King Roswald was a ruler thought both fine and fair,
ruling with a gentle voice, wise laws, and firm hands.
He had guided his kingdom through turmoil with care
until it had become the happiest realm in the Northlands.
Roswald had three sons, all likewise full of virtue,
and they were good to their widower father and king,
and moreover were dedicated to their people, too,
seeing to their needs in every trifling thing.
But then came a day when Roswald was not himself
and his sons watched him with chagrined dismay
as their father nodded his head, as if to some unseen elf;
his usually keen mind simply drifting away.
Roswald’s eyes were puffy and wreathed in dark rings
as his bearded chin hung low upon his robed chest.
Soon he began to snore, and all three lordlings
became concerned with their father’s want of rest.
“Father,” said his eldest son, after court had ended,
“What is the matter? Are you yet well?”
His father only chuckled. “I am merely winded,”
he said, “but for reasons I cannot tell.”
This was passing strange to his sons
and so they pressed their reticent king,
insisting their father give further reasons
as to why he should believe such a thing.
“Alas, nay,” his father said with a sigh.
“It is not a proper thing to share among others.”
When they insisted again, the king gave reply,
“It is no matter to you, or any others.”
They tried to think no more of it that day,
concluding that it was likely an aberration
and that their father deserved his secrets, anyway,
since he was otherwise forthright when ruling their nation.
But the next morning the king nodded and slumped
upon his throne like a puppet unstrung of strings
or a straw-gutted scarecrow unceremoniously dumped
before the people who awaited his rulings.
They adjourned court early, the king thereafter retiring
to his lonely bedchamber, for much needed sleep.
Meanwhile, his sons met together, concerned and conspiring
to safeguard their father in his fortress keep.
“He needs rest,” the eldest, Ferdinand, said,
and his two younger brothers agreed.
“No one should bother him as he lay abed
or we will have them promptly pilloried.”
So they set guards at every level of the king’s tower—
two to a story, and ten at the bottom floor—
and the brothers themselves stayed up every hour
just outside their father’s bedchamber door.
It was in the witching hours that there stirred
noises from the other side of the door,
echoes abounding wherein there could be heard
high pitched laughter, thunderous hooves, and more.
“Something assails father!” the brothers cried,
pushing upon the door to shove it hence,
but the door was heavy, swinging slowly aside
to reveal a bedchamber fallen to silence.
The bedchamber was empty, the king gone,
and the only clues they had, had been the din
of a horse and a woman whose cackles echoed on
in the brothers’ heads, like an eerie song of sin.
“A witch has taken him!” said Adalbert, the youngest son.
“She used black magic to spirit him to her grotto.
We must rescue him ere she boil him in her cauldron!”
He then said, “Save one, save all!”, the family motto.
Knights were sent forth anon, and also squires,
and all who could look for their abducted king.
Hounds sniffed through woods, fields, and mires,
searching near every standing stone, cave, and fairy ring.
They searched all night and day for their lord,
from sunup to sundown, nary an eye idling
as the whole kingdom feared something untoward
had befallen their most beloved idol king.
But it was the maid, who, tidying the king’s room,
was startled unto fright as she began to sort his bed
and suddenly found a form laying in the evening gloom
with a slanted crown upon his disheveled head.
Her scream rallied the searchers to the tower
for it was a clarion call to wake the very dead,
and so it woke the king, too, who at that late hour
rose with a smile and a yawn and asked to be fed.
“It is not worth so much fuss,” he said lightly
as his sons berated him in a private interview.
“I just so happen to be given to walks, nightly,
and must have escaped notice passing through.”
“We did not see nor hear you open the door once!”
said Adalbert in dismay. “We were awake all night!”
“That is wholly true,” said Ferdinand, whose forbearance
was giving way to his youngest brother’s fright.
The two brothers were distraught by their sire,
but Raginald, the middle son, was more like his mother
and, so, was wise in remembering lessons taught by her
before she had died giving birth to his younger brother.
