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The Story of Roland by  James Baldwin


 

 

HOW OGIER REFUSED A KINGDOM

[240] LONG had been Roland's fruitless quest for the arms of Trojan Hector; and many were his adventures, as, wiser but no richer, he fared homeward again. Time would fail me to tell of the strange lands that he traversed, of the seas that he crossed, of the monsters that he slew, and of his many knightly feats of arms. And, when it was known that he had come back to France without the prize for which he had been seeking, many unkind words were whispered among the peers.

"A true knight," said old Ganelon, "never gives up an undertaking once begun. Any but a coward would rather die than say, 'I have failed.' "

Others whispered, that it was not the arms of Hector at all, that Roland had been in quest of, but rather the love of Angelica, the Princess of Cathay.

"And now, since she has slighted him, and cast him off," said some, "he comes back again to lord it over his betters, as of yore. Yet it is said that he did many valiant deeds in the Far East."

"So much valor," said others, "would have been better spent in the service of the king."

[241] Charlemagne had been beset with enemies on every side. The Moors of Spain had broken over the mountain wall of the Pyrenees, and had again overrun Gascony, and carried fire and sword into the fairest portions of Southern France. The Saxons, ever restless and ill at ease, had again taken up arms against the empire. The wild Hungarians had been making inroads into the eastern provinces; and the Lombards were ready at any time to rise in rebellion. Very gladly, therefore, did the king welcome his valiant nephew back to France, for he needed the help of his strong arm.

One day early in spring there came to Charlemagne's court a number of Danish knights bearing a message from their king, the false-hearted Godfrey of Denmark. They brought from Godfrey a great store of rich presents for Charlemagne, and treasure more than enough to make amends for the tribute which had so long been neglected and left unpaid. And the Danish king prayed Charlemagne that he would pardon his former misconduct, and receive him once more into humble and faithful vassalage; for pirates and strange sea-kings from the Far North had come down upon the coast of Denmark, and were robbing and burning, and carrying terror into the very heart of the country, and Godfrey hoped that Charlemagne would aid him in driving out the invaders. Charlemagne, although not always quick to forgive, was quite ready at this trying time to make friends with the Dane. And he kindly entertained the messengers, and sent them back on the morrow, with [242] assurances that he would pardon the offences of King Godfrey, and send him the wished-for aid. Then he called Ogier the Dane into his presence.

"Ogier," said he, "your father, the king of Denmark, is sorely pressed by his enemies, and needs our help. No one knows better than yourself how he has neglected and cast you off among strangers. And yet it is our wish that you lead a company of warriors to his aid."

"It is well," answered Ogier. "Naught save death can ever excuse a son from helping his father."

A thousand knights, the bravest in all France, at once enlisted under Ogier's banner; and without a day's delay they began their march toward Denmark. With Ogier, and next to him in command, was Roland; and the very presence of the two heroes inspired the whole of the little army with high-hearted enthusiasm and courage. Their march was rapid, and not long were they in reaching the land of the Danes. But the foe whom they sought had fled; for, when the rude sea-kings heard of the coming of the steel-clad warriors of the South, they hastily embarked in their ships again, and sailed across the sea to other shores. They lived by pillage and robbery, and they were fearful of risking a battle with an enemy so renowned and powerful.

Ogier with his little army now rode on toward his father's castle. But, as they drew near, they saw the towers draped in black, and heard the bells tolling a solemn knell. A black banner, on which the arms of [243] King Godfrey were rudely painted, floated above the gate. And a company of knights, all clad in mourning, came out to meet and welcome the heroes.

"What mean all these signs of sorrow?" asked Ogier. "We have come to you expecting to be greeted with cheers and songs and glad thanksgiving, and we find naught but weeping and doleful signs of death. Has any thing happened amiss to my father the king?"

"Alas!" said the sorrowing knights, "he is dead."

Then Ogier, unable to answer by reason of his great grief, covered up his face, and wept. And Roland and the Danish knights led him into the castle and into the chapel, where the body of King Godfrey lay. The hero knelt beside his father's bier, and bathed the face of the dead with his tears. Touching indeed was it to behold this warrior melted with sorrow in the presence of death. For although he had been maltreated and despised, and cast out among strangers, he had never forgotten that a son's first duty is to honor his father. Long he knelt on the floor of the little chapel, while the monks who watched beside the corpse chanted their prayers, and told their beads; and the tapers on the altar burned low; and the daylight gave place to darkness. Then he arose, and was about to leave the room, when the priest who had been his father's confessor touched him on the shoulder.

"Ogier," said he, "allow me to be the first to greet you as king of Denmark. The last words of your father were, 'Let Ogier be king.' "

[244] Ogier stood for a moment in silent thought. He hesitated as to what his duty might be. Ought he, by taking that which was clearly his own, to deprive his younger brother of the crown which he had been taught to expect? Suddenly a heavenly light burst upon him and filled the room with its soft radiance; and a voice like that of an angel said,—

"Ogier, take not this crown. Leave it to Guyon thy young brother. It is enough for thee to bear the title of 'The Dane.' Fame waits for thee elsewhere, and greater kingdoms than that of Denmark may be thine."

It was the voice of Morgan the Fay, the fairy guardian of his life. But Ogier thought that it was an angel from heaven who had spoken; and he humbly crossed himself, and bowed in submission to the command. He sought without delay the step-mother who had so cruelly wronged him.

"Mother," said he, "all that which thou hast so long desired has come to pass."

And he embraced his young brother Guyon, and hailed him king. And he said, "I am a peer of France, a knight of the household of Charlemagne. I seek no higher honors."

And heralds were sent into every city and burgh proclaiming Guyon as the lawful king of all Denmark. And Guyon solemnly promised to hold his kingdom in fief and vassalage from Charlemagne.


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