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Stories of Charlemagne by  Alfred J. Church

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HOW PEACE WAS MADE

[94]

I
T happened about seven days after these things that the King rode by the castle, for he would fain know how the besieged fared. When he could see no man on the walls, he was not a little astonished, and going back straight-way to the camp called his Barons together and told them of this matter.

The Duke Naymes said, "We must find out what has overtaken these people; let us feign to make an assault." So they feigned to make an assault, but no man came forth to defend the castle. Then the King said: "They are all dead of hunger," and he commanded that a long ladder should be set against the walls. By this certain of the Peers mounted, Roland being first of all, and after him Ogier the Dane and Oliver. But finding no man they [95] descended on the other side and opened the gates that the King might come in.

So the King came in; but when he saw neither man, woman, or child in the whole place he was much astonished. And as he searched he found the secret way, which when he had seen he cried, "This has that false knave Mawgis done. Verily he will break my very heart for anger." But the Duke Naymes answered, "Not so, my lord; this way has been made many years."

Then by commandment of the King, Roland and a company of men went by the secret way till he came to the Wood of the Serpent. Nor were there wanting signs that many people had passed that way. So he returned to the castle and told what he had seen to the King, and the King with his host tarried awhile in Montalban.

A messenger came to the King, with tidings of the brethren. He said that he had seen them keeping a great court at the city of Ardennes, and that they had much treasure with them, and a great company.

When the King heard this he swore by St. Denys that he would not rest in his bed till he had besieged Reynaud and his company. So he commanded his Barons that they should [96] make ready their baggage and march with all the haste they could on to Ardennes, and this they did.

When Reynaud was aware of their coming he swore a great oath that he would not suffer himself to be besieged. "Rather," said he, "would I fight with the King in the open field; verily, if by chance he should come into my hands I would not have pity on him as I did in past time." "Now, my brother," said Richard, "you speak as a man; if it come to fighting I will not fail of my duty." And Guichard and Alard said the same.

Then Reynaud ordered his host in a very skilful fashion, and mounting on Bayard rode towards the van of the King's army. When the King saw him coming, he grew so mad with rage that he was ready to fight with him, man to man. When the Duke Naymes perceived this, he said, "Sire, what mean you to do? It were folly to fight with these men. Rather make peace with them. For whether we prevail or they, there were a grievous loss of brave men, such as shall never be recovered." "Have done with such counsel," said the King, "I had rather be torn in sunder than make peace with these villains. Speak to me, therefore, no longer on this matter, but do [97] you bear the Oriflamme of France as becomes a noble knight." "That will I do," said the Duke. "Verily, there is no man so old but that he will get hot in battle."

Then the hosts joined in battle, and the fight grew fiercer and fiercer. First Reynaud and the brethren drave back the King's hosts. With his first blow Reynaud clave a knight's head to the teeth, and with his sword shore the head of another clean from his neck. Then with a loud voice he cried, "Ardennes," and the courage of his men waxed so high that the King's men could in no wise stand against them.

When the King saw this he charged with all his might against his adversaries, slaying a knight at each blow. And when his spear was broken, he drew his sword, and did therewith marvellous deeds of arms. Never did he bear himself more valiantly than he did that day.

When Roland saw how his uncle fought in the very front of the battle, he was greatly afraid lest some mischance should befall him. Wherefore, spurring his horse, he made all haste to help him. The rest of the Twelve Peers did the same, and the King's host was stayed up against Reynaud's men. From prime to noon the battle was so equal that no man could say whether this side or that prevailed. [98] But when the sun began to move to its setting, Reynaud's men began to give way, being fewer in number and spent with fighting. Then Reynaud said to him that bear his standard, "It is time to rest, carry the standard homeward."

When the King perceived this, he cried with a loud voice, "They fly; follow them with all speed; suffer them not to escape." This thing was the cause of no small damage; for Reynaud and his brothers and the knights that were of his side turned upon them that followed and slew many, and took prisoner Richard, Duke of Normandy. Him they carried into Ardennes and shut to the gates.

