|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 KING'S GUEST
 IT was a great day in Sutri. Never since the old Roman
days had so brilliant a company of warriors and noble
men been seen in that quiet town. In the governor's
castle the king and the peers of the realm were being
entertained and feasted. The chambers and halls and
courts were full of knights and squires; and every one
talked of the noble order of chivalry, and of war, and
of arms and armor, and of the king's progress on the
morrow to Rome. In the broad feast hall, Charlemagne
and his peers were dining. On the dais, by the side of
the king, sat Count Rainier, the governor of Sutri.
Around them stood many of the noblest knights,
attentive to their slightest wishes. Next below the
king sat Turpin, the warrior bishop, clad to-day, not
in his war coat of steel, but in his rich official
robes, and looking much more the priest than the
knight. Next to him sat Duke Namon of Bavaria, the
king's counselor, gray-bearded and sage, strong in
fight, and wise in statesmanship,—the oldest and the
most trusted of all the peers. On the other side was
 cunning dwarf, who, it was said, had power
over the unseen creatures of the air, and by means of
witchery could sometimes foretell the things that were
about to befall. Next to him was old Ganelon of
Mayence, at heart a vile traitor, the smile of a
hypocrite resting on his thin lips, and his
serpent-eyes twinkling with an evil light. On either
side of the long table below sat many worthy knights,
the most trusted warriors of Charlemagne, and the
doughtiest heroes in Christendom. I doubt if ever more
valor was seen in castle hall.
Mirth and revelry ruled the hour; and the long, low
hall rang with the sound of the harp and the flute and
the glad voices of the singers. The great oaken table
groaned beneath its weight of good cheer. The lordly
Count Rainier had provided for this feast every thing
that was pleasant to the taste, or that could add zest
to the appetite. The richest meats and the rarest
fruits, sparkling wine and foaming ale, the whitest
bread and the most tempting sweetmeats—all were
offered in generous profusion as if on purpose to make
the knights forgetful of their vows of temperance. In
the courtyard, around the open door, stood numbers of
the poor people of the town, listening to the music,
and waiting for the morsels that would be left after
the feast. Suddenly a young boy, ragged and barefooted,
appeared among them. All stood aside for him, as, with
proud step and flashing eyes, he entered the great
hall. With the air of a lord he pushed his way through
 of attendant knights and squires, and walked
boldly up to the table. Then, without saying a word, he
seized upon a basket of rare fruit and a loaf of bread
that had been placed before the king.
"Indeed," said Charlemagne, "that is a bold boy. He
will make a brave knight."
But those who stood around were so awed by the lad's
proud bearing and by the strange flash of his eyes,
that they dared not touch him; nor did they think of
placing any hinderance in his way until he had seized
the golden wine-cup which Charlemagne was on the point
of lifting to his lips.
"Stop!" cried the king. "How dare you be so rude?"
But Roland held fast to his prize; and, fearless as a
young eagle, he gazed into the face of the king.
Charlemagne tried hard to appear angry; but, in spite
of himself, a pleasant smile played upon his face, and
his eyes twinkled merrily.
"My boy," said he, "the forest is a fitter place than
this banquet hall for such as you. You would do better
picking nuts from the trees than snatching dishes from
the king's table; and the wine which you have taken
from my hand is not nearly so good for you as the water
in the flowing brook."
"The peasant drinks from the brook," answered Roland
proudly; "the slave gathers nuts in the forest. But to
my mother belong the best things that your table
affords. The choicest game, the rarest fish, the
reddest wine, are hers."
 "Ha!" cried the king. "Your mother must indeed be a
noble lady! And I suppose you will tell me that she
lives in a lordly castle, with scores of brave knights
and gentle dames about her, and that she sits daily in
her great feast hall at a table loaded with every
delicacy. How many servants has she? Who is her carver?
and who is her cup-bearer? Come, tell us all about it."
"My right hand is her carver," answered Roland; "and my
left hand is her cup-bearer."
"And has she soldiers and watchmen and minstrels, this
wonderful mother of yours?"
"Indeed she has. These two arms are her soldiers; these
eyes are her watchmen; these lips are her minstrels."
"That is a numerous household and a worthy one,"
answered the king, now very much amused. "But your good
mother has strange taste in the matter of livery for
her servants. I see they are all bareheaded and
barefooted; and their clothing, what there is of it, is
made of all the colors of the rainbow. How came she to
furnish you with a robe so rich and rare?"
"My robe is of my own furnishing," answered Roland.
"Eight boys in the town do me homage; and they pay me
tribute in cloth, each a different color. And now, my
lord, since you have learned all about my mother and
her household, will you not visit her in her castle?"
