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The Lay of Erwyn the Young

The Lay of Erwyn the Young
by Joshua Hampton

The Lay of Erwyn the Young

O Father dear, I’ve heard you tell much of Erwyn the Young
Who came to bear the gifts renowned that oft in lay are sung,
And how it was this knave’s own grief that cursed them under spell.
Please tell it to my ears once more before your sweet farewell.

O handsome Son, ‘tis true I spoke that long and troubled tale
Of sorrow and a mother’s hope to save her son so frail,
And I will tell it once again then leave you here behind,
So pay close heed to my own words and each commit to mind.

Once on the banks of Darinor a babe was come to be.
His mother was a handmaiden of beauty wild and free.
She was to call him Erwyn, son, as was his father’s name,
A Kingsman felled upon the muddy fields of Deloraine.

She hoped one day her babe would grow to match the name she gave,
That in her son she’d see again her husband’s acts so brave,
And as the years would come to pass, Erwyn would want it too,
Longing to hold a sword in hand as fabled warriors do

But fortunes such came not to be for Erwyn, darling child.
He never lost his youthful way of manners meek and mild,
And in the games of gallant Knights he dared not to partake,
For stout of heart yet slight of frame does not a hero make.

So as she watched her child in grief all hope was cast away,
For it would seem he’d never wear a paladin’s array.
But fate would change when was announced a tournament of Men
Where any with raiment of war had then the chance to win.

And in her mind she came to plot a scheme of guileful sort,
To champion her son, my dear, to Nobles of the Court,
For Kings and Queens would come from far to see such matches played
And to the victor came renown of kind heroes are made.

So with what gold she’d hid away a shirt of mail she bought,
And with it too the gauntlets that so many after sought,
And yet she knew ‘twas not enough to make his rivals quail.
She’d have to find him something more to see her son prevail.

O Father dear, you tell it true, but don’t forget the end,
Of witches and such wretched acts that none could then amend.
What of the curs’ed bargain made and of the armor spelled?
I ask again to speak it loud that then my heart be quelled.

O handsome Son, have patience now for all things will be told,
Of good and ill and joy and pain and Erwyn’s acts so bold.
Now close your eyes and rest you well before the night is dawn,
For when the Sun bestirs the birds by then I must be gone.

She left that morn for Um Valloth, a place of rue and woe,
Where from not all made haste return and some not ever so.
For three days after on she rode, through moor and fen she fought,
Till then at last in Sigurd’s Shaw she found just what she sought.

For there she met with Ezbereth, the Black Witch of the Wood,
A sorceress whose cauldron boiled of brews no other’s could,
And of her Erwyn’s mother asked to conjure up a charm,
A spell upon the mail she’d brought to keep her son from harm.

But Ezbereth gave nothing free without gifts in return,
For, boy, she knew all begged of her must be of great concern.
So once the story was all told the Witch then spoke her mind;
“If I’m to do this now,” said she, “I ask one thing in kind,”

“For in your eyes the flowers bloom a blue to match the sea,
And in your hair is golden twine with none fairer than thee,
And in your lips a garnet stone with shade of afterglow,
And then, at last, there is your skin, like that of whitest snow,

“And yet my face is feared and loathed as hideous and foul,
For worries of a thousand years have turned my grin to scowl.
Just once I’d have Men look upon me as a bonny maid,
And so to have your face as mine is what I ask in trade.

“As long as Erwyn’s favor grows by cause of conjury,
So shall those that look on me, dear, have lust again for me,
Then once he doth so make his mark, return the glamored things,
And thus your eyes shall bloom again like Winters turn to Springs.”

‘Tis said a mother’s love is blind in that it sees no end,
And that day it saw not the gloom the bargain did portend,
Her gifts were spelled and beauty lost with not a second breath.
Then off she set and bade farewell to lovely Ezbereth.

That night she stopped to take her rest nearby a rill of blue,
Went to the water then to see the face she wore anew.
In the reflection there she saw such that she took to ill
And wept so long she did not stop until the Morning chill.

But when the Sun shown down upon the armor’s silver gleam
She thought again of Erwyn, child, and of his hero’s dream,
And how in time all things would then be put again to right,
With her babe’s cheeks aglow with pride to be valiant knight.

O Father dear, now will you tell of lance and sword and shield,
And of the Kingsmen clashing for a victory on the field,
And tell me did her wish come true to see young Erwyn win?
My eyes grow heavy now with sleep so I’ll not ask again.

O handsome Son, please rest yourself for all will soon be said
Of errant knights and feats of skill and innocence misled.
So speak no more and fall to dream of places that you know
For when the Moon does hide His face by then I have to go.

She made it home the night before the tourney was to start,
With still the hope of Erwyn’s triumph heavy on her heart.
She left the armor at his bed with not a sound to wake,
Not wanting for her son to see what guise she had to take.

And when the Sun alit the sky young Erwyn woke to find
The shining mail and gloves a’waiting there, dear son of mine.
He guessed his mother must have come in quiet as he slept,
Yet he knew nothing of the spells that upon each were kept.

He donned at once the costly gifts but felt no difference made,
And then he sheathed his silver sword, his father’s bastard blade,
And left did he to challenge those in show of knightly sport,
With hopes to take his place among those of more hallowed sort,

And fight did he for seven days without a loss to grieve,
And none whose eyes had watched him duel could trust them to believe,
For this young boy of callow face and family known by few
Had felled the champions of the Court with biting blows so true.

