The Travels of Fedoso (fan version)

A saga I was in included excerpts from a fan-written version of the Travels of Fedoso, the famous Criamon text on Engimatic Wisdom. I recently spoke with the Storyguide, who said he had not made up those excerpts, but had found them somewhere, he could not remember where.

I also see, on Project Redcap, this tantalizing note: "The Castle Anthrax fan site provides a non-official version for sale." But the link ( leads nowhere.

Can anyone provide a lead on this? I presume they may be the same source?

The excerpt I have is provided here:

In Uzibakanaktaland
I visited their wisest man.

A bird sat honking at me goosely
From on his hat, which fit him loosely.

His aspect I dare not describe,
For no man, though however wise

Can ever, ever look his best
When on his head a goose does nest.

His rancid smell, from toe to shoulder--
Where goose extrusions rot and moulder--

Inspires nausea in the beholder
(Be he young, or be he older);

So from the bottom of my heart,
I called forth Bonisagus' Art:

"Perdo" I proclaimed, "Imaginem" I cried!
"I demand that this horrible stench now subside!

"Let these raucous goose honkings reach nobody's ear;
Let these noxious goose droppings for now disappear."

But all of the while I gestured and chanted,
The Uzibakanaktaman seemed distracted.

The drool that dripped down from his chin he ignored,
Along with a raiding barbarian horde.

Other distractions I lack words to mention
Utterly failed to disrupt his attention.

He stared at an hourglass the size of a clown
From which quartzy green sand slowly trickled down.

I asked him to tell me just what he was doing,
And the significance of what he was viewing,

But he just ignored every word that I said
Until I whacked him a few times on the head.

He said, "Notice the sand in the glass falling past.
Notice the way each grain falls past quite fast.

"This grain is now, now it falls and it's then;
The grains way up top are nobody knows when.

"Those mortals who wish to forever exist
Seek out infinite time on which to subsist.

"Such attempts must fail since they are not sound
As there is but only so much time around:

"Even as all of the sand in the sea,
On the land, or wheresoever it might be.

"All of one's sand beneath all of the skies
Would someday run out, and on that day he dies.

"But I have concluded that time does not last
Because as it travels it goes by too fast.

"You can can live forever if you learn or know
The trick of making time move really slow


That was me.




I think I wrote a little more than you already have, but if I did then not much more.

I also wrote another excerpt from a Criamon who claimed that the real version of the book is "The Travails of Fedoso." This version never gained much popularity among apprentices, for obvious reasons.




Last time's a charm.

This content used to be accessible via Project Redcap, in two sagas whose links seem not to work at this time. The website,, seems to be undergoing renovation or is otherwise not completely available at this time. I peeked at the whois, and the owner seems not to have changed. So if you are really really interested in TToF, such as it is, you can try email. I no longer have a copy. (But you might already have all that remains of The Travels of Fedoso since the Great Plague changed everything.) There's some old advice of mine about creating AM characters, and similar.



Thank you, Ken!

I liked your work very much. I was playing a Tremere in that saga, but now that one of my players has made a Criamon I just knew I had to show it to her. Maybe I'll invite the players to add new verses.

Your version is different than whatever version it is which "Castle Anthrax" had for sale?


The version that you included in your post is the one I wrote. I vaguely remember there being a little bit more at the end, but maybe not. I don't see a "castle anthrax" anywhere, but if they are offering my stuff for sale, I'm not getting a cut and should probably send them a nastygram, because the stuff I have put online is intented for free, public enjoyment (or less felicitous consumption.)

Glad you enjoyed it! I wrote it back in the "Criamon are weird" era, so my choosing to translate a passage from TToF that pertains to time is a particularly fortunate coincidence. Unless....

(I also vaguely remember writing a translator's note to go along with the excerpt.)




Probably your best bet to be sure you have the whole thing is to email (Jason, owner of the domain where 2 sagas I participated in were hosted.) He might be very busy, but there's a very good chance he still has the content and could point you to it.

I loved reading it years ago Ken, lost my downloads ages back. Fantastic work. Would love to see it again.

I've written to him. I'll post the results here if I get any.


I sent him email as well. So, we'll see.

I have (had) a bunch of other gaming content on his site, but very little related to AM. (Star Wars and Wheel of Time and other assorted stuff.)



I saved some HTML stuff on Fedoso 15 years ago - It's got an intro and 4 parts containing lots of quatrains and when I try to use the imbedded links it tries to send me to the address. I don't see the same stuff as quoted upthread, but I just skimmed it.

Hi Jason.

If your stuff is from the address instead of the nocturne address, that must be the version that was noted on Project Redcap as being "for sale" by "Castle Anthrax."

Would you have the time and inclination to post the Intro and Quatrains you have?

Courtesy of Jason N:

In another email, Ken agreed to share, so I searched my archives. Here is all I've been able to find about the travels of Fedoso, now nearly faded into legend...

By Ken Kofman

(Translator's Note: Although the Criamon study The Travels of Fedoso
in search of wisdom, it is used throughout the Order as a Latin primer,
more accessible to young apprentices than Cicero or Virgil. I have
tried to preserve the purity, beauty and eloquence of the original work
to the extent that the poverty of my own Latin allows. Worse, I fear
that much of the subtle genius of the work has been lost in my utterly
inadequate translation. Nevertheless, I feel that the importance of
presenting the beguiling brilliance of The Travels of Fedoso to the
English-speaking public for the first time outweighs other considerations,
in the hope that this neglected medieval classic gains the attention it

The Travels of Fedoso, Canto 472

In Uzibakanaktaland
I visited their wisest man

A bird sat honking at me goosely
From on his hat which fit him loosely

His aspect I dare not describe
For no man though however wise

Can ever, ever look his best
When on his head a goose does nest

His rancid smell, from toe to shoulder
Where goose extrusions rot and moulder

Inspires nausea in the beholder
Be he young, or be he older

So from the bottom of my heart
I called forth Bonisagus' Art

Perdo I proclaimed, Imagonem I cried!
I demand that this horrible stench now subside!

Let these raucous goose honkings reach nobody's ear
Let these noxious goose droppings for now disappear

But all of the while I gestured and chanted
The Uzibakanaktaman seemed distracted

The drool that dripped down from his chin he ignored
Along with a raiding barbarian horde

Other distractions I lack words to mention
Utterly failed to disrupt his attention

He stared at an hourglass the size of a clown
From which quartzy green sand slowly trickled down

I asked him to tell me just what he was doing
And the significance of what he was viewing

But he just ignored every word that I said
Until I whacked him a few times on the head

He said, notice the sand in the glass falling past
Notice the way each grain falls past quite fast

This grain is now, now it falls and it's then
The grains way up top are nobody knows when

Those mortals who wish to forever exist
Seek out infinite time on which to subsist

Such attempts must fail since they are not sound
As there is but only so much time around

Even as all of the sand in the sea
On the land or wheresoever it might be

All of one's sand beneath all of the skies
Would someday run out and on that day he dies

But I have concluded that time does not last
Because as it travels it goes by too fast

You can can live forever if you learn or know
The of making time move really slow

In my youth I once travelled to Goniwatchwo
Beyond the Kamkuli, Zamzelitch and Vatchlough

Till I reached the land where the guardians of time
Reside in their workshops in power sublime

An hourglass they have for each and every creature
And even for each geographical feature

From mountain to mayfly it's all in their plan
But I found my hourglass, I took it and ran

I ran past the guardians and then out of their land
And ran and I ran just as fast as I can

I past the Vatchlough, Zamezelitch and Kamkuli,
And then the Goniwatchwo and Hulihuli

I chose to live here and develop my art
As each grain of sand falls I cut it apart

The grain that was falling is thus cleft in twain
One grain I let fall but let one grain remain

Then with the grain that remains it's quite plain
That I can repeat this again and again

Since I can cut each grain increasingly fine
The secret of immortality is mine!

Now you who have disrupted my concentration
Must leave me now to practice my avocation

All of the while that we have conversed
Some sand in the glass from top to bottom traversed

Take the goose if you must but get thee hence
My labors once more I must rerecommence

As I left I heard say that man of great sense
I must upend this glass and unlive these events

So now in the twilight I think on his boasts
While over my fire his goose slowly roasts.


Introduction to the Travels of Fedoso

I know it seems incredible after all these centuries that a mystical text like "The Travels of Fedoso" should surface, and what may be even more preposterous, that a dilettant like myself should attempt a translation into the modern vernacular. Yet this is how it happened: Some summers ago, while pursuing an elusive volume through the stacks of my alma mater, Miskatonic U., a rogue irregular tome struck me upon the forehead, as if in anger, from an upper shelf. As I recovered, I noticed on one of its pages a symbol associated with the ancient mage Verderis, though the copy that assaulted me was obviously too recent to have been lettered by him; it was produced perhaps by a disciple's distant descendant, no earlier than the sixteenth century. Having a limited knowledge of Latin, I enlisted the aid of a colleague familiar with the Roman poets. He gave the book an impromptu scan in one of the library's private audio-visual vaults, and to my delight, he confirmed it was the famous "Travels." He agreed to work with me on a full English version. We recruited a graduate student to check our efforts, and no sooner had we started our project than a curious property of the poem became evident, namely, that depending upon the person reading the verses, and to some degree when they were read relative to the moon's phase, the meaning of the lines changed. The younger men brought in a venerable scholar to dispel our doubts, and indeed, the Criamon influence was manifest--the very words of the poem were magical, and although separate renditions of the same passage retained similarities of theme, the precise details, allusions, and turns of phrase shifted. Alas, I possess not the Gift, so my words and shadings, once committed, remain fixed. But I have struggled to preserve the spirit of the text in its new language by comparing three independent direct translations from my associates. No doubt future translators may publish radically different results.

The work is in five major parts; the first consists of fifteen sections, and the others have ten sections each. I have not reproduced the rhyming scheme or meter of the original; nor is there a correspondence between specific lines in the original and this product, except where numerical significance has been observed. So far, my fellow researchers and I have completed the first four parts to our satisfaction. We must remain anonymous for the time being, as the senior professor is exploring a way to demonstrate the Criamon effect in a clinical setting before going public. --E of A

The Travels of Fedoso, Part I

What is the fruit without its seed?
What is the seed without its host?
This journey begins nowhere precisely,
This journey ends where it began.

So it befell Fedoso, youngest,
Most unripe fruit of Gerardo's stem,
That he must leave his father's house
Although he was an honorable son.

Disgrace befell him--he was accused;
A maiden whom a priest had loved
Claimed his staff had thundered her,
Had raised a welt within her nave.

Fair Fedoso, hair like chaff,
Eyes like embers in a cave,
Held his tongue within the tumult,
Calmly rose and said farewell.

Left he Brindisi, home and childhood;
Left he father, brothers, clan;
Left he maidens to their priesthoods;
Left all but Canis and a sack.

The road to port was strewn with rubble;
Fedoso slipped upon the stones,
Dropped his pack which spilled its treasure,
Stones among stones to be gleaned anon.

The ships in port not yet were scuttled;
The skates hung batlike by the weir;
The dog danced merrily on the planking,
His noise was like a passing ship.

He paid his passage with these coins:
A nail, a button, a strip of cloth--
Ample for a life-long voyage;
The captain stuffed him in the hold.

The galley had a crew of eunuchs--
Missing noses, every one,
The noses dangled from the mast
Like pearls clasped round a harlot's neck.

They dined on oysters, pearls of merit,
Thirty-eight in polished shells;
The dog ate scraps, apparent nothing,
And rolled about in crimson silk.

One hundred leagues or more had passed
'Til shore appeared from shoreless blue;
The haze revealed a ruptured coast--
Brindisi wavered into view.

Fedoso landed, climbed the hillside,
Kicking stones and crushing shells;
His father's house in vines was shrouded,
It soured and dropped a grapehued brick.

The silent bones enchorused sweetly--
Beauty in the shards of life--
A boyhood image strong as ramparts,
A secret stronghold quite unchanged.

With rusty tools he toiled and tilled;
Fedoso scraped up soil and rock
And put to pasture goats and grievance;
He prospered well upon the land.

Then came the call of peregrines,
And when the final sheaf he tied,
He lit a fire on a knoll
To guide him far away from home.

Through shadowed night he travelled west
Among the chalky, viney hills,
And past deserted towns and fiefs
Crammed with buzzing, silent crowds.

Searched he forests north and west,
And many avenues he tramped,
With many hermit-souls conferred,
More than the leagues of the Roman road.

These are their murmurings intact,
These are the spirits of their words,
This is the wagon-wheel full-turned,
This is the engine of the stars.

Spied Fedoso a chambered Scholar
Tower-sealed without a door;
The Scholar muttered from his window:
"What number the paths on the orchard floor?"

Fedoso climbed to the yawning window;
Light and lizards moved within;
The Scholar gave his guest a volume--
Blank on blank, no trace of a hand.

"My sister wanders in that orchard;
She prunes the trees and picks their fruit,
While I above observe the seasons;
Her olives are to me but motes.

"Some day there will be other orchards
And scores of servants combing trees
And baskets full of potent wonder."
The Scholar spewed a reddish pit.

"But I am mad for numeration--
How many ways within the grove?
Perhaps just ten, but maybe twenty;
I cannot count the truths alone."

Fedoso pledged to take a yarn-skein,
To trace the tracks within the grove
Wherein the Scholar's sister wandered,
Speaking softly to the trees.

He left the tower and the orchard
Once he'd threaded every path--
Ten along the hillside boundary,
Five descending with the slope.

And when Fedoso looked again
Within the book that had been bare
He found it filled with urgent script,
An alphabet unknown to man.