Before the king could answer, the boy had turned on his
heel, and, with the basket of food and the cup of wine
in his hands, he fearlessly walked out of the hall.
 Charlemagne was surprised at the boldness of the lad,
and delighted with his witty answers.
"Let him go," said he. "A braver lad I have never seen;
and he well deserves his prize. He will yet become the
noblest knight in Christendom."
Then, turning to Duke Namon, he whispered, "Saw you
that strange flash in his eye? Was there ever a fairer
countenance, or a more king-like form? Tell me truly,
did he not remind you of some one you have seen
"He did, my lord," answered Namon. "He reminded me of
your worthy father, the great Pepin. He has the same
noble features, the same broad brow, the same clear
gray eyes flashing with a strange light. He reminded me,
too, of yourself. Had he been clothed in garb befitting
a prince, I should have imagined that I saw you again
as you appeared when a boy. But he reminded me most of
your lost sister, the fair Princess Bertha. The same
gentleness of manner, the same proud carriage of the
head, the same curl of lip,—qualities that we once
admired so much in the Lady Bertha,—may all be seen
in this wonderful boy."
"I dreamed last night," said the king, "that my darling
sister came to me, leading just such a boy as this. And
I thought that he grew tall and strong, and that the
whole world looked up to him as a pattern of knightly
valor and courtesy, and that he carried my whole
kingdom upon his shoulders. Now this boy is no common
lad; and the mother of whom he speaks
 can be no common
beggar. My heart tells me that she is the long-lost,
"Your heart speaks rightly," answered Namon. "The son
of no other lady could bear so perfect a likeness to
the Pepins. I am sure that we have found her at last."
Then Charlemagne turned to the dwarf Malagis. "What say
you, sir wizard?" he asked. "You have the gift of
foresight, and you can read that which lies hidden to
the eyes of others. What think you of a boy who comes
thus boldly to our table, and levies mail from us as if
it were his right?"
The dwarf twisted and writhed about in his seat: he
smiled, as only wizards can smile, and then he humbly
but wisely answered,—
"My lord, the lad is no beggar. The blood of heroes
flows in his veins. Kings are his kinsmen. Great deeds
await his coming into manhood. Harm him not, but have
him sought out, and brought again before you. I have
read in the stars that somehow the woof of your life is
strangely interwoven with that of a lad like this."
Charlemagne at once ordered a dozen squires to follow
the boy secretly to find where he dwelt, and then,
without harming him, to bring both him and his mother
to the castle. And then the feasting, which had been so
strangely broken off, was begun again. And the wassail
bowl went round, and many a weak-souled knight forgot
his solemn vows of temperance; and the old hall again
resounded with music and with uproarious mirth; and the
boy Roland was for a time forgotten.
 Very anxiously did the fair Bertha in the lonely hermit
cell await the return of her son that day. He had left
her in the morning, determined to make himself known to
Charlemagne, and to demand the forgiveness of his
mother, and her re-instatement in the king's palace. He
had promised to be back very soon, with a palfrey for
his mother to ride upon, and a company of knights and
squires to escort her to the castle. But hour after
hour had passed by; and it was now high noon, and still
the boy did not come. Could it be possible that he had
been too rash, and had been imprisoned, or otherwise
severely punished, for his boldness? Another hour went
by; and Bertha was about to despair of his return, when
Roland suddenly appeared around the foot of the hill,
carrying on his left arm a basket of food and in his
right hand a golden goblet of wine.
"Mother," he cried, as he set his burden down in the
doorway of the grotto,—"mother, I have brought you
some share of the feast. You shall not starve while
your brother, who is no better than you, eats and
drinks and has such plenty of other luxuries that he
knows not what to do with them."
Then he placed before her the bread and the wine, and a
delicately baked fowl, and the rare fruits; and, while
she ate, he told her all that had happened to him since
he had left her in the morning. He had waited a long
time about the palace doors, trying in vain to be
allowed to see the king. The guards said that he was
sleeping, and would not be disturbed. If he could only
 have found his friend Oliver, all would have been well.
But the page was nowhere to be seen; and a squire whom
he asked said that he had gone that morning, with a
company of knights and dames, to Rome, and that it
would be long ere he returned again to Sutri. At
length, by the merest chance, he had peeped in through
the open door of the banquet hall, and had seen the
king himself seated at the table.
"I could not bear," he said, "to see so great plenty of
all that was good, and to hear the mirth of the greedy
revellers, and know that you were here in this wretched
cave without a morsel of food. I walked right in and
took the best, nor did I regard that I was robbing the
king. He talked to me, and seemed not a bit angry; and
I feel sure that he will send for me to come again
before him, and then I will tell him all."
