La Belle Dame Sans Merci. A Ballad by John Keats


O WHAT can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
  Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither’d from the lake,
  And no birds sing.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms!
  So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
  And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow
  With anguish moist and fever dew,        10
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
  Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
  Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,        15
  And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
  And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look’d at me as she did love,
  And made sweet moan.        20

I set her on my pacing steed,
  And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
  A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
  And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
  “I love thee true.”

She took me to her elfin grot,
  And there she wept, and sigh’d fill sore,        30
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
  With kisses four.

And there she lulled me asleep,
  And there I dream’d—Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream’d        35
  On the cold hill’s side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
  Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—“La Belle Dame sans Merci
  Hath thee in thrall!”        40

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
  With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
  On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
  Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,
  And no birds sing.

The Gorgoneion

The Gorgoneion are the elite shock cavalry of Cynath Ch’Ihll, the Gorgon Prince of the Ch’Ihll Dynasty. Being the flower of Naggarothi nobility the Gorgoneion act outside of the formal military ranks of the Ch’Ihll household and are solely bound in service to the young Prince. They form his innermost court of war councilors, bodyguards and socialites. Each noble is lavished with bejeweled lances, gifted with enchanted blades and given bespoke Galvorn wrought armour adorned with a helmet crowned with horns in imitation of the Gorgon; House sigil of the Ch’Ihll’s.

These knights are the very pinnacle of Naggarothi society, many of whom hold comparable holdings to minor Dreadlords from other cities. However to become one of the famed Gorgoneion is to gain access to things that wealth alone cannot purchase. Hidden cults of excess, secret libraries and a millennia long infrastructure of spies, informers and sorcerers ensure that each knight enjoys the fruits of the Ch’Ihll name.

To become one of these feared cavalrymen each knight must undertake the Trial of Eyes. The knight must seek out the lair of a Gorgon and devour its young. To eat a Gorgons egg is death as the fetus inside the egg is concentrated poison. Before the knight’s body is consumed by poison the Gorgon Prince enacts a ceremony, giving a portion of his blood from just underneath his eye to the dying noble. This is a magical binding that steals a portion of the knights soul, binding it forever to the Ch’Ihll Dynasty and their patron Daemon; Arioch Ch’Ihll.

After the Noble’s ascension they rarely take off their helmet outside the company of other Gorgoneion. In time the noble will lose their hair loose their hair and forever be marked by the distinctive carmine eyes of that house. Each knight changes, some gain strength, others grow tiny scales or some lose the ability to speak. However, one trait is rumoured to unite the Gorgoneion; each can kill with naught but a gaze.

Each knight takes to war astride specially bred Cold Ones, an indulgent present gifted by the Black Prince to his closest courtiers. These beasts are bred exclusively for war, their bulk and ferocity out matching even the most aggressive of their kin. These beasts are armoured with the same otherworldly obsidian armour of their masters. It is spoken amongst the mercenary armies that roam the Old World that if you were to fell one of the Gorgon knights and make good an escape with their armour, that you could buy yourself into high society and live comfortably for the rest of your days.

The banner bourne by Zaereth is from Ancient Nagarythe and is the personal banner of the Black Prince. When the young prince was born a new tapestry was commissioned. The pattern was woven by 12 blind maids of Averlorn, drugged and tortured into feverish nightmares to be depicted in the artwork. Upon completion of their masterpiece they were bled to death from their eyes to complete the tapestry.

The Knights currently reside beside their Prince in Troll Country, raiding and reeving the sparse settlements that linger to life. 

The thought of creating these Cold One knight's came to me in 2012 (click here to see the discussion). I wanted to make a Cold One that was as big and ferocious as the back history suggested. It has taken me two years to create these little bastards, but I feel its been worth the time.

Each knight owns his own livery but each has the symbol of their leader, Valodrious emblazoned on their banner. Each knight has a custom made base that is slightly larger than the regular cavalry base size. The unit's width is approximately the same as if you were running a cauldron of Blood in a unit of regular Cold One Knights. This unit would be completely illegal to take to tournaments and I've tried several 'counts as' suggestions that seem clunky and do not reflect the miniatures. I'm lucky that I have a very good gaming group who don't mind the extra base width and in the end we decided to just use them as regular cold one cavalry with irregular bases. In most cases this isn't a big deal and is advantageous to my opponent (more attacks from rank and file on Cynath).

I imagine that these occupy the space between regular cavalry and monstrous cavalry. I'd love to run them as true monstrous cavalry (but I cannot face rebasing them) or make rules for them that reflect their added bulk. Perhaps impact hits for every rank? Can't be any more broken than Warlocks can they? I really wish we still had the Hydra Banner!

The majority of the armour was painted with gradient highlights of grey washes with turquoise . The green of the Cold One hide was shaded with brown and highlighted with yellow to give a nice earthy complexion. The banner itself really allowed me to stretch my freehand skills. On the one side we have a very tightly controlled, intricate pattern and on the other a loser more emotional rendition of the Gorgon. The blending isn't as smooth nor is the painting quite as detailed but I wanted to get across the dual nature of the Druchii - highly civilized, disciplined, cultured, but conversely savage, cruel and frenzied.

Certain motif's run throughout the unit - the moon, the severed heart and the blood drop are all prevalent. I also wanted to push the image of the Gorgon into the silhouette of the model. To do this I used the Incubi heads in imitation of snakes coming from the head of the Gorgon.

Why the poem at the start of this article? I love the work of Keats and I love this poem. I've tried to echo the theme of damnation in the poem through the story of the Gorgoneion. The seducing, otherworldly figure of La Belle is a nice reflection of what i've tried to build up with the Gorgon imagery running throughout my force.

Enjoy this labour of love.