Madison Julius Cawein Poems >>
Accolon Of Gaul: Part III

The eve now came; and shadows cowled the way
 Like somber palmers, who have kneeled to pray
 Beside a wayside shrine, and rosy rolled
 Up the capacious West a grainy gold,
 Luxuriant fluid, burned thro' strong, keen skies,
 Which seemed as towering gates of Paradise
 Surged dim, far glories on the hungry gaze.
 And from that sunset down the roseate ways,
 To Accolon, who with his idle lute,
 Reclined in revery against a root
 Of a great oak, a fragment of that West,
 A dwarf, in crimson satin tightly dressed,
 Skipped like a leaf the rather frosts have burned
 And cozened to a fever red, that turned
 And withered all its sap. And this one came
 From Camelot; from his beloved dame,
 Morgane the Fay. He on his shoulder bore
 A burning blade wrought strange with wizard lore,
 Runed mystically; and a scabbard which
 Glared venomous, with angry jewels rich.
 He, louting to the knight, "Sir knight," said he,
 "Your lady with all sweetest courtesy
 Assures you--ah, unworthy messenger
 I of such brightness!--of that love of her."
 Then doffing that great baldric, with the sword
 To him he gave: "And this from him, my lord
 King Arthur; even his Excalibur,
 The sovereign blade, which Merlin gat of her,
 The Ladye of the Lake, who Launcelot
 Fostered from infanthood, as well you wot,
 In some wierd mere in Briogn's tangled lands
 Of charms and mist; where filmy fairy bands
 By lazy moons of Autumn spin their fill
 Of giddy morrice on the frosty hill.
 By goodness of her favor this is sent;
 Who craved King Arthur boon with this intent:
 That soon for her a desperate combat one
 With one of mightier prowess were begun;
 And with the sword Excalibur right sure
 Were she against that champion to endure.
 The blade flame-trenchant, but more prize the sheath
 Which stauncheth blood and guardeth from all death."
 He said: and Accolon looked on the sword,
 A mystic falchion, and, "It shall wend hard
 With him thro' thee, unconquerable blade,
 Whoe'er he be, who on my Queen hath laid
 Stress of unworship: and the hours as slow
 As palsied hours in Purgatory go
 For those unmassed, till I have slain this foe!
 My purse, sweet page; and now--to her who gave,
 Dispatch! and this:--to all commands--her slave,
 To death obedient. In love or war
 Her love to make me all the warrior.
 Plead her grace mercy for so long delay
 From love that dies an hourly death each day
 Till her white hands kissed he shall kiss her face,
 By which his life breathes in continual grace."
 Thus he commanded; and incontinent
 The dwarf departed like a red ray sent
 From rich down-flowering clouds of suffused light
 Winged o'er long, purple glooms; and with the night,
 Whose votaress cypress stoled the dying strife
 Softly of day, and for whose perished life
 Gave heaven her golden stars, in dreamy thought
 Wends Accolon to hazy Chariot.

