[community profile] pod_together, [community profile] poetree, and "The Fairest Of Them All": the poem

Sep. 7th, 2013 10:13 am
alexconall: the Pleiades (Default)
[personal profile] alexconall posting in [community profile] poetree
Gwyneira, Cymran princess, and her seven friends
must flee lest she be murdered by her mother queen.
How can they keep her safe? How can she get her throne?

Today I am proud to reveal my poem "The Fairest Of Them All" in its entirety. Listen to [archiveofourown.org profile] anna_unfolding on AO3, or read it here:

The sky was the pale gray of marble columns in
the throne room of Queen Aeron. Thunder crashed, each flash
of lightning startlement to the young mages who
were studying their art in chambers set aside,
left warily alone: Princess Gwyneira, and
Lady Arianrhod, and Enid, farmers' child.
"I do not understand," protested beautiful
Arianrhod. "Why say we cannot use magic
to change the weather? Why not use a shield such as
I would have up were I to venture out in this,
but make it bigger?" / "Crops are more important than
my lady's comfort," Enid snapped, her patience at
its end. "No rain, no wheat. No wheat, no scones." / Seren
the kitchen girl had brought said scones; Arianrhod
took one, defiant. "We could keep the rain, so that
it rains only at night and quietly," she said.
The Princess Gwen looked up from study. "How would that
be fair to people who live on lands not quite near
enough to this to 'scape the daytime rain, but far
enough that rain that falls on us must touch them too?
Perhaps the lands of the Marquess Owain, your lord
father?" / The Lady Arianrhod grimaced
and bit her scone. / "We must also consider the
strength of crown-sworn mages," said Gwyneira. "For
they have their tasks: the forging of knights' helmets, swords,
and mail; the strengthening of crops; the building of,
well, buildings; keeping water clean of sickness; and
keeping fires lit to light and warm our home.
With what are we to do those tasks if crown commands
that the crown mages are to change the weather for
your benefit?" / "By hand?" suggested Enid, who,
as they three knew, oft used her art to ease her life.
The metal needle did obey her better when
commanded by her magic than by hand. Gwen laughed.
So did Arianrhod. "You win," said she. "How fair
of you, Your Highness, listening to us both before
deciding who is in the right." / "What else could I
do?" said Gwyneira. "Queens, before all else, we must
be fair." She looked at the door where Ithel,
duke's son, and Drystan, brother to Arianrhod,
were passing by. "Come join us, lords," she said, waving.
Lord Drystan asked, "Has sister mine yet mastered why
and how the gods did grant her power over wood,
not metal?" / "Has my brother mastered yet his sword?"
replied Arianrhod. "Does it still master you?"
"Peace," said Ithel, with the tone of one who knew
that it would come to naught. "Your Highness, we are glad
as we ever were to grace your presence fair."
"Do hold your fancy words," said Gwen. "Please join us in
a game?" / Arianrhod and Enid closed their books
as one. / Gwen dealt the cards. Seren brought in more scones,
and leaving with the plate before, she leapt aside
as Talfrin (who kept clean the floors) came rushing in.
"Your Highness," panted he, "flee, flee! The queen, she wants
you dead!" / "Be calm," said Gwen. "Why say you so? What can
I have done to my lady mother to offend
her?" / "I know not," said Talfrin; he did bow, though late.
"She ordered crown-sworn mage Eleri bring to her
your heart." / "I will defend you, Highness," Drystan said.
"The best defense is not to be where the blow lands,"
Seren said; Drystan glanced at her. She blushed. "Dilys
the cook is cruel." / "We'll get you safely out, Gwen," said
Lady Arianrhod. "We'll dress you in clothes
that better fit a servant. No one notices—"
She grinned at Talfrin. "—that servants are even there."
"Where shall we go?" asked Enid. "My village cannot
feed us unless they get some help." / "The cottage that
my father seeks to rent," said Ithel. "I'll arrange
it." / "No," said Gwen. "What sort of coward flees a false
charge of—it must be!—treason? I will not go." / "You will,"
said six at once. "And we with you," said Enid, and
five nods agreed with her. / "Far better a live mouse
than a dead lion," said Arianrhod. "We go."
"But not without my Catrin," Gwen said, weakly. She
refused to leave her dearest friend, who'd helped her through
her first love and her father's death. / "Your wardrobe girl?"
Arianrhod asked, then said, "Yes, of course. I'll go
for her," and left. Seren vanished with her to bring
some food and clothes and needful things, and Talfrin too.
Gwen lost the thread of her companions' goings, tried
to keep her breath in order, out and in and out
and in, not in and in and in or out and out.
How could her lady mother do this to her? How?
"You are nearly of age," said Enid then, "to take
the crown from the Queen Regent. She fears that. She must."
"Are we then seven?" asked Seren. "Gwen eight." Gwen looked
around; yes, seven friends: there Catrin was, quite pale.
She helped Gwen out of velvet gown, and Gwen slipped on
a servant's dress of rougher weave. Voice mute, she went
where Ithel led, and did not raise a shield against
the rain. It would be better, to escape unseen,
if no one thought a mage was in the group of eight,
much less three promising mage students, two of rank,
and two mage servants, and a duke's son and a squire,
and servant to the princess. Hands passed Gwen tea.
She drank it, then knew nothing more till came the morn.

