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multitude assembled at the Easter service, when two messengers came in
hot haste, and demanded to speak with the king. They had come from
Rome, and they bore letters from Pope Leo. Sad was the news which
these letters brought, but it was news which would fire the heart of
every Christian knight. The Saracens had landed in Italy, and had
taken Rome by assault. "The pope and the cardinals and the legates
have fled," said the letters; "the churches are torn down; the holy
relics are lost; and the Christians are put to the sword. Wherefore
the Holy Father charges you as a Christian king to march at once to the
help of the Church."

It needed no word of Charlemagne to arouse the ardor of his warriors.
Every other undertaking must be laid aside, so long as Rome and the
Church were in danger. And the heralds proclaimed that on the morrow,
at break of day, the army would move southward toward Italy.

The morning after Easter dawned, and the great army waited for the
signal to march. The bugles sounded, and the long line of steel-clad
knights and warriors began to move. Charlemagne rode in the front
ranks, ready, like a true knight, to brave every difficulty, and to be
the first in every post of danger. Never did a better king wear spur.

Great was the haste with which the army moved, and very impatient were
the warriors; for the whole of France lay between them and fair Italy,
and they knew that weeks of weary marching must be endured, ere they
could meet their Pagan foe in battle, and drive him out of the
Christians' land.

Many days they rode among the rich fields and between the blooming
orchards of the Seine valley; many days they toiled over unbroken
forest roads, and among marshes and bogs, and across untrodden
moorlands. They climbed steep hills, and swam broad rivers, and
endured the rain and the wind and the fierce heat of the noonday sun,
and sometimes even the pangs of hunger and thirst. But they carried
brave hearts within them; and they comforted themselves with the
thought that all their suffering was for the glory of God and the honor
of the king, for their country's safety and the security of their homes.

Every day, as they advanced, the army increased in numbers and in
strength: for the news had been carried all over the land, that the
Saracens had taken Rome, and that Charlemagne with his host was
hastening to the rescue; and knights and noblemen from every city and
town and countryside came to join his standard, sometimes alone and
singly, and sometimes with a great retinue of fighting men and
servitors. When at last they had passed the boundaries of France, and
only the great mountains lay between them and Italy, Charlemagne could
look behind him, and see an army of a hundred thousand men. And now
messengers came to him again, urging him to hasten with all speed to
the succor of the pope.

But the Alps Mountains lifted themselves up in his pathway, and their
snowy crags frowned threateningly upon him; their steep, rocky sides
arose like walls before him, and seemed to forbid his going farther;
and there appeared to be no way of reaching Italy, save by a long and
circuitous route through the southern passes.

In the hope that he might find some shorter and easier passage,
Charlemagne now sent out scouts and mountaineers to explore every
valley and gorge, and every seeming mountain pass. But all came back
with the same story: there was not even so much as a path up which the
mountain goats could clamber, much less a road broad enough for an
army, with horses and baggage, to traverse. The king was in despair,
and he called together his counsellors and wise men to consider what
should be done. Duke Namon urged that they should march around by way
of the southern passes; for, although a full month would thus be lost,
yet there was no other safe and well-known land-route to Italy.
Ganelon advised that they should turn back, and, marching to
Marseilles, embark from thence on ships, and undertake to reach Rome by
way of the sea.

Then the dwarf Malagis came before Charlemagne, bearing in his hand a
book, from which he read many spells and weird enchantments. Upon the
ground he drew with his wand a magic ring, and he laid therein the
hammer of Thor and the sword of Mahomet. In a loud, commanding voice,
he called upon the sprites, the trolls, and the goblins, with whom he
was familiar, to come at once into his presence. Forthwith the
lightning flashed, and the thunder rolled, and smoke and fire burst
forth from the mountain peaks, and the rocks and great ice-fields were
loosened among the crags, and came tumbling down into the valley.
Dwarfs and elves, and many an uncanny thing, danced and shouted in the
mountain caves; grinning ogres peeped out from the deep clefts and
gorges; and the very air seemed full of ghost-like creatures. Then the
wizard called by name a wise but wicked goblin, known among the
Saracens as Ashtaroth; and the goblin came at once, riding in a
whirlwind, and feeling very angry because he was obliged to obey.

"Tell me now," said Malagis, "and tell me truly, whether there is here
so much as a pathway by which Charlemagne may lead his army through the
mountains."

