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The Story of Roland by  James Baldwin

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REINOLD OF MONTALBAN

[133] MARSILIUS the Saracen had carried fire and sword into the fairest provinces of Southern France. He had pillaged the cities, and burned the towns, and ravaged the fields, and what had once been the pleasantest and most prosperous of Charlemagne's domains he had turned into a smoking desert. The distressed people had sent message after message to the king, begging him to send them help; but he was too intent upon besieging Viana, and too determined to redeem his vow by humbling the haughty Count Gerard in the dust before him. And as day after day passed by and the Pagans still continued to burn and destroy, the unhappy folk began to lose all hope, and to fear that they had been forgotten, and abandoned to the ruthless fury of their Saracen foes. What, then, was their joy, when the news was carried from mouth to mouth that the siege of Viana had been raised, and that Charlemagne and his knights were riding to their aid!

Over hill, and through valley, and across desert wastes, rode the kingly company; and no one cared for weari- [134] ness, or for pain, or for hunger, so long as the Pagan folk threatened their land, and they were marching to the rescue. But, among all the knights and barons in the French host, none were more impatient than the three brothers-in-arms,—Roland, and Oliver, and Ogier the Dane. And when they reached that part of the land which had been ravaged by Marsilius, and saw the smoking ruins and deserted farmlands, and distress and death on every hand, they could no longer restrain themselves. They longed for a chance to take vengeance upon the hated unbelievers.

"The army moves too slowly," said Roland to his comrades. "Every day adds to the distress of our people and to the fiendish triumph of our foes. Let us ride on faster. We are mounted better than those who follow us; and while they are toiling among these hills and over these ill-conditioned roads, we may, perhaps, overtake and give battle to some part of the Pagan host."

Not a moment did his brother knights hesitate; not a word of dissent did they speak. They put spurs to their steeds, and with a few trusty followers were soon far in advance of the main army, determined, if possible, to come up with the enemy, and offer them battle.

Marsilius the Moor had no sooner heard of the peace made at Viana, and of the coming of Charlemagne and his warriors, than he ordered an immediate retreat into Spain; and he was now well on his way back to the passes of the Pyrenees. Day after day Roland and his [135] comrades followed in the wake of the flying foe. Sometimes, on climbing to the top of a hill, they could see the banners of the Pagan rearguard far in advance of them. Sometimes, when a breeze came to them from the west, they could hear the tramp of the Moorish horse, or the rough cries of the Moorish soldiery. But, ride as fast as their steeds would carry them, they could not overtake the enemy, who, it seems, were mounted as well as they. And at last, when the great mountain wall of the Pyrenees rose up in front of them, the Pagan host had already entered one of the passes, and had crossed safely over into Spain. The heroes were greatly disappointed because the foe had thus escaped them; yet they deemed it the better part of valor to give up the pursuit, and to ride back to Charlemagne and his host, who were still advancing among the hills and valleys of Southern Gascony.

The king received the news of the escape of Marsilius with a much better grace than they expected.

"I am glad that he is well out of our way," said he; "for now I shall have but one foe to deal with, instead of two."

They asked him what he meant.

"Five leagues from here," said he, "is the stronghold of Montalban, where my rebel nephew, Reinold, has taken refuge, with his brothers and all the discontented barons of Southern France, and from whence he gives aid and comfort to our Pagan foes. I will not [136] rest until I have razed Montalban to the ground, and punished my nephews as they deserve."

Not long afterward the host came in sight of the marble walls of Montalban, glistening in the sunlight like a white star on the mountain tops. But who was this rebel, Reinold, who dwelt in this princely castle on the borderlands of France? I will tell you.

In the earlier years of Charlemagne's reign, the noblest among the barons at his court was Duke Aymon of Ardennes. Aymon had married Aya, the sister of Charlemagne; and he had four sons—Allard, Guichard, Richard, and Reinold—and a daughter named Bradamant. Upon a time Charlemagne held a high festival, and ordered that all his noblest vassals should come and do him homage. All who had been summoned were there, save Sir Bevis of Aigremont, the brother of Duke Aymon. The king was very angry that one of his barons should neglect the duty of renewing his homage. He vowed that he would not only take away all the fiefs and estates of Sir Bevis, but that he would have him hanged as a traitor. Duke Namon, ever far-sighted and just, persuaded him to try peaceful measures first, and to send an embassy to the absent knight, summoning him the second time. Charlemagne sent, therefore, his own son, Lothaire, with four hundred chosen warriors, to demand the renewal of homage from Sir Bevis. But Sir Bevis had resolved that he would no longer be the vassal of the king, and that he would hold his fiefs in his own right and by his own strength. [137] So he caused Lothaire to be waylaid in the forest of Ardennes, and slain. Very great was the anger and the grief of Charlemagne when the news of this treacherous act was brought to him. Without any delay he summoned his host, and marched in full force against Aigremont. But Duke Aymon and his four sons did not follow the standard of the king. They preferred to join themselves with the rebel Sir Bevis; and this was the beginning of the great trouble which arose between them and Charlemagne. Not long after this, a battle was fought, and the rebels were routed with great slaughter; and Sir Bevis and Duke Aymon came barefooted into the presence of the king, and humbly craved his mercy. Charlemagne agreed to pardon them if they would come to Paris and renew their homage. But Ganelon, ever bent upon mischief, upbraided the king for his forbearance toward his enemies.

