Here, where I have no use!  I watch you all ride off to fight against the Darkness!  I’m safe as a caged bird here, safe but as much a captive!”

“Arwen—”

“I can defend myself!”  she declared again, and he tried again not to smile.

“You are hot-tempered, yes, and a fair shot with a bow, but you’ve never really learned to defend yourself with a blade.  An attack on the road would be close-in, ugly fighting.”

“I most certainly am able to use a sword!”  she cried indignantly, whirled, and strode off down the terrace stairs to the practice field.

The training swords lay in their brackets on the stable wall.  Elrohir favored them over the deadly sharp Elven blades for tutoring the youth.  Glorfindel’s smith made them light and flexible and dull.  Arwen marched up and grasped the hilt of one.  She was strong and swung the blade one-handed.

“It’s not Hadhafang; use two,”  Aragorn suggested, hefting another sword.  He had named the sword left to her by her grandmother; the sword her father had used at Dagorlad; the sword that since had hung on the library wall as decoration.

Arwen tucked her skirts up to prevent tripping and saluted him.  They warmed up through some training moves and began fencing.  Aragorn easily parried her light blows.  He knew the edges of these swords were dull, but a direct hit was painful and left a nasty bruise.  He refrained from any offensive moves and simply countered Arwen’s swings.

Glorfindel, the sword master, heard the ringing of blades and came out to watch. He lounged on the terrace steps.  He had remarked on the growth of Aragorn’s skill with his sword since his return from Fornost and wondered what had prompted him to indulge in this mock-fight with Arwen.  He decided it had probably been of her making.

Growing aware of Aragorn’s lack of effort, Arwen saluted in disgust, stalked away, stopping at the far end of the ring, and turned back toward him.

“You are playing with me!”  she yelled.  “Come on!”  She raised her sword horizontally in offense.  “Do you fear you might find yourself lacking?”  She charged.

Aragorn shook his head in resignation and met her blade with a blow that numbed her arm.  She retreated under his rain of slashes, desperately clinging to her sword with both hands he drove her back across the ring.  Arwen barely recovered from one thrust before she needed to swing to defend against the next.  Only luck kept her on her feet.  Finally, he knocked the blade from her hands, tripped her easily, and she sprawled, disarmed and helpless on her back.

Arwen lay on the ground panting, looking up at him with a combination of hurt and anger.  Aragorn stood over her, his blade inches from her throat, and in her bones she felt that if he were not her beloved, she should terribly afraid.  His eyes were dark and his voice harsh:

“If I were an orc or a bandit, can you picture what would happen next?”  Arwen had the grace to blush, and she accepted his hand as he helped her to her feet.  Aragorn wrapped his arms around her.

“My love, I don’t want you hurt or worse.  Stay home to please me.  The orcs would like nothing better than to glean some revenge for their defeat at Gundabad with an ambush at the Red Horn Pass.”  A shudder ran through Arwen as he named the spot where her mother had been abducted.  She did not speak, and Aragorn believed her silence to be acquiescence.

As they walked up the terrace steps, Arwen caught Glorfindel’s eye.  He saw the banked fire burning in hers.  The sword master anticipated he would have a new pupil soon.

 

Really?

So, it’s been a year since I’ve been here…wow!  Writing goal: post to author website at least once per week!  And NAPOWRIMO is coming again in a few short days.  I pledge a poem a day for thirty days, no matter how bad.  And perhaps some Paths of the King scribblings.

I swear!

More poems

Suburban Day

Roofers crawl atop
Peaks, hammering, mad woodpeckers shingle seeking.
The mail truck speeds by, cornering sharply, brakes squealing,
At each box, shoving letters inside, slamming metal doors, before roaring on.

Dogs bark incessantly
One yard over, behind rail fencing,
At the cat, sitting without care, on green grass,
He yawns bored and stalks away, driving the dogs into howling frenzy.

Mom pushes baby
In a stroller, getting in steps,
Talking, cellphone to ear, as they lap the block.
He solemnly watches the houses pass, dropping his bottle secretly, wicked chortle erupting.

Retiree, trimmer wielding,
Edges the verge neatly around concrete.
Wonders why he left his job for this pastoral.
He sighs, checks the mailbox, heads inside, beer and baseball lie ahead.
MEOWMMY’s Three Angel Cats

Last Wednesday
Driving home from writing
I came up to the light on Plainfield at Target.
A silver van was stopped ahead of me.
On the back window was a mom and dad cling
In spacesuits
A license plate that read MEOWMMY.

And then

Three cat clings with angels wings.

And then

Ten!  Cat clings without wings
It made me wonder
Kittens?
Had they adopted a litter?
Collectors?
Hanging out at the Scratching Post too much?

Were they all the same?
Calicos?  Tabbies?  Boys or girls?
How many cat boxes did they have?

That brought me back to the three winged cats.
Had they been ancient and passed gracefully?
Or did they simply give up their remaining eight lives
Due to too much feline company?