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Stories of Charlemagne by  Alfred J. Church

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HOW OLIVER FOUGHT WITH FIERABRAS

[137]

F
IERABRAS, seeing that he must needs fight, said to Oliver, "Come now, help me to arm myself." Said Oliver, "Can I trust you?" "Yea," answered Fierabras, "that can you: never have I been traitor to any man, nor ever will." So Oliver armed him; he helped him to don first a suit of leather of Arabia and after this a coat and habergeon of steel, and an helmet richly garnished with jewels for his head. Was ever such courtesy in this world, Oliver helping this pagan to arm, whom, being unarmed, he might full easily have slain, and the pagan having pity upon Oliver as not being his match in fighting and all the more when he saw that he had been wounded? Would that there were more of such courtesy between Christian men!

When he was armed, Fierabras took the [138] three swords that he had, Pleasance and Baptism and Grabon, all being of so fine a temper that there was no armour made but they could break through it. The three were made by one of three brothers; another of these three made three more, of which Durendal, the sword of Roland, was the most famous; and yet another brother also made three, of which it suffices to name Hautclere that was the sword of Oliver, and Joyous that was one of the chief treasures of King Charles. On his shield he had the image of his god, Apollyon to wit, to whom when he had commended himself, he yet once again besought Oliver to depart. And when Oliver had again refused, saying that he trusted to prevail by the help of his God, Fierabras said to him, "Now as you are a Christian man, I adjure you by the font wherein you were baptized and by the cross to which your God was nailed, to tell me truly your name and lineage."

Oliver answered, "You could not have adjured me by greater things than this same font and cross; know therefore that I am Oliver, the son of Reyner, close comrade of Roland, and one of the Twelve Peers of France."

[139] Then said Fierabras, "I knew that you were no poor and unknown knight, but a great warrior and a famous, so great was your courage. But you are wounded, and it would be dishonour to me should I overcome you by means of your weakness." But Oliver answered him fiercely, "Enough of these idle words; when we come to fight together you shall see that I am no dead man. Nevertheless as you are a courteous knight, I will require you once again to forsake Mahomet and your false gods, and submit yourself to be baptized. So shall you have Roland and King Charles for your friends." "Nay," said Fierabras, "but this is folly. Let us address ourselves to battle without more delay."

Then did these two champions lay their spears in rest and make ready to charge. When the men of France saw this they were in great fear lest some mischance should befall Oliver; as for the King, he hid his face in his mantle and kneeling before the crucifix embraced it, weeping the while, and crying,

O Lord, I beseech Thee keep Oliver and suffer not the Christian faith to be dishonoured by his downfall." Meanwhile the two warriors met in the shock of battle, and that so fiercely that the, sparks flew from their spearheads [140] when they smote on the shields, and that the shafts of both were broken. The reins dropped from their hands, and they were both so astonied that they scarce knew where they were. But then coming to themselves they drew each man his sword. And first Oliver with Hautclere smote Fierabras so fiercely on the helmet that he shore off a great portion of it, and the jewels wherewith it was garnished fell to the ground. Nor was the force of the blow yet spent: it reached the giant's shoulder, but the cuirass which was of stout leather of Cappadocia, stayed it; nevertheless the giant's feet were thrust out of the stirrups, and he came very near to being overthrown. And all the men of France cried with one voice, "Blessed Mary, what a mighty stroke has Oliver dealt to this pagan!" "'Tis true," said Roland, "would I were with him this day!" Then Fierabras, in his turn, smote Oliver with his sword Pleasance on the helmet. From the helmet it glanced down and grievously wounded the Christian's horse. Then Oliver was not a little dismayed, and commended himself to God and the Virgin. Which, when Fierabras heard, he said, "I am ill content to have so hurt you. Hardly shall you see the sun set this day, for already you grow faint. But this has befallen [141] you because you are already wounded. Be wise therefore and leave the battle while there is yet time." But Oliver would have none of such counsel. Therefore they fell to fighting again, and this so fiercely that the armour of the two of them was well-nigh broken to pieces.

