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.

The Goblin Maiden

Behold the great goblin maiden
with her sharp nose spiraling round,
her ears long and her head laden
with curly white hair to the ground.
Her laughter is not like a harp
and her voice is not sweet honey;
her skin is green, her teeth are sharp,
and her large yellow eyes runny.
She does not enjoy any fruit
nor the fragrance of perfumed oil,
her nose is like a long taproot
seeking worms beneath the dark soil.
She snacks on fat bugs like bonbons
and slumbers in a bed of withe,
awaiting the oncoming dawns
in a swamp swarming with her kith.
Although no knights seek her green hand,
they seek her when upon their quest
through the soggy, boggy upland
to pierce her hungry-hearted breast,
for she steals the false hearts of men
with her glamor, cunning, and guile,
plucking the crimson meat out when
enchanting their greed with each wile,
with each pile of gold and gemstones
mined from deep beneath the peat bog
where men shrink to leather-bagged bones
and phantoms swirl in the pale fog.
Yet, come knights, come kings, come all priests:
they shall fail, shall fall, are thus slain
and gutted, in turn, like dumb beasts
in this butcher maiden’s domain.
For what are her truest treasures
except the skulls of foolish men?
What are her keenest of pleasures
except hearts overripe with sin?

The Knight And The Dragon

He was a dragonslayer, born and bred
to hunt and kill those hot-blooded lizards
with spear and shield and a plume upon his head,
and without the aid of ballistas or armies or wizards.

His kingdom flew proud banners at high mast
with vibrant colors arrayed in blue, red, and white
and held a celebration for him to thereby cast
him forth from the castle with love and delight.

Yet, the only person who set forth with him
upon the long journey into faraway foreign lands
was his squire, Verus, for whom the apparent whim
was a means of funding life’s necessary demands.

Rumor told that there was a new dragon, very strong
and more snake in make than the previous drakes,
its eye shrewd, its fangs sharp and its coils long
so that its constant burrowing caused great earthquakes.

Where the dragon flew, acid rain fell in its wake
as it snorted coal-black smoke and ashen death
to poison every creek, river, and freshwater lake
that it touched with its sooty shadow and putrid breath.

This new dragon was, in fact, quite old
and had bided its time with patient care,
taking land and tribute, but not being too overbold:
remaining quiet as its coils expanded in its lair.

The knight knew he needed to slay it soon
ere it became too big in its massive size,
but there were things to curtail the dragon’s fortune—
natural impediments to its scaly enterprise.

To the Southwest lay a mountain range, tall and wide,
and just on the other side many foes did roam:
large Bengal tigers who hatefully eyed
the dragon as it grew close to their beloved home.

To the North spread a bleak reach of ice and snow
where there slept a bear, brooding in his cold war cave,
and to the East a sea of hostile depths, its uneasy flow
rife with sea serpents that vowed to protect their enclave.

As for the knight, he knew the perilous path
and ventured forth boldly, fancying the quest
a fairytale story, full of valor and courage and wrath,
never doubting that he was the best of the best.

He glanced upon the terrain where the dragon dwelled
and bethought himself more than ready for the fight,
even as his squire told him to wait, lest he be felled
by overconfidence and the want of keener insight.

But the knight was bold, impatient, in want of war,
riding into the rice paddies with his spear raised high
and charging at the dragon with the intent to gore
the serpent as it slept beneath its smoggy sky.

Imagine the knight’s surprise when his brand new spear
suddenly snapped like the thin twig of an elm tree
as it struck the giant dragon’s hide from the rear
and bent and broke into pieces of two and then three.

Astounded, the knight could only blink in dismay
as the dragon began its terrible counterattack.
The knight was thrown from his horse, falling to lay
sprawled out, spreadeagled, on his aching back.

His armor fell apart with each undercutting slash
and so the desperate knight called out to his squire
as his breastplate melted in a blinding white flash
from the serpent’s breath of industrial fire.

“Wherefore mine armor thus fail?”
he demanded, retreating from the beast,
fleeing as if followed by the flames of Hell
and fearing to be the main course in a feast.

“It was cheaply made by the dragon himself,”
the squire said. “And so is cheap attire, to tell truth.”
The knight exclaimed, “T’were better some witless elf
made it in mirth and mischief! Forsooth! Forsooth!”

After having retreated to a distance, the knight
stripped down to his cloth, then cast aside his spear,
and looked about for a way whereby he might
win the day, and not submit to despair and fear.

The squire, being a curious boy, climbed a nearby rock
and watched the dragon as it coiled inside its cave.
He said to the knight, “I think you should try to talk!”
to which the knight replied, “You are a silly knave!”

But then the dragon gestured toward the knight
as if he did, in fact, wish to speak of treaty terms,
and the knight, having already lost the good fight,
thought it prudent to speak with this king among wyrms.
So the knight followed the dragon inside his den,
finding, to his surprise, golden coins of all types,
including a lot of gold coin from his own kin
and his own house, inlaid with stars and stripes.

“You make such cheap things, dragon,” the knight said,
“and I do not believe any of us should pay more.”
He then crossed his arms and ruefully shook his head,
to which the dragon replied, “You get what you pay for.”

The knight blinked at this, then suddenly laughed out loud,
and so, too, did the dragon, each one eyeing the other
with an uneasy sneer as they laughed, too proud
to admit aloud that they truly needed one another.

“But what of my people?” the knight said at last,
thinking of his kingdom and what they might think.
“If I do not kill you I will be exiled, an outcast!”
The dragon told him he could kill him, with a wink.

The knight, thereafter, returned home to his people
with a cheap, fabricated dragon’s skull
which he paraded through town, and beneath the steeple,
before putting it in his house’s bank, now not half so full.

As for Verus, the squire, he stayed with the dragon
to learn what he could from that poisonous beast,
and learn much he did, though he was not one to brag on
how much he knew, for that was not wise in the least.

The dragon, himself, grew larger, spreading to the savanna
where lions and elephants pledged that they, too would be loyal
and to give him tributes of labor and land and mana,
much as the knight did, gripped in each tightening coil.