Three Hearts and One

Oh, once there lived a princess fair,
born in a northern land,
brown hazel eyne and earthen hair,
her skin was fair untann'd,
with two her sisters, young and old,
so she was second-born,
the young was red, the elder gold
and each had their own thorn.

So Nettle, Thistle, Rose were call'd,
the sisters three were true,
created for the good of all
and clean and pure in hue,
of evil did their souls know none,
to right they did adhere,
and words of truth did gild their tongues,
their hearts were clos'd to fear.

When Nettle danc't, the world stood still,
and how she reign'd it all,
Thistle fair sang, the world lost will,
and birdlings fill'd the hall,
When Rose she play'd a note or trill,
the world would shout the call,
the sisters three on Castle Hill,
did greatly all enthrall.

To young Thistle came once the king,
a man of ruthless mien,
who was the king through marrying
her mother, who was queen,
Crataegus Bold, it was his name,
the father of young Rose,
was shrewd and mighty by his fame
and had a dright of foes.

"It is, my dear," the king he said,
"For you now time to go,
you shall be married to the prince
who's offspring to our foe."
"To bring this peace between our lands,"
Thistle replied to him,
"this young child-prince will have mine hand,
for he is without sin."

The lands were bathèd in high joy,
the war came to an end,
the price to be was one young boy,
the world itself would mend.
The armies in their castles stopp't
their vigilance was weak
and by their sides their spears they dropp't,
and joyful were the meek.

Beware of treason, all ye young,
that comes from your above!
beware of reason from their tongue
and means to ends thereof!

And soon it was, the coming feast,
Thistle did seek the king,
she found him in the towers east,
where did the lichen cling.
But she was stopp't at oaken doors
through which came whispering,
for guarding in the corridor,
were dogs chain'd to a ring.

So to the dogs she sang a song
and quick as it could be
the dogs they fell asleep along
her silent singing plea,
she crept between the dogs and door,
to get a glimpse of him,
whom there she had come searching for,
unspeaking on a whim.

She quiet listen'd to their speech
and waited by the shade,
but as she listen'd to them each
she wish't she had not stay'd.

"Today, this night, our plan unfurls,
completion is so near
The poison will have kill'd those churls
but we remain will here!"
She heard the voice of Crataegus
to drip with dread intent,
and as she to them listen'd thus
she felt herself lament.

She threw the door and stepp't inside
into the lions den
"Now stop ye this", she loudly cried
"I do you all condemn!
And if ye kill a single guest,
or harm them in their sleep,
I shall awake all from their rest,
and sing 'till they all weep!"

The king he said "Oh, foolish one,
what have ye come here for?
I cannot stop the justice done
so speak ye must no more."
Thus did he to the magus say:
"So take away her voice,"
with spells that are most foul and fey
and evil's tool of choice.

The Soldier held Thistle there down,
the Bishop pray'd to dark,
the Merchant tied her in her gown,
The Mage her throat did mark.

And died did enemies that night,
by pox they died in pain,
and though did many go afright
all protest was in vain.

The Council said, "Do not regret,
for we know who was she,
who brought the pox on those she met
in her insanity."

The Bishop swore by all the Saints,
the Merchant by his name,
the Sword by honour with no taint
the Magus all the same,
Thistle was she who kill'd them all!
with pox she struck them dead!
the first died dancing in the Hall,
the last one died in bed.

"Oh why oh why," the people cried,
"would she do such a thing?"
"To marry not," the council lied.
"so hang her by her chin!"
And taken was Thistle then to
the hill of Death up north,
and as she walk't the gauntlet through,
spew'd angry murmur forth.

But "hang the traitor, she must hang!"
the crowd did boom at last,
up on the gallows ravens sang
but fair Thistle held fast.
The noose was fitted on her neck,
the Thanate took his hold,
her family look't with no beck
and did on her behold.

The king was grim, the queen was pale,
and Nettle quiet wept,
and Rose, oh, Rose, so small and frail
look't like she'd never slept.

But suddenly, the hangman ask't,
"What is thy final word?"
she broke the spell and snarling task't,
"Has justice not been serv'd?"
The hangman he then pull'd his rope
and clench't beneath her head
that hempen noose took all her hope,
but still her voice did thread.

For from her mouth there came a sound
that none had heard before
a call so red with darkness crown'd
none wanted hear for more.
The call sent all the crowd in fear
to fall and scatter round
a sound so deep and wroth and clear
that many fell aground.

