Legends of King Arthur – Merlin’s Metamorphoses

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(The metamorphoses of the young Prince Arthur, then under the tutelage of the Wizard Merlin…)

Tench

Flick of fin and gulp of throat
What fun to swim down in the moat!
Flick of muscle, shiny scale
Who’d believe a student’s tale
If he said he’d transmogrify
Into a small fish by-and-by?
If wizard-taught, then well may he
One day perforce a fish may be!

But when facing the predatory pike
Who at the moat’s dank bottom there holds sway
With awful power: teeth that snap and strike
The weak, the lame, and too the unwary
The boy-turned-tench his vital lesson learned
What power can do – and too what it cannot.
A kingly lesson: though with danger earned.
How needful for a king of Camelot!
Up to the bank, spurning cold waters deep –
Where predatory jaws there never sleep –
To reassume his own form back on land
His human shape assuming on demand.

Merlin

Feathers rustle, chirping squawk.
Upon his perch – the pigeon hawk.
Face the windows, searching why
He’s not allowed into the sky?
Hawking, diving, killing game –
Waiting here is not the same
As drinking blood from a new-kill
Or soaring through the air with skill
To then return to claim reward.
Hawking is an aerial sword!

When the merlins line the mews
For resting, each their perch they choose
And speak in voices low but clear –
For they the softest sounds can hear.
While speaking of what they enjoy:
In-listens close the hawk-once-boy.
The pigeon-hawk? Who is this guest?
To stay here – he must past the test!
The guest accepts the test with gladness
Till confronted with the madness
Of a damaged hunting bird
Confront your fears! Without a word
Face down the eyes deranged and crazed:
The courage of his heart displays.
Lunge and tear – dodge-down, escape
Then reassume the human shape.
Dodge and weave! To live – be swift!
This lesson is his teacher’s gift.

Ant

Live ants in armies march and drill
Deep-delving into their ant-hill
To labour, build defensive screen
To do – or die – all for their queen!

Their deeds for royalty all ants do give.
To die is good. To serve is but to live.
All for their monarch. Every day their thought
Is: how best raise the honour of her court?
The soldier-ants – their strength doth guard the weak.
The workers – work. To serve the hive all seek.
The boy-turned-ant works daily as their slave
Seeing the workers work, until the grave
Receives her own again, their bodies all
Are recycled as finally they fall.
The workers, worn: their carcasses imbued
With value still: recycled to be food
To feed the hatching larva. Cycles life
From birth to grave: with toil, and sometimes strife.
This enervating law the boy descries
While working, seeing this with his own eyes.
Release from ant-bound slavery is sought
The boy then reappears, consumed in thought.

Owl

Look and listen. Launch and flit.
Soar in shadow – small owlet!
Hearing sharper than them all –
Listen! Hear the creatures call
And stumble, running through the dark.
Claws clinging to crumbling bark.
Night-eyes see deeply into shade.
Launch! Soar! Swoop! The killing’s made
Dinner for an owl: one meal.
Now up on silent pinions steal:
Up, away, by bole, by tree
Hunting, flying silently.

The boy-turned-owl moves silently. By night
None other soars as quietly in flight
As does the owl. Select, for each task then
Who is most suited: whether beast or men.
Kill what and when you must: and never more.
The owl the young man’s shape does then restore.

Goose

Geese take wing! Now soaring! Fly!
Rise into the endless sky!
Boundaries are but of earth:
Skies unbounded! The world’s girth
Encompassed by the paths we fly
The very clouds go tumbling by!

The boy-turned-goose his wings moves aerially
And gazes on the world ethereally
Cutting across the liquid paths of air
Seeing the big picture. Perspective there
Is real. How can land-squabbles matter?
The earth is wide! Like so much geese-mad chatter
Is politicking over such rich soil
Which men consume, as angry wars embroil
Each kingdom against kingdom. Sordid gain
Kindles a king to envy once again!
To be a king: perspective must be true!
And the big picture must be kept in view!
A shimmer – and the magic change is wrought.
The young man re-emerges, wrapped in thought.

Badger

Dig and delve! Dig deep the earth
Explore the country of your birth
From underside, where the sun’s rays
Are hid in endless night. The days
Pass by unnoticed underneath
The earth. Each burrow is a sheath
Concealing life that it protects.
To live here, one at last expects
An inner peace to settle in
And fill one’s mind. Deep reflection
In solitary night well pays
The loss of a few sunny days.

