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Stories of Charlemagne by  Alfred J. Church

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OF WHAT BEFELL AT MONTALBAN

[81]

T
HERE was great trouble and wondering when the brethren knew that Mawgis was not in Montalban. So they called the porter and asked him what he knew. The porter said, "Sir Mawgis went out on Bayard; in a little while he came back, having a man of great stature on the horse's neck before him, and went into the castle. Then he came forth again, poorly clad and on another horse. More than this I know not."

When Richard heard this he gnashed his teeth for anger, saying, "All this comes of the hatred that the King bears to us and to our kindred. Fain would I slay him," and he made as if he would draw his sword from the scabbard. But the others held him back, and they reasoned with him till he had promised to do no hurt to the King.

[82] When they told what had happened to Roland and the other Barons they were not a little astonished, and Ogier the Dane said, "All this trouble comes through the King's rage against the brethren, for indeed it is beyond all measure. But now I trust there will be peace. In very truth there has been war too long, and many good knights have been slain."

And now the charm that Mawgis had laid upon the King came to an end, and he woke out of his sleep. And when he knew that he was in the castle of Montalban, being aware that this was of Mawgis's doing, he was yet more angry than before, saying that there should be no peace till Mawgis should be delivered to him.

When Richard heard him speak in this fashion he said, "Do you threaten us, Sire, in this fashion, being a prisoner and in our power?" But Reynaud said, "Be silent, my brother; let the King say what he will; 'tis for us to pray that he make peace with us." Then the brethren and all the knights and Barons that were there, whether of one party or of the other, fell upon their knees before the King, and begged that he would make peace, but the King hardened his heart, saying, [83] "There shall be no peace till Mawgis be delivered to my will."

Reynaud said, "My lord King, if you had my three brothers in your power, and were about to hang them, even then would I not deliver Mawgis to you. But besides this I know not where he is." "I do believe that he is in this very place," said the King. "I swear by my baptism," cried Reynaud, "that this is not so, and I know not whither he is gone."

Then again all the Barons made intercession with the King that he would grant peace to the brethren, and to Mawgis. But the King did not abate in his wrath by one jot. "I will have Mawgis, that I may work my will upon him."

When Reynaud heard these words he rose up from his knees, for before he had been kneeling to the King, and said, speaking to Roland and to the other lords that were of the King's part, "Seeing that the King has hardened his heart, and will have no mercy on me and my kinsmen, I do call you to witness that I will henceforth seek my right by all means that a true knight may lawfully use." Then he turned him to the King and said, "You may go in peace when you will, I will [84] do you no hurt, for you are my sovereign lord."

When the King's Barons heard these words they were not a little astonished, not thinking that any man could deal so generously with his enemy. As for Richard, he was greatly displeased, and said, "Now have you let the enemy go; I fear me much that we shall all pay for this ill courtesy that you have shown to him with our lives." But Reynaud answered, "Be silent, brother; know that I will not compel the King to do that which is against his will. And now depart from my sight, for your high words please me not."

Then Reynaud called to him a gentleman of his household, and said, "Go now without any tarrying to the yeoman that has charge of my horses and bid him bring me Bayard. I will that my sovereign lord should ride back upon him to his camp; better horse he could not have." So the yeoman brought Bayard, and the King mounted upon him and rode him to his camp, where the Frenchmen very gladly received him.

The King bade a squire take Bayard back to Montalban, whom, when Reynaud saw, he said to Roland and the other Barons, "My good lords, I know that the King is displeased [85] with you for your love of me. Now therefore depart and make your peace with him. As for me, if I have aught against you, I forgive it with all my heart."

When the Duke Naymes heard these words, he would have kneeled to Reynaud, but this good knight would not suffer it. Then said the Duke, "Surely it cannot but be that the King's heart will be softened when he shall hear how nobly Reynaud has borne himself in this matter." "You say well," said the other Barons.

