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Oct 2013
I

In eras weird with old mythology,
As if asleep the fabled country lay:
Her wave-like hills and faerie forests dense,
Her thorny brambles budding curling claws,
And ivy circling all the woodsey way --
The far swan's cry came soft and woke them not.
Forlorn, that selfsame call upon the gates
Did break; those gates of Britain's long-lost keep.
She too slept fast, the weary weathered stones
Of fairest Caerleon. O pulsing stream,
Thou vein of life in woods a-slumber, Usk!
Alone are you in knowing castle's face,
From years of timeless burbling at her feet.
What tales are told by water over stone?
What lark or wren can sing of sadness come?
Aye, answers are the beach-wet sand, yet hark!
Rejoicings spilled, proud hails, from Caerleon:
They cheered the ****-frost's melting with the Spring;
The holy Gwyl Fair y Canhwyllau
Had come at last, in foliage of dawn.

Within, their goblets sailed, wassailed, and crashed
Like growling Jove, their boasts and toasts like wine --
They drank it spiced and over-strong. Indeed,
Some stretched exaggerations: 'twas Sir Bors,
That spotless sheet, who tried to contradict.
He quoted purifying texts and spurned
The wine that nature raised and crafted sweet.
Yet "Loosen up!" uproared the host to him.
"The time has come to celebrate," said Kay,
Beloved knight, step-brother to the King,
"Aloft thy wine, below thy gills! Drink! Laugh!
Your stomach is a falsehood-spewing fool,
It must be drowned for you to feel a lord.
I speak a sooth, you need wine's fleeting bliss!
Know thee that man's tomorrows bleed him dry:
A wade through death and depths as sure as pain
That shall tomorrow light your brow. Laugh! Drink!"
Bold cheering spread with Kay's advice, though yet
To no surprise Bors turned aside the drink,
Unblemished bore, so celebrates alone.
Weep not for him, for soon he'll find a cup
More suited to his strange of chaste and grace.
And none to waste: his share was drunk by all.

Engaged in feast Owain ap Urien,
Engaged in tale now Bedwyr and Kay,
And Lancelot made eyes at Gwenevere.
It was a feast of great success and joy
As fitting of the season's robust gleam,
Yet two there were with shallow-rooted smiles.
Prince Mordred one, though ever-somber he:
Accursed spawn with bone in place of heart
And dreaded incantations for his blood;
His brooding perched like crow on him. Alas:
The other joy-bled man had beard aflame,
A bear-skin drape, and crystal eyes, the Lord
He was of Caerleon and Mordred both.
'Twas not the gleam in lover's gaze that vexed
Though it was seen; he had no heart in him
To chain his Queen as if in dungeon steel,
For Arthur lived believing to be fair
Was paramount, to even paramour.
It wreaked its toll, yet caused small grief this day.
Not even serpent son gave cause to mourn
That greater was than missing nephew's spot
Among the feast. His chair was naked bare
Returned though he should be from faerie quest.
At Calan Gaeaf they expected him
When winter storms had racked their shoddy hall,
Yet since, the months had rolled to Gwyl Fair
The milder season come, but not his kin.
The image of his maiméd corpse did taunt
And haunt the agéd mind of Arthur, King,
His phantom nephew slain anon by knight
That of no flesh was made. In year that died
This green-mailed knight arrived a guest and called
Infernal challenge. Trick it seemed to them
And trick it was, for subsequent the blow,
This seaweed knight did lift his severed head
And from dead lips he cried "Well struck! Now come,
Fulfill me of my game. The year to come
Shall see thee in my home, and as agreed
My turn 'twil be to answer with my axe."

