The Red KnightA Poem by David Lewis Paget
Go for a ride with The Red Knight, if you dare. 1600 lines, and not for children.
At Carleon, some ancient King
Once vowed a tourney, dawn to dusk
And drew three hundred noble knights
From either side the river Usk.
Three hundred noble knights, and they
With each his company did ride,
A thousand laughing damosels
To preen and ween them in their pride.
And wooing lovers sought the stage
With noble Earls and jewelled Kings
To see such sport at Carleon
While May burst rosebuds, in the wings.
Then was it like dead Arthur’s court
Before Sir Mordred’s treason fell,
When Launcelot du Lake despaired
At Guinevere’s sad burial.
Before the Lady of the Lake
Caught fast the Caliburn, and shook
It times by three at Bedivere
Or they poor mortal Arthur took.
But this was long before, and now
These knights would worship to their name,
Would laugh and sport in goodly cheer
Before dark shadows spoiled their game.
Each shattered lance at every side
And many a shield would ring to steel,
Many a helm would dint and burst
To leave the hapless knight to reel.
Until, when revelry had caught
Each valiant heart within its spell
A figure rode toward the joust
From old St. Crispin’s wishing-well.
A mighty knight, full armed and gore
For on his lance there glistered blood
That hushed each maiden as she saw
While shadows deepened at the wood.
This knight was grim, and clad in red
From shield and gauntlet, through to helm
His horse wept blood at every pore
Like none had seen, or thought to tell.
And red his sword, and red his eye
Seen dimly ‘twixt the grille, its slit
And red the harness that did lie
As if he’d bled on all of it.
And red, blood red, the paytrels ran
And red the hooves that tore the turf,
And red the spurs, the girth, the bit
And every garment he was girt.
A murmur took this merry throng
That death had ridden to their midst,
Yet who would joust with death too long
Before red death would what he wished?
And who would speak were stricken dumb
In horror at this dreadful scene,
The stranger turned full helm to them
As damosels did swoon and scream.
‘Is this some jest,’ at last cried out
King Palomir, who found his tongue:
‘What would you with us, knight,’ he quoth,
‘What dread has bled you so undone?’
‘What evil rune has turned you thus,
A thing of dread to godly men,
Are you some spectre, misbegot
By demons who did conjure them?’
The knight of blood did clash his shield
And then did speak to prove his will,
His voice was as the rasp of blood
That bubbled redly at the grille.
‘My lords, I seek ten knights to joust
If there be them that bruise them would,
Or is your courage all display
That fears to joust this knight of blood.’
‘Is there a knight or ten among
So many who would do or dare,
Or are three hundred hearts so faint
That I must search me elsomwhere?’
King Palomir sank back at this
And long surveyed his gallantry
When shame at tardiness took heart
To call them, which would counted be.
Sir Evelake, the first to call
Most worshipful of any knight,
The same that tooken Morden Hall
And fifty men, one ‘chanted night.
The same that sought the holy cloth
That wrapp’d sweet Jesu’s body round
And then was found in some strange light
Bereft of reason, on the ground.
And who was healed of this malaise
By some young passing maiden’s spell
Who nursed him back to light and life
To turn again, his tale to tell.
And then Sir Borolak sang out
The message of his dread intent:
‘I will unseat this bloodied knight
And see him more than penitent.’
And to this end he swore him well
For none had ever seen him fall
In any joust among the blood
That any knight could e’er recall.
And was he not, this Borolak
The slayer of the Griffin beast
That all Carlisle had fled, when once
On human flesh it thought to feast?
And had he not despised the spell
Of distant Castle Perilous,
And freed milady Isobel
To burn the lord de Malorus?
A third then called to heed the knight
And at the name, each lady sighed,
Sir Galbriance, that noble lord
Could take his choose of any bride.
This Galbriance was whispered well
For gallantry to any dame
And many a damosel had burned
In fever at his whispered name.
And was he not of Tristram’s blood
And steeped within his history,
That loved Isolde whene’er she would
And knew her every mystery?
For this Sir Galbriance was loved
And for each deed of arms he knew,
For he had fought for many a maid
That to his arms for love had flew.
A fourth, Sir Orgulous then spake
To add voice to the discontent:
‘This stranger’s blood shall fall anew
When I fordo his argument.’
‘For soon shall I beskift his head
And stint those arms that wield the blade,
‘I’ll hew him ‘til each piece lies dead,
‘Or he will further fright a maid.”
And well he spoke, this Orgulous
Whose visage was well-feared by all,
Who slew the boar Gargantuous
That tore his face ‘or it would fall.
That tore and maimed his face so well
That he would hide from every sight
And wear the helm from that to this
That none might see, and take afright.
That none might see, though each heard tell
Was noseless, and a running wound,
For one poor maid once came on him
Unhelmed, and there for fright had swooned.
And so Sir Orgulous had sworn
That never would his face be seen,
The helm remained firm fixed while he
Sought beasts, and coward knights, unclean.
Then in his shame a rage had burned
That slew each monster fearfully,
While he was cheered, and wished most well
By whomsoever freed would be.
But I digress, for now the fifth
Had spoke his will to overcome,
Sir Primedan de Vale would be
No slight discharge for any man.
For had he not been lost ‘or this
In Forest Gruel, by Hideous,
And made to joust the ten legg’d beast
That breathed its fire insidious?
And had he not cut short the reign
Of Castle Cruel, in Cardigan,
Then hewed the two heads of the knight
‘Or first light of the morning come?
Sir Primedan de Vale was known
Across the land for slaying three,
The brother beasts of sin that drank
The blood of every lechery.
The beasts that every maidenhead
Did breach, of every passing maid
To shame their blighted mother’s blood
Who once had with a brother laid.
Now sixth of all the names were called
And this, Sir Constant, of Despair
Who once had loved his heart’s delight
Within his castle, Joyous Care.
But rode one day a miscreant
Who would this lady steal away,
And sought the aid of grammarye
That he might will her love to stray.
For he did set a potion made
Of hemlock, and some other herb
To conjure her a living death
That she might then be dis-interred.
And on the day, milady paled
And sank so fast, ‘twas hideous
While death appeared in what she drank,
Sir Constant’s cries were piteous.
But so convinced were they that she
Lay dead, that nothing would prevail,
They laid her in a vault without
This Joyous Care, and made them wail.
And while they thus did make a wail
The miscreant did breach the vault
To steal the lady clean away
That none might ever find him fault.
And when the maiden found herself
To wake beside this miscreant,
She vowed her shame would not prevail
Though she was lost of innocence.
So took she then a narrow blade
To open every pore that bled,
In vain the miscreant did plead,
The lady soon lay pale and dead.