The goblin was silent for a moment; a dark cloud rested upon his face,
and his look was terrible. But the wizard, in no wise daunted,
returned his glance, and in the tones of a master bade him clear up
that clouded look, and answer the question he had asked. Then
Ashtaroth curbed his anger, and spoke:

"On what errand would the French king cross the Alps?" he asked.
"Seeks he not to harm my friends the Saracens?"

"That is, indeed, his errand," answered Malagis.

"Then, why should I do aught to help him?" asked the goblin. "Why do
you call me from my rest, and bid me betray my friends?"

"That is not for thee to ask," said Malagis. "I have called thee as a
master calls his slave. Tell me now, and tell me truly, is there here
any pass across the mountains into Italy?"

"There is such a pass," answered the goblin gravely; "but it is hidden
to eyes like mine. I cannot guide you to it, nor can any of my kind
show you how to find it. It is a pathway which only the pure can
tread."

"Tell me one thing more," said Malagis. "Tell me one thing, and I will
let thee go. How prosper thy friends the Saracens at Rome?"

"They have taken all but the Capitol," was the answer. "They have
slain many Christians, and burned many buildings. The pope and the
cardinals have fled. If Charlemagne reach not Italy within a month,
ill will it fare with his friends."

Then Malagis, satisfied with what he had heard, unwound the spell of
his enchantments; and amid a cloud of fire and smoke the goblin flew
back into the mountains.

Next the good Turpin came forward, with a crosier in his hand, and a
bishop's mitre on his head, and a long white robe thrown over his
shoulders, scarcely hiding the steel armor which he wore beneath. He
lifted up his eyes to heaven and prayed. And the sound of his voice
arose among the cliffs, and resounded among the rocks, and was echoed
from valley to valley, and re-echoed among the peaks and crags, and
carried over the mountain tops, even to the blue sky above. The king
and those who stood about him fancied that they heard sweet strains of
music issuing from the mountain caves; the most bewitching sounds arose
among the rocks and gorges; the air was filled with a heavenly perfume
and the songs of birds; and a holy calm settled over mountain and
valley, and fell like a blessing upon the earth. Then the Alps no
longer seemed obstacles in their way. The steep cliffs, which had been
like mighty walls barring their progress, seemed now mere gentle
slopes, rising little by little toward heaven, and affording a pleasant
and easy highway to the fair fields of Italy beyond.

While Charlemagne and his peers gazed in rapt delight upon this vision,
there came down from the mountain crags a beautiful creature such as
none of them had ever before seen. It was a noble stag, white as the
drifted snow, his head crowned with wide-branching antlers, from every
point of which bright sunbeams seemed to flash.

"Behold our leader and our hope!" cried Turpin. "Behold the
sure-footed guide which the Wonder-king has sent to lead us through
narrow ways, and over dangerous steeps, to the smiling valleys and
fields of Italy! Be only strong and trustful and believing, and a safe
way shall open for us, even where there seemed to be no way."

Then the vision faded slowly away from the sight of the peers; and the
mountain walls rose up before them as grim and steep as ever; and the
snow-crowned crags looked down upon them even more angrily than before,
and there seemed no road nor pathway which the foot of man could
follow. But the wondrous white stag, which had filled their minds with
a new-born hope, still stood in plain sight on the lowermost slopes of
the mountain.

The king, without once taking his eyes from the Heaven-sent creature,
mounted his war-steed, and sounded the bugle which hung at his girdle;
and the great army, confiding in the wisdom of their leader, began to
move. The white stag went first, steadily following a narrow pathway,
which led upward by many steep ascents, seemingly to the very clouds;
and behind him rode Charlemagne, keeping ever in view his radiant,
hopeful guide, and followed by the long line of knights and warriors,
who, cheered by his earnest faith, never once feared the end.

Higher and higher they climbed, and more and more difficult became the
way. On one side of them arose a steep wall, shutting out from their
sight more than half of the sky; on the other side, dark gorges and
yawning gulfs descended, threatening to bury the whole army in their
bottomless depths. And by and by they came to the region of snow and
ice, where the Storm-king holds his court, and reigns in ever-lasting
solitude. Looking back, they could see sweet France, lying spread out
as a map beneath them, its pleasant fields and its busy towns seeming
only as specks in the dim distance. But when they looked forward,
hoping there to see a like map of fair Italy, only the rocks and the
ice, and the narrow pathway, and the desolate mountain crags, met their
sight.

