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The Enchanted Shield


The Enchanted Shield

Upon a great adventure he was bond.
The festivities of Caerleon were drawing to a close; but though the sun had set upon the third and last day, the princes and heroes of Christendom, who were there assembled to witness the deeds of the Round-Table Knights, or to dispute with them the prize of the joust and the tournay, neither retired from the banquet, nor laid any embargo upon the wine-cup or the hirlas. The brightly-sparkling yellow mead passed frequently and freely, and the noble and illustrious revellers grew loquacious from its effects: the bards and minstrels too, felt the influence of their much lauded beverage, as was evident from the wildness of their fancies and the discord of their strings. Nor, indeed, did the great Pendragon’s son escape the sweet infection, but paying more regard to his knightly than his regal honours, mingled with his compeers in arms, partaking alike of their nectar and their mirth.
“Geriant!” said the hero of song and romance, addressing himself to the chief bard of the palace, who, with his ancient harp beside him, occupied a raised seat at the lower end of the hall: “why should thy harp strings slumber? Hast thou nor martial song, nor lay of love, for the banquet board to-night?”
“The bards,” replied the minstrel; “await but royal Arthur’s bidding.”
“Then be the choice thine own,” added the prince; and therewith the venerable “child of song,” placing his instrument before him, struck up a wild and warlike symphony, by way of prelude to
HAIL, great Pendragon’s dauntless heir!
And ye whom fate appoints to share
    His deathless glory! While
We wake the theme of by-gone days,
And strike the thrilling harp in praise
    Of Mona’s Druid isle,
Oh, check your fancy’s wild career, —
Dark island! thou must still be dear
To mountain Wallia’s minstrel band,
Though warriors throng thy hallowed strand,
And oft with spear and polish’d brand
    Each sacred haunt defile!
When Rome's infuriate legions came,
And gave thy forests to the flame,
    And shrine and altar broke;
Sublime thy Druid-armies rose,
Nor quailed before their island’s foes,
    Nor bowed beneath their yoke.
But where is now the intrepid host.
The stern defenders of thy coast? —
Ye powers that first in day's of yore,
Scared each proud eagle from the shore,
How long shall Idda's raven soar,
    Heedless of vengeance' stroke?
How long must Mona's island feel
The dread effects of fire and steel?
    How long with aching eyes,
Behold her groves of lofty oak
Fall ‘neath the’invaders’ ruthless stroke,
    Or blazing to the skies;
And vainly shout aloud for aid
To save the Druid’s holy shade?
Heroes! who crowd the festive board,
Why sleeps the retributive sword?
Why hath not Mona's mountains heard
    Your piercing battle-cries?
Knights of King Arthur’s table round,
For feats of valour far renown’d
    And deeds of high acclaim!
Shall Mona call in vain? — Arouse,
And snatch from her invaders’ brows
    The blood-stained wreath of fame!
And while secure their prize they deem,
Plunge them in Menai’s roaring stream!—
Or will you view (no longer brave),
Their rude barbaric banners wave
Triumphant o’er the Druids’ grave,
    And perish Mona's fame!
Exhausted by the effort which he had made, to awaken in the breasts of his noble hearers a sense of the duty which they owed to their country, the aged bard, resigning his instrument into the hands of an attendant, sunk back into his seat, and leant his head against one of the pillars between which he sat; while the hall of banqueting rang with the applause of its illustrious guests, and the threatenings of instant vengeance upon the enemies of Mona’s isle.
“We will to Mona, by the sacred cross!” exclaimed King Arthur; “what say our British knights?”
“Vengeance for Mona’s isle!” was the brief, but unanimous reply of the latter; and at the same moment each laid his hand upon the cold hilt of his trusty falchion, lifting it upon high in a manner that declared it was the intention of all present, to ratify their hastily formed resolution by the oath of knighthood, which like the laws of the Medes and Persians might not be altered. At this juncture, however, Dubricius, archbishop of Caerleon, held aloft his ivory crosier, and in an instant the weapons of warfare bowed down before it.
“Form no rash vows,” shouted out the wearer of the mitre; “it ill becomes the Knights of the Round Table to resolve upon war at the banquet board; or to heed the vain babblings of an unrighteous bard. Moreover, there is one in waiting even now, who hath a boon to ask, which tendeth to the honour of every true knight, and the good of the holy church. — Lleudad, advance!”
Hereupon, a cowled monk, who had remained unnoticed among the crowd at the lower end of the hall, forced his way through, and approaching the throne of the Silurian prince, there assumed a posture of lowly obeisance, having first stooped down to kiss the hem of the archbishop's flowing robe. The primate and his less fortunate colleague, like skilful observers of times and opportunities, had selected the most favourable moment for bringing forward their suit, well knowing that it booted little to the half-intoxicated knights, whether the effervescence of their feelings vented itself in the defence, or in the destruction of the remains of Druidism; and the song of the bard having worked up their passions to the highest pitch of enthusiasm, it now only remained to take advantage of this circumstance, by turning the springtide of those passions into another channel. Still holding up on high the sacred symbol of his profession, Dubricius commanded silence throughout the hall, and having, though not without some difficulty, succeeded in obtaining it, he made a signal for the monk to proceed with the errand which had brought him thither. The latter obeying, addressed himself to the monarch, and in a slow and solemn tone of voice, delivered the following apparently studied speech.
“Great and illustrious prince, whose glory hath eclipsed the glory of all other princes and potentates of the earth; the honour of the holy church, and of our most blessed and exalted lady, whose ceaseless prayers and intercessions have obtained for thy arms, conquest and victory over the enemies of this land, now call for the assistance of thy sword, commanding thee to purge thy realm therewith from the abominations of idolatry, ere thou pledgest it to any other undertaking whatsoever. — Know then, most great and glorious prince, and ye too brave and valiant Knights of the Round Table, that there is not far from hence a small island, inhabited by cruel and merciless pagans and magicians, who regard neither the name of the all virtuous Mary, nor the most holy brotherhood of her own abbey, but persist in worshipping mis-shapen idols of oak, and by their foul and devilish enchantments, work great mischief to the church and danger to the state. Bardsey, in former times, was the name this island bore; but of late it hath been called the island of the Current, by reason that by the magic arts of those who dwell therein, it hath been rendered hard of access, by a furious and terrific current which runneth all round it, making it dangerous to attempt to reach that isle, nay, almost certain death; for, as we have often heard, if ever knight or damsel should chance to escape the waves, they be forthwith sacrificed on the altars of some pagan deity. The immediate conquest of this place, great prince, is the boon now craved at thy hands, for the honour and safety of the holy church, who desires that, when cleansed from the filthy abominations of its false gods, it may be given up entirely to herself.”
