PART I Oh, fair was Countess Isadoure, The Ladye of Leòn, And she unto her highest tower, With all her maids, is gone; A veil of lace, in modest grace, Was wrapt her brow around; Her vesture fair of satin rare Swept on the stony ground. She spake unto her wardour good: “Now, wardour, tell thou me How many years thou here hast stood To watch the far countree.” The wardour stout, he straight spake out: “Sweet ladye, there have been, Since first I clombe this lofty dome, Methinks full years fifteen. And every night, and every morn, Noontide and eve the same, I still was wont to wind my horn, For still a stranger came; Now, twice three days are fully past, I gazed both far and wide, Nor have I wound a single blast, Nor have I aught espyed.” The ladye dried her pearly tears, That flowed like summer rain: “Ah, wardour, spare a woman's fears, Go up yet once again! Perchance thine eye my lord may spy Far in the distant west, For yestereen he should have been Enfolded to this breast.” The wardour clombe the weary stair, And long and closely gazed; At last his glad shout rent the air,— “Hurrah! Saint James be praised! I see a knight—the glimmering light Just glances from his shield; His pace is slow, his plume droops low— He comes from a foughten field.” Then joyful was that ladye bright With measureless content, And forth to meet the coming knight In eager haste she went. “Now, maidens mine, bring food and wine, And spread the festal board; Soft music bring, rich incense fling, To welcome back my lord.” She placed her on a palfrey good, As well beseemed her state, And forth she rode in mirthful mood Down to the castle-gate: “Now, maidens, stay your pace, I pray, And let us gladly wait Till yonder knight shall here alight By his own castle-gate.” They had not stayed an hour's brief space Beneath that sinking sun, When, lo, with stern and darkened face That stranger knight came on; The ladye saw his brow of awe, And mark'd his greeting word, Then veil'd her eyes in wild surprise, And shriek'd, “'Tis not my lord!” His mien was sad, his crest defaced, His mail besprent with gore, He lighted off his steed in haste, Hard by the castle-door; He flung aside his helm of pride, He bent his forehead low, And scarcely knew that war's red dew Fell trickling from his brow. “Ah, ladye,” (thus the stranger said,) “Ill tidings must I tell; Your lord will surely lose his head Before the matin bell. His gallant host are slain and lost, His friends are all dispersed; The cruel Moor is at his door: Yet is not this the worst! Pent in Alhama's fort he lies, Bereft of every hope; In vain his utmost strength he tries With triple force to cope; The Moor hath sworn, ere break of morn The fortress shall be won, And he will hang in ruthless scorn Its valiant garrison. Your lord commends him to your love, And prays, in piteous kind, That ere the morrow shine above, Some succour thou mayst find. He bade me tell, that, if he fell, His heart's last hope should be—” No further word that ladye heard,— Down in a swoon sank she! Then loud her maidens wail and weep, And mourn so sad an hour, They lift her up in deathful sleep, They bear her to her bower; And loyal grief for their good chief Spreads far on every part, Through all Leòn there is not one But bears a heavy heart. PART II In proud Medina's castle fair The rosy wine flows bright, For proud Medina's valiant heir Brings home his bride to-night. Mirth smiles on every lip, and shines In every gleaming eye, And the sound of merry laughter joins With lutes and minstrelsy. Full many a knight of high degree Sate at Medina's board, But the morning-star of chivalry Was he, their stately lord. The haughtiest monarchs bowed them down In reverence of his fame, And the trumpet-tones of loud renown Were weary of his name. The health passed joyously about That table fair and wide, And every guest with eager shout Gave honour to the bride. The old hall rang to their joyous peal;— And, lo, on its sides so high, The clattering sound of the shaken steel Gave faint but fierce reply! Was that the sound of lance or sword 'Gainst the mailèd hauberk ringing, Which circles above the festive board, And the lordly banners swinging? Lo, every lip forsakes the cup! Lo, every knight starts breathless up! For wheeling around That ancient hall, Came the faint, faint sound Of a trumpet-call,— Sinking and swelling, slow and soft, And lost in the night-wind's whistle oft. It ceased, that low and fitful sound, It died on the evening gale, And the knights they all gazed grimly round, And the ladies all wax'd pale; The baron bold was first to break The silence of his hall: “What may this bode?”