Next day, with trumpets loud, the knights set out,
four parties to explore the famished land;
eight knights in each, the best to Arthur’s hand,
and sent to serve their God, they had no doubt.
Young Trefor went a-travelling on a mule,
and though the band were chivalrous and kind,
he felt they thought him better left behind,
since all they bade him do was gather fuel.
But soon they saw his talent with their steeds,
and had him tend the horses every night.
They travelled through a land of utter blight;
days passed without the need for daring deeds.
Upon the feast of St Denis (poor fare),
they paused before a vast and creeping wood.
Defiantly across their path it stood;
so, for a while, the party rested there.
Sir Lamorak, who thirty knights once fought,
was all for making haste to enter in;
but such a wood hid perils far within,
and Bors preferred to give it further thought.
Young Trefor knew his heart, but held his tongue;
their quest was blessed if all would travel north.
This was the reason all of them went forth,
but no one would give ear to one so young.
At length, Sir Bors was victor in debate,
and having thus agreed, they sat to sup.
When seven knights again had mounted up,
and all of them were mocking number eight,
still eating what he thought a proper share,
there came a sudden savage bestial roar;
and all at once a wyvern stood before
the party; then Sir Bors cried out in prayer.
But as the dragon neared the little throng,
the horses neighed in terror, making haste
to bear against their will towards the waste
their knights, who would have done the beast sore wrong.
The wyvern leaped on legs of leathery scale,
and heaved its heavy wings to gain its poise.
Hot blazing breath the weapon it deploys;
before the knight it lashed its long barbed tail.
Gaheris, now unhorsed, stood still, at bay.
Now lingering long at luncheon did he rue;
the dragon sought no longer to pursue
the tasty horses bolting far away.
Young Trefor chased grey Meirion, his mare,
who haply in a tree had caught her rein,
perhaps a hundred yards along the plain -
and so he went to bring her succour there.
With whispered words he calmed the frightened steed;
he soothed her nerves, and gently stroked her mane.
Too far above to reach was lodged the rein,
so boughs must serve as ladder steps at need.
The horse now calm, he quickly clambered on;
it eased the way to reach the stricken strap.
Behind, two heavy wings were heard to flap,
and suddenly, the mare was free, and gone.
The horse was far too big for Trefor’s frame,
and all that he could do was hold on tight,
while brave Gaheris surely lost the fight;
they galloped far, until the mare went lame.
Now scattered were the knights that summer sought,
and when the boy could lead the mare again,
he recognised his purposes were vain
and wondered if the quest was brought to nought.
He scarcely dared the shadow of the wood,
by which his brave companion surely died;
encumbered by a horse he could not ride,
he saw his choice was hopeless, as it stood.
Attempt the wood, or backwards to the south;
he wondered long what Merlin would have said.
No wizard’s wisdom filled his youthful head -
but something spoke aloud, from unseen mouth;
To northward Arthur sent you;
to northward you must go.
You’ll later need this great grey steed,
and no more need you know.
He looked about him; no-one else was there.
But in his heart, he saw no need to seek;
he knew at once that thus would Merlin speak;
but still a little while he stood to stare.
The sun was westering late in afternoon;
the forest, far ahead, was north indeed.
Therein, what use a huge and wounded steed?
But if he lingered, night would catch them soon.
Yet pressing northward, quickly he’d be lost;
he knew not anywise how far remained
until the other side might e’er be gained;
most likely his young life would be the cost.
Perhaps, perhaps if he began to go,
before he got there, something would arise
to give him cause to journey otherwise.
Thus Trefor walked towards the wood, but slow.
As darkness came he stood beside the trees,
as luck would have it, on the very spot
from where the mare had fled, and there was not
a horse to hand, or noble knight at ease.
And now what would he do, where would he go?
How could he enter into greenest death?
He feared this forest brought his final breath;
within his heart, he felt it certain so.
But then, from far away, he heard a sound:
the horrible and hated flap of wings,
of leathery scales, and grim benighted things -
afar, the wyvern hopped across the ground.
Before the horse could catch the smell and bolt,
young Trefor knew he had to get within
the wood, else lose the horse to save his skin.
And so, the lad abandoned all revolt.
“If Merlin saw me now, what would I say!”
he argued with himself, as he went on.
“I know not why this party should have gone;
alas for finding summer, or the Fay.”
He thought of how the prophet spoke for God,
about the shiny shimmering fairy folk;
but over all his fears he cast a cloak,
then ever deeper through the forest trod.