But when this thing was heard about
Sir Constant slew this patient thief,
Did hang him from the castle gate
And then withdrew him, with his grief.
And nevermore was loud delight
To issue from the Joyous Care,
Sir Constant walked abroad at night
And called his castle now - ‘Despair’.
And thus: ‘Sir Constant, of Despair’
The village folk would call him then,
And he would roam the woods at night
To challenge aught of mortal men.
For seven years his grief did bind
Him constant to his lady fair,
And he became more feared of men
When moon and mist rode in the air.
But to the seventh of the ten
We pass, for now the shadow’s height
Is chill, and every lord would seem
To shiver at this bloodied knight.
For still he sits and glisters blood
And sooth, it issues from his gules
To drip and drizzle where is stood
The demon horse the Red Knight rules.
But seventh is Sir Mar Dubay
A knight from some far foreign part,
That long has left his king, to stray
Where deeds and daring take his heart.
Where nothing of his life is known
From far beyond the distant shore,
Though won he worship with Welsh knights
When he did sport them, once before.
But only this, that he was said
To be in search for one he knew
Who once had saved for him his head
When dared he more than might would do.
And so the eighth, brave Sir Patrelle
Though not so young as once he might
Still scorned to flee from any fray
But matched his arms with any knight.
For this, the same Patrelle had fought
In all the wars that swept the land
Once Arthur’s knights did fade and fail
When death took all that noble band.
When villainy and lust prevailed
And not a maid was safe at bed,
His youth was spent enforcing law
When hewed he many a roguish head.
And to the ninth, Sir Tirralane
Whose gorge was made to rise at this:
‘I will unseat this bloodied shame,’
He swore, and would have done, iwis.
For he had seen a sight before
When pestilence had ravaged wide,
His own sweet mother bled like this
For seven days before she died.
And both his brothers stricken were
That bled from every weeping pore,
And then his father fled, to spare
His youngest son the bloodied sore.
And so his all was lost when he
Could bare remember what they were
But now the blood of sorcery
Recalled the pain that left him there.
And now the tenth sang out his name
To claim his place against the foe,
For would bold Sir Perimavance
Seek leave to lay the stranger low.
For oft anon had he been told
By gypsies, wandered on the fen
That by the knight that scarlet bled
Would he be led to some foul den
Wherein great marvels would he see
That might not ‘or be seen to hap
And learn him of the ways of men -
Perimavance then girt his lap.
And each did mount a sturdy steed
And lance him for the deadly fray:
‘No quarter give, nor ask of me
For death is but an hour away.’
‘Prepare to die, you noble knights,’
The stranger rasped, vermillion,
Then turned his demon horse to ride
Beside the grand pavilion.
A moment did they hesitate:
‘Does he defy us all, or one?’
Sir Evelake spoke haut in pride:
‘It is not worshipful that ten
Should hew a single mounted knight,
For that we would be recreant;
If we must die, then each must ride
Alone against his countenance.’
Sir Evelake then tightened girth
And wheeled his horse, to their dismay,
The knight of blood then couched his lance
And both, they thundered to the fray.
They each did lance them at the shield
And Evelake’s did shatter then,
The Red Knight split both shield and mail
To wound full sore this knight of ten;
This first of ten that lay ableed
And stood him not upon the day,
The stranger gave no further glance
But wheel’d his horse, and turned away.
‘By Jesu's name,’ swore Borolak
Who burned to see Sir Evelake,
‘I’ll kill this fiend before such death
Shall wheel me mournful to the wake.’
So dressed him to the thunder charge
And brought his lance in, under low
But at the touch it splintered once
And Borolak hit hard below.
But yet he gained his feet, and drew
His burnished sword, that he might hack
The knight of blood from out his seat,
But sorcery then drove him back.
For then the stranger drew his blade
And slashed him at the other’s helm;
The helm did split, and was dismayed
With Borolak soon over-whelm’d.
Then followed Galbriance, without
A word to cheer him on his way,
But he was served as Borolak
And lost his head upon that day.
For once he tumbled at the tilt
He scrambled late to draw his edge,
And one sweep of the burnished sword
Did part his neck beyond the hedge.
And as his head in helm did roll
Each maiden loosed a piteous cry,
The king had turned a waxen grey
As tears flew freely at his eye.
‘The flower of my poor, gallant knights
Will soon be lost beyond this day,
No mortal man may stand such fight,’
Cried Palomir, in his dismay.
‘No mortal man is this that slays
Our noble blood with such despite,
The Royal line is laid to waste...’
But Orgulous was set to fight.
No fear could chill Sir Orgulous
For he was like the mighty boar
That he had slain, Gargantuous,
And that he’d not been frighted for.
So to the tilt he drove in rage
And hurt the bloodied knight full well,
He drove his lance in at the cage
And splinters filled the stranger’s helm.
And now the stranger roared with pain
And bellowed that he could not see
But though he tore at strap and helm,
From helm his head would not be free.
Enraged, he struck him blindly out
His sword he hewed at empty air
While Orgulous crouched low, and leapt
To strike the stranger, would he where.
But though the sword of Orgulous
Sliced through the corselet of mail,
He watched the blade, incredulous
As out he drew it; cleft and hale
And drew once more the blade from him
Who redly sat to slice the air,
Not one blood drop had marked the blade
Though blood flowed almost everywhere.
Again, anon, he sliced this knight
And plunged the blade fair to the hilt,
But not a stain would mark the sword
And light flashed from the silver gilt.
‘Is there no substance to this fiend?’
Sir Orgulous cried out, anon,
And gave his place away to him
That wondered where each strike was from.
And so he slashed the burnished sword
Hard down upon the other’s helm
To cleave the knight from skull to teeth;
Thus Orgulous was overcome.
‘Enough, enough,’ then cried the king:
‘I will no more that thee would slay,’
But Primedan de Vale had leapt
To steer his charger to the fray.
And as the Red Knight wheel’d about
Not knowing where the danger come,
Sir Primedan caught with his lance
The fiend that naught would see undone.
The lance but shattered at his breast
And slivers filled the clashing air,
And one did pierce the good knight’s chest
That he might never breathe no more.
For as the blood gushed from his side
An awful moan was made without
As Primedan de Vale fell short
His spur caught fast, and dragged about.
And dragged his cor’se abroad, to speed
Along the grey pavilion,
As still the stranger pranced about
And rasped his pure vermillion.
‘Faint hearts,’ he bubbled at the grille,
‘Where lie the craven other five,
Ten knights were promised at the joust
Now five are dead, and five alive.’
‘If one is worthy not of me
Send two, and I will them despatch,
I wish to fight, not toy with fools;
Send two to make a fairer match.’
