The Fight on The Beach or The Passing
|The Fight on The Beach or The Passing
written by John Masefield
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THESE were the nine with Modred : -- Kolgrim, Gor,
Bein Bloodsark, Stagfoot, Odwin, Addersfang,
Math, Erbin, Breuse, nine scoundrels in a gang,
Three pirates and three outlaws and three knaves.
They turned upon the shore,
And Kolgrim said, "The battle has been lost,
But some beside the beaten shall have graves:
Some of these conquerors shall pay the cost."
These were the six with Arthur : -- Owain Mor,
(Gwenivere's brother), from the March of Wales,
Bedwyr, the Cornish Knight, whom Tristan fooled;
Lucan, the Golden, whom King Ban had schooled;
Prince Ryence, Girl-Face, beautiful as Spring;
Ambrose of whom the tales
Still linger by the hearthstones of the west;
And Maximin, the son of Ban the King,
Of all deer-footed runners he was best:
These six now cast their lives into the scales.
And first the giant Owain, called the Red,
Riding in front, put spurs, and with his axe
Killed Math and Sigurd Stagfoot with two hacks;
The Stagfoot, falling, wrenched the haft away.
Here Owain's horse was sped.
He snatched Breuse' javelin as the stallion fell,
He speared Breuse through beneath the shoulder stay,
Addersfang cracked his helmet like a shell;
He grappled Addersfang as Breuse fell dead.
Bein Bloodsark struck him in the back, but he
Brought Addersfang from saddle; then he reeled,
Clutching that panting body as a shield.
Addersfang's horse upset him, Erbin struck,
He could no longer see:
But with his knife he thrust at Addersfang
Under the buckles, twice, and had good luck,
Leaving the hangman but a corpse to hang;
Dying, he muttered, "Four, or was it three?"
King Kolgrim rode at Ryence with a thrust
That speared him through and flung him to the sand;
The lance-head broke, but with the stump in hand
Kolgrim struck Ambrose overthwart the face;
Ambrose reeled back, but just
Just as King Kolgrim had his axe to strike,
Maximin knocked him over with a mace;
Kolgrim rose dizzy, grinning like a pike,
Ambrose's javelin struck him to the dust.
Bein Bloodsark strode across him and cleared ground.
Men were dismounted now, their horses loose.
Kolgrim rose dying with, "I broke the truce . . .
One other thing I'll break before I die."
His sinews were unbound,
He lapsed face forward slowly and forgot.
Then each man shouted out his battle-cry,
The two sides clashed together in a clot,
Iron with iron meeting, wolf with hound.
Modred killed Ambrose dead, that Knight of Dean;
Erbin sore-wounded Bedwyr; Lucan dropped,
Stunned by a mace-blow which his helmet stopped,
(Odwin the Smiter dealt it as he rushed)
Odwin struck Maximin,
Breaking his guard; he swung and struck again;
The golden leopard of the crest was crushed,
Swift darkness crashed upon the young man's brain,
Dead fell that youngling of the golden queen.
Then for an instant Arthur fought with five.
He slipped from Modred's blow and swept at Gor
A slash athwart the neck that made them four;
Bein stabbed him at the sword-belt as he smote.
Arthur saw Odwin drive
Towards him, with his mallet swung aloft;
Short'ning his point, he took him in the throat;
Odwin's mace toppled from his grip, he coughed
And fell upon the sand no more alive.
Erbin struck Arthur on the shoulder: Bein
Stabbed him again, a short-arm body-stab:
Then Modred gripped his ankles like a crab,
Meaning to trip, but Arthur shook him clear,
Then slipped in the bright brine,
For now the tide was coming. As he slipped
His left hand clutcht the butt of Erbin's spear;
He wrencht the shaft from Erbin as he dipped
And stabbed him through the heart spoon with the tine.
Modred and Bein came at him as he rose
Among the ripples of the gleaming sea.
He swerved aside and stumbled on his knee:
Bein fell across him, blocking Modred's way.
With moonlight-glinting blows
They struck each other, and the splashings shone,
Like salmon-leapings, as they tried to slay:
Then, at a lunge from Arthur, Bein was gone,
Heart-stricken with his vague hands clutching oaze.
Modred drew backward, seeing Bloodsark killed.
"Modred," King Arthur said, "surrender here.
Your treacheries have cost this Kingdom dear.
They cannot prosper, Modred: let them end."
The brimming ripples spilled
Their brightness on the bodies of the dead.
"I am your father, Modred, and your friend,"
King Arthur pleaded, "and your shot has sped.
I would have granted much of what you willed
Had you but told me: it is not too late
To come to some agreement, you and I.
