I: The Templar’s Oath
I took my oath at once: I knelt at God’s Throne
And chose that path of solemn protection
Of those below me, those of calfen youth.
Honour-bound I was, damnation the threat
If I should fail; the Templar makes his deed
As good as his word. Addrest with long sword
And crest’d shield, fond and boastful with rites,
I travelled anon thither to the Keep
Where I, unsubtle paladin, would take
My place amongst God’s chosen Knights of Law.
Discounselled by none, my quest thus seemed apt;
Friends abound flocked me as I departed,
Yet still I felt in shades that something else
Watched me go: some sprite of evil deceit,
A shivering scent of remaining fear,
As if the Arch-Enemy drest my path.
But idle was I, ignored such portents
And rode further ’pon chestnut steed across
Lands my sight decided rude and wastefull,
Until I reached forested Darkthrone Keep.
At castle walls I adjourned my entrance,
Seeking rest afore I met the Lady
And Lord of Darkthrone; I did not question
What it was that kept me from those cold gates,
And spent hours steadying holy resolve,
Drifting to dreams of penance for sinners
I had known in my younger, darker years,
When I was strangely passioned, and before
I donned steel plate, sought yron resolve,
And took the oath that bore me to these gates.
At dawn, I rattled my blade at the bars,
And then called out my regal intentions:
At once the gates opened, and I crossed ’neath
Gothic architrave bearing cherubim,
Finding myself upon great garden path
Where autumn leaves lay dying in summer.
’Twas not the entertainment I thought of:
No slaves to greet me, only sallow sound,
As if Hell’s hordes sang behind the great doors
I stood before, thinking of my bared oath.
The castle of Darkthrone lingered tall, proud
Of its embyron, increate omens
That trickled through my aching, heben sight.
With sword, shield and armour of embossed steel
I stood, heralded myself to the keep;
And likewise, Darkthrone heralded to me,
So I suffered my doubts and quested on:
Iron doors stood agape, awaiting me.
Nothing swam in the ebon shade beyond,
But with that yron resolve, I stepped forth.
II: The Crying Darkness
Beyond the walls of icen jet construct
I walked, seeking Lord and Lady bearing
Noble heritage, whose absence defied
The words of the council who had sent me;
In lieu of advice or royal presence,
I could only but walk griesly shadows
Tentatively, making known my presence
By calling, my armour clanking withall.
Through corridors I crossed, alone if not
For the black-sheened walls and the ghostly wind.
At last, the whispers layd low, and I heard
A cry, youthful and full of aw; whimpers
Of a lost lad, and in my gall rose might
Enough to sally with haste in my step,
To seek the source of my righteous despight.
I weened it to be close, and thus I ran
With all my knightly sleight to yonder source;
Young cries bringing to my thoughts memories
Of shrights of my erstwhile companions, alive
Then but since passed in pain; o, pitteous!
At dusky corner I found the poor lad,
Ensconced from some cruel, invisible foe;
Wareless of my presence, I took his hand
And spoke: “Lad, I am a knight; an errant
With mind to take a vengence on those who
Harm young friends like thee — I am Allister,
Sent from the city to this keep upon
A singular quest, to protect and fight
For the calfen youth who cowers in dark;
With this oath, I shall take thee to safety.”
The boy quelled his cries and in his soft eyes
Came a recognition; desperation
That I shared to now leave this eldritch tomb,
This catacomb I felt was lost to Hell.
He cast his eyes to me, and he thus spoke:
“Sir Knight, I know not where is my cousin;
I cannot leave her here. Those cries were her
Name: but she answers me not, and so I
Fear she is lost below, beneath the ground:
I beg of thee, find her, and take me with.”
I discovered the lad’s name was Titus,
His lost cousin known as Desdemona.
With fury and audible rage, I swore
To uphold his cousin’s life, no matter
How deep she had fallen; I grasped his arm
And we set to embrew ourselves below
In hope of rescuing the fair girl-child.
Through labyrinthine corridors we flew
Until we reached great hall lined with gargoyles:
And at once their foul mouths began to speak.
III: The Masked Icons
“We seven Masks dictate thy oath, Sir Knight:
We shall judge thy sleight, thy very honour;
And to prove thyself worthy of thy name,
Thou must perform with true precision.”
Their cruel, foul faces looked down upon me.
“To be a Knight of Law, thou must respect
Those who came before; for they signify
What thou wish to be, thy own quest withall.
Art thou understanding, Sir Allister?”
