Andrew Lang.

Tales of romance; based on tales in the Book of romance online

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The face of Gibourc grew red when she heard
the porter's words, and she left the Palace and
mounted the battlements, where she called,
" Warrior, what is your will ? "

"Oh, lady," answered he, "open the gate,
and that quickly. Twenty thousand Saracens
are close upon my track ; if they reach me, I am
a dead man."

"You cannot enter," replied Gibourc. "I
am alone here except for this porter, a priest,
a few children, and some ladies whose husbands
are all at the war. Neither gate nor wicket
will be opened until the return of my beloved
lord, William the Count." Then William bowed


his head for a moment, and tears ran down his

"My lady, I am William himself," said he.
" Do you not know me ? "

" Saracen, you lie," replied Gibourc. " Take
off your helmet and let me see who you are ! "

" Noble Countess," cried he, " this is no time
to parley. Look round you ! Is not every hill
covered with enemies ? "

"Ah, now I know you are not William,"
answered she, " for all the Saracens in the world
would never have stirred him with fear. By St.
Peter ! neither gate nor wicket shall be opened
till I have seen your face. I am alone and must
defend myself. The voices of many men are

Then the Count lifted his helmet: "Lady
look and be content. I am William himself.
Now let me in."

Gibourc knew that it was indeed the Count
who had returned, and was about to order the
gates to be opened when there appeared in sight
a troop of Saracens escorting two hundred
prisoners, all of them young Knights, and thirty
ladies with fair, white faces. Each one was
loaded with chains, and cowered under the blows



of their captors. Their cries and prayers for
mercy reached the ears of Gibourc, and, changing
her mind, she said quickly : " There is the proof
that you are not William, my husband, whose
fame has spread far ! For he would never have
suffered his brethren to be so shamefully en-
treated while he was by ! "

" Heavens ! " cried the Count, " to what hard
tests does she put me ! But if I lose my head
I will do her bidding, for what is there that I
would not do for the love of God and of her ! "



WITHOUT a word more he turned, and spurred
his horse at the Saracens. So sudden and fierce
was his attack that the foremost riders fell back
on those behind, who were thrown into confusion,
while William's sword swept him a path to the
centre, where the prisoners stood bound. The
Saracens expected the city gates to open and a
body of Franks to come forth to destroy them,
and without waiting another moment they turned
and fled.

"Oh, fair lord," called Gibourc, who from


the battlements had watched the fight, "come
back, come back, for now indeed you may
enter." And William heard her voice, and left
the Saracens to go where they would while he
struck the chains off the prisoners, and led them
to the gates of Orange, when he himself rode
back to the Saracens.

Not again would the Lady Gibourc have
reason to call him coward.

And Gibourc saw, and her heart swelled
within her, and she repented her of her words.
" It is my fault if he is slain," she wept. " Oh,
come back, come back ! "

And William came.

Now the drawbridge was let down, and he
entered the city followed by the Christians whom
he had delivered, and the Countess unlaced his
helmet, and bathed his wounds, and then stopped,

" You cannot be William after all," said she,
" for William would have brought back the young
kinsmen who went with him ; and would have
been encircled by minstrels singing the great
deeds he had done."

"Ah, noble Countess, you speak truth,"
answered he. " Henceforth my life will be spent


in mourning, for my friends and comrades who
went to war with me are lying dead at the

Great was the sorrow in the city of Orange
and in the palace of her lord, where the ladies
of the Countess mourned for their husbands.
But it was Gibourc who first roused herself
from her grief for Vivian and others whom
she had loved well. "Noble Count," she said,
"do not lose your courage. Remember it is
not near Orleans, in safety, that your lands lie,
but in the very midst of the Saracens. Orange
never will have peace till they are subdued. So
send messengers to King Louis, and to your
father, Aimeri, asking for aid."

" Heavens!" cried William, "has the world
ever seen so wise a lady ? "

" Let no one turn you from your road," she
went on. " At the news of your distress all the
Barons that are your kin will fly to your help.
Their numbers are as the sands of the sea."

