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The Story of Roland by  James Baldwin

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HOW OGIER WON SWORD AND HORSE

[81] ON the banks of the Tiber, not more than a league from the city of Rome, the French encamped, and waited for the Saracens to sally out and attack them. But the Pagans were too wise to risk another battle in the open field. They had ravaged and laid waste all the country around; they had harvested the corn, and carried the grain into the city; they had cut down the vineyards and the orchards; they had seized all the cattle, and driven them within the walls; they had stored away great supplies of provisions, and made ready for a long siege. The Franks, on the other hand, never having thought but that they could support themselves by foraging, were without food. They were in no condition to carry on a siege against an enemy so well provided. The king was in great trouble. He saw clearly, that, unless he could strike a decisive blow very soon, hunger—a foe stronger than the Pagan horde—would force him to withdraw. Many of his fighting men, too, had lost the enthusiasm which they had felt while the enemy were still at a distance. They [82] began to complain of being kept so long away from their homes and from France; and some of the weaker-minded knights, led by the crafty Ganelon, had gone so far as to plot rebellion, and were planning secretly how they might betray Charlemagne, and leave fair Italy in the hands of the Saracens. It was plain to every one that unless the Pagans could be persuaded to come out from behind the walls, and risk another open battle, the Franks would soon find themselves in desperate straits, and be obliged to give up their undertaking.

While Charlemagne and his peers paused, and considered what it was best to do, young Charlot, the rash and foolish son of the king, was trying to carry out a plan of his own. With two thousand young men, hot-headed and hare-brained like himself, he had secretly left the camp at nightfall, and marched toward the city, intending by a bold dash upon the enemy to carry succor to the Christian garrison who still held the Capitoline Fortress. But the watchful Saracens were not to be caught napping. As the young prince and his men cantered carelessly along the highroad, thinking how on the morrow the whole world would ring with the praises of their daring, they did not know that Chief Karaheut, the bravest of the Pagan leaders, with five thousand picked men, was waiting in ambush for them. All at once, like so many fierce tigers, the Pagans rushed out upon the unsuspecting and unready band of Charlot. Short would have been the fight, and mournful would have been the end, had not the sound of the first onset [83] reached the tent where Charlemagne and his peers sat in council. The air resounded with the yells of the exultant foe and the din and crash of arms. Quickly were Roland and Ogier and their brave comrades in the saddle. Very swiftly did they ride to the rescue. Chief Karaheut, when he saw them coming, called off his men, and withdrew in order toward Rome and Charlot, crestfallen and ashamed, with the remnant of his band, rode back to the Christian camp. Very angry was Charlemagne at the unwise conduct of his son: furious was he that the Pagans had won the right to say that they had worsted any part of his host in battle. Scarcely could his barons hinder him from striking the foolhardy Charlot with his mace. But Roland, whose words always had great weight with the king, persuaded him to forget his anger. It was not the French who had been worsted in the late fight: it was only a band of rash young men, irresponsible, and unworthy of attention. Not many suns should rise ere the boastful Saracens should know the true strength, and feel the full force, of the Christian arm.

The next day, about noon, as the king sat in his master-tent, with all his peers around him, it was announced that a messenger had come from Corsuble, the Saracen king. It was Chief Karaheut himself. He came to Charlemagne's camp, riding on a mule, and accompanied only by two squires. He was unarmed, and very richly dressed. A turban of red satin embroidered with gold was upon his head; a gold-buttoned [84] mantle of purple silk was thrown over his shoulders; around his neck was a collar of rich ermine. Right nobly sat he on his mule; right royally did he salute the king.

"In the name of all that the Franks hold dear," he said, "I greet great Charlemagne. I greet, too, the knights and barons who sit beside him; but above them all I greet Ogier the brave Dane."

The king and his peers heard this greeting in silence; but when the name of Ogier was mentioned, the jealousy of young Charlot waxed so great, that he could scarcely hold his tongue.

"Who are you," asked Charlemagne; "and what is your errand?"

"I am Karaheut," answered the Saracen proudly. "I am the bearer of a message from great Corsuble, the king of the faithful. He bids you leave him in peaceful possession of this city of Rome which he has taken in honorable war, and which is his more than yours. Ten days he will give you to take your army and all that is yours out of Italy. If you go not, then he will meet you in battle, and will spare you not; neither will he have mercy upon any who hold the name of Christian."

"Never have I turned my back upon unbelievers," haughtily answered the king. "We are ready for fight. Tell your master that we fear not the issue. God will be the judge betwixt us."

