|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 |
HOW OGIER WON SWORD AND HORSE
 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
 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
 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
 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
"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,"
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
"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
 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
 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.
 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
 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
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  —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
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.
 "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.
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
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."
 "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
"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
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
 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.
 "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.
 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
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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