The Armoury: A Fantasy

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The Armoury: A Fantasy

from: Atlantic Monthly (Pp. 276 - 278)  August 1910

"AND you can still hear them, you tell me — the bursting bombs, the screams of the great shells? Your nerves have not recovered yet, and in your dreams you are still on that
                                              "..... darkling plain,
    Swept with confus'd alarms of struggle and flight."

And yet you long to be back, and find your period of convalescence irksome? You can think of nothing, talk of nothing, but war and the making of war, and all the while your tired nerves cry out for rest and quiet? Content you, Sir. Will you come with me, for a little, to a quiet place I know of, — quiet and peaceful now, and yet full of the relics of those heroisms that you love? Here is a door ajar. Come with me into the Armoury.
    "Ah, Sir, be not surprised at these rich carven panels, and at the rafters of ancient oak. Rather forget what is outside of that door; forget even that the door itself, which is unmistakably hewn oak within, looked like painted pine without. Let your forgetting be comprehensive, and make yourself at home. That song of Will Shakespeare's —

         'Tell me where is Fancy bred,
         Or in the heart or in the head? — '

which we can hear faintly tinkled on a spinet to a right Elizabethan air — that song shall magic us wholly away from the outside world. The good Poet was speaking of Love, no doubt; but we shall interpret his fancy as we choose, while you look with me along the walls of this mine Armoury.
    "Here now is the wall of Swords. A goodly array, is't not? I see you gaze with interest upon that long blade that heads the line. No wonder that you admire it, for the pommel and haft are all of precious stones. Time was, as a good book tells us, it gave light like thirty torches, but its brightness is somewhat dimmed in these fro ward times. You recognize it now, but are puzzled, mayhap, to find it on these walls. True, Sir, it has not been wielded in battle since that sad day when Sir Bedivere took it up and bound the girdle about the hilts, and threw it as far into the water as he might. But it was not wholly lost; for I found it in a certain glorious summer of my boyhood, and ever since it has hung there upon the wall, where the broken light from yonder narrow window touches it as with the ray of an autumn sunset. I shall not soon be parted from it.
    "And the sword beside it? Tis the one that the young Galahad lightly plucked from the fleeting stone, and placed in the waiting scabbard by his side. Look you at the pommel adorned with jewels, and read the writing wrought thereon with subtle letters of gold: 'Never shall man take me hence but only he by whose side I ought to hang, and he shall be the best knight in the world.' Fair and untarnished is the blade, for all that the young knight slew with it the Seven Deadly Sins. View it ye may, but you nor I nor any of our modern fellowship may touch that spotless steel.
    "And the sword beyond it, with the blunted edge? Tis Durendal, which Count Roland, in his death- agony, sought vainly to break upon the stone. Charlemagne girded the sword upon him, and with it Roland conquered many a fair province, and slew many a foul Paynim. When Roland entered the Pass of Roncesvalles, he wished a wish which binds us even as we look upon it now. These words he spoke: For his liege lord a man ought to suffer all hardship, and endure great heat and cold, and give both his blood and his body. I will smite with Durendal, my good sword that the King gave me. If I die here, may he to whom it shall fall say, "This was the sword of a goodly vassal."' And it is only by the meed of this tribute that Durendal is kept there upon the panel.
    "And next it, you observe, hangs Halteclere, which Oliver bore — the good and trusty sword that had not its fellow under heaven save only Durendal. It is good to see them hanging side by side, as if the loyalty of their masters still vibrated through the steel. Are they thinking, I wonder, of that heart-stirring cry which Roland uttered to Oliver at Roncesvalles: 'I will smite with Durendal my sword, and do thou, Comrade, lay on with Halteclere. Through many lands have we carried them, and with them have we conquered many a battle. No ill song must be sung of them.'
    "They are the treasure trove of later years, Good Sir, and there beneath them are two crossed weapons without which the little group would be incomplete. One is Joyeuse, the sword of the great Charles himself. Richly jewelled it is, and encased in the golden hilt is the tip of the spear with which Our Lord was pierced upon the Cross. And the sword of brown steel which lies across it is Almace, with which the good Bishop Turpin slew some four hundred Paynims at Roncesvalles.
    "But I see that your eye is fixed upon that broad blade with the strange runes graven in it. 'Tis Balmung, which Wieland forged and gave to Siegfried. And with it you see the other two swords of Siegfried's: Gram, the sword of Grief, and Mimung, the blade which Wittich lent to him. And there too is Flamborge, the sword of Maugis, which I have hung so that its point leans over to kiss the blade of Balmung. The great Wieland forged them both, and their well-wrought runes croon together of their ruddy past.
   "There are other swords adown the wall which are good to look upon — Chrysaor, the sword of Artegall, and Graysteel, and Graban the Gravedigger, and Blutgang the Blood-letter, and Quernbiter, the footbroad sword of King Haakon, and Brinnig the Flaming, which Hildebrand bore — their very names are heartening. But I should detain you too long, were we to stop before each one.
    "Rather turn we to the opposite wall, where you perceive the sweet confusion of armour and spears. That great shield which seems to crowd the very rafters — look well upon its intricate tracery: the earth and the sky and the sea, and the sun and the moon and all the stars; and two cities withal, one irradiated with the light of peace and one beclouded with the shadow of war; and the vineyard, with its merry youths and maidens and the boy playing on a harp of gold and singing a pleasant song; and round about the shield the river of Ocean. Yes, in truth, 'tis none other than the shield of Achilles, which Hephsestus wrought him. And there beside it are the corselet brighter than fire and the helmet ridged with gold. And sloping athwart the armour — for you will observe that it is too long to stand erect — is the mighty spear that Cheiron cut on the top of Pelion to be the death of many. Yes, Sir, you are quite right; 'twere as much beyond our puny power to lift that royal weapon, as to draw the stout bow which arches the space beyond. Odysseus brooked no rival in that feat, you remember.
    "And no less worthy of your view are those two sturdy shafts which tower side by side on yonder panel. The nearer one with its ebon staff, which Bladud made by magic art of yore, was wielded by the fair Britomart. The farther, of celestial temper, the mighty Ithuriel bore. Why are they placed side by side? Ah, Sir, 'tis a dreamer's whim. Mayhap the causes in which they were wielded were not unlike. Nor is it wholly by chance that yon white shield with a red cross in the midst hangs near the two spears. The shield was Galahad's.
    "And now, Sir, I will not detain you longer from the unreal world of everyday affairs which lies beyond the door. Perchance some other day, if you will deign to visit me, we may go together to an ante-room where we shall look upon Antony's sword, Philippan, and Caesar's yellow blade, Crocea Mors, and the much-dinted iron helmet of Cromwell, and the pathetically tiny suit of armour which a zealous smith wrought for a Stuart kinglet. And perchance too we may peer for a moment into a recess behind a panel, where Don Quixote's basin helmet, and Falstaff's pudding shield, and the arms of Hudibras, lie gathering oblivious dust.
    "Ah, Sir, I am sorry to see you go, for it is a rare privilege to renew mine ancient rapture with a congenial spirit. Moreover, there is a chill in the air outside. But here, Sir, allow me to offer you this old cloak which lies upon the window-seat. Do not despise it for its antiquated look, for it hath an excellent history. Jack the Giant-killer received it from his uncle in Cornwall. It is the cloak of Invisibility."
Additional Information:
Originally published as part of "My Armoury" in the "Contributors' Club" section of the Atlantic Monthly (August 1910: 276-78). Reprinted in Saturday and Sunday (Toronto: Macmillan, 1935 and Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1967, pp. 210-15).