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Saturday, October 8, 2011

THE BALLAD OF FINRAEL


Written during a quiet spell at the office (1984)

THE BALLAD OF FINRAEL
   
The Sun sank slowly in the West
As Elven warriors reached the crest,
And, looking down the valley steep,
The saw the town sink into sleep.

They waited fast till silence reigned,
Then made their way down leafy lanes
Until they reached the village square
Wherein they gathered, fierce and fair.

They waited noiseless till  the dawn,
Their weapons sheathed, their ranks close-drawn.
But as the cock crowed break of day
They stole an orphan child away,
For in the land of Elvenhome
Beneath the heavens’ starry dome,
Where is no death and time runs slow,
Where crystal streams through meadows flow
While Elven voices sweetly sing,
A mortal may alone be King.

They wrapped the child in robes of green
And slipped away, by no man seen,
For though the turf was soft, and wet
From dewdrops that were forming yet,
They left no footprints in the ground
That might by sharp-eyed men be found.

They travelled far,  by eyes unseen,
Concealed by cloaks of dappled green.
With joy their ageless faces shone
Fair to eclipse the wintry sun.
Their laughter sweet and voices clear
Could scarce be heard by human ear
But as the singing of the birds,
So pure their thoughts and true their words.

They marched for days through copse and grove,
And reached at last a rocky cove
Too steep for mortals to assay,
Wherein a barque at anchor lay
Whose ivory hull did seem to fly,
Her cedar masts to touch the sky.

For many a month the vessel sailed
Towards the West, and through the veil
That separates from mortal ken
Those Lands forever close to men
(Save for the One by Starlight bless’d
Who, passing every moral test,
Shall live beneath the starry dome
And rule the land of Elvenhome).

As cold Arcturus watched benign,
The barque traversed the Borderline
And, leaving stormy seas behind
Sailed on, through Faerie oceans kind
Beneath the myriad shining stars,
Where nothing joy and sweetness mars.
And though the barque did swiftly go,
No earthly wind was felt to blow,
For love of Home propelled the Craft
Which sped on like a feathered shaft.

As weariness began to bite
The shoreline came at last in sight,
And, with one welling, liquid voice,
The Elven crew at last rejoiced
To see the Land they loved so well
Draw near across the gentle swell.
But all too soon each voice was hushed
And every heart with ice was touched.

No voice across the water hailed,
And in the darkness something wailed.
A deathly cold consumed the crew,
And in his heart each sailor knew
That while they journey’s oversea,
Some evil fate had come to be.

They walked the streets in blackest gloom,
As thunderclouds above them loomed
And blotted out the starry sky
Where Elvish thoughts do always fly.

At length they reached the palace square
And saw a black flag flying there
With words of fire that did proclaim:
“NEKROS IS KING – LET CHAOS REIGN”.

At once, a band of brutish guards
Came as from nowhere, waving swords.
The Elves, retreating, fiercely fought,
But freedom at a price was bought:
Outnumbered by their hated foes,
Nine warriors fell, and never rose.
Nekros the warlock, grim and foul,
Enshrouded in his night-black cowl,
Had found his way into the Tower
And carried off the Orb of Power
That Elvenhome at peace had kept
While all the powers of darkness slept.
Despair and death now walked abroad
As servants of the Warlock Lord.

Between the mountains and the plain,
Vast forests had for aeons lain
Where roaring falls and dappled glades
Were home to Elfdom’s earthbound shades.
There, in communion with the trees,
Lived great wild beasts in careless ease,
And there the Elven dispossessed
Rebuilt a homeland in the West.

Beyond the gaze of Warlock grim
They never ceased to harry him,
And roving bands of Elvish troops
Would strike at dawn in lightning swoops,
To ambush Nekros’ hapless men
And fade into the night again.
Thus many Black Dragoons were lost,
But Nekros did not count the cost.

In course of time, in Elvish guise,
The mortal prince grew strong and wise.
He took the name of Finrael,
And, under Elfdom’s magic spell,
Assumed the Crown as Elvenking
And wore with pride the Royal Ring.
The Warlock Lord slept deep and well,
And nothing knew of Finrael.

The sands of time flowed ever on,
And Finrael desired a son.
He searched forest kingdom wide
For one to be his queen and bride,
And found a maid called Selenai
Who won his heart and pleased his eye.

Malivar was an Elven knight,
A warrior bold who loved to fight.
He many times as time went by
Had tried to woo fair Selenai.
Now, under envy’s bitter spell,
He swore revenge on Finrael.

One day, upon an urgent Quest,
Two warriors rode into the West.
For many days they travelled far,
The King, and jealous Malivar.

Unto the Caves of Ice they came,
Where lived a beast of evil name,
A dragon with a massive horde
Of treasure, and a magic sword.
Her fangs were spears, her talons knives
With which she’s taken countless lives.
Her breath was like the Primal Flame,
And Slark the Mindworm was her name.

She only had one certain bane:
The Sword that in her caves had lain
Since Ceduil, a warrior bold,
Had perished in the caverns cold;
A sword of great renown in lore
That few had dared to wield in war;
A sword just known as Dragonbane
That many fearsome worms had slain.

The King and his unfaithful squire
Would not confront the dragon’s fire,
But of a secret entrance knew
Well hidden from the monster’s view,
Where, with a rope and iron nerves,
A man might enter unobserved.

The fearless King went in the lead,
And climbing from his rowan steed
Made fast his rope to an outcrop,
And into darkness bravely dropped.