And still it came from deep within
escaping from her flesh
that call of hell, that monstrous thing,
that with their fears did mesh,
the Devil must that song have heard,
so calling from her corse,
for answer'd He then with a word
the very Earth its source.

The trees around the Death Hill burst
into a hellish flame
and came from there with unsate thirst
one ill renown'd by fame,
a horror with its milky eyne
set in a blood-night frame
of undulating burning skin
and call'd without a name.

So walk't it to the gallow hill
with death left in its path
and took her body singing still
that sound of awful wrath
within its mouth of thousand knives
it carried her away
and though it took a hundred lives
it spar'd none in its way.

So good Thistle then fainted slept
in mouth of that fell beast
which travel'd over vales winds swept
and towards morn and east,
into its lair of black and dread,
an island on a lake,
a castle strewn where it was shred
with white with bones its wake.

The lake was boiling to the air
the rocks were glowing hot
the air was churning from the lair
the trees were dead with rot;
the beast's own throne was midst it all,
and it was all to blame,
as it had taken as its hall,
a castle of good name.

And there she liv'd, she breath't the air,
she slept on red-hot stones,
she hunted in the horror's lair,
she ate from hollow bones,
and when she sang, she sang the birds
to come to her and rest,
but then she went and broke her words
and kill'd her trusting guest.

A month so went, and she was there,
imprison'd she was still
once came a morning to the lair
of hopeful, quiet thrill.
A train of men led by a knight!
How fine and bold was he!
camp't on the shore and slept the night,
could this man set her free?

So in the morn the knight he rode,
and challeng'd the dread wyrm,
the monster div'd to where he strode,
but rider, he stood firm.
And in one slithe, uncanny move
the horror drumm'd the earth
with one great swipe so did it prove,
the gallant rider's worth.

All look't upon the headless knight
his blood pour'd o'er armor
like unto frescoes lily-white
in blood-red vein'd marmor.

Thistle's dry lips did pass a sound
as if she meant to mourn
but if you listen'd you'd have found,
that something else was torn:
For good Thistle long laugh't that day
and laugh't and laugh't and laugh't
and further laugh't to her dismay
that sound of bitter draught.

And soon was ev'ry new moon's morn
came people to the lair
to watch how were the champions torn
how did the Beast them tear.
The monster on these men did feed,
by eating them unflesh't,
the innards of this gallant breed
were freed when them it tresh't
on spleen and lungs and liver fed
on stomach and red meat
and crown'd its meals with kernels red
their hearts steep't warm in heat.

The seventh moon and seventh knight,
she understood by then,
for why they came by morning light,
came to the horror's den,
for by their flags and by their shields
she could tell and quite well
these riders came from foreign fields
to test the might of Hell.

Oh, riders, ride for Lake of Lair
defeat the mighty Beast!
but none surviv'd their going there
the lake out to the East.

By the Beast so was she taken
like many were before,
to kingdoms shake and lands awaken
to rescue maidens for,
the Horror to its hunger sate
was cunning in its ways
by searching for a luring bait
to fool men in its maze.

The lore so went, and all did know
a maiden who was held
she was not taken from the low
but high she must have dwell'd.
If she was sav'd then by a knight
a brave and martial man
she would be his and by that right
he then could claim the land.

And months went by when she it saw
the fate of many fool
the nights how lengthen'd winter's jaw
which Beast did over-rule,
with warmth and burning bold fire
it boil'd the lake to mist,
and distant could be heard a choir
of stones by winter kiss't
their cracking voices overheard
made into a dead sound
for as they were by cooling stirr'd
they in their pain were drown'd.

Oh, riders, ride for Lake of Lair
defeat the mighty Beast!
but none surviv'd their going there
the isle out to the East.

Within the darkness of the isle
the winter-nights did paint
the figures of a nightmare style
and diabolic taint,
and sometimes when the dreams her took
she dreamt she talk't with shades,
she woke and wept and fearful shook
from evil's nightmare raids.

A shade was though from most apart
she call'd it by a name
it's barbs were all made into art,
it call'd itself Lord Thame.

"Say have you seen the Horror eat,
My Lady of Lake Lair?
it sometimes leaves the lungs and meat,
for some it doesn't care.
But notice how it always eats
the warm and dripping heart
that is so fresh it almost beats
or would still want to start."

