The young archduke, unluckiest of men,
Inherited a vast morass of fen.
A croaking wilderness of steaming toads,
Far from the spires of court, or law, or roads.
Within this patch of dank distended earth
The archduke's family home, his place of birth,
Ill-omened, turreted, Maison Du Lac
Stood steeped in brine and bile and at its back
Rose the first wooded slopes of Brittlemasque
That land whose dead sleep not, but wake to task
Of dire revenge or love-lost message born,
To tear a throat out, or mend heart-strings torn.
He long had shunned his home, since that ill night
Fixed first misfortune to his name - as wright
Binds subtle steel to willow-wheel's hard frame -
It bent his heart, with ill-hap's bitter fame.
Though seeking no salvation in the Deeds,
that gave dominion over swamps and weeds,
He ordered horse, and on her lively back
Rode forth to view the Citadel Du Lac.
Its averies and aperies and treacheries,
Had fallen to decay amid grey trees,
Whose branches clawed as if they meant to tear
Its walls asunder and its innards bare!
Admitting from their place beneath the logs
The speckled toads, and waterbeasts, and frogs.
Then to his helm-damped ear, a whisper twined
"I am then second to the croaking kind?
That you think no inheritance in me
Is worthy of your thought or courtesy?"
He flinched as from the shadows of Du Lac
A lady pale, white-haired, attired in black
In figure, youth-itself, in eyes all-age
Bowed low before him, low as any page.
"I wonder", he assayed, though his voice shook,
That you should dare attend, who from me took
all peace of mind, all sleep for five long years".
She interrupted, "All must end in tears.
For in this place of woe, what joy may spawn
'mid weeping cypruses, or mists forlorn,"
"No more," he said, "than witchcraft wrought in life.
My cursed paramour, my ruined wife.
I seek you not, above the ground nor laid
within your sepulcre, begone foul shade."
Then the liche wept, with graveworms at her eyes,
and creeping closer made her obseiquies
"Oh curse me not with blood within your veins,
With sweat from pulling on your courser's reins
still trembling on your hands, like dewy cast"
And then her teeth were at his throat fixed fast.
And only his main strength could turn aside
The passionate greeting of his undead bride.
"Come back to my dark bed, beneath the brine
And let us in the waterweeds entwine.
The love I scorned when living to grant you
Will pale to nothing next to that we'll do."
Even as back his limbs she bent with power
A shadow fell athwart them like a tower
of seige that moves with ponderous pomp until
Its force unleased enforces all its will.
And a sweet voice, that sounded all anew,
Announced, "Why certainly this will not do,
For howsoever things may have turned slack
There can be, only, one Chatelaine Du Lac."
In armour girded of an antique day,
The corpse-fires burning in her eyes of gray,
Her sword of tempered metal, edge aglow,
Took off the witch's head with one sear blow.
Oh, to her armored arms, the Duc does cling
as to the straw the drowning man does grip,
And many is the word that at his lip
dies utterless as he, her absent face espies,
beneath the helm which shades no cool gray eyes,
for that quick glance that painted them
for him, was but the sudden thrust of memories
and in that horn-edged helmet lies
but orbless bone and moving carapace
of beetles eating inward into space
that once was beauty's home,
the seat of grace,
and still in portrature attired in black
may be observed in Gallery Du Lac.
The Lady Demestura, who died first
(some said of poison) er he wed the worst,
A maid of noble house who laid in rest
beneath the bitterhills with sword on breast,
and still stirred forth to strike the witch-queen dead,
or at the least to free her of her head,
for death is never sure in Brittlemasque,
the land where time and graves do not hold fast.