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Stories of Charlemagne by  Alfred J. Church

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OF GUY OF BURGUNDY

[190]

T
HE Frenchmen, being now safe in the Tower, refreshed themselves with food, for they had fasted long, as has been told. As they sat at meat, came Floripas and said to them, "Tell me now; where is Guy of Burgundy, that was to be my husband? I saw him sally forth out of the gates with you; has he returned with you?" Roland answered her: "Floripas, think not that you will see him again. The pagans took him out of our hands, notwithstanding all that we could do; and how he will fare in their hands we know not." When Floripas heard these words, she fell down as one dead. When she came to herself she cried aloud with a lamentable voice: "Lords of France, if Guy be not given back to me I will give up this Tower to my father before two days are over." Then Roland [191] comforted her saying, "Be not troubled, lady, you shall see Sir Guy again in no long time. This also I say. You will not bring him back by weeping and lamenting. Be strong now, and take comfort, and also, for you are weak with long fasting, eat of this food." Then Floripas and her ladies were content, and took something to eat.

Meantime Guy was brought before the Admiral. He was much changed in face, being pale and wasted, seeing that he had not eaten for three days. Also he was troubled to think of the danger in which he stood. He had been spoiled also of his arms. For all this it was manifest that he was a very gallant knight. Balan asked him his name and country. Guy answered: "Admiral, I will tell the truth without fear. I am Guy of Burgundy, subject to King Charles, and cousin to Roland the Valiant."

The Admiral answered, "I know you over well, Sir Guy. For seven months past my daughter has had great love for you, a thing which is most displeasing to me. Verily for this cause I have lost many good men, that you and your companions have slain. But tell me truly who are these knights that were with you in the Castle? "Then Guy told him the names of the knights, the last of all being the [192] name of Duke Basyn. "Him," said he, "you have slain, but be assured that you will pay right dearly for his death." When he said these words, a Saracen that stood by smote him on the mouth so that the blood gushed out. Thereat Guy was greatly moved with anger, so that he lay hold of the Saracen by the hair with one hand and with the other hand smote him upon the bone of his neck so fiercely that the man fell down dead before the Admiral.

At this deed the Admiral was greatly enraged, and cried out that Guy should be closely bound. At which word all the Saracens that were in the chamber fell upon him and beat him so sorely that he would have been shortly slain, but that the Admiral himself cried out that he was not to be put to death in such a fashion. Then the Saracens bound his hands, and the Admiral bade his men fetch Brullant and Sortibrant and others of his council. "Friends," said the Admiral, "advise me what I shall do with this prisoner who sets me at nought most shamefully." Sortibrant said, "I will give you good counsel concerning him. Set up a gallows-tree near to the moat of the Tower in which the French knights abide, and make as if you were going to hang [193] this prisoner. But first cause that a thousand Turks well armed and fit for battle be hidden in a secret place near to the said tree. Be sure that the Frenchmen, when they shall see that their comrade is about to be hanged will come forth to succour him, and when they be come, then shall your Turks that are in ambush fall on them and take them."

This counsel pleased the Admiral much. He caused, therefore, the gallows-tree to be set up, as Sortibrant had advised, and set the Turks in ambush, more than a thousand, that the thing might be made more sure. After this he bade thirty Saracens lead Guy to the tree, beating him sorely with their staves the while. His hands were bound behind his back, and there was a great rope about his neck, and he knew himself to be in evil case. He did not cease to commend himself to God; also he cried out to the Barons of France, and especially to Roland, that they should help him.

