"And Ye Would Not!"

I

“So, what now?” he asked
Deep worry on his royal brow.
“We attack,” his man replied.
“We make swords out of our plows.”
The king’s weary eyes lost their gleam.
“Do you –” he stuttered.
“Do you know what this means?”

If they had really known
The wretched treefall of their deeds
Those bitter seeds they’d not have sown.
Their corpses would not litter
Fields of battle then unknown.
But they knew it not.

So with just one week to muster
And without any time to train
Their grand army hobbled out into the rain
Sloshing where no foot would fall again.
But one county distant
Trod others — rebels, brothers, kin —
Wondering as well upon the fratricidal sin.
But though they misgave, and so the king,
No one was yet halting
The madness of a body turned on its own members.
Why not?
No one remembers.

II

At the field of battle by the river
Amidst winter’s ceaseless snows
On the ridge above they arrayed their knights,
Near the bridge they placed their longbows.
The king’s army thus in all its might
Faced their rebel brothers.

The arrows like apocalyptic hail
Fell on both sides and hell-
Like was combat betwixt cousins
Whose same blood steamed the icy field.
But the king yielded the ground ‘fore the sun setted —
A rout. As they crushed to the bridge
Ten thousand men fell in the river,
Wettened with the chill of death.

They found the king washed up on the ice
Like some nameless squire.
They burned him like a pagan in a pyre.
And the old duke, the rebels’ leader, fell
By an unknown assailant’s arrow
Lifeless to earth.

The narrow chance for peace
Ceased with those two souls
For the new regent and duke
Were alike cold.
“The old were lucky to have died,”
A Father muttered at his monastery nearby,
“For they remembered, if but faintly,
They were brothers.
But these would sell their own mothers
Into bondage.”

Calloused grew the nation,
Its women and its men.
Even its roosters crowed with different ken.
If the Father knew the bitterness it would unleash
He would have held his peace
And not done as he then did.
But he knew it not.

So at next lowing of the cattle
And next clucking of the hens,
Knowing that all the Brothers in near country
Would do as he requested them,
He called up his men.

The bells rang from ev’ry belfry.
The monks trooped in from all around
At the frightened note in that fell, copper-coated sound.
Quarterstaves and quivers,
Chuckles, shivers,
They heeded the call.

They gathered there to train
Until the conflict reawakened.
With each joust and each skirmish
They grew more determined
That, though it bring great violence,
Though the battles wax right sore,
They would stop the wicked war.

III

The gate of spring unlatched at last,
On the green and hilly countryside
Perennial resurrection stampeded forth,
Thrushes and terns atwitter at the perfection
Of their delicious winter naps.

“What better weather for a chevauchée
Against our dear friends of the kingdom?”
The new duke bid his armor on him
As he yammered at his servant.
“Though yet-green fields will not burn,
It ought to be worth some
Fifteen thousand weight of gold
In plunder. That’s quite a sum to earn,” he laughed.
“Lord Regent, you are free to hate me,
But be sure to watch and learn!”

Like a frothing wave tumbling mindless
Upon the salty rock
The duke’s army slammed and spilt and swarmed
Around the regent’s capitol,
Whose walls were arrogant in ashen gray.
The day ended as orange light fell
And subtle sleet cooled still-hot heads.
That same night they started
A quaking bombardment that endured
For what seemed a Lent of days.

Each morning, siege ladders lurched upon the wall
With the weary sun’s first rays.
The duke’s men piled over battlements,
A hundred slain
For each defender they slew.

And the regent’s cavalry
Barreling from the castle each afternoon
Unleashed obscene carnage
On the duke’s army.

But one morning as the ladders rose
And matters seemed to carry on,
A low, dark cloud on the horizon
Lingered with the dawn.
Lingered and then drifted
Down to the battlefield
Until scouring daylight
Unveiled a monkish army.

The duke’s forces turned them round,
To see the perilous faces
Of the Father’s men charging
Upon them. No more siege-lethargic,
Screams supplanted yawns.

The regent was exultant and
Sent his men to join the fray,
Vowing canonize the fighting Father on that day.

But the warlike monks knew no regent’s honor
For they’d come to end the mutual slaughter
E’en if they had to throw
Their own souls into the barter.

So three armies there did battle
Outside the castle walls,
A thrashing human mass, a self-destroying thrall.

Till all fell silent at that bitter end,
The stench of blood, of dead horses and rotting men
Stagnating with the lack of wind.

But the reek afloat was perfume
Compared to the reek within the heart,
The anguish of a man who’d finished
What he could never now unstart.

Like a ghost the Father floated
Past the corpses in their piles
Wading through the bloody, grassy aisles.

The ignominy of his deed came as a tremor to his hands.
He closed his eyes,
The permanency of his crime
Dispiriting his lower lip
With pathetic tremble.

The holy man collapsed,
Bowing low on blood-soaked knees
And the mourning cry of death entered
His self-damnatious pleas.
He bowed his face to a nearby corpse,
Breathing in its cooling blood,
And cried, “‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem!’
Oh God, what have I done!”

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