Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/Hacho, the Dane; or The bishop's ransom

HACHO, THE DANE; OR THE BISHOP’S RANSOM.
(A LEGEND OF LLANDAFF.)

 

This incident of the capture of one of the early Bishops of Llandaff by a band of marauders is mentioned both in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and in that of Florence of Worcester. The unlucky Prelate was Camelac, or, as called by the Welsh, Cyfeiliog, whose episcopacy dates about the reign of Edward, the father of Athelstan, by whom, according to one account, he was ransomed. I have not, however, thought it necessary to apply to the King, as cathedral endowments were, there is reason to think, even in those early days, amply sufficient for maintenance, for charity, and for something more.

 

I.

Ho! what ship is this on Hafren?[1]
See, before the storm she flies,
Like an eagle in the sunset,
Dashing through the lurid skies.

Night is closing on the waters,
Far is borne the crested spray,
Stout must be their hearts who trust her,
Strong their arms who guide her way.

Tales of wondrous men are told us,
Men who loved, and ruled the sea;
He who guides that bark to safety,
Of those brave sea-kings must be.

Shifted sand-heaps shall to-morrow
Finger-marks of Ocean show,
Where against the groaning sea-banks
Dealt he thundering blow on blow.


Ere that morrow much before ye
Must be borne and must be done,
Then hurrah! stout hearts and sinews,
If ye’d live to see the sun.

If there’s much to bear we’ll bear it,
To be done, that much we’ll do;
Then hurrah! the raven’s plumage
Is not lightly wetted through.

 

II.

On the shrine of good Saint Teilo[2]
Brightly breaks the morning sun,
And fair Taff’s exulting waters
Down to Hafren blithely run.
 
Quivering drops are thickly sprinkled
Diamond-like on roof and tree,
Studding the Cathedral mouldings
With rich gems of purity.

From the portals comes the Bishop,
With his crosier in his hand,
And attendant priests around him,
And shorn monks a goodly band;

For a sacred progress marshalled,
All amongst his flock to go,
Carrying comfort to the troubled,
Warning guilt, and soothing woe.

Towards the cottage and the castle
Go they forth with words of peace,
That contentions may grow weaker,
Envy die, and hatred cease.

What, though still the swooping Pagan
Dares about the coasts to skim,
Look we to our Holy Father,
Trust we to the saints and him.

 

III.

But what’s this? these frightened peasants
Rushing through the marsh and wood,
And that sable flag, their terror?
’Tis the Raven and her brood.

Ho! the Dane, the Dane’s upon us!
Good St. Joseph, be our aid;
Holy Virgin! these are they who
Fear no man, and spare no maid.

From the plough-horse cut the traces,
And ride hill-wards as ye may;
Women, leave your kine and dairies;
Children, ’tis no time to play.

Let the bread burn in the oven,
Let the seed rot on the land;
Life’s worth more than cakes or barley,
Not more safe with yonder band.

Pale-faced monks in wild confusion
Round the sacred symbol cling,
Calling for their saints by hundreds,
And what succour saints might bring.

But stout-hearted stood the Bishop,
Quailed not when the Danish band,
Circling round, with brandished weapons
Threatening pointed towards the strand.

 

IV.

On the shore stood blue-eyed Hacho,
Leader of the Danes was he,
And around him grimly wondering
Grouped his savage soldiery:

Wondering at the glittering vestments,
Worked with strange devices o’er,
At the shaven monks so shining,
At the banners bright they bore:

Doubting if, as warlike symbols,
These before their host were borne,
Doubting if, in furious grapple,
Best be shaggy or be shorn:

Wondering at each cross and crosier,
And if these were weapons good,
And, not least amongst them, Hacho
Still a good while wondering stood.

Plain it was he little reckoned
On the capture they had made;
Crosiers, cowls, and priestly vestments
Seemed not staple of his trade:

For he shouted to old Sidroc,
“What are these you bring to me?
No such birds on Northern mountain,
No such fish in Northern sea.

Saw ye not some strong-armed workers?
Saw ye not some ladies fair?
Little worth is all this rabble,
Men in gowns who grow no hair:

Nay,” cried Sidroc, “hold to ransom
Him with crook and cloven crest;
Glossy plumes like his are only
Grown on plump and fatted breast.”

Hacho the Dane (Millais).png

Ten good pounds then let them pay me,
And at once I let them go.”
To the Bishop they interpret,
And his cheeks are all a-glow:

Whence hath sprung this wretched heathen?
What dark land his host hath reared?
Little knows he what’s around us,
To be loved, and to be feared.

Little knows he on his conscience
How great sin henceforth is brought;
He must deem us paltry traders,
Peasants, villeins, things of nought.

Rates he thus a holy Bishop?
Let the Pagan set us free,
And with twice ten pounds for ransom,
Sail he hence, content are we.

Nay more, if he’ll leave us quickly,
And will spell six paters through,
When a day’s sail lies between us,
We will add our blessing too.”

Pondering then awhile stood Hacho,
Calm his eye, and slow his words:
Blessings do not feed my ravens,
Blessings seldom sharpen swords.

Loth am I too low to rate him,
Little know I cross or crown;
But, since ’tis my turn to double,
Forty pounds he lays me down.

Forty pounds be now the ransom,
Or, if still too low we stand,
Tis for him to double doubling,
Not for us to hold his hand.

If he fail, by Thor’s red hammer,
When just half this night is done,
In mid-channel will I pitch them,
Every sainted mother’s son.


Wise are they, and learn’d, and saintly,
Rough am I and wild of mood,
But”—and towards his crew he pointed—
“Ravens’ claws are sharp and good.”

Grinned the crew, and whirled their axes,
Kicking high the blinding sands,
Whereat many a monk in terror
On his pale face struck his hands.

Puzzled, bit his lip, the Bishop,
Then he laughed both loud and long:
Henceforth will I aye remember,
They count best whose arms are strong.

Tell him if, despite our warning.
From good Church this gold he drain,
He shall have it, but our blessing
Hold we till he bring ’t again.

For his own sake, pricked by conscience,
Some day hope we this to see.”
Then a murmur passed amongst them,
“Soon for his sake may this be.”

 

V.

Ho! what ship is this on Hafren,
Stretching outwards towards the west?
Raven wings once more are flapping
Homewards towards their Northern nest.

In the ship of blue-eyed Hacho
Went the gold across the main;
Did the Bishop’s promised blessing
Ever bring it back again?

Hark! an answer.—No, ’tis Echo
Singing but the same refrain,
Did the Bishop’s promised blessing
Ever bring it back again?”

C. H. W.

 

  1. Hafren, the ancient name of the Severn.
  2. The Cathedral at Llandaff was dedicated to St. Teilo.