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The Story of Roland by  James Baldwin

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MEDORO THE MOOR

[306] IN the Moorish camp were two young knights named Medoro and Cloridan, the bosom friends of the ill-fated Dardinel. Cloridan, the elder, was tall and slim and supple as the twig of hickory or of elm; and he loved the greenwood and the chase much better than the clashing of arms and the horrid scenes of war. Medoro was very fair, like a Saxon rather than a Moor; and his long golden hair fell in ringlets about his shoulders; while his jet black eyes snapped and sparkled like diamonds set in alabaster. Never has painter pictured an angel more beautiful than he.

On that sad night which followed the day of battle, the two young men, with others of the Moorish host, stood guard before the camp; and every word they spoke was of their lost lord Dardinel, whom they bewailed and mourned through the earlier watches of the night.

"Ah, Cloridan," Medoro said, "what grief it is to me that he whom we loved so well should lie unburied upon the plain, the food of the raven and the wolf! Gladly [307] would I give up my own life to save his body from this last, most dread disgrace."


[Illustration]

CLORIDAN AND MEDORO.

And then the two recounted together the noble deeds of the young chief, and talked long of his manly virtues and of the rare graces of his mind and heart. And at length Medoro, carried away by his feelings, cried out, "Cloridan, he shall not lie thus ingloriously upon the field of battle! I will go now, and find him where he fell, and give him a burial worthy of one so noble hearted. Do you stay here; and, if I come not to you again, you may say that I have died for the master whom we loved so well."

Cloridan was amazed to find in his comrade so much love and loyal devotion; and he would fain have dissuaded him from a venture so rash and full of danger. But Medoro was not to be moved from his purpose; rather would he die than forego that which he had resolved upon. So Cloridan, finding him deaf to all entreaties, persuaded him no more, but grasped his hand, and said, "Thou shalt not go alone, Medoro. I will be thy companion, and share with thee the danger and the glory. Rather would I die with thee in arms than that thou shouldst perish in this venture, and I be left to grieve for thee."

Then the youthful pair stole silently away from their post, and in the darkness of the night made their way to Charlemagne's camp. All there was still. The watchfires had burned low; and only an uncertain light was shed among the tents by the few red heaps of [308] coals and the flickering flame of some half-extinguished torches. The sentinels, exhausted with the toil and the turmoil of the day, slept at their posts. In their tents, and around the smouldering watchfires, the soldiers lay asleep among their arms. About the field, with stealthy steps, wandered the two young Moors, eagerly seeking the place where their young master had fallen. Many were the strange sights which met their eyes as they carefully picked their way among the sleeping and the dead. Here, by the side of his tent, was the learned Alpheus, famed all the world over for his skill in magic and astrology. He had fallen asleep over his mystic charts and tables, while watching the stars and vainly trying to read his own doom. Near him lay a beastly drunkard, clasping an empty barrel in his arms, and dreaming of vine-clad hills and rivers flowing with wine. A little farther on sat a Greek and a Saxon, who had spent the larger part of the night over goblet and dice, and had at last fallen asleep in the midst of a game. Lightly trod the two Moors among the host of sleepers, and it is little wonder if they were tempted to avenge their friends by sheathing their bare blades in the bodies of their slumbering foes. By and by they halted in sight of Charlemagne's pavilion, where the barons and the noblest knights were tented; and they deemed it best to change their course, for it was not likely that all in that warlike company were carelessly sleeping. So they left the tents behind them, and groped their way across the field, where the [309] thickest of the battle had been. Here they saw, lying side by side, or piled in horrid heaps, the dead and the dying, the king and his vassal, the lord and his tenant, the rider and his horse, friends, foes, broken lances, shields and helmets, and bows and falchions, and all the wrack and ruin that follow in the wake of pitiless war. And long did they seek among this dread confusion for the body of their loved Dardinel.

They were about giving up their search in despair, when suddenly the moon peeped out from behind a gloomy cloud, shedding a soft and ghostly radiance over the sad, silent scene. In front of them the young Moors saw the cold walls and high gray towers of the city, standing like great spectres in the pale light. Behind them were the white tents of their foes, in long lines, stretching many a rood on either side. The field of death upon which they stood seemed a thousand times more dread and lonely than when it was hidden beneath the cloak of darkness. Very near to them, on a spot where the moon seemed to shine the brightest, lay a warrior with his arms beside him. It was Dardinel: they knew him at once by his shield and its quarterings of white and red. Tenderly and reverently Medoro knelt beside the body of his young lord, and many tears he shed for the noble life so cruelly cut short. Then silently the youths lifted the king upon their shoulders, and with careful steps hurried from the field.

