Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Witch Knight

I think there may be only one or two straggling readers left checking this blog, which I've sadly neglected. Not that I feel very guilty about it; I've been writing other things in other places. For that last reader or two, however, here's a reward - something that has sat in drafts for a long time now, edited every few months as I've thought about it again.

The impetus for this piece was a thought from a professor in one of my last (and most favorite) college classes. He said that everyone had a story they told themselves about how they would fall in love, and we should consider what ours was. A long, wandering journey? A magic lamp? A tragedy? A comedy? I hadn't thought about it like this before, but it came to me quickly what mine was: a battle. In the time since then, this is what my thoughts on my own love story have come to.

The Witch Knight

The castle is well-guarded
as well with spells and sheer will as with stone and vine, the people in the village say
you cannot go inside it
you cannot dwell in there

There is a guard at its door, with fierce armor
and a strong arm
and a sharp wit
and more mysteriously fearsome for that she is a woman too.

The villagers speak warnings to the wanderers
and some are not afraid but wish to see the witch knight with their own eyes.
some she drives off from her tower long before they reach the gate
some she beats or kills with her blade
To others, and few they be, she lifts the faceplate of her helmet, so that they see her true face
and these all flee, every one.

They say it's the eyes.
They say there is no match for that leveling gaze.

A man who is wise enough to seek what he desires determinedly, with skill and focus
but who is also fool enough to risk pain and destruction to get it
that is a rare man indeed.
The witch knight has looked forward and seen the threads of her life spinning out in many directions
maybe he does not come.
maybe he does not exist.
maybe he comes, looks, and leaves.
It does not matter. She has set herself in readiness. That is her part.

In the village the story is already told how it will happen
because the castle must be surrendered
so it must be a powerful man, with archers and bristling knights
overwhelming the walls. Or it must be a sly enchanter, slipping honey words in the witch's ears
until her quicksilver sword is lowered and her eyes dim.
Then he will carry her away, because that is what they want, the girls of the village
to be away, away from there
because a powerful man
because a honey-tongued man
he must surely lead the way to excitement.

But the witch has learned her lessons well.
Her castle is humble and old; powerful men march by it, it is not a worthy prize.
Her walls are plain and overgrown with vines; the vain men turn their heads away.
Her armor is thick and painted black as death; the careful men tremble and shrink.
Her blade is long and carefully sharp; the fools see only the end of it.

The last morning of the witch knight was cool and fair
a calm sun picked at the edges of leaves and stems of grass
and earthy brown songbirds left their nests among the ivy across the castle walls.
The morning was as ready as an empty book laid open
The morning was as new and green as the first breath of Eden
The morning brought him

on a cream-colored charger, quietly through the village.
Alone, and with armor so skillfully oiled and carried
no one woke to sound a warning.
Past the forge
Past the mill
Past the square and the empty market
he rode beyond to the old castle.

The witch knight was waiting for him
in her dark armor with her bright blade already drawn.
He dismounted at her gate
He readied his stance
He drew his own sword
and it began.

In three strokes the witch of the castle knew they were well-matched
and more and more this knowledge grew in her as the two swords darted and flashed between them
He did not fight to beat her
His sword's tip never touched her armor
And betimes he let his defense fail, just slightly, as if to see if she could find the hole.

The witch knight was a woman of no meager learning
she noted every opening
she knew the strike to accompany it
she did not waver to press her advantage
But each time, the stranger knew a counter that freed him.

Disbelief and hope fought each other in the witch knight's heart
but determination to match him steeled her arm
and she twisted away in one foolish step purposefully
She too knew the parry to block the attack that followed.
And they fought on, but differently then, as both knew
It was only a game
It was only a measuring gauge
And it was nearing its end.

The next time the strange knight let his defense falter was the last.
The witch saw it and threw her strength into the thrust of her blade toward him.
What did she see in the corner of her eye then?
The point of the stranger's sword, lowering, submitting.
Astonishment filled the witch's mind at the sight of it
her strike, flying fast, would cut through the man's armor if it were cheaply made
her strike would crush the man's armor if it were not
her strike would kill him if she wished it.
But she did not. Before her blade reached him the strength had left it
the blow glanced off the curve of the stranger's breastplate.

The witch knight paced back and regarded him
with a stance ready for his next attack
but the man threw his sword aside, unheeded in the grass.
He was a fool, then, the woman thought
She sheathed her sword
She raised her faceplate
She gave him the full strength of her powerful gaze.

Her face bespoke walls steeper and firmer than the stone ones they stood before, walls to heart and mind.
It was the beautiful and cold face of one who knew how little beauty mattered.
It was a face that many men had already shied away from.

The strange knight met her gaze, undaunted
and saw glancing across her eyes something of her weariness
something that was tired of ceaseless guarding and the long, lonely wait.

He saw himself.

He lifted off his helmet and returned her winter gaze with the smile of a summer sun
and the light warmed, melted, opened the witch knight's heart.

She pulled her helmet free
unbound her hair and shook it loose
and found her rebellious mouth curving to return a smile shy and new as spring.

With long-practiced fingers the strange knight went to the buckles, stays, and pins of his armor
and the breastplate, buckler, gauntlets, each piece dropped beside the sword in the grass
revealing in parts, arms, hands, chest, legs
A plain man in worn white tunic and hose
only the grace of his movements betraying his strength and self-mastery.
The witch knight too loosed her armor by pieces and let them fall
and when she pulled her feet free from their steel clasps she stood before him
shivering slightly in the unaccustomed lightness of her worn homespun gown.

The villagers would say later the witch had met her match
She and the strange knight met eyes and both burst into dust.
What else would leave their armor so strangely scattered?
But the truth of it was that when the stranger saw her standing in the field before her gate
he saw not a knight
he saw not a witch
he saw her truly a woman.
And with one gentle, approving smile, he toppled the last of that woman's longstanding walls.

She darted forward, leaping nimbly over the fallen armor
She took the lead of his horse in one hand
She took his hand in her other and held it fast
She turned and led him through the wooden gate of the old castle, to a small cottage snug in a garden within
where waited a hearth fire, a hearty stew, and happiness to the end of their days.

2 comments:

Samantha Lemon said...

"I'm still here, El Guapo!" Thanks for posting again.

Momof8 said...

I love it! So beautifully written. I'm glad to be your first and one of your most fervent and faithful fans. Thank you for sharing this!