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Stories of Charlemagne by  Alfred J. Church

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HOW KING CHARLES SENT HUON ON AN ERRAND

[321]

K
ING CHARLES, being now advanced in years and desiring rest, was minded to lay down his power. He called, therefore, his Barons together and said to them, "I am weary of my kingship. Say now to which of my two sons, Charlot and Lewis, I shall resign it. For Lewis indeed is over young, and Charlot is not of such conditions as to be fit for such dignity. The Barons answered, "Sire, let us consider the matter by ourselves." So they went apart and considered it, and it seemed meet to them that Prince Charlot should be King.

Now there was among the Barons a certain Amaury, who was of kin to the traitor Ganelon. This Amaury said to the King, "It would be well to try the Prince Charlot. Now there is the Duchy of Bordeaux, whose Princes, Huon and Gerard, have not yet taken the [322] oath to you. If you will give me some soldiers I will bring them prisoners hither, and your son Charlot shall have their land. This shall be his trial before he have the kingdom of France."

But the Duke Naymes, being both wise and true of heart, said to the King, "This is no good counsel of Amaury. The Princes are young, and, maybe, they have not failed in their duty to you of set purpose, but rather unknowingly. Send therefore messengers to Bordeaux and bid them come to your Court. If they obey, well; but if not, then you shall deal with them by Amaury's counsel."

So the King sent messengers to Bordeaux, and the Princes received them with great honour. And when they had delivered their message, the Duchess said, "I thank the King; my sons will certainly come to do him homage when I shall have made them ready for their journey." So the messengers went back to the King and told him these words, and he was very glad, and said, "A good tree puts forth good fruit; Duke Sevyn of Bordeaux was a good man, and his sons are good men also. But as for this mischief-maker Amaury, I banish him from the land of France."

[323] Then went Amaury to Prince Charlot and said: "I had thought to win for you the Duchy of Bordeaux. But the Duke Naymes has thwarted me. Nevertheless, the lands may yet be yours if only we can be rid of the Princes Huon and Gerard. Let us fall on them when they ride this way."

These two, then, lay in wait in a wood by which they knew the two should pass. Now Amaury's purpose was double, either that Huon and his brother should be slain, or if they should slay Charlot, then they should be accused to the King of this deed and suffer accordingly. So now he said to Charlot, "Yonder are Huon and Gerard; ride out against them, for they are but weaklings." To his men he said, "Let the Prince go alone; he needs not your help."

So Charlot rode forth and held the way by which the two brothers must pass. Then Huon said to his brother, "Go now and see what this knight demands; if he ask for toll, being master of the way, we will pay it." So Gerard rode forward. Prince Charlot said to him, "Who are you?" Gerard answered, "We are sons of Sevyn that was Duke of Bordeaux, on whom God have mercy." "Then," said the Prince, "you are sons of [324] a villain. Sevyn took from me three castles, and I could never have justice of him. Now, therefore, you shall suffer for this wrong." "Sir," answered Gerard, you see that I am without arms. It were a foul shame if you should slay me. But if you have suffered wrong we will make you amends." "I will have no amends," cried the Prince, "but vengeance." And when Gerard turned to flee, being unarmed, and fearing for his life, he rode at him and smote him with his spear, so that he fell to the ground as one dead.

When Huon saw this deed he was greatly troubled, thinking that his brother was slain. Spurring his horse, he rode with all haste, and overtook the Prince ere ever he came to the wood. He cried, "Who are you that have slain my brother without any cause?" Charlot answered, "I am son of Duke Thierry," for he would not be known; also he had disguised his shield, "and this I have done because your father took from me three castles, and I could never have justice of him." Huon said, "You are a false knight and a murderer, and I defy you." Then he wrapped his scarlet cloak about his arm and drew his sword, for other arms or armour he had none, and rode against the Prince. The Prince, on his part, spurred [325] his horse and charged Huon with his spear in rest. He drave his spear through the cloak and through the gown that Huon wore, and through the shirt that was under the gown, but the body he missed. Huon, on his part, raising his sword in both his hands, smote Charlot as he passed so fierce a blow that he brake his helmet in twain. So, the steel entering his brain, he fell dead upon the ground.

Then Huon, lighting from his horse, searched for Gerard's wound, and finding that it was of less account than he had thought, bound it up with a strip of his shirt. Then he set him on an ambling nag that he had in his train, that he might ride the more easily. So the two went forward on their way to Paris, for Huon would make complaint to the King that, having a safe conduct, he had been so foully assailed.

Amaury's knights said to him, "What shall we do now? The Prince lies dead on the plain. It were ill done if he that slew him should be suffered to escape." Amaury answered, "We will take up the body and carry it to Paris, and so accuse him before the King." So he and his knights followed Huon and his company, carrying the body of Charlot with them. [326] Huon, when he was come to Paris, went in and stood before the King, and told him what things had befallen him. First he said, "Sire, see this my brother, how he has been wounded." And as he spoke he pulled aside Gerard's doublet and his shirt, and showed the wound beneath. And the lad fell in a swoon before the King and his lords, so great was the pain that he suffered. The King had a great pity for the wounded man, and bade fetch his own surgeon that he might dress the wound. He said also, "If I find out the man that has done this deed, I will deal with him in such fashion as shall never be forgotten."

After this Huon told the story how he had been assailed, and how he had slain his adversary. When the King heard it he said, "Now were this false knight my own son Charlot, whom I love with all my heart, I should not deny that he had met with his deserts."

