Slumber King

Owen (from a Welsh hillside) is standing on London Bridge leaning on his old walking-stick. A mysterious stranger stares at him – and at his stick. “Owen, where did get that stick?” Of course the hazel tree is growing on the hillside above the poor farm of Owen’s parents. “Take me there and I’ll show you treasure.”

Owen takes stranger (Loomis) to the Welsh hills. Shows tree. Together they dig – find large flat stone – lift it to find a tunnel. At end of tunnel hangs an immense bell, almost blocking it. Behind bell is a cavern.”

In the cavern are two piles of treasure, one of silver, one of gold. Surrounding treasure is ring of sleeping knights, horses – and a sleeping king: Arthur! “Help yourself to treasure – silver or gold: but not both! And don’t touch bell on way out! If you do, knights will wake and ask: Is it the day? Then you must answer: No, sleep on.”

Owen stuffs pockets full, Loomis takes nothing. Bell touched on way out – knights stir. Is it the day? – No, sleep on.. Knights sleep again.

Owen rich – but squanders money. Eventually returns to tree alone. Again stuffs his pockets with gold. Leaving, sees beautiful silver ring with shining stone – pockets so full he can only carry it in his mouth. Leaving, he accidentally touches bell – knights stir – Is it the day?. Tries to say words – but mouth full – can only mumble. More knights wake – Is it the day? Mumbles – but too late. They seize him, empty his pockets, beat him severely, throw him out of tunnel and pull back stone as they return to cavern.

Owen crawls back to farm, crippled for life as well as poor. Often returned with friends carrying him up the hillside with spades and sacks – never found the tunnel again.

There are various stories of a sleeping hero waiting for his country to call him for a final battle. Most are kings, although Henry Newbolt’s poem “Drake’s Drum” suggests one does not need a crown to qualify. The tale I tell is drawn from the King Arthur story called “The Slumber King” in Kevin Crossley-Holland’s British Folk Tales (ISBN 1 85213 021 0).
He gives the site of the treasure as the Rock of Fortress in the mountains north of Swansea “past the pool where the rivers Mellte and Sychryd meet” (p. 39).

Another local legend of a fortune found not in London but at home is the Pedlar of Swaffham.

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