I gripped my long sword, and Titus’ hand.
“Who art thou, to speak unannounced?” I cried,
“Who art thou to tell me my quest? Thou art
Demons, foul sprites, gargoyles! I should strike thee!”
An infest of laughter barraged my mind,
Unlike any chorus of Heaven born;
Were these allies of Lucifer himself?
“Nay, Templar; thou cannot strike us! Foolish
Young wight, these are but icons of ourselves—
And we shall choose whether thee, young paladin,
Shall be forever damned to Gehenna!”
I could do naught but kneel in sad despight,
And hold my sight upon their carven looks.
“Then let it be so,” uttered I, “For I
Am not the Devil’s friend, but let it known
That I shall not forget thy cruel misdeeds.
What must I do now to fulfil my oath?”
The masked icons whispered as Acheron
Itself might, the disembodied chatter
Of souls bound to an unkind life, dreaded;
And then they spoke of my approaching fate.
“Beneath the body of Darkthrone Keep lies
The Vault of the Eidolon; hereafter
Thou shalt find Desdemona, if thou seek
Her: and if harm comes to her or Titus,
Then thou shalt know nations of pain and shame
In the bowels of dark, lusty Gehenna.
If these lost childs are delivered unmarred,
Thou shalt be known as a Templar Errant
Worthy of the Kingdom of God Himself.
This is thy only quest, Templar. Now stand.”
Upon my own two feet I rose again,
Strapped my shield to my back, long sword in hand,
And ushered Titus away from the fiends.
I crossed the hall with foresight, exclaiming:
“It shall be done, Icons — and then it ends,
For I shall oversee thy destruction!”
As the great doors to the vault slid open,
Again the Arch-Enemy’s chorus sang;
Murky and oblique, it revyled my soul:
Brought to mind my final destination.
IV: The Vault
In darkness we descended, quite afeared,
’Tho my face kept stern, to ease the young lad.
As impious thoughts invaded my wits,
I held yron resolve above them all—
And prayed to the Lord Above for His grace.
As the steps waned, shadows arrived aggrieved;
I heard Titus cry out, and I knew why so:
For forms lingered just beyond sight, beyond
The eterne rite of vision; eidolons
Of those who had perished in that cold vault.
I held the lad close to my side, creeping
Through the black maze, with prayers not to be seen
By the ghost-shapes with hollow, mourning eyes,
Following the distant, stricken murmurs
I felt to be of youthful human source.
My sight slowly renewed itself, the walls
Of the vault tangible, Cyclopean,
Hemd with treasure: rubies, gold, and silver;
Runes of origin cryptic and foreign;
They shewed within them secrets yet untold.
With the Good Lord in thought did I view
These heretical patterns; for they bled
Into my mind, spoke of riches, wenches—
Diamonds and lust, liquors, those which I
Had cast aside in the name of great God;
I saw a thousand futures that called me,
Tempted my yron resolve in exchange
For the child under this knight’s protection;
But with the Father in my heart I pushed
Aside such Satanic dreams of evil.
Now in my sight appeared the slim outline
Of girl-child; Titus then spoke her presence
As that of young cousin Desdemona.
In childish dress she sat, singing a plaine
Of soft melancholy that thrild my ears.
Titus lifted her to her feet afore
The ghouls took care to notice us at all;
And, arm in arm, we yfere did return
Through many of the twisted corridors,
The Stygian runes winking at me still.
Afore we reached those rising stairs to light,
A hand did touch my arm; I stood aside
And behind my self the childs I did shield:
But standing there amongst the runes, clad in
Flaggy dress and of auburn curling hair,
Was a girl — her visage that as the child
Behind me. I pointed my sword forward,
And she winced. “Help me,” she cried, “I am lost,
I am no ghost, I seek my cousin, please.”
Titus dropped my grasp; I turned with a cry.
V: The Eidolon
Titus was gone; Desdemona also:
Or, who I had thus weened to be the girl—
Before the shadows sunk low, and this child,
The one crying at my sleeve, had appeared.
I screamed for my God — for this trickery
Had confounded me, and now I was lost,
Like the children I had promised to help.
Dreams of Gehenna swept my weakened wits—
Hellfire, Stygian torture for evermore,
My failure designed by Satan himself.
I brought myself round as the shades took form,
Their limbs stretched to pluck the girl back within
The growing mass of shadows she had fled.
My sword still drawn, I swung it towards them;
But only air met the blade, nothing more.