Within the Forest of Dee-nostra
Lived a maiden in a tree,
A sylvan jewel and true enchantress
Who charmed Fedoso into love.

Cobweb-clad, with wind-blown tresses,
The Oak-Maid sang within his blood
And lulled him with a siren chant
Of names from every woodland thing.

The Oak-Maid thus had quite entrapped him
And asked of him a triple task,
Three labors which he must complete
To earn her canopied caress.

"First draw up my sisters closely--
The elder, ash and pippin-tree--
Plant them in a circle hither
So as a clan we may convene."

Uprooted he her leafy sisters,
Enarbored he the maiden's lee,
And drove he out the worms and wood-wasps
Until four flourished in the moon.

The second task she asked was plain:
"Enisle my glade and rounding wood
So we shall not be hacked by blades
Nor burnt by bandits' wilding fires."

Fedoso out of love obeyed
And dug a trench about her ring
Ten cubits deep and eighteen wide--
The soil was white as virgin snow.

The Oak-Maid called upon a storm
To make her reservoir complete;
Rain hammered down and soaked Fedoso
Who watched the water rise from shore.

"Now maid, my final task!" he cried,
As waves blew up and kissed his feet.
"No doubt a bridge I must provide
To join us at your moated throne."

"Nay, vagrant," shrilled the cunning nymph,
"My third request is leave us be
And nevermore approach this stand
Nor mention where it may be found."

Dashed but true he ambled off
And turned his back forevermore;
Ignored he even clamant cracks
That boasted sky had cloven earth.

Upon an icy, wind-chafed plain
With spirits howling all about,
Fedoso met a riddled man,
A Mystic with a furrowed brow.

"The nature of the earth," said he,
"Is locked within dubiety--
Heed fateful signs but never think
That Fortune wheels at your command.

"Apollonius's seven rings
Which granted him a longish youth,
And Venus's ever-burning Lamp--
Such miracles are fallacy.

"The sorceries of Beelzebub....
The image weighted by a rock,
Corruptions spurred by Isacaaron--
These are fevers of the saints.

"The minor joins the main atilt:
Man stands alone and feels apart;
In time he crumbles, bone and maggot,
The leastmost melts into the whole.

"The birds in meadows pick through stems,
Ingest their seeds and take to flight;
The spheres reach down and sort us through--
They pocket some and rove at whim.

"The fernseed cannot mask disaster,
Nor electrum ring our souls to God,
Nor belladonna float us moonward--
Let others chalk our ends on slate."

Across the plain the stench of sulphur
Rose from fumaroles and vents;
The icy wind and smoke engulfed them,
Caused the boy to choke and weep.

And when Fedoso's eyelids lifted
The Mystic was no longer there,
Evaporated with the smoke,
A wisp upon the acrid sky.

Beside a northern seaside hut
A troubled man with downcast mien
Stirred some ashes dry and cold
Within a ring of rounded stones.

"The Emperor's finest knight was I,
Who slew the best of the foreign camp
And bathed in the blood of champions--
Now I am cast aside like crust."

His eyes were deepset, sad and dull,
His face was lined by age and wear,
His hands were scarred, his sword rust-specked,
His feet were bound in cloth.

The Soldier spoke of battlelust,
And frays where he alone survived,
But coming home, he was denounced
For butchering the hostile prince.

"That rogue, usurper of eastern lands,
By law deserved the stroke of death,
But he had charmed my soverain's child;
Bewitchment bred my banishment."

The Soldier sought to make a flame
By striking flint above the ash,
But all was wasted in the pit
And sparks expired in its dust.

"Fedoso, come, give me a hand,
And lay me out upon a bier;
For years I served my lord in vain--
Today I start my sole campaign."

The bier was built and on it lay
The Soldier with his tarnished sword.
Within the hut Fedoso slept
And dreamed of cannibals and whores.

With dawn he looked upon the bier
Which was devoid of corpse or man;
The muddy track retained its trace
Of footsteps minted in the dark.

And in the ring of shallow stones
The charred remains of limbs and stumps
Smoked and sputtered into flame,
Transformed the bier into a pyre.

"Praise God!" the Priest exclaimed with glee,
"May He deliver us from war,
Unless we slay the filthy hun
And glorify his heathen gold."

The Priest, who clutched his little cross,
Looked on as warwolves sparred and sliced
While chewed he bread as dry as sand
And swilled he down his musty mead.

"God bless the lords who favor me
And give me mutton, wine and cheese--
They treat me as a talisman
In hope that Fortune dogs along.

"Alas, their factions gain no boon
(Nor does my purse) from skirmishing.
O why can't war be sanctified
And nations fight with unity?

"There is a devil in the south--
From Africa it does arise--
The pirate Saracens who climb
The coastal rungs of Italy.

"The world I know is falling fast
With petty nobles bickering,
And Rome still shrouded in decline,
Its posts supporting cloudy vaults.

"Urbs regalis, lofty term!
We euphemize an empty heart;
San Vitale is forgotten,
Jerusalem's a distant dream.

"But put aside my whimpering!
The world I see is wide and rich,
As much as one might sample it,
Then move along to fairer fields.

"I cannot keep from wandering--
An abbot of the road, I think,
Whose chastity has sired sons
In frontiers and palatinates.

"My heart's a cache of messages
From my Commander--words of truth
And news resplendent here proclaimed
By me, His humble, threadbare page.

"I've tromped through civitas and sedge,
Circulated Nantes and Nimes,
Accumulated spartan virtues
Gleaned from warrened commonfolk.

"Evenings, by some popping hearth,
I warm my feet and sip on milk
And bless this life not bound by clerking,
Regimen and daily dues."

So said the Priest, as he sat back
To rest his flesh beneath the sun,
While in the vale combatants clashed,
Drenched monkshoods in a ruby rain.

Hammer, putter, punch and crimp,
The Tinker plied his trade,
Enrobed in green with tools a-chime,
In lambent firelight crouched he.

Amid the pots and brooms and buckets,
The keystones of the scullery,
The stench of offal and roasting game
Commingled alluringly.

The Tinker never had been spurned--
Always welcomed was he;
He gayed up cribs with puckish skill,
Tooled jongle-puppets with glee!

Goody and damsel, lady and dame,
Sultana and milkmaid saluted him.
With practiced hands and crafty eyes
He deftly worked his pritch.

"'Prentice, thou? Wouldst follow me?
I need an elf for bitwork.
I'll pay you a sou on Epiphany
And sugar-cakes on Easter."

He carved Fedoso a puzzle-box,
Seven-edged, of ash and cedar;
He strapped it with a copper band
And polished it with flaxoil.

"Press thou this dowel and slide this tab--
The beasts slip by in orbit;
The lion poised twixt sun and moon
Unlocks a secret crevice."

Rolled out an egg of pinkish hue
Which shimmered in the sunlight;
He thrust it back into its lair
And shuttered up the adit.

But ever since, despite the clues,
Fedoso failed to grasp it--
The moot of beasts and circling spheres
Disputed how to hatch it.

"Farewell, young bird, young songless bard--
Go off and seek thy fortune;
For me, my craft decides my fate,
My deeds and destinations."

The Tinker clanged and strode away,
Swollen by humble artwork:
Those asters, his tools, shone from his belt,
And globes of goods rose aftward.

"Fedoso of Brindisi, gypsy, thief,
How plead you, knave? Your word now!"
The Judex glared at the somber boy
Accused of cheating a tapper.

The magistrate listened with one eye shut
As Fedoso related his story--
He claimed he had fallen fast asleep
In a close behind a tavern.

Of vultures (he said) he had there dreamed,
Six scavengers on a carcass;
Dark feathers had they, and crooked necks,
And rustling beaks of parchment.

The judge bestirred and becked him near,
He crabbed his mottled talons;
"Your sloth is not an alibi
And justice shall not stumble.

"Think you the jackdaw and the pie
Roost drowsily in the stockyard?
Think devils in Hell on Sabbath nap,
And Popes play pipes with pagans?

"The damning proof is wide awake,
As noted by the bailiff--
A tankard stood betwixt your legs
And foam bedewed your boy-lips.

"To soil a virgin is a sin,
To raid a keep is grievous,
To slander God is heresy--
Let others toll such verdicts.

"My roll is crammed with common crimes
And common fools--they teem like flies,
They flood my lordship's prison-cells--
This epidemic must soon break!

"Were I endowed, the crime of thought,
The slimmest sigil of intent
Would be confession absolute--
Let fear of scales and swords prevail!

"The law is all I care about--
No widow weeping into rags
Nor penitent on blistered knees
Can sway my cool opinion.

"And you are but another fly,
Another of the maggot's breed;
I shall confine you to my jug
And set you on my sill to brood."

The Judex waved away the youth;
They chained Fedoso to the floor
And fed him mealworms, fleas and snails
Until a madness crippled him.

Dirty, shame-wracked Civil Beast
In a narrow precinct penned
Paced and roared and shook its mane
And clicked its claws across the flags.

Shaggy, haggard, wan and wild--
What voice has nature within walls?
What noble vigor dwells within
When whiskers droop and strength decays?

When fur is smeared with dungeon-filth,
What dignity can cling to hide?
When man to animal reforms,
The human pith adopts a nail.

It yearned to pad through forests lush
With hyacinths and lacy ferns,
To paw beneath a cypress-trunk,
To rip apart a rabbit's pelt.

Uncertain nature waxes, wanes,
Within a cycle of the moon;
The blood that drips from feral jaws
Is lubricant for ghastly pain.

A pitiable, monstrous heap,
A friendless, foeless, formless clump,
A sinewed bonerack in a cave,
A panther trembling in the dark.

For men there is a special tier,
A joyous eschelon on high;
But what of beasts? They must descend,
And grovel in the garbage-pits.

But lo--another change shone through,
A residue of angel dust,
A shaft of light, a whir of wings,
A transformation into flight.

From fur to feathers, limbs alated,
Body borne aloft by flux,
Change eternal, chains abolished
By a primal animus.

Beating heart-strokes thrummed a thunder,
Pulsed on higher, far from sight,
Flashed above the prison charnel,
Slashed throughout the crystal night.

The Emissary, cloaked in red,
Tolled the Prince's entry-bell;
His prudent liege him sent to learn
How his frontiered neighbor fared.

"Good knight, be welcome," the lord exclaimed,
And led him to his barren hall.
"A feast I shall arrange forthwith,
In honor of your master's name.

"But first, come visit our chapel, here.
Within this room, our prayers resound."
"Have you no mason to carve these stones?"
"No mason, but gold to support the cross."

The Prince then bid him to see the yard.
"And here our swine grow fat from scraps."
"Have you no ambries stacked with tomes?"
"No books, but three plump hogs to butch."

The Prince then drew him up the tower,
To view his amber and green domain.
"Have you no poet to praise these lands?"
"No bard, but granaries tall and full."

Returned they to the hall anon,
And sat they down before the feast.
"Have you no harp to grace thine ears?"
"No harp, but boxes of singing coin."

The servants brought platters of parsley, fennel,
Lampreys and cormorants, pullet and mint.
But from these dishes the Prince refrained,
Until a final course arrived.

"A haunch of horse for you, fair knight."
With that, the Emissary stood,
And bid farewell to his host, the Prince,
More destitute than any serf.

And when he rode back to his liege,
Who lodged in decorated rooms,
His lord him asked: "Has he much joy?"
"None seen, but ample shadows there."

Fedoso puzzled where he was,
For scattered there were fearsome signs
Of some fierce battle, waged and lost,
The weapons rusting on the soil.

A ring of ramparts, lonely, bleak,
Encompassed all  the frozen fray.
A shattered orgue deterred him not,
Nor did a sentry block that gate.

Portal through portal he passed nine times,
Til trod he on a weedy ward
Where sat a stony, moss-roofed keep
That vented smoke through a slender slot.

"Who goes?" came forth a cracking cry
From deep within the ancient keep.
"Stay back, come not!" the echo warned;
A wounded bird would make such sounds.

"I see no way I could come in,"
Fedoso shouted; "Fear me not.
Besides, I would but share with you
A trencher with a cup of ale."

The echo cackled. "Still it works!
Some years ago, by magic wrought,
I sealed myself within this cell.
Now no one may rule over me!"

The voice went on: "Before that time
I was in constant jeopardy.
I reigned with brothers, eight in all;
Divided we our father's wealth.

"Our honest law was very clear:
The eldest son took up one-half
Of land and revenue; the next,
Half what remained, and so by age.

"The youngest grabbed the smallest shares.
Baptised were we in perfect order,
No other portion could we claim
Except by right on siblings' deaths.

"And to the one possessing most
Went title and dominant fealty.
One month of grace was given me,
The oldest boy, despised by all.

"I heard the murmurings of plots,
The clank of blows within the forge.
A witch stepped forth to offer me
Protection from the coming rout.

"For later payment, large and vague,
She'd shut me in these thick, safe walls
Preserve me and my comforts plain
Beyond the furies of my kin.

"And so I gathered self and stores
And settled in this den of mine;
Invulnerable, I heard them rush
And melee on a field of greed.

"Not one of them survived, and so
I was still peerless; but then I thought:
Enemies may yet invade
To take my hoard and priceless rule.

"So when the weird-hag came again
To open walls and claim her fee,
I told her leave me be in peace,
The scepter mine forevermore.

"March on, young wayfarer, to the hills!
Content am I with gems and gold, 
A king complete o'er rats and flies,
Unchallenged by all lesser men."

Fedoso left the Autocrat
And pondered how contorted guile
Can overthrow a mortal's mind,
Enslave it to a shuttered scheme.

"Come play me," said the Fool at fair.
"Come test my wiles and wits.
I'll join what games you can conceive,
And wager a penny a chance.

