For hours they fought, and not a Frank gave way. Wheresoever a man planted his foot, he kept the ground or died. The guard hewed down the pagans by crowds, till the earth was heaped with full two hundred thousand heathen dead. Of those kings which banded together by oath to fight him, Roland gave good account, for he laid them all dead about him in a ring. But many thousands of the Franks were slain, and of the Twelve there now remained but two.
Marsilius looked upon his shattered host and saw them fall back in panic, for they were dismayed because of the Franks. But Marsilius heard the sound of trumpets from the mountain top and a glad man was he; for twenty strong battalions of Saracens were come to his help, and these poured down the valley-side. Seeing this, the rest of the pagans took heart again, and they all massed about the remnant of the guard, and shut them in on every hand. Nevertheless Roland and his fast lessening band were not dismayed. So marvellously they fought, so many thousand pagans hurled they down, making grim jests the while as though they played at war for sport, that their enemies were in mortal fear and doubted greatly if numbers would suffice to overwhelm these men, for it misgave them whether God's angels were not come down to the battle. But the brave rear-guard dwindled away, and Roland scarce dared turn his eyes to see the handful that remained.
Then Roland spake to Oliver, "Comrade, I will sound my horn, if peradventure Charles may hear and come to us." But Oliver was angry, and answered, "It is now too late. Hadst thou but heeded me in time, much weeping might have been spared the women of France, Charles should not have lost his guard, nor France her valiant Roland." "Talk not of what might have been," said Archbishop Turpin, "but blow thy horn. Charles cannot come in time to save our lives, but he will certainly come and avenge them."
Then Roland put the horn to his mouth and blew a great blast. Far up the valley went the sound and smote against the mountain tops; these flapped it on from ridge to ridge for thirty leagues. Charles heard it in his hall, and said, "Listen! what is that? Surely our men do fight to-day." But Ganelon answered the king: "What folly is this! It is only the sighing of the wind among the trees."
Weary with battle Roland took the horn again and winded it with all his strength. So long and mighty was the blast, the veins stood out upon his forehead in great cords; he blew on till with the strain his brain-pan brake asunder at the temples. Charles heard it in his palace and cried, "Hark! I hear Roland's horn. He is in battle or he would not sound it." Ganelon answered, "Too proud is he to sound it in battle. My lord the king groweth old and childish in his fears. What if it be Roland's horn? He hunteth perchance in the woods."
In sore pain and heaviness Roland lifted the horn to his mouth and feebly winded it again. Charles heard it in his palace, and started from his seat; the salt tears gathered in his eyes and dropped upon his snowy beard; and he said, "O Roland, my brave captain, too long have I delayed! Thou art in evil need. I know it by the wailing of the horn!' Quick, now, to arms! Make ready, every man! For straightway we will go and help him." Then he thrust Ganelon away, and said to his servants, "Take this man, and bind him fast with chains; keep him in ward till I return in peace and know if he have wrought us treason."
So they bound Ganelon and flung him into a dungeon; and Charles the Great and his host set out with all speed.
Fierce with the cruel throbbing of his brain, and well nigh blinded, Roland fought on, and with his good sword Durendal slew the pagan prince Faldrun and three and twenty redoubtable champions.
The little company that was left of the brave rear-guard cut down great masses of the pagans, and reaped among them as the reapers reap at harvest time; but one by one the reapers fell ere yet the harvest could be gathered in. Yet where each Frank lay, beside him there lay for a sheaf his pile of slain, so any man might see how dear he had sold his life. Marganices, the pagan king, espied where Oliver was fighting seven abreast, and spurred his horse and rode and smote him through the back a mortal wound. But Oliver turned and swung his sword Hautclere, and before he could triumph clove him through the helmet to his teeth. Yet even when the pains of death gat hold on Oliver so that his eyes grew dim and he knew no man, he never ceased striking out on every side with his sword and calling "Montjoy!" Then Roland hasted to his help, and cutting the pagans down for a wide space about, came to his old companion to lift him from his horse. But Oliver struck him a blow that brake the helm to shivers on his throbbing head.
Nevertheless Roland for all his pain took him tenderly down and spake with much gentleness, saying, "Dear comrade, I fear me thou art in an evil case." Oliver said, "Thy voice is like Roland's voice; but I cannot see thee." Roland answered, "It is I, thy comrade." Then he said "Forgive me, that I smote thee. It is so dark I cannot see thy face; give me thy hand; God bless thee, Roland; God bless Charles, and France!" So saying he fell upon his face and died.