Chief Karaheut bowed courteously. "Yes, surely," [85] said he, "God will be the judge. But why risk the lives of so many worthy men? Were it not better to settle the matter without so much bloodshed? If you will not withdraw peaceably, King Corsuble allows me to make this offer to you. Let the bravest man among you meet me in single combat, and let the issue of that fight decide who shall be the master of Italy. If I conquer, Rome shall be ours, and you shall return at once across the Alps. If I am beaten, the hosts of the faithful will at once embark, and sail back to their old homes beyond the sea, leaving you in Rome."

"That seems a fair offer," said Charlemagne, "and right willingly do we accept; for we like not to spill blood unnecessarily. Choose you now the bravest man among us, and let the issue be left in the hands of God."

Karaheut, without more ado, pulled off his glove, and cast it down at the feet of the Dane. Ogier at once stood up, and accepted the challenge. But Charlot, ever foolish and ever vain, took him by the arm, and drew him aside.

"Ogier," whispered he, but so loudly that he was heard by the bystanders, "Ogier, it is very unwise for you, a mere boy, thus to accept the gauntlet of battle, while your betters are passed by without notice. Your place is in Denmark, dressing leather and pressing cheese, and not in company with the heroes of France. And, if I forget not, your father still owes fourpence of tribute to Charlemagne, and your head has been [86] pledged as security. The Saracen's glove was not intended for such as you. Stand aside, and I will do the battle."

Chief Karaheut's anger waxed very hot, for he despised the base-hearted Charlot. "Great king," cried he, "methinks you have little to do to let your son thus browbeat and insult your barons before your face."

"The Pagan speaks wisely," said Duke Namon; and all the knights, save Ganelon, assented. "For you we left our pleasant homes, our loving wives, our children, our lands, and our fiefs; and now your son openly insults us. Were it not for fear of breaking our knightly vows, and being guilty of unfaith toward God, we would turn our faces at once toward France."

Charlemagne saw the justice of these complaints; and, turning to Charlot, he reproved him harshly for his disrespect to Ogier and the barons. But the shallow-pated prince excused himself, and still insisted on fighting the Saracen—if not Karaheut, then some other Pagan warrior of rank equal to himself. He wished to make amends for last night's disgraceful mistake. In the end it was agreed that there should be two combatants on each side, that Ogier should fight with Karaheut, and that Charlot should have for his opponent Prince Sadone, the son of the Saracen king. It was further arranged, that the combat should take place on the morrow, in a grassy meadow near the banks of the Tiber, and that the fighting should be with swords and on foot. Then Karaheut rode back again to Rome.

[87] The next day, at the rising of the sun, Ogier and Charlot mounted their steeds, and rode away toward the place that had been appointed for the combat. With great care had they armed themselves. Charlot wore at his side his father's own sword, the trenchant blade Joyeuse, with the carved hilt of gold; and his coat-of-mail was of the truest steel. The Dane, too, was well equipped, but only as a common knight; and the sword which he carried was that which the king had given him on investing him with knighthood.

Chief Karaheut and young Sadone already waited for them at the meadow. Most royally were the Pagans armed. Karaheut's shield was of steel inlaid with gold and engraved with many strange devices and many words of mystic meaning. On the rim of his helmet burned five gem stones, bright as little suns, or as torches in the darkness of the night. By his side hung the world-famous sword called "Short." This sword was the work of a giant smith named Brumadant, and, next to Joyeuse and Durandal, was the best that had ever been wrought. Twenty times over had Brumadant melted and welded this blade; and he had tempered it in the blood of dragons and at the forge-fires of the elves. When he had finished it, he tried it upon a block of marble. The huge stone was split asunder from end to end: but, in drawing out the sword, a palm's length of the blade was broken off; and this is why it was always called "Short." And Karaheut prized it above every thing else, for it was a very terror to all his foes. [88] Sadone was equipped, as became a king's son, fair and courteously: his helmet sparkled with jewels, and his breastplate and shield were of the brightest polished steel. His sword was a famous blade that had been brought from the North. Men said that it had been wrought by Wayland, the master-smith of the Saxons, and that it had been worn by many of the doughtiest heroes of the Northland.

Together the four knights rode across the meadow, choosing a fit place for the combat. They chatted together pleasantly, as friends long-tried and true, rather than as foes making ready to meet each other in deadly fight. Having reached a smooth, grassy knoll, Ogier and Karaheut dismounted; and while their steeds wandered about over the green, cropping the grass and the rich herbage, they began to make ready for the duel. But Charlot and Sadone, not altogether pleased with this spot, rode onward, seeking a better. Suddenly, from the wood, thirty Pagan horsemen swept down upon them: they were men whom Corsuble had treacherously hidden there in order to seize the Christian knights. Karaheut was the first to see them, and he cried out to the Dane to defend himself. Charlot put spurs to his horse, and galloped with all speed back to Charlemagne's camp. But Ogier, on foot, and armed only with his sword, was no match for so many horsemen. Valiantly for a time, however, did he defend himself, and more than one stout Saracen was unhorsed. Yet soon his sword was broken, and he was forced to yield [89] himself a prisoner; and, before Charlemagne could send him aid, the treacherous Pagans had carried him to Rome, and taken him into the presence of their king.

