Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Harrowing of Hildeburh"

This poem was commissioned by Nsfwords.  It also fills the "vulnerable" square in my 1-1-17 card for the Dark Fantasy Bingo fest. It belongs to the series A Conflagration of Dragons, and this is the last of the Six Poems of the Fall.  \o/

Warning: This poem describes a dragon attack in graphic detail.  If this is touchy territory for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"The Harrowing of Hildeburh"

When the wolf-weather     reached the ridge land
And the north wind wailed in     to spread winter's blanket wide,
Hildeburh held full many     of sword polishers and brooch bearers,
Their loin-fruit fallen     hard on hungry times.
The givers of gold     had little left to share;
Even the rune-callers could not     keep the city safe for long.

Then the bane of ages brought     doom to the halls of Hildeburh:
Ingeld the color of ingach     spat forth the spark-fury,
His yellow breath bearing down     on the mountain's might
Where the Eofor huddled in hope     that the stone would stand strong.
Their allies, the subtle Shu and     the wise Hachi, huddled with them
But the flame paled into power     and ripped the rock apart.

Waves of Eofor warriors poured out     to deal the drake his doom, but
He slew Wiglaf, wielder of war-wrenches     and great-hearted Heorogar.
Heardred the king hacked at Ingeld     to free the last of his family
But only Yrsa his smallest sister     lived to leave that hall.
Even the unblooded undertook     their first taste of war-terror,
And the elders embraced battle     to deny the bed shame of a straw death.

Yugiri, a young Hachi,     snatched up his slingshot and
Gladly saved Ukon the orphan girl     but fell before her very face.
Sekhet of the Shu saw her chance,     aiming iron darts at the dragon
To spare the brave bard Astennu     before drawing a noble death.
Ingeld flame-farewelled them all     and opened his maw for more,
Spilling the dew of deep wounds     as refugees ran for their lives.

The vaults proved vulnerable     to Ingeld's bold ingress
As he broke the battle wall     to gobble gold and iron,
Licking over lithium ingots     and bright bismuth crystals.
He coiled on his cruel spoils     dreaming of dragons to court
With his ill-got wealth     to draw the hens hither
And here mate mightily,     then feed the hatchlings this hoard.

Long years of labor lost     in an instant, the Eofor left
Their home in Hildeburh     to flee down the mountain's flanks.
Yrsa, last of the noble line,     took her place in time
by leading the little children     who clung to her cobalt skirts.
Though the wise and the warriors     lay in the sleep of swords,
Their kin carried on     the path of their people.

The refugees ran, weeping,     from their former sanctuary
For now they all knew     there was no haven to hide them.
Ukon snatched up soap     that would keep people clean
While others ferried food     and medicines they'd made.
Astennu spread her wings wide     and soared down the seared slopes,
Telling the tale as she flew,     a skilled smith of rhyme.

* * *


The Eofor related to Earth/Fire and draw their names from Beowulf.  The mountain stronghold of Hildeburh is their capital.

Norse poetry employs a variety of features including alliteration.  A caesura is a gap and pause mid-line.  Heiti  are picturesque words used primarily in poetry.  Kennings are metaphoric phrases.  Learn to create your own kennings.

Eofor poetry typically forms stanzas of two to eight lines. Often a caesura (pause or space) divides each line into two halves. Each half has at least two words which alliterate; the halves of each line may or may not alliterate with each other across the caesura. Eofor poetry tends to make complete thoughts in each line, rarely using enjambment. It uses heiti  (figurative single words) and kennings (compound words or phrases) to create colorful poetic imagery.

   *   *   *
wolf-weather -- winter

ridge land -- mountain
-- Kennings

winter’s blanket -- snow
-- 89 Colorful Kennings

sword-polisher -- man
-- Kennings

brooch bearer -- woman
-- Kennings

loin-fruit -- child or children

givers of gold -- wealthy leaders

bane of ages -- dragon or dragons

rune callers -- wizards
-- 89 Colorful Kennings

Ingeld is a red drake whose vermilion scales are lit with gold, the color that Eofor smiths call ingach  or bright cherry-red.  He breathes exuberant yellow flame, but is capable of producing an almost colorless beam that can cut metal or stone.  In Beowulf, Ingeld is a Heaðobard lord; married to Freawaru, daughter of Hroðgar.  His name may include an intensifying prefix or reference to god Ing + gold, wealth, treasure, tribute, payment, sacrifice, debt.

spark-fury -- fire

In Beowulf, Wiglaf is Beowulf's relative, a Swedish warrior who helps Beowulf slay the dragon.  Here he is a warrior of the Eofor who dies fighting the dragon Ingeld.

In Beowulf, Heorogar is Hroðgar's brother and predecessor.  Here he is a warrior of the Eofor who dies fighting the dragon Ingeld. 

In Beowulf, Heardred is the son of King Hygelac and Queen Hygd of the Geats.  In this setting, he is the young king of the Eofor, who took the throne after his father was killed fighting other dragons.  He dies trying to keep Ingeld away from his younger siblings.

In Beowulf, Yrsa is Halga's daughter.  In this context, she is the youngest sister of Heardred and the only surviving member of the royal family.

unblooded -- man not yet tested in battle
-- 89 Colorful Kennings

bed shame -- dying of disease or old age
-- 89 Colorful Kennings

straw death -- death by disease or old age
-- 89 Colorful Kennings

In The Tale of Genji, Yūgiri is the son of Genji and Lady Aoi (Aoi no Ue).  Here, Yugiri is a young hero of the Hachi who dies trying to defend the Eofor city of Hildeburh from the dragon Ingeld.

In the Tale of Genji, Ukon is the daughter of Yūgao’s nurse.  Here she is an orphan girl of the Hachi who sought shelter with the allied Eofor in Hildeburh.

In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Sekhet is the wife of Ptah.  Here she is a hera of the Shu, who dies fighting Ingeld in Hildeburh.

Astennu is a young woman of the Shu, a bard who tells the tales of her people, some of whom took refuge with their allies in Hildeburh.

flame-farewelled -- death, implicitly honourable death
-- List of Kennings

dew of deep wounds -- blood
-- Kennings

battle wall -- shield(s)
-- Kennings

sleep of the sword -- death
-- List of Kennings

skilled smith of rhyme -- poet
-- Kennings

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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