—'twas thus he spake— “Now rede me, warriors all!” Then up spake Guzman of Mindore— A holy monk was he— “'Tis the sound,” quoth he, “of the coming Moor; Oh, let us turn and flee!” Him answer'd straight Sir Leoline, A true and stalwart knight, “'Tis the sound of the coming Moor, I ween; Let us go forth and fight.” Then every gauntlet sought its sword With a quick and friendly greeting, And a clash arose at the festive board, But not of goblets meeting. Up sprang each knight; like a beam of light Forth flash'd each trenchant blade, And the backward start of the quivering sheath A stirring answer made— When, lo, on the breeze again was borne The murmuring note of that distant horn! And see, where up the hall proceeds A sad yet stately group; A ladye, clad in mourning weeds, Is foremost of the troop. Her tearful eyes betray her grief, Her mien shews her degree; And forward to the wondering chief She steps right gracefully. She wrung her hands, and down she kneeled, So sorrowful, so fair, That heart must have been triply steeled That could resist her prayer. Scarce have her trembling lips the power Their suppliant words to frame, She sinks upon the marble floor, Murmuring her husband's name! Her husband's name!—unwelcome sound In proud Medina's ears: A wrathful whisper circles round The band of knights and peers; From lip to lip is past the word, In tones of fierce rebuke, “Is it the wife of Cadiz' lord Who seeks Medina's duke?” Alas, that deadly feud should be Between two hearts so brave and free! Alas, that long ancestral hate Such kindred souls should separate! Up rose that lady at the word, And spake with queenly brow: “It is the wife of Cadiz' lord Who seeks Medina now! I come to tell my husband's plight,— A captive doomed is he; And I charge thee as a Christian knight Go forth and set him free! Pent in Alhama's fort he lies, Bereft of every hope; In vain his utmost strength he tries With triple force to cope; The Moor hath sworn ere break of morn The fortress shall be won, And he will hang in ruthless scorn Its valiant garrison. Then canst thou, wilt thou, not forget The stormy words when last ye met?” “Say rather, will I not contemn The heart that could remember them? Fear nothing, gentle ladye,—I Am slave to love and chivalry. Let each who keeps his honour bright And holds his conscience free, Let each who boasts the name of knight, Forward and follow me!” He spake, and shook his flashing sword, Then darted from the festal board. Him follow'd Guzman of Mindore With words of counsel wise: “Oh, cross not thou thy castle-door On such a mad emprise! Recall, recall thy hasty word, Nor set false Cadiz free!” But out then spake that generous lord, “He is mine enemy!” And never another word spake he, But on his steed he sprang; And forth he rode right joyously, As though for his wedding revelry The merry church-bells rang: O glorious time, and noble race, Where hate to honour thus gave place! Behind him then his vassals crowd In legions bold and bright, The prancing of their coursers proud, It was a stately sight; And the music of their eager swords, In martial fury clashing, Was like the ocean-waves' wild hordes Over the dark rocks dashing. Like the torrent plunging from the rock, Or the lightning from the skies, So rolled the thunder of their shock Against their enemies! How should a mortal foe resist The charge of such a band? They scatter'd like an April mist Cleft by the sun-god's hand! Brief was the battle! Fast and fierce, Ere its first moment parts, A thousand Christian falchions pierce A thousand Moslem hearts! The gates are gained, the walls are cleared, The citadel is won, That work of victory appeared To end ere it begun. Oh, brightly on Alhama's fort The morning sun was beaming, Where many a chief of lordly port Stood in his blue mail gleaming; Fair is the scene its towers disclose In their high banquet-hall; But the first embrace of those two foes Was a fairer sight than all! Oh, fast through all the Spanish land That victory was told, Right gladsome was King Ferdinand, Right gay his warriors bold; From lip to lip the bright tale darts, All laud the high emprise; But the union of those generous hearts Was dear in God's own eyes!
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