“Holy father,” replied King Arthur; “knowest thou not that we in former times essayed the conquest of this island, but were always defeated by reason of the spirits of air and water, which its wizards and enchanters conjured up against us, and against whom no knight, even of the Round Table, was able to stand, save only Sir Tristan and Sir Galath, whose wisdom and virtue laugh to scorn the spells and the power of enchanters. And knowest thou not, likewise, that we lost at that same time our fair and beauteous daughter Anna, who, having been affianced to the immaculate son of Sir Lancelot, was hastening to join him; but alas! was shipwrecked and lost in that same furious current thou hast spoken of; and though Sir Galath sought to revenge her death, he failed of success; and we were fain to return back again with great loss, both of men and reputation, and of our royal navy to boot. Wherefore, then, holy father, seekest thou to bring us to undertake this adventure anew, seeing that it is so hopeless and so perilous?”
These truly formidable objections satisfied the monk at once, that he must hold out some other and more advantageous, or more romantic inducement than the good of the church, ere the half-Christianized knights of Caerleon, would feel much inclined to embark in so doubtful and so dangerous a quest; and, accordingly, he soon brought to the support of his cause more congenial reasons than those just adduced.
“Fear not, — the holy church is able to give the victory to all those who adventure themselves in her behalf. Notwithstanding, if Arthur fears for the blood of his subjects, and the weal of the state, she will consent to waive for a time the claim which she hath upon the forces and armies of Britain, requiring instead thereof, but twelve gallant knights, whose prowess and whose valour she promises to crown with success: nay more, he who shall prove himself most valiant and most faithful in her cause, shall receive as his reward the renowned Pridwen, the shield of the radiant aspect, which is able to withstand the arms of earth and hell, and which shall ensure victory to whosoever displayeth it in the field of battle. The wizards and enchanters of the island of the Current, well knowing the virtue of Pridwen, and that he who should ever gain possession of it, would surely overcome them, and destroy their power and dominion over the elements; have concealed it in a deep and gloomy cavern, upon the entrance of which the far-famed Merlin hath placed his magic seals, and these may only be broken by the prophet himself, or by him whom the books of doom have appointed.”
The wary Lleudad had now struck a chord to which every knightly bosom vibrated; and, while he was yet extolling the innumerous virtues of the Enchanted Shield, the prince stopped all further eulogium, by an abrupt

“Enough, enough! thy boon is granted, holy father ; we have heard of the fame of Pridwen, and many years ago made a solemn vow, that whenever we should discover the place of its concealment, we would attempt to bear it hence; and, therefore, good abbot, we return thee thanks for giving us this opportunity of fulfilling our heaven-registered resolve.”
‘The sword of Sir Lancelot, too,” said he of the lake, “hath of old been pledged to this quest, and longs for the hour when it may be redeemed.”
“Vengeance,” said the immaculate knight, “shall be the battle-shout of Sir Galath, and if he may but avenge the foul death of his bright-eyed Anna, little will he care who wins the enchanted Pridwen.”
“The church would not separate father from son,” said Dubricius, “and therefore makes choice of ye both.”
The Round Table heroes now all eagerly pressed forward, to solicit the honour of being permitted to join in an enterprise in which they beheld their prince and the famous Sir Lancelot about to embark; but the abbot of St. Mary’s refused to admit more than the number he had at first stipulated for; and contented himself with selecting from among the crowd of candidates, those most celebrated for deeds of high emprise, among whom were, the matchless enchanter and hero, Sir Tristan; the battle-knight Sir Owen, Urien, Prince of Reged’s son, and the long-tried companion of Sir Lancelot du Lac; the golden-tongued Gwalchmai; and the brave and faithful counsellor of Arthur, Sir Aaron le Sage.
“And now, holy Lleudad,” said the archbishop, if thy choice hath been made, it is meet ye depart to your brethren, and with them, before the sanctified altar of St. Mary’s, humbly implore the blessing of heaven on the valiant heroes who have pledged themselves to this most just and noble enterprise. — And to you, inheritor of great Pendragon's fame, is assigned three days to dismiss from the court of Caerleon, its royal and illustrious guests, and to prepare for the adventure which, before this sacred symbol, ye must now swear faithfully to perform.”
The archbishop again lifted up his crosier, and the twelve knights who had been chosen by the abbot, kneeling before, it, swore, by the most holy cross, by the virtues of the virgin-mother, and by the bones of all the martyred saints! to expel from the island of the Current, the wizards, druids, and enchanters, who abode therein; to demolish the altars and shrines of Pagan idolatry; and having so done, to resign the island itself for ever, to the brotherhood of St. Mary's monastery.
This ceremony being gone through, the good father-abbot departed from the royal presence, and the rest of those present followed his example: the noble strangers to talk over the singular events which they had just witnessed, and the fortunate knights to dream of the adventure of the enchanted shield; the bard alone remained behind in his seat, and when the wayward multitude had hied them hence, he was addressing himself to his mountain-lyre, in the following wild and melancholy strain:—
Spirit of harmonious numbers!
    Passion’s monarch, yet its slave,
Wherefore from inglorious slumbers
    Did'st thou seek to rouse the brave?
Worse than madness was the endeavour
    Valour's spirit to awake:
Soon thy power must end for ever —
    Soon thy master's heart shall break!
