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Inhaling perfumed evening air,
the scent of wood and down,
a mounted knight did once repair
to gain an ancient town.

Before him stood, on distant height,
a castle grim and proud;
made roseate as fading light
imbued a nascent cloud.

It warmed the pennoned lance he bore,
and tinged his helmet’s crest;
revealing him a man of war
in golden armour dressed.

Within the walls, from cobbled street,
the horse’s shoes struck fire;
as if to bid the townsfolk greet
its master’s rich attire.

From gabled front and balcony,
they watched his progress fine;
’twixt barbican and hostelry
where hung the Blue Boar’s sign.

An ostler lad in haste appeared,
to help the guest alight;
then to its lodging deftly steered
the horse with trappings bright.

The knight removed his helm and gage,
and gazed with haughty mien;
upon a pilgrim, priest, and page,
who showed attention keen.

Beneath the aromatic herb
that decked the beams of oak,
the customers did discourse curb
until the stranger spoke.

“O vintner! Bring a stoup of wine,
the finest in your house;
today the Fates were most benign,
and fain would I carouse.

A flagon for the company,
come, fill their goblets high!
That they may drink a toast with me,
who watched your dragon die.”

A goldsmith by the roasting spit
was petrified with awe;
completely robbed of native wit,
when he perfection saw.

The knight retired, from arms to slip,
returning with no hitch;
a jewelled poniard at his hip,
the doublet to enrich.

He raised his goblet, drained it well,
then started to unfold
his conquest o’er the dragon fell,
a monster fierce and old.

“Encountered in a forest glade,
obscured by beech trees tall;
it held a path none could evade,
who sought your friendly wall.

Distended nostrils breathing fire,
huge eyes that gleamed with hate;
advanced on us with motives dire,
propelled at angry gait.

With lowered lance I rode a tilt,
my aim was excellent;
through eye and brain right to the hilt
the trusty weapon went.”

Entranced, the landlord paid no heed,
to those who listened near;
nor saw a lad, with daring deed,
engage the pilgrim’s ear.

’Twas Ethelred, of equine fame,
from ostler’s duty free;
who sought slight recompense to claim
for his temerity.

“He speaks of fire,” he whispered low,
“yet silks adorned with lace
that hang beneath the saddle bow
show not the faintest trace.

I fear imagination flows
as freely as the wine;
and where a specious fancy glows
veracity won’t shine.”

The landlord, from all doubt immune
said, “Welcome bold Sir Knight;
your visit is most opportune,
to ease a maiden’s plight.

My daughter is a captive fair,
in yonder castle grey;
by young Sir Rupert prisoned there,
’til beauty fades away.

By chance she has a dagger keen
with which she stands at bay;
prepared to scorn embraces mean
and Death’s own price to pay.”

The guest, evincing no desire
to storm Sir Rupert’s gate,
deplored that feats of arms could tire
before the hour grew late.

“I think my arm has need of care,
it gives me constant pain;
alas, it may be long weeks ere
my sword I wield again.”

The pilgrim turned to Ethelred,
“My son, your words were right;
this rodomont would shrink with dread
if called upon to fight.”

The host looked glum, but held his peace,
his hope was not yet dead;
unconscious of his fame’s decease,
the knight withdrew to bed.

When watchmen voiced their midnight call
and all the townsfolk slept,
young Ethelred from moonlit stall
with stealthy action crept.

Though humbly clad in woollen hose
’neath jerkin made of hide,
his bearing held a virile pose,
both proud and dignified.

Through open window; up stone stair
he made his cautious way;
to seek the couch somnific where
the sleeping knight now lay.

Refulgent in the lunar ray
the golden armour stood;
incongruous in its display,
against the rough-hewn wood.

With silent speed he gathered mail,
plumed helm and gauntlet chased;
and fearing lest the venture fail,
his steps he then retraced.

In less time than an hour-glass needs
to transfer half its sand,
a charger minced across strewn reeds
its mane by night wind fanned.

Upon its back the ostler bold,
with lance and shield complete;
accoutred in the stolen gold,
rode down the empty street.

Custodians of postern gate,
repressed their rising ire;
in futile hope from his estate
some largess to acquire.

All through the night he journeyed far
to reach the mountain steep;
where turrets etched a sombre scar
above the moss-grown keep.

He rode until the dawn suffused
an opalescent sky;
when tints ethereal were used
to please the early eye.

He halted on a plateau wide,
an hour of rest to take;
before his hunting-horn defied
a knight not yet awake.

The call he blew, both loud and long,
with shrillness rent the air;
and making birds forego their song,
left silence everywhere.

The challenge made, he rode his steed,
displaying conscious pride;
and soon from patent signs could read
reactions were implied.

Complainingly the drawbridge fell
across the most serene;
it seemed derisively to tell
of foes the depths had seen.

Sir Rupert issued from his home
with gay curvet and bow;
his charger, fresh from curry-comb,
the ground began to plough.

“I will not ask what you require,
or whom you represent;
methinks you have but one desire,
to join in tournament.”

They wheeled their steeds with lances couched,
but fifty yards apart;
each man behind his shield had crouched,
defending head and heart.

Then Ethelred, in arms unskilled,
reflected rays of light;
which, darting from the burnished shield,
impaired his rival’s sight.

Their meeting sent the knight to ground,
supine and much distressed;
for though his lance no mark had found,
one splintered on his breast.

The victor, glancing round, descried
a portion of a gown;
and next the lissom form espied
for whom he’d won renown.

The maiden ran, her arms outspread,
from captors to be free;
a train streamed far behind her heed
in wanton gaiety.

“Now take me far beyond this place,
O warrior most brave;
but first disclose to me the face
that risked so much to save.”

He raised the visor from his eyes,
and faced the eager maid;
that she was taken by surprise,
her face alone betrayed.

“What means this trick?” she hotly cried,
“why come you in this guise?
When stable-lads in armour ride,
all knightly usage dies.

Return now whence you came with stealth,
O poor bucolic knave;
and leave such work for men of wealth,
who come from manors brave.”

Thus saying, to the knight she turned,
to proffer timely aid;
while Ethelred, though much concerned,
just silently obeyed.

T. C. Hudson
3rd December 1938

© T. C. Hudson.

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