"Choose any contest, any stage,
From archery to dice,
King's table, mills or juggling skills,
Or riddle me in rhyme.

"In calculi I do excel,
At tumbling I'm adept,
Pythagoras's battleground
I 'pute through in a thrice.

"Diverse the calculations be,
I can reduce them all,
To arm-lock with the giant's bulk,
Induce in him a fall.

"Come, come, no takers? Cowards all!
My suasions are alack;
Three crowns of mine meet one of thine;
Hark! Hark! I smell a pike."

"A simple gamble, Fool," said one
Of spiteful countenance.
"I'll forfeit wealth beyond your ken,
If you'll but cut this thread.

"And should you fail, I'll ask for nought,
But grant your soul to use,
Between the times the thread is snapped,
And next you clap your hands."

He handed him an emerald,
As warranty of prize.
"Accepted, greater fool than I!"
The eager gamer crowed.

The thread he took, and easily broke
And turned he with a grin,
But there was neither fair nor crowd,
Nor wagerer to see.

But lying on the ground nearby,
A crumpled corpse of Fool
Stared at the sky without a twitch,
The emerald beside.

A shade approached. "Come follow, Fool,
For now my claim is due,
You valued life for sport and luck,
A win its foremost virtue.

"The thread was your mortality,
And recklessly you trumped it;
The trick has turned--you should have learned
That games are meant for children."

Beguiling are her charms, ah yes!
Lovely her open, wanting lips;
Noble her ashen brow, and best:
Faithful her heart, deserving praise.

Swiftly and low the wrens flew by,
Happy were we that early morn
Down in a bosky dell, at peace,
The holly our prickly duenna.

Chaste is she, my Jezebel,
My virgin, Nereid mine!
Give lively step to honor her,
Praise loudly her white, tense smile.

Regally she holds her head
Above her fiery breast,
On ghostly Grise, her pallid horse,
Uplifts she a weathered crook.

Ever a pope could love a rose,
If Hymen desired a jewel,
Queen April, you would please them all--
Sleep well while the black thrush mourns.

"A patchwork glory am I, Fedoso.
This small tawny bag I filched in Naples,
This blue silk tassel a lady dropped
On her way to the Veronese Court...

"These holey boots once heeled a bishop.
I've been around, I've heard them talk,
Those creampots of The World.
But as for me, as for me...

"I was conceived in the bowels of despair.
There came to the world a pestilence
That threatened the very Order of Things--
The mighty fell, as did the paupers.

"My mother saw it, and fought it well.
Many-legged was it, and dark in form,
Heartless and cold, it stalked the land,
And crushed multitudes underfoot.

"Though I have been orphan, she survived. 
No longer the child of one, but many,
I flourish in manifold charity--
Fair to all, sworn to none.

"Numerous are my champions,
All benighted, and lost babes, too!
I arise late, and yet I am wise
To the tell-tales of early day.

"I love the country-folk, I do!
They take me in and keep me warm.
But monks and moralists I flee--
They wish to civilize me!

"See my empty palm, Fedoso?
Do not shun me, lad,
For though I am muddy as a dog,
I am loyal, and just, and glad."

Soon in the tongueless Beggar's hand
Appeared a hint of silver,
And though his voice could not give thanks,
In his eye a teardrop quivered.

The Travels of Fedoso, Part II

When I to the unnamed mountain came,
I was in age one sign-whirl shy
Of high-perched Ilian elders' span,
And Tithonus' longest sleep.

Below its starry crown there glowed
Fortune's guiding beacon bright,
A tantamount and golden light,
A tantalizing lyre-strum.

No road nor path led to the heights,
But near the bastion's base, a sword,
So sharp the air about it bled,
Was driven into seamless rock.

I tugged the hilt and freed the shaft--
Whirring like a grouse disturbed,
It fluttered high and scraped the peak,
Or so my baffled sight implied.

I curled the blade and struck the cliff--
Through it streaked a tortured gap,
Upward racing, one choice to make:
A gradual ascendancy.

Weary was I of waywardness
And tangled routes which fed the plains;
Breaking free of earth, I climbed,
A song to shriek before decay.

Among some austere, ancient stones,
A steely din beset my ears.
Two brothers dueled on the pavement there,
Two souls I knew from former times.

One, Perdato, was raven-haired;
The other--with face and beard aflame--
Was christened Praedo; these two were kith
In times and places I have lost.

They saw me not, so rapt were they,
Blind to all but foe to foe,
Slaves to ire and despair,
They stormed a steady rain of blows.

"Peace, friends!" I cried. "Remember well
Our local motto, hart-sworn sons:
Two pillars shall uphold the crown,
One wrack the beam and points bring down."

They stalled and stared in wonderment--
"'Tis you, Fedoso? A marvel true!
How came you to this distant clime?
We'll heed your plea and make amends."

They soon revealed the source of strife--
A baron, fattened from his wealth,
Sought a husband for his child,
A lovely maid he called Belline.

All men were equal in his eyes,
So he proposed a test of love--
The one who won her heart by deed
Could claim her 'fore the altar-stone.

Perdato chimed: "She stopped me once
Upon the wind-blown chapel steps,
And there she pledged to favor me,
If I would smash this pagan heap."

"Nay, brother, nay!" the other belled,
"Within the sanctuary's gloom
She gave her word that she'd be mine
If I repaired this stately shrine."

The brothers quarrelled once again,
'Til I intruded bodily.
"Dear friends, refrain, I'll be the spy
Who picks affection's sturdy lock.

"Once in the chamber of her pride,
I'll search the corners for those scraps
That solve the riddle of her mood,
If you'll foreswear this turbulence."

Mollified, the men agreed,
And in good spirits we pushed on
Toward the baron's lavish seat,
And that trophy named Belline.

Above the timeworn, thoughtless ruin
A whitewalled town slid into view;
Bridges, stairs and spires surged
In alabaster majesty.

Through its open gate paraded
Many freemen, fine and fit,
Traders from the eastern realms
And Arab wizards, weird and wise.

A Janus gaped from either post,
And in the ornate entry arch
A keystone swelled with seaxes three--
A sign of solidarity.

Inside the square, five hellcats rowed,
O'erturned a peddlar's dusty goods.
"Middling stuff," one sniffed, and scowled;
Another dashed a tinplate lamp.

Two picked through piles of velvet robes;
And as the peddlar busied 'round,
Restoring harmony in vain,
The Queen of Thieves whisked off a bowl.

The dumb show done, we hustled on,
Approached a briary chatelet,
A donjon squat, of marble blond,
With roses clambering up its sides.

"Her cell," my anxious allies breathed,
Then said farewell before the door;
I rapped upon its surface lightly,
Lighter than a sighing sob.

Entering those chalky walls,
I met with beauty most serene,
Tipping on her lap a dish
Of blushing apples plump and sweet.

"Be thou he, then?" queried she.
"The third to court me, and if wed,
Consume me like a berry plucked
From bowers of price-haggled love?"

"Consume you? Nay!" I did protest.
"Consider me the level scale
Upon whose pans your thoughts may lie
To balance out your joys and woes."

"But in thy glance I see desire,
Hunger, vehemence and rage;
How canst thou passionlessly pose,
When passion warps thy balance so?"

"Dear child, 'tis true, I am a man,
And wont to lose my even self;
Then let me as confessor serve,
To list and lop encumbering guile."

"No guile have I, nor pique to sow,
'Twould be unfair besides to clue
A stranger, one of three who strive
As equals to encompass me."

"Alas, how I must now persist,
And state my mission forcefully:
To yoke the wisp, and to compeers
Restore a glad fraternity."

Belline then set aside her fruit
And gathered in her hands my own.
"Dear sir, I weave no plot to bar
Thy just and honest embassy.

"Be gentle, frank and uncomplex,
And I will join thee in thy cause--
Malice let us both renounce;
Now name the mote which worries thee."

Thus I retold the paradox
Confided in me by those men
Corrupted from the lusty beam
That emanated from her breast.

"Allay concern," she summarized;
"All's clear as birdsong in the spring--
Thy fettered reason shall burst free
Once cellared in that gloomy fort."

With that advice she bade me part,
But added that by midnight's moon
The citrine circle vivified,
Held council in the lunar light.

In that ring of greening rock
I rested one still, moon-eyed eve;
The nightingales in copses trilled,
And moths bespecked the placid air.

Three upright blocks opposed my sight,
One braced my spine; yet as I dozed
In jagged slumber, how they leaned
And seemed to tip in toward my form.

Then in a startled, waking stroke,
I found my flesh encased in stone--
Petricolous my body lay,
Life-locked, but for a beating heart.

In fear, I called out for the Mage,
As any Brindisian child might do,
Forsooth his spirit has graced my town
Since there his staff he did put down.

To my surprise, the stony cap
That pressed me under mortal seal,
Lifted, light as gander-down,
And drifted to its former place.

There next appeared a wrinkled hand,
And withered arm, and weathered face--
An atavus long and white of beard,
Whose touch might freeze the Tyrrhenian Sea.

He drew me out upon my feet
And said: "Why blink in puzzlement?
I, foregone bard of Saturn's lands,
Rode here on waves of urgent prayer."

I gasped, at once fell to my knees.
"Your reputation lives, still thrives
In mankind's bosom, potent poet;
I lack due terms of gratitude."

"'Tis not much done; but woe--what's this?"
The specter rasped autumnally;
"I sense a swath of woven lies
That blinds you to the mien of truth."

I felt despair creep in my bones.
"For what design, what dire end--
Great master, sire of Mantua's fame--
Am I to flounder in deceit?"

The lyrist crooled and shook his mane
As hoarfrost limned his ivory lips;
"I intervened to inculpate,
And subtle secrets I'll supply.

"First know your enemy is foul--
Her only aim's to raise a gale,
To shatter souls and sweep them up,
To wreak extinction on good men.

"With peace disarm her; if that fails,
Hear by my art, her power wanes
With every pome that's snatched away,
'Til air alone her bowl contains.

"Once she is weakened, you must strike!
Toss pity from your arsenal,
And thrust base metal into hide,
Lest trickery endanger you..."

His speech trailed off; the vision cleared,
And nervous, vacant night returned;
The icy moon glazed o'er the stars,
And I slouched bleakly back to town.

In the tavern by the tree
I found my dear ale-merry friends;
Five 'round their plank had supped, and now
Their knives like lances rose and clanked.

"Young Fedo, hail!" they roughly roared;
"Have you not heard the horrid news?
Belline's been captured by a lord
Who camps across yon shallow vale."

"Why then such cheer? Can I believe
Her spell-hold on you has been eased?"
"Her lure tugs still upon our hearts,
But listen to our happy plan.

"She will be ransomed, that is sure,
But ere the call, toward doom we'll crawl
Like stealthy cats, to nab her back,
And win reward all for ourselves.

"There is no ready army here--
The tenants are so cowardly
The baron cannot raise a force
To rush his rival on the march.

"But we're his ritters, duly dubbed,
And tasked to fetch his daughter home;
Our pay: her virgin band to bust,
And silver coins to flow like wine.

"These three sots here will serve as guides--
They know a hidden entryway
To foreign crypts they say wind near
Those quarters deemed the most secure.

"A toast, brave chums--drink bitter black
In honor of our homeland's charms;
May we not taste them til success,
Or our blood-passage into death."

I dared not speak the confidence
That I had learned within the stones;
They were too flush from ardor's coals
To understand cool-headed words.

Instead, I joined their gallant scheme
And feigned to share their thirsty glee
To save the witch the pair adored,
A snake I'd crush by fist and sword.

Whilst my comrades slept past dawn,
I nosed about the pale-skinned town
Until I found the baron's hall,
Applied there for an audience.

Six stern trabants escorted me
And stood me in a bare, dull room;
A screen disguised the platform where
The covert ruler coughed and wheezed.

"This feuding with Lord Gree's demesne
Has made me ill; excuse my state--
I cannot face you vigor-drained,
With cheeks all splotched and prasinous.

"Plaudits to your countrymen
For volunteering to regain
My poor lost girl; inform me, lad,
What theme think you befits my ears?"

"Good sir, you have my sympathy,
And though I'm pledged to aid this work,
Some aspect of it slyly stings,
Much like a nettle on the heel.

"Tell me true: has eer you daughter
Dabbled in Mercurian arts,
Or twisted knots, or whistled up
A breeze to drive the clouds apart?"

So queerly did the lord reply:
"My Bella's gentle as a bee
That goes about its rosy rounds
With nought but industry in mind...

"The nectar from her mother's tree
Made dulcet liquor for the soul...
Repeal of time... drink only drops...
My wife died as a babe, you know..."

The baron must have nodded off--
No sound seeped through the cryptic screen
Except a hiss, as if in dream
He drooled upon a reredos.

The guards, stiff at my welcoming, 
Bluffly pushed me to the lane,
Their halberds twirled and bounced away
Like needles on a tailor's dick.

Resigned to my unpliant fate,
I met my fellows at the inn;
We dressed as pilgrims for the raid,
Our brands concealed amid the folds.

At sext we left the empty square,
Struck off across the countryside--
We skirted fens and forded rills
Until Lord Gree's estate we made.

A dungy village marked the place
Where rule divided--not much there:
A swarm of huts, a clique of goats,
And scrawny children rife with fleas.

We trudged in silence through the mud,
Hoping few would note our band;
And few there cared--the bulk of folk
Were massed around a lecturer.

A sort of priest he seemed to be,
Extolling some sublime ideal,
Exhorting acts best left to saints,
As if the dregs aspired to rank.

"I've seen the signs!" the ranter raved;
"Seven fires seared the sky--
Seven rumbles stirred the deep--
And seven cows last Sabbath died.

