A Sprig of Rosemary
by Yasmin M.
This story was inspired by Ophelia (of "Hamlet") and the Storyteller Challenge. I don't know if it really fits the parameters of the challenge, though. The eagle-eyed may notice a homage here and there. ;) Feedback is, as always, adored.
Rated PG-13 for one small swear word.
Disclaimer: The X-Men belongs to Marvel. Though they're borrowed without permission, I am making no money off this story. Please don't sue. Original characters invented by me are, of course, mine. Use them without my permission and I'll rip your trachea out.
Storm stood in the cynosure of the spotlight, pride and determination straightening her tired shoulders. A crown of violets circled her sweat-soaked hair, giving the woman an air of almost tragic nobility. She held up a hand, commanding the attention of the restless X-Men.
"When morn comes, my friends,
we will battle once more.
For though Justice may close her stony eyes,
We shall not yield to those who thirst for blood.
Would you make a mockery of our dream?
A drop of life spilt on this cold, worn earth,
Is worthy of a better epitaph, than
'I have surrendered sword, soul and dream,
To the heirs of the kingdom of the blind.'"
There she faltered, then bravely soldiered on, "I cannot promise you..."
"Stop! Time out for you, Jonnie." Nasir Jaleluddin groaned, running a hand through his black hair. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't you say you've memorized Storm's speech? And I distinctly remember you saying that you were word-perfect."
Joanne Blacksnake, aka "Storm", looked mortified. She cherished a reputation of having an exceptional memory, and the lapse was a blow to her pride. "I'm sorry, I thought I had it right," she apologized.
"You *thought* you had it right..."
"Aw, lay off it, Mr Director." Tristan, acting as Nightcrawler in the play, gave a cocky grin. "'Cage of Blood' won't be opened for, like, another four months. We'll have plenty of time for the spit and polish."
Nasir glared at him. The Neo-Renaissance Revivalists were, on the whole, a fun if devoted group. The problem was hangers-on like Tristan, who jumped on the wagon solely because they thought it was the flavour of the month. The director had actually heard some clueless bastard saying, "The style and glamour's cool, man. I'm gonna join NRR." He fumed. If Tristan wasn't such a good actor...
"I think it's about time we have a break, anyway," said Luke. The quiet young man was perfect to play Cannonball, a part which turned out to be difficult to cast. His acting experience was almost nil, but Nasir thought his raw talent was shaping up nicely after a few months of training.
"I second that," Jonnie sighed. She concentrated for a few seconds, and her white hair turned into its natural brown colour. "I don't know 'bout anyone else, but I'm shot to hell."
The rest of the cast quickly gave a fervent agreement.
"Fine," Nasir assented, not entirely unwilling. Quite a number of the actors were still in college, he reminded himself. They could not possibly devote 24 hours a day to the play. "We'll have thirty minutes of break," he said, and was greeted with a ragged cheer. He smiled faintly at them.
Cassandra, otherwise known as "Rogue", flew towards the seats with her usual restrained grace. Telekinetically snagging her satchel on the way, she landed next to Nasir. "Sandwich?" she offered.
"As long as it's not that anchovy paste muck you gave me yesterday."
"Fear not," she grinned. "It's salmon paste this time."
He looked at her evenly. "You know, I *like* salmon sushi. I want to go on liking them."
"Pah. You're such a grouch." The redhead laughed at his pained expression. "Relax, I was joking. I've brought turkey mayo."
"My everlasting gratitude, O Mistress."
They partook of the sandwiches in companionable chatter, watching the stagehands rearrange the props under the critical eye their designer, a slim-built man by the name of Alexander Cheng. He had thrown Neo-Renaissance conventions out of the window, going for a minimalist look. "All the better to focus their attention on the characters," he argued -- and won.
"Do you think it was worth it?" Cassandra asked suddenly. Unconsciously, she traced the X on her suitably battered jacket. "Them fighting through the siege, I mean. Out of a dozen, less than half lived. And that's not counting the ones who died in the initial attack."
Nasir leaned back in his seat, imagining the legendary battle with Sentinels and government troops. "It's not what I think that matters, Cass. It's whether *they* thought it was worth the deaths." He glanced at her. "The siege bought them attention from all over the world. It made them folk heroes."
"Homo sapiens would have rapidly evolved into homo sapiens superior, anyway. It's been, what, three hundred years? Homo sapiens is practically an endangered species nowadays." A frown etched a line on her forehead, making her look older than her twenty-five years. "Besides, think of the waste! They could have given themselves up. I'm sure they regretted not doing so."
"We'll never know, will we?" He waved the script. "As you said, it has been three hundred years. What *do* we know of them? From the history books we learned their exploits and the cause they fought for. We don't know who they are, not really. Who's to say that the characterization in the play is accurate? We call them Storm, Wolverine, Shadowcat... whatever. But people are more than fancy codenames, X-Men or not. Storm's real name was Ororo Munroe, and most people haven't even heard of that. I can't help but think that what we're seeing and reading is not an image, not a real person."
Cassandra said quietly, "I never knew you felt so strongly about it."
"One of my ancestors was a mutant in those days. Judging from the entries in his journals, it seems that he thought the X-Men were a nuisance. He even wrote that they'd do more harm than good for mutants. I don't think of them in the same way, but it's obvious that there's more than one way to perceive the X-Men."
Turning in surprise, the two beheld a mortified Rachel Zahn -- the actress who was playing Shadowcat. "I'm so sorry," she babbled. "I didn't mean to eavesdrop, I was just walking down here and--"
"It's okay," the actress said kindly, elbowing Nasir who choked down a sarcastic comment. "I take it you're interested?"
She blushed even more fiercely. "Well... yea. I know them, of course, but not more than what my textbooks say. And then there's the play itself." Rachel raised an eyebrow. "I just don't get some of the symbolism. What's with the rosemary sprig Storm gives to Cannonball in the end? Why does she wear a garland of violets, anyway?"
"Violets are the flowers of faithfulness." A lanky, gray-haired man took a seat next to the director, giving Rachel a farmboyish smile. "You should read something about the language of flowers, young lady. It's almost obscure nowadays, but still fascinating." To Nasir, he said, "Still trying to yell them into a lean, mean acting machine?"
"You have *no* idea," he replied sourly.
Cassandra grinned. "Oh, don't mind him, Guthrie. If he knew you were coming to see your own play, I'm sure he would've taken out the hoop and whip."
"I resent that!"
Guthrie Smith's blue eyes sparkled merrily. "I'll have to pass, thanks. I just came here to throw rocks at the rehearsal, not watch a circus."
"Umm... Mr Smith?" Rachel asked timidly. "Why did Storm give Cannonball the rosemary before she died?"
"This sprig of rosemary I
leave to you.
Carry it not on your tired shoulders,
But in the fertile garden of your heart
where mighty oak may shelter it from beasts,
For as long as its hopeful beauty blooms
do not weep over my final journey."
There was a slight glimmer in his eyes as he recited the lines, though his smile attempted to be as cheerful as ever.
"It signifies remembrance."
This is the first time I've tried writing ANYTHING in iambic pentameter, so please look kindly on my effort. :) I also apologise for the Marvel-ized science.
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