Now Malivar, his eyes of jade,
Drew swift a silvered hunting blade,
And stooping low his work to do,
He cut his Master’s lifeline through.
Then, with a laugh both grim and gay,
He took both steeds and rode away.

Finrael in the frozen dark
Smelled the foul stench of Mindworm Slark,
And, falling to the icy floor,
He hit his head and knew no more.

“Alas! How come you home alone?
Whither is my husband gone?”

“Like Ceduil , he paid the price,
And lies within the Caves of Ice;
A victim of the Dragon’s ire,
Consumed by that undying fire.”

“I ever knew that by and by
My mortal King must one day die.
And yet I loved him more than life.
Alas for me, immortal wife.”

Marooned beneath the permafrost
Walked Finrael in the darkness lost.
Stout-hearted still, he felt no fear,
But tears of rage were ever near,
And burning like a shooting star
He cursed the name of Malivar.

As thirst and hunger took their toll,
A mad euphoria gripped his soul.
He laughed at visions fell and stark
That danced before him in the dark
To mock his noble scorn of death
Beneath the Dragon’s fiery breath.

At last a gleam of light he saw,
A moment’s glimpse and then no more;
Perhaps hallucination yet,
But off toward the light he set,
Till came he to a chamber round
In which a glowing egg he found.

Then, as in wonderment he watched
The baby dragon slowly hatched,
And though its countenance was fell
It won the heart of Finrael.

Its paper wings were frail and weak,
Its eyes unblinking, soft and meek,
And when he knelt the chick to hold,
He found its skin was dry and cold.
Without its mother’s warming fire,
The tiny life would soon expire.

Careless of life, forgetting Quest,
He hugged the creature to his breast,
And though it seared him near to death
He shared with it his anguished breath,
And caring not for all his pains,
He fed it blood from his own veins.
Then, as oblivion drew near,
Great Slark the Mindworm did appear,
Looked deep into his dying mind,
And there the gift of life did find.

From fire she wove a cradle warm
To keep her offspring safe from harm,
Then cast a spell of painless sleep
And flew into the caverns deep
With Finrael the Elvenking
Fast cradled neath her beating wing.

For many days the deeps she flew
In utter dark the caverns through,
Until her weary wings she furled
At the bright centre of the world,
Where at the planet’s very core
Unceasing springs of healing pour,
And, casting him into the streams,
She woke him from his spellbound dreams:
A man no more, for none can fade
Who in the Streams of Life have bathed.

“Brave Elvenking, my debt is paid.
Your broken frame is now remade,
And better than it was before;
New vigour you now have in store.”

“Great Dragon, in your Kind I see
A wisdom that was veiled to me.
I see your heart is pure and strong,
Your knowledge great, your memory long.
Yet in our chronicles I read
Of dragons’ cruelty and greed.”

“Your Elvish race is old and wise,
Your beauty fair delights the eyes,
Yet since before your people’s birth
We Dragonfolk have ruled the Earth.
We long have loved you, Men and Elves,
Yet ever must defend ourselves,
For ever must you fighting go
In fear of that you do not know.
And many of my Kind have died
As victims of your Elvish pride.
You owe it to our patient grace
That we have not destroyed your race,
For it is quite within our power
To wipe you out inside an hour.”

“Then hear my words, my new-found friend,
The Dragonquest is at an end.
No man shall Elf or Man conspire
To quench a Dragon’s primal fire.”

So homeward came the Elvenking,
Borne fast beneath the Dragon’s wing.
The magic sword clutched to his chest,
No longer doomed for Dragonquest,
Was now as Dragonfriend renamed
And as a tool of justice famed.

Proud Malivar, to exile banned,
Was soon to die by his own hand,
While Finrael, a man no more,
Was to his loving wife restored.

Next day, a distant cloud was seen,
All swaithed in fire but coloured green.
It closer sped and filled the sky:
A thousand dragons flying by.
Swift on to Elvenport they flew,
And came into the Warlock’s view.
His towers crumbled, soldiers fled,
But in a minute all were dead,
And Nekros in his armoured room
Was soon by primal fire consumed.
Then, as the palace fiercely burned,
The Elves unto their homes returned.
The Dragons flew into the West,
Their power unveiled, the Elves impressed.

Brave Finrael, immortal grown,
Had to give up the Elvish throne,
But in the Forestlands was Lord
And Guardian of the Magic Sword,
Forever to be famed in lore
As Ender of the Dragon War.

And soon an Elven vessel sailed
Into the East, towards the veil
That separates from mortal ken
The Lands forever closed to Men
(Save One who by the Stars is blessed
And passing every moral test
Shall Westward pass across the foam
To be crowned King of Elvenhome.

It sailed into a rocky bay
Too steep for mortals to assay,
And, troubled not by ocean’s roar,
The Elven warriors stepped ashore.

They hunted East and hunted West
To find the child the Stars had blessed,
Till, coming to a highland bleak
They felt the presence they did seek.
 
The Sun was sinking in the West
As Elven warriors reached the crest,
And, looking down the valley steep,
They watched the town sink into sleep.

They waited fast till silence reigned,
Then made their way down leafy lanes
Until they reached the village square
Wherein they gathered, fierce and fair.

They waited noiseless till  the dawn,
Their weapons sheathed, their ranks close-drawn.
Then, as the cock crowed break of day,
They stole an orphan child away,
For in the land of Elvenhome
Beneath the heavens’ starry dome,
Where is no death and time runs slow,
Where crystal streams through meadows flow
While Elven voices sweetly sing,
A mortal may alone be King.