"Shall we like sheep ignore these hints?
If seven scythes cut 'cross our fields
And drought extended Hell to here,
Should we retreat to Satan's pen?

"Christian souls, be vigilant!
Let's beat the devil at the source,
And dedicate our might to God
By serving as His legionnaires."

The villagers gave mild assent,
But no one knew what all this meant.
They asked whose ensign would they bear--
He answered: "Christ's, a pure white star.

"My name is Herrimet the Rock,
And I have been to Kanzimert
Where demons gambol everywhere;
'Twill be our creed to wipe them out!"

What, travel far? the crowd demurred;
We'd be attacked by ogres vile,
And bandits, too, would pick us clean--
We've heard there's peril everywhere.

"No peril daunts the troops of God!
We'll gain support along the road,
And if the ruddy pagans balk, 
We'll claim our tithings twentyfold."

But who will be our liege out there?
And if our master hears of this,
He'll beat us good and confiscate
The spare remainder of our crops.

"Your liege is God! He reaps not grain
But steadfast souls. Have you no qualms--
Like Moses I will lead you out,
And if I must, divide the seas."

But if the men are herded out,
What happens to the womenfolk?
"They too shall march--or better--ride,
Like Scythians scornful of their males."

What, women too! they shouted back.
"Indeed, like Amazons they'll ride
With breasts unsheathed, combatants brave,
And painted a cerulean hue."

But what then of our children's fate?
"Why leave them out? List every babe.
Little corps are innocent,
Not little souls--come rally, all!"

The zealot had espied our troupe.
"Unless you be not Christian men,
Though garbed as such; come closer still
To hear how fiercely shemites burn."

"We would attend," Perdato stressed,
"If obligations had we none.
A peaceful errand presses us,
And we have made our churchly vows."

"You to the culm ascend, I see,"
The rouser purred. "I've been above,
And would have made the summit true
Had not a mist its pate obscured.

"I can advise you: wary be
In choosing tracks along the scarp,
For boulders there man's virtues read,
And fall upon impiety."

Perdato bowed, and we passed on.
The echoes of the rhetor's pitch
Rang softly til they birred no more,
And we caught sight of Castle Gree.


Ahead a gray basilica
Loomed darkly from a smoky bog,
And near its foremost barrier
There howled a hag, wits wholly gone.

"O hear me, wretches," rose her plea--
"Although in squalor I do squat,
And only ditchly dew I quaff,
More cunning than a crow am I!

"Behold the unheard prophetess,
Whose words fly loose, but serve to dress
The naked Fates, a coarse milieu
That orders acts ulterior.

"Harken, mice, as I commence,
And stitch your futures from my ends,
Lest you in desperation dash
Toward chasming dementia.

"There drifts across these tracts a pall
That will devour us, one and all.
Its source: a grottoed portico
That shelters demons 'neath its lip.

"The fetid phantoms harbored there
House in their gullets gobs of sin,
And in their orbits envies glow
To shine o'er evil's incubi.

"Spurred by greed, they take to flight
And scan the landscape from on high,
To stain like quills on papyri
The fertile leasow's furrowed skin.

"See! See! How like a hungry flea
Yon cinder angel dropped and spun
And landed on a host, now damned
To succor it and service grant.

"Should eight chirurgeons' catlins slash
The victim's limbs, it would not stir,
But to burrow inwardlie,
Expand its baleful area.

"Within the poor soul's simple heart,
It will engender deadly life,
A rancorous and spiteful spawn
That sucks upon surrounding flesh.

"And when the worm of hate's complete,
Its prey with other men will war,
'Til virtues fall like leaves from stem
When blight enshrouds the fruitful tree.

"Beware the shadows' sanguine tint
That hoodwinks those less apt than I,
And makes them think it heretic
To advocate against the whip."

We circled just beyond her eye,
To track our own insane agenda:
'Neath a column styled Ionic,
We unmasked a cellar-hole.

Down dank, dim dungeon halls we slipped
With barely light enough to see
Until a blurry crack appeared;
No further would our guides proceed.

Through the gap we brigands squeezed--
Adventurers like scouting rats,
The first to raid a new-built grange,
To estimate its tasty store.

Swords drawn, we three inched up a stair
That spiraled skyward from the depths
Toward promised heights where sunlight shone
And untold hazards lay in wait.

Perdato was the lead in file,
Praedo the second; I was last.
A sleeping throat we briskly slit,
But soon supporters flooded down.

My friends fought bravely in the fore,
Their stout assailants tumbled down
Like fresh-hewn logs, and after each
A spiky peal, five steels in fall.

But then a giant blocked our way,
Who slashed my comrades, seaming skin--
His swings cut blocks; the rubble fell
And crushed the brothers' ankle-bones.

They bled like wine poured through a sieve;
The swarthy giant lumbered down
To finish off his handiwork
By pommelling my colleagues' crowns.

But I had not yet tinged his sight,
Since I lurked low in scanty light,
And giants are notorious
For feeble eyes and fickle wits.

So as the titan angled close
To deal his death-blows, I sprang up
And pierced him through his sweaty crop--
The dread colossus moaned and slumped.

I tried to patch my partners' wounds,
But they refused my paltry care,
And adamantly urged that I
Fulfill the mission they'd begun.

"Take you his sword," Perdato groaned,
And motioned toward the giant's corpse.
"Enchanted all such weapons be;
Now go and save her for our sake."

With tears I heeded his advice,
And kissed the brothers on the cheek,
And hoisted up the massy glaive
To send that bane-elf to her grave.

The stairway dwindled to a ledge
That introduced an airy room--
Glad sunlight showered everywhere;
I trembled in its ecstasy.

An aperture across that space
Framed the verdant mountainside,
And in its gape, a white tooth gleamed--
The baron's villa, clean and cool.

Before the belvedere there posed
A figure frail in samite wrapped,
Who tensely clutched a latten pan
Upon the valley of her lap.

Her guise in profile was obscured;
A veil of pearls concealed her eyes,
With satin hood and shawl conspired
To cloak her features, save the lips.

I sidled forward--wary, stiff--
I barely glanced to either side,
And noted but one tapestry
Along an arc of outer wall.

Its composition was abstruse:
A hodge-podge tale of cruel events,
Reprisals, plagues, and death supreme
Sod-pounding like an equine scourge.

Within the swirling hub of woe
Hulked a hideous gog-magog
Of grimacing visage and gory gaze,
With nails like daggers dribbling blood.

I turned away and looked ahead--
The female outline barely stirred:
Her shrouded head a trifle sank,
Her sandals scraped the gritty floor.

"Who's there?" the polished droplets quaked;
"Begone at once! There's hazard here...
Where are my guards? You cannot stay
Lest all be lost. Away! Away!"

I rectified my borrowed keen
And centered it below her neck.
"I cannot leave 'til I've been paid
The ransom raised by callous acts.

"Below us, two sweet gentlemen
Who sought your love sleep silently.
Your intrigues they could not discern
While Eros clamored fervently.

"Their music now is angel-trolled,
To tolling bells they'll not awake;
And so, unless you can restore
Their human spirits, you must die."

She licked those lips and made to speak
While subtle shifts reworked her grip.
I felt a presence at my back,
And in a flash, the deed was done.

"You've been deceived!" she uttered last
As fluidly the edge slid in,
Like wax in molten wax it oozed,
And dimpled apples bobbled down.

One burst apart--its core was red,
Like pomegranate's clotted blood.
I glimpsed her face, her faults unmasked:
Black pools had swallowed up her eyes.

Hollow laughter wrenched me 'round.
Shimmering in the cooling air,
An odious echo nursed its shape
From a thousand patterned threads.

"Young fool," the shadow spoke in tones
That froze me in a pallid yoke--
"Illusions drew you to my gaol,
But your vitality broke its bonds.

"That distant pearly palace? Gone,
And its sickly master, done,
Figments all; his daughter, too,
Was nought but concentrated bile."

The apparition honed its voice 
To imitate the false Belline:
"Hast thou not learned? The senses lie,
And brutal license, smirking, reigns!"

Howls like hellish thunder rolled,
And horrors, which in weaves had slept,
Untwined and reared, then galloped out
To blemish light and foul the air.

"Farewell, bright sun! Greet night, frail leaves!
My dun dominion is restored.
And you, my saint, shall rule with me--
Your bones I'll fuse into my verge...

"Your skin I'll stitch into a robe,
Your teeth will decorate my crown,
Your gilded skull shall be my grail,
Inaugurated from your veins."

Then he, the Lord of Dread, advanced.
I summoned all my shackled strength
To stoop and grab a battered fruit,
To raise it to my nervous mouth.

I know not why I thought that act
Would liberate me from the trap,
But lo, a wind engulfed my frame
And lifted me beyond his grasp.

A hidden force propelled me out,
It plunged me through the atmosphere;
I had no sense of which or where:
One mindless motion, driving on.

At last the gusty tumult eased,
And I stretched out on cushioned silk,
Where dreams diluted trouble's cup,
And slumber suffocated grief.

The Travels of Fedoso, Part III

On asphodels he trembling lay;
We cradled him, and one, one, one,
We dipped his bones into our font:
One, one, one, 'til life returned.

Awaking soon, he shied from us.
Awed, he gasped; he mewled and shook,
Curled sinews in a fist and hid
Amidst those finger-planks, his limbs.

We peeled his fruit, his tangy flesh--
Skin yellowed, mottled, moled and mat;
Juice dribbled from his lips; he spat
As we licked dry his stringy pulp.

"What neks are you?" he muttered low
While fumbling for his absent sword.
"Not idle sprites," we unisoned,
"But glorifiers of your quest.

"Twin givers we, plus one who takes,
The lost, the ever-there, the root,
The watchers, weighers, listeners, laborers,
Storm-hale mares, sea foals of grace."

"Your words are twisted, free of thought!
Foul witches, three within a cave,
Your supple beauties lie like nets
That camouflage the gaping pit."

"Our words are forthright, noble sir;
Outside our lair, we have observed
Contempt that thrives in mortal men
Distorts the truest principle."

"Where rests my sword?" "Below, behind...
You have no need of steel henceforth."
"I must depart: I've heights to scale,
Where sweet-lipped destiny beckons still."

"True, she beckons still, our child,
Upon her gleaming apex. Go--
Hie thee toward the fiery hedge
That purifies the unpure soul."

He stumbled down the muddy sleeve
That links our chamber to his world,
Broke through to daylight... we reclined,
And meditated on his fate.

I saw him first below that bore
Wherein the wise ones keen and shout.
High boots had he and rumpled shirt--
A handsome aspect, newly lined.

He looked about, not seeing me,
For I was head-deep in my ditch,
Worms eye to eye; I peered above,
And still he paced, no prey to chase.

"Ill am I," he moaned. And then:
"Adrift and buffeted by fiends."
I shifted on my shanks; a clod
Dislodged, and he sprang toward my trench.

"Who's there? Another elf?" he raged.
"I'll take you bladeless, with my hands!"
And like a prophet in a trance
He stalked me with his arms outstretched.

"Mercy, sir!" I cried and shrank;
"'Tis only I, a feeble wench,
Who combs the mud for meager pearls,
Much like a pullet scratching dirt."

"Azzounds," he breathed, and crouched above,
Extending me an open hand;
"I'll pull you from your well, poor lune,
You need not cower in that hole."

"Nay, sir, I like it here," I trilled;
"Besides, of you I'm still afraid,
You may upraise me but to turn
And knock me in my slough again."

He pensive grew. "Please tell me, dame,
What worldly treasures you esteem?
Surely in your years of toil
Great cabochons you have unearthed."

"Indeed, sir, priceless gems I've found!
Most dear to me: this walnut-case,
And this, its mate. A perfect pair,
From which I drink the sweet dawn-dew."

"Fie, old thing, those are not gems,
Nor proper cups; and yet I think
Them duly deep to hold your wits,
No risk of spilling out a drop.

"Dwell in your hole--one so entrenched
Is useless to a knight like me;
I have a summit yet to climb,
And greater obstacles to face."

"Nay, sir, you face an impasse now,
For where art thou but in a pit
Of breadth superior to mine
And walls far steeper than my ditch."

He swung about and saw 'twas true,
Then fell into the dirt and sobbed--
"So I am lost, my deeds are done,
And nothing more remains to life."

Thus he grew still and shut his eyes
And slept the night upon the ledge.
At dawn I went and gathered up
Two draughts of periwinkle wine.

And to his lips I touched one cup,
And to my lips the other drew,
And thus we passed into the realm
Of perfect magics, Vertiswold.

We two were in debate before
The strangers walked into our glade.
We had both drawn, dispatched our shafts
Like speedy lightning o'er the grass.

Mine found its target first, I swear,
But my dear brother disagreed,
And so we stewed, and so we roared,
Our stormy voices grew and grew.

At first the nymph arrived: as fair
A maiden Persia never knew!
Then came her guard, a wretched cod:
Wild-eyed, wild-groomed, and weaponless.

We bowed. The man approached and asked
The source of our loud discontent.
I said, "A wager, friend, a score,
Between two brothers--nothing more.

"You see, we own three quivers fine,
Stitched from the hides of fairy kine;
One case for him, one case for me,
Which leaves one surplus, swinging free.

"Sometimes I wear it; ofttimes, he;
Yet here's the inequality--
Neither man can make the claim
He owns it outright--there's the shame.

"And so we're drawn into this duel
To settle once and for all the rule;
Who first with arrow yon sapling strokes
May claim the prize strung 'twixt those oaks.

"We have already launched a pair
Of fleches through the soft spring air,
And each of us attests his wand
Did likewise graze that quaking frond.

