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Michael A Gibbs

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The Highwayman's Sword
by Michael A Gibbs
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Recent poems by Michael A Gibbs
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What can I say? It is what it is.

Handed down from harsher times—

No more a part of knavish crimes—

But put away to rust and rot—

A tarnished blade that sin begot.

 

A highwayman, retired at last

In wealth and shame of deeds now past,

His sword a blood-stained memory

At rest within eternity.

 

Except…his son, a lad of ten

Retrieved the blade that might have been

A soldier’s piece of honor bright,

Not honed to serve his father’s plight.

 

And so, in time, the son became

An offspring of his father’s shame.

The sword again unsheathed to take

The blood of men who would forsake

 

Both pride and gold to keep their lives—

Return again to son’s and wives.

But blood and coin were often not

The son’s delight, which was somewhat

 

Attuned to aiding those he chose

As worthy of relief of woes.

Yet golden coins from silken purse

He took from those whose fate was worse.

 

The silver sword would flash and strike,

Which made him then his father’s like.

His name revered among the poor

Whose homes were in the bogs and moor.

 

But cursed by those of noble birth

Who thought themselves of better worth.

“The highwayman must die,” they said.

“The commoners cannot be fed

 

“By stolen coin or bloodied blade,

Or broken laws the King forbade.

So find him where his sin is spent

And give him quarter to repent,

 

“But should he hinder British law,

Allow no option to withdraw,

But thrust thy blades with lawful pride

Into the heart of one allied

 

“With heinous crimes against the throne

And murder he cannot atone.”

And so the knights—the realm’s elite—

Went forth in numbers to defeat

 

A highwayman whose silver sword

Had now indeed the truth restored

To peasantry of want and toil

Who tilled for life in English soil.

 

*   *   *

A certain maiden, Anne by name,

Her cottage in the moor aflame

With autumn color, red and gold,

And beauty of a kind untold.

A certain maiden, Anne by name,

 

She gave her time to sheep and foul—

Feared nought but wolves, their silent prowl,

For wool and feathers often found

Descried the deeds of wolves unbound.

 

She drove her cart, one-horse drawn,

‘Cross bog and moor at dreary dawn,

And on the road, a highwayman

Accosted blue-eyed Lady Anne.

 

He drew his blade and smiled at her,

Which set her heart and hopes astir.

His steed was black and dark as sin,

His features firm, kind eyes within

 

A face unmarked except by scars,

And smile that shamed the morning stars.

“Who dares to trod my early road?

What might ye have to here unload?”

 

“I am but Anne of bog and moor

With wool and eggs I did procure

To sell or trade on village street,

Perhaps for grain of rye or wheat.”

 

“My Lady Anne, ye needn’t go—

Ye’d rather trade with me, although,

“Ye’ll have to wait until I own

More of what I have on loan.

 

“So spin for me a coat of green,

That I might walk the woods unseen.

And furthermore, I ask ye this:

Your smile before I have your kiss.”

 

“You are the one the knights abhor,

The Highwayman of wildwood lore.

I shall not trade with such as you—

As for a kiss, on what virtue

 

Might you stand to ask for that?

I’d sooner kiss a water rat.

So, use your blade, you wolfish cur,

Or stand aside, I ask you, sir.”

 

The maid rode on, not out of sight,

When came his call with fresh delight,

“A coat of green, my Lady Anne,

To fit your beau, The Highwayman.

 

*   *   *

 

‘Cross bog and moor the winter screamed—

Would never end, or so it seemed

To peasants deep in hunger’s hold

In anguish now from wind and cold.

 

Upon the wind one bitter noon

The lilt of voice—an Irish tune.

From hovels cold the peasants ran

To see who came—The Highwayman!

 

The meat and grain upon his mount,

Divided freely—equal count,

And, too, he had both wine and gin

Just pilfered from a highway inn.

 

He saved apart some wine and bread

For Lady Anne, though she had said

He was a wolfish cur, and that

She’d sooner kiss a water rat.

 

She closed her door at his approach—

That knave that robbed both house and coach.