 And it befell him; wandering one dawn,
 As was his wont, across a dew-drenched lawn,
 Glad with night freshness and elastic health
 In sky and earth that lavished worlds of wealth
 From heady breeze and racy smells, a knight
 And lofty lady met he; gay bedight,
 With following of six esquires; and they
 Held on straight wrists the jess'd gerfalcon gray,
 And rode a-hawking o'er the leas of Gore
 From Ontzlake's manor, where he languished; sore
 Hurt in the lists, a spear thrust in his thigh:
 Who had besought--for much he feared to die--
 This knight and his fair lady, as they rode
 To hawk near Chariot, the Queen's abode,
 That they would pray her in all charity
 Fare post to him,--for in chirurgery
 Of all that land she was the greatest leach,--
 And her to his recovery beseech.
 So, Accolon saluted, they drew rein,
 And spake their message,--for right over fain
 Were they toward their sport,--that he might bare
 Petition to that lady. But, not there
 Was Arthur's sister, as they well must wot;
 But now a se'nnight lay at Camelot,
 Of Guenevere the guest; and there with her
 Four other queens of farther Britain were:
 Isoud of Ireland, she of Cornwall Queen,
 King Mark's wife; who right rarely then was seen
 At court for jealousy of Mark, who knew
 Her to that lance of Lyonesse how true
 Since mutual quaffing of a philter; while
 How guilty Guenevere on such could smile:
 She of Northgales and she of Eastland: and
 She of the Out Isles Queen. A fairer band
 For sovereignty and love and loveliness
 Was not in any realm to grace and bless.
 Then quoth the knight, "Ay? see how fortune turns
 And varies like an April day, that burns
 Now welkins blue with calm, now scowls them down,
 Revengeful, with a black storm's wrinkled frown.
 For, look, this Damas, who so long hath lain
 A hiding vermin, fearful of all pain,
 Dark in his bandit towers by the deep,
 Wakes from a five years' torpor and a sleep;
 So sends dispatch a courier to my lord
 With, 'Lo! behold! to-morrow with the sword
 Earl Damas by his knight at point of lance
 Decides the issue of inheritance,
 Body to body, or by champion.'
 Right hard to find such ere to-morrow dawn.
 Though sore bestead lies Ontzlake, and he could,
 Right fain were he to save his livelihood.
 Then mused Sir Accolon: "The adventure goes
 Ev'n as my Lady fashioneth; who knows
 But what her arts develop this and make?"
 And thus to those: "His battle I will take,--
 And he be so conditioned, harried of
 Estate and life,--in knighthood and for love.
 Conduct me thither."
       And, gramercied, then
 Mounted a void horse of that wondering train,
 And thence departed with two squires. And they
 Came to a lone, dismantled priory
 Hard by a castle gray on whose square towers,
 Machicolated, o'er the forest's bowers,
 The immemorial morning bloomed and blushed.
 A woodland manor olden, dark embushed
 In wild and woody hills. And then one wound
 An echoy horn, and with the boundless sound
 The drawbridge rumbled moatward clanking, and
 Into a paved court passed that little band....

 When all the world was morning, gleam and glare
 Of far deluging glory, and the air
 Sang with the wood-bird, like a humming lyre
 Swept bold of minstrel fingers wire on wire;
 Ere that fixed hour of prime came Arthur armed
 For battle royally. A black steed warmed
 A fierce impatience 'neath him cased in mail,
 Huge, foreign; and accoutered head to tail
 In costly sendal; rearward wine-dark red,
 Amber as sunlight to his fretful head.
 Firm, heavy armor blue had Arthur on
 Beneath a robe of honor, like the dawn,
 Satin and diapered and purflewed deep
 With lordly golden purple; whence did sweep
 Two hanging acorn tuftings of fine gold,
 And at his thigh a falchion, long and bold,
 Heavy and triple-edged; its scabbard, red
 Cordovan leather; thence a baldric led
 Of new cut deer-skin; this laborious wrought,
 And curiously with slides of gold was fraught,
 And buckled with a buckle white that shone,
 Bone of the sea-horse, tongued with jet-black bone.
 And, sapphire-set, a burgonet of gold
 Barbaric, wyvern-crested whose throat rolled
 A flame-sharp tongue of agate, and whose eyes
 Glowed venomous great rubies fierce of prize.
 And in his hand, a wiry lance of ash,
 Lattened with finest silver, like a flash
 Of sunlight in the morning shone a-gash.
 Clad was his squire most richly; he whose head
 Curled with close locks of yellow tinged to red:
 Of noble bearing; fair face; hawk eyes keen,
 And youthful, bearded chin. Right well beseen,
 Scarfed with blue satin; on his shoulder strong
 One broad gold brooch chased strangely, thick and long.
 His legs in hose of rarest Totness clad,
 And parti-colored leathern shoes he had
 Gold-latched; and in his hand a bannered spear
 Speckled and bronzen sharpened in the air.

 So with his following, while lay like scars
 The blue mist thin along the woodland bars,
 Thro' dew and fog, thro' shadow and thro' ray
 Joustward Earl Damas led the forest way.
 Then to King Arthur when arrived were these
 To where the lists shone silken thro' the trees,
 Bannered and draped, a wimpled damsel came,
 Secret, upon a palfrey all aflame
 With sweat and heat of hurry, and, "From her,
 Your sister Morgane, your Excalibur,
 With tender greeting: For ye well have need
 In this adventure of him. So, God speed!"
 And so departed suddenly: nor knew
 The king but this his weapon tried and true.
 But brittle this and fashioned like thereof,
 And false of baser metal, in unlove
 And treason to his life, of her of kin
 Half sister, Morgane--an unnatural sin.

