Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
The Knights of the Silver Shield
HERE was once a splendid castle in a forest, with great
stone walls and a high gateway, and turrets that rose away
above the tallest trees. The forest was dark and dangerous,
and many cruel giants lived in it; but in the castle was a
company of knights, who were kept there by the king of the
country, to help travelers who might be in the forest, and
to fight with the giants whenever they could.
Each of these knights wore a
beautiful suit of armor and carried a long spear, while over
his helmet there floated a great red plume that could be
seen a long way off by any one in distress. But the most
wonderful thing about the knights' armor was their shields.
They were not like those of other knights, but had been made
by a great magician who had lived in the castle many years
before. They were made of silver, and sometimes shone in
the sunlight with dazzling brightness; but at other times
the surface of the shields would be clouded as though by a
mist, and one could not see his face reflected there as he
could when they shone brightly.
Now, when each young knight received his spurs and his
armor, a new shield was also given him from among those that
the magician had made; and when the shield was new its
surface was always cloudy and dull. But as the knight began
to do service against the giants, or went on expeditions to
help poor travelers in the forest, his shield grew brighter
and brighter, so that he could see his face clearly
reflected in it. But if he proved to be a lazy or cowardly
knight, and let the giants get the better of him, or did not
care what became of the travelers, then the shield grew more
and more cloudy, until the knight became ashamed to carry
 But this was not all. When any one of the knights fought a
particularly hard battle, and won the victory, or when he
went on some hard errand for the lord of the castle, and was
successful, not only did his silver shield grow brighter,
but when one looked into the center of it he could see
something like a golden star shining in its very heart. This
was the greatest honor that a knight could achieve, and the
other knights always spoke of such a one as having "won his
star." It was usually not till he was pretty old and tried
as a soldier that he could win it. At the time when this
story begins, the lord of the castle himself was the only
one of the knights whose shield bore the golden star.
There came a time when the worst of the giants in the forest
gathered themselves together to have a battle against the
knights. They made a camp in a dark hollow not far
from the castle, and gathered all their best warriors
together, and all the knights made ready to fight them. The
windows of the castle were closed and barred; the air was
full of the noise of armor being made ready for use; and the
knights were so excited that they could scarcely rest or
Now there was a young knight in the castle, named Sir
Roland, who was among those most eager for the
 battle. He was a splendid warrior, with eyes that shone like
stars whenever there was anything to do in the way of
knightly deeds. And although he was still quite young, his
shield had begun to shine enough to show plainly that he had
done bravely in some of his errands through the forest. This
battle, he thought, would be the great opportunity of his
life. And on the morning of the day when they were to go
forth to it, and all the knights assembled in the great hall
of the castle to receive the commands of their leaders, Sir
Roland hoped that he would be put in the most dangerous
place of all, so that he could show what knightly stuff he
was made of.
But when the lord of the castle came to him, as he went
about in full armor giving his commands, he said: "One
brave knight must stay behind and guard the gateway of the
castle, and it is you, Sir Roland, being one of the
youngest, whom I have chosen for this."
At these words Sir Roland was so disappointed that he bit
his lip, and closed his helmet over his face so that the
other knights might not see it. For a moment he felt as if
he must reply angrily to the commander, and tell him that it
was not right to leave so sturdy a knight behind, when he
 to fight. But he struggled against this feeling, and went
quietly to look after his duties at the gate. The gateway
was high and narrow, and was reached from outside by a high,
narrow bridge that crossed the moat, which surrounded the
castle on every side. When an enemy approached, the knight
on guard rang a great bell just inside the gate, and the
bridge was drawn up against the castle wall, so that no one
could come across the moat. So the giants had long ago given
up trying to attack the castle itself.
To-day the battle was to be in the dark hollow in the
forest, and it was not likely that there would be anything
to do at the castle gate, except to watch it like a common
doorkeeper. It was not strange that Sir Roland thought some
one else might have done this.
Presently all the other knights marched out in their
flashing armor, their red plumes waving over their heads,
and their spears in their hands. The lord of the
castle stopped only to tell Sir Roland to keep guard over
the gate until they had all returned, and to let no one
enter. Then they went into the shadows of the forest, and
were soon lost to sight.
Sir Roland stood looking after them long after they had
gone, thinking how happy he would be if
 he were on the way to battle like them. But after a little
he put this out of his mind, and tried to think of
pleasanter things. It was a long time before anything
happened, or any word came from the battle.
At last Sir Roland saw one of the knights come limping down
the path to the castle, and he went out on the bridge to
meet him. Now this knight was not a brave one, and he
had been frightened away as soon as he was wounded.
"I have been hurt," he said, "so that I can not fight any
more. But I could watch the gate for you, if you would like
to go back in my place."
At first Sir Roland's heart leaped with joy at this, but
then he remembered what the commander had told him on going
away, and he said:
"I should like to go, but a knight belongs where his
commander has put him. My place is here at the gate, and I
can not open it even for you. Your place is at the
The knight was ashamed when he heard this, and he presently
turned about and went into the forest again.
So Sir Roland kept guard silently for another hour. Then
there came an old beggar woman down the path to the castle,
and asked Sir Roland if she might come
 in and have some food. He told her that no one could enter
the castle that day, but that he would send a servant out to
her with food, and that she might sit and rest as long as
"I have been past the hollow in the forest where the battle
is going on," said the old woman, while she was waiting for
"And how do you think it is going?" asked Sir Roland.
An old beggar woman came down the path
"Badly for the knights, I am afraid," said the old woman.
"The giants are fighting as they have never fought before.