“Truth,” he said, “is as the chimera in hiding.
To glimpse only one part is to misperceive the sum.”
He then bid his two brothers to the castle’s side wing
and up another tower, overlooking the atrium.
That night the brothers stood upon the tower,
watching the king’s balcony for any malfeasent.
Then, beneath the moon and at nearly the same hour
as yesterday’s abduction, they heard her descent.
It was a witch floating across the air,
laughing wildly as she straddled her broom
with a cackle that froze the blood, her hair
floating all around her in a silver bloom.
To the brothers’ surprise, their father beckoned
as she floated toward him, raising his arms
out to her as if in welcome, which they all reckoned
to be an effect of her spells,and so raised the alarms.
But they were powerless to stop her that night
and she again transformed their beloved father
into a horse, a stallion with a coat so pale white
that it shone like foam upon the tidal water.
She threw over him a bridle and mounted his back,
then took hold of his reins, kicking his flanks.
He neighed and reared and bolted— clackity clackity clack—
across the stone balcony and up the airy banks.
The witch and the king rode across the starlit night,
she laughing and he snorting, moving with such speed
that they soon twinkled, like a star, and passed from sight,
the three brothers feeling at a loss and in great need.
“Steel weapons will not do against a sorceress,”
Ferdinand said. “For they exist like dreaming mists
untouched by blade or arrow, their flesh more or less
invincible with the aid of their magical catalysts.”
So the brothers sought the help of wizards ,
stationing them around their father’s tower.
When the witch came, the wizards wove
into a spell of protection to repel the witch’s power.
The witch was undeterred, passing easily through
their barrier as if it was nought but clear air,
thereupon transforming King Roswald anew
into a stallion which she rode away from there.
Adalbert cried out. “Why torment our father so?!
He is a justly ruler who has done well by everyone!”
Ferdinand shook his head and said, “I do not know,
but we will need stronger aid to defeat this witch, anon.”
They sent a formal message to Midland
upon the midnight wings of their fastest raven,
seeking the help of the Apprentice, Edmund,
who was heir to the powers of the Allmaster, Avon.
Edmund arrived later that day,
opening a portal directly to the castle
and stepping through without pomp or display,
wanting neither hullabaloo or hassle.
Edmund had brown hair hardly fetching
and a rose-embroidered tunic that hung slackly.
He was not impressive, this young man retching
as he stepped through a portal that shimmered blackly.
More surprising than Edmund’s underwhelming presence
was the goblin girl that accompanied him from the South;
green like plant shoots, hair white like plant roots, a nose whence
like a long taproot hung over her sharp-toothed mouth.
The brothers greeted Edmund in hopeful gratitude,
promising riches and glory and so much more,
but he waved away such things with a friendly attitude,
saying aid was reward itself enough in this chore.
“Master Avon has always been proud of your line,”
Edmund said, “and particularly proud of your king.
If it saves this goodly kingdom, then the duty is mine
to save your father.” Forthwith, he began planning.
Edmund was shown to the king, the latter
being yet asleep from a long night of riding.
It seemed to Edmund that this magical matter
was strange for reasons that the king was hiding.
“I sense no magic worked upon him,” Edmund said.
He turned toward Tangleroot, motioning her to his side
to sense what she could from the Northland King in his bed.
The elf grinned. “He seems happy after his wild ride.”
Edmund nodded. “There is more to this than it seems.
And less to it, too. I cannot say the proportion, at this time,
but we will stay here and guard the king as he dreams
and catch this witch when she once again attempts her crime.”
“Some horses like the bit and the bridle,” Tangleroot said,
cackling loudly. Her impudence irritated the youngest son.
Adalbert clenched his fist as his face brightened red.
“If you would mock him, then I would ask you to have done!”
Tangleroot was unconcerned, as all goblins were
when threatened by a human of any standing or rank.
She grinned her sharp-toothed grin in answer,
thorns growing from her green skin; nose to toes, flank to flank.
“That is enough!” Edmund said, interceding in the spat.
