The One Black Stain

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The One Black Stain
by Robert Ervin Howard
First published in The Howard Collector #2, Spring 1962

They carried him out on the barren sand
where the rebel captains died;
Where the grim gray rotting gibbets stand
as Magellan reared them on the strand,
And the gulls that haunt the lonesome land
wail to the lonely tide.

Drake faced them all like a lion at bay,
with his lion head upflung:
"Dare ye my word of law defy,
to say this traitor shall not die?"
And his captains dared not meet his eye
but each man held his tongue.

Solomon Kane stood forth alone,
grim man of sober face:
"Worthy of death he may well be,
but the trial ye held was mockery,
"Ye hid your spite in a travesty
where justice hid her face.

"More of the man had ye been, on deck
your sword to cleanly draw
"In forthright fury from its sheath
and openly cleave him to the teeth --
"Rather than slink and hide beneath
a hollow word of the law."

Hell rose in the eyes of Francis Drake.
"Puritan knave!" swore he.
"Headsman! Give him the axe instead!
He shall strike off yon traitor's head!"
Solomon folded his arms and said,
darkly and somberly:

"I am no slave for your butcher's work."
"Bind him with triple strands!"
Drake roared and the men obeyed,
Hesitantly, as if afraid,
But Kane moved not as they took his blade
and pinioned his iron hands.

They bent the doomed man over to his knees,
the man who was to die;
They saw his lips in a strange smile bend,
one last long look they saw him send,
At Drake his judge and his one time friend
who dared not meet his eye.

The axe flashed silver in the sun,
a red arch slashed the sand;
A voice cried out as the head fell clear,
and the watchers flinched in sudden fear,
Though 'twas but a sea bird wheeling near
above the lonely strand.
 
"This be every traitor's end!"
Drake cried, and yet again.
Slowly his captains turned and went
and the admiral's stare was elsewhere bent
Than where the cold scorn with anger blent
in the eyes of Solomon Kane.

Night fell on the crawling waves;
the admiral's door was closed;
Solomon lay in the stenching hold;
his irons clashed as the ship rolled.
And his guard, grown weary and overbold,
lay down his pipe and dozed.

He woke with a hand at his corded throat
that gripped him like a vise;
Trembling he yielded up the key,
and the somber Puritan stood free,
His cold eyes gleaming murderously
with the wrath that is slow to rise.

Unseen, to the admiral's door,
went Solomon Kane from the guard,
Through the night and silence of the ship,
the guard's keen dagger in his grip;
No man of the dull crew saw him slip
through the door unbarred.

Drake at the table sat alone,
his face sunk in his hands;
He looked up, as from sleeping --
but his eyes were blank with weeping
As if he saw not, creeping,
death's swiftly flowing sands.

He reached no hand for gun or blade
to halt the hand of Kane,
Nor even seemed to hear or see,
lost in black mists of memory,
Love turned to hate and treachery,
and bitter, cankering pain.

A moment Solomon Kane stood there,
the dagger poised before,
As a condor stoops above a bird,
and Francis Drake spoke not nor stirred
And Kane went forth without a word
and closed the cabin door.

This work is in the public domain in countries where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less.
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It is not necessarily in the public domain in the United States if published from 1923 to 1977. For a US-applicable version, check {{PD-1996}} and {{PD-URAA-same-year}} for relevant use.