At this, Sir Constant, and Dubay
Spurred hard and lanced him either side,
But then the lance had not been made
To halt the Red Knight in his ride.
For both did shatter, as before
And to their swords each knight did cling
To hack and hew from side to side
What thought them hacked not anything.
For though the blood was round about
Each sword remained as it was clean,
And not a stroke could taunt this knight
Though bared him to the bone, I ween
Dubay would hack, and Constant delve
To find some weakness that he might,
But only Orgulous had found
The only lack was in his sight.
And as they hewed and hacked at him
The knight gave out a mighty roar:
‘The midges nip when comes the night,
But once a slap - the midge no more.’
He bellowed, then raised high his sword
To buffet Constant at the helm,
‘Til blood gushed at his nose and mouth
Though still he’d not be overwhelm'd.
While Mar Dubay thrust at his side
And ran the Red Knight through and through
When down the sword came from on high
And cleft his shoulder blades in two.
And so he fell, the noble knight
While Constant hacked, his ears a-ring
'Til he was cleft across the throat
When blood gushed over everything.
So on the field of gore they lay
While only three were left to chance,
The brave Patrelle, Sir Tirralane
And finally, Perimavance.
‘What would we do, we three,’ they cried
To each the other, in advance:
‘I’ll take the left,’ cried Sir Patrelle
‘And I the right, Perimavance,’
Qoth Tirralane, who checked his steed
To wait the other’s quick reply,
Perimavance thought of him quick:
‘You bide, and I will take the eye.’
‘The eye that burns as red as sin
Behind the visor and the grille,
Sir Orgulous did blind him once,
Well I shall blind him with this steel.’
‘Nis not no other weakness he
That I have seen, so let begin,
Patrelle assault him on the left
While Tirralane the right must win;
And I will take him at the face,’
Then so determined, made their way,
Each galloped hard, and lanced to kill
The spectre death that barred the way.
First lance to shatter was Patrelle
Then Tirralane's did break in two
While from behind, Perimavance
Did miss the visor, to his rue
And saw his lance dashed to the earth
Before each drew his blade of steel,
The Red Knight roared his battle roar
And clashed each knight 'til they did reel.
Did reel and slash and drive at him
But he no hurt could feel him sore,
Sir Tirralane caught at the helm
A mighty buffet, fought no more.
Then brave Patrelle drove at him hard
With blow on blow to hold him still
All while Perimavance did seek
Some way to pierce that evil grille.
Long time did either hack and hew
And brave Patrelle was hurt full sore:
‘Strike now, Perimavance, God sue
I fear I may not hold him more.’
Then as Patrelle did falter once
The knight of blood did swing on high
And down the blade came on the helm
To see Patrelle gush blood, and die.
But as he fell, this noble knight
And as the fiend recover would
From such a blow as he had swung
Perimavance did catch his eye;
Did catch his eye and thrust the blade
Full tilt and through the visor grille,
The point did pierce the stranger's eye
And at his brain did ravel still.
But with one last, despairing swing
The stranger caught Perimavance
And sliced in to the heart of him
That he would never more to chance.
The ten lay dead, and now the knight
Of blood did drop his dreadful sword,
The blade still at his visor grille
And as he reeled, he spake this word:
‘Maradelaine!’ The single word
That echoed to oblivion,
And as he uttered, thus he died
And fell by the pavilion.
And as he fell, all hushed were they
With even nature still’d at this,
'Til storm-clouds filled the open sky
And sudden winds did howl, iwis.
For in a moment, dark the sky
And strong the storm that leashed on them,
The lightning flashed at every eye
And thunder frit the least of them.
While hither-thither ran each maid
A-scream to seek oblivion
While rain did fall and winds did rage
To tear at the pavilion.
And objects flew from here to there
That none might seek to stand in it,
The horses fled, and others bled
And prayed to put an end to it.
‘Til like a mighty swirl, the wind
Turned men and maids about one heap
And swirled about the gallant band
While rain bedrenched, and dark did keep.
Until above the howl was heard
That single word: ‘Maradelaine,’
When all was still’d, and through the chill
The sun came out to shine again.
Then as they picked them to their feet
To look about them, every one
They stood amazed to see the change
The storm had wrought, and brought undone.
For there stood Sir Perimavance
As hale as ever had he stood,
And there Sir Orgulous was found
With not a wound to draw his blood.
And there Patrelle, and there Dubay
And there Sir Primedan de Vale,
Each stood adaze and felt his way
As dreamers in some faerie tale.
And maidens cried and laughed aloud
For joy to see Sir Galbriance,
No worse for having lost his head
Nor even deep in penitence.
And so they marvelled, all the throng
To see no harm had come of it,
Until they looked about, and long
To seek the bloodied cause of it.
Then where the long pavilion
Had stood before the storm dismayed
They saw the gentlest of knights
In gleaming armour, there was laid.
And as he stirred they gathered them
About, and thought to minister,
But saw the shield that he displayed;
A wyvern, quartered, sinister.
But nor no blood was found on him
Or on his horse that patient stood,
He fast awoke, forsook his helm
And gazed back at the darkened wood.
‘What means this, knight, what painful tale
Have you to tell this company,
Can you be he that taught despair
To we, with bloodied sorcery?’
‘Are you he of the bloodied shield,
The Red Knight that did challenge us;
Did you bring every knight to yield
And come to over-master us?’
At this he turned a questing eye
On Palomir, who questioned him,
And all could see, the eye was white
No sight could he have had of him.
The other, normal in its hue
Could see as well as any man,
But when remarked, the question drew
An answer from Sir Primedan.
‘I also have one eye to see
And one as blind as any bat!’
The crowd turned then, and looked his way
To let the truth be wondered at.
For every knight among the ten
That fought and fell along that day
Had one blind eye to ponder on
And one as well as well it may.
‘Methinks we'll hear the stranger’s tale
But later now, for comes the dusk,
Let all who will ride on our way
To Castle Radd, by river Usk.
So at this word, the sober throng
Took mount, and some did wend away,
And some did follow Palomir,
And some did ride, and some did stay.
King Palomir and company
Did ride to Radd by river Usk,
And 'twas a sober throng to see
That wend its way through field at dusk.
'Til finally, at Castle Radd
They rode the drawbridge from the night
While pages saw the tapers lit
And patient sat was every knight.
‘If you would hear my story, we
Must spend each knight a pretty hour,
For long the tale that cleaves to me
And dark the way, and tall the tower.
And deep the sorcery entwined
To bind me in its awful spell,
And long the shame that I must speak
To free from me the blood of hell.
A knight, I, from a noble line
Of Cornish Kings, Sir Dennister,
Though fate inspired these arms of mine,
A wyvern, quartered, sinister.