 Then heralded into the lists he rode.
 Opposed flashed Accolon, who light bestrode,
 Exultant, proud in talisman of that sword,
 A dun horse lofty as a haughty lord,
 Pure white about each hollow, pasterned hoof.
 Equipped shone knight and steed in arms of proof,
 Dappled with yellow variegated plate
 Of Spanish laton. And of sovereign state
 His surcoat robe of honor white and black
 Of satin, red-silk needled front and back
 Then blackly bordered. And above his robe
 That two-edged sword,--a throbbing golden globe
 Of vicious jewels,--thrust its burning hilt,
 Its broad belt, tawny and with gold-work gilt,
 Clasped with the eyelid of a black sea-horse
 Whose tongue was rosy gold. And stern as Force
 His visored helmet burned like fire, of rich
 And bronzen laton hammered; and on which
 An hundred crystals glittered, thick as on
 A silver web bright-studding dews of dawn.
 The casque's tail crest a taloned griffin ramped,
 In whose horned brow one virtuous jewel stamped.
 An ashen spear round-shafted, overlaid
 With fine blue silver, whereon colors played,
 Firm in his iron gauntlet lithely swayed.

 Intense on either side an instant stood
 Glittering as serpents which, with Spring renewed,
 In glassy scales meet on some greening way,
 Angry advance, quick tongues at poisonous play.
 Then clanged a herald's clarion and sharp heels,
 Harsh-spurred, each champion's springing courser feels
 Touch to red onset; the aventured spears
 Hurled like two sun-bursts of a storm when clears
 Laborious thunders; and in middle course
 Shrieked shrill the unpierced shields; mailed horse from horse
 Lashed madly pawing--and a hoarse roar rang
 From buckram lists, till the wild echoes sang
 Of leagues on leagues of forest and of cliff.
 Rigid the proof-shelled warriors passed and stiff
 Whither their squires fresher spears upheld;
 Nor stayed to breathe; but scarcely firmly selled
 Launched deadly forward. Shield to savage shield
 Opposing; crest to crest, whose fronts did wield
 A towering war's unmercifulest scath;
 Rocking undaunted, glared wan withering wrath
 From balls of jeweled eyes, and raging stood
 Slim, slippery bodies, in the sun like blood.
 The lance of Accolon, as on a rock
 Long storm-launched foam breaks baffled, with the shock,
 On Arthur's sounding shield burst splintered force;
 But him resistless Arthur's,--high from horse
 Sell-lifted,--ruinous bare crashing on
 A long sword's length; unsaddled Accolon
 For one stunned moment lay. Then rising, drew
 The great sword at his hip, that shone like dew
 Fresh flashed in morn. "Descend;" he stiffly said,
 "To proof of better weapons head for head!
 Enough of spears, to swords!" and so the knight
 Addressed him to the King. Dismounting light,
 Arthur his moon-bright brand unsheathed, and high
 Each covering shield gleamed slanting to the sky,
 Relentless, strong, and stubborn; underneath
 Their wary shelters foined the glittering death
 Of stolid steel thrust livid arm to arm:
 As cloud to cloud growls up a soaring storm
 Above the bleak wood and lithe lightnings work
 Brave blades wild warring, in the black that lurk,
 Thus fenced and thrust--one tortoise shield descends,
 Leaps a fierce sword shrill,--like a flame which sends
 A long fang heavenward,--for a crushing stroke;
 Swings hard and trenchant, and, resounding heard,
 Sings surly helmward full; defiance reared
 Soars to a brother blow to shriek again
 Blade on brave blade. And o'er the battered plain,
 Forward and backward, blade on baleful blade,
 Teeth clenched as visors where the fierce eyes made
 A cavernous, smouldering fury, shield at shield,
 Unflinchingly remained and scorned to yield.

