Aching wasteland, shattered shores,
far Sir Robert’s blighted moors;
heaven’s blessing never pours
on this, his drear and dreadful realm.
No harvest sun nor sowing rains
bring comfort unto dusty plains;
among a land of listless lanes,
down from the hills a trickle drains -
the rambling river, Durrinelm.
Hardy folk endure the night,
waiting for dawn to bring them light;
guards and witch-hag fear the knight,
hunched on an isle amidst the stream.
Beneath the shining full spring moon
she cuts herself; they hear her croon
lost in an otherworldly tune –
the dawn cannot arrive too soon,
or so Sir Robert’s guardsmen deem.
Silence falls; the cackling crone
ceases to weep and wail and moan.
Nervous, the guardsmen wait like stone
her oracle at last to hear.
The ancient woman turns to aim
her finger t’wards their lord, the same
who brought them here to play his game;
but oracles will not be tame –
entranced, she speaks for Robert’s ear:
“You are the one who cursed the land!
Tyranny reaps rewards unplanned;
heaven withholds its blessing hand
because your evil holds all sway.
No baser man was ever born!
No crops, and neither hide nor horn,
shall bless your reign, unless this morn
from you the kingdom’s seal is torn
and given to a Queen of Fay!”
Robert’s men all catch their breath;
he stands before them pale as death –
grimaces hard, and then he saith:
“Be sure that you’ll receive your pay!
Everything shall proceed as planned.
I will retain the guiding hand;
never shall fairies rule the land!
Surely my right you understand –
employ your powers without delay!”
A downy swan’s nest makes a bed
for four small infants, drugged and bled,
whose pale pinched bodies, underfed,
lie cold beneath the starry sky.
The men, though troubled, must obey
to live their lives another day;
they and Sir Robert go their way,
and leave the witch to have her say.
Unto the east she turns her eye.
All along the Eastern coasts,
dawn unveils its splendid hosts;
heaven’s creatures take their posts,
through Logres’ lands to ply their way.
Here at their head is Nature’s Queen,
beauteous fairy few have seen;
bright as the sun her lovely sheen;
under her wings the gleaners glean;
Aurorielle, the mighty Fay.
Her smile was not like smiles that others smile;
it shone as though it lit up all the world.
At dawn she smiled, and so the sky unfurled
that she should flit in it a little while.
Her voice did not speak words as others spoke;
its kindness was enough to heal the land;
its singing, song of waves along the sand;
its laughter lifted every heavy yoke.
Her wings were not as those of bird or bat –
their delicacy clothed her form with grace;
their shiny shimm’ring spoke of silken lace;
her flight was what the wind would wonder at.
Men marvelled whence their hope and gladness came -
Aurorielle, heavenly fairy, was her name.
Gazing down, the Fairy sees
babes abandoned ‘midst the trees.
Summoning a spiral breeze,
appalled, she flits to spy the isle.
There in a clearing doth she find
beside the babes, the witch-hag, blind;
struck to her heart, the fairy kind
leaves all her duties far behind
and seeks to tend each child a while.
“Rarely I pass this way,” she said,
“Other lands I serve instead,
those the ones to which I’m led;
for heav’n dictates my every deed.
But never would I pass this by –
to see your children suffer and die,
would make my service like a lie!
How have you come to this? Can I
approach the throne, your cause to plead?”
With saltless tears she feigns to weep,
shameless the witch explains, “They sleep
lost in enchantments dark and deep;
they die, unless they wake today.
Unless some other dreams their dream,
while e’er their names shall live, I deem,
their faces ne’er again shall beam;
their lives shall but an instant seem,
unless their dream is tak’n away.
Who would sleep a dream, life-long?
Who’d forego their years of song?
Only one of Faerie's throng
would take the vow that breaks the curse.”
The Fairy Queen let out a cry,
and said, “Thank God I fluttered nigh;
I live, when e’en the earth should die!
So while their names shall last, will I
dream on, and all be none the worse.”
Wonder crossed the hag’s cracked face.
“Thou art a Fay? What joyous grace!
Doubtless you could take their place.
To do so, only speak this vow;
‘I take their dream, and therefore sleep
to hold the dream in slumbers deep
while they shall wake, and sow, and reap.
This, till their names shall pass, I keep.’
Now speak it, fairy! Say it now!”
Love so pure, Aurorielle
more had in store than words can tell.
All for those babes she entered hell,
unknowing though she was, and Fay;
she spoke the words, and thus was bound.
“What are their names?” she sadly frowned
as into dreadful dreams she drowned.
“These shall they be! My wyrd profound –
Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall are they!”
Blindness feigned no longer now,
since the fairy took the vow,
Hag arrives to take her bow
in Robert’s keep, with children four.
“Her fate is sealed by words she said;
the fairy sleeps till earth is dead!
While yonder island makes her bed
your once-cursed land be blest instead.
My name shall live for evermore!
Keep the seasons’ names alive,
thus your land shall surely thrive –
fruit and grain and herd and hive.
And now, my lord – I’ll take my pay!”
Sir Robert smiled, and muttered low,
“You cursed me, but an hour ago,
while standing on the isle below.
For visions vile, the pay I know –
guards! Pay this witch with swords today!”
There by the tyrant lay the head
cut from the crone; but though it bled
far from her body, still it said:
“Cursed be this river! Nought shall float.
Around your isle, become a moat!
Cursed be its lord! Though land be blest,
within it, you shall never rest.
Cursed be your reign! Its end my scheme –
that one shall sleep, but both shall dream!”
They threw her in the river, then it stank
for seven days so badly no one drank;
until her rotted corpse washed off to sea,
and then began the rest of her decree.