"Ah, Roland," said the Lady Bertha doubtfully, "you do
not know your kingly uncle. He is hot-tempered and
violent; and he may yet punish you for your rashness,
and listen to no word of explanation or excuse. Many an
innocent man has suffered from his unreasoning anger."
"I am not afraid," answered the boy. "He was altogether
too jolly to be angry. And I expect, ere this time
to-morrow, to be installed as a page to the king or to
one of his peers."
He had scarcely spoken these words, when the squires
who had been sent in search of him came around the foot
of the hill, and halted only a few yards from the
 entrance to the grotto. Some were on foot, some on
horseback; and all were armed with sticks, and more or
less under the influence of the strong ale which they
had drunk at the banquet. As soon as they saw Roland,
they called out loudly to him, ordering him to
surrender himself as their prisoner.
"Come along at once, my little one," cried the leader.
"The king wants you for robbing his table."
Had the squires approached Roland in a respectful
manner, he would have gone with them gladly. But their
insolence maddened him.
"Tell the king," he answered, "that I am holding high
court at home to-day, and that, if he wants me, he must
come after me himself."
"But you must come with us," cried the squires. "You,
and your mother the beggar woman, must come with us to
Sutri, and lose no time."
"Beggar woman, indeed!" cried Roland, overflowing with
rage. "How dare you speak thus of the sister of
Charlemagne! Go back to the king, and tell him that his
nephew is not wont to do the bidding of squires and
churls. Tell him that only by the worthiest of his
peers will my mother and I be taken into his presence."
At this boastful speech of one whom they looked upon as
only a beggar, the squires laughed heartily; and one or
two of them shook their sticks in a threatening manner,
and made as if they would seize upon the boy. Roland
ran quickly into the grotto, and soon came out again,
bearing the long, broken lance in his hands. But
 it was
a heavy weapon, and, as he found it, an unwieldy one.
The squires closed in upon him from every side; and, as
the great length of the lance prevented him from
turning it quickly enough to guard himself at all
points, he was obliged to drop it to the ground. In its
stead, he seized a stout light club that lay in his
way, and then, taking his stand in the doorway, he
dared his assailants to come within his reach.
"You shall see," said he, "whether I cannot defend my
The squires, astonished at the quickness and the pluck
of the boy, fell back, and began trying to persuade him
to go with them peaceably. But Roland stood warily in
the doorway of his castle, and answered them only by
swinging his club in the faces of the nearest, and by
withering glance of defiance. It is uncertain how long
this strange scene would have lasted, or how it would
have ended, had it not been unexpectedly interrupted. A
knight, unarmed, and mounted on a coal-black steed,
rode suddenly around the hill, and reined up in the
midst of the excited crowd. His long hair and flowing
beard were white with age, and his pleasant face beamed
with kindliness, and was lighted up with lines of
"Ha, my brave men!" he cried in tones of merriment.
"What have we here? Twelve gallant squires in combat
with a single boy! And the boy holds his castle against
them all. Surely this is chivalry! What does it all
 "It means," answered Roland, "that these fellows want
to take me by force to the king at Sutri, and they have
insulted me and my mother. Were they knights, or even
gentlemen, I would go with them; but they are neither.
They are mere churls and hangers-on about the
governor's court, and they know nought of honor and
knightly courtesy. It will be long ere they are worthy
to wear the golden spurs."
The knight was amused at the boy's earnestness; and he
said, "I cannot blame you for refusing to be taken by
them. Yet I know that the king wishes very much to see
you and your good mother, and he has sent me to hasten
your coming. I am Namon, Duke of Bavaria, and I am
sometimes known as one of Charlemagne's peers. Perhaps
you will be willing to go with me if I send these
Roland, without a word of dissent, dropped his club to
the ground, and promised to go with the good knight at
once if he would only find some means by which his
mother might be helped to reach Sutri castle without
the fatigue of walking so far. Duke Namon dismounted
from his steed, and, having sent the squires away, went
with Roland into the little cavern. There he was
welcomed heartily by the Lady Bertha, who remembered
him as a firm, kind friend in former days, when both
were inmates of Charlemagne's palace at Aix. And the
fair lady and the noble knight talked long together of
things that had happened since then in France,—of the
gallant deeds of her brother the king,
 and of his many
triumphs at home and abroad; of the death of the
gallant Milon, and of the long years of wretchedness
and want that had since dragged by. And the knight told
her how Charlemagne had sought in every land for her,
and had sent messengers beyond the sea to inquire for
her, in order that he might grant her his forgiveness,
and make some amends for his former harshness. But all
in vain. The messengers had brought back word that
Milon was dead, but they could find no traces of his
noble wife; and Charlemagne mourned her as lost. And
then Namon told her of Roland's strange, daring deed in
the feast hall at Sutri castle that day, and of the
thoughts that he and the king had had about the boy;
and lastly he spoke of the king's desire that she
should appear at once before him, and, if she were
indeed the lost Princess Bertha, she should be restored
to her old place in his court and in his affections.
