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Stories of Charlemagne by  Alfred J. Church

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THE SLAYING OF LOTHAIR

[1]

K
ING CHARLES held a great court in his capital city of Paris at the Feast of Pentecost. Thither came the Twelve Peers of France, and many other men of note, besides strangers from Germany, England, and other realms. One of the chief of the Frenchmen was Aymon, Duke of Ardennes, who brought with him his four sons, to wit, Reynaud, Alard, Guichard, and Richard. All these four were marvellously fair, witty, and valiant; but the fairest, wittiest, and most valiant was Reynaud, the eldest born. There was not in the world a man of so great strength and stature. It is of him and his brothers that this tale is told.

King Charles stood up, and said, "Brethren and friends, you know that by your help I have [2] conquered many lands, and brought many pagans to confess the Christian faith. You know also that this has not been done without grievous loss on our part, and verily had not been done at all but for succour that we looked not for. But the succour that we looked for, that we had not, and notably from Duke Benes of Aygremont. This, then, is my purpose. I will send to Duke Benes, bidding him attend me this summer. And if he will not come, then I will besiege him in his town of Aygremont. And when he shall come into my hands, I will hang him, and slay his son Mawgis, and cause that discourteous. woman, his wife, to be burnt with fire."

Duke Naymes said, "Be not so hot, my lord King. Send a message to the Duke by some prudent man, and when you shall have received his answer, then take counsel what you shall do."

"That is good counsel," said the King. But when he called for a messenger, no man answered, for many were of the Duke's kindred. Then he called his eldest son Lothair, and said to him, "Go to this Duke, and bid him come to me with his men-at-arms by mid-summer next, or else I will besiege his city of Aygremont."

[3] The next day Lothair departed, having a hundred knights with him, armed for battle. As they went they uttered many threatenings against the Duke, if he should not submit himself to the King.

It so chanced that a spy heard them talk in this fashion, and, making all haste, came to the Duke and told him. "There come messengers," he said, "from King Charles, threatening terrible things, and the King's own son is with them." Then the Duke asked his lords what he should do. One of them, Sir Simon by name, a good man and a wise, said to him, "Receive the King's messengers honourably. It is not well for a man, how great so ever he be, to fight against his sovereign lord. Many of your kinsmen have so dared, yet do not you." Said the Duke, "I am not fallen so low that I should follow such counsel. Have I not three brothers, princes all of them, that will help me against the King, and four nephews also, sons of Aymon, that are stout and valiant men?" So he would not listen to Sir Simon; no, nor yet to his wife the Duchess, though she was urgent with him to speak peaceably to the King's messengers.

By this time Lothair and his knights were come to the town of Aygremont. The Prince [4] said, "See what a fortress is there! How strong are the walls! See, too, the river running at their base. There is no stronger place in Christendom. It cannot be taken by force, but haply by famishing it may be taken." One of his knights said to him, "My lord, you say true. This is a mighty prince, and he has a strong castle. It would be well if you could make him to be of good accord with your father." "You speak well," answered Lothair, "nevertheless if the Duke shall say anything that shall displease us, he shall be sorry there for." But the knight said softly to himself, "This is foolishness, and we shall pay for it with our lives."

So Lothair and his men came to the castle, and knocked at the gate. "Who are you?" said the porter. "We be friends," answered Lothair, "and we bring a message from the King." "Wait awhile," said the porter, "till I tell the Duke." So the porter went to the Duke and said, "There are come hither a hundred knights, with the King's eldest son at their head. Shall I open the gate?" "Open it," said the Duke, "we can hold our own, yea though the King himself should come with all his men." So the porter basted to open the gate. But the Duke said to his lords, "Here comes the King's [5] Oldest son; if he speak wisely to us, wisely will we answer him; but if not, he shall not go free."

Then Lothair and his knights were brought into the hall, where the Duke sat among his lords, having the Duchess his wife by him and before him his son Mawgis. Now Mawgis was a great wizard.

Lothair said, "God keep King Charles and confound Duke Benes! My father says, 'Come to Paris with five hundred knights, and make good your want of service in the parts of Lombardy, where, for lack of your help, many valiant men came by their death. But if you fail in this thing, you shall surely be hanged, your wife burned with fire, and all your house destroyed.'"

Then might any one have seen the Duke change colour for anger. When he could speak, he said, "I will not go to the King. I hold of him neither land nor fortress; or rather I will go and waste his land till I come to Paris itself."

