Ode To An Oak

(A poem heard only by the breeze…)

What knowledge does the storm-tressed hold?
(both wiley and benign);
They say the very wisest
learn their secrets from the skies.

The lithe and whippy willows
are flexible and green;
but all experienced fellows
know that old oaks rule the sheets.

Age know exactly what it wants
and speaks no shame nor lies;
forgive me, strapping youths,
I’ll take your meemaw every time.

It’s Tressertag – so let loose
and have a little fun;
Miss Libby, take this bracelet,
and join me for Lust 1?

Miracle For Rollo

Whenever I’m conscious, I hear footsteps on the hardwood. My Lord, clergymen, the doctor – even Fritjof’s mother. It seems I’m causing quite a stir – they refuse to give up even though I’ve accepted the reality of my situation; I went to my family to help them, and am now cursed like they are. And I will die like one of them.

Never in my life have I been so incredibly wretched – which is saying a lot. The very air stings my skin. My face is swollen, crusted, chaffed like dried seawater. My eyes are going to burst from my head. Every breath is pain in my mouth, through my throat, to my chest. My pulse is in my teeth. Twitching or uttering breath takes long moments of deliberate preparation. If only there were anything I could do to spare myself beholding Lady Death’s face just one more night…!

Friar Ignatius and Brother Erasmus enter with the skald, Saga. I feel like I’m thinking through heavy fog; his words make little sense. I must be delirious, as I feel like laughing – not at the poor man, but at it all. How is it possible to be so terrified and yet so cavalier? Yet that is how I feel.

My Lord lingers nearby. He’s invited me back into his own bed (even if he refuses to join at the moment), despite proclaiming that I’m not to go near it until I am well again. I hear Sir Knut has offered drink to ease the pain. My heart skips a beat as Solfyre peers into the room with a ball of flame in her hand. I know well to fear her, and all magi, but her reputation is… poignant. When the light and shadows retreat with her, I notice the room is far more comfortable than before. Perhaps more than the fire spell, though, my heart is warmed by the stalwart willingness to aid me, an outsider, by the Benalian community.

My Lord tips the drink to my lips, a wild reversal of roles… he can be so tender, when he chooses. I am assured once again that they’ll find a solution, come Helheim or high water. I hardly have energy to register their words. It will take a miracle.

The clergymen believe they can lift the curse with a ritual of Benalus. The very idea petrifies me, but what am I to do? To call the Lion’s gaze upon me… what will it entail? Though whatever it is, if it can spare my life, I will agree to it.

Brother Erasmus helps me to cleanse my hands with holy water. The friar is reading from the Testamonium, and Erasmus asks if I will face the might of God. Nothing could frighten me more. With everything I have left, I ask him to begin. Erasmus carefully lifts a sizzling coal from the censer with a pair of tongs and takes my hand. He turns my palm upward, and presses the ember to my wrist.

I don’t know what happened to my body. My mind fills with the image and overwhelming presence of an enormous white lion. He has a huge and kingly mane, and his sunset eyes burn. Burning. Sizzling. Scorching. I feel his might. I hear someone asking that he drive away the curse and forgive my sinning. It feels like eternity, staring into the fiery eyes of God, but when the coal is lifted from my skin, finally extinguished, I fall back into my body. I try to strangle a scream – somehow I’m still not empty of tears. I lay exhausted and in agony, trembling from what I’ve just experienced.

And then Erasmus murmurs, “…Now once more,”

Lady In Crimson

Glittering gold adorns the crimson dress sweeping the floor behind each confident step. Their skillfully-painted gaze cuts through the crowd and lands on mine – calm despite the chaos. I don’t recognize the fine fabrics nor the title, but I recognize the person wearing them. “Rollo,” I feel the overcast rime surrounding the black centers of my eyes tighten, pupils dilating at the confirmation – she does recognize me. It is her. “Come here. Now.”

My legs move on their own. I turn my face, hiding the deep purple bruise on that side. Poorly. She has my ear, “…Y-yes? …My Lady?”

“Go to my bedroom. My bed is against the wall,”

This is hardly the time, I think, but I’m very amenable to hearing them out.

“There’s a basket. Inside it is a pistol. Bring it to me.”

Ah. Well. “Yes, My Lady,” It’s easier to say it the second time. I run.

It is as described, and I gently pass the firearm to them as one might hand over a wolverine pup. I’m just grateful it didn’t go off in my hands on the way back to the tavern – who knows how those things work?

I’m offered further insight immediately, as now she is shooting a rushing branded man in the chest. I can’t help it – I jump at the sudden sound; the flash; the unexpected scent of cinders and blood. I gape, my tone both stunned and reverent, “…My Lady…!”

They stand there a moment, time suspended. I’m quick to recover and dare to touch her, “We have to run. Now,”

Ragnar Stoneskin – haggard, yes, but still undying – prevents us from running, which really cramps my style. Not all of us can be fearless and indestructible, after all. But we make it to a safer place and stand guard at the door.

After a moment (which may have been quiet if it weren’t for all of the branded slaughtering each other) and a crick in my neck from looking at the stars rather than their eyes beside me, I say what I’ve been gathering courage to all day long, “…So… My Lady?” How many offenses have I given? Behaving as though we were anywhere near equals?

“Yes,” she sighs.

“I’m sorry.” I say, “If I’d known, I would’ve…” Would’ve what? “This whole time–”

They stop me, or maybe I’d just forgotten all words and let the conversation wither enough that they step in to assist. I’ve given no offense, they say. I wasn’t meant to know. She is Lady Encarmine, but she is Esparei also.

I don’t know what I feel. A fearful guilt, certainly. Things I’ve said and done around them which I would never dare to do in front of nobility flock in my mind. A hopeful relief, as well. They ask me to come with them to their room to help them undress to a more crisis-suitable outfit.

In a moment her laces are in front of my face just like before. I tug at the tight ribbons. They turn so I can unclasp their busk. She says, “You know, I think I like you on your knees,”

The remark exorcises the tension from the room and I can’t help but smile, “You’re not the first person to say that to me,” I say. She knows.

Free from their corset, I stand and offer other aid. Knowing that this is not where my skills lay, I imagine, she asks me to stay safe. I worry for her. “I’ll see you in the morning,” she promises. And she leaves.

I stand alone, safe in the cabin, and I wonder – will the scent I wore to the masquerade linger in their mind like a ghost the way theirs does now in my own?

A Wrong Thing for a Right Reason

I haven’t even slept overnight before Haxl comes to me. My hands have only known my own pockets since entering the Lord Saenger’s service – and I intended for that to remain the case – but when she explains her story, my heart tugs with a camaraderie it hasn’t since my life in the Rimeland. She doesn’t ask for anything not rightfully hers, wrongfully taken from her, and I find her request difficult to refuse.

I wait until after convocation and out from under the eyes of the Gothics’ Lion God to pinch her necklace from the guardsman. Can someone do a wrong thing for a right reason?

We end up sitting and simply talking together for a moment under the smokey, fire-mage moon. An ominous omen, but beautiful when filtered through the black pines and shared with a fellow. I’ll admit to a touch of pride at her surprise to discover I’d slipped the trinket into her pocket in passing.

She assures me she’ll be alright without the coins she offers in return. “We have to look out for each other,” she says. I trust my lord to take care of my needs and yet… I hope our paths cross again.