"You'll have to have illusions," said Arianrhod;
she whittled, Enid spun with Catrin's help, Seren
and Drystan practiced dance as Talfrin tapped a drum's
beat on the floor and Ithel played lap harp he'd thought
essential. Gwen stared at her tiny loom and wished
this were a nightmare, but Arianrhod spoke on.
"You look—distinctive." / This Gwen knew, but had not thought
a problem. Black as ebony, her hair, black as
her Fujiyaman grandmother's; skin white as snow,
or near; lips red as blood; eyes at an angle not
too often seen in Cymru. Catrin had them, and
skin golden, just as rare; of all in Cymru, just
descendants of the servants and attendants of
the Queen Miyu were Fujiyaman gold. All the
rest of Gwen's friends and populace were varied shades
of pale. Said Catrin, "I'll be needing the illusions too."
For if they wished to seem as common women as
unranked as Enid, then they ought Arianrhod's
advice to take. "Illusions itch," complained Gwen. "They
want scratching, lying on my skin like roughly spun
and poorly woven cloth." She eyed the servants' garb
she wore. / "What are you speaking of?" Arianrhod
asked her. / "I'll live," said Gwen. / "She sneaked along to see
my home," said Enid, "years ago." / "Is that to where
she went each time?" asked Catrin. Enid's spindle slipped,
unspinning all her work; she swore as farmers do.
"Please don't sneak off from here," said Drystan. "We cannot
protect you then." / "I won't," Gwyneira promised, calm.

The days wore on. No news came from the castle of
the charges laid against her highness; certainly
they'd hear such news, for gossip at the market was
a rapid, noisy thing. Arianrhod carved tools
and toys of wood to sell, and tried to make wood beads
but they split easily. Practiced at farming was
the peasants' daughter Enid, who did gardening,
intending sale of harvest, but alas she lived
with seven hungry others. Baking goods to sell
Seren did well, though her friends ate much of that too.
And Drystan, when he bought the wool for Enid to
attempt to spin, thought he could spin more surely than
could she, and found that yes he could; what Drystan spun,
Gwyneira wove and Catrin sewed. What money they
made from that Ithel counted; market days, he scribed
for those who could not read or write, and Gwen did swear
that that was quite unfair; when queen, she'd mandate schools.
And Talfrin kept the cottage clean, a daunting and
a vital task with eight in such a tiny space.
When Enid found she could not force enough food from
the ground to sell as well as eat, she tried to get
Arianrhod to help—her wood affinity,
the same as Enid's farmer mother's, should be quite
enough to work the harvest spells. Arianrhod
refused. "I am an artist," she said, wondering
how she might phrase the rest without an insult to
her friend. "I would exchange affinity with you
at once, you know—" / "You wish to make your art in forms
nobility would wear," said Enid, weary. "Not
just wooden beads, however prettily you carved
the necklace for Seren. I would prefer to use
my magic and my skill." / "Then do so!" said Seren,
while offering Arianrhod first taste of this
experiment in kitchenry. "The blacksmith needs a boy.
I'm sure a metal mage will do." So Enid went
to see the smith while dressed in Drystan's clothes and with
her hair cut short, and came home an apprentice to
the good smith Rhys, and said her name was Ifan now,
and Enid was no more. As Ifan, he—not 'she'—
would still do gardening, but 'prentice fees he now
would bring as his main contribution to the house.

