MARROW: CHAPTER SEVEN, SCENE FIVE
Updated: Feb 11
SECTION TWO: THE HALL OF ONE HUNDRED PETALS
In the Fifth Era of the Paltran Emperors
Late Winter of Year Forty-Three
Winter of Year Forty-Four
WHAT OCCURRED DURING THE FIRST PHASE OF EXAMINATIONS?
The Twelfth Day of Spring, Year Forty-Four of the Fifth Era of Paltran Emperors
I couldn’t help but smile. Grevs was one of the few poets for whom Lady Primrose cast off all apprehension and eulogised as long as we would let her carry on. The Lady of the Reeds was by far her most beloved poem; she taught us all three versions to demonstrate what damage an unskilled hand could do to an original masterwork. I inhaled deeply to rid the Vice Fellow’s caustic air from my lungs and began my final recitation.
As dimmed the fires of the Forge there lived a young LORD bright
No luck had he in legacy nor in his prayers at night
DIVINE MOTHÈR, o GODDESS good, of war and death I dream
DILETARS sends me visions of the blade and axe agleam
For love, I pray; this I must ken before my youth disowns:
is it my fate to solus die without a son my own?
Inside Her temple every day went our expectant LORD
but years crept past without rejoin and passion drew his sword
He threw Her icon to the floor and scattered wide its dust
then as he slept, inside his head, our GODDESS bared disgust
Malevolence, Malevolence, thou hath enragèd Me
No mortal WIFE shalt thou e’re know nor love’s embrace know thee
For beauty all thy days lament; for beauty, be undone
Thy legacy shall end with me, thou cold and vicious son!
Through weeks and months and seasons’ throes our LORD bid scholars write
to find him one soft maiden who could heal the GODDESS’ blight
Upon the crest of Summer warm a SCHOLAR made reply
and told our LORD of spirits dark whose Essence might defy
Go travel thee through Qoda Marsh and thou shalt know thy BRIDE
if thou canst find the HAG therein whose knowledge can provide
so long as thou art true enough to give her sacrifice.
With thee shall I for Qoda ride to aid thee with advice.
When Autumn came so came our LORD and SCHOLAR to the Marsh
They searched through days and waters dark and Winter’s cold so harsh
Though once they found the HAG therein she fiercely questioned him,
a deal they reached to end the blight despite her price most grim.
Go find for me six spearlike reeds, nine berries of the dwale
an elder leaf, a heap of rush, and single silver bead
With these bald offerings for ye a BRIDE I shall unveil
But ye shan’t leave before ye sow my fields with rich seed
Our LORD performed her bidding swift and from the murky mud
arose a MAIDEN dark of hair and darker yet of blood
Her eyes the Moons, her skin the Void, her hair a flowered veil
Our LORD rejoiced in victory: the blight had not prevailed!
O prithee ken, my silver moon and my bright-twinkling star
to me thou art worth thrice thy weight in gold and cobalt bars
O ne’er shalt I thy love betray shouldst thou accept mine heart
and ardent thine own love thou grants before our lives depart.
Unto our LORD our LADY gave her deepest gratitude
for his command had brought her forth into the Orb bedewed.
Her LORD embraced, she whispered words of poetry so sweet
that swiftly he did kneel down and humbly kiss her feet.
O lover! Thou enraptured me the moment our eyes met.
‘Tis thee I love with all mine heart and ne’er shall I regret
My lover! Deep I long for thee, and now we shall depart
so that our love might remain just ‘til we bewed our hearts.
My words vanished into silence. Serkun Kurdrars’s version was just over half the length of the original, but it lacked the brutality which made Grevs’ work so powerful. Indeed, Serkun Kurdrars had accomplished little in trying to improve it. Simply rearranging a few couplets here and there, cutting out a few stanzas, and altering the ending—to adverse affect, as anyone with any love for the original would say—did not a better poem make.