They would have become disheartened by the difficulties before them,
and have turned back in utter despair, had not the bright form of their
guide, and the cheerful countenance of Charlemagne, inspired them with
ever-renewed hope. For seven days they toiled among the dangerous
steeps; and on the eighth a glorious vision burst upon their view - the
smiling plains of Italy lay before them.

At this sight a great shout of joy went up from the throats of the
toil-worn heroes, and the good archbishop returned thanks to Heaven for
their deliverance from peril. And, a few hours later, the whole army
emerged into the pleasant valleys of Piedmont, and encamped not far
from Aosta.


WHAT HAPPENED AT RONCEVAUX

In all the world there was not such another king as Charlemagne.
Wherever his arms were carried, there victory followed; and neither
Pagan nor haughty Christian foe dared lift up hands any more against
him. His kingdom stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Italian shores,
and from beyond the Rhine to the great Western Ocean. Princes were his
servants; kings were his vassals; and even the Pope of Rome did him
homage. And now he had crossed the Pyrenees, and was carrying fire and
sword into the fair fields and rich towns of the Spanish Moors; for he
had vowed to punish Marsilius, king of Spain, for the injuries he had
done the French in former years. He had overrun the whole of that
haughty land, and had left neither castle, nor city, nor wall,
unbroken, save only the town of Saragossa.

One day Charlemagne sat beneath the blossoming trees of an orchard near
Cordova. White was his beard, and flowered was his head; yet still
handsome was his body, and proud his form. Around him were the noblest
of knights, Roland and Oliver and old Duke Namon, and fifteen thousand
of the choicest men of France. It was a gala-day for the French, and
the warriors amused themselves with field sports, and many pleasant
games. Then a party of Moorish messengers were brought before the
king. They came from Marsilius at Saragossa, who had sent to beg peace
of Charlemagne.

"What will Marsilius give for peace?" asked the king.

"If you will go back to your own country, and cease this unhappy war,"
answered they, "then Marsilius binds himself to do this: he will go to
Aix at Michaelmas, and be baptized; he will do homage then for Spain,
and will faithfully hold it in fief from you; he will give you great
store of treasures, - four hundred mules loaded with gold, and fifty
cart-loads of silver, besides numbers of bears and lions and tame
greyhounds, and seven hundred camels, and a thousand moulted falcons.
Too long has this cruel war been waging. Marsilius would fain have
peace."

Charlemagne listened to the words of the messengers, but he was not
quick to answer. He called together his peers, and laid the matter
before them.

"What think you of the Moor's offers of peace?" asked he.

"Put no trust in Marsilius!" cried Roland. "He is the most faithless
of Pagans, and speaks only lies. Carry on the war as you have begun,
and talk not of peace until Saragossa is ours."

Charlemagne's face grew dark, yet he said not a word. It was plain
that he coveted the treasures which Marsilius had promised. Then
Ganelon arose, and with curling lip, thus answered, -

"If Marsilius offers to do fealty for Spain, and to hold it as a gift
from you, wherefore should we refuse his plea? He who would advise you
otherwise cares not what manner of death we die."

And Namon of Bavaria added, "If the Moor is beaten, and cries for
mercy, it would be an unknightly act to continue warring against him.
My voice is for peace."

And all the peers, save Roland and Oliver, cried out, "The duke hath
spoken wisely. Let us have peace!"

"It is well," answered Charlemagne, "and so it shall be. But whom
shall we send to Saragossa to treat with Marsilius, and to receive the
pledges of good faith which he shall give?"

Then arose a great dispute among the peers as to which should undertake
this dangerous errand. Duke Namon, who was never known to shirk a
duty, offered to go; but the king would not consent. He liked not to
part with his wise old friend, even for a single day.

"I will carry the message," said Roland.

"Not so, my brother," interrupted Oliver. "Thy pride will get the
better of thy judgment, and thou wilt act rashly. Let me undertake the
errand."

But Charlemagne refused them both. "Neither of you shall go," said he.
"But you may choose one from among these other barons to be the
messenger."

"Then send Ganelon of Mayence," said Roland. "He is in favor of this
peace, and he is most fit to carry the message."

