Far off, upon the mountain-tops, I saw
A mighty host, in martial lines arrayed,
Descending to the luscious plains below.
My breastplate I assumed, took up my sword,
And hurried out to meet the threatening throng.
A short way off, I stopped and asked their Chief
Why they had entered into my domain.
A noble visage had this hoary Lord;
A majestic beard snowed down to his waist
In billowed drifts as he replied to me:-
“Are you in truth the ruler of this land
Which, lushly, lies before my hasting host?”.
(I gave him an affirmative response,
So he recounted a distressing tale).
“Most honourable King of Paradan,
I, the aged King of Halteron, am not
Come into your domain as enemy.
I have been sore oppressed by one who wronged
Me, snatching away the one whom I love
More than all else, my only child, Marie.
My sole desire; to wrest her from his hands.
He came to me as friendly honoured guest;
But my dear child’s rare beauty took his heart.
He begged her hand, but she refused his suit.
Then – secretly at night – he fled my house,
Taking her with him to his own domain,
Miram. I purpose to traverse your lands
To gain on him as he now skirts their bounds.
Grant me free passage now, I pray, good Lord,
And you will ease a grieving father’s heart”.
When he had spoken I replied to him:-
“I too, unhappy king, will join with you
To help put right the dastard deed that’s done.
My warriors are ready for a fray;
See how they proudly stand, in armoured ranks,
Attending on my smallest need!. Come then,
Let us away to meet this spoiler-Prince
Who dares to ravage him who was his host!”.
“How can I thank you, gallant Lord, for this?”,
He asked as tears stood in his eyes and rolled
Down furrowed cheeks that now glowed with new fire
As hope, rekindled in his aching heart,
Coursed vividly throughout his martial frame.
Then joined we our two armies and thence sped
Out to the borders of my treasured realm
That bordered on the villain’s own estate.
“Dear Princess, do not shun me for this deed!.
I love you well and do not wish you harm.
Just say that you will be my constant wife;
Then I will free you from this tower-cell
And pay you all the honours of your rank.
Refuse my plea and ill shall be that fate
Which I will conjure from my bitterness!.
Think well before you answer my request.
There is no hope of succour from outside,
For all my army is deployed to block
The vengeance of your sire. Think now: then say!”.
The lovely Marie turned aside awhile;
Then she re-turned and gave him this retort:
“Sir!. Have you outraged my father’s household
And brought me here, a captive in this place,
Yet still think that I willingly would deign
To call you Lord and husband?. No, sir, no!.
How could I love a man who has betrayed
My father, who received him as a friend;
Who stole away his only child; who tries,
With threats, to force her to become his spouse?.
I fear you not, vain Prince!. Do what you will,
I’d rather die than be the stolen bride
Of one like you!. You have my answer now.
No matter what you say or do, I shall
Not change my mind; so let me now go free!”.
Just as the jilted lover would reply,
A trumpet sounded urgently outside;
The signal that an enemy approached
The high-walled citadel guarding Miram.
Without more words he whirled and left the room
Precipitously to put on his arms.
Marie now sits alone; hope in her heart.
She is a comely maid of nineteen years,
As fresh as sunlit dawnings in the Spring.
Her well-formed body moves as gracefully
As some young sportive lioness at play.
Gazing abroad from her high window now,
(A helpless captive in her tower-cell),
She sees the rival troops – in gleaming ranks,
Of blaring, fearsome steel and gaudy flags –
Forming close groups upon the plain below,
Ready to fight. Amid the throngs she sights
The emblems of her father – come to save
Her from Miram’s unscrupulous intent –
Advance towards her captor’s own array.
And soon the struggle is engaged below;
The wicked arrows fly from archers’ bows
On either side. Helmed heads are bowed to guard
Bright eyes and shields uplifted to deflect
The fatal flying shafts, as through the storm
Of missiles both vanguards advance to clash,
In lethal combat hand-to-hand; Marie
The subject and the prize that animates
Both leaders in this desperate essay.