The Vice Fellow stood. “Why is this tale such an important piece of our cultural canon that any uzņika simply must maintain it within her repertoire?”
I met his contemptuous tone with placidity. “Grevs’ work promotes good faith and piety. This work is the pinnacle of cautionary tales against blasphemy, disobedience of the Divine Household’s teaching, and the dangers of consorting with spirits. The Lord may have circumvented the Divine Mother’s curse and made himself a wife, but at great cost. The blight was never broken, only delayed.”
“What significance did the materials with which the Hag created the Lady hold when the poem was written?”
If an uzņika had earned the right to call herself such without having gained a deep and broad understanding of flora language, something had gone awry. I raised my chin. “Reeds are emblematic of spirits. The sound produced by reed flutes is said to attract them, and the Lady of the Reeds is undoubtedly a spirit of some kind. Nightshade, or “berries of the dwale,” evokes danger. The elder leaf, most probably a reference to marshelder, represents fertility and plentifulness. Silver was once so costly the Lord might not have been able to afford much himself, and therefore elicits a sense of value. Altogether, the Hag’s materials paint a portrait of otherworldliness, dangerous beauty, and desirability.”
“In a single word, what is the prevailing theme of this work?”
His eyebrows crashed together and his face so strained the veins in his forehead rose beneath his paper-thin flesh. “Empowerment,” he sputtered as if the word were poisonous. “You seem so certain of this, Lady Dahlia, that I simply must hear your acumen as to how it is possible that the intended theme of Serkun Kurdrars’ abridgement is empowerment.”
“When the Lord and Lady return to his home—”
“Why,” the Vice Fellow roared, “are you citing the unabridged version of this work when you have been explicitly assigned to interpret the abridged version? If your patron commanded you to recite Vouvare’s The Voyage would you instead tell him Nightfall on Pirpinisai?” Before I could reply, he carried on, “I will ask one more time and one more time alone, Lady Dahlia, what the theme of the abridged version of this poem by Serkun Kurdrars Aimaj Bleiklins is.”
I spoke through grit teeth. “The Lady of the Reeds as abridged by Serkun Kurdrars Aimaj Bleiklins, in fact, symbolises arrogange. The arrogance of the Lord and the Scholar who defied the decree of the Divine Mother and thought themselves so high above Divine Law that they could violate it in pursuit of that which was never meant to be known to them — true love.”
The Vice Fellow seethed. “And that will black seal for you. Generous, frankly, considering your impressive comprehension deficit. Away with you. Be at the amphitheatre within the Solar Court at midday.”
I swept out of the library with my eyes locked firmly ahead. Laude perked up when he saw me reenter the waiting room, but as he opened his mouth to greet me I furiously shook my head. Storming outside, cursing Adgarus Majai Badaitis all the way, I made no effort to quell the rage within my heart. He knew what he was doing when he assigned that poem. He didn’t even look at the slip. If Lady Primrose hadn’t taught it to us, my chances at becoming a real uzņika could have slipped out of my grasp like fistfuls of sand. Grevs wrote that piece when he was nineteen years old and it didn’t see the light of day for a decade after he had passed. It was not commonly known. It was not reasonable. It was nothing more than a pathetic attempt at putting me in my place. He was the expert, after all. It would be easy to scribble the work down on a blank slip and say it was there all along, and why should anyone believe me? I would have been humiliated. Humiliated.
Having stormed all the way back to the Hall of One Hundred Petals locked deep in battle with the throes of fury, I slammed open my door, shimmied out of my morning costume—tainted now that its fabric had touched the same air as him—and dressed again for the Solar Court.
When Artis heard of what I’d said—and there was no doubt in my mind that he wouldn’t, if he hadn’t already—I shuddered to think of what he would say in reply. At least I had tried to control the conversation this time. At least I’d made an effort to do what he asked of me. But, no matter what, I knew that for him, my best efforts would never, ever be enough.
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