Now Roland stood at a window whence he could see the gallows-tree set up. And he said to his comrades, "What means, think you, this gallows-tree that these Saracens are setting up?" Then the others looked, and the Duke Naymes said, "Without doubt they are about to hang our comrade Guy of Burgundy." He [194] had scarcely spoken when they saw Guy led by the Saracens, bound and stripped. Floripas also saw this thing, and cried to the Knights, "Oh, my lords, will you suffer Guy that is your comrade to be thus shamefully done to death before your eyes? If he perish in this fashion I will leap from this window and so die." And she came to Roland and kneeled before him, and kissed his feet, and cried to him, "O, Sir, help this Guy whom I love, or else I am a lost woman. Arm yourselves, I pray you, and I will cause your horses to be made ready, so, if God pleases, you will be in good time." Then Roland and his fellows armed themselves in great haste, and went forth from the Tower, and mounted their horses. And Roland said to them, "Let us now keep together as much as may be, and be ready to help each other as each may be in need, for otherwise we shall hardly win back to this place, for we are but ten in number, and they are many."

Floripas said, "My lords, I pray you not to tarry, but first I will bring you the Crown of Thorns." So she went to her chamber and brought there from the Holy Crown. This all the knights kissed with much reverence, and so issued forth from the Tower with a good courage. When they were gone, Floripas [195] and her damsel lifted the bridge and shut fast the gates of the Tower.

The Frenchmen rode in good order towards the place where the gallows-tree was set up, the Saracens being busied with Guy whom they had now brought thereto, with the rope round his neck. When Roland saw this, he cried out, "Hold, traitors; this thing shall not fall out as you hope. You have begun a deed of which you shall surely repent." Thereupon he charged at them with such fierceness that the hardiest of them turned to fly; yet they fled not so fast but that Roland killed twenty out of the thirty. When the Saracens that lay in ambush saw this, they rose up from the place where they lay hid, a certain Conifer, a pagan of marvellous strength, being their leader. This Conifer cried out, "Ho, ye French knaves, come you to succour this malefactor? Verily you shall be hanged along with him." Roland was very wroth to hear such villainous words, and charged fierce as a hungry wolf, with his sword Durendal drawn in his hand. Nor did Conifer for his part draw back, for he was a great warrior. He dealt a great blow on Roland's shield that went nigh to beat it down. Nevertheless Roland slew him, cleaving his head in twain. This done he ran to the [196] gallows and cut the cords with which Guy was bound, and afterwards stood by him till he had armed himself. This he did, taking the dead pagan's arms and mounting on his horse. But this was not easily done, for all the Saracens that had lain in ambush were coming upon them, and they were sore pressed.

But Guy wrought marvels of valour, as one who having narrowly escaped from death, fought with great cheerfulness of heart. Floripas also, who stood at a window of the Tower, saw him, and cried out to him that he should bear himself as a man. When Ogier the Dane heard this, he said to his comrades, "Hark to this noble damsel, how bravely she bears herself. We will not go back to the Tower till we have done all that was in our mind to do." Then they charged the Saracens yet again; Roland being still in the front, and driving the pagans before him, for they flew from him on all sides. Thence the Frenchmen made their way to the bridge and so again into the Tower.

When the Admiral perceived this, he was much troubled, and asked his counsellors again for advice. Sortibrant said to him, "Let every man that is here present make himself ready for battle and let all the siege engines be [197] prepared, and all the trumpeters stand prepared to blow a great blast on their trumpets. The Frenchmen are but few, and when they shall be aware of this great multitude they will be overcome with fear." To him Brullant answered: "My friend, this that you say is but folly. You will not frighten these Frenchmen in this fashion, no, not though we had all the horns and trumpets in the world. Is not Roland there, the mightiest knight that now lives, who slays any man that dares to join in battle with him? They are all great warriors, but Roland is of such greatness that if the rest were his match they would drive the Saracens out of Spain. There is no man that could stand against them, and as for our gods, it is long since they have given us any help." The Admiral was very angry to hear such talk and would have struck Brullant with his staff, but Sortibrant held both his arms, "Let be your anger; we should do better to take counsel together how we may break down this Tower that the Christians hold."

Then the Admiral gathered all his men together, so many in number that they covered the ground a mile every way. But of more avail than all these multitudes was a certain magician, by name Mahon. He had two [198] siege-engines of marvellous power, which were so contrived that they who worked them could not be hurt by the enemy.

