The Peregrine Knight: Part XII –The Conclusion.

The Peregrine Knight. Part I

Then rode they out beyond the forest’s bounds
And soon came to a country wide and fair
With farms and verdant meadows all around
Where blooming orchards perfumed all the air
And when they asked the crofters living there
Whose lands these were, the men to them replied:
“The Countess of the Forest now rules here,
(Though we before by an earl were despotized),
From here her lands stretch further than a full day’s ride.”

O’er hill, down dale, where lightly blew the rain,
They onward made their way till Caerleon
They saw down by the sunny river plain,
Her towers and bridges and pavilions
All brightly decked. And there a festal throng
The wide and narrow streets did overfill
As overrunning cup. And there among
That holy-feast-day crowd they passed until
They came unto the castle great that crowned the hill.

And as they passed into the high-beamed hall
The lowliest porter to the noblest knight
And highborn ladies were astonished all
By her beside the knight, slender and tall,
As silver birch, with jet-black brows as bows
Taut for the the hunt, and hands as white crystal.
And all the court was eager then to know
The countess’ tale, and of the earl’s overthrow.

Then good King Arthur blessed the happy pair
And said “You’re passing welcome unto me,
And we shall see you wed this day, and share
With you in  joy, sweet songs, and revelry.”
And so it was, they feasted royally,
And drank from out gold-mounted drinking horns.
And knights from Cornish coast and far Orkney
In tabards bright, with ladies fair adorned
In silks and gems, all feasted there till rosy morn.

And when the sounds of British bagpipes’ squeal
And laughter’s peal, and ancient harper’s lay
Were faded from the hall, the guests did steal
Away to sleep all through the early day.
And four months more at court the knight did stay,
His wife beloved by all the maidens there,
But when the summer’s swifts had flown away,
And swallows took to wing, he made his prayer
Unto the king, that they as well might go from there,

And ride again together through the wilds
(Before white snow the vales should overlay)
Through autumn’s  golden trees and empty fields
Upon the road that goes the wild way,
And take that winding path for many a day
Unto the castle where they twain should dwell
Deep in the forest holding righteous sway.
The knight’s request did please King Arthur well,
And so they went, but of their tale no more I‘ll tell.

The Peregrine Knight: Part Eleven.

The Peregrine Knight. Part I

When evening wrapped the castle in its cloak
And warm winds wed the fragrance of the night —
The woodland after rain and torches’ smoke —
High in the tower sat the wounded knight
And listened after meat as his delight,
The countess, softly sang a psalm of yore,
Of wicked men as trees, who reach great height,
Whose flourishing branches spread the country o’er,
But suddenly are felled and burned, and seen no more.

Three weeks he tarried there within her lands
And caused tribute and honour to be paid,
While government she took within her hands.
And when he had so long beside her stayed
As Whitsuntide drew on, he told the maid:
“I must this coming feast in Caerleon keep
And cannot here much longer be delayed.”
Then paleness cross her rose-red cheek did creep
And as rose-petals fall, so fell she in a heap.

He lifted her from off the flagstones cold
And gently led her to her stately chair,
“Lady”, he said, “more wise than can be told:
Can I believe that I could ever bear
From out the forest the flower that I found there?
That you should at the court stand by my side,
Beyond its splendours wonderfully  fair,
And pledge before the King to be my bride?”
”No magic of the forest holds me here.” the maid replied.

“Then take my hand fair lady of this place,
Your hand in mine to me shall witness be
That truly you’re with me. And when your face
In shining summer smiles sheds light on me,
And I do look into your eyes and see
A loveliness unfathomable as the the sea,
That shall  another faithful witness be.
But if I still should doubt my ecstasy,
Then speak; So shall I know ‘tis true, by witnesses three.”

The Peregrine Knight: Part Ten.

The Peregrine Knight. Part I

The Peregrine Knight: Part Nine.

Part X: In which the fight between the Raven Earl and the Peregrine Knight continueth.

But stumbling back, upon the root he tripped-
The earl’s sword stroke high, fast stuck inside
The old yew’s trunk, and though the earl gripped
The hilt and strove to free’t, from him it slipped,
And of a sudden the swordless man looked small
As does a bird when of its plumage stripped.
The red stained knight then rose up from his fall
And from the tree a falcon rose with hunting call.

