A Widower's Pact


Four and thirty days had come to pass
Since the young count had lost his new-wed wife.
A plague of cholera had swept the land
And ere her twentieth summer claimed her life.

A grievous blow it was to such a youth
As passionate and diffident as he.
What sweeter dove would ever grace his nest,
For none he knew as kind and fair as she.

"Nay, none!" he said as he looked upon her face,
Now pale and frigid as a winter's moon.
"None!" as the undertakers bore her down
Into the sunless valley of her tomb.

And so he searched for days through dust-shod tomes,
To seek a path to cheat his bitter fate,
Then finally in a volume of dark lore,
He 'scried a way to resurrect his mate.

Then laden with a heavy purse of gold,
And sabre girded to his slender waist,
He set on foot through darksome city streets
To find at once the succor which he chased.

A handsome offer laid in golden coin
Which often in men wisdom could inspire,
Drew frightened whispers from an aged man.
"The priest of Morta dwells in yon dark spire."

And so he came upon the secluded shrine,
A small and run-down chapel choked in vine,
To set his plea before the dame of Hell,
The goddess Morta, queen of the nether realm.

The dark-clad priest received him in this place,
And the count fell upon a trembling knee.
"Return to me my Stella, star of light,
And, willing, shall I grant you any fee!"

     "Know the cost, my stricken lad,
          For I'll warn you, it is steep.
     Compared to that which She'll command,
          Gold and jewels are cheap!

     A pledge, an offer to the Queen,
          Your spirit's sacrifice.
      To serve Her will in afterlife,
          Such is Morta's price!"

He'd known the toll which would be pended
Dread and longing's war had ended
     And longing to prevail.
But even so, the count did pale.


Thunder wracked the squalid sky above
And streaks of lightning shrieked and danced in plumes
Of blue and purple freakish faerie fire
As through the rain, he hastened to her tomb.

His hair was wild and his eyes were flames.
A devilish fever broke within his blood.
With leaping heart, he raised his spade to draw
Her maple coffin from her grave of mud.

Possessed with demon fury, how he rent
The bleeding earth with this slashing blade
To wrench his Stella from its bitter bowels.
"Wake her from the tomb, O blesséd spade!
Cut her from the womb, O blesséd spade!"

He screamed with hot tears burning his eyes.
Once again he'd fold her in his arms.
A few more feet to dig, a few more feet
And once again he'd win his lady's charms.

The sky, masked in outrage, did rebel
Against the count who dared this act profane
And in the wet and loamy wound there fell
A steady pour of dank and icy rain,

But all in vain—The count was undeterred
And moments later had unearthed the wood.
The maple casket soon lay disinterred.
No treasure seemed as holy or as good

To him as Stella sealed within this coffer.
With strength of like none other he'd possessed,
And like no strength his Reason had to offer,
But with the sinews of a madman blessed

With might of the infernal shades of Hell,
He tore the coffin from the muddy ground.
And he thought he heard the low and gurgling groan
Of a soft-toothed hag in shallow waters drowned.

He laughed, "Cruel Earth! I take my lawful bride
Straight from your womb of darkness and decay
No longer will my shining star abide
Within the dungeon of your night to stay
     Imprisoned in her dread repose.
     Her eyes, blue suns now comatose,
Shall break anew with flames to dawn my day!"


He placed her coffin gently at his feet,
Then with a dagger in his hand he pried
Its latchless lid till with a clammy creak
It came unbound. He threw the cover wide.

There, silent in her fatal bed,
     Lay his stolen love,
Her eyes were sealed as a child's
     Closed in fitful sleep.
Limp and pallid in her silks
     She bore the likeness of
A lone white lily hid within
     A forest dark and deep.

Her black hair lay about her sides
     And framed her girlish face,
Yet bright and pretty though decay
     Had already begun
To tinge her skin with moldy patches,
     Hateful of her grace,
And maggots festered round her heart
     As clouds around the sun.

And for a breathless moment, frozen still
As like a stone suspended on a ledge
Before a man with one last fateful lunge
Sends it blindly plummeting over the edge,

The count, in yearning reverence, stood to gaze
Upon the wondrous image of his wife
He'd not beheld in four and thirty days:
His joy, his hope, his wealth, his love of life.

Serene she lay, and suddenly he feared
To wake her from some quiet, pleasant dream,
Which maybe in her resting spirit stirred,
Beyond the fury of this nightmare scene.

He stroked her lovely tresses which did yield
In sweet accommodation to his hand.
"My darling," he cooed softly to her form,
As through her dusky hair his fingers fanned.

