|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 |
REINOLD OF MONTALBAN
 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-  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
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
 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
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
 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.
 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
"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.
 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
 kin had died long before. Very courteously did Malagis
greet the ruler of these doleful regions.
thou?" asked Vulcan. "How darest thou, who art only a
puny mortal, come thus into the presence-chamber of the
"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
"Men are by nature thankless," said Vulcan.
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
 "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
 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
"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.
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,
 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,
"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;
 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
"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."
 "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
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
 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
"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
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
It was now Charlemagne's turn to be angry. He
 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
For seven years did the four brothers wander as
out-  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
 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
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