"Yes, send Ganelon of Mayence!" cried all the peers.

Ganelon rose from his seat in rage. Fire flashed from his hazel eyes;
his lips quivered; he tore the sable border from his crimson tunic, and
stood proudly before Roland. "Fool!" cried he. "Who art thou who
wouldst send me to Marsilius? If I but live to come again from
Saragossa, I will deal thee such a blow as thou shalt never forget."

"Speak softly, Sir Ganelon," said Roland. "Men know that I care not
for threats. If thou art afraid of the danger, mayhap the king will
allow me to go in thy place."

Hotter than before was Ganelon's wrath; but he held his tongue, and
turned humbly toward the king.

"My lord," said he, "since you will that I bear this message to
Marsilius, I go. But I know too well the false-hearted Moor to hope
that I shall ever return. I pray you, care for my fair son Baldwin, to
whom I leave my lands and all my fiefs. Keep him well, for these eyes
of mine shall never see him again."

"Thou art too fearful, and too tender of heart," said the king, as he
offered to Ganelon the staff and the glove which messengers were wont
to carry as signs of their office. "Go now, and doubt not the issue of
thine errand."

Ganelon took the staff; but his hand trembled, and the glove fell to
the ground.

"An evil omen is that," whispered the peers who saw it. "It is a sign
of no good fortune, either to him or to us."

Then Ganelon bade the king good-by, and went on his way. But he said
to himself, "This is Roland's doings, and I shall hate him all my life
long: neither shall I love Oliver his brother, nor any other of the
twelve peers."

When he reached Saragossa, Ganelon was led into the presence of
Marsilius. The Moorish king sat under a pine tree, and twenty thousand
warriors stood around him.

"What answer bring you from your liege-lord Charlemagne?" asked he.

Ganelon had studied well what he should say; and he answered, like one
long used to cunning guile, "If thou wilt be baptized and become a
Christian, Charlemagne will give thee the half of Spain to hold in
fief. If thou wilt not accept this offer, then he will besiege thee in
Saragossa, and take thee prisoner; and he will send thee bound upon the
back of a sumter horse to Aix, and there he will have thee put to
death. This is the message which Charlemagne sends thee."

Great was the anger of the Moorish king, and he raised his javelin to
strike the messenger dead. But Ganelon, no whit daunted, set his back
against the trunk of a tree, and drew his sword part way from its
scabbard.

"Good sword," said he, "thou art fair and bright, and thou hast done me
many a service. Never shall it be said that Ganelon died alone in a
strange land."

But the courtiers of King Marsilius stepped in between them. "It were
better," said they, "to treat with this man than to slay him. If his
face slander him not, he is a man who may be persuaded to help us. Try
him."

Then Marsilius called Ganelon to his side, and offered him five hundred
pounds of gold for his friendship. And the two sat long together, and
plotted bloodshed and treason.

"Indeed, what think you of this Charlemagne?" asked the Moor. "Through
how many lands has he carried that old body of his? How many scars are
there on his shield? How many kingdoms has he stolen, and how many
kings impoverished? Methinks that his days are well-nigh spent. He
must be more than two hundred years old."

But Ganelon, although a traitor, would say naught against the king.

"None can see him," said he, "but will say that he is a man. None can
so praise or honor him, but that there shall yet be in him more worth
and goodness."

"Yet, methinks," said the Moor, "that he is very old. His beard is
white; his hair is flowered. It is strange that he grows not tired of
fighting."

"That he will never do so long as Roland, his nephew, lives," answered
Ganelon. "There, too, is Oliver; and there are the other peers of the
realm, all of whom the king holds most dear. They alone are worth
twenty thousand men."

"I have heard much of Roland," said the Moor; "and I would fain put him
out of the way. Tell me how it can be done, and thou shalt have three
baggage-horse loads of gold, three of silver, and three of fine silk
and red wine and jewels."

Now Ganelon desired, above all things, the death of Roland; and he
eagerly made known his plans to Marsilius.

"Send to Charlemagne," said he, "great store of rich gifts, so that
every Frenchman shall wonder at your wealth. Send also hostages, and
promise him that on next Michaelmas you will be baptized at Aix and do
him homage for Spain. Pleased with your promises, he will return to
France. But his rear-guard, with Roland and Oliver, and twenty
thousand Frenchmen, will be long among the passes of the Pyrenees. A
hundred thousand Moors could well cope with them there."