‘And sinister was how my life
Began, in some conspiracy,
My dame begat me while her man
Was off with deeds of chivalry.’
And all her maids conspired with her
To hide the deed that did her shame
That I was not brought forth before
The time that I might bear his name.
But this was hid, and thus I grew
Unmindful of my rightful sire,
I knew him as some distant lord,
Each lip was sealed, on pain of fire.
Each lip was sealed, and thus I grew
'Til time that I a knight was made,
Of all this history I knew
No thing, nor nothing of a maid.
But pure in innocence I lay
Each eve, believing life to be
Some joy that waited, day on day
For each, in new discovery.
And all and every trouble fled
From that young knight, Sir Dennister,
Though I would lie awake, in sight
Of wyvern, quartered, sinister.
But as I roamed the country fair
I found the castle of my lord,
I saw his blacken’d battle-tower
And touched the handle of my sword.
For burnished at the handle’s edge
The very scene I sought to seek
Was wrought in art, the lip, the ledge,
The blacken’d tower of Castle Bleak.
But nothing stirred as I beheld
The tower that I had sought afar,
And not a sound then could I speak
Within its shadow’s evil star.
Full often would I ride to seek
The meaning of that battle-tower
To draw the sword, inspect the hilt
And wonder at it, from afar.
The sword had been my mother’s gift
The day that I a knight was made;
She wept a tear, she bit the lip
And then the sword upon me laid
With just a whisper that I caught
As if she thought herself aloud:
‘Beware the blacken’d battle-tower
And she who spins the crimson shroud.’
And this was all, she never spoke
Again on this, but shortly died
And I was left the burnished hilt
To ponder at the countryside.
Within the Castle Bleak did stay
The Lord Provane, and in his house
The legend of his lady lay
That dame of old, the one Morgause.
The same Morgause that once did spill
Her charms at every Cornish knight,
The Faye had taught her every spell
‘Or she took old King Bragwen’s sight;
Then fled the land, a seven year
She wandered with her sorcery
To dwell where desolation ruled,
Surrounded in her mystery.
But Lord Provane, to scorn the King
Did fetch her with an hundred knights
To wive and child him at the tower
Of Castle Bleak, for some despite;
Then guard her, that she never might
Be taken by the savage king
But live alone within the tower
While he rode hunting, every spring.
And when I was a child, she bore
A daughter to the Lord Provane,
That none had seen, ‘til once I caught
A glimpse of her - Maradelaine.
A glimpse of her within the tower
A head of gold that gleamed and shone,
An eye that pierced my heart with pain
Of love, that sought where love had gone.
For I sat breathless in the rain,
To seek a further glimpse of this,
A vision, ‘prisoned in my brain
The hair, the eye, the hand, the lips.
The hair, the eye enchanted me
I rode as in some troubled dream,
The Castle Bleak would draw me back
Again, again, or it would seem.
‘Til once, again, I sat to wait
The vision at her window ledge
When rode a figure from the gate
And called to me by stream and sedge:
‘Go back, be warned; she’s not for you
The maid must never leave this place!’
The Lord Provane then turned away
Dull anger burning at his face.
And I would sadly turn and ride
To nurse my hurt away in dreams
But caught then at the window ledge
Some slight, odd fluttering, it seems.
And so I looked again, and she
Defiant to her father’s care
Blew one long kiss that would me win
If she had been but standing there.
She waved but once, and left the ledge
And I rode gladly through the day
And swore the maid would soon be wed
If I could free her, where she lay.
At Christmas-tide, as always, when
The snow lay thick, as is its wont
The Lord Provane did take his knights
To sport and joy them at the hunt.
And they did seek the running deer
To make the festive table glad,
And they did seek the mountain boar
To drive with hounds, ‘til it grew mad.
And so they rode, and I did seek
My chance to breach the Castle Bleak,
No knight remained, but still the art
Of Morgause made her daughter meek.
I rode thus to the battle-tower
To beat three times upon that gate
When Morgause called from in her bower:
‘Come you in love - or come in hate?’
‘I come in love to claim the hand
Of your sweet maid, Maradelaine,’
I called - ‘So open up your gate
And save this knight from love’s sweet pain.’
‘You have no claim on her,’ she cried,
‘She has no due to owe to you,
I've marked her for another’s bride,
A marriage she would want to do.’
My heart sank as I beat the door
And clashed my shield in great a din:
‘I shall not leave your battle-tower
‘Til you repent, and let me in.’
At this the gate full slowly swung
And in that courtyard I did ride,
The Dame Morgause in anger stood
As I looked, keen to sight my bride.
‘What coward knight will wait ‘til all
The men have left to join the hunt,
Would you two hapless women take,
What glory would you seek, or want?’
At this my shame came down on me
A wretched knight, faint heart for love,
Each word she spake did scorn for me
To shame me, and my Lord above.
False knight I was, dishonoured then
I knew she spoke what truth there was
So on my knee I begged her grace,
Forgiveness from the dame Morgause.
She heard me out, but said no word
So then I turned in shame to leave,
My love had turned my sight and mind,
Now I could only live to grieve.
But as I turned, the dame did smile:
‘Ah well - in youth the head is hot
And you are but a boy indeed,
Methinks that you should grieve you not.’
‘As you would leave, I bid you stay,
‘Tis lonely in the castle light,
The men are merry, why not we
You may amuse, this lonely night.’
And so I stayed, and left my horse
And ventured to the chamber door,
Where sat the vision I had seen
And loved and grieved of, evermore.
Her beauty had a flawless touch
Her hair more shine than any gold,
She did not greet me overmuch -
‘Twould not become her to be bold.
The dame Morgause then spoke once more:
‘My daughter has few words to say,
Shut up in this grim battle-tower
She grows in silence every day.’
‘She pines for love, for she has heard
Each knight boast in the hall below,
Their conquests echo in the tower
And bring her cheeks to blush, and glow.’
‘So I betrothed her to a knight
The flower of all our gallantry
Who she will wed at Hallowmass
Within the year, so swore to me.’
‘And what of you, what brought you here
To we, to gaze from yonder peak,
What took you from your daily quest
To ponder us at Castle Bleak?’
‘What standard do you serve, young sir,
Your arms I know not from before... ‘
‘I am Sir Dennister,’ I spake,
‘The son of Caradan de Vore.’
At this the dame Morgause did start
And clutch her breast, as if in fright;
She slowly sat, took hard her breath
Her breasts did heave, her eyes were white.
Maradelaine took fright at this
And rushed to tend her mother’s side
But every question that she’d put
Morgause would see them all denied.
‘If I had known that you were he
That battered on the tower gate,
I would have bid you flee again
‘Or it would ever be too late.’