That sword, sunk deep, for many a year
Within the old yew’s hard-clenched  grasp lay fast,
And by its rusted hilt many would hear
The tale of what upon that day had passed,
Of how the two had strove until at last
The craven earl had swordless turned to fly,
And how the rushing wind with stormy blast,
And lightning then made war across the sky
Curling and twisting there with thunderous battle-cry.

Scorning the flashing blade within his hand
The knight his fearful foe caught ‘round the girth
And bracing him, with arms as iron bands,
Did cast him headlong hard upon the earth,
Unlaced his helm, and thus spoke to him first:
“Are you that earl who has the maid oppressed?”
(And o’er their heads with rain the black rack burst,)
“I am the earl” the fallen man confessed
And will restore to her all that she first possessed”.

The knight then said “Your earldom give or die!
And meat and drink and arms and horses too
Enough for twice two hundred men’s supply.”
(All this in her high name he bade him do
With sword point poised to pierce his bare throat through,)
“And you shall in her power here remain
And in her thrall your foul misdeeds rue
As in her dungeon dark you lie enchained.”
“This will I do” the earl replied. And ceased the rain.

The countess on the ground then kneeled and prayed,
And she looked up into the open sky
While in the mud where Raven-Earl was laid
The knight looked down with tired and blood-drenched eye.
Across the land one line of light did lie
And made the victor in his armour blaze
As happy star; And since it was not dry
From off his helm shone rainbow aureole rays
And made for him a crown more beautiful than bays.

The Peregrine Knight: Part Nine.

The Peregrine Knight. Part I
The Peregrine Knight. Part 8.

Part IX: In which the knight attacks the earl.

He raised his lance to signal the attack,
And with a shout did spur his eager horse.
Then rushed the earl as rolling, ragged rack
When black with rain it flies a tempestuous course.
And when they met, such was the stormy force
Both steeds did stagger, and the earl’s threw
Him down headlong, his men roared in remorse,
But rising from the dust, his sword he drew;
So swift the knight leapt down and drew his weapon too.

Such was their strength, that every ringing clash
Between the black earl’s sword and knight’s sharp steel,
With  fiery, flying sparks as lightning flashed,
And blows, upon the shields, as thunder pealed.
No stronger wights did ever weapons wield.
But stronger struck the earl, and very soon
Did flog the blazon from his rival’s shield,
And then with heavier strokes the shield was hewn,
And dwindled with each sword-stroke, as the waning moon.

So waned the hope within the countess’ breast
On seeing her knight fall back before her foe.
Unto the forest edge the knight was pressed,
And there the earl did strike him such a blow,
As clove his helm, and made his  blood to flow
Down o’er his eyes. And nothing could he see.
And while he sank in this black sea, I trow,
He was in peril great. His enemy
Then raised his sword to lay him low beneath a tree.

The Peregrine Knight: Part Ten.

The Peregrine Knight. Part 8.

The Peregrine Knight. Part I

Then through the casement came a soft perfume
Which when her maids looked out the source to  see
A wonder they beheld. For in full bloom
That very morn was blown the courtyard tree
In morning sun, as white as purity.
Then down the the winding stair the maidens ran
And from the tower, to see this mystery,
That hidden as the heart in honest man
Behind the castle walls did sweet and noble stand.

To view this marvel came the knight and lady too,
She spoke to him and plucked a blossom white:
“Pray keep a flower that in this castle  grew.”
Then led the young men out, for battle dight,
His horse, refreshed and thirsting for the fight.
They aided him to don his habergeon,
And lace his helm, and place his breastplate bright,
A redoubt o’er heart that felt no doubt within,
For overthrown in combat he had never been.

But doubts hung cloudy oe’r the earl’s mind,
Why should these banners greet his black-cloaked hundreds?
Surely those within no hope of grace could find,
Yet had they taken heart of grace? He wondered.
So spurring quickly to the gate he thundered:
“My damosel the castle door throw wide
Your lord is come, who all  your land has plundered.”
“A dead man’s colours fright me not.” he cried
But silence only answered him as echoes died.