To the girl, I spoke: “I am Allister,
And I will protect thee with my own life.”
With hardiment, the girl and I did flee
The encroaching army of lost spectres,
Searching the shadowy pits for the boy.
Without fire, my waning sight did fail;
My faith was put in Desdemona’s eyes,
Refined from days alone in the darkness.
At our back, the shadows, the eidolons,
Abjured enemies of the light, they crawled
The black corridors in a hungry search.
Still voices did rattle in my frail wits,
Beseeching me to sacrifice the girl.
My hand grasped her tiny hand with resolve,
Until she finally pointed it out:
Two figures did dwell deep in the shadows,
One quite small; as I approached, girl in hand,
I spoke: “Release the boy. I am with God;
I am just. Thou cannot defeat me, beast.”
The second figure materialised:
In shining plate, with solemn eyes, he stood;
His long sword raised, he smiled; for he was me.
My eidolon came forth, and struck out true—
Poinant pain filled my side, where armour lacked;
In wrath, my own sword lunged, but met nothing.
Keeping my footing, I stared myself down
As blood dripped to the floor. I struck again,
But my blade passed through the eidolon’s form.
“Thou will die a mere failure, Allister,
And then all will be mine, as was promised.
Thy God will not receive thee,” spoke the ghost,
And its spectral blade did perce me once again.
I thought of the Lord, of his shining throne—
I saw the calfen youths at vile mercy—
And plunged my blade once more at the spectre.
VI: The Mark
As sword-tip struck the wraith’s false plate armour
It glowed with heavenly fever, my blood
Seeping to the ground as the eidolon
Cried out in fiendish dismay, thus surprised
At the power of the Word of the Lord.
“Thou art decayd, thou ruthful entity,”
I declared, my disguiz’d ribs engendered
To seep upon my now-rustie armour;
And thereafter the wraith faded in shock,
Leaving only the children on their feet.
I rose, bringing myself once more to stand,
And spoke: “Thou art in safety now; we must
Leave at once, however, for this tomb
Holds many horrors we could not believe.
The Lord will deliver us; let us go.”
As we crossed back through the ashen hallways,
Young Titus and Desdemona embraced,
Sharing tears that fell alongside my blood.
My spirite, I knew, was draining; I would
Die before the day was done, in honour.
The corridors were silent; the spectre,
The eidolon, exorcised for the time,
Could no longer bring harm to the children.
As we three ascended the stairs, I glimpsed
Upon Titus’ neck a mark. I spoke:
“Lad, what is this?” — and I examined it;
It was small, but bloody; marked by the ghost?
Titus spoke in a soft hush, as in shame:
“It hurt me. It had sharp claws. It hurt me.”
“Well, lad,” I spoke, “it can’t hurt thee any more.”
We crossed the threshold into the great hall,
The stony gargoyles staring down at us.
I fell to my knees, now too weak to walk;
The children turned. I ushered them closer:
“Leave this place, fair youths. Go and live thy lives.”
With tears, they embraced me, and turned and left.
I looked up at the grotesques, my teeth clenched.
“I have given my life so they may live,”
I uttered. “Let me die now, and ascend.”
I heard a grim laughter, and their voices
Began their tormenting, Hellish chatter:
“Thy quest has been vaine, young Sir Allister;
For the boy was harmed, and thou the sole cause.”
“Deceit!” I cried, “Titus walked out alive!”
My vision failed, and I could see naught, nor
Could I speak thereafter, tho how I wished.
“He was marked by the eidolon, fool-knight:
And the clause was that he would be unmarred.
Thus thou hast failed, and soon thou wilt be dead;
Another knave prone to misween’d bruteness—
Another knave borne unto Gehenna!”
O cruel failure! O wicked ridicule—
Pared down, wounded, but the boy did escape;
My body’s journey was done—
Thus my sight did wane, and yron resolve
Fled my form; at end of all life—
I heard (in broken rattles)
Arcane, hideous, cackling gargoyles,
As, in death at last, I collapsed: bent forth
As life-water drained through
Cuirass, and at—
Once, blind and mute and—
Out of God’s own time:
Felt my good ghost desert me at once,
And knew myself cursèd to a vile fate:
Quite gnawed I would be, gnashing and weeping,
Destined to burn eternal in the realm
Of wicked Moloch and Master Satan,
The churning, stenching pit of God’s design:
And such was I borne by braying shadows—
A failed knight and no more than a sinner—
Unto the Stygian pain of cruel Gehenna.