Roland went to the King and said, "The brethren have taken Duke Richard; lest, therefore, he come to any harm, offer conditions of peace. Remember, Sire, that you have now made war upon the sons of Aymon for fifteen years. Truly, had you done as much against the Saracens as you have done against them, you had brought them by this time under the Christian faith."

The King said, "Speak no more of peace; it shall not be save on conditions that you know. As for the Duke Richard they will not dare to harm him."

[99] So the King laid siege against the city, and brought up great engines of war against it, expecting that Reynaud would deliver it into his hands, for he thought that by this time his strength must be well-nigh spent. But when many days had gone by, and there came no messenger from the town, he began to doubt within himself. So he called his lords together, and said to them, "It troubles me that we have no tidings of Duke Richard." Roland answered, "Sire, I marvel that you do not perceive the truth. The Duke Richard we shall never see again, unless you make peace with Reynaud and his brethren."

When the King had considered the matter awhile, knowing that Roland had spoken truth, he said, "Go now, three of you, to wit, Duke Naymes, Ogier the Dane, and Roland, with olive branches in your hands, and say to him, 'Thus saith the King, deliver to me Mawgis into my hands, and I will give you peace; you and your brothers shall have your lands again, and your two sons I will receive at my court, and I will make them knights with my own hands.'"

The three Barons went, with olive branches in their hands, and delivered the King's message to Reynaud. He answered, "My [100] lords, I am glad with all my heart to see you; nevertheless I marvel much at the King's message. He demands that I shall give over Mawgis to him. Now all the world knows that I have not Mawgis to give or not to give. Truly I have lost him, and better friend or kinsman never was, by the King's cruelty and hardness of heart. Return therefore to the King and say, 'Mawgis I have not to give, nor would I give him if I had. As for the Duke Richard, I will hang him to-morrow over the chief gate at Ardennes.' And you, come no more on such an errand to me. I promise you that if any man come hereafter with such a message from the King, I will smite off his head."

So the three Barons returned to the King, and told him the words of Reynaud. And Roland said, "Sire, take it not ill, if I tell you that for your pride you will cause the Duke Richard to die. These sons of Aymon are the best knights in all the world, and they have asked peace of you, not once only but many times, and you have hardened your heart against them." The other Peers spake to the same intent. But the King would not listen to them. "Not so," said he, "they will not dare to hurt the Duke; verily, if they do such [101] a deed I will hang them all with my own hand."

The next day Reynaud said to his brothers, "It is manifest that the King will not give us peace. I am resolved, therefore, to do him all the harm I can, and first I will hang the Duke Richard before his eyes and the eyes of all his host."

So Reynaud caused that a gallows should be set up over the chief gate of Ardennes. When this was done he sent ten yeomen to fetch the Duke. Now the Duke sat in his chamber playing chess with Yonnet, that was son to Reynaud. One of the yeomen said to him, "Sir Duke, come forth, for Reynaud has commanded that you be hanged forthwith." When the Duke heard him speak in this fashion, he disdained to make any answer, but said to Yonnet, "Play you quickly, for it is time that we go to dinner." When the yeomen saw that he paid no heed to them, they laid hands on him, one on each side, saying, "Rise up, Sir Duke, for you are to be hanged in despite of the King." When the Duke perceived that the men had hold of him, having one of the chess pieces in his hand, to wit, the Queen, with which he was about to give mate to Yonnet, he drew back his arm and gave one of the men such a buffet on the [102] head as killed him outright. After this he took a rook from the board, and gave another yeoman such a stroke that his skull was broken; to a third he dealt a great blow with his fist and slew him. The others seeing how their fellows had fared, fled forthwith out of the chamber. Then the Duke said to Yonnet, "My child, you are fairly mated; as for these fellows they are drunken, I take it, to use me in such a fashion; but they have had their deserts," and he called to a servant that was there, saying, "Cast now these churls out of the window," and the man cast them out, fearing much, lest he should be dealt with in the same way.