Then there were brought from the stables Roland's horse and the horses of the others. When they were now mounted there came forth from the palace the Lady Clare, and said to them, My lords, I do entreat you to make peace, if by any means it may be done, between the King and my husband, for indeed he bears a large heart, as you very well know." And the Duke Naymes answered, "Lady, we will do it if it may be." So he and his fellows took their leave of Reynaud and the Lady Clare with much sorrow, and rode to the King's camp.

The Barons made intercession to the King that he would accord peace to Reynaud, but he would not hear, but rather was more inflamed [86] with anger than before against him and his kinsmen. First, he bade his men make an assault upon the castle. This they did with great zeal, bringing engines wherewith to cast stones and darts against it, and setting ladders against the walls by which they climbed up to the highest parts. But all these things availed nothing, but rather turned to the damage of the King's men, of whom many were wounded and slain.

When the King perceived that he could not prevail in this way he bade his men cease from assaulting the castle, saying, "If I cannot take the hold of these villains by force I will take it by hunger." He set therefore at every gate two hundred knights, who suffered no man to go out or enter in.

After a while there came to be a great famine in Montalban, so that a man could not buy food for silver or gold, and not a few perished with hunger.

When knowledge of these things came to the King's ears he rejoiced greatly, saying to his Barons, "This time, methinks, Reynaud shall not escape me. By St. Denis, I will hang him, and drag the false Richard at a horse's tail, and deal with Alard and Guichard in the same way.

[87] But Roland and Ogier and the Duke Naymes were very sorry, and made supplication to the King, but he hardened his heart against them.

In the castle the famine was so sore that Reynaud and his people could scarcely keep life in them. Then the Lady Clare said to her husband, "We have more than a hundred horses in the stables, let us, therefore, cause one of them to be slain, that you and I and the children may have a morsel of meat, for indeed we have not had aught for these three days past." And when she had so spoken she fell down in a swoon at her husband's feet.

Then Reynaud went to the stables, and choosing one of the horses, commanded that it should be killed and dressed for food, and this was done, but it was a little thing among so many. And so they did till all the horses were eaten, save four, that is to say Bayard, and one horse of each of the brethren.

At the last it came to this, that there was nothing left to eat but these four horses only. But Richard said, "My horse you shall not have, no, not though we die all of us. Verily we had not been brought to this pass but for our folly when we had the King in our hands and suffered him to go free." When the boy Aymon, that was son to Reynaud, heard this, [88] he said, "What profits it, uncle, to speak of that which is past and gone? Besides this I do not doubt that the kindness which my father showed to the King will turn some day to his profit."

When Richard heard the boy speak so wisely he took him in his arms and kissed him, weeping the while, and said to Reynaud, "Let my horse be killed and given for meat to the Lady Clare and to the young boys my nephews, and to others that have need." And so it was done.

After a few days it came to this, that Bayard only of all the horses was left alive. And when the brethren would have had him also killed for food, Reynaud withstood them, saying that he would sooner die than that his horse should be killed. Yet when the Lady Clare besought him, and his children also, he yielded to them, saying that the horse should die. So he went to the stable, that he might do this deed himself. Yet when he looked upon Bayard, and had called to mind how many times the noble beast had saved his life, he repented him of his purpose. Then he gave him a handful of hay, for indeed there was nothing else that he could give, and went back to the Lady Clare and his brethren and [89] said, "Endure till nightfall and you shall have meat. This I promise you," for he had a purpose in his heart.

Then he saddled Bayard, and came stealthily to his father's tent, that was in the King's camp, for he knew well where it was.

When Reynaud saw the Duke Aymon he said to him, "For pity's sake, my father, give me food, for my wife and my children and my brothers and all my people are dying of hunger. As I live there is but this horse Bayard that is left to us." But the Duke answered, "I have sworn an oath to the King that I will not give you any help by food or otherwise."

Reynaud said again, "My father, have pity upon your own flesh, for such we are. The King does us great wrong when he persecutes us in this fashion."