Thus did the Saracens gain possession of the first defences of the Tower; yet having won them, they could not long hold them, for the French knights did their part right bravely, hurling down from the upper parts stones and darts, and all kinds of missiles, and these so strongly that no man could stand against them. The maidens also armed themselves, and did the like.

But the magician had yet other devices to use against the Christians. He said to the Admiral, "Let me have some of your men to wait on me, and I will speedily deliver these Christians into your hand." And when he had made all things ready, he discharged out of his engines against the walls a fire so marvellous that the very stones began to burn. The Frenchmen were sorely dismayed at this, and began to say to each other that they must now surely quit the Tower. But Floripas said to them, "My lords, be not afraid. I have something wherewith to quench the fire." Then she went and took certain herbs, and mixed them in wine, and the knights threw the wine on the fire, and it was quenched immediately.

[199] When the Admiral saw this he was out of his wits with anger, and when Sortibrant told him that this was of his daughter's doing, he vowed that she should die an evil death. Then said Sortibrant, "Bid your horns and trumpets sound again, and send your men to attack the Tower once more. By this time the Frenchmen must be so wearied that they will be overcome. And they have neither stones nor iron to cast at us." Thereupon the Saracens made yet another assault on the Tower; so fierce was it that the air was as it were dark with arrows and darts and stones, great portions of the walls fell down, and the knights were greatly troubled. "Now," said they, "we must needs be vanquished, for our defence is broken down." But Floripas bade them be of good courage. "My lords," said she, "this Tower is yet strong enough to hold out. Besides, though you have no more stone or iron, yet my father's treasure is here, wedges and plates of gold, wherewith you may slay the pagans as well as with stones, aye and better too." Thereupon Guy of Burgundy, in great joy, kissed her.

Then Floripas, going to the treasure-house, showed the gold to the knights. This they took and cast against the Saracens, to their great [200] discomfiture. Moreover, the Saracens, when they saw the gold, left off fighting against the French, and began to slay each other. The Admiral, when he saw this, cried with a loud voice to his captains, "Cease now from the assault, for it turns to my great loss; see now how my treasure which I have gathered with much pains is scattered about. This treasure I had entrusted to the keeping of Mahomet my god, and see how he has failed me. Verily, if I could but have him in my hands, he should suffer pains for this!" Sortibrant said to him, "Be not angry, my lord, with Mahomet. He has done as well as it lay with him to do; doubtless he was asleep when your treasures were spoiled. These Frenchmen are so crafty that they can do what they will."

That same night, as the Admiral sat at his supper, Roland spied him from a window where he lay to rest himself. He said to his comrades, "I see Balan at his supper with his lords; he is taking his ease, and it would be to our great honour if we make him rise up from his meat." The other lords were of the same opinion. They armed themselves therefore, and issued forth from the Tower. But the Admiral was aware of their purpose, and he sent against them his nephew, Espoulart by [201] name, who was a very strong and valiant knight. Espoulart rode against the Frenchmen, and encountering Roland smote him on the shield so great a blow that he was well-nigh stunned, but his flesh was not wounded. Roland, in his turn, unhorsed him, but the Saracen was so nimble that forthwith he mounted his horse again. But Roland smote him again, and so sharply that the man wist not where he was. As he was falling to the ground Roland caught him right deftly, and laid him across his horse and carried him away.

When the Admiral saw this he cried out in a great rage that they should rescue his nephew. This the Saracens would willingly have done, but they could not; many were hurt and many slain, and at last all the Frenchmen escaped into the Tower. When they had shut-to the gates they asked Floripas who he was that they had taken. Floripas said to them, "This is Balan's nephew, a rich man and a powerful. If ye would vex my father, put him to death." The Duke Naymes answered, "Nay, we will not put him to death. We will keep him, and if should happen that one of us be taken prisoner, we will make an exchange."


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