THE DANCER, by  Susan Carlson


A dancer haunts my dreams.

In Enzabar she saved me with one

sharp jerk of her chin during

a routine of exquisite softness.

The man who crept behind me

went to his gods screaming,

as all cowards go.


She was never a coward.

When I stole her, she held her

tied hands to my blade and helped

me saw her free.  Her fingers

shaped signs in a hidden language.

Her tongue was cut from her,

so only her body spoke.


Her owners were fat men

who used coin as shields

instead of making friends with blood.

She lingered over the corpses

I had already made.  I do not know

what god she praised with her cutting.


With me she rode across

fractured plains and sailed the

reeking seas.  Before, I only wet

my blades for coin.  No longer.

She smelled corruption like rot in a wound —

more fat men with fat purses,

more wrists to free from rough rope.


For ten years we culled those who

owned and sold the defeated.

We earned titles for it:

the Sword and the Silence,

the Jackals of Enzabar, the

Quiet Lady and her Doom.

What name she was first given,

I never knew.


A cup dipped in the sea will never

empty it, even in a thousand years.

There is no end to evil.  Sell-swords

know it and count their gold.  Not her.

In the work camps and arenas,

the pleasure-houses and mines,

they whispered of the Quiet Lady,

a bloody goddess of final hope.


But we could not save all.

New warlords rose snarling

from the blood of fallen fathers.

Always, there were too many victims

to save.  We lit a hundred pyres

in a dozen lands.  Her dark eyes dulled

as years passed.  Her fingers’

swift conversation slowed.


In Enzabar, it was done.  A callow

boy-lord with guards like mountains

caught her when she should have

slipped like smoke from his grasp.

Witch, they called her.

Iron manacles cut me to bone

while they tested how loudly

the Silence might scream.


Her fingers shaped no farewells

in smoke before they stilled.

Only then did the slavers claim

my eyes and leave me with

her remains.  With her ashes,

I painted oaths on my skin to the

darkest of gods.  I did not die.


A dancer haunts my dreams,

Unbent, skin gleaming, still bright

with hopes of bloody vengeance.

Her mouth offers lingering kisses,

her fingers sharp commands.

Keep your oaths, they say.


I will know her killers by

their scent when I find them.

They will go to their gods screaming,

as all cowards go.



 Susan Carlson resides in a constantly foggy stretch of San Francisco, California.  Her poetry has appeared in ​Strange Horizons ​ and ​Liminality ​ .  When neither writing nor reading, she’s either wrangling cats or watching too many cooking competition shows. 

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