The harvest’s failure, lasting many years,
spread fear around the country, but the king
no longer had the means to draw its sting,
and hunger harried people, priests and peers.
Before, the land through Arthur’s reign was blessed,
because, he claimed, its sorceries had ceased.
In desperation, Dyfed sought a priest
though whom imagined wrongs could be redressed.
Dinefwr held a secret dark and deep
that never had been rooted out entire;
there flourished arts beloved of Arthur’s sire,
though through his reign, perforce, they had to sleep.
The aging Merlin heard his Master’s call,
and rode without the company of knights;
his staff alone, defence in Dyfed’s heights,
wherein his reputation would not pall.
His aged bones expecting final rest
awoke in him desire of childhood scenes,
for one last tour of haunts that, in his teens,
the youthful wizard dreamt that he possessed.
No foeman of the king dared stay his horse,
for fear the aged Sage might, by his arts,
scatter his skin and bone to sundry parts;
and thus the Mage untroubled rode his course.
In Dinefwr his heart desired to rest,
few final feeble seasons under sun,
before he felt his race at last was run
and left behind the burdens of his quest.
A prisoner of power these many years,
the man who had established Arthur King;
his deeds at need the stuff that bards would sing -
but sadly thus estranged from all his peers.
The life he would have chosen was undone –
the quiet lot of those who study lore –
because it was denied him by the saw
that Merlin had been born a devil’s son.
At last he reached the dusty country town
where first he came to fame ‘midst Cymru’s kings.
In hills to which the silver river sings
he hoped to lay his earthly burdens down.
But as he entered old familiar ways,
he found them all abandoned for the heights;
so hence he went, and found the town in rites
that Arthur’s reign had banished many days.
Upon a slab of dark basaltic stone,
a young man lay in chains and fetters bound;
with all the people gathering around
their black-masked priest, with dagger made of bone.
The ancient wizard knew the people’s fears;
this thin, bedraggled, shabby little band
had shared in all the sufferings of the land
since harvest time had failed these many years.
But now the nation’s trust in God and King
had failed in this, the place he called his home,
it vexed the wizard more than all that Rome
could threaten ‘gainst far Arthur’s realm to fling.
Now Merlin raised his voice, and raised his staff,
and called on all the folk in God’s great name
to turn their face away from pagan shame;
but then, from silent ranks, rang out a laugh.
The wearer of the mask spoke, cold and cruel;
“Your promises are all revealed as naught;
the sovereign powers of mother nature taught
us all that we should need for food and fuel.
These many years the edicts of the crown
have kept us from our service to the night
and all the heavenly bodies in their flight;
because of this, a famine plagues the town.
The gods have asked us what it is we gave
in order that their hunger and their thirst
be quenched, and they no longer do their worst
in field and farm and wood and wild and wave.”
Before the wizard’s bite, one hears his bark;
thus Merlin turned against the hungry throng,
and said, “Before our God you have done wrong;
for you have given shelter to the dark!
I tell you that before a year has passed,
the very lad you’d make the devil’s own
shall make you roll away your sacred stone,
and Logres shall be free of sin at last.
Release him! And repent your wicked ways,
before I make a trial with my staff
of all your gods, at whose vain powers I laugh.
Release the boy, and get thee from my gaze!”
So saying, Merlin backed the people down;
and, muttering, they had the lad released.
Then Merlin’s staff poured flame upon their priest,
and with the boy he turned towards the town.