1. the sorrows of dead men
Haughty. Wild. That's how she was. In the shattering rain. Walking in her armor on the battlements. Wild cheers went up, caps flew like birds. She raised her hand; the people cheered. She lowered the flag; they stamped and wept in the cold. It was bleak that winter. Crows ate the fields. Lightning flashes in a pail of water. Hail shattering on ox carts. Piles of dung smoked by the roads. They buried her father, the bearded, gout-ridden High King, on a hill. Erected a cairn of stones. She rode to battle in his stead. In Auvergne she was struck from her horse by a crossbow. Her liegemen surrounded her in the storm of arrows, facing outward, fighting like demons. A blind shamaness had consulted wolf bones in a northern cave to soothsay the outcome of this battle. Every last man you love will die, she'd sung, voice shaking in that ancient throat. And so it happened. She watched them all be cut down. The last, her brave favorite, Yves La Tour, crawling in his blood on the trampled snow. She picked up the sword and hacked at the enemy like a farmer shattering cornstalks. Arrows sticking in her chain mail. Wild hair full of blood and straw. Then, just like that, the battle abated. The enemy had no more champions left to fight. Deserters slinked off like lean, broken hounds into the setting sun. Alive, she wept, her shoulders shaking in the wretched cold. A trumpet blare sounded; hoofbeats. Her people found her. She rode ahead of them into her castle to the tatting of a drum. All long gone now. The hellish wars, done. She lies in her stone chamber lit by a stuttering candle flame as early nights sink the country in cracking frost. No armor, now; no flag, no sword. Naked, almost, but for the most ghostly-thin of linens that cling like spiderweb silk to her breasts and hips -- glorious legs bare, shining hair freshly brushed -- she shuts her eyes to let the dead men she loved come to her once again, searing her with their non-existent gazes, touching her with their moans and laments, whispering of young men's eager but fragile lives cut short on a frozen gore-streaked field of battle, as every night they always do and now ever must.