But what they could not know was of the plot his mother planned,
A secret that made every foe fall to fair Erwyn’s hand;
His plate was hexed with craft enough to withstand any strike
And gauntlets spelled to guide the wielder’s sword and shield alike.

With every win the gall’ry roared and cheers did fill the air
Accompanied by trumpet blast and roll of marching snare,
And Erwyn’s gallantry did stir then many a maiden’s breast
With each a hope he’d rush the stand and choose them from the rest.

But there was one the tender Knight did wish to garner praise,
The Princess fair Alensia, with cheeks like rose bouquets
And eyes so full of deepest green like meadows in the Spring.
Young Erwyn pondered all the joy a life with her would bring.

Yet what he could not know, my kin, was that she too was awed,
And every swing he took she did so quietly applaud.
Her passion swelled until she thought she’d storm the tourney pitch
To take young Erwyn in her arms to quell her fiery itch.

But as the Lady of the Court and daughter of the King,
She knew it not so mannerly to ponder such a thing,
And so she sat without a word or move that told her heart
and waited for his victory to then her love impart.

And when did come the final match against the King’s own man,
Syr Gerulf, Knight and kinsman of a noble warrior-clan,
Young Erwyn stepped to face him bold, so sure of his own might,
Prepared to battle sword to sword and deal his rival’s plight,

And so it was that Gerulf charged and struck out for his foe.
With all his strength he brought down what he thought a mortal blow,
Yet to his grief his blade but glanced young Erwyn’s armored chest,
Shattering his sword to shards with no more to contest.

Syr Gerulf knelt and bowed his head to ask it all to end,
“I am no match,’ he whispered low, “your sword I must commend.”
And Erwyn proved a worthy Knight, accepting Gerulf’s yield,
And so he was then crowned the honored victor of the field!

O Father dear, a smile it brings to hear such joyful news,
But now I fear there’s misery to come from such a ruse,
So please go on and finish now before your goodbye kiss,
That I may learn the story’s end with none of it to miss.

O handsome Son, please lay you down, there’s more you need to know,
For though we wish for happy ends it is not always so.
For all the love there is in life there too is equal hate,
So let me now finish my tale before it grows too late.

With Erwyn now a man of worth with quality so proved,
Alensia did make it known how deeply she’d been moved.
She raced then down and took the field to offer him her hand,
To make him prince and king-to-come of all the common land,

And though his heart was filled with joy to take her as his Dear,
He could not celebrate his win without his mother near,
So he embraced the daughter-Queen and to her made it known
That by the morn he’d soon return to take her for his own.

And rode did he then off to tell of all he’d done those days,
For hardly could he wait to hear his mother’s kindly praise,
And when that night he came upon her home deep in the dell,
He leapt from his white charger-steed with quite a tale to tell.

But when he stepped inside he found not what he’d thought to see;
A loathsome witch with curs’ed cast of lowliest degree.
For yet had she to end the pact she’d made in Sigurd’s Shaw
And so her face was still a bane to every Man who saw.

And when she found him standing there she cried in utter joy,
Then ran to greet Erwyn the Young, her son and darling boy,
But as she came he saw her clad all in his mother’s dress,
And what cruel end befell her then is not so hard to guess.

Some witch, he thought, had come to slay her for some wicked scheme,
And so her shout of glee was heard to be a dreadful scream,
And with his sword he cut her down and to the floor she fell,
Where then he watched his fool stroke end the witch’s woeful spell.

He turned her over so he’d see who lay dead at his feet
And lo! he found she was for true to be his mother sweet.
She told him of the pact she’d made with her last earthly breath,
Before she wilted in his arms to pass then unto death.

Now all he’d done to make his name, to best his lowly birth,
To bring such praise upon his house, was all of little worth,
For in a bloody pool that circled round him in the room
There lied the only one who loved him, doting to her doom.

And so at once he left then for the land beyond the Throne,
Where none would follow nor would find the armor of the crone,
And near the River Wilegard, there on the rocky shore,
He cast the gifts into the beck, never to worry more.

And thereupon he sat him down and cried so many tears
The River rose and flooded for the next one hundred years,
And when he was for sure the dreaded armor washed to sea,
He returned home to lay his mother ‘neath an alder tree.

But there he met the hangsman, son, and soon the gallows high,
For he was called a murderer, a charge he’d not deny.
And as he swung before the ranks, two eyes did watch in woe;
Alensia did weep for him, the love she’d never know.

O father dear, do tell me more of Erwyn’s magic plate,
How it would come to play a part in all the Kingdom’s fate,
For though I am a foolish child I know this tale goes on,
And still I’ve yet to feel the yearn to close my eyes nor yawn.

O handsome Son, ‘tis true there’s more to tell another night,
For it grows late and I must go before the morning light,
But if I must, for your own sake, I’ll speak this tale again,
So hush yourself and listen close now that you’re all tucked in. . .

* * *

By day Joshua Hampton is a mild-mannered associate creative director at an advertising agency in Louisville, Kentucky. By night he’s a fantasy writer who finds his muse in everything from Anglo-Saxon epic poetry to Appalachian folklore. He is also a featured writer for the English football club Chelsea’s stateside newsletter.

What do you think is the attraction of the fantasy genre?

I love Fantasy because it can take you places that no other genre can take you -- and those places can be filled with practically anything you can imagine. Why read a novel or poem set in a world we all live in when you can read about one no one's ever seen before?