|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 |
KNIGHTED ON THE BATTLEFIELD
 SCARCELY had the army rested from the fatigues of the
march across the Alps, when messengers came the third
time from the pope, praying Charlemagne to hasten his
coming. "The heathen triumph! The Christians are put to
the sword! The Holy Father charges thee as the champion
of Christendom to come quickly to his aid!" At once the
camp at Aosta was broken up, and the great host
advanced by hasty marches on towards Rome. And Roland
and Ogier the Dane rode side by side, and lamented that
they were not yet armed knights, and could not take any
active part in the battle which was soon to be fought.
"I have not long to live," said Ogier; "and the
heaviest thought that weighs upon my mind is, that I
shall die without having distinguished myself in arms,
and without having done aught for the glory of the king
or the honor of knighthood."
"It shall not be," answered Roland. "You shall not die
thus early and thus shamefully. I will again intercede
with my uncle the king, and I will save you. And
many years we both shall be knights, armed and belted
and spurred, brothers-in-arms and peers of the king,
worthy to do our part in battle with the unbelievers,
and in all honorable undertakings."
The French arrived at Sutri. Roland saw with pleasure
the familiar haunts of his boyhood. He pointed out to
Ogier the rocky cleft on the hilltop, where, years
before, he had watched for the coming of Charlemagne's
host. And, when the old castle came in view, many
memories, pleasant and painful, rushed into his mind.
Oliver's father, Count Rainier, had long ago removed to
Genoa, and the place was now held by strangers; nor did
Roland see a single face in the town that he remembered
as having known in the days of his childhood.
A short distance beyond Sutri, they met the Pagan host
who had come out of Rome to give them battle.
Charlemagne decided to attack them at once. Duke Namon,
as the worthiest of the peers, led the vanguard of the
French; but Roland and Ogier staid in the rear with the
other squires, much grieving that it was not allowed
them to bear arms, and that they could take only the
part of lookers-on in this great contest. The golden
standard of the king, the sacred Oriflamme, was carried
by one Alory, who claimed it as the right of an
Italian; he being a native of Apulia.
Roland and Ogier climbed a hill in order the better to
view the fight. Duke Namon, with the bravest knights of
France and their Italian allies, followed the standard
to the attack. At the first assault the Pagans
worsted: they seemed to fall back in confusion, and
Duke Namon pressed upon them right valiantly. Then the
foe rallied again; they stood stubbornly; they rushed
savagely upon the bearers of the golden standard. Alory
and his cowardly companions from Lombardy were
frightened: they had not the fearless hearts which are
born of Northern blood. They turned, and fled for their
lives. Full of joy now were the Pagans to see the
Oriflamme in flight: full of shame and bewilderment
were the French. In vain did Duke Namon strive to turn
the tide: he was hemmed in by giant foes on every side.
He fought manfully, but against such odds, that he was
soon taken prisoner. Many other knights, the bravest
among the French, were overpowered. Charlemagne himself
was hard beset. His lance failed him, he was unhorsed;
and yet most valiantly did he defend himself.
Roland and the Dane could no longer hold themselves
aloof. They saw Alory and his coward Lombards coming up
the hill in shameful flight. They called the squires
around them, and urged them to rally to the fray like
"But how shall we fight without arms?" asked the
"Fight with whatever comes to hand!" cried Roland. "A
sharpened stake wielded by a brave man is better than a
lance in the hands of a coward. Let us die here for the
king and for France rather than turn our backs to the
 Alory and his Lombards were now very near.
"Believe me," cried Ogier, "if God have part or parcel
in this day's work, these cowards shall take hence
neither horse nor arms!"
"Shame be on any that shall fail thee!" answered the
As Alory rode up, they seized his horse by the bits:
they stopped him in his shameful flight.
"Have you lost the day?" asked Ogier.
"Where is the king?" asked Roland. "Where is Duke
Namon? How have you left the French?"
"The king is taken," answered Alory. "The infidels hold
the field. The French are slain."
"Thou liest!" cried the squires. "Had ye not failed in
battle, all would have been well."
