There was a sword and shield by the lion. There were a sword and a shield by the lion. Which of the two is correct? Both sound awkward.
Either "was" or "were" is possible and neither sounds awkward.
"was" if you are rendering the two objects as a whole or if you want to emphasize a group.
- There was [a sword and a shield] by the lion. (A sword and a shield act as one object)
"were" if you are rendering each object separate from the others or if you want to emphasize the individual objects.
- There were [a sword] and [a shield] by the lion. (There were two things one of which was a sword and the other was a shield)
However, as says this rule "The choice between the phrases there is and there are at the beginning of a sentence is determined by the noun that follows it." I tend to use the plural form "were" with multiple objects if the first noun is plural and the singular form "was" if the first noun is singular.
- There were three pencils, two books, and a pen on the table.
- There was a vase, three flowers in it, and postcard at the side.
- Sword and shield mostly refers to fencing with a sword and a shield, a category of melee weapons, a combination of the two (especially as arming or a symbol) or sexual activity.