Early next day, King Arthur proceeded to dismiss the princes and nobles, who had assembled at the court of Caerleon, from the most distant regions of the globe, to honour with their presence his long-anticipated festival, and to share in its royal and magnificent sports; — and this duty he performed in a manner becoming the high dignity which he held among the mighty ones of the earth. To one, was presented a massy shield, beautifully resplendent with tasteful devices of inlaid gold and silver work; to another, a helmet elaborately carved in polished steel or brass; to a third, a breast-plate, so richly and exquisitely burnished, as that all the bright colours of the rainbow might be seen therein; while a fourth, mayhap, received at his munificent hands, a falchion of unrivalled strength and excellence, the hilt of which was heavy with gems and precious stones; or, it may be, was honoured with the golden torques; and, in short, of all his proud guests, not one departed from the court without bearing with him some valuable token of the respect or liberality of its royal master. Queen Gueniver, likewise, on her part, took care to bestow upon each and all of the beauteous dames and damoiselles, some costly and appropriate mark of her regard. And by such truly unexampled generosity it was, that the fame and praise of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, became noised abroad and recorded in the four quarters of the globe. These proceedings occupied the whole of two days, and a part also of the third, the day allowed them to prepare for the adventure to which they had recently bound themselves; but as every true knight was obliged by the laws and institutes of chivalry, to stand always in readiness to act upon the most instantaneous summons, but a short time was sufficient for every necessary preparation, and the chosen twelve accordingly retired early to rest, in order that they might rise with the lark, and begin their journey with the sun.
The officers of the palace were at their appointed posts, and the knights had taken their several stations at the well-garnished board, and merely awaited the appearance of their prince that they might commence the important labour of breaking their fast— for knights though they were, aye, and right hardy ones too, they deemed a full stomach much better than an empty one, when they had any important enterprise to achieve. At length the mighty monarch came into the hall but a thoughtful uneasiness was imprinted upon his countenance, and he performed his knightly salutations with less ease and courtesy than was his wont.
“The brave conqueror of Cerdic looks disturbed this morning, may his faithful knights demand the cause thereof?” inquired Sir Lancelot du Lac.
“A true knight,” replied the king, “hath no secret from his companions in adventure. In brief then, Sir Lancelot, 'tis the dreams of last night have troubled and disturbed me. Sir Tristan, thou canst resolve into realities the wild phantoms of sleep, and unveil the dark things of futurity; be it thine therefore to declare the meaning of my vision.— Know then, that I beheld a noble eagle perched upon the topmost branch of a wide-spreading oak, and around it were gathered many others nearly its equal in size and beauty. An innumerable swarm of hawks, and ravens rising from the sea, made straight towards the royal bird, and so greatly annoyed it and its fellows, that the eagles were fain to seek safety in flight. Mounting upwards, I saw them attain the summit of a lofty mountain, upon the mist-clad brow of which, a large carbuncle shone with a sun-like splendour; while the audacious hawks hovered in the air below. Then the proud bird taking that wondrous gem into its beak, returned towards the earth, and such was the bright refulgence of its prize, that there was not found one among the thousands of its winged assailants able to endure the intenseness of the glare, much less to gaze thereon; but alas! just as the victor was about to alight upon the branch from whence it had at first been driven, I beheld those of its own race and kindred fall on it unawares, and after a desperate struggle, overpower it by their numbers, till it fell. And so it was, that while these ingrate birds were quarrelling for the dreadful gem, which their leader, in defending himself against their assaults, had dropped, the hawks and the ravens again taking courage, returned and succeeded in beating them away from the prize, which they immediately covered from sight, and then perched themselves securely upon the branches of the royal oak. Such was the dream, gallant knights, which hath troubled me, and now, let Sir Tristan declare to us its meaning and its import.”
The hero appealed to, continued silent for some time, as if to collect his powers of penetration together, to the end that he might satisfy the demand of his prince; but was ultimately obliged to acknowledge he was unable to tell him the right interpretation, and begged to refer the matter over to the consideration of the reverend Dubricius, who, in his turn, referred it to some priest of Pagan duties,” deeming it, possibly, beneath the dignity of an archbishop, to trouble himself with the vague fancies of a sleeping brain. King Arthur now appealed to the chief bard of his palace, who, however much neglected upon the half-Christian festival of chivalry, was still looked up to as one who
“Was not of the herd of common men.”
“Geriant,” said he, “can thy bardic-lore explain to thee, the meaning of the dream which thou hast heard?”
“Forgive me,” replied the minstrel, “but wherefore should Pendragon's son expect the bard to declare that which cannot be declared either by the learned Tristan, or the reverend Dubricius? — Great prince, my bardic-lore may fire the soul with song, but to the prophet's heaven-born wisdom lays no claim. But Arthur may perchance find out the interpretation of the vision which he saw, by attending to

One night, while I slept in
    Great Idris's chair,
My senses all steep'd in
    Forgetfulness ; — (ne'er
To pilgrim when weary,
    Or captive fast bound,
Came slumber more dreary,
    Or sleep more profound):
My soul for brief season
    Winged upward its way,
Released from its prison
    Of sensitive clay;
And free as a spirit
    That ne'er was controul'd,
Nor doom'd to inherit
    Mortality's mould;
Beheld the full glory
    Of Destiny's morn,
And read the dark story
    Of ages unborn.
And once as it wander’d
    Sublime through the gloom
Of the future, and ponder'd
    The lessons of doom;
Suspending all motion,
    It saw whence it rode,
On the breast of the ocean,
    The shrine of a god.
A priest stood before it,
    Enrobed in pure white,
Though round it and o'er it
    Hung darkness and night; —
His hand seem'd to falter
    While grasping the knife.
Which had on that altar
    Shed innocent life. —
Nor guilt, nor compunction,
    The cause of that thrill;
He heeded no unction
    His conscience to still —
But a dread foreboding
    He might not withstand,
That danger was brooding,
    And death was at hand!
A diademed warrior
    Advanced o'er the brine,
And broke through each barrier
    That guarded the shrine; —
And onward still pressing
    Regardless of shame,
Of curse, or of blessing,
    Reproach, or acclaim; —
His falchion bright beaming
    He drew from its sheath,
Of havoc still dreaming —
    Of warfare and death. —
And deaf to all pleading,
    In desperate mood,
He stained it unheeding
    With sanctified blood!
Its victim just started,
    Then bowed to the stroke,
Yet ere life departed
    Thus, thus he bespoke: —
“Proud victor, whose story.