"Much love had you for your son Lothaire!" said he. "His blood, spilled in the wood of Ardennes, still calls for vengeance upon his murderers. But his father is deaf: he cannot hear those cries."

And he persuaded the king to waylay and kill Sir Bevis while on his way to Paris. Duke Aymon and his sons, therefore, again took up arms against Charlemagne, and a long and cruel war between them followed.

Now, Duke Aymon had a wonderful horse, named Bayard,—the noblest steed in all the world. Very large and strong was he; and he could run with the speed of the winds; and he was very wise and knowing. [138] One day this horse was missed from his stall; and although the duke ordered all the country around the castle to be searched, no one remembered having seen the missing steed, and he was not to be found anywhere. Very sad was Duke Aymon. He would liever have lost a thousand men, or even the best of his castles, than this horse. While he was musing over his misfortunes, the dwarf Malagis, who was his cousin, and always a firm friend of his house, stood before him.

"Ah, cousin Malagis!" said the duke. "Thou art the very man I wished most to see. Thou hast the gift of witchcraft, and thou canst tell me where my Bayard is."

"Indeed I can!" answered the dwarf. "I saw him carried off last night by goblins. And he is now hidden and imprisoned in the smoky caverns of Mount Vulcanus."

"And can nothing be done to bring him back?" asked the duke. "Without my horse I am ruined."

"I will bring him back to you," said the wizard. And before the duke could say a word, he had walked out of the gate, and was hastening across the country toward Mount Vulcanus.

After a toilsome journey of many days, Malagis came to the great smoky mountain of Vulcanus; and without fear or hesitation he climbed down the broad chimney-way, and stood in the smoke-begrimed caverns and halls where King Vulcan, the lame blacksmith of the Golden Age, still held his court, although most of his kith and [139] kin had died long before. Very courteously did Malagis greet the ruler of these doleful regions.

"Who art thou?" asked Vulcan. "How darest thou, who art only a puny mortal, come thus into the presence-chamber of the immortals?"

"My name is Malagis," answered the dwarf, "and among men I am known as a great wizard. But they think nothing of my art. Little praise get I for all my wisdom."

"Men are by nature thankless," said Vulcan.

"So they are," answered Malagis. "And for that same reason I have left their abodes, and have come to live with you, and to offer my services to you."

"What can you do?" asked Vulcan.

"Try me and see," answered the wizard.

"Very well, then," said the old master smith. "I will give you a task that will put your cunning to the test. A fortnight ago the mountain goblins, who are the only servants I have nowadays, brought me a steed, the most wonderful that was ever seen. The famed horses of olden times were but very tame creatures compared with him. He is wiser than the Centaurs, swifter on foot than Pegasus was on the wing, fiercer and wilder than Bucephalus, nobler than the fabled Greyfell. Very fain would I ride out into the great world mounted on the back of this steed, but he will not let me come near him. Now, if you want to show your skill as a magician, do you go to my stables, bridle and saddle this untamable steed, and bring him here that I may mount him."

[140] "My lord," said the cunning dwarf, "I will try what I can do with him."

When Malagis entered the stables, the fierce horse ran toward him, angrily snapping and kicking. But the wizard whispered, "Bayard, thy master Aymon wants thee." At once the creature stopped. All the fierceness of his nature seemed to leave him. He rubbed his nose gently against the dwarf's shoulder, and whinnied softly, as if in answer to what had been spoken. The next moment Malagis sprang upon the back of Bayard.

"To Duke Aymon!" he cried.