“Tangleroot, please behave yourself, abide, surcease,
or a whole kingdom could be thrown to turmoil, and that
is not why we are here. Master Avon entrusted us. Please!”
Tangleroot only laughed harder, hugging her thorny self
while Adalbert’s scowl darkened like a thunderhead
at the impish behavior of the Unseelie elf.
“This is no way to speak of the Northland King,” he said.
Edmund frowned in thought, his brow lined
with confusion. “Why is it that he refused to tell
anyone of his curse?” he asked. Ferdinand opined,
“We thought it perchance an effect of the spell.”
That night Edmund and Tangleroot kept watch together
within the King’s tower, alongside the brothers three,
and it was a silent night, starry and bright, the weather
clear as the witch’s laughter once again rang wild and free.
King Roswald, hitherto reposed in his deep sleep,
suddenly rose from his bed, as if at command by
the Witch’s laugh as she approached his towering keep—
he welcomed her as she descended from the sky.
“Sweet Hepsiba!” the King called. “Beware!”
The Witch was undeterred, waving her hands
and flaring flames in a roaring circle to scare
the band of people trying to stop her commands.
But before the Witch could transform the King,
Edmund wove a spell of binding, encirling her brow
with laced hemlock-and-hawthorn, that red-and-white ring
stopping the flow of the All Ways through her somehow.
“Enough!” Roswald bellowed. “Let her go! Now!”
Dumbstruck though the guards were, they obeyed,
unbinding the witch from her chains and freeing her brow
from the circlet of holly, just as their King bade.
They then hurried away from her, fearing they, too,
would be transformed into animals for a night,
or, worse, cooked in her cauldron as a stew
to be served to her coven beneath the moonlight.
The Witch freed, King Roswald addressed his heirs,
about his relationship with Hepsiba, from the start.
He spoke to them with open and honest fatherly airs
so they knew he was speaking from the heart.
“She helps me forget who I must daily be,
what I must do, for a time,” he said with a sigh,
“helping free me from my shackles of duty
and giving me some respite, ere I die.”
“I have had nothing but power my entire life,” the King said,
“and while I have always borne it as my duty and birthright
I sometimes feel its keen weight upon my wearied head.”
He motioned for the witch and she joined him at his side.
“I met Hepsiba while out on a restive walk,
looking to escape from the discomfort of my throne.
I saw her picking herbs, and, so, I stopped to talk.”
His voice assumed a very light, pleasant tone.
“As it so happened, she was not my subject— not at all!
She was a sorceress who owed no one her loyalty,
and, so, being her own queen, she invited me into her hall
where she treated me as a guest, but not as royalty.”
“But the transformations!” Ferdinand exclaimed.
“Father, you cannot insist that you were not under her spell!”
His father shook his head. “The spell she cast cannot be named—
it is different than love, and lust; it is neither, but just as well.”
“What we do is our own concern,” he continued.
“I do not expect any of you to really understand,
but, in time, Ferdinand, you will when you have been imbued
with the powers, and the shackles, of this land.”
“Since your mother died, I have devoted myself to rule—
rule of the kingdom, of myself, of all that I can see,
and sometimes I have to indulge my inner fool
or die of this weight which I bear incessantly.
“And so my mistress Hepsiba takes my reins
and frees me by taking control as my bridle bride.
Nor does she care for power or other earthly gains,
only taking pleasure, together, in our nightly ride.”
“But father!” exclaimed Raginald, “this is humiliating!
We cannot abide it” His father fixed upon him a knowing stare,
neither dismissive nor sympathetic, for a while waiting
before speaking. “Humiliating to me or to you, my heir?”
“I feel no shame in the pact we have,” he explained.
“If you do, then that is your own problem to amend.
For in all other things I am a dutiful king, and greatly pained,
and ask for little but privacy until my eventual end.”
Tangleroot grinned sharply and nudged Edmund
who, realizing he was not needed in this situation,
opened a portal and left, the brothers still stunned
that their father should continue, despite his station.