Come up, above the tides, and let us try."
He stood near Modred on the moonlit sand.
Modred was still as hate;
He made no answer, but he breathed deep breath.
Sore-wounded Bedwyr, propping with his hand,
Cried, "Arthur, bind me: I shall bleed to death."
"I'll bind you," Lucan answered, "only wait. . .
One moment, till this dizziness is past."
The ripples swayed the bodies up the beach.
Then Modred said, "A sweet forgiving speech,
More than a bastard rebel can deserve.
I shook the dice and cast
A great throw to be quit of men's contempt.
'Bastard,' they called me; but the bastard's nerve
Came nearer Kingdom's conquest than they dreamt.
I fail; my one endeavor is my last.
I spit upon your fatherhood and you.
You be my friend, who made me suffer scorn
From every living soul since I was born?
My friend, you think? You sorry cuckold; no.
But an account is due
And shall be paid, O luster that begat.
Down to the hell of all my hatings, go."
Then, leaping forward like an angry cat,
He struck his father on the headpiece, through.
Three blows he struck, not heeding Arthur's thrust;
Then, shaking clear, his features wrenched aside,
Marshlighted deathward, he collapsed and died:
"Thirty years' anguish," were his latest words,
"Made by your idle lust."
Arthur, with both hands groping outward, swayed;
The tide-brink touched his ankles with its curds:
Sick Bedwyr was beginning to upbraid :--
"O come to stop this bleeding! O you must."
Then Arthur reeled towards him, saying "Where?
Where are you wounded, Bedwyr?" Then he knelt,
Tented the wound and bound it with his belt,
And raised Sir Bedwyr's head; his own bled fast.
Then Lucan, crawling, bare
Drink from the brook for Bedwyr, but it spilled.
Then Arthur said, "This hour is my last.
Modred is dead, I killed him; I am killed.
Call, Lucan, if our friends are anywhere."
So Lucan called, a hurt man's feeble cry.
No answer followed save a stir of wings,
That and the creeping water's whisperings
Ant-like about the bodies of the dead.
Then Arthur said, "Good-bye,
O you two faithful who have followed me
With loving service ever since I led.
I give as bitter payment as the sea,
Hard days when living, hard death when you die."
Then, moving from them for a little space,
His spirit felt the promptings of the blood
That now the brimming tides were at the flood,
And that the ebb would carry him afar.
'West from the rocks a race
Streamed seawards, speckt with bubble-broken white.
Lamplike before him was the evening star.
He said, "My comrades perish, touch and sight . . .
The feast is finished: let me utter grace."
He faced the western star with lifted hand,
While muddled thoughts and clear thoughts clanged and passt,
Of splendid things, if life could only last,
And long-dead friends, and kindnesses undone
And good things hoped or planned
That life would none of: then he took his sword,
Red once at Badon, red, now, from his son.
He bound about its hilt the priested cord;
He said, "The tide is setting from the land,
And I, too, set; but yet, before I go,
This that King Uther, yes, and Ambrose bare
In battles with the pirates everywhere,
Our House's Luck, this Britain's Bright Defense,
My Fortune in the flow,
Must take the ebb, if I have strength to fling."
He tottered to the water and stood tense;
The moon and the moon's image watched the King,
The weltering water ceased her to-and-fro.
He gathered up his dying strength, he swung
The weapon thrice and hurled it to the stream;
It whirled like a white gannet with a gleam,
Turning blade up in moonlight as it fell;
Bright-flying foam-drops stung
The steel, the spray leapt as it disappeared.
"No other man shall have you: all is well,"
King Arthur said; and now his moment neared;
The tide was ebbing and his heart was wrung.
A curlew called: he fell upon his knees,
And lo, his failing eyes beheld a ship
Burning a path athwart the water-rip;
The water gleamed about her like soft flame,
Her gear creaked in the breeze;
Towards him, nosing through the soaken sand,
To rest her at his side, the vessel came.
His Helper held the tiller in her hand;
His Friend was come, to comfort his disease.
Then seven queens upraised the dying king
And laid him quiet in a bed aboard,
And balmed the gashes smitten with the sword;
Immortal life upon their faces glowed.
Then they began to sing:--
"We bear him to the isle of Avalon,
Where everlasting summer has abode."
An unheard summons bade the ship begone,
She headed seawards with a stooping wing.
Lucan and Bedwyr, propping as they might,
Watched as she passed: they heard the singing range
Through secrets of things hidden and things strange,
And things of beauty not yet found in thought.
The ship seemed made of light,
She travelled by the thrilling of the hymn;
The race a moment with her passing fought,
Then she was on into the distance dim,
And on beyond, and on, and out of sight.
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