And now the dawn began to appear in the east, and [310] the clouds which had seemed so dark became flecked with red and gold. The faithful young Moors were still far from their own camp; nor did they know that their friends had stolen away during the silent nightwatches, and were now many leagues on the road toward Spain. Slowly and painfully they toiled forward with the burden on their shoulders, more fearful now of discovery than they had been while in the camp of their sleeping foes. Close by was a strip of thick woodland: if they could reach it, they would be safe. Suddenly a hundred horsemen who had been sent out to reconnoitre dashed into view. Before the young Moors could hide themselves, they were seen and pursued. The youths heard the ringing of armor and the clatter of horses' hoofs close behind them; yet such was their haste that they dared not look back.

"Let us save ourselves!" at length cried Cloridan. "It were folly for two lives to be lost for the sake of one who is already dead."

And he gently shifted his part of the burden from his shoulders, and ran as swiftly as he could to the friendly shelter of the grove. He doubted not but that Medoro was following close behind. But the poor boy would not desert his master, even to save his own life. Without saying a word, he took the whole of the burden upon his own shoulders, and slowly and painfully toiled onward. He reached the edge of the wood. Fiercely rode the horsemen down upon him, and thick flew the arrows about his head. He might yet have [311] saved himself, had he been willing to leave the body of Dardinel. But he was sorely hindered and distressed. The place was strange to him, full of fallen trees and clumps of underbrush; and he was soon lost in its mazes. The horsemen, knowing the wood better than he, were not long in surrounding him. Cloridan, in his safe hiding-place, heard the loud cries of the pursuers, and then the voice of the boy Medoro defying them. It was not until then that he thought of his friend's danger.

"Ah!" cried he, "why was I so careless thus to think of my own safety only?—Medoro, I will save thee, or die with thee!"

He ran from his hiding-place back toward the more open ground. He saw Medoro, followed closely by a hundred rude soldiers, running hither and thither among the trees, but all the time clinging closely to the cherished body of young Dardinel. At last, wearied, and in despair, the youth laid his burden down upon the grass, and, like a wild beast at bay, stood over it and faced his foes. And now Cloridan, eager to save his friend, fitted the sharpest arrow to his bow, and from behind a leafy tree let it fly among the horsemen. So well aimed was the shaft, that it struck a Scotch knight fairly in the forehead, and stretched him helpless upon the ground. The rest of the band, surprised at this unlooked-for blow, turned to see from whence it came; and Cloridan, quickly launching a second arrow, laid another horseman low. Fiercely, then, [312] the leader of the soldiers dashed toward Medoro; he seized him by his long golden curls; he dragged him roughly forward, and drew his sword to slay him. But when he saw the lad's angel face upturned toward him, he paused.

"Ah, kind knight," said Medoro, "I pray, for the sake of the God whom thou adorest, be not so passing cruel as to slay me ere I have buried my master. No other favor do I ask, nor do I wish to live longer than to see the kind earth cover his dear body."

The sweet, persuasive words of the boy would have moved the stoniest heart. The captain listened, and fain would have spared him and let him go; but a churlish fellow, rude and brutish, rode suddenly forward, and smote Medoro with his lance. The captain's heart was deeply stirred within him at sight of this base act, and, full of sorrow and wrath, he sprang toward the unfeeling wretch, intending to strike him down. But he, marking his danger, gave spurs to his steed, and fled.

When Cloridan saw Medoro fall bleeding to the ground, he could no longer hold himself, but, springing from his covert, he ran to meet his foes. He cast his bow aside; he brandished his sword above his head; he charged furiously among the horsemen. A dozen weapons pierced him at once: the leaves and flowers were tinged with his blood, and dying he fell by young Medoro's side.

"Come, my men," cried the captain, growing heart- [313] sick at sight of this sad scene,—"come away! Let us have no more such work as this. It is not the part of true knights to slay young, unoffending boys."

And the whole company turned about, and followed their chief out of the wood and back to the camp of Charlemagne. And there, side by side, lay the two young Moors upon the blood-stained grass,—the one dead, the other sadly wounded, the life-blood streaming from his veins. And the loved prince for whom they had risked so much and lost all, lay in his steely armor by them. And there Medoro would have died, had not help come soon and unexpectedly.

