‘By fighting they made women widows,
Many a mother with her tear on her eyelid’
After Catraeth battle flags sway in the wind.
Storm darks our hair. Our tears are rain.
We press cheeks against cold skin,
load biers with sons and husbands
who will never drink in the mead-hall again,
lift weapons, smile across a furrowed field,
mend the plough, yoke oxen, share a meal,
touch ought but blood-stained soil,
chilled fingers reticent to let go.
Storm sky breaks. Our love pours out.
Ravens descend on soft wings to take them.
How we wish they would take our burning eyes,
flesh we rend with nails unkempt
from the year they left for Din Eiddyn,
drunk their reward before it was earned
at dawn with sharpened spears
at daybreak with clashing spears
at noon with bloody spears
at dusk with broken spears
at night with fallen spears,
shattered shields, smashed armour, severed heads.
Seven days of wading through blood.
Of each three hundred only one lives.
Their steel was dark-blue. Now it is red.
Because of mead and battle-madness
our husbands and sons are dead.
We rend our veils. The veil is rent.
We long to tear out our hearts
and offer them instead
to the Gatherer of Souls approaching
with the ravens and hounds of death,
whose face is black as our lament,
whose hair is the death-wind,
whose touch is sorrow,
whose heart is the portal to the otherworld.
Our men rise up to meet him.
The march of the dead is his heart-beat.
The dead of centuries march through him.
The great night is his saddle.
The dead men ride his horse.
Forefathers and foremothers hold out their hands.
We do not want to let go but they slip
through our fingers like water
from sooty eyelids
into the eyes of others
into the eyes of their kin
to gather in the eyes of the Gatherer of Souls.
They are stars in our eyes now.
They are stars in the eyes of the hounds of death,
marching from drunken Catraeth:
the battle that knows no end.