The enemy within

 

Stand on the castle parapet with me;

look down towards the deep, black velvet plain

which skirts the hill on which this castle stands,

look out into the darkness of the land,

peer through the dampness of the drizzling rain,

until with me you see the things I see.

 

See how, with guttering, uncertain light,

the distant fires of the enemy camps

prick pinholes in the fabric of the night.

Now hear the distant, ribald laughter of their soldiers

making merry, each comrade full of hazy, vacuous cheer,

drowning the dreadful thoughts of killing and of death

in blood-red wine and thick, warm, frothing beer.

 

Tomorrow they will come, as they have come before,

with a cacophony of warlike calls,

and they will batter at these mighty walls

like moths attracted to a flickering flame.

At hint of dawn, while good men lie asleep,

they will attempt to scale the eastern ramparts;

hurling huge boulders at the crenelated castle keep;

in an unending, pitiless and pointless game.

 

We will, as we have done so many times before,

dislodge them from their handholds on the stone,

pour boiling oil on their shaven heads,

set fire to their catapults with molten lead,

and shower them with arrows for their trouble,

until they shamble back, groaning in disarray,

leaving their dead and dying amongst the rain-wet rubble,

their faith in winning waning as light drains from the day.

 

“Another waste of time.  There is no point.

A hundred men lie dead or wounded and our enemies

look down upon us from their walls in disbelief.

It is a crime. Our leaders count our dead in scores

but are as careless of our lives, it’s fair to say,

as we are careless of our meagre pay

when in the gaudy company of whores.”

 

We fear these crazed marauders of the plain

and spend our time and energy, our wealth and our resources,

in building castles such as these, high up on hills

or mountain tops, with walls as massy as the hills themselves

to keep these killers out, to keep out those who kill,

who take delight is spreading terror and in causing pain.

 

“I’m not a gambling man but I will stake my pay this month

we lose more men tomorrow than we did today.

It’s tempting fate but I’d like you to take

a wager I am not amongst the ones to die.

Don’t laugh my friend, it’s not a joke.

If I survive, I’ll take some consolation from the winning of the bet.

Should I be wrong, it won’t hurt me to pay,

and, if it turns out I am broke,

           then I shall die forever in your debt.”

 

So let them come, these fritterers of lives,

gorged on the food and drink of honest men

whom they have butchered with their knives

to sate their hunger and their thirst for blood.

Let it be understood.  They shall not scale these walls;

they’ll not prevail, we will not fail this test; we will not fail. 

 

“If we could only force the gates or, with the trebuchet,

annihilate their walls. If we could, while they sleep,

creep under the black blanket of the night,

slip past the lazy and complacent guards

and reach and take the keep,

then those who laugh at us would learn to weep.”

 

For many years they struggled, besiegers and besieged,

The castle dwellers and the warriors of the plain,

Ten thousand died each year but still the castle stood

and every spring the feckless, futile siege began again.

 

There was no way the castle could be stormed.

The walls could not be broken, nor be scaled;

marauder leaders aged, grew tired and died

and new ones came with new plans newly formed,

and tactics they claimed heretofore untried.

But, well aware that all before had failed,

the soldiers knew for sure their leaders lied

when promising that they could turn the tide.

 

And yet the castle fell.

 

How it began is still unknown:

a word of disillusion or a frown,

a slight perceived, though not perhaps intended,

a privilege withdrawn or just suspended;

inadequate reward for service rendered.

Up to this day no-one can say

what drove the traitor to betray.

The only certainty is this;

no reason he could give could justify

why all within the castle had to die.

 

Throughout the years of siege and battles fought

the castle-dwellers never for one moment thought

the enemy that they had most to fear

was sharing with them draughts of castle beer

and feasting with them in the banquet hall,

on their side of the massy castle wall.

 

Yet that is how the mighty castle fell,

not broken by marauders from the plain

but foiled by an enemy within.

One storm black night of blinding rain

this creature shrieked in silent pain,

and, without hope of any gain

as far as anyone can tell,

with disregard none can explain,

unlocked the creaking gates of hell

and watched the slaughter of his kin begin.