‘Some things are set, and this be one
No spell might set this fate aside,
For this was told to me the night
Provane did take me for his bride.’
‘But this is not for you, my dear,’
She told the pale Maradelaine,
Please leave us now, I’ve much to tell
That, did you hear, might cause you pain.’
The maid arose then, dutiful
And questioned not her mother’s words,
She left the chamber silently
To mount the tower’s dim-lit stairs.
And when she’d gone, Morgause did look
Me bitterly and long, before
She made to tell what Sir Provane
Had told her at their chamber door.
‘Before my lord was set on me
In youth he sought to have his way,
And fell in love with some grand dame,
The wife of one, to his dismay.’
‘This still did not deter milord,
Her husband hunted near and far
And often was this dame bereft
And left to wander, would she where.’
‘But little care this husband had
For women, or their company,
He much preferred the hounds, the hedge
The laughter and the gallantry.’
‘So she would stray while he would hunt
But only with propriety,
Her maids went Maying in the woods
While she mixed her society.’
‘Until she met with Sir Provane
Who made no secret of his court
And they exchanged those kisses sweet
By which most ladies may be bought.’
‘In short, one day she lay with him
Within this very tower’s space,
And they did make some merry sport
‘Til she, with child, did leave this place.’
‘Did leave and sware to come no more
Lest her undoing be of it,
My lord did grieve but short, before
He took me in the place of it.’
‘But now the subject of the tale,
And this will see the end of it;
The dame was Ellinor de Vore
Why do you pale to know of it?’
‘Your mother was that same de Vore
Your father was my own Provane,
Sir Caradan de Vore did stir
But quite a different type of game.’
I sank at this, first to my knee
And shook as one with bitter ague
Then fell, insensible at this
But moaned and wept as there I laid.
Three hours I lay, as in some fit
Three hours where nothing I recall
To wake within a wondrous bed
Of gold and satins overall.
And at my side, Maradelaine
Who sat and watched me, tenderly,
‘What did I in my fever speak...?’
I questioned her most endlessly.
For it had then been clear to me
And this that put me in such swoon,
Maradelaine my sister was -
I dared not breathe it in that room.
With love I was so overcome
That madness caught me at the brain,
I would defy all heaven’s law
To spell me from the grief, the pain.
This madness told that she was mine
This winsome maid who sat by me -
Perhaps the tale was but a plan
That we might split asunder be.
Yes - that it was, my head did reel
And I would then believe of it
Or any tale that I could tell
To put the lie to all of it.
The dame Morgause did plan it all
To keep her daughter’s love from me
I would defy them, one and all
Defy the mother’s sorcery.
Defy the father in his den,
Declare my name be known to him
And watch his visage closely then,
And so divine the truth in him.
I lay so troubled with each doubt
That fever took me as I lay,
Maradelaine gave me to drink
A potion for my heart’s dismay.
Then ointment sweet she smoothed on me
At forehead first, then at the throat
And presently I slept awhile
To dream strange dreams of some dark moat.
Of some dark moat and blackened tower
That man might keep all evil in
While I was chained in some deep bower
And fed with every mortal sin.
And every sin that I did then
The tower a shade of darkness grew
‘Til it was black, as black as pitch
And still I sinned, and sinned anew.
When light came dimly by a maid
Whose chaste desire had not been won
But now, my thirst for sin was such
I nothing good would leave undone.
And so I tried my sin once more
That this dim light might fail for her
When in one instant she became
A raging beast, as black as tar.
Then I perceived that she, the beast
Had cozened me with many a wile
And I sought prayer to set me free,
Release me from this woman’s guile.
So I awoke, the fever quenched
With dawn just tilting at the day
Then lay awhile, my courage spent
To let my dream drift on its way.
I lay alone some time before
I heard the movement at the latch
Then saw my maid to smile at me -
Her beauty made my throat to catch.
Her beauty bloomed with every glance
And now she flushed to look on me,
The flush of love is not some chance -
‘Dame Nature put that blush on thee...’
I said, now bolder for my rest,
And she did flush the more for it
And laughed aloud, right merrily
That I’d divined the cause of it.
‘How long have I been sleeping thus,’
I asked the maid, when she was still:
‘A full ten days have we despaired
That you would ever wake - until
Some magick kiss was laid on you
Just as that magick faerie tale -
But now no kiss I’ll spare of you,’
She said, and coyly loosed her veil.
‘The knights return tomorrow eve
So we have little time to spell,
My mother sleeps ‘til noon, so we
May sport and play as you would tell.’
And saying thus, she leapt abed
To play and laugh most sportingly;
‘Is this that quiet maid I met?’
I spoke to her thus tauntingly.
‘What would your will with such a maid
Who offers all that you would seek,
Will you be gentle, prithee knight,
Will you cavort in Castle Bleak?’
‘And would you take this maidenhead
That never has been known by men,
And will your soft caress be fierce
When once your love has long been spent?’
‘What say you knight, in love or lust
Do you discharge your love for me,
If all my flesh should turn to dust
What then would your love want of me?’
And so she teased and taunted on
While I took pleasure at her breast,
And every kiss she gave to me
Was sweeter than the robin’s crest.
Was sweeter far than any wine
Or any sip of any sup,
And when her body clung to mine
We drank to dregs the loving cup.
Until, in passion, I cried out
When pleasure turned sweet-bitter pain:
‘My love, my love, my one delight,
As Jesus loves...’ I spake his name.
At this the bed swept in the air
And turned twice over, upside down,
The sheets of gold were turned to black
As she and I fell to the ground.
When as I lay, still in her arms
She screamed, and I did plague her house,
For I lay at the naked breast
Of sorcery - the dame Morgause.
‘For sin, for sin,’ I cried me then,
‘For sin you have destroyed me now,
I gave my love the same black fiend
I dreamt me of, not long ago.’
A sword hung silent in the air
The blade above, the hilt below,
A dark, blaspheming crucifix
To mock the Lord where demons go.
This sword I plucked, and turned about
To call a prayer upon its cross,
The bed fell to the chamber floor,
The dame fled screaming, at her loss.
And I, with vengeance burning me
Did think to put her to the sword,
I searched each chamber as I went
But found no sign, nor any word.
Nor any sound that they might be
Sequestered in the Castle Bleak,
I ran from room to stair, and then
Saw something glimmer, and did speak:
‘Come out, you of the devil’s art
Your sorcery has gone amiss,
No more you’ll take your daughter’s form,
No more your evil carapace.’
‘I mean to put an end to you,
Your magick will out-magick’d be,
This blade is tempered for your heart,
This edge will end your sorcery.’
And so I leapt in at the room
A form did cower by the bed,
‘Wilt take you now,’ I raged full sore
And seized Maradelaine, in stead.