"Kind sir, and lady, might we ask
You help resolve our lowly task?
Might you bear witness to our game,
And judge which brother earns his claim?"

The nymph then spoke--like velvet mead
From Queen Mab's sack her words did stream:
"Gentlemen, 'tis honor's creed
That moves us to fulfill your need.

"We shall adjudicate this trial,
As long as there is no denial
Of our repute by either brother,
Nor trick in play, one against the other."

We reached to nock, but lo we found
All fleches spent--and yet we knew
The hanging quiver held a few;
We ran to fetch the satchel down.

Alas! While we had wasted breath
On merits of the former flight,
Some thief had snatched our contest's crown
And left the oak trees standing bare.

Contrite were we; our foolish heads
We hung like may-bells bent by rain,
But once again, the maiden spoke
And asked if we might fare with them.

"Dregs such as us? You praise us well
To wish our company for a spell.
Our faltering footsoles will be light
Whilst treading near such beauty bright."

Her man but grumbled, "Follow, then,"
And with a stern and frightful glare,
He plunged into the woodland's heart;
We could not read his true intent.

I know not how I came to rest
Within this green and pleasant shade,
With chalices set on their stems
As if to purify the winds.

And yet my sleep was ne'er complete--
I fitfully revived to see
A bear cub sniffing just beyond
My warded precinct of the wood.

And yet again when honeybees
Did swarm above my drowsy head;
My hair, my father told be once,
Is flecked with gold, like honey-drops.

Then you appeared, kind valiant knight!
You broke the fourfold, quartered charm;
By some endowment rare and fierce
You rescued me from slumber's grasp.

What strange companions troop with you--
I sense they're touched by weirdling ways,
While you and I are mortal-born
And therefore alien to this place.

Sleep well, and I shall take this watch--
Too many days locked in repose
Have tarnished me, and sleep is but
A draught to one who knows no thirst.

I'll come with you; I must, for though
I wandered here in search of one
Who sired me, his path is lost--
Too many ages now have passed.

Kind sir, be parent to this child,
Who has not father in this world,
And if your heart remains unspoiled,
Behind the chapel we'll be joined.

But hush--I'll not reveal a thing
Through speech or glance or flustered cheek,
Yet in the embers' waning blaze
I'll sputter like an oracle.

Rest on me, sir, upon these leaves,
Below the branches sighing low,
And when you rise, I'll match your pace,
Become your shadow, toe to toe.

There he struggles, with his band,
An earnest boy, but lanternless;
Within this fogbound maze of staves
The sun is dull, the track is weak.

See how close I come to him--
My prodigy, my ample heart,
A healthy will, but cracks of doubt
Crisscross the stonework of his face.

I brush him... leaning on a trunk,
He pants, and scans the barren scene:
So thick with straight, gray, sword-strong poles
Its haunters dub this "Ironwood."

"Where's Cedo?" he calls out; I mime
His worried pitch--our voice is strong
And carries far within the vale:
It echoes back with distant fear.

"Gone, gone," a cry returns to us.
He rushes toward the source posthaste, 
Not minding that the tree-trunks' bark
Scrapes bloodtrails on each glancing limb.

"Down there!" the stray man's brother bawls--
"He fell, and nothing more I've heard!"
Our hero and his pixies peer
Among the lichen-crusted rocks.

The fallen archer stirs below;
I hear him clearly, but above
His friends are deaf. I seep like milk
And raise a high, unholy howl.

Fedoso scrambles through the gap--
I watch him from a narrow ledge.
How nimbly he can perch and drop!
He lands beside me on the shelf.

Shrilly like a kid I bleat;
Alarmed, he tumbles to the floor.
Splayed and still he stays as if
His pelt was thrown before a hearth.

And then, the skin reanimates!
He kneels, inspects the grotto's room
Wherein poor Cedo took a spill,
Who now with smallish breaths suspires.

Too frail to move or to be moved,
The archer cringes to the touch;
A risky task to climb alone,
Thrice so with an impending corpse!

But he has glimpsed the exitway,
A plot I've planned with certain care:
Five buckets line the chamber's rim;
Fedoso soon inspects them all.

Each bears a phrase inscribed in gold,
The same regardless of the choice:
"Four lethal poisons we contain;
The fifth a panacea holds."

To simple minds, these pots are filled
With pristine water, clear and calm
And colorless--no trace of bane
Or subtlety to sight and smell.

Fedoso puts them in a row
And cautiously dips fingers in:
One digit in each pail he slips,
Then lifts his hirsute arm upright.

A thread of pain each finger sends,
Except for one; at once he bends
And thrusts his hand into the vat
That quells the poison's agency.

"Here, friend, drink this," Fedoso says,
And tips the chosen pail to sop
His patient's sleeve, which then he wrings
Above the groggy fellow's mouth.

The archer groans and writhes about--
The stark elixir does its work,
And in its throes, the man regains
His speech in awkward, labored gulps.

"Your form to mine... is drought to flood;
This vessel bleeds... Cockaignish blood,
With which your remedies... spar and war...
But venom livens... every pore.

"'Tis not your sin... I only plead
You treat my brother... as your breed.
Keep him from harm... should danger come...
To Ordo I bequeath this crumb."

He flails a bit, and 'fore our eyes
His body slinks inside itself
And shrinks to nothingness almost:
A silver dart concludes his change.

Fedoso tucks it in his pouch
With meek regard, and starts to mount
The bouldered steps--he picks his way,
A spider bobbling up a bale.

His party falters on; their loss
Is scribbled on each ashen face.
I float along, a cloud in mist,
And shower them with twigs and thorns.

"Forgive me, Lord!" the earthchild wailed,
"Through wilderness we've trekked ten days,
No food apart from mushtunk caps,
No rest on bedding dry and soft.

"My pride's to blame--I led us here
Without forethought or vision keen...
I beg your sweet compassion, Lord,
To save us from this wicked patch."

I raised my horn and sounded it...
At once my huntsmen gathered 'round,
And sped to meet the wanderers,
Who in a trice were netted up.

We flew like crows back to my hall,
And in its yard unfettered them;
The two fae-bred knew me anon:
They genuflected, custom-bound.

The upstart boy refused to bend.
"What oddkin animal is he?
You, sullen woodsprite, part to me
The cause of his discourtesy."

"Fedoso by his tribe he's called,
A questing gentleman forestalled
By cruel adversity and stars
Occulted by accursed Mars.

"He's travelled far from outer lands,
And faerie ways misunderstands.
Receive me as his delegate,
And through me rudeness expiate."

"Rise, sister, you have answered well,
So I'll not bind him with a spell;
Although he merits some reproof,
From punishment I hold aloof.

"The Green Prince much prefers a ball
To whipping mortals in his thrall,
So join us elf and join us beast,
And hence share in our wanton feast!"

Across my many-columned hall--
Roofless, rainless, root-paved place--
My men assembled, bearing stalks
And planks of fernwood, freshly hewn.

The guests then sat, and from the fens
My fishers brought up snails and clams,
Eels and duck eggs, tadpole stew,
And leeches brined with iris blooms.

My herders hauled in roasted mice,
Snipes with fennel, squabs with cress,
Snakes engorged with apple duff,
Beetles steeped in colewort broth.

My alemaids trundled in stump tea,
Birchbark cider, ferret cream,
Rosehip punch and pippin brandy,
Cricket liquor, brown and tangy.

Diversions blew in on the breeze:
Fifty minstrels frog-pipes squeezed,
Eighteen jugglers filled the air
With seeds and hazelnuts and peas.

Tumblers, there were six in number
Rolling 'round the table-lanes,
And twenty acrobats above them
Swung upon sheer cobweb slings.

I glimpsed Fedoso's fending hand:
All fingers but the fourth with blue
Were tinged, as is the grieving whale
Who beaches on the surfy weir.

"How came you by that stain?" I clucked,
But crassly cross his head he ducked
And would not comment on it more...
A spiteful egg I hatched thereon.

"You there, Ordo, if you will,
Relate how you received the quill
That gleams upon your tawny breast--
Perhaps a charm the titans blessed?"

He told me of his brother's fate,
The transformation at his death.
"You must agree to hunt tomorrow,
And on the buck let loose that arrow!

"The hart, I hear, commands the dell.
You, stark fellow, must run as well--
Those brutal in their composition
Can sense the quarry's disposition.

"And so, you'll lead us in pursuit.
Here, Fedoso, try this fruit
That plumps within the stag-moss bed...
Some call the morsel, 'fairie bread.'"

Before his comrades him restrained,
He ate a piece of toadstool cap;
I laughed to see the change in him--
A speckled cheek with leathered skin.

"Do try again--is it not fine?
On nothing else this prince could dine."
And with the second bite he twitched
And sprouted tufts about his wrists.

"The third's a charm--now chew it all;
Let's cheer things foxy, sly and small!"
The ruffian played fool complete--
A blink and he was on his feet.

A second blink saw hooves hit sod:
Away Fedoso crashed on fours!
His partners gazed, too stunned to speak,
As I a cup of spring brook drank.

I sped across the dales on heavy wings,
A hawk commanded by his liege to fly,
A thunderbolt unleashed by gods infernal,
Determined to destroy a guileless waif.

An empty strap whipped idly at my nape,
Its keepsake clenched within a nervous fist
Together with a ball of reins sweat-soppy,
Tears permeating land and horse and man.

Ahead, my target neatly leaped a hedgerow,
And from its form a shadow parted left,
Concurrent with the bushes' sunward urging--
My horse as well turned southward at the brake.

Behind me rose a roar of consternation
As fifty riders veered in unison;
As does a sweep of swallows autumn-swirling,
They bent their course within a mindless surge.

The Prince called forth a mighty clap of thunder
That halted all the steeds with eerie skill;
The shadow skittered onward for an instant,
Then vanished in a steeply cleft ravine.

"No more delays, no more suspect distractions!"
The elf-king boomed and nudged me with his spear,
And as he spoke his seven chief lieutenants
From seven goblets swigged their honey-beer.

I stormed ahead to where a shaggy forest
Began a likely refuge for our prey;
I prayed that far within a new world opened,
A sanctuary broad for me and him.

Then something stung my shanks like noxious nettles,
And I threw back my head and spied the sprite
Among the sturdy limbs and curving branches,
A sack of iron pellets by her side.

"You poison me, but you as well are damaged,"
I bellowed as her stony rain rang down;
"I'll give my all until Fedoso's hidden,
And safely sheltered from the Prince's men."

Already she had aged beyond believing,
Her skin was torn where she had touched the beads,
And warts now populated every feature--
Her beauty had retreated deep within.

But suddenly she shrieked, her feet upended,
Her body dropped and shattered on the earth;
Two ashwood arrows lay among her wreckage,
Projected by Green's marksmen, Krool and Venn.

"Get on, the day is waning and you dally,"
The heartless lordling rattled in my ear;
Again, I pricked my courser into action,
Bore down upon the flagging, stumbling stag.

Against a rocky wall it shivered, cornered,
And as I plucked my bow and aimed it near,
The silver shaft spoke up, and in its whisper
The thoughts of erstwhile Cedo ambushed me.

"My brother, do not flee the task before you,
But trust in all that's good and all that's true;
Release me on yon creature with conviction,
And I my noble enterprise will run.

"For I within my temperament am altered,
Empowered to enchanted beings gird,
Induce a rapture in a constitution,
Unravel magic 'til the spell's undone."

So even as the frenzied horns approaching
Blared triumphant notes upon the wind,
I shot Fedoso with the shining missile,
I stuck him right behind his furry blade.

He crumpled, and a shimmering o'ertook him
Whilst he and Cedo's arrow merged and fluxed,
And vaporized within a narrow moment--
The wood fell sharply silent at their doom.

The scent of jasmine lingered on,
As did the arbor of her smile,
All white with roses draped around,
And soft pink petals circling down.

These things remained, while he who found me
(Huddled 'neath a bowstaff tree)
Shook me with intensity
Until I floundered up from sleep.

I thanked him for his kind concern,
And asked the cowled one for his name;
"The sound of Ambrose pleases me,
Though naught was uttered at my birth.

"And you, Fedoso seem to be--
Abide and walk with me a while,
If aimless chat enlivens you;
Here, make my arm your leaning-stick."

"Aye, many thanks. My giddy head
Still swims about the open lane;
My recent past is small and dim,
Much like a childhood memory."

The monkish figure feebly laughed--
"You travelers are much at sea;
A mazy race, both good and bad,
But touched with benison as well."

"The tang of failure I still taste;
Of trials abhorrent, shades persist,
And in my dreams my mind did fix
On this: such quests are not for me.

"But then upon my musings broke
A light that cleansed the gray from me,
A voice as silver as the bells
That 'round the angels sway and peal.

"And as she spoke, I saw her eyes,
Beyond all nature, beautiful,
Beyond all sophistry, ideal,
Complexity and truth entwined.

"She bound my wrists with golden braids,
She pursed her lips and raised a horn
And blew upon it joyfully--
I hear its echoes in the hills."

The hooded Ambrose nodded, said:
"Thus Vanity is crowned the king,
Appoints Desire chancellor:
The phantom of it comes and goes."

And Ambrose led me to a land
Of rocks and stifling heat and sand,
And thirst was everywhere; but lo!
A brook appeared, deep, clean and clear.

Beyond it was a park, all green,
And pear trees heavy with their fruit,
And berries fat upon their vines,
And pheasants strutting in the grass.

Pleased was I we rested there,
But as I drank and as I ate,
The bounty crumbled into dust;
My guide intoned: all has been lost.

And Ambrose took me to the gate
Before a handsome manor house;
The chatelaine who waited there
Was comely as a courtier.

The precious dimples 'round her mouth
Invited me to kiss her cheek,
But she and manor burst apart--
Their rustling motes sighed: all was lost.