In King Corsuble's garden, beneath an olive tree, they stripped the Danish hero of his armor. Turks and Persians crowded around to see him, as if he were some wild beast of the desert. Some were for putting him to death at once. Others cried out, "Fie, for shame! Let him go back to his own folk! Never should it be said that we deal thus treacherously with our foes." Chief Karaheut begged the king to set him free.

"It is a dishonor to our religion," said he, "thus to break our plighted faith with the Christians. It is contrary to all the laws of knighthood."

"I hold no faith with the Christian dogs," angrily answered the king. "My own will is higher than all the laws of chivalry. It is to this vile Dane that we owe our defeat of the other day. To-morrow he shall be hanged in the sight of all our people."

When Karaheut heard this answer, he went away in great grief and anger, declaring that never would he allow so base and dishonorable a deed to be done. And he called his men together, and bade them be ready on the morrow to rebel against the king, who had shown himself unworthy of their fealty.

And now Glorianda, the daughter of King Corsuble, came down the garden walk to see the peerless young hero of the North. Very handsome was the princess [90] —straight of body, and fair of face. Well clad was she in the costly cloth of Greece, with a tunic of purple embroidered with gold, and over it a silken mantle. On her feet she wore narrow shoes of Cordova, colored and adorned with Moorish gold. Hot shone the sun; and instead of a wimple she wore a jaunty hat on her head. Blue were her eyes; her mouth was small, and sweet as a babe's. A fair barbarian was she,—so fair, that no man on earth could be tired of seeing her, even if he gazed forever. When she saw the hero Dane, so comely and tall and strong, and heard that he was doomed to die a felon's death on the morrow, she was very sad. And she prayed her father to spare his life. But King Corsuble's heart was harder than flint.

"Say not a word!" he cried. "I have vowed that the dog shall die, and so it shall be."

The next morning, at break of day, Chief Karaheut went again into the presence of Corsuble to beg him to have mercy on Ogier. But the king was furious, and more determined than ever.

"He shall live until the setting of this day's sun," said he, "but not a moment longer. And, if you dare speak to me again in his favor, you shall hang with him."

Then Karaheut went out of the palace, and mounted his steed, and galloped with all haste out of the city and past the guards, who dared not question him, and stopped not until he reached the Christian camp, and stood once more in front of Charlemagne's master-tent.

[91] "Great king," said he, "hearken to me! I have come to yield myself your prisoner. You shall not say that I have betrayed you, or that I have been false to my word. I am here for you to deal with me even as my own people shall deal with Ogier."

The knights and barons were filled with wonder.

"Here, indeed, is a gentle Pagan!" cried they.

"By my troth, he is the worthiest of heroes!" said Charlemagne. "Never have I seen a truer knight, nor one more loyal, or more perfect in every knightly virtue."

The day began to wane. The sun was sloping far toward the west. Ogier, in his prison cell, had well-nigh given up all hope of escape. Suddenly he heard a great uproar in the street below,—the sound of tramping feet and of lusty cheers. He peered out through the grating of his window, and saw that the noise was made by a company of strange Pagans marching toward the king's palace. They were travel-stained, and seemingly weary with long journeying, and were dressed in a garb different from any that Ogier had ever seen. He asked his jailer who these strange people were, and was told that they were the bravest warriors of all Paynimry, just come from India to the succor of King Corsuble.

"And who is the black giant who rides before them on that wondrous horse?" asked Ogier.

"That is Brunamont, the King of Maiolgre, the great island of the sea," answered the jailer; "and the horse which he bestrides is the famed steed Broiefort."

[92] "Never saw I a nobler charger," said Ogier. "Methinks I would rather own him than be master of a city."

Great was King Corsuble's delight at the timely coming of his allies; and he quite forgot that the Danish hero lay in his prison tower, awaiting his doom. He thought only of how he might best welcome and entertain the giant king of Maiolgre. So he made a great feast in his palace-hall; and all the noblest of his warriors, save Karaheut, were there. And Brunamont, hideously ugly and black, sat in the seat of honor by his side. And the wine went freely round, and both king and guests were very merry.

"Ah, my sweet friend!" said Corsuble, embracing the giant: "thou hast come in the very nick of time. The Franks are now at our mercy, and we shall soon drive them out of Italy. Then it will be an easy matter to cross the mountains after them, and drive them out of France also. And thou, dear Brunamont, shalt not go unrewarded. Thou shalt have France for thy portion, and thou shalt be my son-in-law. Here is my daughter Glorianda, the peerless pearl of Paynimry: she shall be thy wife.—Arise, Glorianda, and salute thy future husband!"