Her fright was such she looked at me
Full mute, and pale as any sheet,
My rage would not be overcome
At this, that demon’s last conceit.
‘I’ll not be cozened, nor deceived
Again by you, my pretty witch
There is no substance to your charm,
Your soul is black as any pitch.’
And so I raised the sword on high
As she, in terror, gave her wail -’
At this the Red Knight wiped a tear
And broke in grief to tell his tale.
And he did weep before those knights
As any child did ever weep,
And long it was before he caught
His tale, without his voice did break.
‘I swung the sword a wicked sweep
And cleft that maiden at the neck,
Her head hung from the golden hair
I’d grasped, then held in bitter reck.
And blood did spurt and stain the floor
To rain down in some oubliette,
And blood, red blood did stain the door
The chair, the bed, the coverlet.
And all her gore did weep on me
For I did wait her change of shape,
I thought to see the dame Morgause
Lie dead beneath her bloodied cape.
But still the shape remained, and I
In deathly fear then cast about,
Could this be she I'd cleft to death -
Sweet Jesus, save me from this truth!
Then as this knowledge fell on me
That love lay slain by lover's wrath
Some madness seized my sanity
And I did seek to plight my troth.
And I did roll within her blood
To thrash and wail in my despair
But clasped her, that my lips would meet
The bloodied face, the bloodied hair.
And kissed her in my throes of grief
As I did rail and rant me there,
The life I'd held to be most sweet
Was nevermore to greet me there.
Then as I sat to wail and keen
A deathly torpor came to me,
I stroked the head as in a dream
Then felt this mantle cover me.
A mantle, red as any blood
That brought my mother’s words aloud:
‘Beware the blackened battle tower
And she who spins the crimson shroud!’
For as it touched my shoulders, I
Did cease to move, or make a sound,
But sat most dull and staringly
Toward the door, and at the ground.
And shortly I perceived that she
Stood silently within the house,
An evil dread swept over me -
The shadow of the dame Morgause.
She said no word, but took the sword
And lifted it on high to swing,
Her sorcery secured me fast,
I could not move, nor anything.
I could not then defend me well
But waited for the mortal blow,
I had no wish to live, so I
To Jesus did commend my soul.
And as my sweet lord’s name did sound
The merest whisper at my breath,
The sword flew from the lady’s hand
Nor would return to do me death.
But ‘bedded in the solid stone
That she could never draw it forth,
She turned and ranted at the ground
& cursed & screamed, nor stopped for breath.
Then turned and vent her bitter spite
At me, that could not answer make,
She cursed and damned me with each word
And sobbed, ‘til heart was fit to break.
‘My daughter, who was pure in heart
By fickle knight has now been slain,
You rightly wear your mother’s curse
Now you have took Maradelaine!’
‘The curse I laid upon her womb
When she did bear my lord a son,
That all her labours waste too soon
To leave her lord a barren line.’
‘I swore her son would soon be led
To bleed at this, the blacken’d tower
And spent my time in weaving this,
The crimson mantle of my power.’
‘For seven years and seven moons
I spun until my fingers bled
To make the shroud to spell you in,
I made its seams of gypsy red.’
‘So not a seam may now be seen
And it has settled fair on thee,
And you must do what would beseem
To bring Maradelaine to me.’
‘For as each deed that has been done
Was done within my one enchant,
You may redeem, by further deeds
My perfect child, if you repent.’
‘But while you wear the crimson shroud
No man may know what name you are,
Your arms shall be as red as blood
And men shall fear you from afar.’
‘For every thing shall glisten red,
The blood of my Maradelaine,
And no respite shall you enjoy
Until you seek to come again.’
‘For you must venture forth at this
A bloodied knight, in search of him
Who’d be your match in bloodied fight
Without you put an end to him.’
‘But you shall have a special power
That mortal men may never win,
A single weakness will be yours;
The eye that loved Maradelaine.’
‘The eye that thinks that it can see
What is, when it may be deceived
As I did prove - no thing appears
To mortals that may be believed.’
‘Yet of your fault, and of your faith
You may defeat this sorcery
If you be steadfast to your cause,
Repair this mother’s misery.’
‘And I will sware upon her head
If you should leave her as before,
That I will spurn my sorcery
And live in penance, evermore.’
‘And so, good knights, I left that place
To wander at the countryside,
Each knight I challenged by the way
Did fall before that woman’s pride.
‘Til I despaired of meeting one
That measured where my weakness lay,
And so I rode, and weary fought
For full a year, and then a day.
Until it came your gallant knights
Did gather for the tourney joust,
And I did challenge ten to pay
My penance for the dame Morgause.’
He stopped at this, and dropped his head:
‘So now you know my very shame,
Not all the penance of my life
Could bring fresh honour to my name.
I’ve cost each knight that fought this day
The precious gift of half his sight,
I crave forgiveness for this sin
But pray I might but set it right.
For dame Morgause did sware that all
Was done within the one enchant,
So this as well may be undone
If we return - she may recant.
She swore she’d spurn her sorcery,
Would live in penance, evermore,
We have one hope, to take the chance
And win or lose as it might fall.’
As he did cease his tale to tell
He sank, exhausted, in the dusk
A deathly silence filled that hall
In Castle Radd, by river Usk.
The tapers lent an eery glow
That flickered gently at the night
‘Til it would seem that sorcery
Leapt darting at that feeble light.
And of that silent company
There were but ten that sat apart,
Each put one finger to his eye
As if his blindness he would chart.
As if by touch, each could dispel
The sorcery that took his sight
But touch could not, nor would avail
Each looked at each, the eye was white.
‘It would beseem that we must win
Our sight again, and with you dare,
The sorcery Morgause did spin
Has bound us to your own despair,’
Sir Evelake did say at last,
And each one nodded in assent:
‘We must make all our cause with you
That Morgause may be penitent.’
‘Pray, let me speak,’ quoth Orgulous,
‘I would that I would speak my mind,
‘Tis not for love I join this quest,
‘Tis merely that I see half-blind.’
‘I have no love for bloodied knights
That sin, as this Sir Dennister,
His tale has made this clear, his deeds
Do match his wyvern sinister.’
‘It would beseem his own desire
For one that was denied to him
Hath brought this curse upon his head,
I do not list to comfort him.’
‘I shall essay me with the best
To seek redemption for my sight,
But I would not be thought to bear
Goodwill to this most churlish knight.’
‘Nor I,’ then spake Sir Galbriance,
‘Though I shall chance with all of you,
I care not for his bloodless bride
Though I shall dare as dare would do.’
‘Now I would add my word to this
That if the maid,’ spake Borolak,
‘Had been to me a daughter dear
Then I would also, nothing lack "
But do as this Morgause had done
And more beside, in verity,
No sorcery would be too black
Did I preserve her chastity.’
