|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 |
HOW CHARLEMAGNE FOUGHT AGAINST OGIER
 SHALL I tell you of the sad war which Charlemagne waged
for so long a time against one of the noblest of his
vassals? Sorrowful, indeed, were those days, and much
shame did the peers suffer on account of the
Ogier the Dane had married Belicene, the daughter of
the Lord of St. Omer; and he had one son named
Baldwinet. Tall and comely grew the lad, and proud of
look; and Ogier loved him more than all things else.
One day the king's son Charlot played at chess with
Baldwinet; and, much to the surprise of the prince, the
young lad checkmated him. Very furious grew Charlot. He
seized the golden chessboard, and struck Baldwinet so
fiercely that he stretched him dead on the marble
floor. When Ogier heard of the bloody deed, he hastened
to the hall where his son still lay, he lifted the cold
and bloody body in his arms, and kissed the fair white
face. The knights who stood around, sorrowful and
horror-stricken, wept at the sight. Then Ogier
angrily to his feet again: he seized a huge club, and
sought Charlot from chamber to chamber to kill him. But
Charlemagne, too blind to the faults of his wicked and
foolish son, had hidden him in a secret closet. Ogier
sought the king, and asked that due punishment should
be meted out to the black-hearted prince. But the king
mocked him and banished him from the Court.
"Take thyself hence," said he angrily; "and, if
to-morrow's sun sees thee in France, thou shalt find
thyself in the darkest dungeon in our kingdom."
Ogier, despairing of justice, and filled with sorrow
and rage, mounted his good steed Broiefort, and rode
away from the king's court. He went straight to his
castle of Garlandon,—a fief which he held of the king
in Southern France. But, when Charlemagne heard that
the bereaved and sorrow-stricken knight was still
within his domains, he called his host together and
laid siege to Garlandon. Then Ogier, not wishing to
fight against the king, secretly quitted the castle,
taking with him neither palfrey nor sumter horse, but
only his brave steed Broiefort. He crossed the snowy
Alps, and came at length to the city of Pavia, and
presented himself before Didier, the King of the
"Fair king," said he, "I am a man who has been exiled,
hunted, from sweet France. Charlemagne has driven me
out of his kingdom; and he has left me neither town nor
castle, not even so much land as I could lie upon. It
was all because I demanded justice
 for the death of the
young lad Baldwinet, whom I loved so well. And now I
come to you, and beg your aid; for I may have need of
it. And I will serve you with sword and lance so well
that you shall love me."
"What is thy name?" asked Didier.
"My name is Ogier, and men call me 'the Dane.' "
At this word Didier leaped to his feet, and right
warmly he welcomed the Dane. And he gave to Ogier as
fiefs two famous strongholds,—Castle-Fort on the Rhone,
which had never been entered by a foe, and Mount
Quevrel on the Rock.
The next spring, King Charlemagne held an Easter feast
at Paris. Never since the days of Alexander the Greek,
of Lucian of Acre, or of Clovis, who was next after
Cæsar, had a king held a feast so grand. There sat at
his table seventeen kings, thirty bishops, and full a
thousand knights. And, while they feasted, some one
with slight discretion spoke the name of Ogier.
"The traitor!" cried the king, striking his knife upon
the table. "He is the guest of Didier of Lombardy, but
he shall not long be so. Who now is there among you,
brave knights, who will go beyond the mountains, and
bid Didier send me this rebel as a captive?"
Not one of the knights made answer, for those who did
not love Ogier feared him. Yet at last Namon the Wise
arose. Very old and frail was he, and his hair and
beard were white as snow.
"Sir king," said he, "since no younger man offers to
 go, I will bear your message; for it is the first duty
of every knight to serve his lord."
But the king would not let him go. Then Namon turned to
his son Bertram, who sat by his side, and bade him
undertake the errand.
"It is well," said the king. "Bertram shall go."
And Bertram, although very loath to do so, departed at
once. Had it not been for his father's wishes, he would
not have gone.
When the young knight reached Pavia, he went at once to
the king's palace. Didier was sitting at his table in
his feast hall, and Ogier sat beside him. When Bertram
was shown into the hall, the Dane knew him at once as
the son of his old friend, Duke Namon. He knew him by
the checkered helmet which he wore, and the silver
eagle on either side, and the sword-hilt of purest
gold; and he would have given all the treasure in the
world to have been elsewhere. He whispered to Didier,
and begged him to treat the messenger kindly, and not
let his ill-mannered Lombards insult the young man.