While the King was yet speaking there was heard a great outcry in the street, for the body of the Prince was being carried through the town and the people lamented over it. The King said to the Duke Naymes, "Go now and see what this outcry may mean." So the Duke went, but when he came to the great gate of the palace there was the body of Prince [327] Charlot lying on a shield and borne by four knights.

When the body was brought in and laid down before the King he said in a loud voice, "Tell me now who has done this deed and for what cause." Amaury answered, "The man who did this deed sits yonder. He is none other than Huon of Bordeaux." When the King heard these words he would have fallen on Huon and slain him, only the Duke Naymes and others of his Barons held him back.

Then said Huon to the King, "Believe me, Sire, that I knew not this knight to be your son; verily, had I known it I should not have come to make my complaint to you as I have done this day. Rather should I have fled away and hidden myself as best I could."

Then said the Duke Naymes to the King, "Let now Amaury stand forth and tell us why he lay in ambush in the wood with your son, and what purpose he had in his mind."

And Amaury stood forth and told this tale: "Sir, your son sent a message to me, desiring that I should go a-hawking with him. So I went with him, only we went armed, for I feared the men of Ardennes lest they should fall upon us. It chanced that we [328] came to a little wood, and there we cast our hawks, and one of the hawks was lost. While we sought for it there came by Huon and his brother, and Huon had the hawk on his fist. Then your son full courteously required his own again, and Huon for answer drew his sword and slew your son, which when he had done he rode away so fast that we could not overtake him; and now I challenge him to say that he knew not the knight that demanded the hawk to be your son."

Then said Huon, "I will prove that this Amaury is a false liar, and will make him confess that I knew not the knight whom I slew to be the King's son. And for my surety I give my brother Gerard, than whom there is none nearer of kin to me." Amaury on his part gave as surety two nephews that he had.

The King said to the Duke Naymes, "Let them prepare a field where these two shall fight, and till it be prepared shut them up in a tower, and let a hundred knights be ready to keep the field when it is prepared. For I will not suffer my son to be buried till the vanquished man be hanged, if he have not been already slain in the field."

When all was ready, the two champions took [329] each his oath upon the holy relics that he had spoken the truth, and then made themselves ready for the fight. But men noted that Amaury, when he would have mounted his horse, stumbled so that he had well-nigh fallen to the ground. Then, after proclamation made that no one should presume under pain of death to make any sign to either of the combatants, the King stood up and said, "My pleasure is that if no confession be made of the truth, then the vanquisher shall forfeit all his land and be banished from this realm." And from this judgment he would not depart, though the Duke Naymes and the other Barons did protest that the King was unjust.

After this the two knights joined battle. First they charged on horseback, breaking both of them their spears, and with so great a shock that their horses fell to the ground. Then both of them rose to their feet, and fought with their swords. First Amaury smote Huon on the helmet so strongly that he well-nigh stunned him. Indeed Huon was fain to rest for a space on one knee. When Amaury saw this, he cried, "Huon, you cannot hold out longer; it were well for you to confess your ill-doing." But Huon answered, "Be silent, false traitor," and he made as if he [330] would strike him on the helmet; but when Amaury raised his sword to guard the blow, then Huon turned suddenly his stroke, and smote the man under his guard so that he lopped off his left arm. When Amaury saw that he was so disabled, he bethought him of a base device. He said to Huon, "I do confess that I spoke falsely and that you knew not that the knight was Charlot. Therefore I yield me to your grace. Come, therefore, and receive my sword, which I willingly yield to you." But when Huon came near to take the sword, Amaury smote him on the arm, thinking to do him the same damage that he had himself endured. This stroke he missed, yet made a great wound, so that the blood flowed down. Then said Huon, "Take this, false traitor!" and he slew the man with one stroke, but for repentance or confession there was no space of time.

Then said the King, "Did the vanquished man confess?" And when he heard that no confession had been made he said to Huon, "I banish you for ever from this realm. Never shall you hold one foot of land in Bordeaux or Aquitaine." Nor would he abate one jot from this sentence, for all that Huon begged him to have mercy, and the Duke [331] Naymes with the other Barons were urgent with him that he should not do this great injustice. Nevertheless at the last when he saw that he was left alone, for the Duke with his fellows had departed from the palace, he was constrained to relent somewhat from his purpose. So he called the Barons, saying, "Come back to me, for I must perforce yield to your desire." To Huon he said, for the young man knelt before him with much humbleness, "Will you do that thing which I command?" And Huon answered, "Sire, there is nothing in the whole world that I would not do at your bidding, if I might thereby be restored to your grace. Verily I would go to the gates of hell, as did Hercules, if you should send me thither." The King answered, "Maybe, Huon, I shall send you to a worse place than that to which went Hercules, for of fifteen messengers that have already gone thither there has not come back to me a single one. Hear then what I shall say: you shall go to the city of Babylon and enter the palace of Gaudys that is Admiral of the city when he sits at his dinner And you shall defy him, and shall take the sceptre from his hand. This sceptre shall you render into my hands. After this I will take you again [332] into favour, and will give back to you your lands." The Barons said, "Sir, you must greatly desire the death of him whom you send on such an errand." The King answered, "Let him never come back to France except he bring the Admiral's sceptre with him." Nor would he grant him any further grace, save that ten knights should go with him. So Huon made ready to go.


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