Reports arriving daily bring ominous news.
Barbarian hordes - pillaging, raping, burning
as they pour across the plain - clearly plan to use
the bridge nearby for their required mountain crossing.
For many miles the mountains range from north to south,
guarding this eastern border, for their peaks reach very tall,
with inclines steep and chasms between deep. At the mouth
of the only pass stands a long bridge, with width quite small.
The enemy must cross this bridge, making it most strategic.
It is defended by a small garrison of soldiers. So speaks
the captain, “We’ll fight this battle, ‘tho the end will be tragic.
As reinforcements, we need village men - not too old or weak.”
The plan is to send away all the women, the children, the men
unable or unwilling to fight and die. Those men staying will try
to win enough time for the king’s army, which already has been
set on the march, to arrive. “Hold three days!” is their battle cry.
Among the villagers is a handsome, strong lad of seventeen.
His betrothed, a sweet virgin, a beauty at sixteen, takes his hand,
leads him into the barn. There, a sight he has never before seen
she reveals, as she lets her garments fall. He becomes a man.
Their passion explodes; their eager, wet kisses herald hours
of coital bliss. Then says she, “See what you shall surely miss
if you stay and fight. Come away. A lifetime of love will be ours.”
“Were I to run from this duty, not even the power of your kiss
could remove the shame that would dwell inside me. No. No,
from this I must not run and hide,” he replies rather bravely,
but a quiver in his voice betrays the boy still within. “I know
you women don’t understand, but a man must act responsibly.”
So, the lad remains behind with his father to stand and fight.
His new lover, along with his mother, flee to a safe haven,
where they hope and pray through each agonizing day and night.
Three days pass…then four…now five…then comes a raven.
“A bad omen! My husband or son or both must now be dead,”
calls the mother. “We shall know before this night is done.”
It grows late. The two women huddle by the fire. They dread
the news to come…A horse rides up outside. There is only one!
The women stand, staring at the door, waiting for it to open.
One set of footsteps approaches; slowly the door begins to open.
“Please, Lord, let it be my son!” the mother is thinking.
“Please, Lord, let it be the son!” the young lover is thinking.
As the figure steps forward into the light…it is the father.
With downcast eyes, he solemnly shakes his head sideways.
“Woman, our son is dead. With all the details I won’t bother,
but he fought splendidly, displaying great valor for four days.
“The king’s army routed the barbarians. The king himself
proclaimed our son a gallant hero. He has won great fame.”
His mother sobs, “What worth is fame? He’s dead just the same!”
His lover places her hand on her abdomen, thinks to herself,
“If fortunate, we conceived a son that will soon bear his name!”