Next came a plain cut low by sky,
Across which rode a lusty knight,
A warrior tall and broad and blunt
And bright in armor bronzed and buffed.

He seemed the lord of any man;
I stooped and cowered as he neared,
But he, too, fractured as he passed,
And Ambrose wailed: soon all is lost.

Anon there loomed a bulwarked hill,
Its crown a city, white and fair,
With towers racing toward the heights
And pennants topping every spire.

Beneath those steeples, people thronged;
I heard them chanting high and strong:
"Hail to thee! Fedoso, come!"
But entering, I found no one.

Only galewinds sirening
And ruined mansions on all sides,
Save one of ancient attitude,
Who--sundering--groaned: I am lost.

(Thus murmured I within my soul:
If I should find her in this place,
Will ruin overtake her, too?
Does Grace within a blight decay?)

Yet once more Ambrose jostled me,
And on a hermit's door we knocked;
Within a fire shone like ice
Beam-blistered by the sun at noon.

I brought before him every woe
And every accident of fate;
The hermit shrove this tainted man
With mercy supernatural.

"To save thyself, first lose thyself,"
He rasped, then pulled me to my feet
And drew aside a dainty cloth
Which masked a smooth, indented wall.

Eight cavities were cut therein,
And every niche contained a grail,
All equal as if mirrored whole--
Their gilded luster made me weep.

The holy hermit steadied me,
And in a honeyed tone revealed
That one alone release bestowed,
That my salvation lay in reach.

Through tears and blissful light I stretched,
Imagined in the hermit's croon
Her hymn pervading, glare in gloom,
And in a heartbeat, I was lost.

An utter blankness bore a child
A twisted rampant woodland wild
In turbid stirless owllight all
There lies a cauldron by a wall.

I turn and bend through wickery
A strict snarled moody trickery
Abating barely at ones slashing
Spy a black cauldron in passing.

Buds encased by looping verdure
Telltale frailly of vile murder
Struggle bulge moon petals part
Charburnt cauldron is the heart.

Nary a gander loose in the land
Nary a bandit not with his band
Nary a church tower peaked high
Ah but a cauldron vexes the eye.

Ravens in ash mourning the fate
A pilgrimage too grave and late
Beaks stab uproot the fundament
An inky cauldron masks the rent.

A ragstrewn floe a redleaf lake
Hides many a body serpents take
Which devils nodding eviscerate
Burn in cauldrons a precipitate.

Twixt fingers ordure issues raw
The scented moorpink but a flaw
In the cella of abject grimness
A miry cauldron emits stillness.

Brambles suffocate the pathways
Thrust keen hooks epees in haze
Trip and cut nocturnal ramblers
Dawns a cauldron-mantled hearse.

Nearly dead from peregrine ages
I shed my irksome ties as sages
Exemplify in bookwritten repute
Thus the cauldrons seal up mute.

Breath, beloved breath, strange-seeming,
Bloats me sumptuously inside;
A flock in chatter--winsome warbling,
A finer chorus was ne'er composed.

A topaz nests within my palm;
No--a hazelnut, I think,
And there, upon that trunk a worm
Creeps toward glory in leaves on high.

I stand and amble toward the sunlight,
Bright, too bright for mortal eyes:
Surely this must be the morning
That first served Eden to human sight.

Dew reflects the star in legion,
Orbs ignited 'round my boots
In a broad and grassy alley
Flowing through a mystic wood.

To one side a host has gathered,
White-robed priests and men-at-arms,
Opposite a temple glitters--
Polished marble laced with jade.

Now the priests are all a-flutter,
Now the war-hounds' shields are raised;
I lope off toward sacred shelter:
Sanctuary is my aim.

In the courtyard 'fore the temple,
Half a score fat columns hove
Oil-brimmed crucibles afire,
Each more massive than an ox.

Fleeing all but intuition,
Rearward glances I refuse
Lest my plight descend in earnest,
Petrify me with its leer.

Bounding up the mirrored staircase,
On the portico I land,
Hear the horde-spawned tumult darken
With a cluttering of swords.

Through a doorway lined with onyx
To the naos I retreat;
There I face a skybare wonder:
Flames embroider ev'ry wall.

Like a furnace stoked by Vulcan
On three sides the naos roars,
On the fourth a rising clamor
Soon will block the temple door.

In the beamless space above me,
Vultures wheel among the clouds;
From beyond the harshest fire
Seeps a fragile female sound.

"Dear Fedoso, sidle hither,
Toward the heat and searing strands;
This is but my home-hearth blazing--
Healing spirits feed its flames."

And her countenance is in it,
In the fire flares her face;
Mesmerized, I stagger nearer,
Close enough to scorch my brow.

Then a soldier bent behind me
Shoves me with his nubbled targe,
Throws me on the sheety pyre,
On the dyking of the damned.

But the firebank is subtle,
Soft as down, the flagrance yields,
Cool as water from the ocean
Poured upon the cobbled shore.

To the depths I topple blindly,
Bubbles bursting in my ears,
All the elements combining
In the cruset of my sphere.

The Travels of Fedoso, Part IV

The waters calmed, and yet I floated,
Flotsam in a tepid sea,
'Til a merman's arms embraced me,
Raised me to the stony shore.

Not a merlord: just a soldier
And his captain, brightly clad;
These two pressed me to a pillar,
Traced their blades across my cheek.

"A river rat," the captain growled,
"A-swimming in the master's bath...
Shall we let him dry his fur,
Or throw him back and push him down?"

"Where is this?" I barely gasped,
Confusion blurring every thought.
The soldier, angered, meant to cut me,
But his elder stayed his hand.

"Toad, into the Royal City
You have hopped, and only one,
Sage David, knows if thy sweet head
Deserves to keep its pedestal."

They dragged me off through colonnades,
Up steps, by gardens framed in blooms,
Then past a sturdy palisade
Wherein a greyish boulder loomed.

And yet it moved! It was a hill
That swayed on massy tree-trunk legs,
A rock that blared a note so loud
It burned the ear and shook the ground.

The palace dwarfed us--there I heard
Angelic voices weaving airs
And coarser drones reciting texts,
Both harmonizing in its halls.

A bearded man--short, spare and dark,
Though richly garbed--accosted us.
The soldier and the captain bowed,
And then the latter spoke to him:

"From our Elysian Wells, my lord,
We fished this calf, this knave who claims
A lack of wits, and verily,
A sneak may bask in ignorance."

I knelt and meekly bent my head.
"Sire, I am stranger here,
New to your domain and laws--
Have mercy! I intend no harm."

"My laws? You fool, the chancellor
Cannot apportion clemency."
The short man sneered and walked away;
I knew I faced a tragic fate.

But he returned and led me on--
We crossed a chamber grandly decked,
Enlivened by a morning beam,
And in that beam, a stunning sight:

Lofty was he, nearly a giant,
With snowy mane and owlish eyes...
Erect he stood, and radiated
A cast of flawless majesty.

Friendly he seemed, but serious, too.
A sword he wore with a silver belt,
His hose was banded, and on his spaulds
A servant draped an azure cloak.

He stared at me a while, then said:
"Can it be true? Within my house,
A visitor knows not my name?
Let me repeat it." So he did.

I shook my head reluctantly.
A smile then fractured o'er his lips--
"The name unknown, and thus, no fame.
Some honesty I sense in you.

"Perhaps my work you recognize:
My troops tore down the Irminsul...
They then subdued the heathen clans
And smashed the palace of the Khan.

"With wood I spanned old Father-Rhenus;
With care I unified the laws,
With hope I freed the peasants' plows--
Are these light deeds familiar?"

"Blessed by the pope, who then bestowed
The name Augustus!" the chancellor cried.
"Yes, even that," the emperor sighed,
Who seemed quite humbled by the thought.

"Here is my father--do you recall him?"
I glanced at the portrait on the coin.
It all meant nothing. "Callous whelp!"
The chancellor raged. "Revere your lord!"

"Respect cannot be thrust on men,"
The tall one said. He paused, then asked:
"But have you seen the mighty beast
We keep confined by the southern wall?"

Indeed, the creature was a marvel.
"(You see--thus admiration's earned.)
The monster is a welcome gift,
Received of late from eastern realms.

"They live three hundred years, I'm told.
With such a mount, like Hannibal,
I'll crush insurgents underfoot,
Stride over mountains like a god."

He gave me an assessing look.
"I owe a favor in response.
I will appoint you ablegate
To carry to Prince Aaron this--"

He lifted up a purple cloth.
"This table is a marvel, too--
Note the tracings on its plane,
The roads, the rivers and their vales...

"When moved, the pattern shifts as well
To represent a local lie;
It is an everchanging map,
Worth more than twice its weight in gems.

"I charge you: safely bear this prize
To Persia's gracious suzerain,
Or else, if travel frightens you,
Retire to my kitchen's caves."

Without a moment's thought, I stooped
And humbly thanked the genteel king
For giving me a task so grave
That nobler men might envy me.

Months we journeyed under the sun,
Some nights, under the moon,
And once, both orbs in balance hung:
Two sharp medallions, silver and gold.

Through savage lands our party trudged.
In many towns, the emperor's seal
Prepared our welcome; other lords
Begrudgingly listened to our spears.

At last we reached the caliph's burgh,
Spires and domes and towers immense,
Ringed by rings within rings of bulwarks,
Bursting with commerce, noise and sweat.

I delivered the table to Aaron,
A generous monarch like our own;
We feasted 'til our bellies bloated--
His guests he pampered better than sons.

The wonders of his palace were many,
But soon I yearned for the world outside;
One day I squirmed through a broken postern
And joined the throngs in the street beyond.

Such sights, such smells! A constant babble
Carried me through the turbulent ways--
I was a leaf in a highland torrent
Surging and spitting through rocky clefts.

I slowed within an alien quarter,
Peopled by a foreign breed
Fond of banners and flaming colors,
Their musical language intriguingly queer.

Their wares: pots of translucent clay,
Figures carved from greenstone and bone,
Bolts of delicate silk, and scrolls
Of fragile parchment, pliant and sheer.

One merchant hailed me in my own tongue:
"Yes, far-flung languages I've acquired...
One does, when out with the winds one blows--
Come raise a cup with me inside."

Behind his shop there was a room
Dim and fragrant with burning oils;
He poured out droughts of smoky liquor,
A brew exotic and flavorful.

"These leaves are brought from eastern lands
Where I once lived--they grow on slopes
That seem to lift the sky itself...
No doubt the dews are Heaven-sent."

"The Gate of Eden," I murmured idly.
"Ah, yes, that western tale I've heard.
But think you God amassed all beauty
In one small tract, one crown for the world?"

Just then a shadow shifted softly,
Knelt to fill our cups again.
"My daughter, Kama, dab of starshine,
A treasure dearer than all I own."

A wave of jasmine, musk and anise,
Scents profane and joyful mixed,
Kissed my senses, then as sudden,
Seeped away, a censered draft.

I bid my host goodbye and parted.
In a daze I whirled around--
Night had fallen, streets had emptied,
Every route looked dull and strange.

Then a lantern graced a doorway;
All at once, her spell revived...
Dazzled, I ran toward that flicker--
Where it led I did not care.

Twisting through a maze of alleys,
Stairs and ramps and squalid lanes,
Past cells alive with insect chatter,
I crawled into a den of bliss.

Gusts of passion tore the curtains,
Storms of ardor split the bed,
Shoals of pillows scattered wildly,
Blankets billowed with our lust.

Glory to her resined lips,
Her satin arms and sable hair!
Helplessly I clawed the cushions,
As I floundered 'twixt her thighs.

Soon relief brought me above her,
Panting like a weary dog;
Thus she stroked my brow past midnight,
When the lampwick sputtered dry.

"You must leave this teeming city,
Lest my father find you out;
Agents he employs in legion,
Rumors cannot slip his nets."

All my protests she discarded--
Her concern was quite sincere:
"Tarry long and he will slay you,
Feed you to the carrion-birds.

"Some day, we will be united
On those fabled temple steps
Where I'll play the Dancing Pheasant,
Warbling bribes for love's return."

With a rustle, she departed,
Vanished in a honeyed haze;
As I pulled apart the curtains,
I collapsed in weakling rage.

With the dawn I fled the city,
Joined a gritty caravan
Trundling toward the East's horizon;
Memories I washed with tears.

Three pieces paid for privilege--
(Among them was the emperor's coin)
I rode with rocking camel cargo--
The earth heaved like a russet sea.

Searing plains met famished mountains...
Our track relentlessly pursued
A snaking defile, winding higher...
Nights I shivered in a rug.

A traveler en route to Loyang
Cheered me with exciting tales;
His fortune he had gleaned abroad
And now he longed for wife and home.

A cousin lived in busy Chengan:
This herbist had a proper shop
That healed the city's wealthy heads--
With patience I might prosper there.

We loped into that dusty sprawl,
Chengan: a-swarm yet orderly,
Its straight-lined, flat and broad parades
Boxed buildings in recurrently.

The shrill-voiced cousin hired me;
My daily duties: grating roots,
Grinding seeds and shaving gourds--
I learned his art in increments.

One day a black-robed man strode in;
He bore a scroll with crimson braids.
At once, both clerks and clients dropped--
I aped their deferential act.

The shroud-man barked a terse command;
I found myself among a host
Of palace guards zigzagging towards
The heart of the imperial zone.

Inside an alcove painted green,
The dusky man sank down cross-legged,
Uncapped a jug and poured out wine,
Released a sigh midge-flecked with pain.

"You are the phantom of my dreams!"
The man exclaimed. "I saw you first
Twelve nights ago, not long before
Young master's sufferings commenced.