A heavy-hearted man was Roland; little recked he for his life since Oliver his good comrade was parted from him. Then he turned and looked for the famous rear-guard of King Charles the Great.
Only two men were left beside himself.
Turpin the archbishop, Count Gaulter, and Roland set themselves together with the fixed intent to sell their lives as dearly as they might; and when the pagans ran upon them in a multitude with shouts and cries, Roland slew twenty, Count Gaulter six, and Turpin five.
Then the pagans drew back and gathered together all the remnant of their army, forty thousand horsemen and a thousand footmen with spears and javelins, and charged upon the three. Count Gaulter fell at the first shock. The archbishop's horse was killed, and he being brought to earth, lay there a-dying, with four wounds in his forehead, and four in his breast. Yet gat Roland never a wound in all that fight, albeit the pain in his temples was very sore.
Then Roland took the horn and sought to wind it yet again. Very feeble was the sound, yet Charles heard it away beyond the mountains, where he marched fast to help his guard. And the king said, "Good barons, great is Roland's distress; I know it by the sighing of the horn.
Spare neither spur nor steed for Roland's sake." Then he commanded to sound all the clarions long and loud; and the mountains tossed the sound from peak to peak, so that it was plainly heard down in the Valley of Roncesvalles.
The pagans heard the clarions ringing behind the mountains, and they said, "These are the clarions of Charles the Great. Behold Charles cometh upon us with his host, and we shall have to fight the battle again if we remain. Let us rise up and depart quickly. There is but one man more to slay." Then four hundred of the bravest rode at Roland; and he, spurring his weary horse against them, strove still to shout "Montjoy!" but could not, for voice failed him. And when he was come within spear-cast, every pagan flung a spear at him, for they feared to go nigh him, and said, "There is none born of woman can slay this man." Stricken with twenty spears, the faithful steed, Veillantif, dropped down dead. Roland fell under him, his armor pierced everywhere with spear-points, yet not so much as a scratch upon his body. Stunned with the fall he lay there in a swoon. The pagans came and looked on him, and gave him up for dead. Then they left him and made all speed to flee before Charles should come.
Roland lifted his eyes and beheld the pagans filing up the mountain passes; and he was left alone among the dead. In great pain he drew his limbs from underneath his horse, and gat upon his feet, but scarce could stand for the anguish of his brain beating against his temples. He dragged himself about the valley, and looked upon his dead friends and comrades, and Roland said, "Charles will see that the guard has done its duty." He came to where Oliver lay, and lifted the body tenderly in his arms, saying, "Dear comrade, thou wast ever a good and gentle friend to me; better warrior brake never a spear, nor wielded sword; wise wert thou of counsel, and I repent me that once only I hearkened not to thy voice. God rest thy soul! A sweeter friend and truer comrade no man ever had than thou." Then Roland heard a feeble voice, and turned and was ware of Archbishop Turpin. Upon the ground he lay a-dying, a piteous sight to see; howbeit, he raised his trembling hands and blessed the brave dead about him in the dear name of God.
And when Turpin beheld Roland, his eyes were satisfied. He said, "Dear Roland, thank God the field is thine and mine. We have fought a good fight." Then joined he his hands as though he fain would pray, and Roland, seeing the archbishop like to faint for the sharpness of his distress, took and dragged himself to a running stream that he espied pass through the valley; and he dipped up water in his horn to bring to him, but could not, for he fell upon the bank and swooned. And when he came to himself, and crawled to where the archbishop lay, he found him with his hands still clasped, but having neither thirst nor any pain, for he was at rest. A lonesome man in the Valley of Death, Roland wept for the last of his friends.
And Roland, when he found death coming on him, took his sword Durendal in one hand, and his horn in the other, and crawled away about a bowshot to a green hillock whereupon four diverse marble steps were built beneath the trees.
Then he took Durendal into his hands, and prayed that it might not fall into the power of his enemies. He said, "O Durendal, how keen of edge, how bright of blade thou art! God sent thee by his angel to King Charles, to be his captain's sword. Charles girt thee at my side. How many countries thou hast conquered for him in my hands! O Durendal, though it grieves me sore, I had rather break thee than that pagan hands should wield thee against France." Then he besought that God would now eke out his strength to break the sword; and lifting it in his hands he smote mightily upon the topmost marble step. The gray stone chipped and splintered, but the good blade brake not, neither was its edge turned. He smote the second step, which was of sardonyx; the blade bit it, and leaped back, but blunted not, nor brake. The third step was of gray adamant; he smote it with all his might; the adamant powdered where he struck, but the sword brake not, nor lost its edge. And when he could no more lift the sword, his heart smote him that he had tried to break the holy blade; and he said, "O Durendal, I am to blame; the angels gave thee; they will keep thee safe for Charles and France!"