At one bound the horse leaped out of the enclosure, and was soon racing, with the speed of the wind, through the mountain passes and the valleys, and the forests and morasses, joyfully hastening back toward the well-known wood of Ardennes. When the master smith, Vulcan, saw how he had been outwitted, he summoned his goblin host, and sent them in pursuit of the daring wizard. Forth from the smoking chimney of the mountain they rushed; swiftly through the air they were borne, riding on the back of a huge storm cloud. The winds roared, lightning flashed, the thunder rolled, the air seemed full of evil creatures. But Malagis rode fearlessly onward, swifter than the storm cloud, swifter than the wind, and paused not once until he reached Duke Aymon's castle. In the mean while the duke had met with many sad misfortunes. He had been beaten in battle, and his best men had been slain. Some in whom [141] he had trusted as friends had deserted him. He was on the point of giving up the struggle, and throwing himself upon the mercy of Charlemagne. Great, then, was his joy when he saw the faithful Malagis return with Bayard.

"My wise, trusted cousin!" he cried. "My noble war steed! Once more fortune smiles upon me."

And fortune did smile upon him. The neighboring barons came to his help, and many a stronghold and many a fair province of France acknowledged his mastership. At length Charlemagne, tired of the profitless war, offered to make peace with Duke Aymon. He promised to give back to his rebellious vassal all the fiefs, all the lands and castles and burghs, that he had held before, and to receive him again at court with all the honors due to a brother-in-law of the king.

"And what compensation will he offer for the death of my brother Sir Bevis?" asked the proud duke.

"He will pay thee four times the weight of the murdered Bevis in gold," answered the king's messengers.

"It is not enough," answered Aymon. "My brother was a gentle and right noble baron, and no paltry blood-fine such as is paid for the death of a common knight will suffice. Let the gold be six times the weight of the slain Sir Bevis. On no other terms will I make peace."

When Duke Aymon's answer was carried to Charlemagne, the king for a long time hesitated, for he liked not the payment of so heavy a blood-fine. But at last, [142] through the advice of the wise Namon, peace was concluded; and Aymon and his four sons, now all stalwart young knights, were restored to their old places of trust and honor. But Aymon could not rest in idleness; neither did he love peace. He longed to do some great deed of arms that would make his name known and feared among men. So at last, when he could no longer endure the life of inaction which he was obliged to lead in France, he crossed over the Pyrenees into Spain, and engaged in warfare with the Moors.

For many years no news of Duke Aymon was carried back to France, and the Princess Aya and her four sons mourned him as dead. But one day there came a messenger to Ardennes, saying that the long-absent duke was lying ill at an inn in Gascony, and that he prayed to see once more his wife and children. Without delay, Aya and her sons hastened to his side. They found not the stalwart warrior as they had last seen him, but a feeble old man, gray-bearded, tanned, and weather-beaten. Yet Aya recognized in him her long-errant husband, and the three elder sons embraced him tenderly as their father. But Reinold stood back, doubtfully hesitating.

"Who is this worn-out warrior?" asked he. "Methinks he cannot be my father; for Duke Aymon is a hero, and this is but a man of common mould."

"Young man," said Aymon, sitting upright in his bed, "if you remember not my face, look upon this ring, which your mother gave me in the days of our youth; [143] look, too, upon these scars, which were given me in battle, and which you certainly cannot have forgotten."

"And think you that I would be deceived?" asked Aya. "Never was there a nobler duke than your father."

"Yes, mother," cried Reinold, "I know him now." And he seized his father in his arms, and squeezed him so heartily, that the old warrior was glad to be released.

Duke Aymon brought great wealth from Spain, and divided it equally among the Princess Aya and his three eldest sons. But to Reinold he gave as his portion the horse Bayard and the sword Flamberge. With kind nursing and constant care, his strength came back, and in a few weeks he was well enough to return with his family to his old home in Ardennes.

Not long after this the king held a great tournament at Aix; and the bravest warriors, the noblest knights, and the fairest ladies of the land, were there. To this tournament went the four sons of Aymon, glorying in their strength and skill; and save Roland, and Ogier the Dane, there were none who dared hold a lance to them, or make trial with them of any knightly feats of arms. The young men about the court looked upon them with feelings of bitter jealousy; and Charlot the king's son, and Bertholais his nephew, plotted how they might bring them to grief. And Ganelon the mischief-maker, when they asked his advice, said,—

"Challenge one of the brothers to a contest. If you gain the better of him, it will be easy to slay him as if it were by accident."

[144] "That would be too great a risk," answered Charlot. "The sons of Aymon have not their equals in the lists, and not one of them has yet been worsted. The praises of the hated Reinold are in the mouths of all those who attended the tournament yesterday, and they say that his brothers are as skilful and as strong as he."