As for King Roswald and Hepsibah, the bridle bride,
they carried on until their final days came, hot to trot
in this strange, but satisfying way, each night’s ride
something done without caring of what others thought.
The Goblin Chef is utterly peerless
when he makes his many pies,
and so dedicated to his craft, and so fearless,
that others dare not cook likewise.
A butcher artisan of a great many skills
he has found ways to use every type of meat
whether it be ogre fat or mermaid gills,
gnome heads, nymph ribs or princess feet.
Many would gladly risk themselves
to eat what his fevered brain makes,
and many do, in fact, stocking his shelves
with ingredients for his pies and cakes.
You never know where inspiration will strike
as the Goblin Chef feeds his fans,
and he may, indeed, give the meal a price hike,
costing you an arm and a leg for his pans.
But what deliciously unique treats
he offers to those willing to give them a go!
Brownie brownies, fairy sweet meats,
barbecue troll loin and giant tongue gumbo.
Unicorn brisket and witch wart grits,
leprechaun chili and dragon bone stew,
centaur sausage and mandrake jam on biscuits,
and, a Northland favorite, pookah cordon bleu.
Who knows many species he has slaughtered
while beset with his culinary muse?
Or how many ecosystms he has altered
for the sake of seeking unique menus?
That is not to say some are wholly spared,
nor wholly cooked; sometimes he needs only part
of a creature’s body, such as a toe, seasoned and prepared
for a dish, leaving the rest for the creature to depart.
This is why you may see an ogre reading in brail
because he has no eyes, or a mermaid floundering
because she is missing part of her scaly fish tail
or a centaur with only two legs, foundering.
Even goblin folk fear the Chef’s cutting board,
his sharpening whetstone grinding on their nerves,
and though they pride themselves on his mischief and discord,
they have suffered from him, too, as hors d’oeuvres.
He has been known to travel far and wide
to places unknown even to the most worldly wizards,
facing the myriad dangers of a world betide
with bandits, monsters, gods, and blizzards.
He has gone to many places and harsh lands
such as the Breathless Desert and the Mumbling Mountains
He even went to the Molten Matharan Marshlands
where the crystal reeds sparkle among magma fountains .
Whole herds of centaurs flee in a great stampede
when he visits the Easterlands for new recipes,
and in the Northlands, where there grows yam weed
he hunts Yam-Yam Birds, as big as Cressy trees.
Some think of him as a single-person scourge
and as a force of Nature as fickle as the seas
who may feed your family, when taken by the urge,
or feed your loved ones to other families.
Whole armies have attempted to slay him,
thinking him a demonic and malicious merrymaker,
and yet he somehow survives, as if by Fate’s whim,
proving himself a resourceful fairy baker.
One of the greatest armies set camp atop a high hill
to prepare to slay him, going to sleep early that night
and thinking they would surprise him for an easy kill
only to wake up as gourmet soup at first light.
The Goblin Chef did not waste them, however,
and chose to feed them to a litter of kobold pups,
and the pups thanked him by lapping it up, now ever
hungry for human broth in skull-rimmed cups.
Yet, he has also served lords, and even kings,
on one side of the table, or the other,
in a seat, or on a platter with a side of fixings—
served foe to foe, friend to friend, brother to brother.
He knows much, such as there is no finer grease
than that of court sycophants’ slime set afire
when they have overstayed times of peace
and times of war, each fed to his “beloved” sire.
He knows, too, the most tender of tenderloin fare
has to be coddled throughout a tender life,
and so when one duke asked for a steak, served rare,
he served to him his own pampered wife.
One lord, it must be said, was not shocked after
the Goblin Chef revealed to him his supper’s truth.
Hearing he had eaten his wife, he broke out in laughter,
saying, “Sweeter than she had ever been in life, forsooth.”
It is said that once he has a dish in his head, under his toque,
then nothing prevents him from its realization—
neither animal nor human nor fairy escape this cook,
nor even kraken or titan or demigod escape mealization.