Then Roland lay down and set his face toward Spain and toward his enemies, that men should plainly see he fell a conqueror. Beneath him he put the sword and horn; then having made his peace with God, he lay a-thinking. He thought of his master Charles. He thought of France and his home that was so dear. He thought of his dear maid, Hilda, who would weep and cry for him. Then lifted he his weary hands to Heaven and closed his eyes in death.
Gloom fell; the mists went up, and there was only death and silence in the valley. The low red sun was setting in the west.
CHARLEMAGNE REVENGES ROLAND
By Sir George W. Cox
Charles and his host rode hard, and drew not rein until they reached the mountain top, and looked down on the Valley of Roncesvalles. They blew the clarions, but there was no sound, neither any that answered save the ringing mountain sides. Then down through gloom and mist they rode, and saw the field; saw Roland dead, and Oliver; the archbishop and the twelve valiant peers, and every man of the twenty thousand chosen guard; saw how fiercely they had fought, how hard they died.
There was not one in all the king's host but lifted up his voice and wept for pity at the sight they saw.
But Charles the king is fallen on his face on Roland's body, with a great and exceeding bitter cry. No word lie spake, but only lay and moaned upon the dead that was so passing dear to him.
Charles was an old man when he took the babe Roland from his mother's arms. He had brought him up and nourished him, had taught him war, and watched him grow the bravest knight, the stanchest captain of his host. Right gladly would he have given Spain and the fruits of all the seven years' war to have Roland back again. Tears came, but brought no words; and God sent sleep to comfort him for his heaviness.
Then having watered and pastured their horses, the king left four good knights in Roncesvalles to guard the dead and set out in chase of the pagans.
In the Vale of Tenebrus the Franks overtook them, hard by the broad, swift river Ebro. There being hemmed in, the river in front and the fierce Franks behind, the pagans were cut to pieces; Not one escaped, save Marsilius and a little band who had taken another way and got safe to Zaragoz. Thence Marsilius sent letters to Baligant, King of Babylon, who ruled forty kingdoms, praying him to come over and help him. And Baligant gathered a mighty great army and put off to sea to come to Marsilius.
But King Charles went straightway back to Roncesvalles to bury the dead. He summoned thither his bishops and abbots and canons to say mass for the souls of his guard and to burn incense of myrrh and antimony round about. But he would by no means lay Roland and Oliver and Turpin in the earth. Wherefore he caused their bodies to be embalmed, that he might have them ever before his eyes; and he arrayed them in stuffs of great price and laid them in three coffins of white marble, and chose out the three richest chariots that he had and placed the coffins in them, that they might go with him whithersoever he went.
Now after this Marsilius and Baligant came out to battle with King Charles before the walls of Zaragoz. But the king utterly destroyed the pagans there and slew King Baligant and King Marsilius, and brake down the gates of Zaragoz and took the city. So he conquered Spain and avenged himself for Roland and his guard.
But when King Charles would go back again to France his heart grew exceeding heavy. He said, "O Roland, my good friend, I have no more pleasure in this land which we have conquered. When I come again to Laon, to my palace, and men ask tidings, they will hear how many cities and kingdoms we have taken; but no man will rejoice. They will say, Count Roland our good captain is dead, and great sadness will fall on all the realm. O Roland, my friend, when I come again to Aachen, to my chapel, and men ask tidings, they will hear that we have won a land and lost the best captain in all France; and they will weep and mourn, and say the war has been in vain. O Roland, my friend, would God that I had died for thee!"
Now when the people of France heard how King Charles the Great returned victorious, they gathered together in great multitudes to welcome him. And when Hilda, the fair maid whom Roland loved, heard it, she arrayed herself in her richest apparel and proudly decked herself with her jewels. For she said, "I would be pleasing in the eyes of my brave true captain who comes home to wed with me. There is no gladder heart in France than mine." Then she hasted to the palace.
The king's guards all drew back for fear and let her pass, for they dared not speak to her. Right proudly walked she through them, and proudly came she to the king, saying,--"Roland, the captain of the host, where is he?"
