The Unicorn Curse

O friend, have you yet to meet
the unicorns in their froth-maned flock?
Hooves of onyx, fierce and fleet
and their hides pale white like marble block.
Fear them, O friend, and their gaze,
their eyes like pure-polished porcelain
that flinch not from brightest rays
or from any malign course of sin.
They look like frolicking steeds
galloping across the Springtime plains
alike to many horse breeds,
but they will suffer no mount or reins.
Suffer! To suffer, indeed!
For they bridle a man’s life instead,
as they did me, and mislead,
like a mug of witch brew to the head.
Their aspect is not equine,
but headed like babes but a year old,
and their hearts are not divine,
but unfeeling, cruel, deathly cold.
But what favor they show oft
to virgins who dare to travel far
to touch such a mane…pure…soft…
following Virgo, from star to star!
But what of virgins oft said
to be honored among these pure things?
Come, if you dare; lay your head
in their laps and see how their touch brings
a curse such as no man wants,
such a curse of loveless wanderlust
until ones memory haunts
the lonely years, one’s youth gone to rust.

Mariana’s Song

Another eve passed alone
and I ponder my cold bed,
the night air chilling to the bone,
the hearth of day dark…now dead.

Single candle, you burn low
on the window sill nearby,
your flame is small, your wax aflow
as the teardrops from an eye.

Do I fret the solitude
and its all-too-silent hours?
Do I linger in this dark mood
of a wine that quickly sours?

I take turns about my room
and recall your lips to mine;
and in that mournful midnight gloom
I can see the full moon shine.

It shines afar—ghostly wan
with the daylight it borrows
from a fickle sun that has gone
to happier tomorrows.

Away! Away! Flee you far
from whence you oft wished not leave;
you were as constant as a star—
now dew athwart spider-weave.

My looking-glass shines no more,
nor can it with thin moonbeams,
nor my eyes, nor my smile, nor your
gilded glamor in my dreams.

When I shine, now, I am pale
with the distant light of you,
you are memory of a tale
I tell myself: I love you.

Your scent no longer remains
nor shadows from your light;
I cannot clean these linen stains
of wine, and blood, red on white.

The Brass Squire, The Birch Witch

Aegis, the shield-hand, ventured on a quest
alongside his compeers, the Gran Stone squires,
each besotten with dreams to thus attest
the worth of their training, their hearts—the liars.

Twere young men spurred by the heat of their lungs
to ride Northeast and challenge the Black Knight,
all the while flapping their overproud tongues
and profiting on all peasants in sight.

But Aegis, the chaste, aspired to be more
than the snide squires with which he rode Northward,
sworn to the heroic tenets of yore,
of shield and sacrifice; not only sword.

So when an old hag pleaded for their aid
and his brethren mocked her bark-skinned face
and then left her in the woods, Aegis stayed;
the Brass Squire would deign to witness her case.

“The demoness stole my youth,” she complained,
“That demoness Vanus, her artful wiles
being vanity to all, her heart paned
with the glass to tempt all to their own guiles.”

Aegis knew the crone was a wily liar,
yet she seemed pitiful beneath her hood,
aggrieved as elders are ere they expire,
so he agreed to do as a man should.

He braved the birch woods and their mysteries,
seeking the glade-laid heart of the forest
while the Birch Witch recalled the histories
that the trees whispered far from the Nor’west.

“When in times when old was young, and death cried
as a newborn dropped from the cosmic cleft,
the World-Unfurled was neither far nor wide,
but was as a small peaceful patch of weft.

And no beast was a hunter, nor beast prey,
and the day stretched on with sunlight profound
nor darkened at the closing of the day,
but all was pure innocent, round and round.

For there were no beasts nor hearts nor desires
as the Weft lay smooth in its little square,
but soon life arose, from which there transpires
the wolf and the sheep, the fox and the hare.

And then I came, from up high, as an owl
to hunt amidst the moonlight and the birch,
screeching to silence even the wolf’s howl
and to make pellets of pelts from my perch.”

The Birch Witch laughed, then, and Aegis wondered
if he was a fool, her motives clearer,
but then came a glint of light that sundered
shadow from shadow—it was a mirror.

The demoness was tall, slender, a snake
with fine arms and legs and claws and a head
that looked almost womanly in its make,
but crowned in black horns, her smirking lips red.

But most striking of all was the gilt pane
embedded in her bark-scaled belly, fat,
for that mirror drew Aegis, as a rein,
and he could not but be spellbound by that.

Dismounting from his horse, Aegis stepped forth
with his sword forgotten in the saddle,
meanwhile the witch watched him, the haggard dwarf
warning that he should not let his wits addle.

Vanus, the demoness, spoke thereafter:
“Gaze, gentle squire, and witness thy desire,
for it is what thou most wish.” Her laughter
resounded through the glade in a great gyre.

In the molten mirror the squire beheld
the fancies of an ideal come to be,
but it was the deceit with which she veiled
the truth of his unconfessed vanity.

Aegis saw himself ornate with festoons,
gloried by men and women, one and all,
and beyond, his tale told on golden runes:
a song in every court and mead hall.

But the demoness lied, he knew too well,
for she smirked as oft the cruel squires did
just before they took to some fancy fell
and did what horrors honor should forbid.

Wroth, then, with himself and the other squires,
the Brass Squire lifted shield against the glass
fending off reflections of his desires
and smashing his dreams with his turtled brass.