So rapt in recollecting, Arthur missed
The growing clamor that beset his hall.
His ******* cleared the grief from him with taunt,
To bring him into grief. "What say thee, Dad,"
Dripped venom from his mouth, "No love for us?
Your hail we called, but disapprove your eyes.
Methinks that far away thou seest a dream
That visits oft the elderly: a place
Thou knewst when in thy prime, with love
Now filled to burst. Yet fear us not, away!
To land of youth far more beloved than we
Whose happiness with thine own heart is twined."
"My fellow, soft!" the King began, distressed,
Yet Lancelot rose to his feet and spake
"Blackguard is he who mocks our Lord to face!
Thou palest hide, thou Mordred, sit thee down!
This sniveling craven knight should be replaced."
A sounding of the table met his speech,
Again was hailed his toast, and Arthur glad,
Though burdened to his breaking point, and sad.

"Blackguard is he who mocks our Lord to face,"
Had spake his bravest champion and friend
With no regard to Blackguard wrapped in stealth.
See how his roughspun fingers coil in hers
And how some sweetened whisper 'scapes her lips?
The beams of color-stainéd light slip down
To play upon their blissful sin almost
As if King Arthur's King approved on high.
Sovereignty is ruthless, Arthur thought,
Well-wishings of my God grow ever-faint.
I must believe in good though I am ill,
Just as I find my countrymen displeased
Though I did calculate my every breath
To see that it did stand with God's own will
To help my common people from their murk.
I fear I am not what I wished to be,
And now my only solace peaceful death.
If up to me, I'd wish it in my bed.

What horn's blare? Hark! King Arthur roused from thought.
Court gatekeeper Glewlwyd Gafaelfawr,
Dressed plain in brown, took down the horn from lips
And loud as elk called to the hall "Have cheer!
Sirs, drink another beer and wreath your brow
With springtime blooms, for lost knight fair is found!"
Old Arthur trusted not his feeble ears,
But came a hush and Lancelot confirmed:
"What **," he boomed, "our brother has returned!
'Tis grey Gawaine, aye, Gwalchmai! Drink his hail!"
The uproar was enourmous: "Gwalchmai! Cheers!"
Was like to wake the sleeping wilderness
That hung suspended in the myth and mist.

II

Astonishment had come like breaking wave
Upon the thirsty sands of monarch's face
So long consigned to reap the low-tide's grief.
When Arthur's ursine hand clenched round his cup
And hailed his nephew's presence with a roar
Long lost to hibernation's hoary spell,
The hearts that beat in armor under him
Did swell to find their lord with cheer at last;
The toast they drank so hearty as to give
Sweet Dionysus pause against excess.
Though only two there were who did not drink,
And one of these were Bors, a sadness fell
Once more as tangible as any wrong
That chose to haunt a hall. 'Twas Gwalchmai grey,
The conqueror now home from quest to rest
Who would not lift his eyes to meet the King's.

"Has cheer so fled from you? Your life remains!
What black has inked you in?" the King did ask,
And silence overtook the hall to hear.
How strongly then did Gwalchmai wish to leave,
To blend once more his form to root or branch
Or soaring river. Wind, the songbird's muse,
Had been his fast companion on the road,
For known to him were many things. He was,
They say, some god that stalked the minds of man
In young enchanted places of the world
Though all his magic helped him not at court:
His shyness was a leaf obscured by rain.
Yet even gods of silence know to speak
When words of pain encircle heavy hearts.
He let them fly, birds in the sky, he said
"I failed. My quest was long and arduous,
The seasons changed while I in heather lost,
The moon its phases shed as fen-frogs called,
I floated through the endless cloying mist
That flows, a ghostly sea wrapped round our isle.
The path had nearly drowned me when I found
The chapel green enough to spell my doom.
When entered I, methought "It cannot be!"
So kind and courteous a host met me
That would have been disgrace to call him green.
He feasted me, and warmed my wounded bones,
Yet I betrayed him in the end; I failed.
I stayed his guest, and friend, and swore to him
That for his hospitality I'd share
Each thing I won while underneath his roof.
And all was well -- I'd rest, he'd hunt -- until
His wife played hearts with me. I did refuse,
But by her final trick was tempted and --
So lost all knightly honor and renoun.
Her lusts I spurned three times, but on the third
She offered me that which my heart desired,
Instead of love she begged me take her boon:
A silken girdle sewn with charms, and green,
Deceit I should have seen. She said the spells
Would keep me safe from harm and spare my life...
When on my rugged journey all I'd feared
Was twisting face of death that loomed so near.
I could not help myself, it seemed so tame,
Yet when the time had come I could not share
That gift, or else expose the husband's wife.
Beneath my armor tied when left that place,
My secret wore me down upon the bog.
It seemed the mist grew thicker, wind grew swift,
I now know under spell was I, but then
It seemed some vengence coming to a head.
My tale grows long, and past the point am I.
The Green Knight and my host were one in fraud:
An airy insect's dream. His "wife," a witch,
Had formed him out of acrid moorland soil:
Homunculus to carry out her scheme.
The blow he owed me carried little force,
Though still this scratch is plain upon my nape.
And so you see my folly plain as oak:
For though I kept the life I feared to lose
My lie grows in me like a cancer bloom
That in the span of time shall **** me sure.
I failed; I'm gone; to revelry return."
The silence, vast again, gripped all the knights
And king too dry to cry, who drowned his heart.

