|The Story of Roland|
|by James Baldwin|
|Here are related the daring feats and great exploits of Roland, worthiest of the barons of France in the time of Charlemagne, and those of Oliver and Reinold and Ogier the Dane, all heroes who were his companions in arms and who rivalled him in the number and greatness of their exploits. The story is culled from the works of song-writers and poets of five centuries and in as many languages. Ages 11-14 |
THE AFTER WORD
 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
 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
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
 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."
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
 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
 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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