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Stories of Charlemagne by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

OF THE DOINGS OF FLORIPAS

[172]

I
N due course the French knights came to the town of Aygremore, and having entered by the gate, came, a Saracen guiding them, to where the Admiral sat in the shade of a tree. The Duke Naymes said to his companions, "I am the bearer of the King's letter, and I therefore will speak first." At this Roland was ill content, desiring greatly to have this office for himself. But the Duke would not suffer it; "Nay," said he, "speak not one word; you cannot keep yourself in bounds; if you have your way you will bring us all to death before sunset."

So the Duke spake first, beginning in this fashion, "Now may God Almighty save and defend our mighty Lord King Charles, and confound Balan the Admiral and his subjects. For these have borne themselves to us most [173] dishonourably, seeking to take from us our horses and other possessions." When the Admiral heard these words, he had much ado to keep under his anger. Before he could make answer to the Duke there came the one King who had escaped from the Frenchmen, and told him saying, "These are the same eight villains that slew the Kings; avenge yourself on them." Balan said, "Let them be for the present," and turning to Duke Naymes, he said, "Finish now your message." The Duke answered that he would gladly do this, and so proceeded: "The great and noble King of France bids you render to him the crown of thorns with which our Lord Christ was crowned and the other Holy Things. Also he commands you to set free certain knights of his whom you hold in prison; which things if you fail to do forthwith he will cause you to be hanged by the neck till you die." Balan said, "You have reviled me with violent words; but I have heard you courteously. Go now, and sit down by yonder pillar, and let these others speak, whom I have not yet heard."

Then came Richard of Normandy, and spake the same words. When the Admiral saw him, he said, "You are like to Richard of [174] Normandy, the same that slew my uncle Corsuble. Go and sit you down till I have heard your fellows." After Richard came the others, saying the same words, and other words like to them. But none spake more fiercely and proudly than Roland, who, after that he had bidden the Admiral render the Holy Things and the knights his prisoners, added, "And see that you give up these same prisoners in good case; Otherwise King Charles will have you hanged by the neck as a thief."

Balan cried in a rage, "These are proud words. Now I swear by Mahomet and Termagant that I will not eat till you are hanged." But Roland answered, "Then methinks you will keep an overlong fast. Say what you will; I count you to be of no more worth than a dead dog."

Last of all came Guy of Burgundy, who, after he had delivered the message said, "I counsel you, Sir Admiral, to submit yourself to my lord the King. Take off your coat, and your hose and your shoes, and go in your shirt only, carrying on your back the saddle of a horse, and rest not till you come to the presence of King Charles, when you shall confess your misdoings, and pray for mercy. [175] Which things if you do not, you will assuredly be hanged or burnt with fire."

When he had heard all these words the Admiral was not a little wroth. He called, therefore, Brullant and Sortibrant, and others of his counsellors, and said to them, "What shall we do with these men?" Sortibrant answered, "Let them be cut in pieces. And when you have slain them, gather together all your armies, and go to Mormyond, where King Charles is at this present, and take him, and put him to death." When the Admiral heard this counsel he agreed to it, and commanded that preparations should be made for the slaying of the French knights.

But the Princess Floripas was aware of all that had been done. Therefore, coming into the hall, she saluted her father, and said to him, "Who are these knights that are set yonder by themselves?" The Admiral answered, "They are knights of France who have reproached me with very evil words. What shall I do with them?" Floripas said, "I advise you to smite off their heads with as little delay as may be, for they have well deserved it. Afterwards burn their bodies outside the city."

The Admiral said, "This is good counsel; [176] it shall be done forthwith. Go now to the prison, and bring thence the other knights that are there. So shall they all suffer death together." "Good father," answered Floripas, "it is now time for dinner. You cannot commodiously do this justice till you have dined." But her purpose was to persuade her father with fair words so that he might bring all the Frenchmen together. She said therefore, "Father, give these knights into my keeping. They shall be well guarded. And after dinner you shall do justice upon them in the presence of your people." To this the Admiral consented. But Sortibrant, who knew that women are changeable and inconstant, said to him, "It is not a wise thing to put such trust in a woman. You will know by many examples how men are deceived by them." Floripas was greatly angered at these words of Sortibrant, and said to him, "You are a traitor, perjured and disloyal. I would give you such a buffet on your face that the blood would run down amain, were it a seemly thing for a maid to do."

Their debate being ended, Floripas took the French knights to her lodgings. As they went, the Duke Naymes said, "Who ever saw so fair a woman as this? Of a truth the [177] man who should do battle for love of her would be well inspired." But Roland was angry, and said, "What devil prompts you to speak of love; this is not the time for such talk." And the Duke answered, "Sir Roland, I too was once a lover." But Floripas, saying they did ill to dispute among themselves, took them into her lodgings, and shut to the door. Then Roland and Oliver embraced with much joy. The other knights also were right glad to come together again. And, indeed, it was a marvellous thing; but what will not a woman's wit effect in the attaining of that which she greatly desires? For it has been told that Floripas had great love for Guy of Burgundy, and was willing to be baptized if only she might have him to her husband.

When the knights had finished their greetings, Floripas said to them, "My lords, will you promise me on your honour that you will help me to attain that which I desire?" The Duke Naymes answered, "That, madam, will we do right willingly. And you may trust that we will keep faith with you." Then Floripas asked the Duke by what name he was known. And when he had told her she asked the names of the others. And when she came to Roland and had heard that he [178] was Roland, son of the Duke of Milan and nephew to King Charles himself, she kneeled down at his feet. And when he had raised her up right courteously, she said to him, "I love a certain knight of France, Guy of Burgundy by name, and I would have tidings of him." "Madam," answered Roland, "he is here in this very place; there is not more than four feet of space between him and you."

Then Roland said to Guy of Burgundy, "Come hither, Sir Guy, to this maiden and receive her right gladly, as is fit." But Guy answered, "God forbid that I should take a wife except she were given me by King Charles himself." When Floripas heard him she changed colour, being very angry, and said, "If this be so, then I swear by Mahomet that all these knights shall be hanged on a gibbet." Then said Roland to Guy, "I pray you do this damsel the pleasure that she would have." So Guy consented to her will. And Floripas said that now she had the thing she most desired, and kissed him, not on the mouth, for that she durst not, being yet a pagan, but upon the cheek and chin. After this she opened a great chest that she had in her chamber, and spread a fair cloth of silk, and on this she laid the crown of thorns and the [179] nails with which the Lord's feet were pierced. "This," she said, "is the great treasure which ye have so much desired to see." Then the knights went up and kissed the Holy Relics reverently, not without tears. After this the things were put up again into the chest where they had been before.


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