When the Duke heard these words he well-nigh fell into a swoon for pity. After a while he said, "You say truly that the King does you wrong. Now, therefore, light off your horse and go into the tent, and take whatsoever you can find, nor shall any man say you nay; but for my oath's sake, I may not give you aught." So Reynaud went into the tent, and took such things as he could find and laid them on the back of Bayard, and carried them [90] to Montalban. That night they ate their meat in the castle with much gladness of heart.

The next day the Duke Aymon called his steward and said to him, "Take now the three engines that the King commanded me to make for assailing the castle, and fill them, not with stones, but with flesh, both salt and fresh, and with loaves of bread, and with other victuals, and cause that they discharge these things into the castle." And the steward did as the Duke commanded him.

When the King heard what the Duke Aymon had done he was very angry, and sent for him to his tent. And when the Duke came he said to him, "How are you so bold that you feed my mortal enemies. Verily you shall lose your head for it." The Duke answered, "Sire, if you should burn me by fire yet will I not fail my children. They are no thieves or murderers, or traitors, but as good and true knights as are in all the world."

When the King heard the Duke speak in this sort, he made as if he would have struck him. But the Duke Naymes stood forth and said, "Sire, I would counsel you to send the Duke to his house. You cannot look for him to be with you in this matter, that he should see his children die before his eyes." Then the [91] King said to the Duke Aymon, "Get you out of my camp forthwith, for you have done me more harm than can well be told." And the Duke answered, "I will do your bidding willingly." But before he went, he said to the Peers: "My lords, I commend my children to you. See, I pray you, that they come to no harm."

The King commanded that all the engines of war should be broken, for he feared lest others also of the Barons should throw victuals into the castle. So Reynaud and his men had peace, for no man made assault upon the castle. But after certain days, the provisions being all consumed, the famine was as sore as it had been at the first.

Alard said, "My brother, we cannot live longer without meat." Then Reynaud took a sword in his hand and went to the stable, having it in his heart to slay his horse. And when Bayard saw him, for he had not come thither for many days, he made good cheer. Then Reynaud said, "I were cruel indeed if I did thee harm, good beast that thou art." But Yonnet, who was his younger son, said, "Father, do you chose that my mother and my brother should die, and Bayard live ? "

Then Reynaud was much troubled, doubting [92] what he should do. Then he bethought him of a thing that he might do. He called for a basin, and took blood from the horse, and this being mixed with other things of which they had a little he prepared a mess, by which the Lady Clare and the children were a little sustained. This he did for four days, but on the fifth day the horse was grown so feeble that there came no blood from him at all. And now it seemed as if all hope were gone.

Reynaud and his kindred and his house being in these straits, there came an old man who would speak with him. "Sir," said he, "you have done as well as could have been done by any man in keeping this castle, but now you can do no more. But listen to me. I was at the building of this place many years ago, when I was but a young child. And I mind me that the lord that builded it made a secret way by which a man might escape if he was so minded. This way I will show you, and you can depart from this place by it without danger."


[Illustration]

REYNAUD AND BAYARD.

Reynaud was right glad to hear this thing so that he forgot his hunger. Then he took his horse, which, indeed, could scarce stand for feebleness, and all the folk that were left in the castle; and they entered the secret way that the old man showed them. When they had [93] gone a part of the way, Reynaud saw that they had not with them King John of Gascony. He said, "We have done ill to leave King John. It would be shame to us were he to die like a starving wolf that has fallen into a pit." So he went back and brought him. The others had small pleasure to see him, for even the Lady Clare, that was his sister, spake sharply to him saying, "Brother, you have done me such damage that you well deserved to die." But Reynaud said, "I have sworn homage to the King, and I must needs save him." And when the others heard these words, they confessed that Reynaud's thoughts were more worthy of a Christian man than theirs.

So having gone along the secret way for a while, they came to the end, and having issued forth found that they were in the Wood of the Serpent. Many things they suffered as they went, yet for hope's sake and by help of such wild fruits as they gathered on the way they bear up. And so with much toil and trouble they came to Ardennes, and were received with much gladness.


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