    Not time shall efface,
The sun of thy glory
    Is setting apace; —
‘Tis all unavailing,
    The dye hath been cast,
And hark to yon wailing
    That comes on the blast; —
Not vain have I callen
    On Annwn's fell band,
A monarch hath fallen,
    And woe to the land!”
Time passed on his journey:
    Again I beheld,
Not decked for the tournay,
    But girt for the field; —
The diademed warrior
    Who came o’er the brine,
And broke thro' each barrier
    That guarded the shrine. —
Around him were thronging
    The mighty in arms,
All anxiously longing
    For battle's alarms;
And proud waved his banner,
    Tho’ light as the down,
The loadstar of honour,
    And fame and renown —
His dragon-crown’d helmet
    Gleamed bright on the view,
As nought might o’erwhelm it,
    Or tarnish its hue; —
His shield was all lightness,
    Tho' radiant with gems,
Surpassing in brightness
    The summer sun’s beams;
O'er pennons, and lances,
    And helmets, and spears,
The diamond-flash glances,
    The carbuncle glares;
And never till then did
    So gallant a knight,
With buckler so splendid
    Come forth to the fight; —
And chiefs without number,
    And heroes were there,
As roused from the slumber
    And sleep of despair; —
The battle-cry sounded,
    The war-challenge pealed,
And onward they bounded
    Sublime o'er the field!
But while they were closing,
    Those ranks of renown,
Opposed and opposing,
    O’erthrowing, o’erthrown,
I saw the bold warrior
    Who came o'er the brine,
And broke thro' each barrier
    That guarded the shrine, —
Despite the protection
    His shield could afford,
Fall, slain by defection
    And treachery's sword!
And wild shrieks of horror
    Came borne on the wind,
And shoutings of terror
    And triumph combined;
And those who gave token
    That all should applaud,
Were routed and broken,
    And scattered abroad.
And none stopp'd to cherish
    The fallen in fight,
But left him to perish —
    That dragon-crowned knight.
Too much he confided
    In those who were near,
Unsuccoured, unaided,
    I saw him expire,
No more to inherit
    The trophies of fame,
For loudly a spirit
    Was heard to proclaim—
“Not vain have I callen
    On Annwn's fell band,
A monarch hath fallen,
    And woe to the land!”
The vibrations of the bard's prophetic lyre had died away into their softest tone, ere the silence of the hall was broken by the sounds of human voice. King Arthur sat absorbed in gloomy thoughts; — the predictions of the bardic choir had often been so fully and fearfully realised, that he could not choose but ponder upon the dark and mysterious strains which he had just heard. His brave and loyal knights, too, appeared equally struck therewith, and observed as strict a silence. Even the Christian archbishop could not for some time break through the spell, which the harp's wild numbers had thrown around him; but recollecting himself, that it ill became the sacredness of his character, to be influenced by the music of one, whom he looked upon as little better than a Pagan, he snatched up the ivory cross, which had inadvertently fallen from his hand, and addressing himself to the Silurian prince and his gallant compeers, exclaimed,
“Can it be, that Arthur, the favoured of heaven, and the illustrious Knights of the Round Table, have forgotten the oath which, three days ago, before this consecrated cross, they swore, that they thus tarry listening to a minstrel's vagaries, when the cause of the holy church and their own glory alike urge them on to its immediate fulfilment?”
To this abrupt and vehement interrogative of the prelate, the golden-tongued Gwalchmai replied.
“Reverend father, the vow which we have made, binds us, it is true, to the adventure — but there is a time for battle, and a time for rest; and it would, methinks, as ill become the warriors of the Honied isle, to fly from the song of the bard, as to disregard the summons of the church. Without the lay of the former, to hallow his name, and to hand it down in song to the future generations of the earth, where would be the hero's boasted fame? And what motive, save this, doth Dubricius suppose, could have induced the Knights of the Round Table to pledge themselves to the conquest of Bardsey? — Surely, not the hope of obtaining an enchanted shield?”
“No!” shouted out the young and fiery Sir Galath, whose frozen feelings now began to flow again, “but vengeance upon those whose dire enchantments and hell-begotten spells, snatched away the plighted bride of Sir Galath, and mayhap slaughtered the pride of Arthur's court upon the foul altar-stone of savage deities!”
This vehement ejaculation of the disappointed lover, aroused the half-dormant spirit of knighthood again into activity. Sir Lancelot du lac was the first to follow the example of his son; and, quitting his seat at the breakfast board, held aloft his lance in an attitude of proud defiance. The other knights, in imitation of him, hurried to possess themselves of their respective arms: and Arthur, as if by the noise they made, awoke from a deep trance, started up, and with a wild and furious air, poising his favourite Rhôn, exclaimed,— “To Bardsey, come what will!”
In the bustle and vociferous uproar which now ensued, the poor child of song was again forgotten; and, with a few of his musical disciples, was left alone in the hall, while the whole of the knights, with their gay-clad attendants, moved on en masse towards the outer court of the palace; where the grooms and esquires were in waiting with the steeds of their noble masters, ready harnessed for the chivalrous expedition they were about to undertake. In a few minutes, the mailed and armoured riders were seated in their saddles, and, the archbishop having pronounced his benediction upon them, King Arthur sounded his golden-tipped horn, at which the splendid cavalcade bounded off in right gallant style, and with an appearance as formidable as dazzling; for, though only twelve knights had originally been selected for the expedition by the good father abbot of St. Mary's monastery, no objection whatever was made to those who chose voluntarily to join their battle companions, when the latter took their departure from the royal palace of Caerleon, in quest of the perilous and unknown adventures of the enchanted shores of the Island of the Current!
Sir Lancelot and Sir Owen, as the two battle knights of King Arthur's court, led the van of the martial company; while the British monarch himself, with the rest of the chosen corps, trod close upon their heels. Their fiery steeds possessed too much mettle, to require that any time should be lost in unnecessary haltings; and they gallopped and cantered, and cantered and galloped, without exhibiting the least symptom of being jaded or fatigued, from the rising of the glorious orb of day, until the lilac-tinted clouds of the western horizon were changed into alloyless gold!
