I wrote this passage as part of the process of writing a manuscript for a fantasy novel that I coauthored with my late friend, Kimbra Wilder Gish, whom I met on Elendor MUSH, a Tolkien-based online text roleplaying game that I played on from 1994 until about ten years ago. The inspiration for the protagonist of that novel (who had the Aislin in this poem as her namesake) came from Kimbra's Elendor character.
Plague and pestilence are perils that falllike mist in the morning. As mourners dream,dawn creeps uncalled-for on clammy cheeks,over faces and foreheads freckled with sweat.Neither courage nor cowardice count against foesthat batter at bone and blistering flesh.Whether young or year-worn they yieldand are buried deep. In Redholt, prayers.
The women weep. The king despairs.
Dark fever keeps his son and heir.
Where the king has called his council together,gray heads and grim eyes gaze back unspeaking.Where the red earth rises raw over graves,the dirge is undying. For dreams of tomorrowhave melted like mist or the morning dew.But with purposeful strides the princess entersthe court. She is Aislin of the flashing eyes―both fair and tall, and near man size,whom many call both good and wise.
"Wait longer," she warns, "and this woe consumes us!Blessed and bountiful, the Bright Folk will aid us:Let us look to their learning, for their lore is deep.""It is far to the Firthlands," her father replies."Winter walls us about, whiteness unbroken,and night gnaws at day. When noon lies in shadow,dark shapes awaken, shadows unnamed,breaking the bonds that bind them in stone.Who will dare such dark roads where doom lies waiting?Whom shall I send into certain death?""I dare," the girl replied. "The blood I bear turns night aside and binds despair.”
The ruler's eyes rest on his rod-straight daughter,frowning and thoughtful. Faint-heard around thembreath catches in throats claw-gripped to silence,for high birth's a heritage harnessed to dutyby the blood of heroes. She bends her head. At last, he sighs. "Now hope and dread must coincide. I'd see you wed— but now you’ll ride."