When the King saw this, and perceived that Oliver was in no little danger, he was greatly troubled. He prayed aloud, saying, "O Lord God, now keep the valiant Oliver, that he be not slain or taken. Verily, if aught happen to him, I swear by my father's soul that I will burn every monastery and church and altar in the land." But the Duke Naymes rebuked the King, saying, "Speak not thus, Sir King. Rather pray to God that of His goodness He will help Oliver." And the King said, "You are right; I spake foolishly."

Meanwhile the two champions continued to fight fiercely, more fiercely than befitted prudent or experienced warriors. Oliver especially was so carried out of himself that his hand grew numb with the frequency of his blows, and at last his sword flew out of his hand. Straightway he ran to regain it, putting his shield over his head to cover himself from the enemy's blows. But this did not [142] avail him, for Fierabras smote twice on the shield, and so mightily that he brake it into pieces, and the breastplate under it also. And Oliver durst not go forward to take up his sword, for he feared greatly what the giant might do to him. When the men of France saw in what straits he was, they made as if they would arm themselves and go to his help. But this King Charles would not suffer. "Not so," said he; "God can save him and maintain him in the right, and He will do so."

Then the others abode in their place. But now Fierabras began to jeer and scoff at Oliver, "Now I know that you are vanquished, for you dare not put out your hand to take your sword for fear of me; no, you would not stoop to the ground to gain the wealth of the whole world. Now hearken to me: if you will deny your faith and declare that your God is no god, and believe in Mahomet, then I will give you my sister Floripas in marriage, than whom there is no fairer maid upon earth, and we two will conquer France or ever this year shall have passed, and I will make you King of one-half of this realm." Oliver answered, "Now God forbid that I should listen to such folly. These your gods are no gods at all, and have no goodness or strength." Fierabras said, I [143] see that you are firmly set in your mind not to do these things. Now there was never man on earth who has given me such trouble of mind as have you. But now take up your sword; for without it you can have no more strength in battle than a woman." "That will I not do," answered Oliver. "I will not take my sword by your courtesy. My life and death are with God; and I will win my sword by fair fight or not at all."

Thereupon Fierabras came against Oliver, having his sword Pleasance in his hand. Then was Oliver in a great strait, for he had no sword, and his shield was cleft in twain, and his armour grievously broken. But God had mercy upon him, and put it in his head to look about him. And looking he saw the horse of Fierabras, and on the saddle two swords, Baptism and Grabon. Whereupon he made haste and laid hold on the sword Baptism. And when he had possessed himself of it, he said, "King of Alexandria, now the time of reckoning has come. See, I have one of your swords; you must take good care lest it be your destruction." When Fierabras saw what Oliver had done, he changed colour and said, "O Baptism, my good sword, what is this? Never did better weapon hang by my side or [144] by the side of any man living upon earth." Then he said to Oliver, "You are, I well know, an honourable knight. Come, now, take your own sword and give to me that which is mine." "Not so," answered Oliver; "I will make no agreement with you, save this: that I will do my best to slay you, and you shall do the same with me."

And when he had said this, Oliver ran at Fierabras as fiercely as a lion that leaps upon its prey. Nor was Fierabras slow to meet him. Indeed, he smote him so stoutly that he brake through his helmet, wounding the knight's head. Seeing this he cried, "Now you are wounded, Sir Oliver. Never more shall you see King Charles or Roland; so shall I at last have my desire." But Oliver answered, "Be not so proud nor boast overmuch. I have a good confidence that I shall either slay you or conquer you." Then he made a feint to strike the pagan on the head; and Fierabras, raising his shield over high to cover himself from the blow, left his side unguarded, which Oliver, quickly perceiving, drove his sword with all his might into the pagan's side. And the man fell with the blow, so mighty was it, for Oliver dealt it with all his strength that so he might put an end to the fight.


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