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The Southron by Shayne Parkinson

At first I scarcely rouse myself to heed
The ranting of the smoke-wreathed temple priests
They cry to us of duty, and the call
To fight the evil of the northern beasts.

Men of the north who worship demons foul,
Their gods for blood of innocents do bay,
Grey wizards feed the altars with babes’ blood
To please the demons; so the priests do say.

Priests read aloud from crumbling parchment rolls
And call it truth; no lore have I to show,
But dusty wisdom hid in dusty scrolls
Compasses not the true things that I know.

The truths that priests and mages cannot grasp:
A seed lies dead, then tries to gain the skies,
The child that curls my finger in his fist,
The fire that kindles warm in Rana’s eyes.

My Rana’s eyes grow wide at priest’s grim words,
She trembles as she holds the baby near
And grips my arm; I whisper "heed them not,"
And smile away my woman’s needless fear.

"These wizards are too far away to fear,
If indeed they walk the world of men."
And safe back in our hut I toss babe high
Above my head, and catch him safe again

The black curls like his mother’s leap and dance,
My son laughs in delight to be tossed so.
He claps his chubby hands, his face alight
And Rana’s eyes are once again aglow.

The Lord who owns the hard-earthed sun-scorched land
From which we draw our grudging livelihood
Says he will raise a bold and holy band
To fight these wizards in the cause of good.

All those who join him of their own free will
Will win relief from seven years of rent.
I have no call to fight; yet life goes ill
In hard years when the crop goes all to rent.

Is man a creature that can feed on dirt?
Do sun and air alone give life and soul?
Lords give the name of "peasant" to our kind
As if to name a thing explains the whole.

Babe nestled in the crook of my left arm
With other arm I draw my woman near.
And Rana leans her head against my chest
And whispers, scarce a voice to reach my ear:

"Be sure to come again by Summer's end,
The new babe will be here before we reap."
She takes my hand to press against the swell
Of belly. And I feel the new life leap.

He wears a scarlet cloak and plumèd helm
And calls himself a General now, Lord Khume.
A mighty soldier he does think himself,
A fat man crowned with foolish nodding plume.

We march on weary feet for countless days
And pass beyond the distant mountain range
Who would have thought the world to be so large?
A foreign land where even stars are strange.

I used to think the hell that some men fear
Was but a tale of priests to frighten fools
Into a dumb obedience. But hell
Is in this world: the war where men are tools.

This northern land has no more green or blue.
Two colours only: black and grisly red
As blood churns into dismal sapping mud.
Wind bites as sharp as any sword of dread.

I find a foreign soldier with a wound
Full-blown within his breast a crimson rose.
His raddled eyes find mine, and need no words
To beg release from agony’s death-throes.

Too near a task to need a sword or spear:
His throat's as quickly cut as any lamb.
Is this the evil I was sent to kill?
A boy scarce old enough to leave his dam.

I step back clumsily; the sudden mist
Must be from sweat that runs into my eyes.
For surely I would waste no salt of tears
Or brief regret on foe I should despise.

And pain explodes within me like a storm
Scream rises: my own voice strange to my mind
As out my heart comes bursting from my breast
The spear head of a foe’s thrust from behind.

My eyes are clouding, but I see it clear
A glow in Rana’s eyes despite her cares
She rocks one babe and thinks of one to come,
And knows not that the widow’s sons she bears.

–Shayne Parkinson, a.k.a. Kimi

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