SF Snippet #2: In Which a Poetry War Begins

All right, my loves. Many of you on Facebook were looking for something happy with Unicorns, rocks, and aliens. So here you are: Unicorns who are aliens (their proper name is Drusav – please don’t call them unicorn to their face, it’s an insult), and rocks will come in after this first scene. I haven’t yet finished this short story, but I think you may like the bits I have got so far. I’ll be posting them throughout this week. Let us begin at the beginning, then…


Wars begin with accidents, although they are never accidental. This war was no different. In a place as large as the Kahlnevorehn foothills, with so many thousands of Drusav scattered like so many atoms in random groupings, the two poets who began this war should never have chanced upon each other at just the instant when one was making a remark the other would have no choice but to answer.

Nahkorah started it. That much is agreed: for all that Disahnahle delivered the first blow, Nahkorah is the one who bears the responsibility.

She was discussing the poet’s art with a sonneteer from the western coast who had become a cherished if rarely encountered friend for a particularly outstanding line rendered years before. She said, “I have yet to meet a Mountain Cousin who can extemporize. They spend a ridiculous amount of time chipping away on a few meager lines only they can find meaning in. We may as well admit that the blood we share has diverged too far: we have nothing in common now.”

This was a desultory discussion between intimates, and should have made no lasting impression on anyone. Had Disahnahle not been emerging from a side path onto the main road just then, there would have been a nod and a murmur of agreement, and talk would have turned to other things. Nothing more would have happened. The Plains Cousins and Mountain Cousins would have continued on their own ways, meeting a few times a year in this in-between place to make decisions on those things that pertain to all who live on the same world, and otherwise inhabiting their own comfortable, separate spheres.

But Disahnahle did emerge just then, sunlight through leaves dappled on his hide mottled like a weathered basalt stone, and he saw what Nahkorah said. He stopped, throwing his head up, nostrils flaring and tail going stiff for a moment.

Subsequent legends like to speak of the noble gleam of his horn at that moment, and the wind tossing his rich black mane. The truth is that there was no wind, and his horn was dulled from years of carving his words into stone walls. He was dusty from travel, short, burly, and not at all the dashing figure described. But one thing is true: he was the best living Mountain Cousin poet, and he was quite annoyed.

He stepped out into the road, a little to the side as any polite person would be but not so far aside that Nahkorah could miss him. She glanced his way. “Ten thousand years of blood,” he said, which made her stop. And then he began speaking with those spare gestures that until this time had seemed to the Plains Cousins a failure of language.

Our blood

Is forever entwined in this vine of two.

We haunt the same axis

Side by side as one.

All existence favors

The many surrounding the center.”

Nahkorah, despite what subsequent reports have said, threw back her head and laughed. Her mane did ripple, gleaming like sunlight woven with moonbeams. “A wonderful sentiment,” she said, “but no one could dance those words.”

“Words for cliffsides are danced in a different way,” Disahnahle said with stiff dignity, and then he stalked away.

Even there, it might have ended, but that spring there were many people at the convention, and a good number of them were mingling along the road. The poem passed among them like flames exchanged between dry grasses. By the end of the day, divisions had sprung up between those who believed Nahkorah had collapsed Disahnahle’s edifice and those who thought Disahnahle had gotten the best of the exchange. Both sides, of course, claimed victory. Those who remained undecided generally agreed with the sonneteer, who said sadly at the end of the convention, “Cliffs generally have no place on a plain, and I suppose that is how we should leave it.” He looked about the low, rolling hills in the slanted light of sunset, and shuddered. “Otherwise, we could end up with nothing but foothills.”

No one wanted foothills, of course. But no one could simply leave it at that, least of all Nahkorah, who left the convention with the urge for an apology and an explanation digging at her flank like a bog fly. Bruised pride led her to answer in verse, and that led to unintended consequences.


Copyright 2015 by Dana Hunter. All rights reserved.


Image shows a statue of a rearing unicorn atop a cliff.
Irish unicorn statue courtesy Kglavin (CC BY-SA 3.0)
SF Snippet #2: In Which a Poetry War Begins

6 thoughts on “SF Snippet #2: In Which a Poetry War Begins

  1. rq

    I keep picturing this as one giant poetry slam going out of control, but I suppose the reality (yes?) is far more tragic than that.
    Do the Drusav have prehensile hoofs? Or at least opposing hooflets? Prehensile tails? I’m so curious as to how they do things that require dexterity in fine motor skills of some kind, because it’s probably not magic (seeing as how they’re not actually unicorns).

    and he saw what Nahkorah said

    then he began speaking with those spare gestures that until this time had seemed to the Plains Cousins a failure of language

    Love these little clues to their method of communication.

  2. 3

    I thought at first the line about seeing what was said was an error, but of course you knew where you were going with that :)
    Very nice, would love to read more.
    In slightly tangential topic drift – have you read Birth of the Firebringer by Meridith Ann Pierce? I highly recommend it. An older young adult novel (1985) with some surprisingly deep and unexpected topics. And, you know, unicorns, griffons, wyverns, pans, and singing, war, and romance….

  3. 4

    Yes. Its nice and I like it and would love to read more but I’d also love a bit more description of the Drusav and their environment please although I understand it can be tricky to work that in naturally.

  4. 6

    Plus I guess its a good thing to raise questions like that in us readers minds especially if the answers are coming soon so we don’t get too frustrating waiting for them. Would certainly read on to find out.

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