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Stories of Charlemagne by  Alfred J. Church

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OF THE END OF BALAN THE ADMIRAL

[222]

M
EANWHILE it was told Balan that Gallafer had been slain and the Bridge Mantryble taken. He was as one out of his wits with rage, and, crying out to his god Mahomet that he was accursed and recreant, he smote the image with a club that he held in his two hands and brake it down. Nor was this ill done, seeing that such things are of no use or profit. Nevertheless Sortibrant reproved him, and bade him repent of such injurious deeds. "That cannot I do," answered the Admiral, "seeing that this Charles has won my strong city of Mantryble." Sortibrant said, "Send a spy, Sir Admiral, that you may know what King Charles is doing; afterwards, let us march together against him, and if we prevail over him then shall you hang him and his people without mercy, and you shall cut off [223] the head of your son Fierabras, for the help that he has given your enemies."

This the Admiral said that he would do. First he humbled himself before his gods, and vowed that he would offer to them a thousand pounds of fine gold. This done, he bade the trumpets sound to gather together the Saracens. These brought great engines of war with which to throw great stones against the Tower. And this they did to such good purpose that they made three great breaches in the wall by the least of which a cart might have passed. But Roland and Oliver stood over with their shields and stopped the way. Then cried the Admiral, "Friends, if you would have my love, do your duty, and bring this Tower to the ground. Verily, when I shall have taken it, I will burn with fire this ill daughter of mine, Floripas."

When they heard these words the Saracens came on more fiercely than ever. And now the Frenchmen held but the last portion only of the Tower. Then Roland bade his comrades fight with good courage, "or," said he, "we shall not over live this day." As for Oliver, he was for sallying forth. It were better," said he, "to fall honourably in the midst of our enemies than to be done to death in this [224] place." And Ogier the Dane and other lords were of the same mind. But Floripas would not that they should do this. "You promised, said she, "that you would do nothing against my will. And I bid you stay within." And this they did, holding the breaches as best they might, and driving back the Saracens.

After a while Balan saw his daughter where she stood at a window with certain of the knights, and reproached her for her disobedience, and threatened that he would burn her with fire. But she answered nothing, only shook a stick that she had in her hand as if she would have beaten him. Then the Saracens, at his bidding, assaulted the Tower yet more fiercely, and the Frenchmen took the idols that were in the Tower, images of Apollo and Mahomet and others, and threw them down upon the Saracens to their great damage. When he saw this Balan swooned with rage, but, coming to himself, bade the Saracens assault the Tower yet again with all their might. And this they did so fiercely that the Frenchmen were well-nigh in despair.

When they were in this strait the Duke Naymes, going to an upper window in the Tower, saw the ensign of St. Denis in the valley beneath, and called to his fellows that [225] they also should come and see it, "for," said he, "without doubt the King is coming to help us." The Saracens also perceived it; whereupon King Coldro counselled the Admiral that he should send an army to hinder him from coming to Aygremore.

That day the King and his army lodged in the open field, for their tents they had left at Mantryble. In the morning the King sent for Fierabras and said to him, Dear friend, now that you have been baptized, I love you better than before. If, then, your father consents to be baptized and to deny Mahomet and his false gods I will establish him in his kingdom, and take not a penny of his goods. But if he will not, then shall he die without mercy." And he asked counsel of his Peers whom he should send with this message to the Admiral. Said Richard of Normandy, "Ganelon would do this errand as well as any man, should he be willing."

So King Charles sent for Ganelon, and gave him the message to be delivered to the Admiral; and Ganelon was well content to go. He armed himself, therefore, and mounted his horse that was named Gascon, and went his way. When he came to the valley where the army of the Saracens lay, the guards laid [226] hold of him, but perceiving that he carried a message, straightway let him go. So coming to the tent wherein the Admiral abode, he spake with a loud voice: "The noble Charles, King of France, sends this message: If you will renounce Mahomet and all false gods and receive the true faith, you shall keep all your land and worship, and shall be honoured and loved of all Christian men. But if you will not, then you shall surely die." So Ganelon spoke. But Balan, when he heard these words, was very wroth, and made as if he would strike him. Then Ganelon drew his sword and smote Brullant where he stood by the Admiral's side, and, leaping on his horse, rode away.

The Duke Naymes saw him from a window in the Tower, and said to Roland and Oliver, "Who is this knight that rides so fast." They judged that he was none other than Ganelon, and Roland cried aloud, "God grant that he fall not into the hands of the enemy." And as he spoke, Ganelon turned upon the Saracens, and slew two of them, of whom the brother of King Sortibrant was one. When Oliver saw this he said to Roland, "See you this? That is a good knight. I love him in my heart. Would God I were with him [227] where he is." But when the Saracens came near to the army of the King they left chasing Ganelon.

When the King knew how his message had sped he commanded that they should set the army in array. This they did, parting it into ten divisions. The Saracens also prepared for battle. And first Brullant rode forth and challenged the King to combat; nor did he hold back. So these two met and the King slew Brullant, and many other Saracens also. Nor did the Saracens lack great warriors, such as King Tenebres, a famous Turk, who slew John of Pontoise and many others. But him Duke Richard overthrew; Duke Reyner slew Sortibrant; and Balan the Admiral slew Huon of Milan, and went near to slaying Milon, but that Ganelon and his men saved him, though not without much damage to themselves. Nor, indeed, would they have so prevailed but for the help of Fierabras.

And now the knights that were in the Tower, seeing the army of their countrymen, came forth, and taking each man a horse, whose rider had been slain, charged the Saracens. These being taken, as it were, both before and behind, fled, as doves fly before a hawk. And [228] Balan fled with them, but being overtaken was made prisoner.

When the Admiral was brought to Charles, the King said, "Will you forsake your false gods, who indeed have profited you nothing, and accept the true faith ? If you will do so, you shall suffer nothing, either in your person or in your goods." "Nay," said the Admiral, "that will I not." Then Charles drew his sword and said, "If you yield not you die." And Fierabras, kneeling down, prayed that his father might be spared. Then Balan consented to be baptized. Nevertheless, when he came to the font the evil spirit in him rebelled, and he spat in the font, and went near to slaying the bishop that should have christened him; for he took him by the middle, and would have drowned him in the font. When the King saw this he said, "Verily this evil-doer must die." Nevertheless Fierabras entreated him to have patience, and, turning to his father, would have persuaded him even yet to baptism. "Nay," said Balan, "that will I never do, and you are a fool, my son, to ask such a thing. Would I were on horseback; then would I show these villains what is in my heart." When the King heard this he said, "Who will slay this fellow ? "

[229] "That will I," answered Ogier the Dane, and he smote off the Admiral's head with a stroke of his sword.

After this said Floripas to Roland, "Sir Knight, remember how you promised to help me to that thing which I most desire." Thereupon Roland said to Guy of Burgundy, "Bring to mind the promise which you made to Floripas, the Admiral's daughter, that you would take her to wife." "That will I do right willingly," said Guy, "if the King consent."

So Floripas was baptized, King Charles and Duke Thierry being her sponsors, but her name was not changed. Afterwards the bishop married her to Guy of Burgundy. As for Guy he was made King of the land; part he gave over to Fierabras, who held it of him; but Charlemagne was overlord of the whole country.


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