Axehorn and Olwen

Axehorn, cast out from his village, had returned
He stole away Cornweld’s woman to the mountains
Hid his prize away inside a rock and timber bothy
Gorse, heather and bracken had sealed the cleft
On a perilous ledge where men wouldn’t follow

They had passed the summer feasting on wild berries
And on the love that began to flow between them
Furtive and frightened at first in young Olwen’s eyes
Impetuous and persuasive to bold Axehorn’s own
She was to him his stalked deer, captured and tamed

As Cornweld before had stolen her from the Welsh clan
That bunch of ragged ruffians up raiding from the south
Inching their thieving way around the lakes and tarns until
Cornweld’s men circled them near Thorstanes Watter
Staving in heads and running through with long knives

In time the days had grown shorter, the nights longer
With the onset of winter the hunting retreated lower
Seeking out new grazing on wood edge and river bank
Leaving Axehorn and Olwen alone in their eyrie nest
Clutching each other tight for warmth after dark

She desired to leave, he insisted they should stay
To wait out the winter, for him to hunt in secret
Keeping out of sight of Cornweld and his men
But the prey grew scarce as the season wore on
Hungry they scattered and later were watchful

Axehorn stayed away longer with each passing week
Chasing the dwindling herd through valley and fold
Forgetting young Olwen wrapped up in skins on high
Shivering and cursing her lot and Axehorn’s eyes
Until one day, mid-winter, Axehorn returned in haste

A yearling buck slung broad across his shoulders
He found fair Olwen froze to the bone, half buried
In white powderous snow so soft and cloudlike
As once were her breasts in his roughhewn hands
And her thighs against his more muscular own

Confused at the stiffness of her dead body’s frame
Afraid she was brittle, would snap without due care
Axhorn cursed the gods and raised up a great fire
Dragged poor Olwen to warm and thaw by his side
Stripping her clothing like bark, exposing her flesh

The flames resurrecting back some form of life
Made limp the utter stiffness that had fused her
In suspension, on the ledge, between two worlds
She was once more supple, pliable to his lips
He kissed and held and clawed and spat and raged

Through a blizzard of swirling dreams, time frozen
Like their love, their fate, his beard on her cheeks
Axehorn lay with Olwen and forgot to eat or drink
Within the bothy, upon the mountain, here on high
He vowed to wrap her warm and keep her safe

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