Brave Salton, my great Captain, led our troops
With keen perception to the weakest point
Within the lines of those opposing him.
He forced a breach and, with his whirling sword,
He flailed the foe with superhuman blows
Whilst vocally encouraging his men
To join him in the space he’d made and thrust
Their weapons, with determined effort, through
Resistant plate and mail. Stirred by his deeds,
Lashed by his tongue, they followed in his wake
To hew and carve with lethal shearing steel,
Wreaking destruction in the iron ranks
Of those who would prevent their forward march.
Prince Renot of Miram, himself the source
Of all the wanton bloodshed now in spate,
Rallied with imprecations and dire threats
His men, who feared him more than biting blades.
They mustered close around him in a crowd
As, with great skill, he led a rearward fight
To gain the greater safety promised by
His mainguard’s force. Then, when they had regrouped,
They linked their shields to form a barrier –
Bristling with sharp swords, long pikes and spears – firm,
Seeing how that defence could be subdued,
I led a squadron of my cavalry
Around one flank before the rigid lines
Defying us could be reformed to face
Our sudden charge. With awesome energy
Our hurtling horses struck them from behind,
Burst through their unprotected rear and caused
Confusion in their ranks as they were forced
To face all ways at once to meet the threats
From front and back and side. Red havoc then
Was hewn as swords and lances smote and hacked
With horrific precision. Down they fell,
Beneath our thrashing hooves, hurled to their deaths
By weapons held in gory arms that rose
And fell in ghastly, sanguine savagery.
Struck from behind, they fell before my knights –
And Halteron’s efficient leadership
Of our conjoined foot-soldiers to their front –
To their untimely ends; their cause now lost.
And soon old Halteron had swept aside
The final struggles that detained him. He
Rejoined my side just as we heard the sound
Of Renot’s trumpet signalling retreat –
For those still able to obey the call –
Behind the massive ramparts of Miram
That solemnly had watched the bloody fight.
His livid face all bruised from countless blows,
A jagged wound wide-gaping on his cheek –
Made by my own sword on the battlefield
Before he had resolved on hasty move
Into the safety of embattled walls –
His muscles aching from exertion, Prince
Renot limped into Marie’s high cell, enraged.
His sword lay naked in his hand, all red
With splattered gore, its edges notched and dulled.
He stood, a moment, speechless at the door,
Then said, a fearsome grimness in his tone:-
“It seems I may have lost this hapless day
Upon the battlefield outside this place.
Your father has well-generalled his force
And driven me, to save my life, inside
My citadel’s defensive rampart-walls.
A gallant partner helped him to success
Who caused me more discomfort than the rest;
So I was forced to quit the fight before
I was myself made prisoner or worse.
Nevertheless, Princess, I shall not cede
Into their hands her whom I took from him
Who is your father and the victor now.
Resign yourself to me, or I shall kill
You, here in this high cell, and then escape!.
There is a secret route that, underground,
Will take me out of Miram and behind
The troops that batter its defensive strength.
I will then join my brother at Kadan
Who is too powerful to be compelled
To yield me up to those who want to take
You, and my life itself, away from me.
If you agree to be my wife, I shall
Take you with me and, once Kadan attained,
Will marry you with all the honours due
To someone of your royal rank. When we
Are wed your father will have no more cause
To make objection, since I will have proved
Honest intention in removing you
From his protection. Then we can return
To Miram and here live in peace with all.
Think well before you choose your fate, Princess;
Think well, I say, before you answer me!”
A scornful glow suffusing rosy cheeks,
Marie replied to him with proud disdain:
“What, vanquished princeling, do you threaten me?.
This is no way to win assent. Menace
Repels affection. Even if you were
A man of honour and integrity
I would not marry you, for you are not
Attractive to my sensibilities.
Your army is defeated at your gates
And you, yourself, have scarce escaped alive;
Yet you persist in this depotic way,
Acting as if you ruled the world,
Although your petty realm is breaking down
Before your very eyes. You must be mad
To think your situation otherwise.
