They wait a while, and have no words to say;
but Robert greets them not; instead, his way
is daunting this lone knight he knows not yet
with sorcerous Sage of Rheged, Ranulet.
“What proof is offered Arthur knoweth well
that you are not a lonely wanderer, lost?
You might have seen him last at Pentecost,
and left him tossed upon the ocean’s swell!
Whither would wand’rers go that Robert seek?
Hither you come, and yet they know not where
Sir Robert be, in Arthur’s court so fair;
and thus, Sir Knight, your case is sounding weak!
For if the king knows not your place or plot,
you are an iron-clad beggar, far away;
you may await Sir Robert many a day
in dungeons, but no more see Camelot.”
“This knight has brought a letter from the king
demanding fealty to Arthur’s line
from Robert’s realm of Sunderland. Decline,
and face the might that Logres’ minstrels sing!
For Arthur knows that Lionel lives not
by Merlin’s magic means, and thus his kin
must reign again, restored by all herein,
according to his oath at Camelot.
No king who rules in Sunderland without
permission of King Arthur reigns by right;
return the rod of regency and might
to Lionel’s line, both faithful and devout!
This knight has made most pious vows to seek;
till Robert read and answer, he’ll not speak.”
At that, sour Ranulet retires within
the battlements and towers raised by sin;
slowly the drawbridge, hauled by mighty chains
is lowered. Only bluffing now remains.
“What have you said now? My mouth must be closed!
What letter is this that you now have proposed?
I’ve no words to be written, and no hand to write!
An illiterate Welshman – you worsen my plight!”
“Yours is the tongue of boys;
words all bereft of poise
known by their very noise
you soon would be.
I shall be voice and sound,
Robert I’ll now confound;
words from my mouth abound;
it must be me.”
“Giles, how lovely you seem to me;
purged your conscience at last shall be!
Weapons, words from a kingly Fool,
yet restore you to royal rule!”
The maiden’s eyes shine brightly on the Fool;
Lionel's elder brother, born to rule.
Sir Trefor stares in shock and wonders why
for him, and not his throne, a King might die.
The drawbridge falls at last, and on it tread
the three companions, walking underneath
the slow portcullis rising up like teeth.
But for Columba’s eyes, they look like lead.
From far inside the tower’s deeping darks
comes out a portly knight in armour bright;
and yet it looks as if it loathes the light
and breaks it into sharp reflected sparks.
Robert the Bastard, Sunderland’s vile lord
chooses at last to face the stranger knight
knowing he faces words, not yet a fight;
Lionel’s nemesis by hidden sword.
No bravery nor meekness dwell within
Broceliande’s Beast, who owns no kith nor kin.
Sir Robert raised his visor; he began:
“So, Arthur wants the coward Giles to rule?
He must suppose dead Lionel a fool,
if ever he had let his brother’s span
continue into adulthood. They say
that Lionel had the sense to kill him quick.
Clearly the younger brother was the pick,
choosing to take the fratricidal way.”
At that the Fool collapsed upon the ground,
wriggling and writhing like a man possessed.
Beside him young Columba, dire distressed,
held in her arms the jester Trefor found.
“Take him away,” Sir Robert snorted hate;
“it seems this vital letter now must wait.”
Columba balled her fists, and fired her frown
at this, the evil monster whose misrule
had no regard for Britain’s finest Fool;
Giles, who for Lionel’s sake cast off his crown.
Knowing himself enfeebled, since one night
thrown from his horse, his head was hit by hooves,
stature of kingship ‘madness’ soon removes;
the epileptic prince renounced his right.
But though the elder brother loathed his part,
ever affection kept the people true
to Giles, whose great nobility shone through,
though self esteem had vanished from his heart.
Hiding in corners far from Robert’s wrath,
at last he’d come to court, like flame-drawn moth.
“Kill me then, if you dare, you churl;
show your valour, and kill a girl!
In your armour you smugly sneer,
but your tortures I shall not fear!”
“Child! Do you think that any pleasure mine
ever could be as sweet, as fate entwine
you in a bed with me, while outside whine
my Fool. You both uphold the law!
Yes, if you marry, I shall claim my right.
Unto my Fool you’ll come, a pretty sight,
after you spend with me the lingering night -
and dawn will find you sore distressed.
Watching you years, I laugh at you inside;
lust of the lovers will not be denied!
If you should yet pursue it, woe betide!
A life I’ll leave you grieving then!”
Sir Trefor shook with passions raised to rage,
denied the use of tongue that wagged so well;
he longed to rant his anger ‘gainst this hell,
but nothing could his passions now assuage.
If, by his voice, he gave his age away,
the one weak weapon Trefor held, disguise,
would melt away in front of Robert’s eyes,
and there and then he’d lose them all the day.
He’d ne’er imagined once that such great pain
could be, as standing there and not to die;
if only by his death he could defy
Robert, e’en for a moment, might and main.
His anguish went beyond the range of words
for Giles, and his Columba, queen of birds.
“Judge me not by your values vain;
though you sneer we will chaste remain.
Arthur comes, and will end your rule;
then you’ll know who has been the Fool!
For the Fay who have taught me well
this one riddle they told me tell;
‘Dawn, you taunt, will my ordeal end;
dawn is when you to hell descend.’ “
Sir Robert laughed, and turned without a care;
“Come now, Sir Mute, let’s rest your aching frame.
You serve another; ours is still the game
that noblemen alone may rightly dare.
Until your letter’s read, we share one life.
Join with our feast – Midsummer’s praise be sung!
You can rejoice with ears, if not your tongue!
Sadly, unlike your king, I have no wife,
or you as brother knight could share her too.
Seeing as soon no doubt we’ll have to fight,
then she could watch us there decide her plight,
wond’ring if she’d receive a lover new.
God and my right, the ruling right of kings;
God and my right, to rule o’er lesser things!”
Sir Trefor's thoughts recalled the Forest Queen;
remembered Summer, shining ‘midst the trees,
and swinging on his mother’s loving knees -
he hated Robert’s every word obscene.
What could he do, while wearing this disguise?
What would the Fool in words achieve that day?
Had there indeed e’er been a hopeful way,
or were the Fay and Merlin steeped in lies?
But these were insubstantial thoughts, for why
should they arrange to fail, and kill a boy
whose loss of life they’d surely not enjoy,
no matter what the patterns in their eye.
Again he trusted only unto God,
as close behind the hated knight he trod.
Grey Meirion to stables clean was led;
follow the Fool, Columba chose instead.