" But how shall I make them believe in
what has befallen us ? " answered William. " If
I do not go myself I will send nobody, and go
myself I will not, for I will not leave you alone
again for all the gold in Pavia."


"Sir, you must go," said Gibourc, weeping.
"I will stay here with my ladies, and each will
place a helmet on her head, and hang a shield
round her neck, and buckle a sword to her side,
and with the help of the Knights whom you
have delivered, we shall know how to defend

William's heart bounded at her words ; he
took her in his arms, and promised that he him-
self would go, and that he would never lie soft
till he returned again to Orange.



THUS William Short Nose set forth and the
next day passed through Orleans. There he
met with his brother Ernaut, who had ridden
home from escorting King Louis back to Paris.
Ernaut promised his help and that of his father
and brothers, but counselled William to go to
Laon, where a great feast would be held and
many persons would be assembled. The Count
followed Ernaut's counsel, but refused the troop
of Knights which Ernaut offered him, liking
rather to ride alone.





He made his entrance into Laon, and the
people laughed at him and made jests on his
tall, thin horse ; but William let them laugh, and
rode on until he reached the Palace. There he
alighted under an olive tree, and, fastening his
horse to one of the branches, took off his helmet
and unbuckled his breastplate. The people stared
as they passed by, but nobody spoke to him.

Someone told the King that a strange man
without even a squire was sitting before the
Palace under an olive tree. The King's face
grew dark as he heard their tale, for he loved to
keep his gardens for his own pleasure. " San-
son," he called to one of his guards, " go and
find out who this stranger is and whence he
comes, but beware of bringing him hither."

Sanson hastened to do his errand, and
William answered, "My name is one that is
known to France. I am William Short Nose,
and I come from Orange. My body is worn
out with much riding ; I pray you hold my horse
until I have spoken to King Louis."

" Noble Count," replied Sanson, " let me first
return to the King and tell him who you are.
And be not angry, I beseech you, for such are
my orders."


"Be quick, then, my friend," said William,
" and do not neglect to tell the King that I am
in great distress. This is the time to show his
love for me ; and if he truly does love me, let
him come to meet me with the great lords of his
Court. If he does not come, I have no other

" I will tell him what you say," said Sanson,
"and if it rests with me you shall be content."

Then Sanson went back to the King. " It is
William, the famous William ! " he said, and he
wishes you to go out to meet him."

" Never ! " answered Louis ; " will he always
be a thorn in my side ! Woe be to him who
rejoices at his coming."

So the King sat still, and on the steps of the
Palace there gathered Knights and Nobles in
goodly numbers, and hardly one but wore a
helmet set with precious stones, a sword or a
shield which had been given him by William
himself. But now they were rich and he was
poor, so they mocked at him.

"My lords," said William, "you do ill to
treat me so. I have loved you all, and you bear
the tokens of my love about you at this moment.
If I can give you no more gifts, it is because I


have lost all I have in the world at the Aliscans.
My men are dead, and my nephews are prisoners
in the hands of the Saracens. It is the Lady
Gibourc who bade me come here, and it is she
who asks for help through me. Have pity on
us, and help us." But without a word, they rose
up and went into the Palace, and William knew
what their love was worth.

The young men told Louis of the words that
the Count had spoken, and the King rose and
leaned out of the window. " Sir William," said
he, "go to the inn, and let them bathe your
horse. You seem in a sorry plight, without a
groom to help you."

William heard and vowed vengeance. But
if the King and the courtiers had no hearts, in
his need a friend came to him, Guimard, a citizen
of Laon, who took the Count home and offered
him rich food. But because of his vow to the
Lady Gibourc, he would only eat coarse bread,
and drink water from the spring ; and as soon
as it was light he rose up from his bed of fresh
hay, and dressed himself. " Where are you
going," asked his host.

" To the Palace, to entreat the aid of the King,
and woe be to him who tries to stop me."


"May God protect you, Sir," answered
Guimard. "To-day the King crowns Blanche-
fleur, your sister, who no doubt loves you well.
And he gives her for her dower the richest land
in all fair France, but a land that is never at

"Well," said William, "I will be present at
the ceremony. Indeed they cannot do without
me, for all France is under my care, and it is my
right to bear her standard in battle. And let
them beware how they move me to wrath, lest
I depose the King of France and tear the crown
from his head."