"I am the Royal Astrologer,
Entrusted with affairs of fate;
Alas! the stars have cursed these times
And all my lordship's garlands rot.

"He who fashioned out of soil
An army, bane to Tufan's hordes,
Has now retreated to a glade,
Wherefrom he exhales poetry.

"In his grandson, hope remains
Of staving off pretenders' plots
To doom our kingdom--their ascent
Would leach out goodness from the throne.

"In my dreams I saw you mix
A potion to drive out the heat
That plagues the true inheritor--
A glimpse is all I can allow..."

He waved his hands, and panels rose;
Beyond the gap, a silken suite
I spied, and with breast unclad,
A lad, face cloaked in lucent pearls.

The panels closed. "Now to your work.
Succeed you must, or two shall greet
The sharpened tang of sacrifice,
The point by which blood feeds the dawn."

The servants brought in trays of shells,
Horns and husks and polished nuts,
Pots of extracts, oils and balms--
I chose a mortar and began.

Three times I dosed him; three times more,
And finally the poison waned--
Vigor flashed through princely flesh
And flushed the evil tatters out.

In a hall with polished walls
There sat a melancholy man...
"Chiatan," my escort breathed,
"He made the Heineihuaitu.

"For sixteen years, that was his work:
To measure out the countryside,
Reduce it to a tapestry
Ten paces square; here is his feat--"

The portent-man unfurled the chart,
A meadow daubed with red and black,
A thousand fiefs in dismal bloom,
With water-courses vining through.

"When he was done, the emperor,
No longer looking outwardly,
Gave him a nod, and tottered off.
Thus, devastation was he paid.

"A life at court is very sad
And dangerous; when factions rise,
Upon a pike-point you must dance,
While underneath combatants roil.

"My lord extends his gratitude
For rescuing his heir from death;
He grants you his remote estate
Which squats below the Shifting Hills."

He pointed to the map, and there,
Between the Changcheng's line and peaks
That bore the epithet, "Cloud Realm,"
A humble palace was described.

"Please go at once. A retinue
Of men-at-arms will squire you;
I hope that Fortune treats you well--
She ridicules those dwelling here."

At midnight, fourteen mounts and men
Assembled in a narrow yard;
Beneath a lantern by the gate,
A eunuch picked through chicken bones.

A paltry half a league remained
To touch the sturdy palace walls
And sanctuary from the wilds--
Alas, a carnage closed our ride.

Within a stony pass where sounds
Rebounded, amplified our din,
In twilight gloom, a spirit force
Like leopards dropped upon our troop.

No eye foresaw, no shout forewarned--
Dismay and terror raced around
As one by one the shielded soldiers,
Gored and gashed, from horses fell.

The animals in panic reared--
I lost my seat and landed near
A knight whose naked bowels were strewn
Like offal in a peasant's field.

One guardsman stoutly paced and roared
Until an unseen sickle tore
His crimson head from crimson stalk;
It settled in a crimson rut.

Then, channelled by some mystic guile,
The horses in a huddle fled,
Deserting men to grassless graves:
Fleshy tombs heaped on the waste.

I alone escaped unscathed,
I alone among the dead
Still shuddered in the frigid wind,
Still clutched my worldly cares and fears.

I shunned the castle's shelter now--
No human occupied its halls,
Its gaping mouth seemed sinister,
Its wings reached out like groping claws.

Fed by madness, spurred by dread,
I tracked the exodus of hooves
Recorded in a worn-out swath
That scaled the heights impatiently.

For days I labored up the slopes,
Sustaining strength with roots and herbs;
I thanked my teacher for his gift,
A knowledge gold could not repay.

Wind-driven mist forever flew
With ice that scoured my soppy brow;
At times Her voice I thought I heard,
Her purling descant pushed me on.

Then suddenly, the tempest broke--
Within a slanting sunset ray
Her roseate pavilion gleamed
And warmth resurged in every bone.

But for a hopeful heart's brief beat:
A blink, and that fine light was lost;
The cloud-wraithed dusk gave its report:
A haughty fortress, stern and harsh.

I waited by an open grate...
Chants and patter rose and fell,
Torchlight wavered on the walls,
But not one shadow scooted by.

As silence grew, I edged inside.
Inspired by a cryptic source,
I traced a loose and snaky route
Which ended in a vaulted cell.

Within its confines, dim and dank,
There sat a figure, knees held tight,
Scrawny, bent, with desperate eyes
That flicked about with subtle life.

The furrows of his tawny skin--
Quite leathery, as if the sun
And cold together cured it well--
Bespoke of ageless, aimless toil.

He peered at me and shivered once,
And with mounting vigor mewled,
Then howled from woe--I darted back,
Afraid the keepers had been warned.

He ceased anon. "Please do not go,"
He said so timidly I thought,
This is a child! "I'm captive here...
They mean to starve me 'til I die."

Indeed, he looked a sorry thing--
No clothes, no food nor jug nearby,
Yet from my purse of sympathy
I drew out leaden miser-dibs.

"Up on your feet and follow me,"
With frail conviction I proposed.
My hand I offered, then retrieved--
A qualm disturbed my courtesy.

"I can't! I can't!" the wretch declared.
"My captors supreme magic wield,
And by their charms, I am controlled--
See here the telltales of their skill."

He pointed to an arabesque
Drawn all about him on the floor;
It was a pleasant little work--
Four disks receding into arcs.

"I cannot touch it from within,
But you, my savior, have the will...
Obliterate it with your foot,
And all I own in life is yours."

I doubted he possessed a stick
To call his own, yet his request
Rang genuine, and so I struck
The chalky image with my boot.

The chamber rumbled; a smoky stench
From fissures streamed, and on the spot
Where once the sickly being stewed,
A scarlet shaft of fire spun.

I tripped and to the pavement crashed;
And from my crouch I glimpsed a bull
Or bullish brute hulked over me,
Snorting in a joyous wrath.

"Mortal fooled, a folly immortal,"
The vision boomed, then like a djinn
Recalled to serve, he faded out;
A dire void engulfed the room.

Another vision soon swam in:
Divinely formed in silver hues
And delicate dress, its pleated wings
Fanned out from trunk to graceful arms.

"Wayward waif," the seraph sighed,
"The demon played your weakness well--
He can, through sight and sound command
The strongest champions in the land.

"Therefore our company of monks
Surrounds itself in broidery
That renders us invisible,
Removes us from his influence."

"'Twas you who set upon our band
And wantonly destroyed those men!"
"We did attack, but not with malice--
The guards we slew were not your friends.

"They rode with orders from Wang Pei:
Once inside the palace gate,
They were obliged to murder you 
And seize the manor for their lord.

"Such evil we cannot abide;
In consequence, our action caused 
A viler deed: so God designs
A clockwork no one can predict.

"And you, sad soul, must bear the brunt.
A demon holds indebtedness
To him that snaps apart his chains--
This curse will haunt you many days.

"No stricter sentence could we cite
To balance out your heavy crime;
But know that somehow grief will pass,
And consolation will come at last."

With that, the apparition waned;
As well, the fortress walls dissolved...
The bleak and lonely moor refrained 
My anguished and most pious prayers.

I roamed the high lands steadily,
A nomad without destiny,
No memory of what just passed:
Each morning, mist erased my mind.

Where the grasses rolled like waves,
A fickle spirit seized my tongue
And emptied me of well-worn words--
One syllable replaced them: peace.

One day, upon a horse's back
There rode an archer, bending bow:
A boy--no older--stood erect
And flung a point that scraped my thigh.

I let him harnass me in tow;
He took me to his fellow tribe
Who marvelled at my face and skin--
They sheltered me for many nights.

I witnessed their strange customs: how
A chief was buried with his horse,
And sometimes servants, still alive,
Were laid beside the grave-sunk corpse.

But at a river wide and cruel
They bickered on a barge's prow,
And I was cast upon its planks--
New pupil in the school of thrall.

I rebelled until the lashes
Tore my will down to the soul;
Then I sadly watched the waters
Lick the unrelenting bow.

Even sight of that stunning city,
Nova Roma on the sparkling Horn,
Could not shake my melancholy--
Want had wilted in despair.

Up the sunburnt stones they dragged me,
Past the monuments of time,
To a shabby courtyard setting
Where on benches bidders vied.

These I faced togged up in irons,
Rings on ankles, wrists and neck;
Naked but for those five bangles,
I was judged and hauled away.

In the stalls I languished lonely,
'Til a robust lord appeared,
Short but strong, young but seasoned,
He yanked me to my feet with ease.

"Well done, slave," he bantered brightly.
"We must reason eye to eye,
Or ear to ear, or mouth to mouth--
Ah, but no: you are a mute.

"That's why I chose you: confidences
Must be kept in our regime;
Not just for that--you have retained
Some handsome aspects of your youth.

"I am Kayal, a slave like you,
But better handled; as a boy
My parents sold me into service--
War-work for the Abbasids.

"I was trained to be a fighter,
On a steed or hand to hand;
I have earned the title Prefect,
Though a mamluk I remain.

"I am blessed, because my sire,
The wali of Jerusalem,
Is kinder than a Christian saint,
And lavish with his chamber-fees!

"I've been his agent many years.
Hear that roar of disbelief?
The city is receiving word
That Krum has slain their emperor.

"Yet that's not true: 'twas not Krum's man
Who aimed the fatal shaft today--
I'd blame a shadow for that deed;
But come, we'd best be on our way.

"You'll play my houseboy, taster, squire--
Whatever role I deem most apt;
You'll share my secrets and my doom--
Betray me, and I'll snap your neck.

"How are you called? Unlike the ruk,
You have a body but no name...
'Darrat' fits for a clown, perhaps,
Though 'Qaina' you may sometimes be."

Thus my master claimed his goods
And brought them to his boat, to sail
Along the Carian coast, and hence
To holy countries, hot and sere.

Behind a pockmarked, grey rock wall,
The mamluk's manor wrapped around
A swath of cypresses and shade
And water trickling from an urn.

My first night in that gloried town,
The wali called upon our house;
All silks and spice, with tiny hands
He stretched to fondle every thing.

Upon my master's gauze-hemmed bed.
The two of them ate figs and cream,
The while appraising me with leers
And laughing at my abject state.

I quaked with rage and fear and grief,
And when their moistened fingers jabbed
My nether belly, I succumbed,
Upset the kettle, scales and tray.

My swoon was lifted by a splash
Of lukewarm tea. "A windlashed boy!"
Kayal pronounced and broadly smirked--
"Not worthy of the Udar's lust."

They threw me out and tossed a pouch
That landed near me with a chink;
Inside, six shekels slid about--
They comforted my injured pride.

Within the lamplit corridor
Two figures lurked, then slipped away.
One was Kayal's daughter, Anis:
She froze me with her raptor's gaze.

Three days later, I was summoned--
Hiyla, servant to the girl,
A hunched old woman, drab and veiled,
Sent me to the marketplace.

To the Beggars' Sook I hurried,
There to purchase for the crone
Several fortunes from a seer
Capable in letterwork.

When the gaunt magician saw me,
Right away, three scripts he pulled;
He tallied with his cloudy vision
Weird designs the shadows drew.

"Tell the one who sent you hither
Hoods and cloaks cannot conceal
Deformity abhorred by nature--
God's clairvoyance bares deceit.

"To her mistress: what she longs for
Now is present, near at hand;
Tonight, the star al-ghul will guide her
To the haunted crypt of kings.

"As for you, here is my warning:
At the ready you must be
Lest a secret foe destroy you--
Here's the only remedy."

In his palm he placed a splinter,
Worn brown needle made of wood,
Ordinary, yet beguiling,
What it was I understood.

Money freed from its confinement
Clattered in his other hand;
The leather purse I had just emptied
Opened for the sacred shard.

That night, I tensely searched the compound
For the hag that sought the runes;
Finally, I tried her chambers,
Tucked away below the vaults.

My voice there echoed--no rejoinder...
Shadows bent by candlelight
Shifted up and down the ceiling--
I felt the chill of peril's vise.

Then I heard a scratchy murmur
From a niche carved high above;
I climbed a creaky ladder to it,
Tugged upon a velvet drape.

Hidden there, a sight horrific:
Head preserved in oily glaze,
Skin like that of shrivelled currants,
Eyebrows melded in one wave.

And beneath their hairy archway,
Orbs like glacial globes peered out--
Lidless, thoughtless, lifeless, soulless,
Witnessing a ghostly play.

From the ladder's rungs I tumbled,
Stumbled out the cellar's door,
Raced across the moondrenched courtyard,
Quailed within my bunk alone.

Later, as I edged near slumber,
Birdlike shrieks tore through the air;
Bounding to my master's haven,
I beheld a dismal scene.

There he lay, all strength abandoned,
A deathly pallor on his face;
A rubied hilt extended toward me,
Where its blade had struck his breast.

The wali's dagger--I had seen it
Bouncing on its owner's hip;
Yet its presence was a puzzle--
The governor rested far away.

I ran to find a guard to aid me,
But I found Anis instead;
Heedless of my indications,
She rebuked me, and she said:

"Come, we need your mute devotion,
Someone who can wield a sword,
Someone who will not reveal us,
I own you now that he is gone."

So I followed her, that elf-girl,
Slender shred of youth, but hard;
With her elder maid we traveled,
Once again on roads I trod.

We journeyed down to Askalon;
There Anis hired a ratty ship
To take us west--how far we'd sail
Not even she could recommend.

"Perhaps to Tripoli, or Carthage,
Or even further; they say Karmona
Is idyllic--splendid, stylish,
Thick with art and erudition."

She yawned. The Saracen, our captain,
Gave the shout to pole away.
A pirate crew this rogue commanded,
Men too shrewd to love a land.

