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Stories of Charlemagne by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

OF THE DOINGS OF THE FRENCH KNIGHTS

[180]

A
S the Admiral sat at dinner there came into the hall the chieftain who was named Lucifer, and was a special friend to the Admiral. He said, "Is it true, as I have heard, that Fierabras, your son, who was the very best knight in the whole world, has been overcome and taken prisoner?" "It is true," answered the Admiral, "I will not hide the thing from you. A French knight, whom may Mahomet confound, overcame him. But we have taken five of King Charles's knights; seven other knights came hither bearing a very insolent message to me from the King, all these therefore are in prison. I gave them into the hands of Floripas my daughter, and she has shut them up in prison.

"Sir," said Lucifer, "this was not well done of you, to trust these prisoners to a woman, for [181] women are apt to change, and to turn from one thing to another. If it please you I will go and see in what condition they are."

Then said the Admiral, "That is well counselled; go and see, and when you return make my daughter to return with you."

So Lucifer went, and when he came to the chamber where Floripas was he did not seek to have the door opened to him, but smote it so stoutly with his foot that he brake down the bolts and bars.

When Floripas saw this she was very wroth, and said to Roland, "This violence is ill-pleasing to me, Sir Roland, all the more because this man that has done it should have been my husband, though I loved him not. I pray you avenge me of this wrong."

"Be content, fair lady," answered Roland, "this fellow shall be made to know of his misdoing ere he depart hence. Never did he pay so much for the making of a lock as he shall pay for the breaking of it." Meanwhile Lucifer entered the chamber, and coming up to the Duke of Naymes, who was bareheaded, took him by the beard, and drew him to himself so roughly that he had well-nigh thrown him to the ground. "Whence come you, old man?" said he, "Tell me the truth." The Duke told [182] him, "I am Duke of Naymes, and I am a councillor of King Charles, from whom I have come, with these lords whom you see, bringing a message to the Admiral. And because what we said was not to his liking, he has made us prisoners. But now take your hand from my beard, you have held me long enough. And be sure that I say not all that I think." The pagan answered him, "May be the Admiral will forgive you your folly. But come, tell me truly of your countrymen, how do they bear themselves, and what games do they play?" The Duke answered, "When the King has dined every man may go where he will. Some ride on horses, and some go into the fields, and some play at chess or tables. In the morning every man hears Mass when it is said; they are wont also to give alms to such as are in need. And in battle they are not easily to be overcome.


[Illustration]

BLOWING THE GREAT COAL.

Lucifer said, "Old man, you dote; these things are naught; say, can your folk blow at the great coal?" "I never heard of the great coal," said the Duke. Then said Lucifer, "I will teach you the manner of it," and he came near to a great fire that was in the chamber, Roland making a sign meanwhile to the Duke that he should bear with the man's way. Then [183] Lucifer took the biggest brand that was on the fire, and blew it so strongly that the sparks flew about abundantly. "And now," said he to the Duke, "You must blow also." Thereupon the Duke took the coal, and blew it so strongly that the flame came near to the pagan's face, and burnt his beard. Lucifer was almost out of his wits for anger, but before he could as much as speak the Duke smote him with the brand upon the neck so strongly that the bone was broken, and the man fell dead upon the floor. "By my faith," said Roland, "you can play, right well at blowing of the coal. Now blessed be the arm that struck that blow." The Duke said, "Blame me not, my friends, for ye saw how the man trifled with me." Then said Floripas, Sir, you are worthy of all honour. Lucifer, I reckon, will have no more desire to play with you at the great coal. Nor will he wish to marry me. For indeed that was his purpose. Verily I had rather died the most villainous death than have had him for my husband."

After a while Floripas, being a woman of wise counsel, said to the knights, "This Lucifer that is now dead was a man much beloved by my father, who doubtless is even now waiting for him to come to dinner. As [184] soon as it shall be known that he has been slain, you will be assailed; and if you be vanquished, not all the gold in the world will redeem you from death. Arm yourselves, therefore; and, being armed, wait not till you are assailed in this place, but issue forth and yourselves assail the Admiral's palace, and be sure that you do this in such fashion as to become masters of it."

This counsel seemed good to the Knights. So they armed themselves, and went forth, bold as lions and fierce as hungry wolves, and the time of going forth was the hour that is between day and night. First of all went Roland, and slew King Corsablis; next came Oliver, and he also smote a king, Coldro by name; great was the slaughter, for the Saracens were taken as they sat at meat. Many were killed and not a few leapt from the windows and so perished. As for the Admiral he escaped most narrowly; for as he leapt from a window Roland dealt a great blow at him with his sword, and the sword made a hole of a foot deep in the marble stone of the window. "Brother," said Oliver, "the Admiral has escaped from you." "You say true," answered Roland, "and I am but ill content." But the Frenchmen made themselves masters of the [185] palace, and having shut fast the gates, were safe. But this was like to trouble them, that they had no meat.

