Actaeon, Aelfryth, Aethelred the Unready, Aethelwold, Aethylflaed, Artemis, Bathsheba, Cranbourne Chase, Dead Man's Plack, Harewood Forest, hubris, King David, King Edgar, Longparish, Narcissus, Nathan the prophet, nemesis, penitentiary, targe, The Goddess of Light, The Wild Hunt, Uriah, Wherwell, wolfhound
(Monument to Aethelwold at Longparish, Hants, UK)
I never saw myself as a ewe lamb-
a description more apt to Aethelflaed,
or ‘White Duck‘ as she was precisely known.
Not for me metaphor’s limitations.
I was once bound to the king’s betrayer.
A lie had thrown his Master off the scent.
It was reported that I was quite drab.
But the concupiscent wolfhound tracked me down.
Royal eyes didn’t have wool pulled over them.
I’d braided my hair by the burnished gleam
of my husband’s targe. I blinked at the king
and felt Edgar undress me with his gaze;
appraise me as a type of Bathsheba.
And when the king rode down from Cranbourne Chase,
Aethelwold met him in Harewood Forest,
to be stalked as ruthlessly as any prey,
his screams masked by the baying of the pack.
I’d willed that he should turn into a stag.
And maybe now he rides with The Wild Hunt.
It’s said their hooves don’t even touch the ground.
Aethelwold was the phantom in our bed.
I bore Prince Aethelred then Edgar strayed.
He nevermore trusted his advisors,
nor pious priests who would pointedly preach
about Uriah, Nathan and David.
Prophets really know how to rub it in.
Sometimes I watch a deer drink from a pond.
I hear its groan and see it torn by hounds.
Is it the hubristic Actaeon and
am I Artemis? Or, like Narcissus,
who loved his own reflection, will I look
into this stream and see my nemesis?
I cannot be The Goddess of Light for
she would not beat her son with a candle.
But I’ve produced a right royal milksop
who flinches before a taper and whines
for the company of his step-brother.
If I felt constrained at Wherwell years ago,
when I was wedded to my first husband,
I can tell you it was nothing like this:
an Abbess in a penitentiary.
I wish that I could morph into a hind
and flit through the forest with Aethelwold,
as fleet of foot as Artemis herself,
but leaving no trace to those who follow.
If only I’d seen the wood for the trees.