Glorianda arose, as she was bidden; but she had no word of salutation for the grim king of Maiolgre.

"My lord," said she to Corsuble, her father, "it is not the custom for a maiden who is betrothed to one prince to be given to another, and that without her consent. You know that I am plighted already to Chief Karaheut, and I will be the wife of none other."

"Ha!" cried the king half-merrily, half-angrily. "When did it become the custom among us for a maiden to choose whom she would marry? Karaheut is a traitor. And who is there here to hinder me from giving thee to whomsoever I please?"

"If Karaheut were only here, he would save me," said Glorianda. Then she bethought her of Ogier the Dane, lying in prison, and doomed to death; and she went on, "but he is not here, and I have no champion. Nevertheless, there is that young Christian whom you have in jail, who I am sure will take the place of the absent Karaheut, and defend me against this injustice. Let him be my champion; and, if Brunamont overcome him in fair combat, then I will submit."

King Corsuble was pleased with this proposal; and the swarthy Brunamont, who had never been beaten in battle, was only too glad to show his prowess by contending in single combat with the pale-faced Northman.

When word was brought to Ogier in prison, that he had been chosen as the champion of the Princess Glorianda, he was highly pleased. "I would rather die, fighting the Pagan monster with my fists," said he, "than suffer the disgraceful punishment of a felon." And he sent one of Karaheut's squires to bear the news to his friends in the Christian camp. When Karaheut heard that the Dane was to fight in his place against the giant Brunamont, he begged Charlemagne [94] to allow him to go and see the combat; and he pledged himself, that, in case Ogier should not gain his freedom, he would come back, and again yield himself prisoner. Charlemagne consented; and Karaheut lost no time in returning to the city. There he armed the Dane in his own armor, and gave him as a present the noble sword Short,—the blade which Ogier both desired and feared more than all things else on earth.

"Take this sword," said he, "and it shall prove a firm friend to thee. If thou dost but conquer in this battle, it shall be thy reward."

Very thankful was Ogier; and his heart grew big with hope as he took the jewelled hilt in his hand, and read the inscription on the blade, I AM CORTANA THE SHORT. HE WHO HAS THE RIGHT ON HIS SIDE NEED NOT FEAR THE MIGHT OF THE WRONG-DOER.


The place appointed for the combat was a treeless island in the middle of the River Tiber. The banks on either side were lined with thousands of men from both armies, anxious to witness the fray. Ogier was the first to take his place. His friends on the farther bank of the river feared greatly the result of the combat. They felt, that, however bravely he might fight, his strength would be no match for that of the grim giant who had already overcome and slain more than twenty valiant kings. They had not learned that skill is stronger in the end than mere brute force. They beckoned to Ogier to throw himself into the river, and swim across to them.

[95] "Ogier," they cried, "come to the host! It is your only chance of escape. Save your life while you may."

But Ogier shook his head.

"Not for a whole valley full of gold," said he, "would I do a deed so cowardly!"

And now came Brunamont to the combat, riding the famed steed Broiefort. How Ogier longed to have that noble animal for his own! Never had there been a more goodly horse. Black as midnight was he, with a silver star in the middle of his forehead; and men said that he could climb the steepest mountain without tiring, or run three whole days without panting or stopping.

"Great Father," said Ogier, raising his hands to heaven, "thou who didst form all the world, if it please thee, give me the victory to-day!"

But his thoughts were on the horse.

Brunamont dismounted, and with long strides advanced toward Ogier. Scornfully he laughed at his foe; and he brandished his sword about his head, and thought to make quick work of this combat. But sad was his mistake. The good blade Short leaped suddenly out of its scabbard, and the light of its gleaming edge flashed hither and thither like the play of the lightning in the summer's cloud. The first stroke cut the sword of Brunamont in twain, and left the giant but half armed. The second stroke cleaved his iron helmet; and, although it missed his brain, it sheared off his left ear, and laid the whole side of his face bare. [96] Brunamont, who had never before felt fear, waited not for the third stroke. He turned and fled, thinking only of how he might save his life. He leaped into the river, hoping to swim across to his Pagan friends; but the current was deep and swift, and his heavy armor dragged him down, and the waters soon made for him a grave.

Ogier took to himself the horse Broiefort, for he considered that he had fairly won him; and there was nought that now is or ever was that he coveted so much. Charlemagne at once led his army across the river, and attacked the astonished and disappointed Saracens. Great was the rout of the unbelievers; and many of their bravest warriors were slain, or taken prisoners. And on the morrow King Corsuble, defeated and crest-fallen, withdrew from Rome, and with his whole army embarked, and set sail across the sea. And Charlemagne, after seeing the pope happily restored to his place, returned to France.


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