Now the Admiral had lighted in a ditch, and now began to cry to his men that they should draw him out. And this service Brullant and Sortibrant did for him. And when he was drawn out, Sortibrant said to him, "Sir Admiral, did I not say to you that you should not trust a woman? See now what has happened. Another day you had better believe me. Keep by the tail of an old dog, and you will not go out of the way." The Admiral said, "Sortibrant, reproach me no more. I will be avenged of these men before many days be passed." "That is well," answered Sortibrant, "but now the night is far spent. I would counsel you to do nothing before the morrow." With this the Admiral was fain to be content. But he made great lamentation over Lucifer.

As for the Frenchmen, he vowed that he would drag them at the tails of his horses, making sure that they could not hold out, because they had nothing to eat, nor could their King send them any help, "for" said he, "all help must needs come over the bridge Mantryble, and that bridge we hold."

The next day the Admiral having assembled [186] a great host, began to assail the castle with stones from slings and poisoned darts. In this way they did but little damage, but the knights and the maidens in the castle were sorely pressed for want of food, nor did any one suffer more than Floripas herself, who was grieved not for herself only, but for the knights also, and for the maidens that waited on her. When Guy of Burgundy saw this, he said to his fellows, "It is now three days since we had any bread. 'Tis a grievous thing to endure; and I suffer more for these damsels than for myself. It were better to die than to endure this pain. Let us, therefore, sally forth, and get for ourselves some victuals." This counsel pleased all the Frenchmen.

But Floripas said to them: "Now I see that the God whom you worship is of little power, seeing that he suffers you to remain in such straits. Now, if you had worshipped our gods, they would, beyond all doubt, have furnished you with abundance of meat and drink." Roland said, "Madam, let us see your gods. If they have such power as you say, we will surely worship them." Then Floripas took the keys, and took the French Knights to a place that was under the castle, where the gods were set in great state, Apollo, to wit, and [187] Mahomet, and Termagaunt, and Jupiter, and others with them. Very splendid was the place, and full of gold and jewels. Guy of Burgundy said, "Here is store of gold: did King Charles possess this, he could set up the churches that have been overthrown."

Floripas said: "Sir Guy, you spake blasphemy against the gods; do you now worship them, that they may be inclined to help you." Sir Guy answered, "Madam, I cannot pray to them, for it seems to me that they are all asleep and take no heed of what may be said." So saying he smote the image of Jupiter that it fell to the ground, and Ogier the Dane smote another of the images. When they were all brought to the ground, Roland said to Floripas, "Madam, these gods are of no power and avail nothing." After this the maiden believed in them no longer,

After these things, Floripas having swooned for trouble and hunger, the knights sallied forth. And Roland said, "Now some one must keep the gates that we may be able, when the occasion comes, to enter it again. Let the Duke Naymes therefore keep it, or Ogier the Dane." The Duke said, Think you, Sir Roland, that I am of estate so poor that I will serve as your porter? Assuredly I will [188] not do so. Old I am, but yet I can ride my horse in battle, and my sinews are well set, and I have enough of strength to fight my enemies." "You shall do as you will, Sir Duke," said Roland. No man desired to take the place. Nevertheless, at the last Thierry abode with Geoffrey to keep the gate.

Meanwhile the Admiral, sitting at a window, saw how the Frenchmen came forth to battle. He sent, therefore, for Sortibrant and Brullant, and said to them, "I see that the Frenchmen are coming to fight. If they be not all slain, I shall be very ill content." Then the Saracens, of whom there was a great host, assailed the Frenchmen, but could not stand against them. Roland, having his sword Durendal in his hand, did great deeds of valour. Nor were the knights beaten back, even though King Clarion, who was the Admiral's neighbour, came to his help with 15,000 men. That day, therefore, the knights fought with much glory. And when the battle was ended, there came to them a marvellous good fortune. For they saw that there passed by the castle twenty beasts laden with provender, bread to wit, and wine, and venison, and a store of other victuals. These were on their way to the Admiral, but the French knights straightway [189] slew the escort, and drove the beasts into the town. This thing, however, was not accomplished without much toil and trouble.

Now the trouble was this. The French knights were so hard pressed by a multitude of Saracens that followed King Clarion that some were slain, as the Duke Basyn and Aubrey his son, and that Guy of Burgundy was taken prisoner, his horse having been killed under him. The Saracens blindfolded him and led him away, King Clarion meanwhile scoffing at him and saying, "Cry and bray as you will, my fair friend," for Guy called upon God to help him, "nothing will avail you. This day I will deliver you to the Admiral, and to-morrow you shall be hanged." The Frenchmen did marvels of valour, but they could not stand against the multitude of their enemies, and were constrained to take refuge within the Tower.


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