When Reynaud and his brethren heard what the Duke had done, they went to his chamber in great wrath, and said, "Why have you slain my yeomen?" The Duke answered, "There came to my chamber ten churls saying that you had given commandment that I should be hanged, a thing which I could in no wise believe. For this cause I drave them out of my chamber, slaying some of them—I know not how many. Now if I have done amiss you can do to me what you will. But I judge the matter thus, that if these churls suffered at my hand the blame lies rather at the door of them that sent them on this errand."

[103] Reynaud said in great wrath, "Believe it or no, as you will, but I am steadfastly purposed to have you hanged before the eyes of the King and his army." And he caused the Duke to be bound.

When the Duke perceived that Reynaud was truly purposed to deal with him in this fashion, he said, "Suffer me now to send a messenger to the King." "You shall send him," said Reynaud. So the Duke sent a messenger bearing two messages, to the King one, and another to the Peers. To the King he said, "I pray you, Sir, if you ever loved me, to make peace with Reynaud. If he have done aught amiss against you I will be his surety, and will answer for him that he shall make amends." To the Peers he said, "Show now to the King that if he suffer me thus to die, he shall do himself such dishonour as shall never be done away."

When these messages were delivered (but the King knew not that Richard had sent to the Peers) there was great debate, for the King hardened his heart as he had done before, and the Peers were urgent with him that he should turn from his anger. And the strife between them waxed so hot that the Peers departed from the King, taking their men with them, [104] so that day the King's host was made the smaller by forty thousand men.

When the messenger came back with these tidings, how that the King was still hardened but that the Peers had departed from him, Reynaud was greatly moved, and turning to Duke Richard he said, "I pray you, my good cousin, pardon me for the great shame that I have done you." The Duke answered, "I blame you not. Rather do I blame the King for his cruelty and hardness of heart." Then Reynaud caused him to be unbound, and said, "Stand here by me, my cousin, and we will see what the King will do."

And now the King was at last brought to a better mind, for he said to a knight that waited on him, "Ride now as fast as you may, and when you come to the Peers tell them that I will listen to their counsel." So the knight rode with all speed, and when he had overtaken the Peers he delivered to them the King's message. And they came back to the camp.

The King said, "Go now to Reynaud and say to him, 'The King gives you peace on these conditions. You shall go in pilgrim's garb to the Holy Land, and on foot, begging your bread. You shall leave me your horse Bayard. On the other hand, I will restore to your brothers all their lands."

[105] So the Duke Naymes went to Ardennes and told to Reynaud the King's conditions. Reynaud answered, "I accept them with my whole heart." Then he went to the stable, and took Bayard from his stall, and delivered him to the Duke Naymes. This done he took his banner, and raised it on the wall of the castle to be a token of peace. After this he went to his chamber, and, putting off his rich apparel, clad himself in poor garments, and took a pilgrim's staff in his hand, and so made ready to depart. But first he took leave of his wife, the Lady Clare. So sad at heart was she that she fell down at his feet like to one dead. When she had come to herself he said, "Take not this thing so much to heart. As for me I have such joy at the making of peace that the time of my banishment seems to be past already. Now may God have you in His keeping!" And he kissed her right tenderly, and went his way.

When the Lady Clare saw him go she fell again into a swoon, and this so sore that her gentlewomen deemed that she was dead. When she revived she said, "O Reynaud, my lord, there was never husband so good as you. Well I know that I shall never see you again." Then she went to her chamber, and took off her rich [106] garments and clad herself poorly, saying, "This will I wear till my lord shall come again in peace."

As for Reynaud, his brethren and Duke Richard of Normandy and many others went with him a long way. But he said after a while, "My friends, you make my going the harder to me; I were better alone. Return now to Ardennes and comfort my wife and my children."

So they took leave of him with many tears.


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