The dun shadows of evening were, however, gathering fast, when the brave Knights of the Round Table arrived at St. Mary's monastery, where they were received by the abbot, and his holy brethren, with every mark of honour and respect, befitting their high rank. The impatience of the heroes of the lance and sword was too great to allow of their wasting much of their valuable time with those of the cowl and cassock; and having turned their steeds into the pasture belonging to the convent, they hastened down to the beach, determined to embark forthwith for the Island of the Current, and to essay immediately their wild and dangerous undertaking. The reverend Lleudad accompanying them in the capacity of guide, and in order to ensure by his holy presence, the favour and protection of heaven.
“How is this, father abbot?” said the Knight of the Lake: “Didst thou not tell us we should have to cross a stream, deeper and wilder than the Menai, in a tempest? and lo thou seest 'tis smoother than a sea of oil.”
“True, sir knight; but I would have ye beware of its oily surface; it betokens no good, believe me: for, doubtless, some powerful spell is at work, and thereby restrains its accustomed fury.”
“Then let us across,” said Sir Tristan, “ere the spell is dissolved, and the waves are freed from their bondage!”
At the self-same moment, however, a loud peal of thunder rolled awfully above their heads, echoing again and again among the lofty hills and rocky prominences around them; while the slumbering sea sunk like a giant's bosom when he breathes, and in a moment rushed through the narrow strait with a velocity and force, which more than confirmed the statement of the holy abbot. King Arthur gazed up to the dark and gathering clouds, with a look of scorn and proud defiance. Sir Tristan and Sir Galath started back from the margin of the flood, which swept away in its rushing course the boat which, in their impatience to seize Time by the forelock, they had unwisely loosened from its moorings. Sir Lancelot du lac and his battle companion, buried the bright points of their lances in the sand; and stood firm and unmoved as the mountains of Eryri. Nor did the other adventurers betray any signs of fear at the awful and unexpected tumult of the unchained elements; though, as this continued to increase, without any prospect of abatement, they were fain to follow the advice and example of the good father abbot: who, believing that the better part of valour was discretion, had prudently sheltered himself from the peltings of the storm, behind the walls of his own monastery, leaving the bold champions of Caerleon to act as they deemed most consistent with the strict notions of knightly honour. As, however, the prospect of reaching the opposite shores that night had become utterly hopeless, it was resolved to defer the attempt until the morrow; at which time, it was hoped, the winds and waters might possibly wear a more favourable aspect.

The holy brotherhood of St. Mary's received the knights joyfully, and entertained them to their hearts desire; while they took upon themselves the important task of praying throughout the live-long night, for the success of the next morning's undertaking. In this service they were occasionally assisted by the more devout of their noble and illustrious guests; among whom was the immaculate Sir Galath, who came there to offer up a prayer for the repose of the soul of his much-beloved Anna.
The following morning, as soon as the fair countenance of the sun shewed itself in the dappled east, our heroes — having first paid their respects to the well and daintily supplied refectory of the monastery — donned their armour of proof, and proceeded again to the beach; but on looking about for the Island of the Current, they found so dense and impenetrable a mist to cover the whole surface of the intervening strait, that it was next to impossible for them to discern any object at the distance of a full lance's length off.
“Good father!” said Arthur, addressing himself to their guide, “the prize we came hither in quest of, appears to have melted into air. Or knowest thou the way which leads to this dread isle of the ocean, through the shadows and clouds with which it seems to be surrounded?”
“Great prince!” replied the abbot, “did I not tell ye that the adventure would prove fearful and perilous? But be not dismayed; though dangerous, it shall be accomplished: and, under the protection of the sacred cross, let us on; nor fear what mischief all the legions of hell can work against us!”
So saying, he held aloft the symbol which was to carry with it more terror and confusion in its march than ever did the eagles of imperial Rome; and leading the way down to the verge of the shrouded flood, was followed, or preceded, by the adventuring host.
Sir Galath, whose virtues made him proof against demon charm and wizard spell, was first to gain the foremost skiff; and Sir Tristan, who was fain in the holy presence of their guide to refrain from exercising his own forbidden art, and of defeating the effects of one enchantment by another, was close at his side as he entered; nor was the monarch with his battle knights far behind. Sir Aaron le Sage, and the eloquent Gwalchmai, with the remainder of the chosen heroes, seated themselves in another boat, intending to follow the abbot's well known standard, which, from its reflecting the light through the gloom that made all things alike undistinguishable, was meant to be their guiding-star across the flood. Three other vessels, filled with volunteers in the cause of the church, strove also to keep the same object in view, but in vain; and they not only lost sight of the cross, but were soon parted from each other, notwithstanding their most strenuous endeavours to keep together. Still, however, they rowed perseveringly forward, not doubting but that they should soon reach the island, despite the dense fogs and mists which concealed it from their sight, and be in time to share in the glory of its conquest, and the honour of obtaining the enchanted shield.
Under the guidance and protection of the abbot of St. Mary's, the bark which contained the prince and his companions, gained the clouded shore in safety, and discharged its martial freight in good condition, and uninjured or in mind or body by any real or imaginary obstacles with which they had hitherto had to contend. Finding himself upon firm ground again, Sir Lancelot du lac applied the smoothly-polished tip of his hirlas to his well-practised lips, and blew a blast as loud, at least, if not louder than that which pealed from the famed Rolando's horn, when that gallant knight was attacked by the treacherous Moors in the valley of Roncesvalles. Unfortunately the atmosphere which now surrounded our heroes, was so dull and heavy as to be incapable of conveying to the scattered adventurers the summons of their leader: one only of the four remaining boats answered to the signal; this, however, proved to be the one whose presence was deemed most necessary to the success of the expedition, and King Arthur immediately recognised in the faint echo which was returned to Sir Lancelot’s call, the mellow notes of his loyal and trusty knight, the golden-tongued Gwalchmai. After exchanging signals for a considerable length of time, an union was at last effected between those champions who had, by the ministers of the church, been set apart for the holy enterprise.
