Canto 8: Dux Bellorum

God of our fathers, what is man!
That thou towards him with hand so various…
Temper’st thy providence through his short cause

John Milton


Arthur’s Birth

Cupbearer! Come & fill these horns of mead
& toast our eager vessels for the song,
Adorn our thought with helmet, spur & steed
& charge with us along the first furlong;
Romanitas
Thro’ Britain has collaps’d,
The cause calamitous, Barbarian relapse.

With Henghist came the Saxon stock
That is forever England,
The Britons suffer such crude shock
Both Pendragons understand,
This weather-change wears to the rock
The soil of this fair land –
Best fields them yielding year-on-bloody-year,
Yearning for some messiah to appear.

Such wishes Heaven understood
As to Tintagel drew
A force for good, rich Pictish blood
Wee babeling courses thro,’
Of lovers’ born in moonlit tryst, when kisses taste of dew!

Cornwall
478


Arthur the Warrior

Burning with the Caracallan edict,
Lamenting how his motherlands were torn,
Soulsent to show each Saxon, Scot & the Pict
The purpose & the reason he was born;
Our young hot-head
Ascending thro’ the ranks,
Prays nightly by his bed, sending sweet Christus thanks!

King Erbin was his mortal lord,
Master of all the Cornish,
Whose princely son, to wide concord
Did courtly throne embellish,
A noble youth, of horse & sword
& farer over fish,
Who loves to hear a wise moralitee,
Who with bold Arthur made an amity.

Whose genius Geraint respects,
Generalsy overawes,
Whose mind accepts choice Latin texts
Still extant on these shores,
Sensing his Britons shall, one day, return to Roman laws.

Dumnonia
498


The Battle of Llongborth

Across the mane men came expecting gain;
Old Porta & his two haranguing sons
Have landed at the exit of the Glein,
Thro’ which Winchester’s succinct precint runs;
By rivermouth,
Portchester, massive, stands,
Best harbour of the south… the Saxon tiger lands.

Ride on, Geraint, thy charger swift,
Galloping ‘neath thumping thigh,
Ye over swords & swordsmen lift
Like a lion leaping high,
The Saxons silenc’d with short thrift,
Until your time to die,
A tragedy lamented by thy King,
This victory no succour to the sting!

Arthur now Erbin’s ‘special one,’
The Camelots agree,
Without a son the crown to don
An Empire promised he,
“But first, my boy, make pilgrimage to Mary over sea!”

Celliwig
501


Byzantium

Far beyond the seafaring Taphians
Sail’d Arthur to the city Constantine,
A world of most wonderful aliens,
The neutron of the atom Byzantine;
The meeting’s grant,
The palace glorious!
Here sprawl all sycophant for Anastasius.

”Hello thou half-Herulian,
My city bids thee welcome,
We await the restoration,
Imperium Romanum,
Thou art the last free bastion
Against the hated drum
That rattl’d down the very Roman walls
& beat its rhythm into Gallic halls.”

The Emperor did Arthur kiss,
Embrac’d him as a son,
”Remember this, in thy service,
Until armageddon,
Thou art our e’erlasting, incontestable possession!”

Constantinople
504


Pilgrimage

Now runs the sacred circuit of his life,
At Ephesus the Mother’s twilight grange,
At Acre he ‘estranged’ a Hittite knife
Some future Saxon face to re-arrange;
Jerusalem
Appears in waking dreams,
“Him born in Bethlehem our sinning here redeems…”

He whisper’d as he made his way
To the vale Jehosophat,
Where Christus Judas didst betray
(& the world grew glad of that),
Three days & nights would Arthur pray,
Couch’d on a rushy mat,
Beseeching Father, Son & Holy Ghost
For victories over the heathen host.

On the fourteenth of September,
He on the cross did gaze,
That Helena, sacred mother
Of Constantine, did raise
From all the world’s obscurity, to worship & amaze!

Jerusalem
505


Holding the Saxons

A man he went, Guledig he return’d,
Finds Cerdic & his sons growing most bold,
How many homesteads to their fury burn’d,
How many sights did sorry eyes behold;
“Upon Dubglas!”
He said, “We’ll hold them here!
Not one of them shall pass or better still draw near!”

As the river was his border
There an inch he never gave,
Fighting battles in good order,
Mettle tests Orestes-brave
Each battle’s night he pour’d a
Libation for the grave
Of Geraint, still alive inside his blade –
Until the onslaughts of the Saxons fade.

King Erbin granted Arthur leave
To seize himself good lands,
“Son, to achieve this feat believe
Men’s fate lies in men’s hands;”
“My Lord,” said Arthur, kneeling, as decorum’s lilt demands.

South Cadbury
506


Bassas

All thro’ the hearth-lands of the Cornovii
March’d Arthur, by the River Bassas side,
Beyond the town where Princes go to die
A hill-top fort his smaller force defied;
Caer Ogyfran
By fading giant ruled,
A weary, dying man – friendless & easy-fool’d.

Aggression to attack attach’d,
’Twas a conquest farly-famed,
Tall walls might well be made from thatch
As its towers easy tamed,
Lord Arthur knows no earthly match,
All Powys there he claim’d,
When for the brutal theft to legalize
He took a local princess as a prize.

Stepping into her private room
Where shadows darkling fell,
All thro’ the gloom rose such perfume,
Like blooming asphodel,
When Arthur gazed on Guinevere his heart burst from its shell!

Powys
507


Camelot

Lord Arthur made a tour of new lands won,
Finding a ruin’d Roman city there,
But not so rough, & when the tough work done
His capital grew famous everywhere;
A noble court
To serve a nobler king,
A place for days of sport & nights of lovemaking!

As labia his lips enclose,
Like lillies kiss a river,
Her goblet-naval’d belly rose
Like aspens all a-shiver
On mountain winds; she curls her toes,
Thanks her pleasure giver,
His touch to her was ointment pouring forth
Upon strawberries wilding in the North.

Now comes his love, love caliph-fierce,
Love quick’ning blow-by-blow,
Broad blade thrusts pierce, he raids her ears,
As serendip, in tow,
Draws tantric, velvet magic thro’ heroic libido.

Virocolum
507


Lancelot & Guinevere

A marriage of remembrance, & the dance!
Him stag & she a panther, as they tore
Across the merrie courtyard, such romance
Has never since been seen, or seen before;
From Delilah
Stroking brave Samson’s head,
To Julius Ceasar in Cleopatra’s bed.

Alas, as Ceasar soon replaced
By his ‘friend’ Mark Anthony,
Queen Guinevere was daily faced
By a young knight in her e’e,
Whose peach-soft lips she long’d to taste,
An Absalon was he,
& in his dreams he, too, spent nights with her,
Broken by morning’s birdsong’s warning burr.

Feigning distance nonchalantly
They knew it in their core,
As wifely she a family
To Arthur’s bloodline bore,
She wish’d that good Sir Lancelot was hers for evermore.

Castle Knucklas
509

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