Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 34


Vision of the Cross

Constantine looked up as the angel bade him, and saw, hovering in the air, a cross, splendid, glorious, adorned with gems and shining with heavenly light. On its wood letters were engraved, gleaming with unearthly radiance:

“With this shalt thou conquer the foe in the conflict,
And with it shalt hurl back the host of the heathen.”


Constantine is Cheered

Constantine read these words with awe and gladness, for indeed he knew not what deity had thus favoured him, but he would not reject the help of the Unknown God; so he bowed his head in reverence, and when he looked again the cross and the angel had disappeared, and around him as he woke was the greyness of the rising dawn. The emperor summoned to his tent two soldiers from the troops, and bade them make a cross of wood to bear before the army. This they did, greatly marvelling, and Constantine called a standard-bearer, to whom he gave charge to bear forward the Standard of the Cross where the danger was greatest and the battle most fierce.

The Morning of Battle

When the day broke, and the two armies could see each other, both hosts arrayed themselves for battle, [Pg 52] in serried ranks of armed warriors, shouting their war-cries.

“Loud sang the trumpets to stern-minded foemen
The dewy-winged eagle watched them march onward,
The horny-billed raven rejoiced in the battle-play,
The sly wolf, the forest-thief, soon saw his heart’s desire
As the fierce warriors rushed at each other.
Great was the shield-breaking, loud was the clamour,
Hard were the hand-blows, and dire was the downfall,
When first the heroes felt the keen arrow-shower.
Soon did the Roman host fall on the death-doomed Huns,
Thrust forth their deadly spears over the yellow shields,
Broke with their battle-glaives breasts of the foemen.”


The Cross is Raised

Then, when the battle was at its height, and the Romans knew not whether they would conquer or die fighting to the last, the standard-bearer raised the Cross, the token of promised victory, before all the host, and sang the chant of triumph. Onward he marched, and the Roman host followed him, pressing on resistless as the surging waves. The Huns, bewildered by the strange rally, and dreading the mysterious sign of some mighty god, rolled back, at first slowly, and then more and more quickly, till sullen retreat became panic rout, and they broke and fled. Multitudes were cut down as they fled, other multitudes were swept away by the devouring Danube as they tried to cross its current; some, half dead, reached the other side, and saved their lives in fortresses, guarding the steep cliffs beyond the Danube. Few, very few they were who ever saw their native land again.

There was great rejoicing in the Roman army and in the Roman camp when Constantine returned in triumph with the wondrous Cross borne before him. [Pg 53] He passed on to the city, and the people of Rome gazed with awe on the token of the Unknown God who had saved their city, but none would say who that God might be.