I. The Knight
O'Neill returned to the Irish Sea
From the Holy Land and Holy See,
Defender of Rome and now dispensed
To protect all tithes and family rents
Since Father and Uncle fell to the sword
Of sil Conchobar who would take to be lord
All his covetous eye could see,
Be it rock or fen near the Irish Sea.
Disheveled he was by every night's fire
Unless there was some welcoming squire
Or turret nearby where eyes appear
For souls or profit exchanged for gear.
But tonight, ah tonight, he'd rest upon hay,
Mere leagues from home, two nights away,
Offered to him by a comrade in arms
Who spoke quite gaily of his daughter's charms.
"Aífe," he called approaching the moat,
For His Holiness and the bishops wrote
All young men should fight for the Lord
And who so remained to carry a sword
Was Satan incarnate with pox from hell,
And there should be sent with such pell-mell
By any sly archer who might aim,
Be it old man, hag, or supple young dame.
"Supple, indeed, she is that and more,"
His dark side said as he handed to her
The letter her father McSweeney wrote,
Bidding her "Welcome this handsome rogue
Who fought with me Mohammed's horde.
Be gracious, Child, I gave him my word.
McSweeney, though a scamp I may be,
Honors comrades with loyalty."
Her skin was fair as a lily is white
To temper the mind that tried as it might
To relish awhile the homemaker's art:
Fagots on fire to comfort the heart
And a moonlit serving of mutton stew,
But darkness repeated its ballyhoo
In the young man O'Neill, muscled and moved
By this colleen so fair.
"Too far removed,"
He said to himself, much longer now felt
In loins as he thought, "in the desert I dwelt.
I heard the refrains, the campfire tales
Of swarthy young things, dancing in veils,
But young men found toothless old hags
By desert tents wrapped up in their rags
Whilst old men sang of prior pursuits,
Then yanked alone their mandrake roots."
Suddenly shy, she now lowered her eyes,
Bidding O' Neill twice stuttered good nights.
"Strange now it seems for blush on her face,"
He thought to himself, "whatever disgrace,
Alas, have I brought to this fair colleen?
What have I said or what has she seen
To hasten away and seem so aloof?
He stared himself down, "Aye, there's the proof,
But why take offense? This lady fair
Must think of such. Indeed, I declare
'Tis bed where I'll take her, there to intend
To prance like a cock would prance for its hen."
II. The Morning
Trouble me not, I beg, with thy tears,
For as the deadly sil Conchobar nears
My people, I must be with them to fight
This evil man. Had I stayed one more night,
I fear I might not have left thee
And this idyllic hamlet. Believe me,
Aífe, 'twas body and soul I did feel,
And I shall return.
"How now, Aífe," she said to herself,
"To take his note sweet and thereby shelve
It in my heart and be a maiden played?
Perhaps a wife who waits until peace is staid
Among men? Ah, dear girl, thou shalt wait
Forever in such a case, for the fate
Of men is to kill each other in name
Of God, property, or merely fame.
I am sure his note was but a facile lie
As another 'good wench' slept nearby
From a script often scratched before
With speedy hand and then to the door
And his waiting horse, trained not to neigh
Giving cause for alarm.....
His touch was soft as his body was warm
With love, and love shall never do me harm.
'Tis settled then. McSweeney'd say the same:
'Go to him, Love, and if 'twas but a game
For him, kick him in the balls lest he
Do to another colleen
The same such thing, but first see McShane,
That devil of a priest, unashamed
But fess thee up for sure, Aífe, for who can tell,
If love one-sided be, may two still burn in hell?'"