Bertram then delivered his message: "If Didier does not
send the Dane back in chains, like a greyhound, then
Charlemagne will come and destroy Pavia, and overrun
and ruin his kingdom of Lombardy and place a better
knight on the throne."
When he had spoken, Ogier arose, and answered: "Didier
owes no vassalry to Charlemagne, save the succor of ten
thousand men for sixty days, in case the
 French king
makes war in Italy. As to myself, Ogier the Dane, I do
not believe that Didier will fail me. If Charlemagne
would overrun and ruin Lombardy, let him come. He shall
find us not asleep."
Then Bertram answered by accusing Ogier of treason to
the king, and of not yet having paid the tribute which
his father Godfrey had owed for the fief of Denmark.
Very angry grew Ogier; and in a great passion he seized
a knife and flung it at the young knight. Happily, the
weapon missed its mark, only cutting the fringe of
Bertram's hauberk. Then better thoughts came to the
Dane, and he remembered the kind counsels and the
generous help he had so often received from Namon the
gentle duke. And so he answered the rash messenger
mildly, as a worthy knight, as a wise and well-taught
"For the sake of thy father, Namon the
flowery-bearded," said he, "the spear of Ogier shall
never be levelled against thee. Charlemagne has driven
me from sweet France: he has disherited me, and made
me an outlaw. And all this has been for no wickedness
of my own, but only because I dared open my mouth when
Charlot slew Baldwinet, the son whom I loved so well."
The next morning Didier called his barons together, and
they talked over the message which Charlemagne had
sent. And they bade Bertram carry this word back to the
French king: "We have pledged our friendship and aid to
Ogier the Dane, and we will not deliver him over to his
enemies. If Charlemagne would decide this
 matter by a
trial of arms, let him meet us in May, in a pitched
battle under Ajossa."
When Bertram returned to France, and delivered his
message, Charlemagne began at once to make ready for
war. He called together an army of fifty thousand
warriors. But the peers Roland and Oliver and Reinold
joined not the standard of the king: they would take no
part in this unrighteous war. The king's host crossed
the mountains, and camped in the meadows before St.
Ajossa. There, as Charlemagne sat before his tent, he
saw a great company of folk coming down the hills on
his right. It was Gerard of Viana, with ten thousand
crossbow-men. He looked to the left, and saw another
ten thousand warriors coming up through the meadows,
their hauberks and shields flaming in the sunlight, and
their banners fluttering toward the sky.
"What host of strangers is this?" asked Charlemagne.
"It is Baldwin of Flanders, and his far-famed Flemish
spearmen," answered Duke Namon.
The two armies were drawn up in battle-array before St.
Ajossa. Terrible was the shock with which they met in
combat; fierce and long was the fight. At length,
however, the Lombards were beaten, and King Didier
sought safety in flight. Everywhere the French were
victorious; for they were the braver knights, and
better trained. Ogier, on the back of his faithful
Broiefort, fled from the lost field with fifteen
thousand foes close following behind him. But the good
 distanced his pursuers, and carried his master
safely out of danger. The hunted Dane hastened now to
reach the shelter of his own stronghold, Castle-Fort on
the Rhone, which Didier the Lombard had given him.
One day, overcome by fatigue and long wakefulness, he
stopped in a mountain glen, and lay down behind a huge
rock to rest. He lifted the helmet from his head, and
placed it on
the grass beside him; and such was his weariness, that,
ere he was aware, he had fallen asleep. While he slept,
a company of Frenchmen came up with him, and, had it
not been for Broiefort, he would have fared but ill at
their hands. The good horse, seeing that danger was
near, neighed loudly and struck the ground with his
hoofs; but Ogier still slept. Then the noble beast
seized his master by the collar of his hauberk, and
shook him until he awoke. The Dane had barely time to
mount the faithful steed and gallop out of the glen.
That afternoon, as he hurried onward, closely followed
by his foes, he came to a little castle, standing in
the edge of the wood by the side of a wide morass.
