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Stories of Charlemagne by  Alfred J. Church

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HOW THE DUKE BENES CAME BY HIS END

[10]

D
UKE AYMON said to his sons, "We do ill to tarry here. The King is very wroth and not without cause, with your uncle Duke Benes, and will wage war against him, in which matter he will of a certainty ask your help. But we cannot fight against our own kinsfolk. Let us therefore depart to our own country."

So the Duke and his four sons departed, and came to the land of Ardennes. The Duchess was right glad to see them. Nevertheless, when she was aware of the reason of their coming she was greatly troubled. To the Duke Aymon she said, "My lord, you have done ill to leave the King without license given, for he is your natural lord, and you have received much good at his hands. You have brought away your sons also, whom he has of his goodness promoted to the order of [11] knighthood. This was not well." "Lady," said the Duke, "we left the King because my brother Benes had slain the Prince Lothair, and we are afraid." "For all that," answered the Duchess, "do you serve the King and obey him, for to do so becomes a true man." Then said the Duke, "I would lose my castle and the half of my land, if only my brother Benes had not slain the Prince Lothair."

In the meanwhile the King was greatly troubled, not only by the death of his son, but also by the departure of Duke Aymon and his sons. "See," said he, "how these men whom I promoted to great honour have betrayed me. Verily, if I lay hands on them they shall die. But first I must punish this villain Duke Benes. I will make war on him this very summer. In the meanwhile they that desire so to do may go to their own homes, but let all be here on Midsummer Day."

Tidings of these things came to the Duke Benes, and he sent to his brethren, Gerard and Bron, that they should come to his help. These came with many men, so that the Duke had now a very great army. So, having great confidence in his strength, he set out for Troyes in the region of Champagne.

Meanwhile, there came to the King at [12] Paris Duke Richard of Normandy, with thirty thousand men, and also the Earl Guy of Heron, and the Duke of Brittany; also many other lords and knights from Gascony, Burgundy, Flanders, and other parts. These all pitched their tents in the meadows of St. Germain.

When all things had been prepared, the King and his army set out, his purpose being to besiege the town of Aygremont. When they had marched many days, there came to Ogier the Dane, who led the van of the army, a messenger riding in hot haste. He asked, "Whose is this army?" When they told him it was the army of King Charles, he said, "I would fain speak with the King." So they brought him to the King, and he delivered his message, which was from Aubrey, lord of Troyes, and to this effect; that Duke Benes and his two brothers had come up against the town of Troyes with a very great host, and would most certainly take it unless the King should come to his help. When the King heard this he commanded that the army should leave marching to Aygremont, and should turn aside to Troyes. And this was done, and in no long time the King and his army came to a place from which they could see the town of Troyes.

[13] When Gerard of Roussillon, that was brother to Duke Benes, heard that the King was now near at hand, he said to the Duke, "Let us go without delay against the King." This saying pleased the others, and they rode till they saw the King's army. And Gerard rode forth before his men, crying, "Roussillon! Roussillon! "On the other hand, Ogier the Dane rode out from the King's army, his spear in rest, and smote a knight, Ponson by name, so that he fell dead upon the earth. Meanwhile Gerard slew one of Ogier's knights. So the battle waxed fiercer and fiercer. Duke Benes, charging at his horse's utmost speed, overthrew the Lord of St. Quintin. On the other side, Duke Richard of Normandy did many valiant deeds, slaying, among others, a certain knight that was Gerard's nearest friend. "I shall have no peace," said Gerard, "till I have avenged my friend," and he put his spear in rest and would have charged at Duke Richard. But his brother Bron said to him, "Have a care; here comes King Charles with all his men; if we abide his coming in this place it will go ill with us." While he was speaking a certain knight in the company of Duke Richard slew Gerard's nephew before his face. Then Gerard sent a message to Duke Benes that he was in a great strait, and must have help forthwith.

[14] When the Duke Benes heard this, he made haste to come, bringing a great company with him, and the battle grew yet more fierce. After a while Duke Richard of Normandy rode at Duke Benes, piercing his shield with his spear, and bruising him sorely on the body. Also drawing his sword he smote the Duke's horse so stoutly that it fell dead. But the Duke himself sprang lightly from the ground, and fought right valiantly on foot, slaying sundry of those who thought to take him alive. And anon his men brought to him another horse. And still the battle grew fiercer and fiercer.