The Count placed a breastplate under his
jerkin, and hid his sword under his cloak. The
gates of the Palace opened before him and he
entered the vaulted hall. It was filled with the
greatest nobles in the land, and ladies with rich
garments of silk and gold. Lords and ladies
both knew him, but not one gave him welcome
not even his sister, the Queen. His fingers
played with his sword, and he had much ado
not to use it. But while his wrath was yet
kindling the heralds announced that his father,
Aimeri, had come.




THE Lord of Narbonne stepped on to the
grass with his noble Countess, his four sons,
and many servants. King Louis and the Queen
hastened to meet them, and amid cries of joy
they mounted the steps into the hall. Aimeri
sat beside the King, and the Countess was
seated next the Queen, while the Knights placed
themselves on the floor of the hall. And William
sat also, but alone and apart, nursing his anger.

At last he rose, and, advancing to the middle
of the floor, he said with a loud voice : " Heaven
protect my mother, my father, my brothers and
my friends ; but may His curse alight on my
sister and on the King, who have left me to be
the butt of all the mockers of the Court. By
all the Saints ! were not my father sitting next
to him, this sword should ere now have cloven
his skull." The King listened pale with fright,
and the rest whispered to each other, " William
is angry, something will happen ! "

When Ermengarde and Aimeri saw their son
standing before them great joy filled their souls.

III. 8


They left their seats and flung themselves on his
neck, and William's brother also ran to greet
him. The Count told them how he had been
vanquished at the Aliscans, and he himself had
fled to Orange, and of the distress in which he
had left Gibourc. " It was at her bidding I came
here to ask aid from Louis, but from the way
he has treated me I see plainly that he has no
heart. By St. Peter! he shall repent before
I go, and my sister also."

The King heard and again waxed cold with
fear ; the nobles heard and whispered : " Who is
strong enough to compass this matter ? No man,
be he the bravest in France, ever went to his
help and came back to tell the tale."

It was the Lady Ermengarde who broke the
silence. " O God," she cried, " to think that the
Franks should be such cowards ! Have no fear,
fair son William, I have still left gold that would
fill thirty chariots, and I will give it to those who
enrol themselves under your banner."

Aimeri smiled and sighed as he listened to
her words, and his sons shed tears.

William answered nothing, but remained
standing in the middle of the hall, his eyes fixed
on his sister sitting on her throne, with a small


golden crown upon her head, and on her husband,
King Louis.

1 ' This, then, O King, is the reward of all I
have done ! When Charlemagne, your father,
died, you would have lost your crown if I had not
forced the Barons to place it upon your head."

" That is true," answered the King, " and in
remembrance of your services I will to-day be-
stow on you a fief."

" Yes," cried Blanchefleur, " and no doubt
will deprive me of one. A nice agreement, truly !
Woe to him who dares carry it out."

"Be silent, woman without shame!" said
William. "Every word you speak proclaims
your baseness ! You pass your days eating and
drinking, and little you care that we endure heat
and cold, hunger and thirst, and suffer wounds
and death so that your life may be easy."

Then he bounded forwards, and, drawing his
sword, would have cut off her head had not
Ermengarde wrenched the weapon from his
hands. Before he could seize it again the Queen
darted away and took refuge in her chamber,
where she fell fainting on the floor.





IT was her daughter Alix, the fair and the
wise, who raised her up and then heard with
shame the tale she had to tell. "How could
you speak so to my uncle, the best man that
ever wore a sword?" asked Alix. "It was he
who made you Queen of France."

" Yes, my daughter, you say truth," answered
the Queen, " I have done ill, I will make peace
with my brother ; " and she wept over her wicked
speech, while Alix, red and white as the roses in
May, went down into the hall, where the Franks
were still whispering together, and calling curses
on the head of William.