Ganelon smiled, and stood for a moment silent. Then he said, "It is not likely that they excel in all kinds of games. A good jouster is not commonly a good chess-player. Now, what I advise you to do is this: do you, Bertholais, send a challenge to Allard, the eldest of the brothers, to play a quiet game with you, and let each of you wager his head on the result. You have never been beaten at chess, and it is not possible that you should be. By this means you may rid yourselves of one of the brothers, and at the same time disgrace the others."

Charlot and Bertholais were delighted with the cunning words of Ganelon, and at once sent a challenge to Allard. But Allard was loath to play a game on conditions such as those. He was not afraid for his own sake; but he said, that, if he should win, he would not wish to harm the head of his cousin Bertholais.

"Thou art a coward!" said Charlot. "Thou fearest for thine own head!"

Then at last the young hero, much against his will, agreed to play with Bertholais.

They sat down at the table to play. On one side stood the three umpires chosen by Allard: they were Roland, Ogier the Dane, and Duke Namon. On the [145] other side stood the friends of Bertholais,—Charlot, Ganelon, and young Pinabel of Mayence. The chessmen with which Allard played were of silver, but those of Bertholais were golden. Five games were played; and, much to the astonishment of all, the boastful Bertholais was checkmated in everyone. Then Allard arose from the table.

"I shall not claim the stakes," said he mildly. "I played only for the sake of my own life and good name. And on no account would I harm the head of the prince my cousin."

Bertholais was boiling over with wrath. He seized the chessboard, and struck Allard in the face with all his might. Blood flowed from the mouth and nose of the hero, and ran down upon his clothing. Yet, not wishing to provoke a greater quarrel, he turned about, and left the room. As he crossed the courtyard, he met his brother Reinold. Great was the wrath of Reinold when he heard what had happened.

"Saddle your horses, and be ready to ride with me!" he cried to his brothers and friends.—"Allard, my good fellow, I will have the stakes for which you played!"

Boldly he walked into the presence-chamber of the king.

"I have come," said he, "to claim the blood-fine that is due for the death of my uncle Bevis. Six times his weight in gold was promised, but it has never been paid."

It was now Charlemagne's turn to be angry. He [146] said not a word; but he pulled off his steel gauntlet, and threw it into the face of the too bold Reinold.

"If thou wert not the king," said the knight, "thou shouldst fight me on that challenge."

As he left the hall, he met the unlucky Bertholais. He drew his sword Flamberge, and with one stroke severed the prince's head from his body. A great uproar arose in the palace, but no one seemed to know what to do.

"Seize the villain!" cried Charlemagne. "He shall be hanged as a vile thief and murderer."

But his brethren were in the courtyard, already mounted; and Bayard was there, waiting to carry him, swifter than the wind, out of harm's way. At once there was a great hue and cry. A thousand men-at-arms, mounted on the fleetest steeds, gave chase. Reinold might have escaped, but he would not leave his brothers. Outside of the city they were overtaken. A desperate fight took place. All the followers of the four brothers were either slain or taken prisoners; and all their horses, save Bayard alone, were killed. Seeing matters in so desperate a strait, Reinold bade his brothers mount behind him on Bayard's long back. Quickly they obeyed him; and the noble horse galloped away with the speed of a storm cloud, bearing his fourfold burden far beyond the reach of Charlemagne's avengeful anger.

For seven years did the four brothers wander as out- [147] laws in the wood of Ardennes. Their father, Duke Aymon, was loyal to the king, and would not give them aught of comfort or of aid. Great was their poverty and distress, and they suffered much from hunger and cold and wretchedness. But the wonderful horse Bayard was their best friend: he kept as big and as fat as ever, and thrived as well on dry leaves as other horses do on oats and corn. At last the brothers, tired of living where every man's hand seemed to be raised against them, escaped from the wood of Ardennes, and came into the border land of Spain. There they sought the friendship and protection of a Moorish chief named Ivo. Right gladly did the Pagans receive them, for the fame of their daring had gone before them. They were taken into the household of Ivo, and for three years they served him loyally and well. And so great was the favor with which the Moor looked upon Reinold, that he gave him his only daughter Clarissa in marriage, and the richest lands among the Pyrenees as a fief. And Reinold built on one of the hills a beautiful and strong fortress of white marble which he called Montalban. And there he gathered around him a great number of warriors, knights, and adventurers,—Pagans as well as Christians,—and set himself up as the king of the country round about. And oftentimes he had given aid to the Moors in their wars against Charlemagne.

And now the king had resolved, if possible, to humble his outlawed nephews, and to punish them for their [148] crimes and rebellious doings. And it was for this reason, that, as we have seen, he halted in his pursuit of Marsilius and his host, and made ready to besiege Montalban.


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