With Merlin, Trefor travelled many lands
where few men live, because they know not how
to break the heavy soil with any plough
that yet was used by any Northern hands.
The boy, assured that Merlin was his friend,
took care, as was his wont, of horse and cart.
As yet he knew not any other art;
the days passed slow towards their journey’s end.
They travelled over old decaying roads
that Roman regents raised to rule the race
of Britons, and to keep them in their place,
until the Empire fell beneath its loads.
The wizard stopped, to Trefor’s mild surprise;
they tethered there the patient chestnut horse.
Then Merlin found a path amongst the gorse
that led towards a river’s rippling sighs.
It took them through a valley sloping down,
then round a little rock face by the flood
where solemnly brown cattle chewed the cud,
and o’er the running river cliffs did frown.
Ere long, the path revealed a little cave,
mere scraping in the rock where someone might
protect themselves from wind and rain o’er night,
glad of such shallow shelter as it gave.
“Here will it end, and to here I will turn;
when wonder awakes you, then here ‘midst the fern
you will find me at need at the end of the age
when the battle is lost, and you seek Britain’s Sage.”
“Riddles and riddles, again and again;
but why tell me things that you will not explain?
For at first you say victory, then speak of defeat;
ah, in all of the world no one like you I’ll meet!
Where are we going? To Camelot fair?
I know not my way without salt in the air.
Yet the stories they tell in the land of my ken
say the court of King Arthur is ‘midst many men.”
“Arthur is not ‘midst the free and the fair;
we journey to Badon, his fortress and lair.
For the king is preparing to fight a great war;
he has chosen his ground to win vict’ries the more.”
“Badon! They say that no Saxon has spied
that region, whose hill can be seen far and wide.
It must make for an awesome and kingly retreat,
but where is the foe that King Arthur must meet?”
The wizard led them back; they met no man.
He said no more, despite all Trefor’s pains.
Then on again they went through leafy lanes,
until along the left the river ran.
At length, the water t’wards the right did go,
and as the path came once again to straight,
there far ahead were towers and a gate
beside a bridge of stone that spanned the flow.
And all across the boggy plain there ran
a wooden causeway, like a road on high;
young Trefor stared in awe as they drew nigh -
three quarters of a mile was all its span.
The wizard viewed the boy with merry eyes,
enjoying Trefor’s earnest speechless stare;
at Merlin’s word this bridge was standing there.
Since Roman times was nothing built this size.
At both the bridge’s ends were brazen gates;
on either bank were stern and lofty towers
that viewed the plain; a foeman many hours
would take to come to where the watchman waits.
Ahead, the tower through which the cart must drive
was topped at tip with flags that fluttered fair.
Two knights on horses proud then left their lair
to challenge whosoe’er might now arrive.
But seeing Merlin, visors did they raise,
and greeted him with courtesy and smiles,
encouraging him, “Only five more miles”,
as they approached the joining of the ways.
Inside the spacious tower a short incline
rose steeply up towards the road above;
the two, dismounting, gave the cart a shove
to help the horse; the guardsmen gave them wine,
then cheerily they sent them on their way,
with news for Merlin’s ear of Arthur’s court.
Though Trefor heard no more than youngsters ought,
it gladdened him they’d rest at last that day.
Thus o’er the mighty causeway set they out,
with views for miles across the weary land,
where summer many years showed not her hand,
and mournful grasslands spoke of blight and drought.
Upon the other bank, a chapel spire
stood by a field where knights were wont to joust,
and from their saddles would each other oust,
then fight on foot assisted by their squire.
Thus Trefor first beheld the works of kings
whose realm and fame had given them command
of more than just some ragged warrior band,
and eagerly awaited marvellous things.
“You built this wonderful bridge, did you not?
Your name and your wisdom will not be forgot
till the reign of King Arthur is many years gone;
by your works shall your memory long linger on.”
“Thus I can tell you have not seen Stonehenge;
the Irish are futilely planning revenge
since I spirited it far away for a game,
and then placed it on far Southern fields to my fame.”
“Fie! By your twinkling eye I can tell
you hide the full truth of that mystery well.
I have never believed what the bards say of you,
for such things as they sing mortal men may not do!”
“Ah, but it pleases me so that they sing,
my mere reputation can oft serve the king.
If the truth of the matter from me is e’er sought,
then this song is the tale of the trap that I wrought.”