And towards evening the noble duke, with the Lady Bertha
mounted behind him on a pillion, rode gayly over the
fields to Sutri; while Roland, proud and happy, and
carrying his father's broken lance on his shoulder,
followed them on foot. Glad, indeed, was the greeting
with which the king welcomed his sister; but not a word
could the fair Bertha speak, so overwhelmed was she
with gratitude. Roland, still wearing his livery of
many-colored rags, but holding himself erect and
haughty as a prince, raised his wondrous gray eyes
until they met Charlemagne's gaze.
 "Sister," said the king, "for this boy's sake, if for
nought else, all shall be forgiven. Let the past be
forgotten in the joy of the present hour."
"Dear brother," said fair Bertha, "your kindness shall
not go unrewarded. Roland will not disappoint you. He
will grow up to be, next to you, the pattern of all
heroes and the type of all manly virtues."
And the next day a great feast was held in the banquet
hall of Count Rainier's castle, in honor of the fair
princess and her gallant little son. And not only the
bravest warriors in Charlmagne's service, but also many
noble ladies and many knights from Rome and the country
round about, sat down with the king at the festal
board. And this time Roland was not an uninvited guest;
but he sat in the place of honor at the king's right
hand, while squires and servitors waited his call, and
hastened to do his bidding. And Charlemagne rested two
days longer at Sutri before proceeding on his march;
and then he sent his sister, the princess, with a guard
of trustworthy knights, back to France and to the
pleasant palace and halls of Aix. But Roland was made a
page in the service of good Duke Namon; and, when the
grand army moved on again towards Rome, he bade good-by
to his humble friends in Sutri, and made ready to go
too. No happier, prouder heart beat in Italy that day
than Roland's. Dresed in a rich gown of green velvet
bordered with crimson and gold, and mounted on a white
 handsomely harnessed, he seemed not like
the barefooted beggar to whom the boys of Sutri had
been wont to do homage. But it needed not that one
should look closely to recognize that same noble form,
those wonderful gray eyes, that proud but kind-like
face. And he rode not with the rout of squires and
soldiers and hangers-on who brought up the rear of the
army, but by the side of Duke Namon, and in company
with the bravest knights and the peers of the realm.
All along the road the people of the towns, the
castles, and the countryside, crowded to see the
conquering hero; and they welcomed him with shouts and
glad songs as the guardian of Italy and the champion of
all Christendom. Three miles this side of Rome all the
noblest men of the city came out, with music playing
and banners waving, to escort the grand army through
the gates. At a mile from the walls the children of the
schools met them, bearing palm leaves and olive
branches in their hands, and strewing flowers in the
way, and singing hymns in honor of the hero king.
Charlemagne had laid aside his arms and his armor; and,
dressed in his kingly robes, he rode by the side of the
good Archbishop Turpin. His mantle was wrought of the
finest purple, bordered with gold and ermine; upon his
feet were sandals sparkling with priceless gems; upon
his head was a coronet of pearls and flashing jewels.
His horse was harnessed in the most goodly fashion,
with trappings of purple damask bordered with ermine
and white cloth-of-gold.
 At the gate of the city the procession was met by a
company of priests and monks bearing the standard of
the cross, which was never taken out save on the most
solemn and magnificent occasions. When Charlemagne saw
the cross, he and his peers alighted from their horses,
and went humbly on foot to the steps of St. Peter's
Church. There he was met by the Pope, the bishops, and
a great retinue of priests and monks, dressed in their
richest vestments, who welcomed him to Rome, and
blessed him. And on every side, in the streets and in
the church, loud shouts rent the air, and the people
joined in singing the chant, "Blessed is he that cometh
in the name of the Lord."
The boy Roland, having never seen such grandeur, was
filled with wonder and astonishment. "Surely," said he,
"this is the happy vale of paradise, of which my mother
has so often told me, where every Christian knight
hopes one day to find a home."
"It is not that vale," answered good Duke Namon; "but
it is the beginning of the road which leads thither."
Not many days did Charlemagne remain at
Rome. Messengers came to him from France, who said that
the Saxons and other Pagan folk had crossed the Rhine,
and were carrying fire and sword into the fairest
portions of the land; and they begged him to hasten his
return to his own country, that he might protect his
people from the ravages of their barbarous foes. So,
 having received the homage and the blessing of the
Pope, and having been crowned with the iron crown of
the Lombards, he marshalled all his forces, and set out
on his journey back to France. And late that same
autumn, Roland saw for the first time the noble city of
Aix, and was formally installed as page in Duke Namon's
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