Copyright © 2003 Robert G. Ferrell

#94

Cynric of Bedwyn

The Lion's Sword:

A Squire's Testament

   
  In ancient times, when the Ebon Star
Had scarce eclipsed the Western Sun
There strode upon the battle plain
A Hero from which legends leapt
Full-grown like Athene
From the brow of Zeus.
I'll tell thee now this tale of old,
For I hath seen it with mine eyes;
Though they grow weak and hoar,
Yet my memories are as clear as water
That tumbleth cold from Hibernian springs.
 
   
  That Hero was Riccardo; never walked
There upon this earth knight nor king
Nor emperor with greater spirit, bolder heart,
Or battle strength to match this
Lion of Lions. I, though unworthy, yet
Didst he choose to serve him as squire.
And serve him I did, as well as my mortal's
Sinews and meeker heart couldst sustain.
 
   
  Deep within the very fires of the Black Star itself
Didst Riccardo forge a sword of war,
A blade of such temper that only he by whose
Mighty arm it was made couldst fully wield it
In battle's heat. Oft have I seen this reaper
Of souls rise and fall in steady tempo upon the
Bloodied canvas of war, where Riccardo was
An artist of rare measure, whilst stood I at his
Side and slew the foe as best I could,
Being only a man.
 
   
  For many years Riccardo's sword didst ring a
Death knell for the enemies of his king.
And I, in wonder and awe at each fell stroke
Didst marvel anew at this Lion who had chosen
Me to learn the craft of culling those who stood
Against the Black Star's swift advance.
Many lessons didst he teach me then,
Of war and battle, and the ways of men.
I learned to cut down the foemen
Like grain at the harvest time.
But whene'er I bethought
My skills of puissance were waxing great,
Riccardo showed me, with little strain,
That though I slay both duke and king,
Yet was I no more than a swaddling babe
In his lineage of Lions.
So strove I even more when next battle came,
For this was Riccardo's song: "Try harder."
 
   
  Though larger than mortal Riccardo seemed,
Yet one day at last fell he in battle,
For even the heart of a Lion must finally fail,
Though it pass two score lives of lesser men.
At his back I sought to deflect
The blow that laid him low,
As ever I had done before,
But this time I was too weak; too slow,
And bitter Death claimed him,
That hateful eater of lives.
 
   
  Before the darkness took him there,
Riccardo called out to me and,
Rising from death's cold grasp
Pulled that Hero's blade
From the brainpan of the revilèd foe
Whose spear had pierced the Lion's breast.
Into my quaking hand didst
He then place that sword
And unto me, in voice that could
Not have come from any other dying man,
Command that I wield it in his name,
And carry it into battle
To remind the foes of Ansteorra
That Heroes stride the ranks
Of our armies, that Lions
Prowl the plains under the
Black Star's eternal light.
And though I do not wear a
Belt or chain, yet I know in
My heart as surely as I know
That Riccardo was a Hero
That he thought me a knight
As truly as any who have ever
Taken up arms for king and country.
What greater accolade could a man desire?
No mere monarch could bestow
An honor of this magnitude.
And so I was, and am, content.
 
   
  Though I prized this battle gift
Above all earthly things,
I could not wield Riccardo's blade
As its master, for I had not the heart
Nor the strength of that knight of legend.
In the course of time, that
Hero-forged blade found its way
Into the keeping of the Lions;
Those who hold in their hearts
The very soul of the Ebon Star.
Now that blade stands behind
The throne, so that the Black Star
In truth shines out from the
King whenever it is drawn.
But well and truly canst I tell the
History of this sword, as I have
Set forth for thee; no man, no king, no knight,
Knoweth this blade as do I.
 
   
  For love of king and country, then,
Do I issue this stark warning;
Heed it well, for its truth may
Lend thee speed or utterly thwart thee,
As befits thy actions.
This blade that stands at thy back,
O king of the Lion Throne,
Is not thine alone to command.
It comes to thee from the Lions,
And pulses with the blood of thy people,
But it carries within it
The very soul of Riccardo.
 
   
  This Hero, this Lion of Lions,
This greater than mortal who hath willed
Thee his war hammer doth not give
Thee free license to wield it, except
In the rightful service of thy nation
And thy subjects.
Only a Lion may carry
This blade into battle;
A Lion that hath heart and soul
Swept through by the
Cleansing fire of purity.
 
   
  Do not think that because thou
Weareth a crown thou holdeth sway
Over the Lion Sword.
It will consume thee in its
Righteous flame as though
Thou werest the lowest born
Mongrel that ever crawled upon the earth
If thou seek to pervert its purpose,
Or wield it without just cause.
For the Lion Sword is
Thy servant and thy bane,
Thy instrument and thy judge.
 
   
  If thou hold fast to thine oaths and
Succor well thy people,
The Lion Sword will serve thee in turn,
And bring doom unto thy enemies.
If thou breakest faith with the Black Star,
Or let thy petty nature rule thy hand,
Lookest thou then upon thine own doom, for though thee
Hath a thousand knights at thy side,
Still will the Lion Sword rise up
And smite thee down. This I know,
No king I, yet once I carried that blade
And still it speaks to me,
Riccardo's heir, oft times from afar.
The voice of Riccardo will be heard,
The Lion Sword shall be his word.