Two Poems by Firannion Matrevyn
Table of Contents
P. 1: Foreword
P. 3: The Healer of Gintheru
P. 10: The Lay of Verdanisse and Athelwine
This book is a compilation of two long poems with a common
theme, one of the most venerable sources of dramatic tension in
literature: the love triangle. In the case of Verdanisse's
forced marriage to Odobras, it's a bit of a stretch to call it
love; nevertheless, in both narratives, a woman's destiny hinges
upon the choice she must make between two men.
Otherwise, the two works have little in common. "The Healer of Gintheru" is my versification of a tale recounted by an elderly Elven midwife I met in Therengia. It may be described as "historical" -- presuming that my source was telling the truth. (That may be a lot to presume; but a good storyteller knows that there are more kinds of truth in the world than the merely literal.) The midwife claims to be the daughter of the empath (unnamed in my poem, since as of this writing the daughter still lives) who was the lover of Gintheru the Silken, a renowned Elothean bard who fell afoul of the Dragon Priests and lived to tell about it. (His version of the tale must be sought elsewhere, alas.)
The second poem, "The Lay of Verdanisse and Athelwine", is set much farther back in time, and not based upon any more reliable historical authority than my own memories, recovered in a dreaming state, of a life long past. Many readers will scoff at the notion of reincarnation, and regard this as purely a work of imagination; that is their right.
In fact, there was a time, not so many years ago, when I would have done the same. It is for this reason that I dedicate this book with utmost love and gratitude to Veterator Mystifarious, my Mage of Fire, who taught a cynical young bard to believe in visions and memories, destiny and dreams.
- F. M.
The Healer of Gintheru
In Langenfirth, where I had my birth,
Lived a crone of the healing ways;
Of Elvenkind, she could call to mind
The heroes of elder days.
With many a tale she would regale
Her listeners old and young,
And a sigh or two for Gintheru -
The bard of the silken tongue.
I'd sit at her feet in the Summer's heat
And when Winter's gales increased,
To hear her recall the rise and fall
Of the dreadful Dragon Priests.
It came to pass, when she was a lass,
As pretty as she was poor,
A lad came oft to her parents' croft
Determined to be her wooer.
For public gaze, in those perilous days,
He traveled the tinker's road;
But secretly, for fear of Dzree,
He was pledged to serve Meraud.
Beside her fire this itinerant friar
Courted her well and long:
Her heart near won - but all was undone
By a bard's enticing song.
One Winter's night to her fireside bright
Strayed a minstrel of far-flung fame,
Seeking shelter from storm, both dry and warm;
And Gintheru was his name.
From tavern to town he bore tidings around;
With music his way he paid;
For a song and a tale he earned bread, cheese and ale
And the heart of an empath maid.
As he wandered away on the following day,
He promised her he would return
When Summer was done, and the harvest begun
And the first leaves beginning to turn.
When her cleric called, she stammered and stalled,
And he wondered what made her strange;
But he prayed and he swore his god before
That his love would outlast the change.
Spring came and passed, then Summer at last,
And her days seemed weary and long;
Though she saw no trace of Gintheru's face,
In the tavern she heard a new song:
It made mockery of the cult of Dzree,
And its singing was swiftly banned;
But all who did hark said it bore the mark
Of the silken Gintheru's hand.
With Autumn's last leaf came news of great grief
To the lovelorn empath's ears:
Of Gintheru ta'en, to be tortured and slain,
Confirming her worst fears.
That cleric so good gave what comfort he could,
And in time she accepted his ring;
He eased her despair with tenderest care,
And she promised they'd wed in the Spring.
At the sound of a shout the people turned out
When a Dragon Priest troop came to town.
They held a parade of some martyrs they'd made
Just to cow any malcontents down.
Alive but scarred and in chains came her bard
From the dungeons of deadly Dzree;
His famed silken tongue, round his neck it was hung
As a warning to satirists free.
All but two that day turned their faces away
As that bloody procession did pass.
No healer drew near, all shrank back in fear,
But for one very brave Elven lass.
He hung his proud head and walked as if dead,
No fire in Gintheru's eyes;
Not once did he blink till his love forged a link -
Then he started and stared in surprise.
The Dragon Priest guard surrounding the bard
Their spears at the empath did fling.
She uttered no sound as she fell to the ground -
But Gintheru started to sing.