They all rose as the maiden entered ; Aimeri,
her grandfather, took her in his arms, and her
four uncles kissed her cheek. Her presence
seemed to calm the anger and trouble which
before had reigned throughout the hall, and
Ermengarde flung herself at William's feet and
besought his pardon for the Queen.

William raised his mother from her knees,
but his anger was not soothed. " I have no love

. , .,


for the King," he said, "and before night I will
break his pride," and he stood, his face red with
wrath, leaning on his naked sword.

Not a sound was heard, and the eyes of all
were fixed breathlessly upon William. Then in
her turn Alix stepped forward and knelt at his feet.
" Punish me in my mother's place," said she, " and
cut off my head if you will, but let there be peace, I
pray you, between you and my father and mother."

At the voice of Alix William's wrath melted,
but at first he would promise nothing. "Fair
son William," said Ermengarde again, " be con-
tent. The King will do what you desire, and
will aid you to the uttermost."

" Yes, I will aid you," answered the King.

So peace was made, the Queen was fetched,
and they all sat down to a great feast. In this
manner the pride of the King was broken.

But when one man is shifty and another is
hasty, wrath is not apt to slumber long, and
treaties of peace are easier made than kept.
When the feast was over William pressed King
Louis to prepare an army at once ; but the King
would bind himself to nothing. " We will speak
of it again," said he ; "I will tell you to-morrow
whether I will go or not."


At this William grew red with rage, and
holding out a wand he said to the King, " I give
you back your fief. I will take nothing from
you, and henceforth will neither be your friend
nor your vassal."

" Keep your fief," said Ernaut to his brother,
" and leave the King to do as he will. I will
help you and my brothers also, and between us
we shall have twenty thousand men to fight with
any Saracens we shall find."

" You speak weak words," cried Aimeri ; " he
is Seneschal of France, and also her Standard
Bearer ; he has a right to our help." And Alix
approved of his saying, and the Queen likewise.

The King saw that none were on his side and
dared refuse no longer. "Count William, for
love of you I will call together my army, and a
hundred thousand men shall obey your com-
mands. But I myself will not go with you, for
my kingdom needs me badly."

"Bemain, Sire," answered William, "I my-
self will lead the host." And the King sent out
his messengers, and soon a vast army was
gathered under the walls of Laon,




IT was on one of these days, when the Count
stood in the great hall, that there entered from
the kitchen a young man whom he had never
seen before. The youth, whose name was
Rainouart, was tall, strong as a wild boar, and
swift as a deer. The scullions and grooms had
played off jests upon him during the night, but
had since repented them sorely, for he had
caught the leaders up in his arms and broken
their heads against the walls.

The rest, eager to avenge their comrades'
death, prepared to overcome him with numbers,
and in spite of his strength it might have gone
ill with Rainouart had not Aimeri de Narbonne,
hearing the noise, forbade more brawling.

Count "William was told of the unseemly
scuffle, and asked the King who and what
the young man was who could keep at bay so
many of his fellows. " I bought him once at
sea," said Louis, " and paid a hundred marks for
him. They pretend that he is the son of a
Saracen, but ho will never reveal the name of


his father. Not knowing what to do with him,
I sent him to the kitchen."

" Give him to me, King Louis," said William,
smiling, " I promise you he shall have plenty to

" Willingly," answered the King.

Far off in the kitchen Eainouart was chafing
at the sound of the horses' hoofs, and at the
scraps of talk let fall by the Knights, who were
seeing to the burnishing of their armour before
they started to fight the Saracens. " To
think," he said to himself, " that I, who am of
right King of Spain, should be loitering here,
heaping logs on the fire and skimming the pot.
But let King Louis look to himself 1 Before a
year is past I will snatch the crown from his

When the army was ready to march he made
up his mind what to do, and it was thus that he
sought out William in the great hall. " Noble
Count, let me come with you, I implore you. I
can help to look after the horses and cook the
food, and if at any time blows are needed I can
strike as well as any man."

