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The Story of Roland by  James Baldwin


 

 

THE AFTER WORD

[401] SUCH is the story of Roland as gathered from the songs and poems of the middle ages.

When Charlemagne returned, sad, and worn with many cares, to his own chosen home at Aix, a fair damsel met him on the threshold of his palace. It was Alda, Oliver's sister, the betrothed wife of Roland.

"Where now is Roland the hero, the worthiest of the barons of France?" asked she.

Scarcely could the king make answer, so great was the sorrow which lay at his heart. "Sister, fair friend," said he gently, "that noble knight whom we both loved so well can nevermore come to thee, nor will his strong arm ever again defend us."

Faded then the color from the faithful maiden's cheeks. She cried not, nor uttered a sound. She tottered, and fell to the stone pavement at Charlemagne's feet. God is kind: he takes the broken-hearted home. The maidens in the palace raised her up tenderly, and bore her into the quiet little chapel, where they watched over her body, and prayed for her soul, until [402] the break of day; and then, with many sad tears and bitter lamentations, they buried her close by the altar, and full great honor did the king pay to her.

As for Ganelon the traitor, he was brought before the council of peers, loaded with irons and chained like a felon. "Lord barons," said the king, "here is Ganelon, whom I pray you will judge as beseemeth you just. He has traitorously taken from me twenty thousand of my host, and my nephew, whom ye shall never see, and Oliver the brave and the courteous; and he has betrayed the twelve peers for gold."

And the song goes on to tell how, through the advice of Thierry of Anju, Ganelon was sentenced to be torn in pieces by horses,—a just punishment for one so base and vile. Rut Charlemagne's heart was overburdened with sorrow and care; and naught could bring again the hopeful days of the past. "O God!" said he in despair, "so painful is my life!" And he wept with his eyes, and pulled his snow-white beard.

Here ends the song which Turold sang. But another poem tells us that, not long after this, the great king died, and that at the moment of his death all the bells in the kingdom tolled, of their own accord, a solemn dirge. He was buried in Aix-la-Chapelle, in a tomb, which, according to one account, was very rich and [403] well made. And on his tomb were painted all the battles which he had fought and won. But on that side which faced toward the Pyrenees Mountains, where he had been outwitted and defeated by the Moors, there was not any thing painted; for he had not yet avenged himself for the latest injuries which he had there received.

As for Ogier the Dane, it is related by one of the older song-writers, from whom I have already borrowed much, that he lived a long time in Hainault and Brabant, doing good, and hating evil, and protecting the poor and friendless. Wherever he went, the people called down Heaven's choicest blessings upon him; and when he died, full of years and honors, he was buried in the abbey at Meaux. But another and later poem tells us a very different story. It relates, that, before the death of Charlemagne, Ogier, with a thousand French knights, and assisted by his brother Guyon of Denmark, led a crusade into the Holy Land. On every hand the Saracens were subdued, and at length Ogier was crowned King of Judæa. But not long did he enjoy his kingdom. He was ill at ease and unhappy, so far from the court of Charlemagne, and he determined to return to France. One night he embarked secretly and sailed across the sea. The sky was clear, the wind was fair, and the vessel sped swiftly onward, but not in the way which its master desired. A mountain of magnetic iron drew it toward an unknown shore, where it [404] was dashed to pieces upon the rocks. With difficulty Ogier escaped from the wreck. The country in which he found himself was a strange land, not like any he had ever before seen. While he stood, uncertain which way to go, a beautiful horse, stronger and fairer even than Broiefort, came across the sands, and knelt before him, as if asking him to mount. Nothing fearing, Ogier leaped upon his back. With a neigh of delight, the horse, who was none other than Papillon, the fairy-steed of Morgan the Fay, bounded forward. Over rocks and hills, through forests, and among steep precipices, he ran with lightning speed, and paused not until he arrived at a wondrous palace built in the midst of a most beautiful landscape. There were gardens and orchards and lakes and waterfalls and fountains, and every thing that could charm the senses of the hero. It was the island Vale of Avalon—

"Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,

Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies

Deep-meadowed, happy, fair with orchard lawns,

And bowery hollows crowned with summer sea."


[Illustration]

OGIER AND THE HORSE PAPILLON.

There he was kindly welcomed by Morgan the Fay, the queen of that land. A crown of roses was placed upon his head, and he lost all remembrance of his former life. There, through long years of happiness, he had the companionship of King Arthur and his [405] knights, and of all the great heroes that have ever lived on earth; and he was freed from death and every mortal care. But once on a time he bethought him that he would return to France and visit his friend Charlemagne again. The fairy queen consented, and the sea-goblins carried him back. But every thing was changed. Paris was no longer the city he had once known. He made his way to the palace, and inquired for Charlemagne. Men laughed at him, and told him that Charlemagne had been dead two hundred years, and that Hugues Capet was king of France. The good Dane felt now that the world had no joys for him; and not long afterward he was carried back again to the sweet Vale of Avalon, where he still lives with the blissful company of heroes.

And in various countries of Europe men tell marvellous tales of the re-appearance of Charlemagne. It was said by some that the great king returned to life at the time of the Crusades, and, with the same martial vigor as of old, led his hosts to mortal combat with the Saracens. Some say that he has been seen in the mountains of Untersberg, in company with Frederick Barbarossa, waiting for the time when he shall return to his kingdom. Others believe, that in Desenberg he bides the coming of the millennial day. A German poet says, "Charlemagne the great king lives still [406] with his heroes. It is in Desenberg that he rests from his conquests. The mountain dwarfs guard his dwelling. There, in the broad halls, the heroes repose, overpowered with sleep, bound by an unseen hand. Around them are their glittering arms, ready to be donned for the battle. They breathe softly; they dream of war and victory. And at a marble table in the middle of the hall Charlemagne sits: his head reclines upon his breast; his countenance beams with the fire of youth; his hair and beard fall in long white waves to the ground. Long time has he waited there with his comrades. Oftentimes the dawning of their new life seems at hand, and a hum of joy runs through the halls. Then all the warriors rise to their feet: they seize their lances and their swords; but suddenly their joy is quenched, and again their eyes are closed in slumber. Only the king remains awake for a while; and he cries out, until the sound is echoed through the mountains, 'Ye dwarfs who guard my dwelling, what year is this?' The dwarfs answer; and the shadows settle again upon his features. 'Sleep on, comrades,' he says, 'the hour has not yet come.' With a dull sound, each warrior falls prone upon the earth: they sleep, and await the hour when the spell shall be broken. The king, with his long white beard, and his flowing hair, and his countenance glowing with youth, sits again at the marble table."


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