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Stories of Charlemagne by  Alfred J. Church

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HOW THE BRIDGE MANTRYBLE WAS WON

[215]

W
HEN King Charles and his men had hidden themselves in a wood that was hard by, Duke Richard and his company came to the bridge, driving pack-horses before them, laden, as has been said, with false merchandise. But when the knights saw the River Flagot, how swiftly it ran and with how great a roaring, and the bridge how perilous it was to pass, and the gates how they were barred with iron, they were not a little troubled. Richard said, "I will go before. Do you follow me, and when you have passed the first gate throw off your cloaks and smite with your swords. And whatever may happen, see that you fail not one another." And to this they all agreed.

Gallafer, the keeper of the bridge, stood by the first gate holding a great axe in his hand that had an edge on every side. He was [216] a giant of great stature, with fiery eyes and skin as black as pitch, more like to a devil than to a man. The Admiral was his nephew, and loved him greatly, trusting him so that he made him warder of the bridge and ruler of all the countryside.

When the French knights came near he said to them, "Strangers, who are you?" Duke Richard answered, "We are merchants who travel to the fairs, Mahomet helping us, with drapery and other goods for sale. We would fain tarry awhile at Aygremore; also we have gifts, many and precious, for the Admiral. These others that you see are my servants, and know not your language. Tell me, therefore, what we had best do and by what way we should go." Gallafer answered, "Know now that I am appointed by the Admiral of Spain to be keeper of this bridge. And because there have passed over it certain knights who paid no toll, and also a messenger who won his way in wonderful fashion across the river, and slew also my own kinsman King Clarion, my master has straitly charged me that I should not by any means suffer any man to pass the bridge unless he be known to me." When Gallafer had said so much, Duke Richard bowed his head to him right courteously, and [217] having so done, passed through the first gate, three others, of whom Duke Reyner was one, following him.

When Gallafer saw them he doubted what this might mean. "You are overbold," said he, "to come so far without leave of me." And he drew up the bridge. "And now," said he, "do you four surrender yourselves. I will send you prisoners to my lord the Admiral, who will deal with you as he shall please. And now let me see what you have under your cloaks, for you seem to me to have some evil design." When he had so spoken he laid hold of one of the four, and turned him about four times. Then another, Raoul by name, who was cousin to him on whom Gallafer had laid hands, cried, "Why do you deal so with my kinsmen?" And he struck at the giant with his sword, but could not hurt him, save to cut off a portion of his ear Thereupon the two dukes, Reyner and Richard, drawing their swords, smote him with all their might. But they also availed nought, for the giant was clad in the skin of a serpent, that was harder than any coat of mail. The giant, on the other hand, smote at Raoul with his axe. But Raoul saw the stroke coming, and leapt lightly aside, so that the axe [218] fell and hurt him not; but it cleft a stone of marble on which it lighted into two parts. Then said Duke Reyner, "What shall we do with this giant, for a sword avails nothing against him?" And he took in his hand the great branch of a tree, and smote him to the ground. Thereat the giant made a great and terrible cry, and the Saracens that followed him came running. Thereupon Richard let fall the drawbridge, and the five hundred sought to pass over it.

But the Saracens met them at the gate, and there was a great fight, wherein many were wounded and many slain. Then Duke Richard sounded his horn three times. When King Charles heard it he rose up forthwith from his ambush in the wood, and all the Frenchmen with him, and made for the bridge with all the speed they might use. And foremost of all was Ganelon, that was afterwards the traitor. Foremost he was, and gallantly did he bear himself that day. King Charles also showed himself a good man-at-arms. They died that day whomsoever he smote with his good sword Joyous.

The King saw the giant Gallafer on the ground with his great axe in his hand wherewith he had slain thirty Frenchmen, and he [219] commanded that he should be slain, for he yet breathed. But not yet was the bridge won, for a great multitude of Saracens came up to help them that kept it. Among them was a giant, Amyon by name, who called to King Charles, saying, "Where is the King? It were better for him, dotard that he is, to be at Paris than here."

When the King heard this he dismounted in great wrath, and ran at the giant, and smote him with Joyous so rudely that he fell to the ground nigh cut in twain. At this the Saracens were not a little confounded. Nevertheless, they pressed upon the King and his men with darts and bullets and arrows. Then the King cried to his lords and knights for help. Many answered his call; nevertheless he was so hard pressed that there was scarce any hope left to him. Then the Duke Richard bade him be of good cheer, "for," said he, "if every man will but do his utmost this day we shall not fail." And he pressed on, and his comrades with him. Nor did Ganelon hold back, though there were some that gave him evil counsel, as Aloys, who said to him, "See, now, how the King is beset. It were well for us if he should not find deliverance. Leave him now, and let us go back to France, where we shall be [220] masters without contradiction from any man." But Ganelon answered, "Now, may God forbid that we should betray our lord, of whom we hold all that we possess." Aloys said, "You are but a fool, seeing that you will not take your revenge when you may." But Ganelon would have none of his counsel.

As these two were talking, Fierabras came up, being now healed of his wounds, and asked where was the King. Aloys answered, "He is within the gate, and I take it by this time that he is dead." Fierabras cried, "What do you standing here? Why do you not help him in his need?" And he cried out, "Come all of you to the help of the King!" and a great multitude of Frenchmen came at his call. Great deeds did Fierabras that day, and Ganelon also, so that they two did more than any other to win the town.

Nevertheless there yet remained something to be done. For when Amyot, the giantess that was wife to Amyon, heard the cry of the townsfolk, she ran forth from her house, having a sharp scythe in her hand, and fell upon the Frenchmen in a great rage, and slew many of them. When King Charles saw what destruction she wrought he called for a cross-bow, and shot a bolt at her, aiming it so nicely that it [221] struck her between the brows and slew her. It was seen that as she lay upon the earth she vomited forth fire from her throat, but she never moved more.

So the town of Mantryble was won. King Charles found much treasure therein, which the Admiral had laid up there, trusting that it should never be taken. Of this he made a bountiful distribution to his army, so that all were well content. This done, he appointed Havel and Raoul to keep the town, with five thousand men under them. Also he caused all his army to be assembled, and went to the top of a hill to survey them. And when he saw how many there were—for there were a hundred thousand men—he thanked God that had given him such power. And he made ready to march against the Admiral.


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