Mordred

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Mordred

from: St. James's Magazine  August 1863

                  PART THE FIRST.

                "FAREWELL! farewell!"
                   I softly sigh'd;
                Clear as a bell
                   Her voice replied:
The boughs closed round, with whispering wind dropt low,
            And it was eventide.

               While dim and gray
                   Dropt down the night,
                Her fair face lay,
                   Snow-cold, snow-white,
Close to my heart, and, sparkling on her tears,
            Glimmer'd a pale starlight.

                Under the shade
                   Of Arthur's Towers,
                Within a glade
                   Of garden bowers,
We linger'd, heart to heart, and the cool air
            Was sweet with scent of flowers.

               In sweet unrest,
                  Forlorn and weak,
               Upon my breast
                 She leant her cheek,
Whispering lowly, "Whither dost thou go?"
           I frown'd, and did not speak:

               For blushful shame
                  And coward dread,
               A face like flame,
                  A heart like lead,
Oppress'd me, and I shudder'd to behold
           The faith from which I fled.

               I could not dare
                  To tell a thing
               So sweet, so fair,
                  So suffering,
That a dark demon urged me on to join
           Against the blameless king;

               That, spite of shame
                  And shame's award,
               A blacken'd name,
                  A recreant sword,
My soul had leagued with Lancelot's red powers
           Against my sovereign lord.

               Than falsehood she
                  Was fairer far,—
               Fairer to me
                  Than spirits are;
And on the tumbled waters of my life
           She glimmer'd like a star.

               But like a cloud
                  Rose, far away,
               The dark and proud
                  Rebel array,
And over bloody graves to Camelot
           It redden'd day by day.

               And I was drawn,
                  As by a chain,
               By stealth to pawn
                  Body and brain,
Turn traitor to my liege, and to a love
           Sweet and without a stain.

               Her beauty chid
                  My shame and fear:
               How could I bid
                  A thing so dear
Fly from her loyal sweetness, peace, and truth,
           For falsehood sad and sere?

               "Farewell!" I cried,
                  With heart wrung dry,—
               The black wind sigh'd
                  Mournfully by.
And "When wilt thou return?" she whisper'd low—
           I answer'd with a lie.

               With lips like ice,
                  And pulses hot,
               I kiss'd her thrice,
                  And waited not,
But tore myself away, and through deep night
           Rode swift from Camelot.

               By gleaming Usk
                  Fell branches green,
               And through the dusk,
                  In silver sheen,
I saw the river glimmer to the hills,
           With Arthur's Towers between.

               And salt, salt tears
                  Flash'd large and fell,  
               And in mine ears
                  "Farewell! farewell!"
Rang as a voice from some diviner life,
              And warn'd me like a knell.

               But blind to sight,
                  To feeling dead,
               Along the night
                  Swiftly I fled,
Till on the ledges of the hills I saw
              The rebel watch-fires red.


            PART THE SECOND.

           Through summer leas,
              Yellow with gold,
           'Neath shady trees,
              The river roll'd,
And on its rush-fringed banks to Camelot
       Came lances manifold.

           With fire and sword
              We swept along,
           A traitor horde,
              A warlike throng,
And in our track the many hamlets mourn'd,
       For rapine, blood, and wrong.

           Fairest of all
              And sinfullest,
           Towering tall
              Above the rest,
Upon a coal-black steed rode Lancelot,
       In sombre armour drest;

           With form that stoop'd,
              And unkempt beard,
           A brow that droop'd
              O'er lips that sneer'd,—
But the mere meekness of his henchman's eye
       Seem'd something that he fear'd.

           Forward we rode
              'Neath branches green,
           By Usk that flow'd
              In silver sheen,
Until the river glimmer'd to the hills,
        With Arthur's Towers between.
 
           The dewy mist
              Of morn upwound;
           And ere we wist,
              A trumpet sound
Spake like a human cry; and, lo, the boughs
       Grew populous around.

          And loudly then
              Arose the shout
          Of armèd men
              And henchmen stout,
Who sprang upon us like a storm, and whirl'd
        Rude swords around about.

          But swift as wind
              We struggled through,
          And left behind
              That hireling crew;
While, turning at a cry, our meanest horse
       Assail'd them, and they flew.

          When brightly o'er us
              The morning flush'd,
          And far before us,
              To meet us, rush'd
The flower of loyal steedsmen—Lancelot
     Gript his great sword, but blush'd.

          The greenwood rang
              Again, again,
          Till with a clang,
              On the green plain,
We struck the foe, with hoofs that sparkled fire,
       And blows that fell like rain.

          The shrill death-cry
              Arose aloud.
          Tumultuously,
              In a pale cloud
Of fiery dust, we eddied to and fro—
        A fierce and shrieking crowd.

          With deafen'd ears,
              And blood-blurr'd sight,
          Amid my peers
              I strove in fight,
Till, hurl'd apart, I singled out for death
        A strange and visor'd knight.

          For, in a place
              Removed, we came
          Full face to face
              With hearts of flame,
And through his mask of mail he breathed in scorn
        My loyal lady's name.

          Then "Yield!" I cried,
              With wrath grown higher;
          But he defied
              My murderous ire:—
I made a burning circle of my sword,
       And smote him down in fire!

          With his red brand
              His helm I clove,
          And, sword in hand,
              I strode above
His breast, and drew his visor down—and lo!
       My loyal lady-love!

          Pale as the moon
              On Snowdon's crest,
          In a cold swoon
              She lay at rest;
And as I loosed her helm, her yellow hair
       Fell, blood-stain'd, on her breast.

          Then, with low sighs,
              Quick breath she drew,
          And, opening eyes
              Of fading blue,
She look'd upon me; and I moan'd aloud
       With heart as weak as dew.

          Her pale lips stirr'd
              Without a sound;
          Without a word
              She gazed around;
And then she smiled, as only Love can smile
       When Love is blest and crown'd!

          And with a shriek
              I raised her head;
          And, cold and meek,
              Apparellèd
In the new mystery of diviner life,
       She moan'd, and softly said,—

          "From sorrow past
              Come peace and gain;
          And, love, at last,
              We meet again.—
I die, content with this poor blood to show
       Your honour its one stain.

          "For when you fled
              With shame-flush'd face,
          To honour dead,
              And dead to grace,
I arm'd my woman's limbs at dead of night
       And rose and took your place.

          "Wherefore, in ruth,
              I pay for thee
          The love, the truth,
              The loyalty
Which wait on noble deeds, and which you owed
       To Heaven, the King, and me!

          "To sweeter climes
              Of love I fly;
          Sweet music chimes
              Through earth and sky.—
O Mordred, take me softly in your arms,
       And kiss me ere I die!

          "Farewell! farewell!"
              She softly sigh'd;
          And, like a knell,
              My heart replied.
Then, in her eyes, I broke my sword in twain,
       And kiss'd her, and she died.