When she but wish't the thing ignore
it came along and told
of things it hadn't told before
of things both new and old,
a topic rival'd was by none
a thing it was obsess't
the hearts the Beast itself had won
and pluck't beneath the breast.

Oh, riders, ride for Lake of Lair
defeat the mighty Beast!
but none surviv'd their going there
the shores out to the East.

And finally she Thistle said,
"Now silence thee, thou shade,
I've had enough of thy tirade,
and wish thou wouldst just fade."

"I will not fade," replied sly Thame,
"I'll never fade away,
for finally I've found a dame
who hears what I can say."

And finally did Thistle snap
and took the shadow's form
into her hands a vice-like trap
and snarl'd she like a storm
"Of hearts you speak and nothing more,
how Beast does naught but eat,
I've wonder'd for a time or four
if your one would be sweet!"

"No, please don't give me to the Beast!"
Thame fearful did declare
"For I will never be a feast
you could with knights compare!"
She said: "For Beast you are too lean..."
She hard held onto Thame
and pull'd out from her pocket green
a knife without a name.

She open'd up the restless fiend
to shrill and piercing screech
around the scene the shades conven'd
for seeking Thame to leach:
the blood fell round and on the ground,
while Thame the Shade did scream
and finally there was no sound
when blood came in a stream.

Thistle then pick't the thimble-heart
still beating in its fright
and open'd up her mouth apart
and wolf't down on this bite.
A colour'd daub stain'd red her lips
blood trickled down her face,
some pass't from her in small red drips
and stain'd her worn-out lace.
Devour'd had been the shadow's heart
by Princess of Lake Lair,
but on her own it did impart
a strange and marked flair.

"So this is it" she then inton'd
"The Horror's reason why
it eats the hearts of knights bemoan'd
and why it had them die."
She dropp't the body of the shade
its body torn and red;
amongst its brethren in the glade
the carcass soon was shred.

"And this is what the night is like,"
Thistle alone then mus'd
"I think I've never felt its like,
as if it hush effus'd.
I thought the night is dark and dead
the colours to be blue
but now I see the truth instead
the secret hidden hue."

Where fair Thistle had only one,
she had another more,
for two hearts beating had begun
upon that distant shore.

The next bright morn, a knight he rode,
but unlike those before,
he came subdued and without ode
a mantle white he wore.
His face was cover'd in a cloth
his shield was white as well,
there was no sign of claim of troth
to fight the Beast of Hell.

His retinue was dwindling small
as nothing did he do
but waiting for the night to fall
o'er lake where water brew.

So when the nightfall came at last
he sent some men out west,
and where they went they burn'd the grass
to make a horror's crest.
And lur'd it was, the Horror-beast,
and towards smoke upwind
and wode the lake that would at least
Thistle's own flesh have skinn'd.

Thus when a chance came to the knight
presented he a boat,
made out of iron black as night
to sail the boiling moat.
And joy set her two hearts beat strong,
he'll take her far away
far from the Lake and from its wrong
from where the nightmares prey

The knight he row'd with iron oars
row'd in his boat alone
and landed on the island shores
that litter'd were with bone.

Thus joyful Thistle greeted him,
and went forth with a dance,
but as she to the knight did skim,
he straighten'd to a stance,
and pull'd his sword beneath his belt
he turn'd the blade at her
and through a dread she wish't unfelt,
she ask't him "Why, oh sir?"

And mockingly the knight then bow'd
"You recognise me not?"
he pull'd away the facial shroud
reveal'd a face of wroth.
It was the Soldier from her land
was mark't with black burn'd skin
as if he'd burn'd by Devil's hand
and char'd by Devil's kin.

"I knew thou didst still live!" he said,
"Thou thrice-bedamn'd, curs't girl!
I will be vengeance paid in red!"
words venomous he hurl'd.

"So thou wert burn'd by burning flame,
and claim from me thy feud,
but why hast thou me given blame?"
though now she understood.

"The flame that burn'd my skin to char
was breathen by the Beast!
Though others think that dead you are
I had no doubts the least!
By craft thine dread rein'd'st thou the bane,
thou us tried'st to murder!"
Replied then she: "Thou art insane,
speak out thy lies no further."