Like efforts were now made to collect the remainder of the warriors of Caerleon, but not with like success; and after much useless waste of breath, our heroes, by and with the advice of their reverend guide, ceased their instrumental clamour, and turned both mind and body to proceed with their dangerous quest. Hardly able to distinguish one another in the gloom which surrounded them, they however proceeded onward, through a thick and entangled forest of gigantic oaks and briery underwoods, among which bats, and owls, and birds unclean, flitted in countless multitudes, and, disturbed by the unexpected intrusion of human feet, issued from their dark and dreary hiding places; and flapping their foul and loathsome wings against the towering helmets of their intruders, caused them to start back with fear at every step they took; while their low and hollow wailings — for even the screech owl's shrill and piercing cry was in the air they breathed scarce heard — made the stoutest heart confess a dread of things and powers invisible, and quail with apprehensions, entirely unknown, because till then unfelt, by the bold and dauntless princes of Pendragon’s court. And ever and anon, more hideous and more terrible opponents stood before them; and grim and ghastly spectre-like figures met them at every gap and opening which they came to, and frowning defiance on them, essayed to scare them back by the hideousness of their aspects; but the immaculate virtue of Sir Galath, and the spell-defying powers of Sir Tristan, seconded as these amulets were by the good swords of their possessors, overcame all opposition, and the phantoms and shadowy forms which hovered in the air, or stalked in frightful majesty along the earth, fled from their approach much more readily than they did from the consecrated standard of St. Mary's monk!
“Holy father,” said the royal knight; “hath this dark and hellish wood neither outlet nor termination; or must we wander here till the sun goes down, if indeed it hath not set already?”
“Be not impatient, my liege,” replied the abbot; “the island scarce measures a league in circumference, and were it overgrown with oaks and brambles from bank to bank, we must ere long gain one extremity. Fear not, then, for though the whole armies of hell were marshalled against us, the cause of the church must triumph, and its supporters receive their promised reward.”
“Silence, thou prating monk!" exclaimed the rough voice of Sir Lancelot du lac; “hear ye not the sounds of melody? Hark! Hark!” —
The knights stood still at the bidding of their brave compeer, and attentively listening, they were enabled to distinguish the low murmuring of a harp, which appeared to be approaching nearer and nearer to the spot where they stood: until, as by a miracle, its wild notes became perfectly clear, distinct and sonorous, though at the same time, their own voices could with difficulty be heard at the distance of a dozen paces; and anon the invisible minstrel chanted in a tone half-threatening, half-admonishing, the following prophetic strain:
“Rush not madly on your doom,
Princes of the ensanguined plume!
Bardsey's isle shall ne'er reward
Those who draw the battle-sword! —
Why defile its hallowed ground,
Heroes of the Table Round? —
Deem not you shall laurels gain
On the bosom of the main;
And tho' yours the dangerous toil,
Other hands shall reap the spoil.
Others claim it for their own —
Yours — the Druid's curse alone!”
“It is the voice of Geriant!” exclaimed the prince. “But I fear me, noble bard, thy warning comes too late. But holy father, see you not a trembling light in yonder distance?”
“‘Tis the curst light of foul idolatry,” replied the abbot; “and well may it tremble, when the holy cross draws near it ; but ‘tis not enough — yonder flame must be extinguished in blood, ere the bright beams of heaven will deign to shine upon this loathsome spot. Onward then, brave knights, and quench it in the heart's blood of those who administer there the rites of hellish adoration!”
Spirited by this furious address, the bold warriors of Caerleon rushed forward with all the speed that the nature of the ground would admit of; but as they drew nearer to the Druid's roofless temple, they intentionally slackened their pace, that they might the better observe those who worshipped there, all of whom appeared to occupy some honourable rank in the ancient institution of Bardism, as their long flowing robes of white, or blue, or green, sufficiently indicated. Before die elevated altar-stone, upon which a clear flame burnt brightly and steadily, the chief Druid stood, enrobed in spotless white; his right hand grasping the sacrificial knife, while his left pointed upward to the skies, as if imploring for earth the blessings of heaven: around him, his companions were ranged according to their respective ranks of Druid, Bard, and Ovate, and each apparently engaged in fervent devotion. As touched by the sacredness of the scene before them, the Round Table Knights paused in their career, and seemed to doubt the justness of the adventure in which they were engaged; and Arthur, as he gazed upon the stately form of him who stood before the altar, could not choose but ponder upon the “Dream of the Bard.” But the wary Lleudad, fearful of the consequences of delay and of reflection, called aloud upon them to advance to the overthrow of Paganism, and to let none of its supporters escape the general slaughter, since the interests of the holy church required it.
Sir Galath, who had revenge to spur him on, was the first to comply with the commands of the abbot, and hurling his ashen spear towards the sacred band, stretched a green-robed Ovate at the feet of his brethren, who, as they saw him fall, raised a loud shriek of terror and surprise, and turned to behold whence came the fatal shaft; but ere they could well do so, the other knights fell upon them, and heedless of their cries for mercy, spared not one! The Arch-Druid met the lance of the British prince unmoved, but when he felt its barbed point, he leapt in the agony of parting life upon the altar before which he had been ministering, and as his heart's best blood streamed down its sides, he raised his faltering voice, and cursing the author of his own and his brethren's death, expired, in repeating a strain familiar to the ear of his royal murderer:
Proud victor, whose story,
    Not time shall efface,
The sun of thy glory
    Is setting apace; —
‘Tis all unavailing,
    The dye hath been cast —
And hark! to yon wailing
    That comes on the blast!
Not vain have I callen
    On Annwn's fell band,
A monarch hath fallen,
    And woe to the land!
“Ah! again ‘tis Geriant’s voice,” exclaimed the prince; “can it be that I have slain the bard?” and so saying, he sprung forward towards the altar, to examine the person of his fallen victim; but a loud rumbling noise from above and beneath him arrested his steps, and he paused but to behold it fall to the earth, and bury beneath its ruins the lifeless body of the Druid-priest. And now, while the swords and lances of his knights, in obedience to the vociferous, mandates of their guide, slaughtered their defenceless adversaries, King Arthur, awe struck and astonished at what he had already seen and heard, looked calmly on, as if unconscious of the work of death in which they were engaged.
When the altar had been overthrown, and its flames extinguished, the atmosphere, instead of brightening, as the holy abbot had predicted, became darker and darker, while a noise, like that of distant thunder, was heard to arise, as the tumult of the assault died away. The prince blew his horn both loud and shrill, and Sir Lancelot, Sir Galath, and Sir Tristan, being within hearing of its notes, shouted in answer thereto, and ere long came up with their monarch. “Where is the monk?” was the first question demanded of them.