He laid his hands upon her snowy brow
To feel the soft, familiar smoothness there,
Then closed his eyes and brushed her temples proud,
Caressed her cheeks with light and lingering care:
Such languid beauty, how sublime and fair!

But cold! So cold! Her noble flesh
     Ripe with the perfume of Death!
Her warmth, her smiles, her laughing gales
     Gone with her sacred breath.
All loving grace and motion gone
And half her sweetness lies undone,
     Gone with her hallowed breath!

But my! How blissfully she sleeps
     Untouched by woe or pain.
How cruel an act to break such peace
     And raise her up again
To walk this damned earth as before
     And labor in its pain.

But then he thought he heard a scornful voice,
That of the dark priest he had bargained with.
Said he, "Speed on, you fool! You've made your choice.
Whatever move you make, your soul's forfeit!"

He heard these words within him and he knew
The only choices left to him were two:
To die condemned, but till that time abide
In happiness with Stella at his side;
Or die condemned, and live condemned his life
Estranged forever from his gentle wife.

And with this thought, the fateful stone did fall.
In haste, the count resumed his erstwhile plan.
No longer letting fear or shame forestall
His need's fulfillment, thus, the count began...


"Morta, Queen of mortal's end!
     Morta, Death's own bride!
Lady of the withered rose.
     Goddess, be my guide!

Morta, I am sick at heart,
     Woeful and forlorn.
Pray thee, hear my humble plea;
     End this pain I've borne!

Pray thee, hear my humble plea;
     End this anguished pain.
Pray thee, let me serve thy name
     When my life doth wane.

Pray thee, let me serve thy name
     After Death's dark kiss.
Give to me in turn a boon
     Of now and present bliss.

Give to me in turn a boon;
     Take me as thy thrall.
Give to me my precious one;
     In turn I give thee all!

Morta, Queen of mortal's end!
     Morta, Death's own bride!
Lady of the withered rose.
     Goddess, be my guide!

Morta of the weeping star.
     Black sun! Shadow sphere!
Lead me to thine ebon palace
     'Cross the Sea of Fear.

Lead me to thine ebon palace
     'Cross the night's dark sea.
Shield me from the burning light
     That beckons brazenly.

Shield me from the burning light,
     The daylight's shrinking stare.
Bless my eyes with blissful night!
     Snuff the light's despair.

Bless my eyes with blissful night!
     Let paradise be scorned.
Take me as thy faithful servant;
     Heaven I've forsworn!

Morta, Queen of mortal's end!
     Morta, Death's own bride!
Lady of the withered rose.
     Goddess, be my guide!"

The thunder cried out and grave Morta heard;
The rain fell silent at the dark hymn's close.
Each twilight syllable; each accursed word
Hung about the count in wicked rows,

A host of fears and bitter hatreds borne
For all of life. The count waxed cold and pale,
And in his breast, his trembling heart did quail
In terror for the light he had forsworn.

But looking on the figure of his wife,
He thrust aside his panic and he drew
Out from a sack handfuls of withered roses
And on her form their rotted petals threw.

Over his love the count spread their decay,
Their cloying fragrance leprous, ripe, and sweet
Over her neck and on her belly and chest,
Across her arms and hands, her legs and feet.

And when the final petal has been strewn,
The count drew back in horror and surprise.
A shiver drew itself along her length
Down from her neck toward her rigid thighs.

Then she lay still, unmoving as before,
And yet he knew his Stella then was waiting
For the final act to bring about her waking,
     The loving, sacrificial flood
     Of his own life's sacred blood
To wet her lips. Yes, into these he'd pour
     His life to feed her long-dead flame.
     Then spoke the count "In Morta's name..."
And raised his dagger for his wrist to score.

The cut was made; he pressed it to her lips.
His blood, true to its nature, ran bright red
Into her mouth and down her wasted throat,
And this he cried to Stella as he bled:

     "Stella, Stella, my dearest wife,
          My only love, arise!
     Stella, joyous flame of life,
          Awaken to my cries!

     Stella, Stella, my fallen star,
          Shine again for me!
     In Morta's name, arise, arise!
          Open thine eyes to me!

     In Morta's name, open thine eyes,
          So bright and sapphire blue!
     Take this blood I offer thee;
          Its love is warm and true.

     Stella, Stella, gentle wife,
          This blood is naught to me
     Unless it may restore thy life,
          So dearly I love thee!

     Stella, I am damned in night
          Alive and without thee!
     Open thine eyes and let their light
          Shine again for me!"