There was no town nor any farmlands near; and the
place, even if not deserted, seemed very poorly
guarded. The gate was wide open; and, as no sentinel or
warder was there to challenge or prevent him, Ogier
rode boldly in. The courtyard was empty; and neither
lord nor servitor could be seen, although the Dane
thought he heard loud voices, and sounds of life, in
the low-built halls. He had no time, however, for
cere-  mony; for his pursuers were already in sight. He
quickly dismounted, and drew up the bridge, and shut
and barred the gates behind him. Then, without
hesitation, he went into the dining hall, where he
found the owner of the castle and all his family
sitting at the table.
"Kind sir," said he to the man, "I am a knight, who,
for no fault of my own, am banished from my own
country, and hunted from place to place like a felon.
If thou wilt give me shelter, I will richly repay
But the man rose up in a furious passion, and tried to
drive Ogier from the hall.
"If thou art so lacking in courtesy as to thrust a
stranger thus rudely from thy house," said the Dane,
"thou must not complain if I take forcible possession
of all that thou hast." And he drew his sword, and
drove the man and his family out through the postern
gate, which he closed and bolted behind them. Then he
searched every part of the castle, from the deep
cellars to the highest tower, to see whether the place
were well victualled. And he found great plenty of salt
meat, and bread and wine, and dainties of every sort.
The table was loaded with rich food, cakes, and red
wine, and cranes, and geese, and every kind of wild
game. There were provisions enough for a small
Not long was it until Charlemagne, with ten thousand
warriors, came up, and laid siege to the castle. He
pitched his tent right before the gate, and placed
 armed men on every side,—a thousand squires, a thousand
spearmen, a thousand crossbow-men. The walls were not
very high; but the ditch was wide and deep, and there
seemed no way of crossing. At length, by the king's
orders, the besiegers cut down the willows of the marsh
and the brushwood in the forest, and threw them into
the moat to fill it up. And ten great ladders were
placed against the walls. But Ogier defended himself
right manfully, and kept his enemies at bay until
nightfall, when they returned to their tents, vowing
that he should not escape them on the morrow. It was a
fearful night. The rain fell in torrents, the
lightnings flashed, the thunder rolled, and there was
such a tempest as has seldom been known. But
Charlemagne set two thousand men on guard, and
watchfires were built for seven leagues around.
Ogier's heart sank within him. "Never in my life," said
he to himself, "have I done good to any one who did not
in the end seek my destruction." He did not think of
the great-hearted Roland, who all this time held
himself aloof from the king.
When the earliest dawn of that long night began to
appear, the Dane went to the stables to find
Broiefort. The noble creature knew his master; he
neighed softly, and scratched his foot for joy.
"Horse," said Ogier lovingly, "there was never a steed
so good, so proud, in every way so worthy, as thou.
Thou hast done me good service in many a quest: canst
thou help me once more? In all the
 world there is not
one man who holds me dear; and, if thou shouldst fail
me, I would be undone."
The good horse raised his head as if he understood his
master: he neighed again, and struck uneasily with his
foot. The knight put on the saddle, and threw the
golden reins upon the proud charger's neck; and, just
as the cocks were crowing, he opened the castle gate
and looked out. All was quiet in Charlemagne's camp,
and the watchers seemed to be asleep. Softly did Ogier
let down the bridge; he vaulted into the saddle; he
breathed a short prayer to Heaven, and dashed boldly
away. The camp was aroused: the men rushed to arms.
Many of them saw Ogier galloping away; but they pitied
his plight, and would not harm him. Others, who were
his kinsmen, or who had fought by his side in many a
hard-won fray, secretly blessed him as he passed. And,
ere Charlemagne could rally his squires and
crossbow-men, the gallant Dane was well on his way to
Right hearty was the welcome which Ogier received when
he rode into his own castle. And the three hundred
warriors who were there at once made every thing ready
for a siege. On one side of Castle-Fort there was a
marsh so soft and deep that no man could ride across
it; and on the other was the swift-running Rhone,
washing the foot of the tower. Within the walls there
was a spring and a little brook so wide and so deep
that dames and damsels, burgesses and knights, might
bathe in it; and ere it poured its waters into the
 river, it turned three mills, which stopped not the
whole year round.
Soon Charlemagne's army arrived, and laid close siege
to Castle-Fort. And the king summoned Malrin, the
engineer, and promised him a thousand marks of gold,
and twenty war steeds, if he would batter down the
stronghold. And forthwith Malrin called together three
hundred and eighteen skilled carpenters, and more than
four thousand workmen; and they built before the gate
an engine seven stories high, whereon a thousand one
hundred and seventy bowmen could stand. And day and
night they shot great bolts of steel, and iron-shod
arrows, into the fort; while Malrin, from the uppermost
story, threw Greek fire upon the roofs of the houses,
and kindled flames such that neither water nor wine,
but only cold earth and soft clay, could quench.