“Where danger is not,” replied the knight of the lake; “if such a place may be found in this island. Heaven is not pleased, great Arthur, with our quest, else ‘twould not lower as it hath done since here we came.”
“Heaven will not desert its faithful worshippers,” added the abbot of St. Mary's, who now joined the lords of the shield and lance.” But the work of destruction is not complete; lo, yonder idol lifts up its broad black front uninjured!”
Here he pointed with his crosier towards a huge rocking-stone supported, by two massy pillars of granite, which rose to the view at a short distance in the rear of the now prostrate shrine, and which seemed indeed to frown in sullen grandeur upon the less gigantic objects of its neighbourhood. The knights, however, not seeming very forward in declaring war against this proud relic of Druidic skill, he snatched the lance from the hand of Sir Tristan, and directing it himself against the supposed idol, destroyed its nice equilibrio, and the immense mass fell to the earth and was broken into ten thousand pieces, causing the whole island to tremble at the noise it made, and forcing open those impenetrable barriers which even Merlin's self had sealed! A faint ray of light was now seen to emanate from what appeared to be a rent in the side of the dark rocks opposite which our heroes stood; but which upon nearer approach they discovered to proceed from the opening of a pair of stupendous gates, which seemed to have been hewn out of the solid granite. The gallant adventurers fearlessly ascended the few mis-shapen steps which led to the entrance, followed by the cross-bearing Lleudad, who loudly and vehemently exclaimed, as he pressed on their rear, “it is the cavern of the Enchanted Shield!”
“Be the prize mine, then!” shouted out the son of Sir Lancelot, as he hurled his tough spear against the rocky barrier. — “The gates of Hell may not withstand the lance of Sir Galath!”
The sound of his assault re-echoed far and wide, and its hollow reverberations were heard booming under ground as through a long succession of subterranean vaults. The mighty gates trembled upon their hinges, and in a few moments fell with a deafening crash unto the earth; while at the same instant a broad and vivid flash of fire, more dreadful and terrific than the lightnings of autumnal storms, rushing from the now disclosed cavern, stretched the dauntless adventurers senseless upon the rock; not excepting the prime mover of the enterprize, who, indeed, appeared to feel the shock even more severely than his less holy companions.
Sir Tristan and Sir Galath were the first to recover from the swoon into which they had been thrown, and gazed around with wonder and astonishment upon finding themselves standing in the entrance of a lofty vaulted passage, out of which several others, at various distances, were seen to lead — and all apparently blazing with an innate and unborrowed splendour. Stones, brighter, if possible, than the diamonds of eastern romance, poured forth a flood of light, whose pure rays, here glancing over rocks of sapphire, there falling upon clusters of emeralds or masses of flaming rubies, gave the whole interior the appearance of being illuminated by a countless succession of the most beautiful rainbows; the strong reflections of which were, however, powerful enough to dazzle, and indeed almost to destroy the sight of our sacrilegious heroes.
While the spell-contemning knights strove to accustom their aching eyes to behold that wondrous blaze, the sounds of heavenly music broke upon their ears, and they heard the sweet voice of an invisible chorister warbling a soft and melancholy strain, which died away ere they could catch its burden, though not before the singer had been recognised.
“That voice should be the voice of Anna!” said Sir Galath, as he rushed boldly forward, and became in an instant lost to the view of his fellow-adventurers. His sworn brother in arms, the cunning and skilful Sir Tristan, heedless of the threatened maledictions of the church, muttered a powerful, though forbidden charm, and followed in his footsteps. And thus King Arthur and the invincible Lancelot, were for once compelled to see themselves deprived of the high honour of leading on a doubtful and dangerous enterprize; the spell-despising powers of their juniors in renown being, in their present quest, of more essential service than the lion heart and the well practised arm of battle-field or tournay. They, however, stayed not long behind, but leaving the good abbot of St. Mary's (who not being, like themselves, armed in proof, was fearful of plunging into unknown dangers) at the entrance of the cavern, to pray for their safety and mutter his Ave Marias; — like true knights, and genuine champions of romance, fearlessly committed themselves to the perils of an untried element.
Repeating for ever and anon the dear name of his plighted Anna; the brave Sir Galath continued valiantly on his subterranean way, meeting at every step of his advance, with some unearthly foe, in the shape of fiery dragons, and other frightful monsters; but closing his eyes on their terrific aspects, and his ears on their hideous outcries, be passed through the midst of them untimidated, and finally arrived at a vast cavern, whose dome-like roof, which rose above his head to an immense height, he could not even look upon, so intense and overpowering was the blaze of silvery light which came therefrom, while from the part of the cavern opposite to that by which he had entered, a flood of softer light beamed forth, whose violet-tinted rays formed themselves into a rich and splendid halo, in the centre of which, upon a tripod-shaped column of brightly-polished amethyst, was seated the long-lost daughter of the British prince, motionless as that column itself, but more beautiful far than all the ideal creations of minstrel or romance. Eager to obtain possession of the beauteous maid, Sir Galath sprung forward, but was arrested in his course by a loud and fiendish yell, which rung through the vaulted cave; and, stunned by the noise thereof, he fell as one bereft of life: and at the same moment a bright blue flame springing up from the rocky floor, formed a fiery and impenetrable barrier round the fair lady of the tripod.
Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and Sir Tristan, now entered together, and calling by name upon the fallen knight, aroused him from his stupor. As he recovered again his scattered senses, he would fain have rushed through the wall of fire to reach his plighted bride; this, however, he was prevented from doing by the superior strength of his more prudent sire, who wisely forbore to contend with the powers of darkness, until he had first tried the effect of the mystic incantations which the sage Tristan was then engaged in calling to their aid. The charm worked well, and the bright flame already described, passing through all the various colours of the prismatic spectrum, finally sunk into the earth. Whereupon the spell-bound Anna, uttering a piercing shriek, sprang forward, and was received in the mailed arms of her brave and loyal knight; at the self-same moment, the beauteous column of amethyst, upon which she had sat, fell down and was shattered into ten thousand thousand fragments; and the whole fabric trembled and shook, as it would have fallen and crushed beneath its ruins those bold and reckless adventurers, who had dared to tread where mortal man had never trod before!