The boy-cum-badger looks around the hall
And contemplates the meaning of it all.
Each animal is given its own tools –
As: teeth, claws, fur, strong limbs. The God who rules
Gave each one what they needed. Such His plan.
So what did good God give when he made man?
Humanity. What is it? Just a brain?
No – more. A soul? Indeed. But to be plain:
A man is more than animated sod.
A man is meant to image forth his God!
To rule. To reign. To worship. And to think!
A whirl of magic-thunder. In the blink
Of time, an ex-badger and young man stands.
His claws no more – he feels again two hands!

Each beast therefore its own wisdom may bring
To teach the lad Merlin trained to be king!

Legends of King Arthur – Arthur’s Fostering

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From babe to boy. From boy to man
Arthur embarks on his lifespan.
Inside the hall the fosterling
Is unaware he will be king.
But Merlin, with observant eyes
Keeps a close watch in worn disguise
To keep King Uther in the dark:
Whose murderous, jealous wrath would spark
Into a blaze of bloody rage
Of killing and gory rampage.
So Merlin’s lips are firmly shut.
Arthur life remains safe. But
One slip! Assassins would arrive
From Uther commissioned to rive
The life from out poor Arthur’s corpse.
As chanced to poor Gorlois, perforce.

As Merlin watches, while he waits
He thinks. And thinking – hesitates:
Debating what he should reveal
To Arthur – when his lips unseal
His birth, his lineage, destiny –
Not yet. But soon perhaps. Maybe.

As Arthur grows into a man
He learns of knighthood best he can.
By day, his lessons by the bell.
He studies hard – and learns them well.
His tutors his quick mind well-led.
Including Merlin’s self, ’tis said.
Howsobeit, young Arthur learned
And mental work he never spurned.
Nor did he fail learning to fight
As well as any armoured knight.

Igraine is dead. Uther yet lives
Awhile. His future Merlin gives
A little longer to prepare.
And then his fosterling must fare
Into the world, fostered no more
To walk the road Fate has in store.

So Merlin watches. Merlin waits.
Entrusting to the threesome Fates
When Uther dies – aha! Till then
Arthur is hid from eyes of men.

Legends of King Arthur – The Birth of Arthur Duo

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A woman fair. King Uther’s lust.
A mighty Lord. A broken trust.
A baby out of wedlock born
Upon a frosty, gellid morn
Delivered into Merlin’s hands
Because the wizard understands
The desperate, plunging twists of fate –
The call of love. The strength of hate.
The bastard babe took far away
Before the sun rose high that day.

Sir Gorlois was a mighty Lord
His wrath as sharp as his longsword.
When Uther’s lustful heart turned fey
He tried to put Gorlois away
On missions dark and perilous:
Assassins sent to dog his steps.
Gorlois was brave, noble and strong
And Uther’s plots went always wrong.
So Uther cursed and Uther raged
As all his scheming was upstaged.
For he would plunder Golois bed
And take his wife – were Gorlois dead.

King Uther bought a witch’s spell
To serve his dastard purpose well:
A charm to glamour Uther’s build
Into the lord he wanted killed.
The magic transformed Uther’s face
To wear another in its place:
A voice like Gorlois’ voice to hear
To fool the eyes and trick the ear.
To Tintagel he hies in haste
King Uther’s lust no moments waste.
He seeks inside fair Igraine’s bed
The wife of Gorlois whom he’d wanted.
Then up betimes before the day
To ride like the whirlwind away.

Igraine learns next her lord was dead.
She swoons upon her marriage-bed.
So: with whom did she spend last night?
The very thought gives Igraine fright.
Her pregnancy advances soon
Her stomach swelling every moon.
Igraine retires quietly
In travail births her new-baby
And cries to God: what can she do?
But Merlin watched. And Merlin knew.
Incensed at Uther’s vile deed
The wizard planned and worked at speed.
Reading the stars, the night-time signs,
How so each constellation shines
He reads in wonder that the boy –
A bastard born – will fate enjoy
As King of Britain. Deep in thought
Merlin made plans deep-laid and wrought.
Privately with Igraine made:
A deal struck. Her baby laid
In mantle warm, asleep and stark
In Merlin’s hands placed after dark
Before the light of rising morn.
So Merlin fosters the newborn
In secret, knowing that one year
His glorious destiny draws near.

Igraine is wed and she is queen.
Her bastard son is never seen.
Though Merlin smiles, his vow is kept.
Igraine the secret must accept.
No hint is made. No word she speaks.
Of son the mother never seeks.
Yet Merlin perceives everything:
That Uther’s bastard will be king.