III

"Is there some madness come to roost herein?
Thy folly is ridiculous," said Kay.
"I valued mine own life past honor's flame,
A sin of selfishness, and blame, and wrong.
What of the world, if all would act as such?"
A weeping noise he made, but choked it back
And turned to leave in shame, and might have done
Had not the stout Sir Kay gripped Gwalchmai's arm.
He raised it in the air and shouted thus:
"Percieve our stunning champion stands nigh!
Though of a frail ennobled heart, we know
Thou art absolved. This trinket given free
To aid in quest I wager was for thee.
And as for sacred broken vows, this man --
You said yourself -- was conjured from a bug.
You owe him no alleigance Gwalchmai, sit!
This serious you need to be for wine:
Come sit with brothers now! We drink to thee!"
"Dispel the failure all you can, it stays
As weighty on my brain. It was a sign
To signify the kind of soul I am,
To me it showed my grimy ills and plain
Did tell my shaping, shape, and shape-to-be."
King Arthur to this nephew spake: "My child,
Is there no antidote to questing's woes?
What has become of jousts and silver swords?"
The anguish in the old man's eyes so keen
To those who knew him. Gwalchmai did reply
"Your majesty, there's not a grief can ****
My bird-like love of questing through the trees,
For only questing can redeem my shape."
"Then let us have this quest!" cried Kay beside
Him at the table, deep in drink he swore.
"Come with me, brother-knight, to clear thy mood!
You do you wrong blaspheming at yourself."
The wine was quaffed by Gwalchmai, yet he said
"I first shall stay, I need to rest my ills."
"Your ills are that which keep you ill, good knight.
I bid you come and we shall quest as birds
Who savor springtime berries in the mist."
"I shall not go, I seek my quietude."
"In sunlight you and I must bask. Comply,
Or else I challenge you by burnished blade."
All eyes on Gwalchmai, under pressure cracked
Into a grin and downed his kykeon.
"In stubborness persisting, Kay, you've won,
A river such as I could not keep stead
Against a boulder. When shall we away?
When come the summer blossoms, fair and red?
Or else not til the saps have lost their leaves?
Departure yours to choose, my brother-knight."
Kay beat upon the table and their ears
When called triumphantly "This very day,
This very hour! To help those who need aid
On holy days shall surely fix your heart.
No time to wallow in the swamp that's gone,
We now away, to break our swords with day!"
"You mock me or you heard me not, Sir Kay,
I wish not to away, I wish to rest!"
The fairest Guenevere, like silver bells,
Chimed in "You must forgive your heart's despair,
Or emanations of its guilt will plague
Your mind. I have a lunar garden if
You wish to sit in soothing calm and think."
"My queen is holy," Gwalchmai spoke in grace,
But Kay had cut him off with "Hear her not!
She will ensorce your mind to not explore,
To sit and think and mold with lunacy;
Beneath the sun we'll tred. It's known on quests
I favor Bedwyr, 'tis true, yet you
My fairest Gwalchmai, keep your wits -- and arms --
Two things in need of we shall be.
I mean you no offense, dear Bedwyr,
But I and Gwalchmai share a severed soul
And shall succeed; two sides of selfsame coin.
So come my cousin grey, to right our wrongs
We must away, to break our swords and say
'My heart is glad I did not stay at home!'
Consume your drink! We go," he trumpet-called.
Thus Gwalchmai was convinced, and so was forced
To nod politely to his Queen and stand,
Declaring to the court "I shall away,
This gloomy mood is dried beneath the sun
Though dearly do I wish some lunar grace
To lose myself in mysteries anew.
To bear this flesh is weighty, yet I've found
The strain to be rewarding in its way.
Think nothing of my former woes, they've passed
Like summer storm or wisp of misty cloud."
The hall at large did drink his hail, and then
Did thrice more drink for quest to which they went.
And Mordred scowled and drank the foulest wine
For his monsoon and fog would last his life.