At this a voice rang out from one
That put to silence their dispute:
‘Would each one judge from where he sit,
Is each man guiltless in his suit?’
‘Has none that felt the pangs of love
Done some misdeed he would repair,
Is each man faultless in his need?’
Thus spake Sir Constant, of Despair.
‘When love flits fairly at the eye
Then reason flies, and may be lost,
Not one may have the right to deem
Another’s love ill-starred, or crossed.’
‘I would that we would thank this knight
For he has bared his shame to us,
And thank the lord this very life.
That we have had returned to us!
Thus were they stilled, and penitent
But made such plan as all did speak,
By undern would they them prepare
And essay forth to Castle Bleak.
Eleven knights did clatter forth
Upon the bridge at Carleon,
Eleven shields, eleven swords
Eleven who did ride as one.
And through the countryside they made
A thunder of their armoury,
The maids were charmed, the churls dismayed
To see them in their pageantry.
They rode until the very dusk
Then sought them shelter of some church,
But dawn did see them riding well
To seek the tower of their search.
Three weary days they thus did ride
Three weary nights they sought to sleep,
They scanned the country at each rise
For Tower Black, or Castle Keep.
‘Til they did think this battle tower
Had surely sunk within the fen
When at the last, some long-late hour
The path was barred by two old men.
‘Good sirs and gallant knights,’ one spake
In greeting as they slowed apace:
‘What would you in these barren lands,
Go back, good sirs, return in grace!’
‘There is no thing ahead for you
If you should so pursue this path,
These waste lands promise nothing less
Than plague, disease, grim war and death!’
‘Go back, good sirs, while there is time,
This land’s undone by sorcery
No knight that rides for past a year
Has been but lost in mystery.’
‘We do not fear your barren lands,’
Sir Borolak then would he speak,
‘We ride to spill the sorcery
Of Dame Morgause at Castle Bleak!’
‘Stand you aside, or be undone
We have no mind to work your will.’
At this both men did give one caw
And in full sight did turn most ill.
For they did shrivel as they stood
And turn grim black with feathered wing
To fly, two ravens at the wood
As each knight sat him wondering.
‘Tis some enchant of Dame Morgause
To warn unwanted guests from her,
But we must ride to breach the tower
That we might see an end of her.’
They rode toward a pretty wood
But as they entered, could they see
The land was like a pestilence
With nature shaped in misery.
Each trunk was twisted, as in pain
Each bough was wracked, as in despair,
No leaf hid ought that they could see
For nothing green did grow in there.
And as they rode, from every tree
There hung a shape beyond all care,
This fruit was like no fruit could be;
Both men and maids were hanging there.
‘Twas like some bitter wood of death
For nothing lived nor breathed in it,
And silence laboured at the breath
For not no sound was made in it.
There, horses sped on silent hooves
Their armour ceased to clash with shield,
No sound would issue from their lips "
They rode ‘til all their senses reeled.
For every tree did hang its corpse
To stare them as they cantered by,
With gaping sockets, where some bird
Had neatly plucked each staring eye.
And as they rode, they came to where
Had once been some sweet bubbled spring
That now lay rank with poisoned weed
To promise death to anything.
And round about the deer did lie
In death, decaying by its stream,
No creature lived, no bird did fly
What thirst did quench, in death was seen.
They rode clear at the wood, its edge
And sound came back upon the air
When they did shout, and laugh and sing
To hear their voices ring out there.
But there a shape did bar the way
A knight as evil in his look
As any caitiff rogue unclean,
And they their merriment forsook.
‘Go back, I am Sir Dance of Death,’
He spoke, within his visor grille:
‘That wood is mine, while you have breath
Go back, and you may dance me still.’
‘My guests did dance all with the tree
To cheer my vigil, without sound,
So lightly stepped each maid that she
Did set no foot upon the ground.’
‘Base murderer,’ swore Orgulous
And couched his lance to bear him down,
The evil knight came in a rush,
Sir Orgulous did hit the ground.
Before the evil knight could turn
Perimavance was on him then,
While Dennister and Galbriance
Did slash and hack at arm and helm.
‘This is no time for gallantry,’
Sir Mar Dubay did call " ‘Alack!
We must outnumber sorcery
As we have found,’ quoth Borolak.
So they did slash them, one and all
At this grim knight who called him death,
Did slash and cut without respite
‘Til Evelake did cleave his breath.
‘Til helm did roll upon the dirt
And he lay lifeless, by his lance:
‘Sir Dance of Death may dance no more,’
Then quoth the good Sir Galbriance.
But when each knight did set him down
To look this cor’se more closely at,
No blood was seen upon the ground
No hand was in the grey gauntlet.
No head was found within the helm
And of the cor’se was none of it;
The armour lay, an empty shell,
Each wondered at the cause of it.
‘So thus lies death, defeated,’ quoth
Patrelle, who cast the helm about,
‘Or death with death was cheated " sooth,
We’ll meet again when time is out.’
They burst the armour, every piece
That it not harbour death again,
And rode another mile, at least
In quest of poor Maradelaine.
‘Til at the crest of such a hill
That took the very breath away
They saw a tower, black and bleak
To chill the shadows of the day.
A tower, black and battle-scarred
That seemed the very devil’s den
On some long god-forsaken plain
That Cain may once have hidden in.
A while they sat, and said no word
When Evelake unhelmed his face
To whisper this, and nothing more:
‘God in his mercy, lend us grace.’
Eleven knights then quoth a prayer
And made them ready for the fray,
They thundered down the barren hill
To meet what meet they would that day.
And as they neared the Castle Bleak
The gate did open slow, alack,
And out did ride a host of knights
With helm and shield and armour black.
And they did form a line across
To bar the way before the gate:
‘Is one there called Sir Dennister,
I fear that you have come too late.’
It was Provane that called him thus
Who raised his visor at his whim,
His face was gaunt and caught in pain,
His eyes were dark, his lips were grim.
‘You had one year and but a day
To journey to the Castle Bleak,
That day would still have caught the spell
But you have took a further week.’
‘And now the dame Morgause decrees
That if my daughter now would live
Then you must die; so girt your lap,
I’ll stay no longer with my grief.’
He snapped his visor down, and couched
His lance, to drive at Dennister
Who spurred his horse and joined with him
Before the knights so sinister.
Each clashed the shield and turned about
To drive once more across the plain,
Each lance did shatter at the shield
And splinters flew, to fall like rain.
The swords were drawn, and they did clash
With mighty buffets at the helm:
‘I have no suit with you, old man,
I care for your Maradelaine,’
Sir Dennister did shout at him,
But then Provane replied a blow,
And thus the two would hack and swing
And seek to lay the other low.