The mamluk's daughter found her hammock,
Yet before the stars appeared,
Her screams rang out--a startled seaman
Dropped his sack and cursed the air.

I rushed to her--she lay there, trembling;
In distress, she hugged me hard.
Words of comfort I could not offer...
To compensate, she told me all.

"I am not Kayal's true offspring--
Conceived in Baghdad's slums, I dwelt
In my mother's womb three seasons;
Where she wandered, I did, too.

"She was banished from the city--
Penniless, nowhere to turn--
Then she met Jafar, the minister:
Another exile, she would learn.

"The caliph had been seized by laughter
While browsing through his trove of books,
'Jafar, you imp, get out, be gone now!'
Was all His Eminence could shout.

"The vizier was perplexed and saddened,
But my mother had the gift,
And at once she saw the issue,
Smiled and reassured the man.

"'He had read a sly adventure,
Prophesizing your affairs
In Damascus, and he realized
God intended you go there.

"'For whatever's written truly
Must by virtue come to pass;
Thus for love of you and Allah,
He did push you on this path.'

"The minister was deeply grateful
For those words of wisest sense;
He provided for my mother
While they voyaged east to west.

"But when I was born, she perished;
In Damascus is her tomb.
Kayal was present on a mission--
He scooped up her rueful babe.

"Nursed by many breasts, I quickened,
Maturing faster than my years.
Look upon me, gauge my ripeness--
I'm not half the age I seem.

"Then the visions came upon me,
Interrupting blissful sleep;
In my dreams, one figure ravaged,
Dark as midnight, visage screened.

"Always on a ledge he'd lift me,
Shove me off a cloud-backed cliff;
Through a blue abyss I'd plummet,
Suffocating 'til I woke.

"Frantic, fraught with desperation,
I read auguries for signs,
Scraped out hints from bland predictions,
Combed each fortune for a nit.

"Soon the muck of forecasts stiffened,
One alignment gathered force--
Toward my father entrails pointed,
Ashes painted out this thought:

"'He has called on distant kingdoms...
But reunions soon approach.
Blood has been the knot that binds you,
Blood will free you from his bond.'

"Many days I fought the portents,
But agreement was too clear--
If I did not act upon them,
Insanity and dread would reign.

"So I slew him with the dagger
Hiyla lifted from his consort.
Sorrow tinged the slight relief
That I had brought about some change.

"But now the figure has recovered
Despite my agonies and plots...
Granny, fetch my bag of scry-stones,
I must cast those bones anew!"

The woman hobbled out and back,
Presented Anis with a pouch
From which the girl drew seven beads
As round as dots the size of beans.

These she threw upon the deck
To trace their geomantic lines.
Seven times she tossed them out
And picked them up like priceless gems.

"It seems I am a lucky child
To have two fathers--one who lives
Upon this floating heap of woe."
Her lunate eyes roved all about.

"By my mother's craft I will
The truth from those who hear my plea:
Are you, wretches, kin to me?"
The sailors feared her sorcery.

And yet, each man denied a link
To her conception; each replied
With vigor, "Nay," until one mate
Alone withstood her probing charm.

He would not answer her at once.
Thus, with shrewish certainty
She made her claim: "'Tis you, I know,
Who stalks me throughout night's domain.

"You've lured me here by some vile art,
But now I'll cut the sanguine loop
That mingles us. Slave, slit his throat,
Then pay the captain for your stroke."

The sword felt heavy in my hands.
Just then a whisper blocked the breeze
And hushed the seabirds' stubborn cries
And brought the crewmen to their knees.

"Fedoso." It was Hiyla's mouth
That worked in anguish, then let out:
"Fedoso." At that long-lost sound,
I tottered toward her, raised my blade.

"Fedoso!" Voice as harsh as rubble,
Tainted with a wicked squeal.
"Your father's name, it is Fedoso!"
I lunged at her in boiling ire.

But she was not a fragile hen--
She grasped my steel with double claws
And snapped it like a brittle twig
Before those talons clutched my neck.

Behind the veils and wraps and cowl,
I spotted eyes of depthless black,
Both foul and gleeful, and I knew
What creature skulked beneath that guise.

Then I recalled the seer's rede--
With agile hands I plucked the splint
From bosomed fastness, and anon
The strangler panicked, loosed her grip.

With point outstretched I stepped, advanced,
And she, reverting, stooped and begged,
Until her back chafed on the rail--
I made my final, forceful thrust.

But like a swallow bent in flight
That darts between two tangled trees,
Anis intruded, barred my stab--
The spike caressed her harmlessly.

Yet Hiyla, lurching from my blow,
Had crushed the railing to escape;
Now she with balance all askew
Descended toward the briny brink.

I thought her charge had been reprieved,
But in the briefest span of time
Her nails snagged Anis by the foot
And dragged her to a murky grave.

I stood above them as they sank...
Anis with skyward eyes received
The logic of her ghastly dream,
And found a peaceful sleep at last.

I split the mamluk's legacy
With the pirates, made my way
To Karmona's rangy ramparts,
Where I bought a sumptuous house.

City of flowers, gold and citrus!
Leather and jewelery and books...
Though these all were fair distractions,
I refused them for a vice.

In a public square I idled
Day to day upon a bench;
There I drained off countless tankards,
Carved a circle in each stoup.

Eight sat by my side one morning
As the ouds began to thrum;
Once reciter posed before me,
Winked and crudely chirped his lay:

"I have sung for many rulers,
(Their glory faded, as has mine...)
Princes just and great in power.
(Their glory faded, as has mine...)

"King tramples king, son after father,
(Their glory faded, as has mine...)
Each one hopes his crown will prosper.
(Their glory faded, as has mine...)

"Alexander was the proudest,
Ruler of the earth itself;
Of his kingdoms, all have crumbled,
Columns shattered in the dust.

"Etzel, nicknamed Scourge of Heaven,
Died of gluttony, poor beast!
Caesar steered the Latin armies,
'Til the Senate did him in.

"Hrethric of the Danes was murdered,
Hrothulf got his just reward;
One-legged Gunther fell and foundered
As the Hun-tribes flooded in.

"Aegeus drowned from simple error,
Og of Bashan, Moses slew;
Cleapatra called for venom,
Kshatra's cunning led to doom.

"Hear the sorrows of the Banings!
Witness scores the Hundings smote!
Fear the Franks and mourn the Myrings,
Flee the tumult of the Goths!

"I was with the Swedes and Saxons,
I was with the Greeks and Finns;
I was counted with the Persians,
I supped in the Angles' halls.

"Scots and Longobards and Hebrews,
Romans, Gefthas, Wends and Picts,
Jutes, Egyptians and Burgundians--
All have flourished, all have failed!"

Here the poet paused and gargled
With the dregs poured from my cup;
Then in tones that only I heard,
Thus the minstrel closed his speech:

"Water deep or water shallow
Cannot bury me for long.
Soon I'm dry and searching pastures
For the mouse that gnawed my cords.

"Here you loll in middling splendor
While great nations break and fray.
You're in need of one more lesson,
Then all debts shall be repaid."

In a flash of flavid lightning,
We were skimming over hills
Toward a blue and gray horizon
Where grand monuments decayed.

From Ianiculum's repose we gazed
Across the hazy morning pallor
Pressed upon the weary Tiber,
Guardian of ancient glories.

Draped beyond the shipwrecked island,
Parks and palaces ran rank;
From low piles of regal jumble
Avenues disused fanned out.

"Womb of empire, worn and sickly,
Teeters like a rotten egg
On the axe-blade of the squatters--
History means nought to them."

(Thus my guide began his lecture.)
"Horrid wars the Sibyl sighted
When the Trojans sought her rede;
War was all their children valued...

"Romulus, the first to suckle
On the Palatine teat, grew wroth,
Killed his sibling, Cain to Abel;
As Quirinus he was raised.

"The Tarquins honed their sharp divisions,
Shed their kin's blood, no regret;
At last the people spurned the tyrants
And their new republic thrived.

"Soon the bloodshed plied by royalty
Bathed outsiders far from Rome--
Lord and lackey both were slaughtered
By the military's drones.

"From the Tyrrhenian plains they vanquished
Italian peoples, one by one;
Next, the mighty Phoenicians yielded--
West to Hispania the Romans ruled.

"Greece and Asian lands were conquered,
Then the despots rose again:
Pompey, Crassus, Julius Caesar--
Half the world crouched at their boot.

"Grave Augustus had made certain
Pax Romana would persist,
Yet as soon as frontiers hardened,
Status quo began to fail.

"Like the golden youth Anchises
Praises, though his march was brief,
Rome, merely admired living,
Now in death is much adored.

"Tombs and ruins are the bedding
For contemporary slums;
Vengeful cares and pale diseases
Haunt old temples of the gods.

"Gone, the great ascending towers
Tickling Heaven, shading Earth;
Now, the hydra-heads of churches
Spring up from the pagan dirt.

"Gone, the baths of Caracalla;
Gone, the forums and the fanes;
All is broken brick and rubble,
Never to be built again."

Long I pondered on his statements,
'Til a hopeful gleam appeared;
I said nothing, but he guessed it,
Mocked my feeble thread of cheer.

"So you think he can revive it
By a visit, kiss and bow?
Some take titles in name only,
Those who in their dotage drowse.

"By the thrice three rings of Hades,
Faith and empery so mixed
Will ignite in Fortune's cauldron--
Come, let's warm this savior's crown."

With his wave the landscape altered--
Over fields we sped like steeds,
Mountains dipped like clods beneath us,
'Til we hovered near a grave.

By that grave an aging bishop
Knelt and prayed with shaking hands.
"Father, what has so alarmed you?"
(Thus my leading spirit probed.)

"Many devils course the country
On their way to Aachen's door.
One attacked my dearest pupil,
Dug this pit and laid him down."

"'Tis a sign of God's displeasure
With your teachings, hoary gnome.
I would still your worthless babble,
But I've sermons of my own."

Thereupon he pushed the bishop
So his face fell in the dirt.
Stepping on his rounded backside,
To an altar we were flown.

'Twas the dual king's splendid temple,
Pillars plundered from Ravenna,
Gilt and silver lamps, and doors
Of weighty brass, all gold aglow.

On the latticed tier above,
His throne of marble, plain and smooth,
Looked down on us, cold and empty:
A see without its sceptered lord.

Then I noticed right before us,
Supplicating on his knees,
He whom loyalists nicknamed "David"
Bending head in fervent prayer.

How his robust frame had buckled!
How his hair, once alpine white
Now seemed waxy grey and matted,
As if sweat rained every night.

"Lord, forgive me," came his whisper,
"For my sins and hollow deeds,
Please release my lands from torment
And restore the countryside.

"Ease the plagues that rack my people,
Fill their stomachs once again...
From my coffers I will donate
Goodly sums to dress your cause.

"How the last four years have drained me!
First, Abu al-Abbas died,
Gentle pet in titan body;
On his back my fortunes rode.

"Yet I see how pride's misled me--
How I boasted of my feats!
Cleanse me as you did my Mainzbridge,
Touch me with your holy torch!

"I neglected all your promptings,
Even one that westward soared
Past our camp in dire warning,
Threw me to the ground with force.

"All around me, stones are cracking,
Galleries collapse, and signs
Of a doom are in abundance--
Sun and moon are weary bobs.

"Lest my end come quickly on me,
Sundering my unity,
I have shared my crown with Louis--
May you bless my son with strength."

Through his prayers, the demon chuckled:
"See how he's reduced to beg
For assurance of a future?
Fame eternal is his aim.

"All his protests signal nothing!
Vanities he has in store
Far beyond his vaunted treasures--
In his empire lies the fault.

"Here's the prophesy I offer:
His descendants will not rest
'Til his precious whole they've fractured,
Cleft the gem to worthlessness.

"Time has come for my assistance...
See sweet Joiouse by his side?
In her scabbard she is lonely,
She prefers a mate of flesh.

"Let me free her--won't you join me?
Fate decrees you have a hand
In a docile execution;
Your resistance cannot stand."

By some witchcraft he had summoned
Shades to mask our earthly shapes,
And in stealth my feet were beckoned
Closer to the ruler's form.

Slave to evil, I approached him,
Arm extended toward his waist;
Then I felt my lungs erupting--
I reclaimed my stolen voice.

"Cave, Princeps!" Thus I bellowed,
And my echoes filled the church.
He jumped up and drew his cutter,
Swung it wildly toward my roar.

Even then he could not see us,
And the demon's cackles swelled.
"Warn the dead against their dying?
Only God can death dispel."

By those words I was inspired:
I peered upwards at the dome;
On a airy thone He floated,
Painted eyes met mine below.

I an incantation uttered
Gleaned from some forgotten scroll
Hidden in my recollections--
Mercy fetched it to the fore.

All at once the chapel shuddered,
Struck by lightning from without;
In a blaze of argent fire,
Coils of luminescence fell.

Ten bright bands encased the demon,
And his presence was revealed.
With one stroke the hallowed leader
Sent the serpent back to Hell.

I expected him to slash me,
But instead he clasped my arm--
"Like a Solomon you've reasoned,
Now your guerdon I'll award."

On my head he placed a thegnwheel,
Replica of one he wore;
In my palm a hilt he nestled,
With a horn tied on a thong.

"So proceed! She still awaits you
Leagues above the highest peak.
Quiver not, most worthy gallant--
Woo the object of your hunt."

Thereupon a stairway opened:
Alabaster stepping stones
Curving past the seat of nations,
Clinging to a moonbeam's pole.

Nothing I have names the author.

Didn't realize the sections were quite that long until I posted it. :blush:

I didn't translate those.