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collected sonnets zhandivar The Raven King Keeper
Wild Flowers

The Raven King

Their bellies taut with hunger,
The ravens called upon their King.
Their nests were filled with hatchlings,
Hungry young forever needing food.
Distraught, the ravens called upon their king.

The times are all too good, they said:
Death’s harvest runs too thin.
The kings of men are all at peace;
They wage no wars to feed our young.
Thus cried the ravens to their King.

The ravens were unhappy;
The Raven King was sad.
A King must do what he must do
To keep his people fed.
And so he took the Form of Man.

The tavern stood in Zhandivar;
It reeked of grease and stale beer.
Some drunken sots lay sleeping
Whilst others sang in tuneless song.
Nobility roistered there.

A noble voice called for beer;
Some noble boots stomped the floor;
A noble quarrel spilled some blood;
A noble hand pursued a wench.
Lord Marek roistered there.

A landless man, a younger son –
No wealth nor land to call his own,
Unfit for law, unfit for church,
No wars in which to whet his sword.
Come cry, my friends, for younger sons.

The tavern door was opened;
A stranger stood upon the sill.
All dressed in black,
His nose a noble beak,
The stranger stood upon the sill.

His raptor eye surveyed the scene,
Espied Lord Marek holding court.
A bloodless smile creased his lips;
And so the stranger entered in.
A quiet fell upon the room.

His bearing said for all to see
I am death for he who questions me.
No sword could cut the silence
As he walked across the room.
Lord Marek had an unexpected guest.

Come sit with us, Lord Marek said
You have the look of one who’s seen
Much stranger lands than we have known.
Come share a brew and tell your tale.
The stranger took a seat.

You are wise, the stranger said
For I have seen the fairest lands
Where wealth lies free for noble men
Whose boldness cavils not at war.
Or so it seemed to me.

But hark, why do I speak of wealth?
I see you’re from a noble house
Of Zhandivar; no other land
Is half so fair or half so rich.
With lying tongue the stranger spoke.

Lord Marek flushed and said
Speak not to me of Zhandivar
For I would hear of other lands
Of folk who live as I do not.
His eyes were lit with hidden greed.

Beyond the bounds of Zhandivar
Began the stranger dressed in black
There lies a land where all is green
Of crystal streams and verdant vales.
A land that men call Alderman.

It is a land that’s triply blessed,
By fertile soil and bounteous game,
By mines that yield gold and gems
By maidens fair as any man could wish.
Blessed is the land of Alderman.

A peaceful land is Alderman;
Its rulers never dream of war
They have no need for blood and death
The soldiers trade is scarcely known.
Thus spoke the stranger dressed in black.

It is not wise of them, in truth,
To leave their land with no defense.
Some band might fall upon their realm
And reft away their fatted wealth.
So spoke the stranger dressed in black.

That matters not to such as you;
What need have you of wealth from war.
You’re the scion of a noble house;
The wealth of Zhandivar is yours.
The stranger’s bait was truly cast.

Lord Marek cried in hot despair:
My brother holds the mansion seat;
My throne is but a tavern bench;
My blood is pure; my wealth is naught.
Come cry, my friends, for younger sons.

Come my friend and drink with me
And tell me more of easy wealth
That might be won by dangerous men.
Where lies this land of Alderman?
So spoke the poor and greedy lord.

Within the greasy tavern walls
The lord and stranger spoke
In softened tones to plot
Their war to win some easy wealth.
They sought the rape of Alderman.

A younger son is still a lord
And rich compared to lesser men
Some rascals met his call to arms,
Thieves and thugs who fancied wealth.
A lord’s a captain after all.

They laid their plans and gathered arms
Prepared to trek beyond the bounds
Of Zhandivar and then to seek
The ripened plum of Alderman.
Their thievish plot was near undone.

Behold the King of Zhandivar!
Behold his royal spies!
Their ears are everywhere!
And plots are always overheard.
Majesty reserves the right of war.

The King was wroth and called
Lord Marek to the throne
And straight away forbade
This raid on Alderman.
No wars save mine the King declared.

Lord Marek bowed before the King
And owned his fault and vowed
His little army would disband,
And he would be a man of peace.
The King replied, Be sure it’s so.

To his tavern Lord Marek went
To his bench Lord Marek went
Drinking beer, Lord Marek wept,
Mourning plots, Lord Marek wept.
A thief that mourned unstolen wealth.