"Dare you so speak? "cried Prince Lothair, in a loud voice. "You know well that you are the King's man. I counsel you to do his bidding. Else you shall be hanged till the winds of heaven dry your bones."

[6] When the Duke heard this he stood up on his feet in a great rage, crying to Lothair that it was an evil day for him on which he came to the town of Aygremont. Not a word of counsel would he take, when some of his knights would put him in mind of the King's might, and of how he was in truth the King's man, holding of him this very town of Aygremont. "Hold your peace!" he cried. "Never will I consent to hold aught of this man so long as I can mount a horse or hold a spear." And he called upon his lords to lay hold on Lothair, and they durst not disobey him, but ran upon Lothair and the rest of King Charles's men. Then began as sore a battle as was ever fought in this world. For not only did the Duke's men that were within the palace assail the Frenchmen, but the inhabitants of the town, both merchants and craftsmen, hearing the uproar, beset the gates. These gates, indeed, the Frenchmen kept with great courage; but they were few in number, and the day went sorely against them. In the end, after that Prince Lothair had been slain by the Duke himself, there remained but ten of the hundred knights alive. These the Duke spared, on this condition, that they should carry his message to the King, and the message was this: "I [7] will do no homage for my land, nor pay one penny of tribute. Rather I will come with forty thousand men, and waste your land, and burn your fair city of Paris." After this he delivered to them the body of Lothair, laying it in a cart drawn by two horses. And when the ten knights were quit of the town, and were come into the fields, they began to weep and lament, not for Lothair only, but also for themselves, for they feared the King. So they went on their way to Paris.

Meanwhile King Charles at Paris was not a little troubled. "I fear me much," he said to his lords, "lest some evil have befallen my son, for this Duke Benes is a savage man and a cruel." Then answered the Duke Aymon, "If the Duke shall do you any wrong, I will help you with all my heart. Here also are my four sons who will go with me." "That is well spoken," said the King. "Bring your sons hither." So the Duke brought them, and the King, when he saw them, loved them all, but Reynaud, who was the eldest, more than the other three. He said to his steward, "Bring hither the arms of King Certes, whom I slew at Pampeluna, and put them on him." And Ogier the Dane bound on his spurs, and the King himself girded him with his sword. This done, [8] he dubbed him knight, saying, "God increase thee in goodness, honour, and worthiness!"

Reynaud, it should be known, had a very noble horse, Bayard by name, that had been given him by his cousin Mawgis. Never was there such a horse in the world, save only Bucephalus, that was the horse of Alexander of Macedon. When he was mounted on him he seemed such a knight as could scarce be matched in France or any other land. When they jousted in the lists, for the King held a tournament at St. Victor that was near to Paris, not one did so well as Reynaud.

The tournament being ended, the King returned to his palace in Paris. The next morning he said to his lords, Ogier the Dane, and the Duke Naymes and Turpin the Archbishop, "I am in fear for my son Lothair; he tarries long on this journey. I dreamed also last night that the Duke Benes had slain him." The Duke Naymes said, "Put no trust in dreams, for they are naught." The King answered, "Nevertheless, if the Duke have done this thing, he shall die."

While they were yet speaking, there came a messenger upon a horse, faint and weary and sorely wounded, and the King saw him pass the window where he stood. Then the King [9] ran lightly down to the gate, his lords following him. When the messenger saw the King he saluted him in a low voice, and told him all that had befallen. And when he had ended his words, he fell to the ground in a swoon for grief and the pain of his wounds.

Great was the King's sorrow. He wrung his hands and tore his beard and his hair. His lords sought to comfort him, and Duke Naymes said, "Now bury your son with great honour at St. Germaine's, and when you have done this, gather together your army, and march against this Duke Benes."

Then the King and his lords rode forth from Paris, and when they had gone the space of two miles, they met the cart wherein was the body of Prince Lothair. And when the King saw the cart, he lighted down from his horse, and lifted the cloth that was upon the dead man. And when he saw how the head was severed from the body and the face sore disfigured with wounds he cried aloud. And he said, "Oh, Lothair, my son, you were a fair and gentle knight. May God of His mercy receive you into Paradise!" Then his lords bore him up on one side and the other, and brought him to St. Germaine's. There they buried Prince Lothair with all honour.


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