Ogier and his men were at length driven into the tower,
and they stabled their horses in the deep dungeons
underneath. But still the bolts and arrows and stones,
and the dreadful Greek fire, poured down upon them. The
tower was of stone, cemented with mortar mixed with
dragon's blood; and no missile nor storm of fire could
harm it. Yet one by one the valiant defenders were
picked off by Malrin's sharp-sighted bowmen, until at
length Ogier was left all alone. He was now without
squire or page or serving-man. He must needs grind his
own corn, draw water from his own well, heat it on the
fire which he himself had kindled,
 sift his own flour,
knead the dough, heat the oven, bake his own bread. He
was his own cook, his own butler, his own groom. Yet he
knew full well, that one man never held a castle long
against his foes.
What Ogier next did, says the poet who told this tale,
no other man ever did. He cut down the small oaks and
the branchy trees which grew in the courtyard, and
shaped them into wooden men; he dressed them with
hauberks and helmets, and girded swords upon them, and
hung shields on their necks, and put battle-axes in
their hands; and then he fixed them on the battlements,
so that the French would think that the fort was still
Charlemagne was amazed. He wondered
how so many men could subsist in the tower, and how
they could live amid the storm of iron and fire which
was hurled down upon them. He began to think that some
unseen power was fighting for Ogier.
But ere long the gallant Dane became sorely pressed
with famine. His face grew pale with fasting: he wasted
away until he looked like a giant skeleton. In his
extremity he again mounted his good Broiefort, and
early one morning dashed recklessly out of the gate. A
thousand base-minded squires pursued him; but Broiefort
swam the rapid River Cercle, and left them far behind.
When Charlemagne learned that Ogier had again escaped
him, he was very angry. He warned the knights who were
with him, that they should on no
 account favor the
rebellious Dane, on pain of being punished as traitors.
And then he returned with his host to Paris.
Meanwhile, Ogier hastened on his way toward Denmark,
for there he felt that he would find friends. One day
he stopped by the roadside to rest; and, feeling weary
and worn out, he ungirt his sword Short, and lay down
beneath a tree to sleep. While he slept, it so happened
that Archbishop Turpin, with a following of knights and
squires, passed that way. They saw the warrior lying in
peaceful slumber upon the grass, and they remarked the
nobleness of his horse and the beauty of his armor.
And, when they drew nearer, all knew that it was Ogier.
The good archbishop was sorely troubled. He would fain
not harm his brother-in-arms; yet, if he did not take
him prisoner, Charlemagne would drive him from the
kingdom. So, after much ado, they took Ogier's horse
and sword, and overpowered and bound the Dane himself.
"My once kind friend," said Ogier to the archbishop,
"thou doest me too great an injury. If thou wouldst
befriend me, kill me at once, rather than give me up to
But Turpin bade him be of good cheer. He assured him
that he would take him to Reims, and put him in his own
dungeon, and see that no harm came to him.
When Charlemagne heard that the Dane had been taken at
last, and that he was in prison at Reims, he was very
glad, and he began making ready to have him
 hanged like
a common thief. But Archbishop Turpin came before him
with a retinue of knights, bishops, and abbots, and
begged that he would spare the life of the unhappy
Dane. And Gerard of Rousillon and full sixty dukes and
barons joined them in this petition, and threatened,
that, if Charlemagne slew Ogier, they would declare war
against him. And Turpin promised, that, in case the
knight's life were spared, he would keep him in his own
dungeon, where he should never see his hands or his
feet, and where he should have for his daily allowance
not more than a quartern of bread and one cup of water
and wine mixed.
"Only give him his life," said the archbishop, "and he
shall never cause you trouble again."
At last the king relented, and good Turpin returned in
great joy to Rheims. He had a silver cup made, which
held a whole gallon of wine; and a bushel of flour he
made into two loaves, so that seven knights could not
eat a quartern. And Ogier fared most royally in the
archbishop's dungeon, for he wanted neither comfort nor
amusement. Yet he was often sad and downhearted, and he
grieved greatly for his friends. And in his loneliness,
shut out from the sunlight and the companionship of
those whom he loved, his long hair and beard became
white as the snow.
