The greying King his kingdom scanned, grown anxious for an heir;
Did cast about for sons to bless, then felt his daughters’ stare.
‘Are we not children of your blood? The jewels of your eye?
We sew and dance and sing and sew; and covet kestrels flight.’
Three girls I have, admits the King, but not a single son;
For all the conquered lands I hold, for all my battles won.
Three wives I’ve had (though now all dead), one black, one red, one gold;
A daughter each they bore me. ‘So which one of you shall hold
The sceptre cursed, the weighty crown, this trap shaped like a throne?
What challenge shall I set for you to make your talents known?’
‘Why, father!’ said the golden-haired, ‘What need for loathsome trials?
In all the land there’s none to match the beauty ‘fore your eyes.’
The black-haired girl sprang to her feet and smote them with a look.
‘I’ll not waste time with braiding hair, nor buried in a book!
I’ll humble any man by force, by puissant skill at arms,
I shall be strong, our lands will grow, what need have I for charms?’
The red-hair princess, slow to rise, approached the King downcast.
‘I’ve nothing by the way of looks, am neither strong nor fast.
This little knife is all I have, with which to open letters;
Surprising how a well-placed note can outwit all my betters.’
The King reclined, his head aswirl, his plans had run awry.
Will I crown a Queen that’s vain, or one that’s cruel, or sly?
For this one act I do will set my kingdom’s course for life
For better or for worse, it leads to happiness or strife!’
‘I cannot say which one of you has greatest right to rule.
I’ll wait until my thoughts are clear, for summer nights to cool.
Perhaps my choice will narrow if I leave it up to fate?
Perhaps, but just for now, to bed. The hour has run late.’
The princess with the golden hair, her thoughts malevolent,
said ‘That black-haired bitch will die tonight as if by accident’.
Yet all the while her black-haired sib did mix a lethal potion
Stole into her sister’s room and swapped it for her lotion.
The red-haired princess, more at one with maids than highborn peers
Knew these plots before they hatched, through well-placed eyes and ears.
The weakened cinch she substituted to another’s steed;
The poisoned unguent she did mix into a cup of mead.
The King arose, emptied his cup, and went out for a ride.
The King felt ill, fell from his horse, cried ‘Murder!’ then he died.
Physicians Royal found the taint of poison in his gall;
The saddle-strap bore knife-marks, thus; the King was set to fall.
‘Treason!’ was the herald’s shout, ‘Foul treason! Bar the gates!
No man shall pass beyond these walls ’til we investigate!’
And so, by well-placed note, the sisters plots were soon uncovered
Hung by the neck until they died, the crown passed to the other.
A hundred years the red-haired Queen did use her sly knife wisely:
It did unseal a hundred pacts (which served the kingdom nicely).
Love she had, though children none, of all those she befriended.
And left behind democracy — by her choice, bloodline ended.
Erik Kaisson 2017