I should think you had better go and help your friends."
"I should like to, indeed," said Sir Roland. "But I am
set to guard the gateway of the castle, and can not leave."
"One fresh knight would make a great difference when they
are all weary with fighting," said the old woman. "I
should think that, while there are no enemies about, you
would be much more useful there."
"You may well think so," said Sir Roland, "and so may I;
but it is neither you nor I that is commander here."
"I suppose," said the old woman then, "that you
 are one of the kind of knights who like to keep out of
fighting. You are lucky to have so good an excuse for
staying at home." And she laughed a thin and taunting laugh.
Then Sir Roland was very angry, and thought that if it were
only a man instead of a woman, he would show him whether he
liked fighting or no. But as it was a woman, he shut his
lips and set his teeth hard together, and as the servant
came just then with the food he had sent for, he gave it to
the old woman quickly, and shut the gate that she might not
talk to him any more.
It was not very long before he heard some one calling
outside. Sir Roland opened the gate, and saw standing at the
other end of the drawbridge a little old man in a long black
cloak. "Why are you knocking
here?" he said. "The castle is closed to-day."
"Are you Sir Roland?" said the little old man.
"Then you ought not to be staying here when your commander
and his knights are having so hard a struggle with the
giants, and when you have the chance to make of yourself the
greatest knight in this kingdom. Listen to me! I have
brought you a magic sword."
 As he said this, the old man drew from under his coat a
wonderful sword that flashed in the sunlight as if it were
covered with diamonds. "This is the sword of all swords,"
he said, "and it is for you, if you will leave your idling
here by the castle gate, and carry it to the battle. Nothing
can stand before it. When you lift it the giants will fall
back, your master will be saved, and you will be crowned the
victorious knight—the one who will soon take his
commander's place as lord of the castle."
Now Sir Roland believed that it was a magician who was
speaking to him, for it certainly appeared to be a magic
sword. It seemed so wonderful that the sword should be
brought to him, that he reached out his hand as though he
would take it, and the little old man came forward, as
though he would cross the drawbridge into the castle. But as
he did so, it came to Sir Roland's mind again that that
bridge and the gateway had been intrusted to him, and he
called out "No!" to the old man, so that he stopped where
he was standing. But he waved the shining sword in
the air again, and said: "It is for you! Take it, and
win the victory!"
Sir Roland was really afraid that if he looked any longer at
the sword, or listened to any more words of the
 old man, he would not be able to hold himself within the
castle. For this reason he struck the great bell at the
gateway, which was the signal for the servants inside to
pull in the chains of the drawbridge, and instantly they
began to pull, and the drawbridge came up, so that the old
man could not cross it to enter the castle, nor Sir Roland
to go out.
Then, as he looked across the moat, Sir Roland saw a
wonderful thing. The little old man threw off his black
cloak, and as he did so he began to grow bigger and bigger,
until in a minute more he was a giant as tall as any in the
forest. At first Sir Roland could scarcely believe his eyes.
Then he realized that this must be one of their giant
enemies, who had changed himself to a little old man through
some magic power, that he might make his way into the castle
while all the knights were away. Sir Roland shuddered to
think what might have happened if he had taken the sword and
left the gate unguarded. The giant shook his fist across the
moat that lay between them, and then, knowing that he could
do nothing more, he went angrily back into the forest.
Sir Roland now resolved not to open the gate again, and to
pay no attention to any other visitor. But it was not long
before he heard a sound that made him
 spring forward in joy. It was the bugle of the lord of the
castle, and there came sounding after it the bugles of many
of the knights that were with him, pealing so joyfully that
Sir Roland was sure they were safe and happy. As they came
nearer, he could hear their shouts of victory. So he gave
the signal to let down the drawbridge again, and went out to
meet them. They were dusty and bloodstained and weary,
but they had won the battle with the giants; and it had been
such a great victory that there had never been a happier
Sir Roland greeted them all as they passed in over the
bridge, and then, when he had closed the gate and fastened
it, he followed them into the great hall of the castle.
The lord of the castle took his place on the highest seat,
with the other knights about him, and Sir Roland came
forward with the key of the gate, to give his account of
what he had done in the place to which the commander had
appointed him. The lord of the castle bowed to him as a
sign for him to begin, but just as he opened his mouth to
speak, one of the knights cried out:
"The shield! the shield! Sir Roland's shield!"
turned and looked at the shield which Sir Roland carried on
his left arm. He himself could
 see only the top of it, and did not know what they could
mean. But what they saw was the golden star of knighthood,
shining brightly from the center of Sir Roland's shield.
There had never been such amazement in the castle before.
Sir Roland knelt before the lord of the castle to receive
his commands. He still did not know why every one was
looking at him so excitedly, and wondered if he had in some
way done wrong.
"Speak, Sir Knight," said the commander, as soon as he could
find his voice after his surprise, "and tell us all that
has happened to-day at the castle. Have you been
attacked? Have any giants come hither? Did you fight them
"No, my Lord," said Sir Roland. "Only one giant has been
here, and he went away silently when he found he could not
Then he told all that had happened through the day.
When he had finished, the knights all looked at one another,
but no one spoke a word. Then they looked again at Sir
Roland's shield, to make sure that their eyes had not
deceived them, and there the golden star was still shining.
After a little silence the lord of the castle spoke.
 "Men make mistakes," he said, "but our silver shields are
never mistaken. Sir Roland has fought and won the hardest
battle of all to-day."
Then the others all rose and saluted Sir Roland, who was the
youngest knight that ever carried the golden star.