The news of Princess Gwen's supposed treason reached
the market with crown mage Eleri, hunter. It
was, as had Enid thought, an accusation that
Gwyneira tried to take the throne before her time.
The word came on Eleri's lips, and she compelled
them not to tell, for fear the treas'nous princess would
hear it and flee. She looked at Gwen while saying this.
Gwen, safe behind her itchy mask-illusion, flinched
not. Catrin set another stitch, but Ifan and
then Drystan shifted posture should defense of Gwen
be needed. Gwen would have preferred that they did not
call such attention to her, but Eleri, she
just nodded and went on her way. Gwen turned to her
friends loyal, when Eleri was well out of sound
range, and she snapped, "Do not suggest we run again."

Arianrhod, at home, did say "We should once more
depart for safer lands." / "I want my throne," said Gwen.
"I want my home." These several months since Talfrin's first
frightened warning had been—no, not lonely, not
with seven ever-present friends, but desolate.
No balls, no feasts, no parties save what they conjured
just for the eight of them. "I want my home," said Gwen
again. / "We'll get you home," said Catrin soothingly.
Seren replied, "They'll be on guard against us—how?"
Said Talfrin, "No one looks at servants." / "You mean to sneak?"
asked Gwen. "No. We come openly or not at all."
"Not," Drystan voted, and Seren did laugh. "We have
five mages, all five elements to work with. We
have two strong warriors." / "And me," said Catrin. "I
am not useless." / "Who said you were?" Seren asked her,
and Catrin shrugged—it was herself alone. Seren
kept on, "And Ifan can forge armor for us all."
"I can?" said Ifan. / "Yes, you can," said Ithel. "I
will pay good Rhys for eight sets armor, sized for us."
Arianrhod blinked. "Have we that much money?" asked
she. Ithel answered, "Yes, we have. We can assault
the castle with our eight-strong army if we want."
Said Gwen, "I did not mean that when I said we would
go openly or not at all." / Arianrhod looked down
at her own body. "Will I fit in armor?" she asked. / "Yes,"
said Ifan. "Larger armor, that is all. If we
do have money enough—" / "We do," said Ithel then.
And Talfrin took a piece of charcoal to sketch out
the layout of the castle. Catrin bent over
the diagram with him. "What, are we honestly
planning an assault on the queen's castle?" asked
then Drystan. "Princess Gwen, you should be queen by now,
but Aeron—she has many mages. I dislike
to see our Gwen within her reach." / "Eleri came,"
reminded Gwen. "We are not out of Aeron's grasp."
The plans continued, unabated—strengthened by
remembering that Gwen's birthday twenty-first
had passed; her coronation should have been that day.