So beware if you seek flavors with a jaded palate
or he might see in you a perfect flavor
and cut you, gut you, tenderize you with his mallet
and serve you to your loved ones to savor.
(This poem is set in the Tangleroot Universe, a universe long in the making. If you happen to be interested in this universe, please check out my ebook short story collection on Amazon “Strange Hours: Tales Of Magic And Horror”. It has many short stories and novellas in it, including four stories set in this fantasy universe: “Bone Stew”, “Getting To The Bottom Of The Problem”, “The Necromancer” and “Black Blake And The Bottled Imp”).
He rode Westward with an overlarge knife
which Jim Bowie would have thought a bit much,
but would not have said so, if he had valued his life,
for Patches had upon him Death’s constant touch.
They called him Patches because he rode so Devil-May-Care
throughout the Wild West in the same suit of tattered leather,
unraveling as he traveled, having to stitch himself when threadbare
again and again, making a patchwork of parts haphazardly sewn together.
Alongside his knife, he kept a sharp needle and a spool of red thread
with which he sewed endlessly along his tumultuous route
as if he was suturing a wound just as soon as it bled,
before decay could set in, or the limb could bleed out.
And he had golden teeth, which gleamed when he grinned
through the tornadoes and the Apache raids, all the last stands
and the dysentery and the Pox plagues, the wild desert wind;
his grin never faltered as he searched the untamed wastelands.
Like himself, his horse, too, was a motley-blotched beast
of variegated colors, an inchoate piebald mare
with a white face, and black eyes, which never in the least
tired as it traveled from town to town, here to there.
And his saddle was unique among the American West
for it was made of tanned leather and beaten hide
scalped from Natives and Whites and Blacks and the rest
which he took from the corpses strewn along the endless ride.
Where Patches rode, the sun sank into a pool so red
that it seemed the mesas bled, as did the arid canyons,
and the flatlands that were once a hellish ocean’s bed
now a scorched expanse, as if leveled by the firing of canons.
Patches was a rumor, a hope, a promise, a ghoul,
a bedtime nightmare for kids, and adults, too,
and a savior for some, though mostly just a necessary tool
who could broaden horizons, if he did not happen to kill you.
Like his saddle and suit, America was sewn together as he went
from one mile to a thousand, tirelessly and inexorably, lest any
parts come apart at the seams and fall away, forever rent
from the whole, the union, unraveling this Manifest Destiny.
Even today he rides, retracing his old paths as they fray and tear,
stitching it with new scalps he takes beneath that bloody sun
and holding that bleeding horizon together for another year
until there comes a day when his own patchwork will come undone.
The full moon rose, as did a chill fog,
through whose beams and mists there came
a dark wolf trotting, or perhaps a large black dog,
from a village like countless others the same.
Unhurried, the shadowy hound stole away
with his face set in a knowing, patient grin,
looking for the next town, the next day,
until he should return to that village again.
She came twirling, then, on long willowy limbs,
pirouetting as if to entreat everyone to dance
upon the moonlit moor, as if the sweetest of whims
was to come twirling and whirling, perchance.
She had a high pale forehead and white hair
as light and milky as the full moon,
and there was careless abandon in Her black stare
as if all frets and regrets would pass soon.
The garments She wore were thin of thread
like gossamers woven from final sighs
or final words given upon a deathbed,
as the world-weary close their heavy eyes.
We came to her with the withered flowers
given to us by loved ones and friendly neighbors
who cut them to mirror our short lives, our mortal hours,
after we fell to pustules, coughs, wrinkles, or sabers.
We heard her music— heard nothing— and so obeyed
for it was the music of still air, unmoving earth, frozen water;
a rhythm with inert hearts, composed by flesh unmade
as decay played upon every mother, father, son, and daughter.
A circle around Her we formed, hand in hand in hand,
as the winds fell to silence, the whole moonlit expanse,
all hushed and halted in that nocturnal land
until there was no movement but that of the Danse.
