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The Staff and Scrip
“Who rules these lands?” the Pilgrim said. “Stranger, Queen Blanchelys.” “And who has thus harried them?” he said. “It was Duke Luke did this: God's ban be his!” The Pilgrim said: “Where is your house? I'll rest there, with your will.” “You've but to climb these blackened boughs And you'll see it over the hill, For it burns still.” “Which road, to seek your Queen?” said he. “Nay, nay, but with some wound You'll fly back hither, it may be, And by your blood i' the ground My place be found.” “Friend, stay in peace. God keep your head, And mine, where I will go; For He is here and there,” he said. He passed the hill-side, slow. And stood below. The Queen sat idle by her loom; She heard the arras stir, And looked up sadly: through the room The sweetness sickened her Of musk and myrrh. Her women, standing two and two, In silence combed the fleece. The Pilgrim said, “Peace be with you, Lady;” and bent his knees. She answered, “Peace.” Her eyes were like the wave within; Like water-reed the poise Of her soft body, dainty thin; And like the water's noise Her plaintive voice. For him, the stream had never well'd In desert tracts malign So sweet; nor had he ever felt So faint in the sunshine Of Palestine. Right so, he knew that he saw weep Each night through every dream The Queen's own face, confused in sleep With visages supreme Not known to him. “Lady,” he said, “your lands lie burnt And waste: to meet your foe All fear: this I have seen and learnt. Say that it shall be so, And I will go.” She gazed at him. “Your cause is just, For I have heard the same,” He said: “God's strength shall be my trust. Fall it to good or grame, 'Tis in His name.” “Sir, you are thanked. My cause is dead. Why should you toil to break A grave, and fall therein?” she said. He did not pause but spake: “For my vow's sake.” “Can such vows be, Sir—to God's ear, Not to God's will?” “My vow Remains: God heard me there as here,” He said with reverent brow, “Both then and now.” They gazed together, he and she, The minute while he spoke; And when he ceased, she suddenly Looked round upon her folk As though she woke. “Fight, Sir,” she said; “my prayers in pain Shall be your fellowship.” He whispered one among her train,— “To-morrow bid her keep This staff and scrip.” She sent him a sharp sword, whose belt About his body there As sweet as her own arms he felt. He kissed its blade, all bare, Instead of her. She sent him a green banner wrought With one white lily stem, To bind his lance with when he fought. He writ upon the same And kissed her name. She sent him a white shield, whereon She bade that he should trace His will. He blent fair hues that shone, And in a golden space He kissed her face. Born of the day that died, that eve Now dying sank to rest; As he, in likewise taking leave, Once with a heaving breast Looked to the west. And there the sunset skies unseal'd, Like lands he never knew, Beyond to-morrow's battle-field Lay open out of view To ride into. Next day till dark the women pray'd: Nor any might know there How the fight went: the Queen has bade That there do come to her No messenger. The Queen is pale, her maidens ail; And to the organ-tones They sing but faintly, who sang well The matin-orisons, The lauds and nones. Lo, Father, is thine ear inclin'd, And hath thine angel pass'd? For these thy watchers now are blind With vigil, and at last Dizzy with fast. Weak now to them the voice o' the priest As any trance affords; And when each anthem failed and ceas'd, It seemed that the last chords Still sang the words. “Oh what is the light that shines so red? 'Tis long since the sun set;” Quoth the youngest to the eldest maid: “'Twas dim but now, and yet The light is great.” Quoth the other: “'Tis our sight is dazed That we see flame i' the air.” But the Queen held her brows and gazed, And said, “It is the glare Of torches there.” “Oh what are the sounds that rise and spread? All day it was so still;” Quoth the youngest to the eldest maid: “Unto the furthest hill The air they fill.” Quoth the other: “'Tis our sense is blurr'd With all the chants gone by.” But the Queen held her breath and heard, And said, “It is the cry Of Victory.” The first of all the rout was sound, The next were dust and flame, And then the horses shook the ground: And in the thick of them A still band came. “Oh what do ye bring out of the fight, Thus hid beneath these boughs?” “Thy conquering guest returns to-night, And yet shall not carouse, Queen, in thy house.” “Uncover ye his face,” she said. “O changed in little space!” She cried, “O pale that was so red! O God, O God of grace! Cover his face.” His sword was broken in his hand Where he had kissed the blade. “O soft steel that could not withstand! O my hard heart unstayed, That prayed and prayed!” His bloodied banner crossed his mouth Where he had kissed her name. “O east, and west, and north, and south, Fair flew my web, for shame, To guide Death's aim!” The tints were shredded from his shield Where he had kissed her face. “Oh, of all gifts that I could yield, Death only keeps its place, My gift and grace!” Then stepped a damsel to her side, And spoke, and needs must weep: “For his sake, lady, if he died, He prayed of thee to keep This staff and scrip.” That night they hung above her bed, Till morning wet with tears. Year after year above her head Her bed his token wears, Five years, ten years. That night the passion of her grief Shook them as there they hung. Each year the wind that shed the leaf Shook them and in its tongue A message flung. And once she woke with a clear mind That letters writ to calm Her soul lay in the scrip; to find Only a torpid balm And dust of palm. They shook far off with palace sport When joust and dance were rife; And the hunt shook them from the court; For hers, in peace or strife, Was a Queen's life. A Queen's death now: as now they shake To gusts in chapel dim,— Hung where she sleeps, not seen to wake, (Carved lovely white and slim), With them by him. Stand up to-day, still armed, with her, Good knight, before His brow Who then as now was here and there, Who had in mind thy vow Then even as now. The lists are set in Heaven to-day, The bright pavilions shine; Fair hangs thy shield, and none gainsay; The trumpets sound in sign That she is thine. Not tithed with days' and years' decease He pays thy wage He owed, But with imperishable peace Here in His own abode Thy jealous God.
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