But oh, his smile, so bright, so real,

She wondered not that she should feel

 

He may not be just what he seems.

Was he not one the poor esteems?

Did he not give to those in need?

She might at least in part concede

 

That “wolfish cur” was somewhat harsh

For one who braved the winter marsh.

His eyes were deep, no doubt of that,

And looks to charm a water rat.

 

“My Lady Anne, are ye at home?

Or have ye gone from here to roam

Among your sheep and feathered friends?

I only came to make amends.”

 

She quickly hid the coat of green

That she had spun on nights serene,

When dreams revealed her inner glow 

For he who named himself her beau.

 

“I’ve brought ye bread and wine and cheese.

Do ye not care for gifts as these?”

Through oaken door, sweet Anne replied,

“And whom upon the highway died

 

“That you might bring such gifts as those?

From honest men, I might suppose,

Whose goods were meant for honest use—

Don’t bring them here in hope of truce.”

 

Even with her words so bitter,

She could not stop her heart a’flitter.

Ask him in, she did, and then

Bid him not to leave again.

 

Confessed her love, and also, he:

“But cannot tarry long with thee,

For England’s knights will find me here

Endangering your life so dear.”

 

He took the coat that she had made,

Then buckled on both belt and blade.

He touched the gold within her hair—

“Upon my father’s grave I swear

 

“If ye shall keep a flame for me,

I shall return, I pledge to thee,

And make my home upon the moor

Where peace and love shall be secure.”

 

*   *   *

The King was not the least amused

To know his subjects so abused.

No one with wealth was safe or sound

Until The Highwayman was found. 

 

When spring became the moor's delight,

The knights arrived in armor bright.

"We've heard The Highwayman has been

Among the peasantry and in

 

“The home of one called Lady Anne.

The King requires both maid and man

To tell us now where we can find

The rogue whose sword has been entwined

 

“With theft and greed and deeds most vile,

And spilt its victims’ blood and bile.

Take heed, ye peasants, do not lie,

Else this shall be the day you die.”

 

An unclean man of ill intent

Who thought only of his betterment

Stepped forth to whisper to a knight

“I would ask you, sir, if I might,

 

“What price have you upon his head,

To learn just where the lad has fled?”

The query came from Lecher Cran,

A canker of the peasant clan.

 

 “A silver shilling might you claim,

And promise to protect your name,

But in return, you’ll tell us true

Or know your death is overdue.”

 

“Cross bog and moor to forest deep,

Then north to higher ground, and keep

The falling waters close abreast.

The Highwayman whom you detest

 

“Resides in oaken hovel there,

but can’t be taken unaware.

His sword is made of death and gore

Of men who live or love no more.

 

“It was his father’s blade, they say,

A highwayman of yesterday.

So think ye not to pierce him through,

The man ten men cannot subdue.

 

“Take your shilling, peasant rat;

My knights need not hear of that,

For we are twelve and he but one—

The Highwayman is surely done.”

 

*   *   *

 

The arrows from an English bow,

And wielded by an unknown foe,

Flung death from forest, oak and pine—

Reduced the horde of knights to nine.

 

With love untainted and secure,

Our Lady Anne of bog and moor

Shot her arrows swift and true

To pierce their armor through and through.

 

A dying knight released his steed

Into the hand of one in need

Of speed to warn The Highwayman,

And thus, she did, our Lady Anne.

 

“Make haste my love to flee this place;

To run from knights is no disgrace.

And take with you my heart and dreams,

I have no use for them, it seems.”

 

“What have ye done, sweet lover true ,

To lose your faith in he who knew

The day would come for me to fight

For love and home and honor bright?”

 

 They clashed within a sunlit glade,

A ringing clash of blade on blade.

But even with both bow and sword,

They could not stop the armored horde

 

Of knights sent to destroy or take

A man who’d die for passion’s sake.

And die he did, that sunny day,

But Anne escaped to knights’ dismay.

 

*   *   *

When winter screams ‘cross bog and moor—

When peasantry can’t long endure—

There comes a maiden of their clan

 Who bears the blade of The Highwayman.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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