Of Crimson and Carmine

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By: Mathonwy Posted on: 1st May 2018.

The gods and I've an understanding:

I shut my mouth and they ignore

my grosser sins and quite longstanding

lack of faith (which They abhor).

But here I would the Bard invoke

(per custom of the common folk):

may quill not fail nor tongue misspeak,

nor rhyming couplets lose mystique --

allow this poem's purpose to

fly straight on and hit the narrow

target, as a master arrow

from darkbow fired hits target true.

Scarlatti, guide my words as well

as daemons torture down in Hell.

And Evil here is worth the mention,

and all that glitters isn't gold,

but one young serpent's apprehension

rankles her -- her brow runs cold

(though this she never would admit).

Her strength is in her golden wit,

while opposite her, argent bright,

shines the Dawnspear's Hand of Light.

Now gold's the brighter, purer ore,

but silver polished shines intense --

the Argent Hand here stands, immense,

worth less by ounce but weighing more.

The golden serpent stands her ground,

though disadvantaged pound for pound.

A flash of gold, a lucky toss,

and dextrous wit secures the place

the fighting, dying, win or loss,

the saving grace or saving face,

will soon transpire, soon commence

before most all of Sapience.

She hesitates -- then, manner steeled,

she deigns to choose the geyser field.

The hellish heat assaults the mind,

and gold retains its shine in heat

while silver flickers, incomplete --

but yet, the two are now resigned

to skill, and all that skill can prove.

The golden serpent makes her move.

And in that heat, the gold reflects

the light as one quite brilliant beam,

and shadows form as she directs

that point of gold amidst the steam.

Yet here her golden wit has erred,

for her opponent came prepared --

he's backed the Light for all his days

and won't fall now before its ways.

His falcon dives and draws her guard,

while, sword in hand, he takes his aim

and lashes out and strikes her frame

and drives his shield at her throat hard.

Wreathed in steam and crowned in light,

he takes the first round of the fight.

His second swing is for her head,

but thinking fast, she draws her blade,

and, bleeding, spits the blood, light red,

into his face to win the trade.

The Argent Hand, sure of his game,

now must swiftly fix his aim,

and in his blindness he adjusts

as she with dagger aims her thrust.

Sensing that the upper hand

was not yet hers, she redirects

and rolls away, and he connects

with naught but air and then with land.

She moves behind a wall of spray

as yet again he joins the fray.

Now stepping lightly 'midst the cracks,

she calculates -- through mist she bounds,

as in the air the falcon tracks

her every movement on the ground.

A venomed dagger now she grips,

and venomed fangs and venomed lips

reflect the venom in her glare.

Yet judging from his vacant stare

he's supplicating to his Gods --

he turns his focus from his source

of strength and lashes out with force.

Renewed of vigour, evening odds,

he takes his wound with poise and grace...

and smashes her across the face.

And from her lips arcs blood a-shine,

as bright as Mhaldor's arms in gules.

A loss at this stage could define

her Western legacy in duels.

Seconds pass, but feel like years,

and muted, distant, sound the cheers

of Easterners now, growing bold,

who'd take the argent over gold.

Her blood runs slowly -- losing strength --

frustration growing -- what to say --

her chance at winning ebbs away --

humililation, drawn at length...

she musn't let her focus crack!

She'd have to take a different tack.

The old hymns now he starts reciting,

his wounds are staunched, his movements fine.

She moves now to evade the fighting,

but caught his shield deep in her spine.

She limps away, a moment late,

to pause and to recuperate.

And from her wrist, a golden flash,

and in her hand a golden lash

she slowly whirls with growing ardor.

And from the haze, a thunderclap

as 'round his neck the whip does wrap

and him she'd crown an argent martyr.

He lays a rite with fervent plea,

and grabs the lash, and yanks it free.

His platitudes drive her reprisal,

yet as he charges, she stands still,

and closer still draws his arrival,

as patiently she plans the kill.

Implacable, he sets his stride,

yet she, aglimmer, steps aside

with all the grace of siren-song

(which, well-receiv'd by captive throng,

now begins to sing her praise)

and catches arm about his shoulder,

deliv'ring poison to the soldier.

His poise now shattered, eyes aglaze,

as now the crowd erupts with sound

and Argent Hand falls toward the ground.

The crowd, comprising many factions,

forgets itself and roars its praise

at this insurgent serpent's actions

and graceful and ensnaring ways:

like nairat ink she wears, beguiling

those who'd stood before, unsmiling --

Severian ere Nik'las returned,

ere Nikolas his fame had earned.

She flicks her wrist, this golden lass,

and golden lash 'round neck has wrapped --

the Argent Hand tries to adapt

and crush her shine beneath his mass.

Quiet spreads throughout the field

as neither seems prepared to yield.

He throws his weight against her hold--

a tonne's a tonne in ore or down --

as silver struggles 'gainst the gold

(though both are mud-stained sanguine brown).

The serpent, driven here to rage

that's quite unlike those of her age,

a flash of fang and golden glimmer

as lash draws tighter, argent dimmer.

He operates on instinct, hurt,

as every muscle on its own

contracts, expands -- yet, like a stone

the end result: he lies inert.

A flash of gold, the sound of gore --

she takes her prize with joyous roar.

The crowd, to show their won respect,

roars on and on their accolades.

Among the factions, the effect

is evident; their lustre fades

as Easterners through rite take leave.

The golden serpent begs reprieve,

and clutches yet her bleeding side.

The Westerners, bursting with pride,

raucously depart with style,

to celebrate her victory

and justified theology.

Quietly, with just a smile,

I leave to nurse a pair of drinks,

transparent as the ancient sphinx.

And later on, the gath'ring thins,

and later still, she must defend,

and fights once more, and wins again,

though I could not those fights attend.

And mired in tasks numerical,

I miss the sight, chimerical,

of crimson-glad, a golden vision,

come back with a sublime precision,

administer a great defeat,

slink back into crowd between

the throngs of people, and, unseen,

vanish, silent as cat's feet.

I finish up my work and raise

my eyes, and who should catch my gaze,

but Aristata's golden child!

She'd slipped inside and, unawares,

had caught me turned away, and smiled

as I sat toiling in this chair.

Surprise to me, I could but ponder

at the portent: oft she wanders

while, in the dank and reddish haze

I often work by candle's rays.

She closes distance -- I stand, calm,

yet offer her a puzzled stare.

A crimson ribbon, with gentle care,

she presses firmly in my palm.

And then she's gone, and I'm to wonder

at all my notions torn asunder.

Nothing more I can disclose,

and nothing more is worth the mention --

and so I shall, to its repose,

subject this poem with best intention,

else on and on I'd likely ramble

and with its quality I'd gamble

(a victim of the many years

that crown my head like nettling spears,

each with a painful recollection).

The choice before me: close the distance,

or edit into non-existance,

harshly judge, avoid reflection...

Here more is written than you know:

this much I offer, Stheno.