Legends of King Arthur – The Birth of Arthur Uno

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Does beauty in a woman create strife?
It may indeed – if she’s another’s wife!
King Uther wished to possess fair Igrain.
Her beauty – rare. Her honour without stain.
But Gorlois is her own true espoused knight:
Who hates King Uther, and in his despight
Removes Igraine quickly to where his castles lie
Upon the Cornish coast. His knights nearby
Gather to fight the king who’s broken trust
And wishes but to satisfy his lust.

When Merlin whispers some crafty advice
Uther the king requires no telling twice.
Igraine resides safely in Tintagel
Strong-built, well-manned, and long provisioned well.
Its walls patrolled by loyal men-at-arms
Always alert to sound warning alarms
Should any force attempt to break inside
To capture them, or molest their lord’s bride.

Merlin aids Uther only for his ends:
To fulfill prophecy. What action tends
To bring about the birth of Uther’s son
Must be – for by this child in due season
A king will rise to rule in Uther’s stead
A mighty king – is what the portent said –
To reign over Logres’ new Golden Age:
So Merlin hoped the portents did presage.

One morning Uther unto Merlin sent.
Later that day, the twain a-riding went –
Both unattended. Unmarked. None could name
Their destination. To Gorlois’ domain
The twain but lightly armed, rode on, unseen.
Gorlois’ pickets they silent ride between
As though they were but leaves blown on the breeze.
They penetrate the patrol-lines with ease.
Uther is pale and sweating. Merlin’s face
Is lined with concentration. But their pace
Is placid. Slow. Uther is fearful. Round
About he looks. But never makes a sound.
No alarm given. Are Golois’ men blind?
Uther worries the problem in his mind:
Merlin had told him that if just the two
Of them this journey made, he’d see them through.
A spell! Of course! Merlin’s face frowned in thought
A moment Uther’s eyes discerned, which caught
The wizard speaking softly-chanted spell.
Uther tried to relax. All would be well.

The twain at Tintagel would soon arrive.
But how to enter? Merlin must contrive
Another spell which will transform his shape:
He speaks and gestures. Upwards from the nape
His snowy locks submerge in ruddy-brown!
His face changed too! Sir Brickel’s face is shown –
Gorlois’ retainer. Next over the king
Merlin speaks certain words, also waving
His hand in curious motions slow and wide
Uther as Gorlois stands beside his side.

At dusk the twain ride to the postern gate.
Which opens quickly. Smiling servants wait.
They’d thought their lord would not come back so soon:
His quick return they welcome as a boon –
Gorlois is well-liked by his knights and men.
They give him welcome to his keep again.
The faux-Gorlois would quickly make his way
To Gorlois’ chambers. Until break of day
The magick his appearance will maintain
Enough to fool even Lady Igraine:
Whom he enjoys passionately all night.
Merlin – as Brickel – stayed up till first light
Signaled departure. They left by the same
Postern they’d entered, leaving as they came.

Sir Gorlois died abroad the very night
Igraine conceived. She worried how she might
Yet bear a child when her lord had died?
And if he had been absent from her side:
Whose child within her womb did daily grow?
The lady was perturbed: she did not know.
Her secret was well kept: for her good name
She’d never sully by a public shame.
The babe once born would to the holy church
Be dedicated. None would her besmirch
Her honour. This at least the lady’s plan.
Nine months later when her birth-pains began –
A midwife in attendance – came the boy.
Igraine some moments held him, to enjoy
His newborn warmth. When once he was asleep
The midwife walked him through the silent keep
Obeyed his lady’s orders. At the door
A monk stood waiting, patient. Once she’s sure
He was the man, the babe with gentle hands
She gives to him, as her lady demands.
The monk gives her a blessing. Signs the cross
And leaves the midwife with a sense of loss
That newborn babes could shame a lady so.
How could that be? ‘Twas better not to know.

The monk moved quickly. For despite his age
His weathered face was kind, and mild, and sage.
A shimmer – and the monk was gone for good –
And in his place stood Merlin! To the wood
He sped to seek his horse, which he untied
And in the saddle, fast began to ride.
The babe with Merlin disappeared from sight
Both like dark shadows merged into the night.
The babe will live – Merlin to this will see
The boy will grow safe to maturity
Somewhere secret, under an assumed name
For some years until the right time came.

It came about King Uther wed Igraine
Although Uther ordered Sir Gorlois slain.
And so the widow came to Uther’s bed
Although it cost her erstwhile husband’s head.
Uther delighted in his beauteous queen.
And from the shadows Merlin watched, unseen.