Battle of Celden Wood
Per your request, dear James:
I stepped from Celden Wood into the silent silver sun
Which drove before it Dourish spear, and horse, and sword, and drum
And glinted from the foeman’s steel, still half a mile away;
“Come meet this blade of Celden, foe, and show thee to thy grave.
Come hither, cross the frozen field, the shining, deathly snow,
Where once the farmer’s wicked scythe cut down the golden rows,
Where, when a child, I used to walk, behind my father’s plow,
My ax is sharpened, Dourish lords; come forth and meet me now.
“Come whir the dance of death with me beneath this frozen sun,
My ax has bowed, and welcomes thee to where thy blood will run,
The frost is glinting off its edge, the steel is cold and pure,
And keener than the winter air; come now, thy end is sure.”
And came the lords across snow; it thundered up behind,
Mixed frozen mud with hoof and boot, and man and beast entwined
The great black stallions plunged across, and ninety-seven fell,
Though still our arrows could not stop that frothy wave of hell.
And then, behind the devil-beasts, ten thousand foemen came;
Mortality was in their eyes: a maddened, writhing flame;
I drank it up like smold’ring myrrh, I breathed it deeply in,
And faced the horsemen with my ax, and loved the battle’s den,
And flung myself into their ranks, and cut them down like wheat,
But felt my brethren driven back, and giving in retreat,
Withdrawing to the field’s edge; pushed back into the trees,
And leaving there a stream of blood to drip and run and freeze.
The pride of Doureland’s sons kept on, and followed through the wood:
The coward’s name shall ne’er be giv’n a fighting Dourish lord;
They urged their steeds through brush and brier, until they were deep in,
Beneath the silent trees, which held the trap we’d laid for them,
And arrows poured, like seeds of wrath, into the floundering ranks,
They chased in vane: we circled ‘round and cut them at their flanks,
And felled the plunging devil-beasts into the drifted snow,
Where wild eyes turned lifeless ice, and blood, like roses, grew.
Then came the footmen, pike and sword, advancing at a rush,
But broken by the trees and hindered by the frozen brush;
We came against them, ax and bow: our souls were in our breath,
We fell, and matched our foemen blood for blood and death for death!
Then, at our shouts, the Dourish line stepped back and gave us way
And broke and scattered in the snow and fled the crimson day
Like shadows when the morning sun is risen in the east,
Chased back from rocky hill and crag across the crimson frost.