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Sir Palamides, Saracen,
Right worshipful among the men
Of Arthur's days, rode thro' the fen.
Till, past the skirts of fen and wood,
On lonely Humber's bank he stood,
Grateful for that sad solitude.
And looking, aimless, east and west,
Bemoaned his love and beat his breast,
And yearned to end his ceaseless quest.
When up the stream in silence sped
A royal barge, and huge and red
Grinned at the prow a wyvern's head.
Red silk swept o'er the deck, and made
A stately couch, whereon was laid
The body of a King, arrayed
In robes of state, and in the hand
It held a scroll, and to the land
The barge drave fast and keeled the sand.
Sir Palamides leaped on deck, --
"Alack!" quoth he, "a royal wreck!"
And touched the crescent at his neck,
Unrolled the scroll, and this it said --
"Hermancè, of the City Red,
Father and King, here lieth dead.
"Murdered by him he loved the best.
Good knight, to set his soul at rest,
Pray sail the river on his quest."
Then swore the knight, upon his knees,
To sail the quest, and with the breeze
He set the prow toward the seas.
Adown long Humber swift he sailed,
Anon some castle-warder hailed,
Or knight that rode full-armed and mailed.
He sailed into the open sea,
And still the wind blew fair and free.
"I marvel at this quest," quoth he.
But seaward yet the vessel bore,
Until an island rose before,
And straight the barge drave to the shore.
People that watched there to him spake, --
"Thou seekest Helius, for whose sake
Our King's good heart did bleed and break.
"For lo, our King was kind and mild,
But very old, nor blessed with child,
Wherefore he sought this monster wild,
"Made him as if he were his own;
But he so longed to sit the throne
He killed the King, and we made moan;
"He and his knights then mocked and said, --
'Bring forth the royal barge of red
And set it sailing with the dead.'
"The which we did, but slipt within
His hand the scroll that told the sin,
And now, please God, the right shall win."
"Yea," said the knight, "an' if God please:"
Addresses himself, and cried, -- "Let these
Base knights come now; I take no ease
"Until I lay them low in dust
And hang their armor up to rust.
God and the Prophet shield the just!"
Then Helius and his knights were wroth,
And seizing arms they hurtled forth
As when the wind blows from the north.
Many they were, and woful strong;
They fought the Saracen so long,
It seemed that right would yield to wrong.
The people watching made great dole,
And wept with pity for his soul,
And shades of night began to roll.
Till, with a thrust clear thro' the head,
The Saracen smote Helius dead;
And who were left in terror fled.
Uprose great shouts of joy, and all,
With banners, marching from the wall
Of the Red City, loud did call.
And hail him King: whereat the knight
Spake thus, -- "That I have won the fight
I praise God's grace, not mine own might.
"But as for me -- alas, I needs
Must wander on among the weeds,
That haply I may yet do deeds
"Of honor fair, and ease my heart,
Wear out the pain, and dull the smart,
Wherefore, good friends, I must depart."
Then, stepping in a barget gray,
Sir Palamides went his way,
And sighed for Isolt, night and day.