I started writing this love story in response to the 200th wordle. To that list of 20, I added words from wordle #1 and wordle #100. (At one point, I had grandiose plans of incorporating some combination of wordles #25, #50, #75, #125, #150 and #175 as well!) Then the project got stalled; sitting in one of my writing folders. (Now mlmm is up to Wordle 226)
Thinking about this week’s mlmm Sunday writing prompt, “a story of love,” I remembered “Panegry and Iris,” and revisited the draft. With a few corrections and tweaks, this is pretty much as I left it back in August. Wordle words are in italics (some I have used more than once), with definitions for the more obscure ones at the end of the tale.
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Panegyr is a soldier; faithful to his father’s call to arms. Fair good with short and long sword; even better with map, terrain and tactics. Birthed into his father’s cadre, warship is all he knows. As he is carried off the battlefield with a grievous wound into the enemies’ encampment, he feels sure, “I will be ransomed as a skeleton, not as a son.” He curses the tactical vantage lost through obfuscation. Many of his men laid waste; others, such as he, captured. His days deliquesce into torchwood twilights.
Iris moves among the wounded in the prison hospice, bringing comfort even unto the enemy. She does not see high or low born, only men in pain. She insures all receives the same attention and daily rations, not weighted more if a broken life is worth a lord’s ransom, or less than a thin ducat.
She hovers, womanly, holding cups of water to parched lips, wipes sweat from fevered brow. As if a full physic, she sutures wounds, lances swollen blisters so the pus may drain. She changes out blood-hardened straw from palettes to ease the ache of laying.
Panegyr’s pain stalks him worse in the night, gnawing away his resolve. He imagines the starscape wheeling above the castle keep. Thinks upon Leonia, the woman destined for his marriage bed. He sees the aureole of her golden hair as she playfully stretches up onto her toes to kiss him.
And yet, these reflections be insignificant. For, to his disgrace, he oft times squeezes hard down on fingers of the woman-foe, as a spasms of pain break over his body. She can distract with stories, her voice even softer than her hand: “I am the one child of the keep. From bassinet to maidenhood, I have dwelt within. There I do stargaze, watch clouds dance with mistress moon.” And on she croons, drawing him in as a much skilled courtesan might.
Iris performs her ritual lavation, sluicing her body with warm waters bubbling from the castle’s mineral spring. Washing away the hospice effluvium. But he skulks about her mind. She imagines it is Panegyr’s hands, not a stream of water, caressing her thirsty skin. She sees his naked body, traces his scars, new and old, as they snake over muscles, sinew and bone. To be thus enwrapped in his arms . . . She does not know the precise moment he became the shape of her heart. She shakes herself back to the terrible reality. He is the enemy: his life warship; his armies ravish women; torture prisoners for pleasure only. It is fair well he leaves soon, ransom exchange agreed upon in price and place. “I must recant this over fondness,” she resolves.
Meantime, in the waiting hours before the exchange, he finds his mind turning to Iris. Underneath her verecund demeanor, he finds so much to dwell upon. They have talked long into the nights. All of his life is now under scrutiny: “She challenges most of what I know to be the true and customary way of things. Do I the right to send men to slaughter because they are low born and thus liege? Is respect due because of birth, or because of character? What of peace and politics? Am I now a xenolith and my life a simulacrum? Am I so mutable in affection for fair Leonia that her memory, her scent, her touch is evanescent?”
Iris shutters the windows of her room and lilts an ancient song of parting. As if sketching in air, her words create a translucent tapestry, woven of the hopes and tears of her foremothers. Patient women, then, who waited, keeping faith of lovers’ safe return. “I could not bear the weight of those empty hours,” she reflects, “that terrible deafening stillness.”
“I will not be carried out as I was carried in.” So, Panegyr walks from the hospice door, the world seeming brighter, even though she had casements kept open for light and air. He is greeted in the forecourt by three of his men fellow “guests” in the keep. Later, he will deeply embrace his comrades. For, now, they stand as strong soldiers, never acknowledging defeat. Panegyr searches the gathered crowd for her, a glance before he is forever gone. He then notices another solider, head down, eyes averted, slip in among his men being released; this one wears stained livery not assigned to his cadre or family. “Good, then,” he thinks. “An additional beneficiary of the enemy king’s largesse.”
Panegyr does not stumble across the courtyard despite his wounds. Upon reaching the prisoners’ wagon, he is assisted up by his men for his legs can no longer support his weight. The fourth man climbs up lastly, turning his back as he takes his seat. “Curious fellow, to be so shamed by this,” he thinks. “I hope he is not traitor, craven or fraud.” His last view of her world is through a delirium of pain; she is forever lost to him.
The exchange happens proximate to the site of the captures where his brother’s horse shakes its head, impatient. “Soon, Charger, soon. I hear their trumpets.” He glances over at the ones to be exchanged. “Lucky for father’s purse strings that we came upon these,” he thinks. “Pity they need be treated so fine; but damaged goods do not fetch so high a price as my brother’s release.”
The captured lady and her women huddle against the glances of their guards, full expecting to be yet set upon and ravished. Breath held as they, too, hear the clear sound of trumpets rising against the morning sky. “Soon,” she whispers to her freighted attendants, “soon we will be free; away from underneath the weight of this oppressive captivity.”
He tries not to cry out when the wagon wheel stumbles over a rock. “Soon,” his captain-at-arms says, steading him, “Your father’s trumpeters now enunciate clear and precise.” As the wagon shudders forward, a slight smile dances across the lips of the fourth person who thinks, “Soon,” as well. “Soon I shall l be where I should.”
Here, then is a tale of love; how some, without call or hope, become the shape of our hearts. And thus entwined, we will risk all we know to join with them in the unknown.
panegyr: a public speech or published text in praise of someone or something.
deliquesce/deliquescent: tending to melt or dissolve
obfuscate: to make obscure or unclear
aureole: a circle of light or brightness surrounding something
effluvium: an unpleasant or harmful odor, secretion, or discharge.
verecund: bashful; modest
xenolith: rock fragment; hardened; out of place
simulacrum: an unsatisfactory imitation or substitute.
mutable: liable to change
evanescent: vanishing; fading away; fleeting
mlmm wordle #200 words: sketch; obfuscate; stars; hours; underneath; evanescent; verecund; arms; forever; one; break; lost; bring; patience; capture; softly; faith; soldier; more; weight