And Charles feared exceedingly and scarce could see for tears. He said, "Dear sister, sweet friend, am I God that I can bring back the dead? Roland my nephew is dead; Roland my captain and my friend is dead. Nay, take time and mourn with us all, and when thy heart is healed I will give thee Louis mine own son, who will sit after me upon the throne. Take Louis in his stead."
Hilda cried not, nor uttered sound. The color faded from her face, and straightway she fell dead at the king's feet.
HOW THIERRY VANQUISHED GANELON
By Sir George W. Cox
It is written in the old chronicle, that after these things Charles sent and summoned many men from many lands to come and try if Ganelon had done him a treason or no; for the twenty thousand who were betrayed being dead and the pagans utterly destroyed, there was none left to bear witness against him. So the king sent and fetched Ganelon up out of prison and set him on his trial. Howbeit Ganelon contrived to get thirty of his kinsfolk chosen among his judges, and chief of them Pinabel, a man of great stature and strength of limb. Moreover, Pinabel was a ready man to pick a quarrel with any; a man cunning of tongue and very rich and powerful, so that people feared him greatly.
These thirty Ganelon bribed, with part of the price he took from King Marsilius for the treason, to give judgment for him. Then Pinabel and the others went to and fro among the judges and persuaded them, saying: "We have no witnesses, only Ganelon himself, and what saith he? He owns he hated Roland, and for that cause he challenged Roland, in the presence of the king and all his court, to fight when he returned from his mission. The open challenger is not the betrayer in secret. Moreover, had he done this thing, would Ganelon have come back again to King Charles? Besides, would any man betray an army of his friends to rid himself of a single enemy? Blood enough has been shed.
Slaying Ganelon will not bring Roland back. The Franks are angry since they have lost their captain, and blindly clamor for a victim. Heed not their foolish cry, for Ganelon has done no treason." To this the others all agreed, save Thierry, the son of Duke Geoffrey; and he would not.
The judges came to King Charles and said, "We find that Ganelon has done nothing worthy of death. Let him live and take anew the oath of fealty to France and the king." Then the king was grieved, and said, "It misgives me you have played me false. In my esteem the judgment is not just. Nevertheless, it is judgment: only God can alter it."
Then stepped forth the youth Thierry, Geoffrey's son. He was but a lad, very little and slender of body, and slight of limb. And he said, "Let not the king be sad. I Thierry do impeach Ganelon as a felon and a traitor who betrayed Roland and the rear-guard to the pagans, and I also say that thirty of Ganelon's kinsfolk have wrought treason and corrupted judgment. And this will I maintain with my sword, and prove upon the body of any man who will come to defend him or them." Thereto to pledge himself he drew off his right glove and gave it to the king for a gage.
Pinabel strode forward, a giant among the throng. He looked down upon the lad Thierry and despised him; he came to the king and gave his glove, saying, "I will fight this battle to the death." The Franks pitied Thierry and feared for him, for they had hoped Naymes or Olger or some mighty champion would have undertaken the cause, and not a stripling. But Charles the king said, "God will show the right." So they made ready the lists; and the king commanded Ganelon and his thirty kinsmen to be held in pledge against the issue.
The battle was done in a green meadow near to Aachen in presence of the king and his barons and a great multitude of people. First the men rode together and tilted till their spears brake and the saddle-girths gave way; then they left their steeds and fought on foot. Thierry was wondrous quick and agile, and wearied Pinabel at the outset by his swift sword-play; but Thierry's hand was weak against his sturdy adversary, and his sword point pierced not mail nor shield. Pinabel clave his helm and hewed great pieces off his mail, but could not slay him. Then said Pinabel, "Fool, why should I kill thee? Give up the battle and the cause, and I will be thy man henceforth in faith and fealty. It shall prove greatly for thy profit to reconcile Ganelon and the king."
Thierry answered, "I will not parley; God will surely show whether of us twain be right! Guard thyself." So they fell to again, and all men saw that nothing would now part them till one was dead; and straightway they gave the lad Thierry up for lost. Pinabel's sword was heavy, and great the strength of his arm. He smote Thierry a blow upon the helm that sliced off visor and ventailles. But Thierry lifted up his sword and struck the brown steel helm of Pinabel. God put His might into the young man's arm, for the blade cleft steel and skull, and entered Pinabel's brain, so that he reeled and dropped down dead. Then all the people shouted, "God hath spoken! Away with Ganelon and his fellows."
Then King Charles raised up his hands to heaven and gave thanks, and taking Thierry in his arms embraced him for joy, and with his own hands took off his armor, and he set the noblest in the land to tend his wounds.