were the fruit,
Prince Camber, and the tree rotten at root
That bare it, whence my tongue should take today
For thee the taste of poisonous treason.
What boots it though thou plight thy word to boot?
True servant wast thou to my sire King Brute,
And Brute thy king true master to thee.
Troy, ere her towers dropped hurtling down in flame,
Bare not a son more noble than the sire
Whose son begat thy father. Shame it were
Beyond all record in the world of shame,
If they that hither bore in heart that fire
Which none save men of heavenly heart may bear
Had left no sign, though Troy were spoiled and sacked,
That heavenly was the seed they saved.
Though nought my fame be,—though no praise of mine
Be worth men’s tongues for word or thought or act—
Shall fame forget my brother Albanact,
Or how those Huns who drank his blood for wine
Poured forth their own for offering to Locrine?
Though all the soundless maze of time were tracked,
No men should man find nobler.
No man loved ever more than I thy brothers,
Ay—for them thy love is bright like spring,
And colder toward me than the wintering sun.
What am I less—what less am I than others,
That thus thy tongue discrowns my name of king,
Dethrones my title, disanoints my state,
And pricks me down but petty prince?
Ay? must my name among their names stand scored
Who keep my brother’s door or guard his gate?
A lordling—princeling—one that stands to wait—
That lights him back to bed or serves at board.
Old man, if yet thy foundering brain record
Aught—if thou know that once my sire was great,
Then must thou know he left no less to me,
His youngest, than to those my brethren born,
I know it. Your servant, sire, am I,
Who lived so long your sire’s.
And how had he
Endured thy silence or sustained thy scorn?
Why must I know not what thou knowest of?
Hast thou not heard, king, that a true man’s trust
Is king for him of life and death? Locrine
Hath sealed with trust my lips—nay, prince, not mine—
His are they now.
Thou art wise as he, and just,
And secret. God requite thee! yea, he must,
For man shall never. If my sword here shine
Sunward—God guard that reverend head of thine!
My blood should make thy sword the sooner rust,
And rot thy fame for ever. Strike.
I will not. Am I Scythian born, or Greek,
That I should take thy bloodshed on my hand?
Nay—if thou seest me soul to soul, and showest
Thou think’st I would have slain thee? Speak.
Nay, then I will, for love of all this land:
Lest, if suspicion bring forth strife, and fear
Hatred, its face be withered with a curse;
Lest the eyeless doubt of unseen ill be worse
Than very truth of evil. Thou shalt hear
Such truth as falling in a base man’s ear
Should bring forth evil indeed in hearts perverse;
But forth of thine shall truth, once known, disperse
Doubt: and dispersed, the cloud shall leave thee clear
In judgment—nor, being young, more merciless,
I think, than I toward hearts that erred and yearned,
Struck through with love and blind with fire of life
Enkindled. When the sharp and stormy stress
Of Scythian ravin round our borders burned
Eastward, and he that faced it first in strife,
King Albanact, thy brother, fought and fell,
Locrine our lord, and lordliest born of you,—
Thy chief, my prince, and mine—against them drew
With all the force our southern strengths might tell,
And by the strong mid water’s seaward swell
That sunders half our Britain met and slew
The prince whose blood baptized its fame anew
And left no record of the name to dwell
Whereby men called it ere it wore his name,
Humber; and wide on wing the carnage went
Along the drenched red fields that felt the tramp
At once of fliers and slayers with feet like flame:
But the king halted, seeing a royal tent
Reared, with its ensign crowning all the camp,
And entered—where no Scythian spoil he found,
But one fair face, the Scythian’s sometime prey,
A lady’s whom their ships had borne away
By force of warlike hand from German ground,
A bride and queen by violent power fast bound
To the errant helmsman of their fierce array.
And her, left lordless by that ended fray,
Our lord beholding loved, and hailed, and crowned
Queen! and what perchance of Guendolen?
Slept she forsooth forgotten?
Nay, my lord
Knows that albeit their hands were precontract
By Brute your father dying, no man of men
May fasten hearts with hands in one accord.
The love our master knew not that he lacked
Fulfilled him even as heaven by dawn is filled
With fire and light that burns and blinds and leads
All men to wise or witless works or deeds,
Beholding, ere indeed he wist or willed,
Eyes that sent flame through veins that age had chilled.
Thine—with that grey goat’s fleece on chin, sir? Needs
Must she be fair: thou, wrapt in age’s weeds,
Whose blood, if time have touched it not and stilled,
The sun’s own fire must once have kindled,—thou
Sing praise of soft-lipped women? doth not shame
Sting thee, to sound this minstrel’s note, and gild
A girl’s proud face with praises, though her brow
Were bright as dawn’s? And had her grace no name
For men to worship by? Her name?
My brother is a prince of paramours—
Eyes coloured like the springtide sea, and hair
Bright as with fire of sundawn—face as fair
As mine is swart and worn with haggard hours,
Though less in years than his—such hap was ours
When chance drew forth for us the lots that were
Hid close in time’s clenched hand: and now I swear,
Though his be goodlier than the stars or flowers,
I would not change this head of mine, or crown
Scarce worth a smile of his—thy lord Locrine’s—
For that fair head and crown imperial; nay,
Not were I cast by force of fortune down
Lower than the lowest lean serf that prowls and pines
And loathes for fear all hours of night and day.