You threaten me with death should I refuse
Your ultimatum?. Well then, I choose death
Before dishonour!. Your fool’s enterprise
Will then have been in vain. You will have lost
Not only me but Miram too; for my
Avenging father will not let you live
In peace, no matter where you seek to hide!.
You will be hunted, like the beast you are,
Until his retribution is achieved!.
In killing me you will but add more fuel
Onto the burning anger that he bears
Because of your dishonourable act
In stealing me from him; a theft that cost
So many lives upon the battlefield
For which, alone, you are responsible.
If your proud army fell beneath the steel
Of those who are outside your gates, how shall
Kadan be able to resist?. For you
Would often boast, when at my father’s court,
That your strength was superior to all
The several petty-rulers who hold sway
In parcel-princedoms in this continent;
Yet you have been defeated in fair fight
Upon your chosen field of combat, here
At the dead centre of your own domain.
So do not threaten, but return me, now,
Safe to my father’s care. For then you may
Save your own miserable skin. My death
Will guarantee the forfeit of your life;
My safe deliverance will earn for you
Its prolongation, though that may be spent
Incarcerated in a cell like this.
Think well before you act, vain madman!. Think
Wisely, if you can. Threaten me no more;
An attitude of humble penitence
Will serve you better than mad menaces!.
Think well, I say, for your own reckoning
Has now been summed and must be paid in full
Before you can redeem your foolishness!”.
Marie’s brave answer chilled the blackheart’s soul
With the cold clutch of fear, but filled his mind
With the hot fire of rage. He spoke no word
In answer to her speech but raised his sword,
Encrusted with the blood of murdered men,
To kill her as she stood, defiant, there.
A sudden thought arrested his high hand
Just as it started on its downward plunge,
As indecision flickered in his eyes.
“What, Prince?”, she scoffed, “Are you afraid to strike
A weak, defenceless woman in your power?”.
Yet still he lingered, with his sword aloft,
Doubting what way his best course seemed to lie.
Then, seizing her small hand, he fled the cell,
Dragging her writhing body as he ran.
Within a tent without Miram’s strong walls,
(Placed far from missile range for safety’s sake),
The King of Halteron and I were sat
Debating how we best might overcome
Those ramparts that withheld us from our prize.
Then Salton entered, bowing low, and said:-
“My Lords!. I bring you news how you may gain
The inner precincts of this stubborn place!.
Whilst scavenging the land for provender
With which to feed your armies in the siege,
A group of us discovered – in a hut
That stands behind our lines in rude decay –
The entry to a burrow that appears,
From our initial explorations there,
To lead beneath the ramparts of the town.
This providential find enables you to place
Some handful of your troops inside the gates,
Which they can open to admit the rest
And so avoid a long and costly siege.
I have prepared a force of volunteers –
Equipped with torches and well armed –
Who only wait your word to undertake
The hazard of this subterranean route”.
We soon decided that myself should lead
The foray underground, accompanied
By Salton and a dozen chosen men,
Whilst hoary Halteron waited above
With a substantial force in readiness,
(Concealed in order not to raise alarm
In watchers posted on Miram’s high towers),
To enter through the gates should we succeed
In our intention to bypass the walls,
Capture the gatehouse and open the way
And so we made our way
Into the hovel Salton had described.
Cautiously we crept, (lit by our torches
That smoked and flickered in the humid air),
As noiselessly as possible, along
A well-made narrow passageway. And so,
Within an hour we were inside the walls.
We reached an iron door, which was not locked,
And opened it with care. It led into
A vaulted cellar. Then we heard a noise;
The sound of someone coming down steep stairs
And struggling with an awkward load, perhaps,
Whilst cursing a companion who seemed
Reluctant to be with him in that place.
In silence we prepared ourselves to fight,
Hoping our unexpected presence might
Give us the prime advantage of surprise.
