Not the Territory
by J. C. Runolfson



When the quest is complete and

the kitchen boy crowned,

they all want to know how he did it,

what route from one end of the kingdom to the other

confers royalty.


Without their own bands of companions brave and true,

they commission cartographers, hire lumberjacks and herbalists,

to cut down the trees of the grim forest for parchment, to

harvest the dark-stained plants of the deadly swamp for ink and

trace his path from ruined farm to ancient capital.


They make the territory the map,

mount it on the wall beside the noble crest of arms,

set it on the table among the ledger books of great estates,

follow the winding line drawn in gold with fevered fingers;

there he nearly fell off the mountain pass, there he might have drowned,

there he faced the bandits, there he slew the monster.


There is where he rescued the princess,

the old king's quicksilver daughter.

Always they linger on the spot,

as though touching paper were touching her hand,

as though hiding her prison under well-fed thumbs gives them some part

in freeing her.


Always the mapping leads them back to themselves, titled, powerful,

outside the castle where its shadow falls over them

like their pale, beringed hands falling on the flat outlines of unknown land.

If they decimated the grim forest and drained the deadly swamp,

still they would be outside.  If they tumbled the mountains, dammed up the river,

still there would be maps tracing in royal gold the path they did not take.



About the Author:

J. C. Runolfson's work has appeared in Lone Star Stories previously, as well as Goblin Fruit, The Sword Review, Sybil's Garage, and Reflection's Edge, among others.  She is an assistant editor at Flash Me Magazine, and likes to babble about books, genre tropes, and faery tales on her online journal.


Poem 2008 J. C. Runolfson.