But by and by there came a change in Ogier's fortunes.
France was being threatened with invasion by Brehus, a
Saracen chief of great valor and distinction; and
marshalled his host, and was
mak-  ing ready to repel the
invaders. The French were waiting the king's orders to
march; and all the peers, save Ogier, were in their
Then Turpin went into the presence of the king, and
"My lord, we can scarcely expect Heaven's
blessing to rest on this enterprise while one of the
peers is absent. There are twelve of us, but here are
At the same time three hundred squires, all sons of the
noblest men in the kingdom, began to cry out, "Ogier!
And Duke Namon boldly advised the king to pardon the
good Dane, and set him free.
"But he is dead," said the king.
"Not so," answered Namon. "He is alive and well, in the
"If that is true," said the king, "thou shalt take him
out, and we will make him all due amends."
When word was brought to Ogier that the king was
willing to pardon him in order that he might lead his
fighting-men against the Saracens, he seemed but little
gladdened by the
"Never," said he, "will I don breastplate or shield, or
lift the lance, until Charlot, who slew my gentle son,
shall be given over into my hands."
Charlemagne was in distress. He knew that, unless Ogier
were with them, the peers would not advance against the
Saracen but would rather defy his authority. And yet
his love for the foolish Charlot was as great as ever.
At last, however, by Duke Namon's advice, he
and sent word to Ogier that he should do with Charlot
as he wished. The Dane was brought out of his prison,
and dressed in his own armor, which the good
archbishop had carefully kept for him. He was tall and
straight, and his look was proud as that of a lion.
When he had donned his arms, he looked anxiously around
"Where, now, is my horse Broiefort," asked he,—"the
good friend who stood by me when all others failed?"
The archbishop could not tell; but a monk who stood
near remembered having seen the steed drawing a heavy
cartload of stones at Meaux. "When Ogier was thrown
into prison," said he, "the abbot of Meaux took charge
of his horse. The old man was very proud of his steed,
and very impatient to try him; and so, when he was
ready to leave Reims, he mounted him, intending to
ride home on his back. But the horse, who had been used
to the giant weight of Ogier and his armor, hardly knew
that any one was on his back, so small and light is the
good abbot. He started off at a great speed, running up
hill and down at a rate which frightened the abbot
almost out of his senses; and, as he passed the convent
of Jouaire, he threw the good man off, right before the
eyes of the abbess and her nuns. This accident so
angered and mortified the abbot, that he has kept the
horse hard at work ever since, hauling stones for the
new chapel which he is building."
Messengers were at once sent to Meaux, who
re-  turned soon after with the horse. But he was not the
noble-looking steed that he had once been. He was thin
and poor; and his sides had been galled by the shafts;
and his eyes had no longer any look of human
intelligence about them. Yet he remembered his old
master: he whinnied softly, and struck the ground with
his hoofs, and then lay down before him for very
humbleness. Ogier rubbed the horse's bare flanks with
his rich embroidered cloak, and wept as if his heart
would burst. And the squires covered the steed with
rich trappings of cloth-of-gold and of ermine; and they
put a golden bit in his mouth, and reins of silk upon
his neck. And the whole company departed for Laon,
where the king awaited them.
When Ogier came into the presence of Charlemagne, he
asked that the king should fulfill his promise by
giving up Charlot for punishment. But the father's
heart of Charlemagne made him hesitate. Then Turpin and
Duke Namon, and all the peers, besought the king to
yield, not only for his own honor's sake, but for the
sake of the people and of Christendom. And so he sent
for Charlot to come and deliver himself up to Ogier.
Trembling with fear, the wicked young prince obeyed. He
cast himself with crossed hands upon the ground, and
with bitter tears he besought Ogier's pardon. Duke
Namon, too, and the other peers, begged Ogier to be
merciful. But the Dane bade them hold their peace. He
drew from its scabbard, the rich-lettered brand Short,
and flourished it angrily about Charlot's
 head. The
king, in great horror and distress, fled to the
chapel, and knelt with covered head before the altar.
Then Ogier gently lifted Charlot from the ground, and
pardoned him for the great wrong which he had done him,
and bade him go in peace. And after this, he went into
the chapel, where the king still knelt; and the two
embraced each other in the presence of the host, and
mutually forgave each other, and pledged anew their
faith, and a lifelong friendship.
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