"Good fellow," answered William, who
wished to try what stuff he was made of, " how


could you, who have passed your days in the
kitchen, sleeping on the hearth when you were
not busy turning the spit how could you bear
all the fatigue of war, the long fasts, and the
longer watches ? Before a month had passed
you would be dead by the roadside 1 "

" Try me," said he, " and if you will not have
me I will go alone, and fight barefoot. My only
weapon will be an iron-bound staff, and it shall
kill as many Saracens as the best sword among
you all."

" Come then," answered the Count.



THE next morning the army set forth, and
Alix and the Queen watched them go from the
steps of the Palace. When Alix saw Rainouart
stepping proudly along with his heavy staff on
his shoulder her heart stirred, and she said to
her mother, "See, what a goodly young man!
In the whole army there is not one like him !
Let me bid him farewell, for nevermore shall I
see his match."

" Peace ! my daughter," answered the Queen,


"I hope indeed that he may never more return
to Laon." Alix took no heed of her mother's
words, but signed to Kainouart to draw near.
Then she put her arms round his neck, and
said, " Brother, you have been a long time at
Court, and now you are going to fight under
my uncle's banner. If ever I have given you
pain, I ask your pardon." After that she kissed
him, and bade him go.

At Orleans William took leave of his father
and his mother, who returned to their home at
Narbonne ; and also of his brothers, who pro-
mised to return to meet William under the
walls of Orange, which they did faithfully.

He pressed on with his army quickly till he
came in sight of his native city. But little of it
could he see, for a great smoke covered all the
land, rising up from the burning towers which
the Saracens had that morning set on fire.
Enter the city they could not, for Gibourc
and her ladies held it firm, and, armed with
helmets and breastplates, flung stones upon the

When William beheld the smoke, and whence
it came, he cried : " Orange is burning ! Gibourc
is carried captive ! To arms ! To arms ! " And


he spurred his horse, Rainouart running by his

From her tower Gibourc saw through the
smoke a thousand banners waving and the
sparkle of armour, and heard the sound of the
horses' hoofs, and it seemed to her that the Sara-
cens were drawing near anew. " William ! "
cried she, "have you really forgotten me?
Noble Count, you linger overlong ! Never more
shall I look upon your face." And so saying
she fell fainting on the floor.

But something stirred the pulses of Gibourc,
and she soon sat up again, and there at the gate
was William, with Rainouart behind him. " Fear
nothing, noble lady," said he, "it is the army of
France that I have brought with me. Open,
and welcome to us ! "

The news seemed so good to Gibourc that
she could not believe it, and she bade the Count
unlace his helmet, so that she might indeed be
sure that it was he. William did her bidding,
then she ran swiftly to the gate and let down the
drawbridge, and William stepped across it and
embraced her tenderly. Then he ordered his
army to take up its quarters in the city.




GIBOURC'S eyes had fallen upon Rainouart,
who had passed her on his way to the kitchen,
where he meant to leave his stout wooden staff.
" Tell me," said she to the Count, " who is the
young man who bears lightly on his shoulder
that huge piece of wood which would weigh
down a horse? He is handsome and well
made. Where did you find him ? "

"Lady," answered William, "he was given
me by the King."

"My Lord," said Gibourc, "be sure you see
that he is honourably treated. He looks to me
to be of high birth. Has he been baptised ? "

"No, Madam, he is not a Christian. He
was brought from Spain as a child, and kept
for seven years in the kitchen. But take him,
I pray you, under your protection, and do with
him as you will."

The Count was hungry, and while waiting
for dinner to be served he stood with Gibourc
at the windows which looked out beyond the
city. An army was drawing near ; thousands


of men, well mounted and freshly equipped.
"Gibourc!" cried the Count joyfully, "here is
my brother Ernaut with his vassals. Now all
the Saracens in the world shall not prevent
Bertrand from being delivered to-morrow."

On all sides warriors began to arrive, led
by the fathers of those who had been taken
prisoners with Bertrand, and with them came
Aimeri and the brothers of William. Glad was
the heart of the Count as he bade them wel-
come to his Palace, and ordered a feast to be
made ready, and showed each Knight where he
should sit.

It was late before the supper was served,
but when every man had his trencher filled

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Online LibraryAndrew LangTales of romance; based on tales in the Book of romance → online text (page 5 of 7)