Without another word, Ogier felled Alory with a blow of
his fist, for arms had he none. The other squires
followed his example, and dragged the craven Lombards
from their saddles. They despoiled them of their armor,
they seized their arms, and mounted their steeds. Ogier
took the golden standard in his hands; the golden cords
fluttered around his wrists; the charger which he
bestrode champed the bit, impatient to return to the
"Follow me, ye who are not cowards!" he cried.
The squires hastily formed in ranks, ready for the
He who could find no lance was content with a sharpened
stake, with the splintered branch of an apple tree or
an ash. Very eager was every one for the
 fray. They tore
their clothing into shreds with which to make pennons:
they cared little for shields or war coats.
By this time Charlemagne had freed himself from the
Pagans who beset him, and had again mounted his
Only a hundred knights were left with him now: all the
others had been slain, or taken prisoners, or had
sought safety in flight. But the king would not leave
the field. The Pagans were already gloating over their
victory. They were thinking of the day when they should
see the Christian knights eaten by lions in the arena
at Rome: they did not dream of any danger. Suddenly
Ogier and Roland and the troop of squires swept down
upon them like a whirlwind upon a field of growing
corn. Never were Pagan folk so taken by surprise.
Roland attacked the chief who held Duke Namon
prisoner: he split his shield in twain, and burst his
coat-of-mail asunder. The French knights were all set
free. The squires hastily donned the armor of the slain
Saracens, and followed in swift pursuit their
panic-stricken foes. Never was rout more unexpected or
In the mean while Charlemagne, seeing the flight of the
enemy, stopped not to learn the cause, but followed
recklessly in their wake. His hauberk was broken, and
his shield was pierced with many lance-thrusts; but his
good sword Joyeuse was in his hand, a very terror to
his foes. He sees Corsuble, the Saracen king, flying
over the plain, and, unmindful of danger, he gives
pur-  suit. A moment more, and Corsuble's head will roll
in the sand. But no! Two Pagan knights, very giants in
stature, rush to the rescue. Charlemagne's horse is
slain beneath him, and he himself is stretched helpless
upon the ground. And now the Saracens, content with
having rescued their own chief, and anxious to save
themselves, would have ridden onward, had not the
golden eagle on Charlemagne's casque betrayed his rank.
They hesitated. It would never do, they thought, to
leave the deed but half done. Hastily they dismounted
to give the fallen king his death-blow. Never had his
life been in so great peril. But Ogier had seen him
fall, and he rushed with the speed of a falcon to his
aid. The golden standard which the young squire held in
his hands hindered him from drawing his sword; and one
would have thought him but a poor match for the two
well-armed Saracens. But he came so swiftly, that he
was upon them ere they were aware. One of them was
ridden down by his horse, and rolled ingloriously in
the sand: the other received such a stunning blow with
the staff of the Oriflamme, that he fell senseless to
the ground. Then Ogier helped the king to disentangle
himself from his fallen steed, and saw him safely
mounted on the horse of one of the Saracens.
"Ah, Alory, thou brave knight!" said Charlemagne, not
recognizing the squire in disguise, "I have blamed thee
wrongfully. I thought that I saw thee flying
disgracefully from the field. But I was wrong, and thou
shalt be rewarded for thy bravery."
 Ogier said not a word, but, giving spurs to his steed,
he rode onward in eager pursuit of the flying foe.
Complete was the defeat of the Saracens: in great haste
and fear they retreated to Rome, and left the French
the masters of the field. Then Charlemagne blew his
bugle, and called around him his peers and the knights
whom the battle had spared. And the good Turpin laid
aside his helmet and his sword, and putting his mitre
on his head, and holding a crosier in his hand, he sang
the solemn "Te Deum Laudamus;" and all the mighty host
joined in praising God. While they were yet singing,
Ogier the Dane came humbly forward, and laid the
Oriflamme, all torn, and covered with dust, at
Charlemagne's feet. And with him came Roland and the
other squires, walking awkwardly in their misfit armor;
and all knelt reverently before the king. And
Charlemagne spoke kindly to them, and again thanked
Ogier for his bravery, again calling him Alory. And
the archbishop held his hands above them, and blessed
them. Then young Roland, bursting with impatience,
threw off his helmet and Ogier's; and the other squires
laid aside their armor. Great was the astonishment of
the king and his knights when they learned that the day
had been won, and their own lives and honor saved,
through the valor of mere squires. And the king folded
Ogier in his arms, and thanked Heaven that he had not
hanged him last Easter. And Duke Namon, with tears of
joy in his eyes, embraced both the young men, and
 called down the choicest blessings on their heads for
the honor which they had done him by that day's gallant
deeds and the signal service which they had rendered
the cause of Christendom.
