The Ballad of the Last Centaur
I looked to the stars but I never could trace
What on earth had become of the rest of my race
I concluded that I was the last of my line
With the trunk of a man and the rest equestrine.
Two hearts beat within me, below and above
In a solitary thing with no other to love,
so I kept to myself in the wood's dappled shade
and I hunted alone with my bow and my blade.
One day there came a sound, the coarse voices of men
who had come to the wild, passing close to my den;
And a hostage they had- the fair child of a lord-
Whom they'd taken, forsooth, to demand some reward.
And it troubled me much when I heard their chief say
what they would do to her, should her father not pay,
And the next thing I knew my straight arrow was flying-
The brute was unhorsed and down in the dirt dying;
I seized then my chance and at them I was rushing
Somehow wielding a branch, skulls and helmets for crushing.
My crude cudgel whirled, and my front hooves they flailed
kicking and winding the men I assailed-
The battle was brief- few had hearts to fight on;
Soon the very last thief crawled away and was gone.
I beheld then their captive, all trembling and fearful
She gazed at me transfixed, blue eyes wide and tearful
They had gagged her and dragged her- with rope her wrists bound
Her fine dress was torn, thus bedraggled I found.
It was just she and I in the now peaceful glade,
I knelt at her side saying 'be not afraid.'
Yet I felt her fear rise as I reach down towards her
I freed her of the gag and at once I adored her.
I helped her to rise when her bonds were untied
But she looked all around as for some place to hide.
'It is much that you ask, after all I've been through,
that I not be afraid of a creature like you!'
'Forgive me,' I prayed, 'if my form doth alarm you;
But know by the gods that I never would harm you.'
'The stories paint centaurs as creatures of lust...
Yet I look at your face and I find that I trust.
For four days these men held me, and terror has filled me-
They threatened to do many worse things than kill me.
I'm glad to be free of my human tormentors-
But what my fate now in this country of centaurs?'
'A centaur I am, but no others there are
At least none that I have encountered thus far.
Where you wish to go now is for you to decide
If you would travel faster my back you may ride!'
When she heard me thus offer, she graciously smiled
For she feared, evidently, to pass through the wild
''In your debt, o Sir Centaur, I already stand
Yet I fear I am terribly lost in this land!
On the way here, in shadows I sensed wild things prowling
And at night the vales rang to a chorus of howling.
Bear me but to the edge of the land where I grew-
I hope not to be more of a burden to you.'
And so we rode the daylight out, at dusk I made a fire
And through the golden dancing light, her face I did admire.
I'd caught a rabbit on the way, and now did cook its meat
And having hungry gone for days, the damsel deigned to eat.
A stream ran through the moonlit glade, we crossed towards its bank
We drank some of the water, then she lay against my flank.
She asked me things about the life which hitherto I'd known
I said that it was much like this, but always on my own.
She gazed up at the heavens' dome, stars shining through the trees
And asked me if I knew aught of the cosmic mysteries.
I spoke about the music that the attuned spirit hears-
Of the patterns, and the power, and the dancing of the spheres
When she asked of God and angels, said I: 'All things have one source
And all things are kept in motion by a deep and sacred force.'
She said the sound of my voice did her strangely reassure-
That I made her sense eternity, and touched her at her core,
And no man she'd ever known before had made her feel this way
And that were she but a centauress, she would forever stay.
But wasn't this a lovely night with magic on the breeze?
Was not the fragrant air alive with possibilities?
I stroked her hair and looked away, lest she should see me weep
She nestled closer to my side, and soon she was asleep.
My higher heart broke in its chest, as though some arrow pierced me
For never had I been so blessed, nor known love burn so fiercely.
I watched o'er her until the morn- how lovely did she seem?
A faint smile playing on her lips as though through some sweet dream.
How perfect was she in her sleep, and as she woke how fair?
I made a flowery crown for her, and placed it in her hair.
I lifted her onto my back, and through the stream we clattered
And as she rode she held me tight- the moment all that mattered.
Towards our destination I can hardly say I rushed
I walked on-turned to hold her hand- her brow against mine brushed.
She said this need not be the end
for always would she be my friend
And how could her people not see
The noble soul she saw in me?
She'd tell them of my gallant fight-
and then they must make me a knight
(a knight of quite a novel breed
who is himself his own strong steed!)
I heard her words, and sweet they seemed
but even then I knew she dreamed.
I trotted along blissfully, and still she held my hand
We hardly noticed as we crossed the threshold of her land
Nor too aware of our surrounds, or who might be approaching
The final moments of my life are filled with self-reproaching.
They came in force, armed man and horse, their phalanxes surround me
Each held a crossbow in his hand, not few of their darts found me!
'No! Stop!' the darling damsel screamed, and tried to make herself my shield
Too late her warning words were heard- an arrow pinned her to the field.
I fell down too, to cradle her, in love's forlorn embrace
While amid the watching warriors she saw her father's face.
He fell at his young daughter's feet- all saw how he must love her
There could be no more dark defeat- his line and life were over.
And so too will my species be, for wounded I lie dying
My maiden is an angel now- to her soul mine is flying.
26 Aug 2009.