 So Arthur drew aside to rest upon
 His falchion for a pause; but Accolon
 As yet, thro' virtue of that magic sheath
 Fresh and almighty, being no nearer death
 Thro' loss of blood than when the trial begun,
 Chafed with delay. But Arthur with the sun,
 Its thirsty heat, the loss from wounds of blood,
 Leaned fainting weary and so resting stood.
 Cried Accolon, "Here is no time for rest!
 Defend thee!" and straight on the monarch pressed;
 "Defend or yield thee as one recreant!"
 Full on his helm a hewing blow did plant,
 Which beat a flying fire from the steel;
 Smote, like one drunk with wine, the King did reel,
 Breath, brain bewildered. Then, infuriate,
 Nerve-stung with vigor by that blow, in hate
 Gnarled all his strength into one stroke of might,
 And in both fists the huge blade knotted tight,
 Swung red, terrific to a sundering stroke.--
 As some bright wind that hurls th' uprooted oak,--
 Boomed full the beaten burgonet he wore:
 Hacked thro' and thro' the crest, and cleanly shore
 The golden boasting of its griffin fierce
 With hollow clamor down astounded ears:
 No further thence--but, shattered to the grass,
 That brittle blade, crushed as if made of glass,
 Into hot pieces like a broken ray
 Burst sunward and in feverish fragments lay.
 Then groaned the King unarmed; and so he knew
 This no Excalibur; that tried and true
 Most perfect tempered, runed and mystical.
 Sobbed, "_Oh, hell-false! betray me?_"-- Then withal
 Him seemed this foe, who fought with so much stress,
 So long untiring, and with no distress
 Of wounds or heat, through treachery bare his brand;
 And then he knew it by its hilt that hand
 Clutched to an avenging stroke. For Accolon
 In madness urged the belted battle on
 His King defenseless; who, the hilted cross
 Of that false weapon grasped, beneath the boss
 Of his deep-dented shield crouched; and around
 Crawled the unequal conflict o'er the ground,
 Sharded with shattered spears and off-hewn bits
 Of shivered steel and gold that burnt in fits.
 So hunted, yet defiant, cowering
 Beneath his bossy shield's defense, the King
 Persisted stoutly. And, devising still
 How to secure his sword and by what skill,
 Him so it fortuned when most desperate:
 In that hot chase they came where shattered late
 Lay tossed the truncheon of a bursten lance,
 Which deftly seized, to Accolon's advance
 He wielded valorous. Against the fist
 Smote where the gauntlet husked the nervous wrist,
 Which strained the weapon to a wrathful blow;
 Palsied, the tightened sinews of his foe
 Loosened from effort, and, the falchion seized,
 Easy was yielded. Then the wroth King squeezed,
 --Hurling the moon-disk of his shield afar,--
 Him in both knotted arms of wiry war,
 Rocked sidewise twice or thrice,--as one hath seen
 Some stern storm take an ash tree, roaring green,
 Nodding its sappy bulk of trunk and boughs
 To dizziness, from tough, coiled roots carouse
 Its long height thundering;--so King Arthur shook
 Sir Accolon and headlong flung; then took,
 Tearing away, that scabbard from his side,
 Tossed thro' the breathless lists, that far and wide
 Gulped in the battle voiceless. Then right wroth
 Secured Excalibur, and grasped of both
 Wild hands swung glittering and brought bitter down
 On rising Accolon; steel, bone and brawn
 Hewed thro' that blow; unsettled every sense:
 Bathed in a world of blood his limbs grew tense
 And writhen then ungathered limp with death.
 Bent to him Arthur, from the brow beneath,
 Unlaced the helm and doffed it and so asked,
 When the fair forehead's hair curled dark uncasqued,
 "Say! ere I slay thee, whence and what thou art?
 What King, what court be thine? and from what part,
 Speak! or thou diest!--Yet, that brow, methinks
 I have beheld it--where? say, ere death drinks
 The soul-light from life's cups, thine eyes! thou art--
 What art thou, speak!"
       He answered slow and short
 With tortured breathing: "I?--one, Accolon
 Of Gaul, a knight of Arthur's court--at dawn--
 God wot what now I am for love so slain!"
 Then seemed the victor spasmed with keen pain,
 Covered with mail