So summoned then Glewlwyd Gafaelfawr
To hearken unto birds, as was his gift.
He said to all, "I shall now call my friends
And see what worthy tales of quests they bring!"
"There may be naught on Gwyl Fair," said Bors,
"A holy day, all wove with peace. Nor Gods
Nor men would stir their strife this day of days."
"We all shall see," the gatekeeper replied.
Beside his King upon the dais came
And played a serenade upon his horn
That rang throughout the keep and lands beyond.
A time did pass with no response recieved --
Slain silent was the raptness of the court --
But then through open pain in stainéd glass
A thrush did bob and weave in melody,
On finger of the Queen he briefly perched
Before he flit away upon the air.
His song so sweet, but then - what fright! No more!
A hawk had entered, just the same, and swooped,
And now the thrush was silent in his claws.
The cabinet of augers all took note
And sketched their calculations into books,
Though none, in this, more wise than Gafaelfawr
To whom the hawk said "Hail, you man of rank
Who speaks the tongue of wing-in-air. Now hark!
'Twas not in hunger slew this thrush, but fear
That what I have to tell might go unheard.
My family, we roost near Cornwall's sea
And late, the noises off the coast grew strange
As if some evil kraken raged at love.
My chicks; my wife and I; we're simple hawks.
We eat and some of us are eaten, yet
Beware the thing that slouched from out the waves.
His shape is something like a boar, but huge,
He dwarfs his kin, and hill, and oak,
This hall is large, yet he'd be stuck inside.
He does not eat what he has killed, instead
He smears the bloodied flesh on stones and trees,
What man could face a fear that bears this face?
If you could hear the rutting squeals he makes!
I swear this sooth by wind and waving plumes:
You men who craft with metal, hark!
Destroy the beast!" And then he flew away
Still calling after him "Destroy the beast!"

The court at large had heard the warbling hawk
But did not know the tongue, so only watched
Glewlwyd's unease upon his face
Until with stiff and rasping voice relayed
The content of the predatory news.
Unease began to show among the knights,
For many there recalled a beast so shaped
And all the blood and guile he took to drown
The first time. Arthur, grim, forbade Sir Kay
And Gwalchmai face these perils by themselves,
But recommended regiment of steel
To bolster ranks against the fearsome boar.
"I know this foe from days of old," he said,
His years of rule etched rough across his face,
"And so do most of you, though many gone
And this monstrosity not even slain."
But Gwalchmai said "'Twas hard indeed to win
Those relics that he bore. Remember I
That Trwyth was the name he chose, and we
Shall best him fair. Though not for trinkets now,
But with the zeal of mother guarding young:
This foe, Twrch Trwyth shall not raze the land
Nor wage a war against some peaceful ilk
While rounded table can beco
Alexander Klein
Written by
Alexander Klein
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