Afar in the valley dark woodlands wave,
And deep in their midst lies the Chieftain's Grave
Where the sun strives in vain to dispel the gloom
That casts o'er the ancient warrior's tomb.
'Twas a wild, weird day in the lonely wood,
When pensive beside his grave I stood :
Where ages ago in the distant past,
The veteran peacefully slept at last.
I pictured the warrior's form below,
With hands still grasping his sword and bow ;
With treasure of gold lying near to his side,
To waft him across dark Acheron's tide.
How grim looked that face as he lay at rest,
In a corselet of gold still proudly dressed,
While many a scar on his features he bore :
The relics of strife in the days of yore.
And all at once, as I viewed him there,
His eyes sought mine with a stony stare,
And his form up rose in its ancient might,
And came to me clothed in its armour brights;
I looked at him long in blank amaze,
This chief of remote primeval days,
With his coat of mail and his bow well strung,
And weapons of war to his sword-band slung.
At length, in sepulchral tones he spoke,
And his words the dim shadowy silence broke :
"Chief 'mong the Britons bold was I,
When by fate 'twas ordained that I must die ;
And far and wide I ruled the land
And forest and fen where now we stand.
"It happened that one fair summer's day
A princely stranger passed this way
With daughter all meet for a kingly bride ;
And many a knight rode close beside.
" 'Neath my rude halls the cavalcade
Halted, and soon the feast was laid.
Frequent the festive bowl went round,
With many a jest and jocund sound,
And on my right sat the lady fair,
And I loved the maid as she rested there.
For swift as the flight of a huntsman's dart
Leaps love to the lonely Chieftain's heart.
"But the Prince all suddenly checked the mirth :
' Arouse ye, Sir Knights, and quick up girth,
For many a mile must we ride on
Till we sight the bowers of Caer-Leon.
So we thank thee and leave thee, O Chieftain bold,
Where valour and deeds have oft been told.'
" ' O Prince,' with impassioned tones I cried,
' O grant me the maiden to be my bride.
I have riches and land and a noble name
And the bards in the future will sing my fame.'
" ' Sir Knight,' said the noble, with courtly grace,
' No more must thou look on this maiden's face ;
For she has been sought for a king's fair bride,
And we journey in haste to his royal side.'
So they passed away with their knightly train,
Away through the forest, away o'er the plain,
And ever I watched, but ever in vain,
For I saw not the face of the maiden again.
" Ten summer's went by and ten winters cold,
And oft the red tide of the battle rolled :
These scars that you see on my visage hoar
Were cut in the conflict's fateful roar ;
Yet through all lived my love for the maiden fair
And 'twas mine for the doughtiest deeds to dare.
" Then one fateful day 'twas whispered around
That the lady I loved was dying found ;
Deserted by him whom she'd honoured well
For the sake of another's accursed spell.
Alone in her desolate halls she sighed,
Alone mid her maidens at last she died.
" With a mighty oath to my gleaming sword,
I vowed revenge on that faithless lord.
My vassals and knights I summoned around,
And ere evening we rode, for Caer-Leon bound;
Thro' the forest we threaded our tangled way,
Nor slept till we sighted its turrets grey ;
With sentinels guarding each massive wall,
And revelry rampant in tower and hall.
Then deep in the dead of the starless night
We stole through the gateway and forced them to fight.
" In despair they defended, for mercy they cried,
But we smote right and left, and laughed as they died ;
And soon, with my sword all crimson with gore,
I stood at that royal ruffian's door.
And within sat the king with his new-made bride,
And many a noble knight beside.
But his face grew pale as the maid's fair breast,
As with passionate wrath I onward pressed ;
And striking him full on his lordly throne,
My sword cleft its way though both breastplate and bone.
Then down fell that diamond-crested head ;
And a moment or more and the monarch was dead.
" I hasted away from that blood stained hall,
And summoned my knights with triumphant call.
Through the forest and fen we treaded our way,
And again the old Beacon before us lay.
I returned to my desolate halls once more ;
And my tale of love and revenge is o' er.
" For long I lived on, near yon Beacon height,
And oft-times the landscape was lurid with light,
When the Danish marauders all pitiless came
And ravaged the forest with fury and flame.
And then, in the dusk of an autumn day
My martial spirit at length gave way.
They buried me deep 'neath this mighty mound,
With weapons and armour and treasure around ;
But my spirit still roves in the realms of night
With that of the monarch I slew in the fight."
He ceased, and the vision vanished slow,
And sank to its deathless bed below.
But I lingered long, till the hour was late,
In thought of the warrior's lonely fate.
And whenever I watch those woodlands wave,
I think of the spectral Chieftain's Grave.
Frederic W. Willmore.
Author and historian Frederic W. Willmore lived from 1850 to 1902. He wrote this Barr Beacon themed poem in August 1895.
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