So I started thinking about what might have happened between the rescue in the original poem and the many-years-later ending, and thought I found a way through. And images kept coming to me as I thought, which was helpful. Despite her modesty, oxoniensis did her usual stellar job of betaing, and that was that. So here's the poem I wrote, featuring Laura and Lizzie: They are not Before and After. They are not a sequence. They are a force, together.
"Like honey dripping to a waiting mouth"
Many a morn and dewy even,
On top of downy cream, unfading
Lay raspberries, cherries,
Succulent and bursting,
As if they still were releasing
Their juices on Lizzie's tender skin:
Colours of bruises sunken in.
Laura watched her with a sharp-eyed gaze,
Watched Lizzie bend to sweep the house,
Stiff with lingering echoes of pain,
With tingling fingers ply her needle,
With aching arms knead cakes of wheat.
Laura did her work in silence,
Stopped from doing more than her part
By the one who owned the whole of her heart.
Laura saw it all with eyes of green –
Like a leaf near sweetest perfume furled,
Like moss's damp, warm velvet nap,
Like the grass that through her toes curled,
Like the topmost branches of a tree,
Reaching high above the world.
In the deep descending darkness,
Two brave candles set a handspan apart
Showed Laura her sister's drooping head,
One golden curl dropping onto Lizzie's art,
Even white stitches in fine white cloth,
A modest maiden's fitting garb,
Like snow softly blanketing the orchard
Where the winking goblin men had plucked
Their shining harvest for her torture.
Lizzie's marked skin was fever-hot,
And Laura touched her not for fear of pain,
So bade her sister lie abed
With voice as soft as falling rain.
Tucked together in one bed,
Gold catching gold across the pillow,
They lay – one restored and one besmirched,
As the wind began to blow
And howl around their house.
Like a queen's cupped hands they lay,
Two slender branches of one birch.
In the moonlight, Laura looked her fill
At her sweet sister, who had braved much ill,
And saw her smudged with colour.
The goblins' fruit she had long sucked clean
From that white skin, and seen
Their hues spring up from bruises,
Marks of the goblins' wanton abuses,
And Lizzie lay like the dead,
Or as if she were a book to be read:
All the anger, all the rage,
Writ large as if in ink on virgin page.
Lizzie's lids fluttered in distress,
No dreams were sweet inside her head;
Laura caught one glimpse of her hazy eyes,
Blind and helpless in their bed.
Blue like the crocus before its yawn,
Like the bird that flies into the dawn,
Like the sky where the sun runs his course,
Like water licking at the island's shores.
Unseeing now as they'd been before,
When Laura had blithely strayed and lingered,
Eager to sample the goblins' wares;
Laura had rounded her eyes, Lizzie had shut hers,
Running for safety back to the furze.
Now Laura's voracious gaze took in
The ruin of Lizzie's tender skin –
She read with the speed of wild horses on the plain,
Grasped with the skill of eagles swooping down,
Devoured the knowledge as she twice had the fruit,
And burned as if to do it all again.
And when the sun tore through the night,
Golden light played on Lizzie's once-pale skin,
Dancing like some half-crazed flame,
Entangled with shadows, a gossamer touch,
Like honey dripping to a waiting mouth.
"Listen!" Laura spoke, the word dropping into the hush of their bed,
"Listen, sweet sister, and hasten to mend."
"Ah, but I have not forgotten Jeanie,
Or what was wrought by the much and many
That she sought," sombre Lizzie said.
"'Twas I who planted flowers by her grave,
Flowers unblossoming, undone by the goblins' wicked art.
So must I be content to be now; I have played my part."
"Nay, Lizzie," spoke Laura, aglow with the spark
Of love triumphant and chastened,
Her words tripping forth as she hastened
To win her sister's life once more from the dark.
"Your part is not merely mine in reverse;
If I run headlong, must you stand still?
It is not for ill but for good that we work.
One to dare, one to save – 'tis a tale half-told,
And one we have often sung of old."
Lizzie's brow slipped to her sister's soft cheek,
Seeking some meet and fragrant shelter.
Laura's strong arms gathered her up and held her
Soft and light as eiderdown.
"One to dare, and one to save:
Fitting for the two of us,
As I look and linger, desire and wonder,
Hunger for the wider world."
