The Reavers by Shepherd Book

Then the silken sight, uncertain, Inara through her purple curtain
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic tremors often felt before;
And yet now to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“Step away, and stop entreating entrance at her cabin door –
“It’s not for you to be entreating entrance at her cabin door.
“Leave it be; do nothing more.”

Presently my will grew stronger, hesitating then no longer,
“Mal,” said I, “and Simon, truly we can’t leave them, I implore;
`Cos the fact is they are human, and we simply cannot leave them,
Like that, hangin’ from the ceilin’; reel them out upon the floor!”
Still I dreaded what we’d see there when we opened wide the door –
Darkness there, and something more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing,
Doubting, thinking things no mortal ever dared to think to see before.
And the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token
Then the only words there spoken were the shouted words “take more!”
Jayne was scavenging already, echoing those words, “take more!”
Merely that, and nothing more.

Then into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping, somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is just the way this ship here rattles;
And the way our Jayne there prattles `bout some riches to explore –
Let my heart be still a moment while our Jayne does so explore.
It’s just the ship here, nothing more.”

Now then I try not to shudder, when with many a stench and flutter,
From there dropped the wasted bodies of the settlers to the floor.
Not the least obeisance made he, not an instant stopped or stayed he –
If Jayne had stopped and prayed he might my hope in him restore –
But just like some mindless phallus pokes he there into the stores.
Pokes and grabs, and nothing more.

Then that River girl beguiling, my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance she wore.
“Though these folk be broke and twisted, you,” I said, “are safe; we missed it.
Ghastly grim, but sure we fixed it, ain’t no reavers here no more –
Tell me what you fear so thorough? Ain’t no reavers here no more.”
Said our River, “Nevermore.”

Cold, I watched our River standing, eyes so wide, somehow expanding,
And my own heart, there demanding, that we stay this ship no more;
Yet we cannot help agreeing there to leave no human being
With no blessing before fleeing. Now they lay upon the floor;
Blood and bone are littered there upon the chamber floor.
Bless them now, and evermore.

But our River, sitting lonely on the bloody floor spoke only
That one word, as if her soul in that one word she did outpour.
Nothing further then she uttered – just stared at those folks been gutted;
And I scarcely more than muttered “Reaver kills I’ve known before.
In a moment we will leave here, or our hopes are blown before.”
Then River said, “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what she utters is nothing but her shock restored.
Caught from some alliance master, whom unmerciful disaster
Follows fast and follows faster whence her brother’s private war,
When the dirges of his hope lead him, impassioned, into war.
Not “Never, nevermore.”

But that River still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight we led her back into Serenity, and to our whore.
Then Inara’s velvet seating took her from that grisly greeting,
Chancing unto chancy meeting with that ominous ship of gore –
With that grim, insanely dark and ominous ship of gore.
Still she whispered, “Nevermore.”

Then I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the girl whose frenzied eyes now tore into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On Inara’s velvet violet lining that the ship’s lights shadowed o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining that the ship’s lights shadowed o’er
I should press on, nevermore!

Then I thought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by angels whose faint footfalls scratched upon the metal floor.
“Wretch, am I! My God hath sent thee – from these angels he hath rent thee;
Respite – respite or repent? See my yearning for this whore?
End, oh end this need! Repent! See? I must forget this curious whore!”
Said our River, “Nevermore!”

“Prophet?” Thought I, “or thing of evil? Prophet still, if girl or devil –
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this vagrant ship enchanted –
In the black, so horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore:
Are there – *are* there Reavers here, still near us? Tell me truly, I implore!”
Said our River, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” Said I, “Not of evil; prophet still, if girl or devil!
By that Heaven that bends around us – by that God I so adore –
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if our journey soon be fadin’,
If through you, a tainted maiden whom the angels come before,
Told through you, a radiant maiden, whom the angels come before!”
Said our River, “Nevermore.”

That came to be our word of parting, for then we heard the engine starting,
To send us back into the tempest and the black’s Plutonian shore.
Leave that ship’s hulk as a token of that truth thy soul hath spoken,
Reavers leave the spell unbroken, cleave the black and grieve no more;
Take the black from out thy heart to take its form outside the door.
Said our River, “Nevermore.”

And the Reavers, never quitting, still are slitting, still are slitting,
Guts of settlers lost in transit just outside Serenity’s core.
And River’s eyes have all the seeming of a see-er that is dreaming,
While the ship’s lights o’er her streaming throws a shadow on the floor;
And whose soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted Nevermore?