Prince and pauper linked together, Christian with Jew,
stranger likewise with stranger, maiden also with crone,
sinner with saint, foe with foe, and I danced with you,
all in flowing harmony with Her, and Her alone.
We danced in eternal circles, waltzing away the night
and the next day, and every night and day thereafter,
the hours bygone, unseen, cast off as one very well might
the sorrows and ills of Life with loud, careless laughter.
Yet, we were silent as we danced, and silent and free
as the darkness beyond the mute moon, and the Nevermore;
wanting not, and unwanted, except by our Lady
whose rapt beauty was absolute in its clutch and store.
Hear it now? The song of unspoken words?
Of falling tears and grief-strangled prayers,
of restless worms and flies and buzzards
circling round in their own dance upon the airs?
And yet, for us, it is the most keenly attuned song
as we circle timelessness with our unfeeling feet,
bound round together without pain or grief or wrong
until eternity’s beginning and end should meet.
What serenity in Her gaze! So open, honest, and true
as we circle with Her forever in our shrouded Danse,
for there is no peace as pure or gentle, for me or for you,
as that of the sublime Totentanz!
Little Erin made her way
down to that idyll isle
in the lake where druids pray;
her head sore all the while.
(Hey nonny, nonny,
nonsense and bonny.)
Her father had been drinking again
and took umbrage at her girlish songs,
so he struck her on her chin
with a fist writ with wrongs.
(All sobby hobby,
head knotted and knobby.)
Erin’s mother had been pretty
and had a voice without equal,
both fair and clever and witty,
and Erin hoped to be her sequel.
(Still a silly filly
all wild and willy-nilly.)
She had told Erin many fanciful stories
about knights bold and maidens fair,
crowning her head with these glories
of when magic reigned everywhere.
you’re a fabulous yabber.)
Erin’s mother had died only a year since
from a cold caught from a chill breeze
and her husband had from then hence
drank himself vicious on various brandies.
(A handy man, he, yet, fie,
randy as a bitter brandy.)
Eager for escape, Erin went to the lake
and docked in the rocks, upon the isle,
tying the boat to an old oak stake,
singing her favorite song all the while.
(Do you dillydally
in my lake-view valley?)
It was a song about the fairy kin
that her mother used to sing,
telling of a magical portal within
the mound in the standing stone ring.
(Will you still be wild,
stolen changeling child?)
A mist breathed up from the water
as the sky darkened in the South
and, singing still, Erin sought her
dreams within that mound’s mouth.
(Winsome with want and whim,
dreams always dim.)
She crawled on her hands and knees
and thought she could hear the sound
of feet within the maze, as if to tease
her to crawl even faster into the mound.
(Fit and flit as a fiddlestick
that bit at a wick not one whit.)
How lovely, she thought, to dance
with the fairy people in their balls,
and how nice it would be, perchance,
to dine with them in their banquet halls.
(Dance and dine, what is mine is thine,
food and drink and song so long and fine.)
But the fairies did not greet her
as she crawled into the central room;
only rats circled to meet her
as her hand grasped something in that gloom.
(Ages old, slick and cold,
unseen, unclean, but of a familiar mold.)
It was long and smooth, like a scepter,
and Erin naturally assumed it to belong
to the queen of the fairies who kept her
followers hidden in the shadowy throng.
(What a lark in the dark—
merrily as unto a park.)
An oculus let in the darkening daylight,
funneling it into the heart of the mound,
and by its rays she took sudden fright
at the thigh bone she had found.
(Once delightful, now quite frightful,
the columnar light full of the spiteful.)
There were bones here and there scattered
in that rat-swarmed, chthonic place,
and Erin’s own bones chattered
as she saw the truth of the fairy race.
(The kin of men, faintly simian,
therein buried from way back when.)
Dropping the bone, Erin wondered
if any of the old stories were true,
thinking, as the storm above her thundered,
that there was nary a darker view.
(Alas O ill lil’ lass,
all this, too, will pass.)