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The Story of Roland by  James Baldwin


 

 

HOW THE PEERS RETURNED TO FRANCE

[361] WHEN Charlemagne and his host embarked for France, the sky was fair and the sea was calm. But soon a storm arose. The waves ran mountain-high, the ships were at the mercy of the winds. The king and his peers sat together in the same vessel; and the heroes who had faced unflinching the dangers of a hundred fierce battles, now felt their hearts sinking with fear.

"I know well the art of the tourney and the battle," cried Roland, the peerless chief; "but what avails that art here in this wilderness of waves?"

And Ogier the Dane, said, "I know how to wield the sword, and how to touch the harp and bring forth sweet melody; but such knowledge is of little use to quell the fury of these winds."

Then Oliver, the look of gladness all faded from his eyes, drew his sword from its scabbard, and, gazing tenderly at its flashing edge, said, "No fear have I for myself, but I grieve that Haultclear shall find so inglorious a grave."

[362] "If I only knew a way to save myself," said Ganelon,—but he said it very low,—"little would I reck what evil fortune befell the rest of you."

The good Archbishop Turpin sighed deeply, and said, "We are the warriors of Heaven's kingdom. Come thou on the waves, sweet Saviour, and deign to deliver us from peril."

Said Sir Richard of Normandy, "Wait for me, ye demons! Long and well have I served you, and soon will I be with you."

"I have given wise counsel to many," gravely remarked Duke Namon; "but in the salt sea good words of advice are as rare and as little needed, as sweet water or pleasant fruit."

Then good father Riol said, "An old warrior am I, and not much longer can I live in any case. And yet I would fain finish my course by leaving my old body upon dry land, rather than by losing it in this watery waste."

And Sir Guy, the courteous chevalier, sought to conceal his terror by singing,—

"I would I were a little bird!

Quickly to my nest I'd fly."

Then Garin, the lover of good cheer, said, "May Heaven save us from pain! Pleasanter by far would it be to drink a single cup of red wine than to treat one's self to all the water in the sea."

And Sir Lambert, the witty, responded, "Be sure we [363] shall not be forgotten! Yet happier would I be to eat one good fish, however small, than to be devoured by that same fish."

"For me," said Duke Godfrey, the noble, "I accept my lot. Happy am I in knowing that I shall fare no worse than those who are better than I."

All this time King Charlemagne stood at the helm. He spoke not a word; but he guided the vessel with a strong hand, until at length the fury of the waves was exhausted. And, behold! the shores of their own loved France lay before the sea-tossed warriors, fragrant with the odor of blossoms and of the ripe summer fruit.


As the king and his knights rode homeward between the vineyards and the rich fields with which the peaceful country was now everywhere covered, the people greeted them with glad shouts and heartfelt blessings. And as they drew near the city of Paris, the fair home from which they had been absent so long, a noble company of knights and ladies came out to welcome them; and together they entered the city gates. The streets were strewn with garlands and green leaves and fragrant roses; from every tower and every housetop, gay banners floated in the breeze; young maidens walked before them, singing triumphal songs; and all the people shouted for joy. At every turn of the street gorgeous arches had been built, where were displayed the trophies taken in war, and many an inscription relating [364] to the deeds of the returning heroes. And the whole city was given up to merry-making. And many a tourney was held, and many a mask and ball. And, for a long time thereafter, nothing was heard or talked about in Paris, save music and mirth, and brave feats of arms, and the happy restoration and return of Roland.


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