As Laura spoke, around her finger she twirled
A lock of Lizzie's golden hair, each silken strand
Glowing warm against her hand:
Glossy and bright and sleek as fur,
Blazing like a beacon calling ships safely home.
"But you, sweet sister, have you not thought
What your bravery has bought?
More than my life, more than my cares –
If you would save when I would dare,
Then falls it to me to comprehend
The larger truth of what was done,
And your next part must be to mend."
"Laura, Laura, the words you speak
Lack the charms of the goblins' purrs and hisses,
And cannot knit bent bones together,
Nor soothe spent skin with even ruby kisses.
I saw no cause to look upon them,
The wondrous, evil merchant men,
Till you were crumbling into dust,
Dwindling as each thread of life was stripped away,
And I loathed what was there before me,
Cruel clawed hands that rent and tore me,
And longed to see your face again,
Whole and clean, loved and mine –
On that alone my eyes would feast.
Sweet sister, I did.
But unhappy would I be to know myself
Always trailing, always second, always one step behind."
With those words breathed on her skin, Laura turned over –
Like water gathering in a wave,
Like a bud opening bright to a new plane of glory,
Like brookside reeds bowing when the wind sings,
Like the worm bursting from sleep with newfound wings –
And lay flat on her back, pulling atop her
The one she wished most to save.
Brow to brow and breast to breast,
Locked together in one nest,
As sweetly close as if bound by rings.
"Sink into me, Lizzie,
Drink of my strength, and hear me now.
When I sought the goblins' wares,
Their fruit was a revel on my tongue,
Wondrous sweet and ever luscious,
Overwhelming me with flavour,
Yet still I thought of you –
Wanted to offer to your smiling mouth
This magic taste of the sweet warm south.
Deaf was I to their songs and spells,
My feet danced no neat figures,
And I wore none of their fragrant flowers;
Do you not recall I made a promise
That all I tasted should be yours as well,
That together we two should feast
Until the sun rose strong in the east?
No sister had poor lost Jeanie,
To guard her from temptations choice and many,
To win her back from withering death,
To restore her living breath.
The thought of you kept me guarded close,
Bought me space all unsuspected;
The goblin men in their sly triumphing
Knew not that through that night their wicked winding
Would fail to capture every part,
Their enchantments were not wholly binding.
But you, oh Lizzie,
So full of artless craft,
Would only take what you had bought,
And did not give them what they sought,
The completion of their half-struck bargain –
The tear, the curl, your very self –
No fair exchange you made that day,
Stealing their squandered prize away,
Bringing the poison to my feet,
Those fruits all ripened by some cunning art,
Bitter from sweet, meet indeed.
Because we were two, and not only one,
Wearing each the other in her heart's core,
The goblins' gifts would not suffice,
And lost and fractured they could not do more.
Thus let their fruit be banished,
No trace of its deep colours staining
The skin of the one they meant to punish
For abstaining, and bargaining, and winning the day."
Then upward straining Laura stretched her neck
And pressed kisses to Lizzie's tender skin,
Her fingers threading through fine strands of gold,
As brightly burning as of old.
"Sink into me, and drink of me,"
Clear-eyed Laura said, "for I think of you,
And thought of you, and that has saved me.
O, Lizzie, Lizzie, you amaze me."
Lizzie dropped a tear more rare than pearl,
Twisting to shift to warmly curl
At her sister's side, where she was meant to be,
Content at last that their twin band
Was not split between flower and fruit, first and last,
But was best expressed, as those kisses said,
As kinship, hand clasping hand.
Lizzie mended, her tender skin unmarred,
By love and knowledge doubly blessed,
And with her sister ventured out to the glen,
Strong and certain, kind and watchful,
Neither heedless and greedy of pleasure,
Neither joyless in strict sobriety,
But taking a shared and thankful delight
In each bliss of day and joy of night,
Mirth and sorrow twining thereafter,
Gold and gold in one shining braid.
They never saw more the goblin men,
Nor never heard them by the chattering brook,
Their strange melodies cutting through the water;
'Twas the goblin men who, anxious, hastening,
Hearkened their pointed ears, distressed
By the harmonious sounds of the sisters' laughter,
And could nevermore find their wicked rest.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.
This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/433921.html.