On the edge of the crowd one shouted aloud -
A tinker he seemed by his wear -
Though it meant his death, he'd restore her breath,
So he sent up a desperate prayer.
From nowhere there strode the wolf of Meraud,
The biggest that ever was seen!
It first slew the guard, then nuzzled the bard,
And licked all the empath's wounds clean.
Then Gintheru's song grew louder and strong:
A Blessing the god had conferred.
The Dragon Priests fled as the friar bowed his head,
And a gasp from the empath was heard!
She never would tell what else befell
Betwixt these two lads and a lass;
She only would say the wolf melted away
With a sound like the wind in the grass...
Though the fugitive bard no longer was scarred,
He still bore a price on his head.
She knew in her heart that again they must part,
And soon into hiding he fled.
In springtime a bride at the bold cleric's side
That empath was destined to be.
'Twas not long before a wee babe she bore -
The babe that grew up to be me.
And to this very day, I still cannot say,
Though I am no longer young,
Whether my sire was Meraud's holy friar
Or that bard with the silken tongue!
The Lay of Verdanisse and Athelwine
'Twas in the high and far-off time
Ere first the Dragon slept,
Three vows were made by Athelwine -
And two of them he kept.
A worthy man-at-arms he was,
A tall true-hearted knight,
And vassal sworn to Odobras -
A border lord of might.
The borderlands were fearsome then:
No peace could there be found,
Till Odobras's valiant men
By force his rival bound.
Said Odobras unto them all,
A-strutting in his pride,
"To keep this upstart chief in thrall,
'Tis time I took a bride."
"My lord!" protested Athelwine,
"His daughter's but a child!"
Said Odobras, "That suits me fine,"
And cruelly he smiled.
This knight stood witness at his side
As Odobras was wed;
But when he looked upon the bride,
Within his heart he bled.
The captive lass was but thirteen;
Her name was Verdanisse.
Her girlish form, still maiden-lean,
Was sacrificed for peace.
Her husband's fortress walls around
She paced the weary years:
Her spirit caged, her eyes cast down
That none might see her tears.
But one there was, his fealty torn,
Who watched, and knew her grief;
His liege was to the husband sworn,
But to the wife his lief.
And so in time it came to pass,
A babe within her grew.
To Athelwine said Odobras,
"I lay this charge to you:
"To guard my lady faithfully
Until her time be done,
That she may render unto me
A strong and healthy son."
Each day upon the battlement
These two alone would walk;
Her hopes, so long in sorrow pent,
Poured forth in fervent talk.
And on the day her child was born,
She whispered, "Athelwine,
I care not how I be forsworn;
I wish this babe were thine."
Then with a blast of hunting horns
The lord came to his hold,
In hopes his wife a son had borne:
The babe but two days old.
He stepped up to her childbed,
Her handmaids turned to run;
His face went pale, then angry red:
"A daughter, not a son!"
Grim Odobras, he cursed his bride
And beat her where she lay.
His trusted vassal's fealty died
Upon that fateful day.
Sir Athelwine his vigil stood
Awaiting her at dawn,
To flee together through the wood
Ere any knew her gone.
But as her horse paced through the grass
So softly in the dark,
A forester of Odobras
Her passage he did mark.
The sun's first rays began to shine,
The morn smelled fresh and sweet,
As in the clearing Athelwine
And Verdanisse did meet.
The hidden huntsman drew his bow
Intending him to harm;
But in between him and the blow
She leapt into his arms.
She felt the arrow in her back,
She gazed into his face;
She cried, "Sweet Athelwine, alack!"
And fell in his embrace.
"Now by thy blood, dear Verdanisse,
Three vows I'll undertake.
Till they're fulfilled, I'll know no peace,
But keep them for thy sake.
"The first of these is life for life,"
Swore faithful Athelwine.
"A husband's blood shed for a wife;
He'll forfeit his for thine.
"'Tis for thy bonny baby's sake
The next vow I'll fulfill:
She'll never share thy evil fate,
But marry whom she will."
She lay there dying on the ground;
The last thing e'er she heard
As in her blood she choked and drowned
Was her love's vow, the third:
"Though fate be cruel, and hope be gone
With my true love's last breath,
Someday, I swear, we'll meet upon
The other side of death!"
'Twas in those days, so long gone past,
His first and second vow
Kept Athelwine in truth. The last
Has waited until now.
For, by the gods' enduring grace,
We kept that memory:
The first time e'er you saw my face,
You knew...that it was me.