The swords did clash, the shields did bend
But none could stop them, either one,
At last did Dennister cry out:
‘My lord, but would you slay your son?’
‘My dame was Ellinor de Vore....’
At this Provane did think he lied
‘My son?’ he whispered at the grille,
Then dropped his shield down at his side.
‘My son?’ he whispered, and was still
But Dennister did see his chance,
He cleft Provane clean at the throat
And called to Sir Perimavance:
‘Thus die all tyrants, such was he
That put my mother’s house to shame,
I have avenged her memory
And now, for my Maradelaine.’
The knights in black had sat in line
While ever these two did fight anon,
But now their lord lay still and dead
They stayed, as if to watch the son.
And one on one a flame did burst
From out the helm of every knight,
And fire consumed them as they sat,
And smoke did dim the fading light.
‘Til not a one was left to bar
The way before the Castle Bleak,
Sir Dennister rode at the gate
His dead Maradelaine to seek.
While in the yard, the ten did wait
Each sick to see what he had done,
The father set his arms aside
To lie, thus murdered, by his son.
‘I have no heart for this, I ween,
We should have cleft this knight to death
Not come to this enchanted scene -
One eye will do, while I have breath,’
Quoth Mar Dubay to Borolak,
And thus they muttered, in dismay,
While Dennister did seek the room
Wherein his martyred lady lay.
He scaled the staircase in a bound
And then did rush from room to room,
‘Til finally the chamber found
Where still she lay, within the gloom
As he had left a year before,
No thing was changed, her bloodied head
Lay staring at him, by the door
From where it lay upon the bed.
Then in the corner moved a shade
And he did pause to stare at this,
The dame Morgause did wait him there
And then did whisper, and did hiss:
‘Pick up the head and place it at
The neck, then hold her at the throat
And speak aloud these words I say:
Rabar rabar demèd tarote.’
He spake no word, but gently raised
The head, and looked him down on it,
Then turned the corpse upon its back
That he might see the more of it.
Then slowly did he place the head
To hold her gently, by the throat
Then spake the words Morgause had said:
‘Rabar Rabar demèd tarote.’
A moaning came within the tower
Like some ill-wind before the storm
That soon became a rabid scream
As violent tremors shook the form.
And then the blood that scattered lay
Flew streaming at her, by the throat
As it had fled, so it returned,
And she did cough, and she did choke.
And from the stone, the ‘bedded sword
Flew in the air and passed between
The head and neck as it had done
That deadly time before, I ween.
And he did catch, Sir Dennister
That sword on high above his head
Before it flew from out his grasp
And through the window, as it fled.
And stood he there so still to see
Maradelaine rise from the floor,
Then thrown so fiercely at the bed
Alive and lovely, as before.
While in the court, the knights had stood
To listen at this sorcery,
The horses skittered at the howl
That made to them some mystery.
But then Sir Galbriance did shout
‘My sight, I ween, I have it back!’
‘And I,’ quoth Sir Perimavance,
‘And I, and I,’ quoth Borolak.
‘Let’s get we hence, the deed is done
We have no need to linger here,
He has the maid, and we our sight,’
Then quoth Sir Constant, of Despair.
‘If we should stay he would be slain
By one of us,’ Patrelle did sue;
‘Far better that we leave to him
What fate the lord may bring him to.’
And so they spurred them from the gate
And made them for the barren hill
To leave the blackened battle-tower
To him who wooed his wicked will.
And all the while, this Dennister
Had stood enraptured at the sight
Of his belov’d Maradelaine
Who lay her, smiling to invite
His love again, but dame Morgause
Did laugh a wicked laugh at him:
‘You think that now your heart may claim
The love of my Maradelaine.’
‘Some fools are born, and some are made,
What fool are you I venture not,
I told you of the eye deceived
But you, like others, soon forgot.’
‘And now you’ve slain your only sire,
Have filled your cup of mortal sin,
And all for some insane desire
That hell would never venture in.’
‘For all your courage at the joust,
For all you would endure for this,
For all the pain when love was lost
You deem that you have come to bliss.’
‘Now look at what your love has won
Look last at this Maradelaine, you’ve
Journeyed hard, you’ve journeyed long
Now look what you did ride to claim?’
At this, the girl upon the bed
Did smile an evil smile at him
With such a look that he did feel
The heart drop in the heart of him.
For she began to twist and move
And shake her head within that house,
‘Til on the bed, all evil lay
The image of the dame Morgause.
While in the corner, where she’d stood
He turned to look but once again,
And laughing by the window wood
The beautiful Maradelaine.
‘And which is witch you say,’ she laughed,
The mother taught the daughter well,
When I was cleft, the daughter sought
To bring me back with such a spell
I’d spun for her a many time,
We conjured many a noble knight,
You saw them fade before the gate
When every helm did burst alight.
And thus with you, no mortal man
Is proof against this sorcery,
But you did choose to come to us
To join us in our mystery.’
And as she spoke, the noble knights
Had gained the hill beyond the plain,
Then paused to take a backward glance
Before they left it, in the rain.
For drops began to fall about,
The first in all its history
As nature stirred and sprang to life
To clothe it in its greenery.
And as they watched, the blacken’d tower
Did groan its timbers, and did creak
And then the walls began to crack,
The battle-tower of Castle Bleak.
And then the walls began to sink
Within the surface of the plain
When as it sank beneath their sight
They heard the cry " ‘Maradelaine!’
And it did sound so very bleak
That they did shiver, where they were;
‘The Lord has brought his judgement down,’
Then quoth Sir Constant, of Despair.
So they did turn them, at the sound
To ride into the very dusk,
They sought the warmth of Castle Radd
At Carleon, by river Usk.
And swore they never would return
But thanked the lord for all their sight,
And thus rejoicing, told the tale
On many a frosty winter's night.
And Castle Bleak no longer stands
Upon that barren, evil plain,
A forest hides the barren sands
And birds do sing, and lovers twain
Do wander, loving, at the dusk
Not knowing that, beneath their feet
There lies a blackened battle-tower
That once was known as Castle Bleak.
Where in a chamber of that tower
There stands a sad and maddened knight
That calls him but a single name
That once did set his soul alight.
For often will she beckon him
To lie with her within that house,
But changes, as an evil dream
And does become the dame Morgause.
So we may leave him to his fate
This knight that was Sir Dennister,
Who bore such arms that suit him might
A wyvern, quartered, sinister.
And pray us of the lord above
That now forever, might we be
Sequestered in his heavenly love
'Til life gives up its mystery.
HONI SOIT QUI MAL PENCE
David Lewis Paget
11 June-11 July 1982
© 2017 David Lewis Paget
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