At the blacksmith's, Ifan worked, quite tireless.
Arianrhod, Seren, and Catrin, Drystan, Gwen,
and Ithel, Talfrin, they all set their usual tasks
aside—the mages to their practice, warriors
to theirs, the latter teaching Catrin how to fight
and fall. Just one more market day and armor would
be ready, all the pieces put together and
as light as Ifan's magic let them be. Just one
more week. They all took some time that day to sell
what they had made and left unsold, lest someone from
the village see the break in the routine and come
investigating and report it to the queen.
Gwen, stomach growling, went to look for food, and not
the treats Seren had baked that morn. The grandmother
whose apple cart Gwen found offered a bright red fruit;
Gwen took the apple given, bit into its flesh—

A scream brought Ithel flying to the screamer's aid.
Shopkeeper Alis stood outside her husband's butcher shop,
Gwen fainted dead away on the ground at her feet.
An apple, one bite gone, lay in Gwen's hand. He knelt
beside her, found she had no pulse, shouted for his friends.
They all came running. Talfrin's water magic kept
Gwen's blood aflow, Seren's fire Gwen's heart abeat.
"She's still alive," said Catrin, finding voice at last.
"What happened, Alis?" / "The old woman," Alis said,
"and not a one I know. She sold the apple to
the girl—" She looked around. "Where is she?" No one saw.

Seven armored figures marched into the tall
gray marble throne room of Queen Aeron. They did bear
an eighth, in matching armor clad and lying as
though dead, six carrying the bier. The one
who led them to the throne itself, her visor raised,
gold Fujiyaman face beneath, spoke in a high
voice, confident: "I speak for Queen Gwyneira." She
flinched not when mages' staves were aimed at her. "The queen,"
said she, "lies victim of a curse devised by the
pretender queen, former Queen Regent Aeron. We
desire of Aeron that she give the means to break
the curse, then step down in her daughter's favor as
she should have done these four months past." And Catrin, for it
was she, stood firm, with Ithel, Drystan, Ifan to
one side, Arianrhod, Seren, and Talfrin to
the other. / Aeron stood. "Gwyneira stands accused
of treason 'gainst her queen," said she. "You seven stand
with her? Then you shall die." / Said Talfrin, "I recall
quite well the day Princess Gwyneira fled this place.
It was the day her mother told a mage to have
her killed, to bring her heart to you that you might eat
Gwyneira's life and so assure the throne stayed yours."
"Kill them!" yelled Aeron. Catrin darted back to friends,
and four young mages raised a shield against twenty
or more. "We should be five," said Ifan, "should be five—"
And did he feel the touch of Gwen's earth magic 'gainst
his metal? Talfrin's water, wood Arianrhod's,
Seren's fire: yes, there, earth faint but strong.
On impulse, he removed Gwen's helmet; she did sleep
like dead—that was the curse—and watchers gasped, for she
wore no illusions now: black ebony, white snow.
He thought Gwen fighting was, and needed only breath
to break free from the curse from its inside. He took
off his own helmet, he leaned down, he kissed
his friend Gwyneira, and his lady sworn, his queen.
She woke. Confused, by armor and surroundings, she
did try to stand, and fell, and saw the shield, and slid
her magic in among her friends'. Reluctant to
attack, the crown-sworn mages were before, and now
they all refused. And Drystan, Ithel now stepped forth
to take former Queen Aeron by the arms that she
might not escape the traitor's fate. "Don't kill her," said
Gwyneira, Queen now: Aeron's crown in Ithel's hand.

Imprisoned, Aeron made just one request: for the
hand mirror from her rooms to be returned to her.
It happened Catrin found it: touched it, dropped it, screamed.
"It feels wrong," she said, shaking. "What did it do to her?"
The wrongness she could only feel in shards of glass,
and Ithel when he came could feel it too. The frame
was only wood; Arianrhod made one the same,
Seren burned the original. A fire mage
from glassworks brought new mirror glass and melted down
the shards, assuring Catrin that no magic could
survive the heat. Gwen asked how Aeron came by such
an artifact, what she wanted with it, and
no one could answer her. The mirror duplicate
made, Aeron got her one request, no more harm done.

Date: 2013-09-13 06:02 am (UTC)
calissa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] calissa
What a story! This was wonderfully compelling. I especially liked your reinterpretation of the dwarves. I think you give a very clear sense of their friendship and loyalty. I also liked the way Ifan doubles as a Prince Charming.


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