It so happened that a young maiden journeyed through the wood that day, and chance brought her near the spot where the three Moors lay. She was clad in the rustic garb of a peasant; yet she was very fair, and her noble face betrayed her kinship with noble men. It was Angelica, the Princess of Cathay. By some means—it matters not what—she had gotten her magic ring again; and now she was on her way back to her eastern home, fearing no danger, and scorning the thought that she had ever asked the aid of living knight. When she saw the young Moor lying, bleeding and uncared for, upon the ground, her heart was touched with a feeling of pity such as she had never known before. She knelt upon the grass beside him, and listened while he told the story of his sad adventure.

"Be of good cheer," she said when he had finished, "I will save you."

[314] Then she called to mind the half-forgotten knowledge of physic and surgery which she had learned in Cathay, and she began to bind up his wounds. In a meadow which she had crossed that morning she had seen a plant of wondrous virtue, which she knew would stop the flow of blood and ease every pain, and she resolved to go back and get it. So, bidding Medoro wait patiently and hopefully till she came again, she hastily retraced her way, and stopped not until she had found and plucked up the precious weed. As she was running back again, she met a peasant riding through the wood.

"Ah, kind sir!" said she, "I pray you come with me. A gentle youth lies in the greenwood, wounded unto death. Come and help him, and the fairies shall bring you good luck and happiness all the days of your life."

The good swain, although loath at first, could not resist the maid's persuasive pleading, but rode back with her to the place where Medoro lay. They found the youth very faint from loss of blood, and nigh, indeed, to death's door. Quickly Angelica bruised the healing plant between two stones, and squeezed the juice upon the young man's wounds. Then soon Medoro began to revive. The blood stopped flowing; the color came again into his cheeks; he staggered to his feet; he was strong enough to sit on the peasant's horse. Yet he would not leave the place until his lord, King Dardinel, and his young friend Cloridan, were laid in the earth. In a grave which the peasant scooped out beneath the [315] trees they laid the bodies of the two noble knights, and covered them with turf and soft moss and the grassy sod. And then Medoro gave himself up to his new-found friends, and was ready to go whithersoever they should lead him.

The countryman was moved alike by the rare beauty of the maiden and the noble bearing of the knight; and he urged them to go with him to his own home,—a pleasant farmhouse in a green and flowery valley. And thither they went; the wounded youth riding the peasant's horse, while the maiden and the countryman walked on either side. Glad was the welcome with which the peasant's wife and children greeted them at the cottage. The best room was set apart for Medoro's use; and Angelica, not wishing to lay aside her humble disguise, became as one of the family, and cheerfully helped the good housewife in her daily round of duties. And many years afterward, when the two lived in a gorgeous palace, with every luxury at hand, they were fain to remember this time as the happiest period of their lives.

And there the princess and the noble young Moor lived many a week with the kind-hearted peasant folk; nor would Angelica leave her patient until his dangerous wound had healed. At first she had felt only a strange pity for him; but as day after day she gazed into the depths of his flashing eyes, and listened to the pleasant words which fell from his lips, a deeper and far different feeling possessed her. And, when he grew [316] strong enough to walk about in the open air, the two spent whole days together in the greenwood, listening to the song birds, and gathering flowers and ferns, and talking of the great world of which they knew so little and yet so much. And sometimes, to amuse Angelica, Medoro would carve their names upon the rocks and trees. In divers ways, in ciphers quaintly interlaced, he graved the words, ANGELICA, MEDORO. And, ere the summer had fled, the princess and the knight were wedded in the peasant's humble dwelling, and two happy hearts beat henceforth as one.

And when at length the days began to grow shorter, and the autumn leaves to fall, Angelica bethought her of returning to Cathay, where she intended to share all her honors with Medoro. They had no money wherewith to pay their humble friends for their kindness, nor, indeed, did the good peasants wish any reward. But, as they were about to depart, Angelica took from her wrist a golden armlet rich with rarest gems, and bade her hostess keep it always in memory of them. Then with many kind godspeeds, and many tears, the noble couple turned away from the cottage, and took the highroad that runs toward Spain. Together they climbed the rugged Pyrenees, and descended into the sunny plains beyond; and not many weeks later they came to Barcelona, where they made themselves known, and where they waited for a vessel to sail and bear them to their distant home.


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