Canto 9: King Arthur

Let the man ascribe it to his skill
That through grace hath attain’d the victory

Edmund Spenser


The Battle of Guinnion

As druid’s epics never write themselves,
For to avenge the exile of King Caw,
Against King Drustan’s pack of Pictish Elves
& Scots of Domnagairt, shall Arthur war;
His Gorsgodd rides,
Three hundred nobles strong,
Upon those restless tides which elevate this song.

Men meet in an idyllic glen
Undeneath Garanwynyon,
Faith vitalising souls of men
For the Mother of the Son
Likeness’d on Arthur’s shield – the ten
Witches of Albion
Hill-fled for safety, with a banshee shout,
Shedding their pagan forces as they rout.

Let’s build a church to Mary here
& praise her for this day –
In strife & fear ghouls dissapear
Before the righteous way,
Come soldiers, my brave soldiers, kneel beside & let us pray!”

Stow-on-Wedale
509


Lothian

The golden belt once worn by Cunedda
Wash’d clean of Pictish blood before the ford
Where slaughter had turn’d the waters redder;
Along the Gala Water Arthur rode
Thro’ Peht-land hills
His gallant armament,
Beneath the rushing rills, in hush’d procession went.

Seeing a craggy citadel
Claim landscape surrounding,
He gave an all almighty yell,
Its echoes wide resounding,
This was a promise born in hell
But borne on angel wings;
“We are number’d, here, but three hundred horse –
Let us return one day with greater force.”

That night they slept in the old wrack
Where Serverus made camp,
Plans of attack, with martial knack,
He made by oily lamp
Stuffing the scrolls in saddle-sacks, safe from the mist & damp.

Caramago
509


The Battle of Caledon Wood

Slowly thro’ the Silva Caledonis
The plodding Gorsgodd goes, the capital
Of Southern Pictland nears & the promise
That there, they would prove themselves in battle;
Shrieks stiffen spine,
Bursting woodland races,
Sword-studded battle-line, blue woad-cover’d faces.

From his fortress at Kirkbuddo
Drustan sallies forth to die,
His soldiers all selvaggio,
But however hard they try
They cannot halt the fury-flow
Of Arthur sent from high,
Whose bold decapitations toss a crown
To dryad earth, its subjects looking down.

Drustan dug out from bleeding mound
Of lower brethren dead,
A better ground for him was found
Buried beside his head,
Beneath an ornate tombstone carved to mark a royal bed.

Liddesdale
509


Pict-Slayer

Come raise a toast for kings of Northern wars,
Whose bloody corpses rain-ice washes clean,
Where Hueil, that perdifous son of Caw’s,
Holds old Alt Clud, the key to his demense;
“A gorsgodd comes!”
“Then here its ride shall end –
Come sound the battledrums, come let the lines extend.”

Our destines are as the sun
Which rises at the dawning,
Unstoppable, once we’ve begun
Our progress through life’s morning:
When only half the day is done,
Sudden, without warning,
We find our brightest face begin to fade
The death-mask of a midnight’s masquerade.

Not yet, tho’ Arthur, noble knight,
Another victory,
Picts press in fright from this great might,
For safer places flee,
With Hueil’s head thrust on a spike for every king to see.

Dumbarton
510


Return to Camelot

With old fashion’d lyrical loveliness,
Arthur embrac’d his queen on his return,
Tearing apart her flimsy floral dress,
He took her with the vernal heart of Herne;
That night she crept
To warm Sir Lancelot,
& as her husband slept undid their bridal knot.

A message with the morning sun,
“The ranks of the Irish close
On the City of the Legion,”
Arthur notic’d as he rose
He was alone, but wars are won,
When focus’d, “We oppose
This threat encroaching slowly from the West –
Fetch me my sword, my steed, my steely vest!”

The Gorsgodd was assembl’d sharp
As sheepish Guinevere
Grabs nearest harp, her man did carp,
O where were you, my dear?”
“My love I’ve writ a song for thee, beneath the bracken bier.”

Virucolum
511


The City of the Legion

Brychan of Brecon bares his Irish chest,
Joining his brothers moving to the south,
Those showy swordsmen of the outer west
Heading for Severn waters & its mouth;
The wall is reach’d
Of sinew, steel & shield,
A wall that must be breach’d, Brythonic battlefield.

Tho’ Arthur’s forces were a tenth
Of all that the Gaels would raise,
He burst on them with skilful strength
Like bezerker’s in a craze,
The Irish line a log of length
Placed on a campfire blaze
Whose centre snaps when faced with so much heat –
With that shouts rise of desperate defeat.

Those wild, half-naked Gaelsmen fled,
King Arthur stops pursuit,
Buries his dead, broke bread & said
“We wait,” being astute,
“For help from far Byzantium, the balance too acute.”

Caerleon
511


The Battle of Tribuit

Thro’ common enemy & common aim,
A soldier sent by Anastasius,
Admiral Theodoric was his name,
To bolster this holy war of Arthur’s;
Flinging dogs home,
Sons of pagan bitches,
Then triumph back to Rome, clutching hard-won riches.

Lord Arthur wash’d his hands & feet
At the altar of Llandaff,
Then march’d his men beside the sweet
Rushwaters of plumelike Taff,
To where three rushing rivers meet
There plung’d in soil his staff,
Defiant as onrush’d the enemy,
The still-point of a turning world stood he.

Thro’ hack & slice, thro’ steam & spurt,
He thrust a bloody track,
Mind full alert, immune to hurt,
He push’d the Irish back,
Back to their boats, dismember’d goats, divided, brooding, black.

Cardiff Bay
512


Love & Lust

More regions yield to Arthur’s sceptre-sway,
Saint Dyfig crowns him king ‘neath Llandaff spire,
The Cymry all united in a day,
Happy partners in a happy empire;
Thro’ giftery,
Perstoic shows of force,
& gentle foe-amis, his reign shall run long course.

Young Medrawt gambols round the court,
Arthur his foster father,
Scribes sacred scriptures daily taught
But this young scamp would rather
Practice at sword-play, well he fought
Other boys much older
& slaying one he pleaded innocent,
“Twas accident!” Medrawt knew different.

He wander’d into mountain hush,
Out collecting spiders,
The gasp… groan… gush…. of lovers rush
Spying naked riders,
The loins of Lancelot enqueen’d, squeezing apple ciders.

Powys
514


 

The Death of Lancelot

Things said on the road are heard in the grass,
King Arthur broods upon his rough disgrace,
Such scandal here shall never come to pass
& of this deep betrayal leave no trace…
But first I must…
Must I? Yes, I must see
Her breasts of devil lust, her nest of treachery.”

The next time Guinevere steps took
On love’s illicit meeting,
Follow’d was she out to that nook
By yew trees & ewe bleating,
There gave she Lancelot that look
Ah! twas all too fleeting,
As Arthur watch’d on, face as grey as ash,
The lovers were arrested in a flash.

In agonies his best knight died,
Whose blood did gloop & gush,
Come back to bed, naught shall be said,
Died, he, in an ambush,
& shall be buried hon’rably…” Her hopes! Her heart! Her crush!

Powys
514

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