A Riddle Posed
Into the Great Hall crept the Bard,
Settled himself by the fire,
In want of a meal and a bed,
And for his good horse, a byre.
He had journeyed far that grim eve.
(The frost would have frozen a tear!)
Still, he must sing for his supper
On this longest night of the year.
“Merry Meet, Fair Bard!” the greeting
From the Great Hall’s Lord, by and by.
“Draw near the fire; be welcome!
“Sing a Song of Truth—not a Lie—
“And if thou answer Life’s Riddle,
“Of why even a King must die,
“Why, then, I’ll thank thee most kindly,
“And know thou art wiser than I!”
The Bard bowed his head most gravely.
At first, it seemed he would not speak.
But, “Whom doth the Grail serve, if not,”
Spake he, “Those who question and seek?
“So if thou would learn thy Answer,
“Lord, ’tis Truth indeed thou shall hear,
“For a Lie I’ll not be telling
“On this longest night of the year.”
Soft tinkled the bells of his branch—
Yet it sounded somehow a knell—
And a dirge the music that, plucked
From his harp, in the silence fell.
Strains of lament wept on the wind.
“Take heed,” sang he. “Thy Answer’s clear,
“Though hear not many this yore tale
“Of the longest night of the year.”
The Bard’s Tale
Betwixt and between this old Earth
And the Other- and Underworld
Lies a Threshold of Sacred Mists,
Spun of gossamer threads, fine-twirled;
And those who possess the Knowing
Can travel on a ship through Time,
And sail through the Veil that obscures,
To land on those shores hoar with rime.
Beyond the mists, four Towers soar,
Air, Fire, Earth, and Water keep;
And two great Castles—one on high;
The other, white-foamed waves of Deep
Enfold. Cold and vast is the sea
Where the Westering Sun is bound
In the Cauldron; the breath of Nine
Maidens warms it; pearls set all ’round.
Beneath the fathoms, eight times eight,
Bones of sorrowing swan boats cry,
Stranded on dark and shingled beach,
Abandoned; Lost Souls wander; fly
The Ravens to feast on the Dead.
The World Pole tilts; the Millwheel churns;
Husks grind between the massive stones;
Slow, starry Arianrhod turns.
Scarce are the Brave; still, all must pass
The brier wood of bristling thorn
Encircling wintry Fortress bright;
Torch-fires blaze in mounted horn
Upon the looming ramparts’ brace,
Suspended in Time Beyond, where
Stands the Stronghold’s grim-stone face.
Gird thy sword; enter—if thou dare!
Above, the pale Moon shimmers from
The shadows of a drifting cloud;
Below, crows on the battlements
Caw…caw a dire warning; soughed
On gusting wind, their call is caught,
Sent screaming through the eve so wild;
The melancholy banshees keen:
“He comes! He comes…the Summer Child!”
Inside the hoary Castle limned
With frost and snow and mists of Time,
Where the Winter Lord sits Enthroned,
And Dragon guards gold coins sublime,
The words of Omen ring; hearing,
The Lord sighs, lifts his dusk-crowned head.
“’Tis the longest night of the year,”
Speaks he—and in his voice is dread.
Still, he hides it well; no man knows,
As the Lord strides from the Great Hall,
That deep inside, a chill wind blows,
And that this eve, he fears a Fall.
In Time Past, Fate’s hand has seized him;
But to himself, he makes a vow,
Whispering fierce in the courtyard:
“I shall not let that happen now!”
From the spiked iron Gates of Dark,
The surly Hounds of Annwn howl,
Now bold, the Winter Lord speaks up
From ’neath his black and smoky cowl:
“Cry ‘Havoc!’ and unleash the dogs!
“There’s work needs must be done tonight!
“Mount up, ye Long-Dead Souls of Host,
“To halt the birthing of the Light!”
With weapons sharp, the Men are armed;
And cloaked against the damp and cold,
They saddle up to ride the Night,
In search of quarry, new yet old.
Horseshoes clatter on cobbles grey,
Wet—treacherous!—with snow and ice,
As from the Perilous Castle,
The cox-combed cockerel crows thrice.
Now bells the hunting-horn its note,
Echoing low and bittersweet;
Hammers on their Anvils thunder;
From Gob’s Fiery Forge blasts heat!
Now-unlocked Gates of Dark swing wide;
From mighty chains, the Hounds are slipped.
The Queen’s White Mares of Terror shriek;
Gob’s ale from stirrup cup is sipped.
From the Depths of the Black Abyss,
Once more, the mournful trumpet sounds.
Answered by the eager baying
Of the Winter Lord’s red-eared Hounds.
Mouths champ hard at their steely bits;
Spurs dig deep; taut-coiled muscle springs.
Into Night gallop ghostly steeds,
’Neath sweep and rush of ravens’ wings.
But as they vanish through the Gates—
Unknown to them, their passage scried
In obsidian mirror’s gleam,
By she who once was Summer’s Bride—
A faint smile of Triumph curves the lips
Of the now-Wise, far-reaching Crone;
Within her secret chamber warm,
Light waits to greet his birthing throne.
Far away, from vale to mountain,
Phantoms tear across countryside;
The snarling Hounds of Annwn race;
Behind, the Fearsome Host doth ride,
Horses white-lathered from the chase.
“The Hunt’s on!” the horn has cried.
On this longest night of the year,
Surely, there is no place to hide!
In terror, young and old alike
Fling themselves down upon the roads;
The price to gaze on Winter’s Men
Is Breath and Soul from their abodes!
Mothers cover children’s faces;
Fathers try to protect them all.
For the Winter Lord is riding
Hard-fast to meet his dread Great Fall.
For at the Cauldron’s Bounty prized,
Nine Maidens stare—and disbelieve!—
Stunned with awe and reverence
At what the Crone has wrought this eve.
Her blood had long since ceased to flow;
It is a Miraculous Birth!
They lift the Blesséd Babe on high;
His Shining Light illumines Earth!
The Wild Hunt has ended; come Spring,
When Twins are Equals at the Door,
The Winter Lord will meet his Fate,
As he has countless times before.
He thought he’d slain the Great Horned Beast
At Second Harvest of the Corn.
But even he can’t stay the Feast,
For Earth’s bright Light has been reborn!
The Cauldron with Two Horns of Seed
Is e’er sown; ripe, ’tis reaped. The Sky
Reveals Life’s Riddle’s Answer is
That even Death Himself must die!
For Life brings Death, and Death brings Life—
A Timeless, Turning Circle sweet,
Without Beginning, without End,
A Great Wheel Perfect and Complete.
The King’s Departure
Tale done, the Bard laid harp aside,
But in the Great Hall, not one cheer.
Only silence reigned, deep of thought,
On this longest night of the year.
Then, at last, spake the King: “Fair Bard,
“In Truth, thou art wiser than I,
“And so I thank thee most kindly.”
Then he rose, with a heavy sigh.
He gathered up his Men to ride;
With horn’s knell, the Wild Hunt was on!
But they’d not reach green Summer Land,
The birthplace of the Small Red Fawn;
For the Bard had sung the long night,
Although only the Chessboard’s Pawn.
In the East, a Star was gleaming;
‘Twas the Dusk Herald of the Dawn!
Copyright © 2009, by Rhiainwen. All rights reserved.