Like sulfurous embers fed with pure night air,
In sudden feral brightness crimson shone
Her eyes which opened with a wooden snap;
And from her throat there rose a stricken moan.

The count withdrew his hand and spoke her name.
Her eyes were wide with terror and the sound
She made was like a cat which had been maimed
By a trapper's snare, or mangled by a hound.

Convulsively, she breathed in ragged gasps;
The creaking bellows in her lungs were burning.
She writhed like a tormented brood of asps,
Shook off the putrid flowers in her turning.

The count trembled and held his breath in fear,
Helpless in the fury of her pain.
In rising tenor, panic stole his voice;
Again, again, again, he cried her name.

Gradually, his Stella ceased to writhe
And, with a painful effort, sat erect
And gazed upon her count with piteous eyes
Which now with mounting tears of blood were flecked.

"John," she cried with weak and quavering voice
Which barely carried from her blood-stained lips:
     "John, my John. What hast thou done?
          What perverse madness, this?

     Dearest husband, loving man,
          My grief thou cannot guess,
     For I have seen Elysium
          And known its happiness.
     I saved a place for thee, my love,
          And faithfully did wait
     In those bright and verdant fields
          Of everlasting day.
     But, woe! My sad, impatient love.
          Woe is now our fate!
     To Morta's dark demonic bosom
          We must soon away!"

     "Stella, thy words wrack my soul;
          What dost thou mean by this?
     Though I be damned, thou still art free
          To drink immortal bliss!"

     "Not so, my John, not so, alas,
          For thou art sorely deceived!
     This evil pact has ruinous ends
          Which thou hast not perceived!

     Thy soul is sold; as well, thou know
          And Morta will claim thee,
     But now that thou have raised this shroud
          Likewise thou hast damned me!"

     "What, how?! How can this ever be,
          My Stella, why this so?"
     Quoth she, "The undead are Her slaves
          And ever they must follow."

     "Oh, Stella, Stella! Soul of my soul!
          I cannot let this be!
     Twice damned I am if acting thus
          Has damned the light in me!

     Oh, Stella, please forgive this man
          Who lives but for thy care,
     Whose need so wracked his grieving heart
          And wrung him to despair!

     Forgive the fool whose eyes were blinded
          By thy shining love!
     Then, pray thee, speak to me a way
          To loose thee from Hell's glove."

There was a path and Stella knew its way,
A way that she alone could flee this curse.
If by his blade, her John would forthwith slay
Her undead form and doing so, reverse

The act which bound her soul to Morta's will,
Then she again would fair Elysium see,
Its meadows fertile and its gracious hills,
And of their beauty drink eternally.

The count, intently waiting for her word,
His hands upon her shoulders, there knelt he
Beside her casket and he looked at her
As like a concubine upon a queen.

Not a word was spoken as she stared
With scarlet tears unfolding from her gaze.
It was a look of passionate despair,
More eloquent than any lamenting phrase.

Thus silently, both weeping, did they look
Upon each other. Then at last, she spoke:

     "My beauteous husband, gentle man,
          Such hope is lost to me,
     And I, like thee, must go to Morta
          'Cross the night's dark sea!

     Yet, how can I hate thee for thy deed,
          Wrought for want of love?
     How can I scorn thee for thy need
          To have me at thy side?
     Such longing, ruinous though it be,
          Cannot my soul but move.
     My sweetest John, though we're denied
     Elysium's sunlit paradise,
          Take solace in my love!"

John fell upon her in a wild embrace.
And Stella received him lovingly. She stroked
His hair with motherly affectionate grace,
And in her ear, in whispering words he spoke:

     "Then, let me make my way with thee,
          My Stella, dearest bride,
     Through Morta's realm of sovereign night
          And ever at thy side.

     My love, no longer do I fear
          This fate to us consigned,
     So let us dwell abreast in Hell,
          And for Heaven cease to pine!"

John kissed his Stella and passion overtook
All power of speech, and on that rose-strewn bed,
These two dark swans did mate for life in death
And Morta from her nightshade palace looked
In silent wonder on these mortals wed
By vows unperished, even as the breath
Of life did fade, forever, from their forms
And as their bodies fed the charnel worms.

And so the sun did henchforth cease to rise
Upon the earth for Stella and her count.
The rain took up again and then the soil
Gently drew their private chamber down
     Into the coolness of the earth
     The womb alike of death and birth,
And there, sequestered from the burning light,
They, arm in arm, did cross that sea of night.

George Chadderdon © 1993