Then, turning to Charlemagne, he asked, "What is to
hinder, my lord, from investing these young men with
the honors of knighthood?"
"They richly deserve it," answered the king. "Let us
make ready at once for the ceremonies. Such valor must
not long be unrewarded."
Great was the rejoicing now among the French; for all
the knights knew Roland and Ogier, and loved them. Only
two—Ganelon of Mayence, and Charlot the son of the
king, their hearts burning with jealousy and
unreasoning hate—stood aside, and would not join in the
general gratulations. When every thing was in
readiness, the young men again knelt before the king.
The good archbishop, after a solemn service, spoke
briefly of the duties of the knight, and warned them of
the difficulties and temptations in their way. Then,
taking the swords which had been prepared for them, he
blessed them, and laid them upon the rude altar which
had been hastily built for the occasion. When this had
been done, the king stepped forward, sword in hand,
and, smiting each of them three times upon the
shoulder, he said, "In the name of God and St. Michael
I dub thee knight: be valiant, loyal, and true!" Then
the peers who stood about arrayed them in the knightly
garb which had been brought for them. Duke Namon,
had been the guardian and most faithful friend of both
Roland and Ogier, laced their golden spurs upon their
ankles. Turpin blessed their white armor, and invested
each in his coat of mail. Duke Richard of Normandy
buckled on their breastplates; and Guy of Bourgogne
presented them the arm-pieces and the gauntlets. Then
came Charlemagne with the swords which he had taken
from the altar. To Ogier he gave a plain steel blade
bearing the inscription,
WEAR ME UNTIL YOU FIND A BETTER.
But to his nephew Roland he gave a wondrous
weapon with jewelled hilt, and a fire-edge gleaming
like the lightning's glare. And Roland, as he took it,
read these words, engraved with many a fair device upon
the blade, I AM DURANDAL, WHICH TROJAN HECTOR WORE.
The oath of chivalry was now taken by the new-made
knights. Each swore that he would be faithful to God,
and loyal to the king; that he would reverence all
women; that he would ever be mindful of the poor and
the helpless; that he would never engage in an
unrighteous war; that he would never seek to exalt
himself to the injury of others; that he would speak
the truth, and love mercy, and deal justly with all
men. And Charlemagne blessed them, and promised to love
them as his sons; and they, in turn, vowed to love and
honor him as their father in knighthood. And then,
having donned their helmets, they mounted their
steeds, which stood in readiness, and rode away
 The next morning, as Charlemagne rested in his tent, he
bethought him of the shameful conduct of Alory.
"Where now," said he, "is the cowardly Apulian who so
nearly ruined our cause yesterday?"
"My lord," answered Duke Namon, "he was sorely bruised
by the blow with which the Dane hurled him from his
saddle. This, together with fear and shame, has made
him hide himself from the sight of all true knights."
"Let him be found," said the king, "and let meet
punishment be awarded him for his treason and his
Not long afterward Alory, having been dragged from his
hiding-place, was brought into the presence of the
king. When asked to plead his excuse for his craven
conduct, he was dumb: he could say nothing in his own
defence. Then the peers adjudged him disherited, and
forbade him ever again to show his face in the king's
court, or ever again to mingle in the company of true
knights. But Roland and Ogier, when they heard the
sentence, begged leave to speak in his favor.
"It is not the part of a freeman," said they, "to take
pains to forjudge his peer; nor should he deal harshly
or unmercifully with another's weaknesses. If all who
flee from battle were disherited, greatly thinned would
be our ranks. If a man has been gifted with the heart
of a hare, he cannot exchange it for that of a lion.
Lombards know not how to carry the Oriflamme of
France, neither have they business to meddle with
battles. We pray that Alory be forgiven, and that he be
not intrusted again with duties too great for him."
Well pleased were the peers with these sensible words
of the new-made knights; and they freely forgave the
craven-hearted Apulian, not for his own sake, but for
the sake of Roland and Ogier the Dane.
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