Pen would fail to write, or man to tell, all the gallant achievements which the noble Knight, Saint David of Wales, and his faithful Squire, Owen ap Rice, performed during their foreign travels.
At length even they began to weary of the constant hazardous adventures in which they were engaged. Age had begun to dim the lustre of Saint David's eye, and to unnerve his arm, but not to lower the courage of his heart.
News was now brought him that an army of Pagan barbarians was about to attack his native land. No time was to be lost if he would render service to his country. On his homeward way he collected all the gallant knights, and their squires, and men-at-arms, with whom he and the faithful Owen had, in their travels, become acquainted. Thus, by the time he reached the borders of Wales, he had assembled an army which, though small, was well able to perform deeds such as ten times the number of ordinary men would not have dared to attempt.
Sad was the state of Wales when they entered it in battle-array, seeking the enemy, -- towns were unpeopled, houses overthrown, monasteries pillaged, corn-fields burnt, farms destroyed, while from the caves and woods came forth the unhappy people, to welcome him as their deliverer, and to pray for his success.
These sights so fired the spirit of the aged Champion, that he vowed never to rest till he had driven the enemy from his native soil. Still the task was no easy one. They were very numerous, fierce, and brave, and trained to arms.
The aged bards of Wales struck their harps to encourage the warriors to strive bravely in the fight.
It was, however, discovered that many recreant knights had joined the forces of the Pagans; they and their followers being habited in armour little differing from that of the Champion of Wales and those knights who had accompanied him from abroad.
Summoning his warriors around him, he addressed them in a speech which encouraged and animated their valour to the highest pitch. Thus he concluded: --
|Then follow me, my gallant warriors! I will give the signal for the onset, which will lay thousands of our foemen low; and see, for my ensign, I do wear upon my burgonet this leek, which will, if we gain the victory, be ever after held in honour throughout Wales, and on this first day of March be worn by all Welshmen in commemoration of our victory.|
Thrice struck the bards their harps, while cheers, loud and long, replied to the speech, each warrior of Wales forthwith plucking up a great leek, and placing it on his casque, or head-piece, so that in the thickest light friends might be known from foes.
Now there stepped forth a bard, and struck a mournful strain.
|Sad, sad are the notes I sing,
And sad the news I bring,
For many a gallant knight, and many a warrior bold, Will fall to-day,
And turn to clay,
Before swift time grows old.
The noblest and the best before the eve must die,
Ere the fell Pagan host are taught to turn and fly.|
These words struck the gallant old Champion's ears. He had never at any time thought little of his own prowess, while he, like a true patriot, had always been ready to sacrifice himself for the good of his country. He resolved, accordingly, should the tide of battle set strong against his followers, to charge onward amid the hosts of the enemy, and to fall nobly among them, knowing that his friends, for the love they bore him, would, for the sake of recovering his body, charge into the midst of the foe, and assuredly retrieve the fortunes of the day.
With a cheerful voice, as if he had been giving orders for the commencement of a tournament, the noble old Champion gave the promised signal for the onset. Furiously charged the army of Welshmen. Bravely were they met by their Pagan foes, who, with valour worthy of a better cause, charged in return, and many on both sides sunk on the ensanguined plain never to rise again.
Knight after knight sank down under the terrific blows of the Pagan clubs and battle-axes, till there seemed but little prospect that the patriot army would gain the victory. In vain the Christian army shouted and charged. The sturdy Pagans refused to give way.
At length, Saint David, recollecting the words uttered by the prophetic bard in the morning, assembled round him his bravest knights, and, throwing up his visor, exhibited his countenance, whereon sat a beaming smile, expressive of patriotism and valour.
|One of the noblest in the land, it is said, must this day fall before the battle is won!| he exclaimed. |If such I am, then happy shall I be to be thus honoured in my death. Charge! brave knights, charge!|
With these words, the last he ever uttered, the noble Champion rushed into the thickest of the fight, where a hundred battle-axes rattled on his helmet, a hundred swords were pointed at his side, a hundred spears thrust against his fearless breast, and a hundred arrows shot at his head. Pierced by a hundred wounds he fell, but his followers bravely avenged his death. The Pagan hordes were put to flight; and Saint David has ever since, even to the present day, been held in affectionate remembrance, as he fully deserved, by all Welshmen.