Then the two traitors exchanged promises and pledges; and Ganelon,
taking with him the keys of Saragossa, and rich presents for
Charlemagne, went back to Cordova.

Right glad was Charlemagne to hear the message which the lying traitor
brought. He was tired of warring, and he longed to return in peace to
his own sweet France. The next day the trumpets sounded throughout the
camp. The tents were struck; the baggage was packed on the sumter
horses; the knights mounted their steeds; banners and pennons waved
thick in the air; the great army began its glad march homeward. Joyful
was the beginning of that march; but, ah, how sad the ending! The
French did not see the crafty Moors following them through the upper
valleys, their banners furled, their helmets closed, their lances in
rest.

That first night the king was troubled with sad dreams. He thought
that Ganelon seized his lance and shook it, and that it fell in pieces.
He thought that he hunted in the forest of Ardennes, and that both a
boar and a leopard attacked him. A thousand fearful fancies vexed him.
Mountains fell upon him and crushed him; the earth yawned and swallowed
him; perils beset him on every side: but amid them all, the face of
Ganelon was ever to be seen.

By and by the army came to the Pyrenees, and the great land of France
lay just beyond the mountains.

"To whom now," said the king to his peers, "shall we intrust our
rear-guard while we pass safely through the mountain gates?"

"Give It to Roland, your nephew," said Ganelon. "There is none more
worthy than he."

"And who shall lead the vanguard?"

"Ogier, the Dane. Next to Roland, he is the bravest of your barons."

Right willingly did Roland accept the dangerous trust.

"I will see to it," said he, "that no harm come to the French while
passing through the gates. Neither pack-horse, nor mule, nor palfrey,
nor charger, nor man shall we lose, that shall not be paid for by the
blood of our foes."

Then he mounted his steed, and rode back to the rear. And with him
went Oliver and Turpin the archbishop, and twenty thousand valiant
fighting-men.

High were the mountains, and gloomy the valleys; dark were the rocks,
and fearful were the glens. But the day was fair, and the sky was
clear; and the bright shields of the warriors glittered in the sunlight
like flashes of fire. All at once a sound, as of a thousand trumpets
blowing, was heard in the valley below them. The French knights
hearkened.

"Comrades," said Oliver, "methinks that we are followed by the Moors."

"And may God grant us battle and victory!" said Roland earnestly.
"Well is it that we are here to defend the king. For one should never
murmur that he suffers distress for his friends: for them, he should
lose, if need be, both blood and flesh and even life itself."

Then Oliver climbed a high pine tree, and looked down into the grassy
valley behind them. There he beheld such troops of Pagan folk as he
had never seen before.

"Comrades," cried he, "we shall have such a battle as no man has known.
The passes are full of armed Moors: their hauberks and glittering
helmets fill the lower valleys. Great mischief is in store for us, but
may we stand to the field like men!"

"Shame be to him that flees!" said the warriors who heard him.

Bewildered and amazed at sight of so terrible an array of Pagans,
Oliver descended from the tree.

"Brother Roland," said he, "I pray thee blow thy horn. The king will
hear it, and he will turn him about and come to our succor."

"To do so would be to act as a craven," answered Roland. "Never shall
it be said that I feared a foe. I will strike strong strokes with my
sword, Durandal. Ill shall it fare with the Pagan traitors."

"Comrade Roland," again said Oliver, "now blow thy horn. Charlemagne
will hear it, and he will make his host return."

"Never," answered Roland, "shall my kinsmen upbraid me, or be blamed
for me. But I will strike with Durandal. The brand which the king
gave me when he knighted me, that shall be our succor."

Then Oliver prayed him the third time, "Comrade Roland, sound now thine
ivory horn. Charlemagne, who is passing the gates, will hear us and
come to our aid."

"No man shall ever say," answered Roland, "that I have blown my horn
for Pagans. My kinsmen shall not bear that reproach. But when the
great battle is joined, then you shall see the lightning flashes of
Durandal in the thickest of the fight. A thousand and seven hundred
times shall the blade be dyed in the blood of the Moors. Better would
it be to perish than suffer shame."

But Oliver was not yet satisfied. "I have seen the Moorish host," said
he. "The mountains and the plains, the valleys and the groves, are
full of them. Never have we fought against such great odds."


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