We dwelt in halls of porphyry
where crystal fountains flowed
among tall columns overlain
with ivory and gold.
Our raiment was all sendaline
and slashed with sarcenett,
and on our shoulders rested fine
And jewelled were our drinking-horns
with many a costly gem,
and jewels were our women-folk
(yea, I remember them
of slender frame and stately mien
and finely-braided tress,
adept in song and poesy –
each word a soft caress).
And peace there was, and plenty,
and good throughout the realm.
And sword and lance lay idle,
and cast aside, the helm
that we had donned in years gone by
when on our skirts had hung
the fell hosts of the eastern lands
and many a deed was done,
when lads once clad in sendal
all slashed with sarcenett
had traded all such finery
for shield and basinet.
And peace was sweet and lasting.
The pastures teemed with kine,
the markets teemed with produce,
the grapes teemed on the vine.
Aye, peace there was, and plenty,
and many a month we spent
in idle play and gaiety
as seasons came and went.
Then spake that king, Menezdes,
that young and foolish youth,
that brave hearts must be banded
to seek the Stone of Truth.
‘For though all’s well about us,
yet must we seek for some
most marvellous and holy thing
or all that we have done
is naught’, quoth he, ‘and Holy Truth
is what men far and wide
have searched for through long centuries;
I would that it abide
with us. And sacred seven among us
will swear an oath this day
to band and search the utter earth
for Truth, so that it may
be brought in glory to our folk’.
And all the young and brave ones
flocked close about their king,
that they might number in the seven
to seek the Stone for him.
And many a year we roamed the world,
ah, many a weary year
and sought, and fought, and bled and died –
and never were we near
the Stone. But ever, when our hearts
were low, when hope seemed far
away, some deeper urge would speak
to us, to seek some star
that shone beyond the barren land
that stretched and stretched away
in chasms deep, and mountains steep,
in forest, lake, and bay.
Till, one day, in a city’s throng
stood out an ancient one
with hoary beard and eyes that blazed
as fierce as the sun.
They stared at me, those blazing eyes
and though his lips moved not,
I heard ‘Seek ye the amaranth,
and the Land of Tenebros’.
Then others passed before that one –
of a sudden he was gone;
and nothing else before me
but the babbling, surging throng.
And sundered were my thoughts that day
and reeling in my head
and pondering too for many a year
on what that old one said.
But seasons came, and seasons went,
and I could not descry
a meaning in those silent words.
The years were passing by.
The first to fall was Jacomel
– he of the red-gold hair –
in the skirmish with the goblin-kind;
he took an arrow there
while urging us to speed away,
that he would guard the pass.
It pierced his good brave lion-heart,
and there he breathed his last.
Then Hellebrand was reft from us
when we crossed the raging flood –
stout Hellebrand who saved us all
and spilled the dragon’s blood
when that fell beast had leapt on us
by the Haunted Mere’s side,
and stood his ground and cast the dart
that pierced the monster’s eye.
We searched the banks for many a mile
downstream from dawn to dusk,
but never found the doughty soul
the torrent tore from us.
And one black night when all was still
came the siren-succubi,
and prowled among us sleeping five
we heard them not until the die
was cast, and felt their flesh
– ah, poison warmth! – yet four of us
escaped their dread caress.
But they took our stalwart Mechos who,
for all his lusty ways,
sobbed piteously, a frightened babe,
as they carried him away.
Giradion and Corandes both
by pestilence were borne –
that, six and two-score winters since
we set out for the Stone.
Only young Yvein and I
still seek the elusive thing
as ordered by that foolish youth,
that young and thoughtless king.
We rest beneath a cedar’s shade
and Yvein, lying there,
has troubled eyes, and how his face
does match his whitened hair.
I think, now, Truth may not be found
this side of what we know;
but then I hark back to those years,
those many years ago,
and think – ‘twas with us all the time;
in friendship, and in peace,
and marking how our children grew,
and feeling love increase…
‘Yvein, do you remember girls
with finely-braided tresses,
who laughed and sung, read poetry –
their words were their caresses?
Yvein, do you remember lads
in raiment sendaline,
who joked and laughed in joyous years –
and all we might have been?
Yvein… don’t you curse that king
who bade us seven leave –
who broke that world, that joyous world,
and left us here to grieve?’
Then Yvein gripped my hand and said
in whispered, laboured breath
‘Ah, nay, old friend. He was my king.
It was a noble quest’.
Young Yvein’s face is peaceful now;
across his breast his hands
are clasped. His eyes are closed. He dreams,
I know, of far-off lands.
And spread out far around I see
an amaranthine plain;
and at its farthest edge I see
a darker shade again.
It is the Land of Tenebros,
and, o, that shade is deep.
And I that am Menezdes
will lay me down, and sleep.