Descending stair by stair as best he could,
Dragging his panting prisoner along
As she resisted him with all her strength,
Prince Renot, cursing loudly, made his way
Laboriously down towards the door
That led to his escape-route underground.
Once in the tunnel, nobody would find
Where he had gone until it was too late.
(Only a few trusted retainers knew
The secret path and most of them were now
Dead men upon the battlefield above).
At length he reached the nether step and turned
To snarl another imprecation. From
My vantage-point I saw the struggling girl
And knew, at once, she was Marie and he
The rogue who slyly had abducted her.
I raised my sword and smote his neck. He fell.
“Cruel Prince, so ends your wicked life”, I said.
The wide-eyed girl said nothing, but her eyes
Mirrored both wonder and relief. She smiled,
And I immediately realised –
Despite the great dishevelment of hair
And clothes caused by her efforts to impede
Her captor’s progress – why the Prince had risked
His honour and his realm to make her his;
For she was extraordinarily
But this was no time to dwell
On that, for we had work enough to do
Before we were discovered and attacked.
We took the Princess with us as we climbed
The stairs that rogue had trod who now lay dead
Within a growing pool of blood, towards
The upper levels where the gatehouse was;
Our mission to admit our soldiery.
Soon we were at the top; soon at the gates.
There was a skirmish, brief but sharp; and then
The gates were opened for our men, who rushed
In, like a river in full spate, to quench
The fiery residue of those who dared
Oppose our sudden conquest of the town.
What ravages were wrought within Miram,
Before the bloodshot dawn next reeked above
Its useless battlements, were best not told
To gentle folk. It will suffice to say
That such incontinence often occurs
After a battle, as the winners take
The spoils of victory to compensate
For brave companions dead upon the field
And for their own exertions in the fight.
The King of Halteron and I soon held
A conference, to ascertain what best
We might do, now that we had overcome
The final efforts to resist our strength.
Decrees were issued to prevent the mobs
Of soldiers, (mingled with fell scavengers),
From perpetrating any further wrongs
Upon the vanquished townsfolk or their goods.
We called the leading noble to our talks
And gave him leave to reassume control
Of his cracked citadel; to start afresh
Serving in loyal fealty what Crown
He would. He begged Us that it might be Ours;
To which We gladly gave Our Royal Assent.
When order and decorum were restored,
A sumptuous feast was set to regale those
Who had assisted in our brief campaign.
Salton, my brave Captain, was in the throng,
His honoured head now with more glory wreathed
As recompense for noble deeds well done.
One hundred other Lords and Captains sat
At tables laden with fine foods and wines
Provided by the citizens. It was
A fitting Victory Feast.
Then said the King
Of Halteron, benevolent with joy
At being reunited with Marie:
“Most gallant King of Paradan-Miram;
I think you have deserved some worthy prize
For helping me so quickly to retrieve
My stolen daughter. Now my dearest wish
Is to ensure her lasting happiness.
Will you accept her, as your bride, to share
The countless burdens of your reign?.
She will do much to ease your heavy cares
And give you comfort when you most have need.”
To which I answered, with the deference
Due to a Princess who had shewed that she
Was spirited, brave and intelligent:
“If Marie should consent, I would be proud
To have so wonderful a lovely spouse;
But she must choose the man whom she would wed”.
In all her blushing beauty, she replied,
Raising her smiling face and eyes to mine:
“Most noble King of Paradan-Miram;
You, more that any else, have been the one
Most instrumental in my rescuing.
Bravely you have defeated Renot’s plans
And won my heart!. I shall be glad to be
The wife of such a man, whom I can love
Both for his honour and his gallantry!”.
Our wedding was a glorious affair
Of pealing bells and merry jollity.
Five days – and nights! – the festivals ensued
Incessantly, to everyone’s delight.
Now I and my dear spouse together reign,
More than content with our untroubled fate.
Marie is radiant as my loving, Queenly wife
And, with me, she looks forward to a well-blessed life.