Then ‘neath the crumbled arch – through vine-hung door,
Came not the crushed and miserable maid
The which the haughty earl in joy looked for,
But man of war – for tourney all arrayed.
And not his lance nor sword made him afraid
Nor gadded gauntlets, nor his helmet bright
But eyes of  hawk in yarak upon him laid,
From ‘neath the visor of this stranger knight
Who called: “Look to your arms, I for this lady fight!”

Notes: Gads are spikes on gauntlets and ‘in yarak’ is falconry lingo for ready to hunt.

The Peregrine Knight: Part Nine.

The Peregrine Knight. Part Seven.

The Peregrine Knight. Part I

Now, riding through the deep and twisted forest
‘Neath forlorn night’s dark wing, that very hour,
(A night as black as his own raven crest,)
The infamous earl came with all his power
To pitch black tents beneath the countess’ tower.
When flaming morn o’er treetop did extend,
She saw them spread below, but did not cower.
The knight had promise made her to defend –
“This morning,” said she, “sees our night of sorrow end.

So strike the mourning hangings, and unfurl,
From every casement in this castle’s keep,
My father’s standard, to affront the earl”
So pennants green and red did billowing leap
And heavily fall from every port, and sweep
Out on the morning wind above the trees.
“This tower,” she said “long nights has seen me weep
While looking from its casement I did see
In fear those woods that I loved once when I was free”.

The knight then stood before her in the hall
And so to him she told the forest’s ways,
What may be seen where green the shadows fall –
Of  men who had been lost within its maze,
And pathless wandered ‘round for many days,
Till stumbling out they found the castle gate,
But how she fearless walked its paths always
Before the earl had darkened it with hate –
She told him then how rich therein had been her state:

“I loved her winding paths and secret pools
Which dark and mossy branches overhung,
Where owls hid from the forest’s daylight fools,
The jays, who pestered them with questioning song.
If rain clouds found me there when I was young
Where oaks a vaulted abbey roof did spread,
Where buckthorn chapels grew, I dry among
The thicket sat, and heard above my head
The drops down-falling on my leafy roof instead.”

Some days by sun-glanced stream I’d speak my heart,
And lift my song for none but God to hear,
Then summer’s clouds of swifts would take their part
And swirling praise Him in the firmament clear,
As long ago they flew ere knowing fear.”
She smiled, and through the sunlight streaming in
Crossed to the knight and said “Now you are here,
Swift flies the earl’s doom, Sir Peregrine;
My thanks I give – I’ve found the fearless world again.”

The Peregrine Knight. Part 8.

The Peregrine Knight. Part Six.

The Peregrine Knight. Part I

Part VI. In which the foster brother relates what happened after dinner that night.

Our eldest did the countess charge this night,
When empty stood our last barrel of meal,
That she should come and tell to you her plight;
That she should softly to your bedside steal
And bow her head, and as a suppliant kneel,
To beg you be her lord and be her shield.
This, she should ask, not only for her weal,
But for ours too. She answered, and would not yield,
“I’d liefer face our foe myself upon the field”

So she to him would not submission grant,
And though his hest he pressed upon her long,
Like stubborn heretic who never will recant
She, pale and trembling, in her will stood strong.
“Then I and all that unto you belong
Will fly from here as birds in wintertide,
Cold lady who your faithful friends now wrong,
And cowardice in cloak of modesty hides”
So spoke he flinging words like arrows far and wide.

Though she did turn her eyes away from us,
I saw by rushlight glassy teardrops fall
And make dark stain upon her pale dress.
She looked upon the hangings on the wall
Where her father bringing miscreants ‘neath his thrall,
Did stand with sword and sceptre in faded thread.
I spoke: “There’s one now sleeps within these walls,
Who can the black-earl challenge without dread;
Be glad! For I will speak unto the knight.” I said.

The knight replied “Go give to her my word
That I will be her knight, and will not fail
To make all who attack her taste my sword.
And of the truth of those adventure tales
With which I after meat did all regale,
Know, by my faith, true are the things I told.
But bear her tokens three, lest doubt assail,
And with these gifts, pray bid her heart be bold-
This jewel red, this shield of white, this ring of gold.’

The Peregrine Knight. Part Seven.