Ballad of Briars, By Stephanie Alderton
Editor's note: Here's the next winning entry we are featuring Marprilay catch-up edition. The poem is worth waiting for.
They thought I was asleep.
But all night through the dark castle halls
I wandered and I watched.
I saw my father asleep on his rich carved throne,
And he frowned as if scolding me in his dreams.
I saw my mother’s sad, pretty face
And heard her soft snores, her wishing.
My maid Betsy was curled up by my bed.
She looked very small on the floor,
So I finished tidying my room for her, a surprise.
And Pierre the stable boy
Slept on the straw beside my sleeping mare.
He looked more handsome when asleep
And I had always wished he was my sweetheart,
So I left a kiss on his cheek when I passed by.
The dust blew and my finger throbbed.
I wandered and watched all night
Around the dark castle walls,
But no one woke up to speak to me
And the breathing silence seemed to whisper strange things.
Then from the high tower I saw the black hedge,
The black, ugly thorns that had swallowed the rose garden.
I saw a young man ride up, brightly clothed,
And the Sun flashed on his sword.
I watched him hack, thrust, curse, pray,
And I watched the thorns pierce him through
And leave him hanging in their midst, a scarecrow.
I thought I heard the wails
Of all those left awake in his faraway land.
My finger bled.
In the castle dark and tall
I wandered and watched all night long.
The hedge came to be full of bones
And the wind always sounded like weeping.
I saw them fall, young men and old,
Their longing eyes turned up to my tower,
Their sweethearts’ names in their death-screams.
Then something in me said “enough.”
I tiptoed to the great locked rotten gate
And I heaved.
And I looked up to the grey sky and prayed
With all of my strength, with all of my blood,
With all my long tears and wakefulness,
Only that the empty scarecrow eyes might watch me no more.
I heaved and I prayed all night.
And when the last sodden boards fell away,
He, the last knight, was walking through a path in the hedge.
It was morning and my finger was scabbed.
They said I was asleep.
But as I watch the young knight beside me,
Listen to his deep breaths fill the silent room,
Think of the children who will wake us tomorrow,
I remember what was before he was.
I will watch him all night.
It is a small thing.
But my finger aches,
And deep in my blood, I know.
I know, I know—
This is my curse:
I was awake.
Stephanie Alderton is a creative writing student living in Colorado (with occasional visits to Middle Earth and Narnia). Her interests include: mountains, ancient trees, swords, singing, and scribbling.
Altered image originally by Arthur Moore.