From the gable the hanged man swayed,
weather-worn and his long coat frayed,
and, down below, the blacksmith laughed
to see crows as he plied his craft.
The sun went down, but the corpse stayed
while the blacksmith bettered his trade
until he heard hooves beating swift
neath the moon, in the midnight rift
of life and death, flesh and soul,
while the fog, thick, began to roll.
On pale horses there came a host
through the moonlight, each like a ghost
in fine Fae feature and attire,
of noble bearing, knight and squire.
“Hail,” said the blacksmith, “lord of streams,
lord of hills and of moonlit dreams.”
The Fae lord nodded, yet his eyes
went to the hanged man, and the flies
that buzzed about and swarmed around,
their song of joy a constant sound.
“You are as we,” remarked the lord,
pointing with his sharp silver sword.
“You have hunted and won, with skill,
as we have, in field, mount and hill.
But what worth is such common fare?
Wherefore this man dances in air?”
The blacksmith smiled shrewdly, and said
“Tell, first, the stories of each head
hanging from your fine-worked saddles,
for I wish e to hear such battles.”
The Fae lord gestured to a knight
and he dismounted, at child’s height,
taking down, then, an ogre’s head
from his lord’s saddle, splattered red,
and the head had tusks, sharp and long,
and its jaws were big, its chin strong,
but all lay lax in that dead face,
life gone from it, without a trace.
“I slew this monster near the bridge
that extends from stone ridge to ridge
for he preyed upon our kindred,
his hunger great, yet now ended.”
The knight returned the trophy, now,
and sought another, whose broad brow
was maned with marshy hair that hung
blackish green, and a limp pale tongue
between needle teeth, its long snout
like a horse, its horns curving out.
“Here is the pookah, a deadly mount
who haunted the swamp’s bracken fount,
dragging drunkards into the peat
and tearing them apart to eat.”
The third head was of an eagle,
but giant, golden, beak regal.
“And here, at last, is the griffin,”
said the lord, and, with a sniff, then,
told of how the foul fowl laid claim
to all his flocks and all his game,
and so the lord had set a trap,
baiting the beast till, with a snap,
he brought it down with an arrow
which pieced shrieking through the air so
that the beast fell at once, quite done,
though the quills still shone like the sun.
“My only regret,” said the lord,
as he sighed and sheathed his stained sword,
“is having only trophies three
whereas four would better please me
for my trophy hall has such space
that it would gain from one more face.
But enough of such things,” he said.
“Tell me how he came to be dead.”
The blacksmith grinned like a demon.
He said, “By his ill-spilt semen
upon that which was fairly mine—
my wife! So I showed him the line
between good and bad, life and death,
and the lecture cost him his breath.
As for my wife—she is chained
within my house, our vows profaned,
yet even now I work my bellows
to make right of this. Trust, fellows,
that this scarlet letter shall bleed
from another maiden, whose breed
is made of the finest points known,
and has iron in place of bone.”
The Fae lord looked at the maiden
which the blacksmith made, so laden
with spikes where her heart should have been,
more monstrous than any such kin
of ogre, griffin, or such ilk
nourished by wicked blood-laced milk.
“She is my wife,” the blacksmith said,
“as is that faithless girl whose head
and heart were won by Love’s deceit,
but my good wife shall drink replete,
for the faithless wife shall so slake
the steadfast wife, for her mistake,
and by merit of blood provide
from bed to bed, and bride to bride.”
He worked the hot, wrathful bellows,
the embers of orange-yellows
flaring like fitful flies of fire
or, perhaps, flecks of vain-desire.
He said, “To me her only worth
was insomuch as field to serf:
a thing to be plowed in such time
for hale harvest in proper clime.
But she harbored fancies bygone
with this rogue, whom I have high-drawn.
As if the heart should rule such things
when we know gold rules even kings,
and I have amassed a great hoard
through my flames, by horseshoe and sword.
Verily, I have grown steel plates
for whole armies, helms for pates,
and such great horns like a ram’s crown
that could blow ancient mountains down.
Should I not revenge myself
against fickle wife, lordly elf?”
The blacksmith grinned, very much pleased
and then laughed loudly, till he wheezed.
The Fae lord smiled, too, though grimly,
and then he hopped down, quite nimbly,
from his horse, silver sword in hand
and though short, his eyes held command
of all they gazed on, man or Fae,
his decrees none could disobey.
“I thank you,” he said, “for your truth,
and I thank you for more, forsooth,
as I longed to slay once more before
returning to my hillside door,
and here I have found at long last
a dragon whose flame hath cast
horrid shadows of deeds foul done
and deeds yet done beneath the sun.
Thus I have found my fourth trophy.”
And no sooner than lord quoth, he
struck head clean off the man’s shoulders
whereupon his banner-holders
fetched it up from the bloody lawn
(the mouth slack-jawed, as if to yawn)
and hung it on their lord’s horse
thereafter freeing bride, of course,
from her shackles, then cut down, too,
her lover from his gabled view.
The cock’s crow heralded first light,
so the Fae company took flight
and vanished as dew in the dawn—
like mist from fabled Avalon.