Then came King Charles himself, his spear in rest, and smote Gerard on the shield so strongly that he overthrew both man and horse. Then had Gerard perished but for his two brothers Benes and Bron, who with no small trouble drew him out of the press. This indeed they did, but the battle went against the men of Aygremont. Right glad were they when the sun set, and this was about Compline  time, for the days were now long.

[15] When Duke Benes and his brothers came together after the battle they had much debate as to what should be done. Gerard counseled that they should renew the battle on the morrow, but the others deemed otherwise. "Nay," said the Duke Bron, "we shall fare ill if we do this. My counsel is this: let us choose thirty knights, the most prudent that we can find. Let them say on our behalf to King Charles that we beg him to have mercy upon us, that the Duke Benes shall make such amends for the slaying of Prince Lothair as may be agreed by the lords of the two countries, and that hereafter we will be his true liegemen." To this counsel the others agreed. Forthwith they sought out the thirty knights, the most prudent men that they could find. These, when it was day, they sent as an embassage of peace to King Charles. And Gerard gave them this counsel that before they sought audience of the King they should seek out the Duke Naymes, and beseech him to plead their cause with the King, "for the Duke," said he, "is a lover of peace."

In due time the thirty knights, bearing despatches in their hands, were brought into the presence of the King, and delivered their message to him. When King Charles heard [16] these words he looked at the men frowningly, and in great wrath. Then he said to him that was their chief and spokesman, a certain Sir Stephen, "Surely, Sir Stephen, your Duke had lost his wits when he slew my dear son Lothair. And now, when he says that he will be my man, does he speak the truth? What say you?" "I will answer for him," said Sir Stephen. Then King Charles went with his lords into a chamber apart, and took counsel with them what should be done. Then the Duke Naymes said, "My advice is that you pardon them. They are valiant men, and you had better have them for friends than for enemies."

Then King Charles called the thirty knights, and said to them, "I pardon Duke Benes and his brothers. Only I will that he come to me at the Feast of St. John next ensuing, with ten thousand men well equipped for war."

When the messengers brought back this answer the brothers greatly rejoiced. Duke Gerard said, "It is meet that we should ourselves go and thank the King." So they put off their fine array, and went, having but a single garment apiece, and with bare feet, and four thousand knights went with them in the same plight. When they came before the King he spoke to them in peaceable words, [17] but he had anger in his heart, especially against Duke Benes, as will be seen hereafter.

Some seven days before the Feast of St. John Baptist the Duke Benes set out from Aygremont that he might present himself according to his promise before King Charles. Meanwhile the King was holding his court in Paris. To him came one Guenes, who was his nephew, saying, "Sire, Duke Benes is on his way hither with a company of knights. Now is the time to take vengeance on him for the murder of Prince Lothair." "That were treachery," answered the King, "for we have given our word to him. The Duke also is a great man and has powerful kinsmen." "I heed not that," said Guenes, "I have kinsmen also that are as good as he." "Certainly it were treachery," said the King again; "but do as you will, only mark that I do not consent thereto."

So Guenes departed, having four thousand men with him, and met the Duke and his company in the Valley of Soissons. So soon as the Duke saw him, he was aware of his evil purpose. "I held that the King was a true man, but now I see that he practises treachery against me. Now would that I had with me Mawgis my son, and the four sons of my brother [18] Aymon. I shall have great need of them this day." And in this indeed he spake truly, for there was a great battle. The Duke and his knights did valiantly, but what could their valour avail against so great a multitude? First, the Duke's horse was killed, and when he rose to his feet, Guenes, being mounted on a very swift charger, made at him, and ran him through with a spear, so that he fell dead upon the plain. When the Duke was dead there was a great slaughter of his knights. Ten only were left alive, and these were spared upon this condition, that they should take the body of the Duke to his town of Aygremont, even as the body of Prince Lothair had been taken by ten of his knights to the town of Paris. Great was the grief in the town of Aygremont when the body of the Duke was taken thither. But Mawgis said to the Duchess his mother, "Have patience awhile, my dear mother. The King shall pay dearly for this his treachery. And in this I know that my kinsfolk will help me."

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