The crazed Soldier leapt right forth
to cut Thistle there down
but Night her took into its court,
she could be nowhere found.
"Where art thou gone, thou fiendish witch?"
the soldier bellow'd loud
he flounder'd in the night in which
shades hid her in their shroud.

She led the knight into the keep
that so laid ruin'd near
and sang a song that she let creep
into the soldier's ear.
And when he growling stood in there
she silent crept behind
the winter dark was ev'rywhere
in which she hit him blind.

She turn'd him on his back on stone
and open'd up his vest
she wielded quick her knife of bone
and open cut his chest.
Then with a rock she crush't his ribs
and pull'd them right aside
a howl it left the soldier's lips
unconcious when he died.

So then she pluck't the soldier's heart
beneath his flesh and bone
"Oh look how plump and raw thou art,"
she bit it with a moan.
And slowly ate she of the knight,
that day on Isle of Lair,
and each time that she took a bite
of strength she grew aware.

Where Thistle 'fore had only two,
had taken she a third,
a three-beat rhythm burning new
there could be faintly heard.

When night did end the day crept on
and so the Beast return'd
to sleep and rest along the dawn
was only its concern,
but burning was Thistle by new blood,
she would not let it be
and from her hearts there came a flood
of martial cruelty.

She pick't her up a rusted spike
she pick't her up a bone
and then she went out for to strike
that Beast as tough as stone.

She sang a song that held the world
within its iron grasp
and as she went it more unfurl'd
so strong she could not gasp,
and held it also did the wyrm,
the Horror could not move
the song was strong and held it firm
and did its strength disprove.

She strode to it with tools in hand
and sat upon its beak
and burying her feet in sand
her song began to creak,
she put her spike between its eyne,
and singing still she nail'd,
and whack't she down upon the line
that should the skull have fail'd.

Its burning skin did burn her well,
but still she hammer'd on
and though her watch't the eyne of Hell
she knew they'd soon be gone.

And finally, oh yes at last,
she struck the Horror's head
and crack't its skull that so it pass't
the Beast lied there full dead,
as she'd done with the others two,
she took to it her knife,
and cut the skin and muscle to
the red root of its life.

What left was of her old green gown
was red now to its core,
and crimson burn'd her hair red-crown'd,
bethron'd that red-stain'd shore.

The Beast's black blood was hot and fierce
and burn'd black daubs in twill
but worst of all it also pierc't
her skin with thorough skill,
its flames black burn'd upon her skin
from toes up to her hair
they burn'd her arms and burn'd her shin,
of fair Thistle Lac Lair.

So when she had the heart then caught,
to death she was too near,
her skin was gone and flesh was naught
her way was all to clear.
She ate the heart of Death, the Beast,
and burn'd inside as well
she burn'd a thousand years at least
she burn'd alone in Hell.

Where once Thistle had only three,
she now had gain'd them four,
three hearts and one would make her free
and let her live e'ermore.

She took off all her red-char'd clothes
and wore ones of the knight
though she was burnt up from the toes
she did not feel the blight,
and quick she took off in his boat
and row'd out to the shore
that lied beyond the burning moat
though her it burn'd no more.

She landed on the farther shore
down lying in the boat
and waited down there on the floor
and moaning in her throat,
but soon it was that they all came
that retinue of knights
ecstatic they did all proclaim
that joy was in its heights.

But when they saw her black-burnt flesh
they cried out in great pain
"Are you, sir knight, in dread distress?
does life still fill your vein?"

"Yes, life still fills my vein," she rasp't
"But soon I will be dead.
But listen me and how I grasp't
to take the Horror's head."
She told them how the princess died
and how "he" kill'd the Beast
and how the knight then burn'd and dried
but came back for the priest.

"So bless me now and bury me
so I may from here go
to rest my soul, at last be free
and join the One True Flow."

So buried they her on the strand
they buried her well deep,
upon the earth of blighted sand
of stones they made a heap.
And there she bided her own time
she bided for a year
and then she broke her coffin fine
so others could her hear.

The shades that walk't upon far isle,
did hear her silent call
and soon they left the island vile
the Horror us'd to crawl.
They came to where she buried lied
and each took down a stone
and in no time they let them slide
to find her kneeling prone.

Oh, once there died a princess fair,
dead on a blighted strand,
with golden eyne and silver hair,
and voice like finest sand,
And in her chest there was a beat
that struck four notes for one
and three and one hearts in their seat
had on their work begun.