Sir Galath, overjoyed with the prize he had had already gained, left to his companions to pursue the adventure of the Enchanted Shield, while he himself hastened away with his dear, though senseless charge, to regain the light of heaven. The chivalric and romantic soul of Arthur, father though he was, was bent upon another errand; and therefore leaving his beloved daughter to the care of her future lord, he proceeded; accompanied by the dauntless Lancelot and Tristan, to explore the secrets of that wondrous cave; and to essay the discovery of the miraculous treasure promised by the abbot of St. Mary's monastery, to him who should prove himself most worthy thereof.
Scarcely had Sir Galath left the cave, when the heroes of the Round Table were startled by a shrill bugle note, like to that of a gallant knight when he challengeth the lance of a brother in arms, in the courteous lists of the joust or the tournay; and immediately an aged man, clad in the garb of an holy anchorite, stood before them, and demanded what brought them to the caverns
of the Island of the Current? —
“We came hither, holy hermit,” answered the inheritor of the dragon-crest, “to gain the renowned Pridwen, of whose wondrous fame the whole world hath heard. — If haply thou knowest, tell us therefore where it lies concealed, and doubt not but thy reward shall be such as it becometh princes to bestow.”
“Pendragon's son,” rejoined the hermit-like stranger, “keep thy rewards for others, and hie thee whence thou camest, least thyself and thy noble companions fall in seeking to gain that fatal treasure — for deem not, oh prince! that the prize thou hast' spoken off, may be won without dangers and perils.”
“Though all the legions of Hell oppose him, yet will not Arthur turn back, till he bears on his arm the shield of the radiant aspect!”
“Then, indeed, is thy choice made; — but woe to the beautiful isle!” So saying, the stoled speaker drew from beneath his robe a bugle, bright with precious gems, and applying it to his lips, made the whole place resound with its martial echoes. Two knights now started into view, encased from head to foot in brightly-burnished suits of scale-armour, the refulgence of which beamed with no earthly lustre; each had a buckler of matchless workmanship upon his left arm, and each right hand grasped a flaming falchion. The anchorite's weeds fell from the mysterious challenger, and he too, like his fellows, stood forth armed in proof, though shieldless, and with them assumed an attitude as of determination to oppose the farther advance of the champions of the church. The swords of the latter too were drawn, and with a loud shout, as was then the wont of knightly and unknightly combatants, they set upon their strange and wizard adversaries. The fight was long and desperate: the magic armour of the defenders of the cavern proving invulnerable to the weapons of the Round-Table knights. In vain did the noble and gallant Sir Lancelot essay to pierce the breast-plate of his foe; in vain did Sir Tristan accompany his every blow, offensive and defensive, with words of talismanic power, the enchantments of his antagonist were more potent than his own, and he fell; —but at this very moment, the renowned sword of Arthur, the ever-conquering Escalabar, was plunged into the heart's blood of the hermit knight, who, uttering a loud demoniac shriek, disappeared in the twinkling of an eye; whereat his companions relinquishing their half-vanquished foes, fled and were seen no more! In an instant the whole cavern shook, and an immense mass of the rock at its apparent extremity fell down with a tremendous noise, and disclosed to the astonished view of the victorious though terrified knights, the prize for which they had braved so many dangers — even the Enchanted Shield! and more than realizing by its surprising beauties, all their ideal conceptions.
In the centre of this wondrous shield, and formed of the richest and rarest mother-of-pearl, was the figure of a beautiful female, seated upon a tripod of amethyst, and around it a circlet of small golden studs; outside which, came another of brilliant and sparkling diamonds — then a third of bright blue sapphires; between which and the border of the shield, which was ornamented with alternate rows of diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, the highly-burnished steel might be seen, worked into the most gorgeous and costly devices, and representing in the quaintest allegories, the death of its owner, and the future destinies of the isle of Britain!
King Arthur having taken down the shield from its lofty repository, the whole cavern became forthwith dark as the dwellings of Hecate; and, but for the light reflected by Pridwen, our heroes might have wandered amongst those dreary and subterranean abodes, until the time appointed for their being numbered with the mighty of departed years.
When the three knights obtained the end of their dangerous journey, and breathed again the breath of heaven, they found Sir Galath seated upon a fragment of the before-described cromlech, with the fair daughter of the Silurian prince beside him, and the officious monk of St. Mary's monastery busily employed in erecting the standard of the cross upon the ruined altars of Druidism; while the whole chivalry of Caerleon were assembled around the entrance of the dreaded cave, anxiously waiting to hail the reappearance of their liege lord, and his danger-loving companions, Sirs Lancelot and Tristan.
Happy in the recovery of his long-lost daughter, and it may be, glorying yet more in his newly acquired treasure, the lord of the dragon-crest commanded his brave knights and true, to prepare for their immediate departure from the Island of the Current; and they accordingly returned the self-same night to St. Mary's holy abbey, where, in the presence of monks and mighty men, the ministers of peace, and the messengers of war, the immaculate and spotless knight. Sir Galath le preux, was rewarded for all his past toils and perilous undertakings, by the fair hand of the beauteous Anna.
King Arthur, content with having obtained possession of the radiant-fronted Pridwen, resigned, by formal deed, the island of Bardsey to the good monks of St. Mary's monastery for ever; upon condition, that they should perform certain masses and repeat certain prayers, for the repose of the souls of himself and his Round-Table knights, when fate should call upon them to join the spirits of their departed sires!
Over the lofty towers of Caerleon, the blood-stained banner of war was again unfurled, and the princes of Britain were summoned, by the bended bow, to repair to that knightly rendezvous; the great Arthur, anxious to put the boasted powers of Pridwen to the test, having declared war anew against his Saxon foes. But his career of glory was drawing to its close; and that which should have proved his defence, became the very cause of his destruction. Envying his uncle the possession of the matchless prize which he had so valiantly won, the ingrate, Modred, kindled the flames of civil discord, till they blazed far and wide o'er the beautiful isle; and, when bleeding on the fatal field of Camlan, the bravest knight of the Round Table discovered, alas too late! that the brand of treachery could find its way to the heart, even through the ENCHANTED SHIELD!