To the tavern the stranger came
All dressed in black the stranger came
Do not mourn, the stranger said
Our plan’s not dead, the stranger said
The wealth of Alderman will yet be ours.

Thou art noble and nobles hunt
Take a hunting party out
Beyond the gates of Zhandivar
Where other folk may join you there
To help you hunt some greater game.

Why that be so, Lord Marek said,
Beyond the gates of Zhandivar
His Majesty need never know
What hunting parties chance to do.
Some voices moaned within the vaults.

Hunters dressed in motley
Cantered through the gates,
Their faces flushed with drink,
Their voices raised in song.
With them rode a man in black.

The guards who manned the gates
Smiled to see such foolish folk
These simpletons who went to hunt
Beyond the gates of Zhandivar.
They didn’t know the game the hunters sought.

Along the royal road the hunters rode,
Past caravans bringing wealth
To Zhandivar. From time to time
They were joined by other men
Until they formed a fearsome company.

At their head Lord Marek rode
On his right hand rode the color guard.
The sun was bright, the sky was blue,
Omens of fortune yet to come.
The stranger rode upon his left.

On they rode until they came
To where the realm of Zhandivar
Came to an end and other lands
Began and lay before the company.
A fork was in the road.

Be advised by me the stranger said,
Take the right fork, not the left fork;
Take the high road, not the low road.
The left fork leads to Liapram;
They do not welcome strangers there.

The high road is untravelled
No one dwells along that path.
We can make our way to Alderman
Unseen, escaping hostile eyes.
And so surprise the folk of Alderman.

And so they took the high road
Along the mountain ridge
Above the pretty valleys
Where beauty ran untouched.
Unseen by them, beauty ran untouched.

Unseen by hostile eyes
They rode along that path
Their hearts were filled with hopeful greed
And songs of war were on their lips.
There was a gate across the road.

The gate was guarded by a pass.
On the left side the rock was sheer.
On the right side the rock was sheer.
And in the center stood the gate.
Afore that gate there stood a beast.

A patchwork beast, a bit of this and that,
Stood guard and would not let them pass.
No force of arms, no clever ruse,
Could ever get them past.
And then the beast began to speak.

The rumble of its roar
Was soft as summer’s breeze
And this is what it said,
“Tell me, men of Zhandivar,
Where doth the Raven pray?”

They stood perplexed, this company,
Knowing not whereof the beast did speak.
Until at last their captain
Stood forth and said,
“We do not know. We never knew.”

“Tis passing well and passing poor,”
The patchwork beast replied,
“Pass on, this path will take you down
Into the land of Alderman
Where you must do what you must do.”

On they rode and down they rode
From mountain heights into a land
Of crystal springs and verdant vales,
It was the land of Alderman.
No one saw the stranger disappear.

No force of soldiers barred their way
No hand was raised as they went by
Until they sacked a village
And raped the maidens found within.
And so began the rape of Alderman.

Across that land, to and fro
Lord Marek’s martial company
Pillaged gentle folk and stole
Their honor, wealth, and lives.
It were noble deeds they did.

Maidens passed from man to man
Children gutted for bloody sport
Temples sacked for gilded dross
Green fields running free with blood.
So many a noble deed was done.

The gentle King called forth the guard
The farmers armed themselves with scythes
In battle Marek killed and killed
And lost his company, one by one.
Sated, Marek knew that he must leave.

Back they went onto the high road,
Back they went, laden fat with wealth
Back they went, their weapons ripe with gore
Back they went to Zhandivar.
No beast nor gate would bar their way.

The clouds were black behind their back,
The pretty valleys darkened as they passed
The beauty fled from such as they
These bloody men from Zhandivar.
Lord Marek’s company didn’t care.

Back they went to Zhandivar
One returned for every three
That started out to win some wealth
Some stolen wealth from Alderman.
The Royal Army awaited them.

Behold the King of Zhandivar!
Behold the Royal wrath!
No war save mine the King had said!
Lord Marek’s head is mine, he said!
His Majesty was displeased.

The Army seized the company
It took their arms and all their goods
And all the stolen treasure
That they had won in Alderman.
The executioner took their heads.

A messenger took the low road
Through Liapram and other lands.
He bore a golden box that held
The head of Marek in apology
To the King of Alderman.

In Alderman the fields grow
A grimmer crop than ripened grain
A crop of men to feed the birds.
The Raven King was now content;
He didn’t need the Form of Man.

See Notes on The Raven King for commentary.
Copyright © 1998 by Richard Harter
This page was last updated November 1, 1998.