The demoness screamed, as did her slayer,
for her demonic blood surged to scald skin,
melting his young face, layer by layer,
until he swooned unto oblivion.

When he awoke later, it was to pain,
his face a cocoon of loose cloth wrappings
while the Birch Witch advised him to refrain.
She said, “You’re not the strongest of saplings.”

She tended him for a time, with great care,
applying honey and sap to his face,
but though stronger, he was no longer fair,
nor had she regained her youth in its place.

“We both of us lost,” she told him, weeping,
“but you lost most of all, my poor young man.”
Aegis said nought for a long time, keeping
his griefs to himself, if but for a span.

“I am free,” he said, “free from dreams now past,
and though it aches alike my face, I yet
seek to be as shield made in fire to last,
branded to remind me lest I forget.

I am free to do as duty demands,
free from the temptations that slough like skin
peeled by your tender, careful hands, such hands
that could have slain me in the chance given.”

Then the Birch Witch and the Brass Squire both smiled,
smiles pained by the scars of Time and of War,
seeing one another true, unbeguiled,
and journeyed forth into the lands of yore.

Offal’s Lessons In Manners

Offal, the court fool, speaks:

“A lord marked a swineherd at his morn meal.
‘How came you by such uncouth manners, friend?’
The swineherd spoke while he ate to his fill.
‘Manners are not so hard to comprehend.
My hogs have manners, too, which oft contend
with the highest lord ruling in his land,
for though they lay in the filth they expend
it behooves them to not use a hoofed hand,
their snouts deep in what they don’t understand.”

“The lord, astride his horse, snorted disdain.
‘You would do better to learn from your lord.’
The swineherd swallowed and, without refrain,
laughed aloud, eyeing his lord’s long, sheathed, sword.
He said, ‘I have learned much from my swine horde.
Indeed, they are not afeared of the blade
for they are too happy among filth, lord,
to know the blade till its kiss has been made
across the throat and their life debts are paid.’

“The lord blinked, confused at such unconcern.
‘Had you sense you would not speak quite so free.’
The swineherd did not flinch, but took a turn
around his sty, watching his hogs till he
saw the sow roll in grime and gunk and glee.
He then said, ‘Had you sense you would know how
filth can come out of either end of me,
but I find truffles well as any sow,
which I gift to you, lord.’ He gave a bow.

“‘You bring me no truffles!’ the lord replied.
‘Indeed, I think you hoard them for yourself!’
The swineherd smirked from ear-to-ear, quite wide,
not unlike a mischievous bogle elf.
‘Go to my larder and look at each shelf.
I am deprived of truffles, and of care,
for I have not your manners or your wealth.’
The lord dismounted his horse, haughty his air,
and went to the cottage to look in there.

“Meanwhile the swineherd went to the lord’s horse
and fetched the lord’s blade from the bridle’s sheath.
He said, ‘Oft one must be careful, of course,
for swineherds among hogs may come to grief
wherefore fallen—however long or brief—
they may feed their lessers with the fumble
for hogs rush to claim what others bequeath,
even if unwitting be the stumble.’
The lord came out, then, with a gruff grumble.

“‘I found my truffles, knave!’ he growled aloud,
his arms cradling truffles like a farrow,
but afore he could say aught else, he bowed,
his neck split from a slash, clean and narrow.
Away fled his spirit, like a sparrow.
The swineherd fed the body to his swine
and buried the bones beneath a barrow.
‘Ill-mannered hogs may begrime when they dine,
but they may yet end a royal bloodline.'”

The Queen’s Beloved Tower

Twas a queen in long agone times
whose husband was an old king
who ruled many lands, many climes,
and bound her with a wedding ring.

He gifted her a gemmy crown
studded with jewels all aglow,
yet the queen did but frown and frown
for the grave sadness she did know.

‘My dear darling,’ the great king said,
‘what ails you, my lovely flower?’
She said, ‘It is a matter of my bed,
for it is in a short tower.’

‘How doth that ail you?’ the king said.
And she answered, ‘Such short towers
bring no pleasure to those abed
in the lonely, feverish hours.’

So the king had his servants build
for his queen a looming tower
made of riverstone, in a field,
and in this did she embower.

‘Tis a fine tower,’ she remarked,
‘and nice, at its own modest height.
But,’ she added with an eyebrow arced,
‘Tis not so tall as is aright.’

So the king had more stones piled up
and the tower grew taller still,
the turret lofty like the cup
of a giant toasting his swill.

‘It is of adequate size now,’
the queen said with a blushing smile.
She raised a coquettish eyebrow
and bethought a wonderful wile.

The old king smiled, too, like a naif.
‘I am pleased you are pleased, my love,
and glad it is high, and, so, safe,
for tis like a bough for a dove.’

Yet the tower was now too high
and the king too old to walk it,
the steps making him groan and sigh
as his bones ached in each socket.

‘Will you not rejoin me?’ he asked,
‘for I miss you in my own bed.’
The queen said, ‘No, love,’ her face masked
with a smile rare since she was wed.

‘Husband, I am pleased being high
among the stars and the moonlight,
for it pleases me as I lie
abed and dream through the long night.’

She added, ‘Nor lonely am I,
but have my bard sing a sweet song
to put me to sleep, up so high
atop his tower—all night long.’

The king let be, happy his queen
was pleased and no longer forlorn,
and she was pleased, indeed serene,
coming to court happy each morn.