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Stories of Charlemagne by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

HOW HUON RETURNED, HIS ERRAND FULFILLED

[362]

W
HEN Gerames and the Lady Sybil had tarried for three months in the tower, and had heard no tidings of Huon, they were greatly troubled and doubted what they should do. And while they doubted, it chanced that certain pagans came in a ship bringing tribute to the giant. When Gerames perceived them, he said to his company, "We do ill to tarry here, when Huon, it may be, needs our help. Let us take this ship, therefore, and sail over the sea till we come to Babylon." So they took the ship, the pagans not being able to hinder them.

When they were come to Babylon, Gerames led his company to the Admiral's palace, and went in and saluted him where he sat with his lords, saying, "Now may Mahomet, of whose gift both corn and wine come to the sons of [363] men, preserve the Admiral Gaudys!" "Friend," said the Admiral, "you are welcome to this place. Tell me your name and country" "I come," answered Gerames, "from the city of Mombraunt, and I am son to King Ivoryn." Now Ivoryn was brother to the Admiral. The Admiral rose up from his place and said, "Then are you doubly welcome. Pray tell me how fares my brother, King Ivoryn?" "He is in good health," answered Gerames. "And who are these that are with you?" said the Admiral. "These," said Gerames, "are Frenchmen, whom the King took when they were sailing on the sea. He sends them to you for your sport, that on the feast of St. John Baptist you may set them bound to stakes in the meadow, and let the archers shoot at them, trying who shall shoot the best. This damsel whom I have with me shall, if it please you, be put with your daughter that she may learn the French tongue more perfectly." "All this," answered the Admiral, "shall be done as you desire. Now, for the present, put these caitiffs in prison, and see that they have enough of meat and drink that they die not of famine, as there lately died in this place one Huon of Bordeaux. A fair knight he was, albeit he was a Christian."

[364] When Gerames heard these words he was greatly troubled. Such was his anger that he had much ado to keep himself from running at the Admiral to slay him; but with a staff that he had, he smote the false prisoners that he had so hardly that the blood ran down. And they, for fear of the Admiral, durst not stir; nevertheless they cursed Gerames in their hearts. Said the Admiral, "Fair nephew, it seems to me that you have but little love for Christian men." "Even so, sir," answered Gerames; "three times a day do I beat them in honour of my God Mahomet." Then he led the Frenchmen to prison, beating them as he went, but none of them durst say one word.

As they went, they met the Lady Esclairmonde, who said, "Cousin, I am right glad of your coming, and now let me tell you of a private matter, if you will promise to keep it secret." "That will I do right willingly," answered Gerames. "Listen, then," said the damsel. "There came to this place some five months since a French knight, bringing a message from King Charlemagne. Him, my father, taking the message that he brought very ill, put in prison. I persuaded my father, for a reason that I had, that this Huon is dead [365] of hunger, but in truth he is alive, and, indeed, is as well served with meat and drink as is my father himself."

Gerames made no answer, doubting what might be in the damsel's heart, and fearing that it might be a device for discovering the truth concerning himself. He spake no word, therefore, but thrust the Frenchmen roughly into the prison.

Now the prison was so dark that Huon could not by any means discover who they might be that had thus been brought into his company. But in a short space he heard one of them lamenting his hard fate, and praying to the Lord Christ that He would succour them, "For," said he, "Thou knowest that we have done no wrong that we should be cast into this place, having come hither for the sake of our young lord Huon." When Huon heard this, he knew that they were Frenchmen, and said, "Tell me now, fair sir, what has befallen you." So the lord told him his story. And Huon, when he had heard it, said, "I am Huon, safe, and in good health, thanks to the fair Esclairmonde, who is, indeed, a Christian damsel at the heart." Then the Frenchmen began to complain right bitterly concerning Gerames, saying that he was the worst and cruellest [366] traitor on earth. "Nay," said Huon, "be content, Gerames has done all this to deliver us, as you will soon know for a certainty." And so it happened, for Gerames, having had more talk with the fair Esclairmonde, and having heard that she was well disposed in her heart to Huon and his companions, came that night to the dungeon, and declared the truth. "Only," said he, "we must wait awhile till there shall be a fitting opportunity."

After seven days there came to the palace a great giant, Agrapart by name, brother to Angolafer, whom Huon had slain. The purpose of his coming was to demand from the Admiral the tribute that had been paid by custom to his brother. Now the Admiral was sitting at dinner when he came, and the giant came to the table, and said, "You are a false traitor, for you harbour a villain that by some foul means slew my brother Angolafer." And when he had so spoken, he reached out his hand, and dragged the Admiral from his seat so rudely that the crown upon his head fell to the ground. This done, he himself sat down in the Admiral's chair, and said, "My will is that you pay me the tribute that you were wont to pay my brother, for that which was his has by right come to me. Yet I offer you this [367] grace, you shall choose you two men who may fight a joust with me. If they can overcome me, then shall you and your land be free of your tax; but if I overcome them, then shall you pay the double."

When the Admiral heard these words, he said to his knights, "Now is the time that you may requite all the kindness that I have done you, and all the gifts which I have given you. And if gratitude be lacking, then I will say this also; if any man will come forth to fight in single combat with this giant, to him will I give my daughter Esclairmonde in marriage, and after my death he shall have all my lands for his inheritance."

For all this no man came forth, for the Saracens were sorely afraid of the giant. Then said Esclairmonde to her father, "Sir, it was told you that the French knight, Huon by name, whom you cast into prison, was dead of hunger. This is not so in truth. Huon yet lives, and I promise you that he will fight with this giant."

So the Admiral sent to the dungeon for Huon and his company. And when Huon was set before him, it could be seen that he was in good case, though somewhat pale because of being shut up. "You have found [368] a good prison," said the Admiral. "Yea," answered Huon, "and I thank your daughter there for. But tell me now why you have sent for me." Said the Admiral, "See you that giant? He has challenged any man, yea, any two men, and I can find none that are willing to fight with him. Now, therefore, if you will fight with him and overcome him, then you and all your company shall return to King Charlemagne. Also I will give into your hands a present for the King; I will engage also to send him year by year a like present for head money; also I will bind myself to serve him with such a host as he may require. Verily I would sooner be his bond-slave than pay tribute to this evil giant. But if you rather choose to abide with me, then will I give you my daughter Esclairmonde in marriage, and with her the half of my kingdom."

"Sir," said Huon, "willingly will I fight with this giant. But first you must give me back my horn and my cup that were taken from me." "It shall be done," said the Admiral, and he commanded that they should give the horn and the cup to Huon. These Huon delivered to Gerames to keep for him. After this he armed himself for battle. And when the Admiral saw him duly equipped for the [369] fight, he said, "This is as goodly a knight as ever I beheld."

When the giant and Huon came together in the field, the giant asked this question, "What is your kinship to the Admiral that you are willing to fight for him?" Huon answered him, "I am not of kin to him, I am a Frenchman born, and I slew your brother." "That is ill hearing," said the giant; "nevertheless I am thankful to Mahomet that he gives me occasion to revenge my brother's death; yet, for I see that you are a brave man, if you will worship Mahomet, I will give you my sister in marriage—and she is a foot higher than I and black as a coal—and the half of my lands." Huon answered, "I will have none of your lands or your sister. It is time to fight."

Then the two, setting their spears in rest, charged at each other, and this so fiercely that their spears were broken in pieces and their horses borne to the ground. But the two leapt lightly to their feet, and next the giant would have stricken Huon with a great blow, but Huon leapt lightly to one side so that the giant missed his stroke. But Huon in his turn smote the giant in the helm, and cut off his ear. Then the giant was sore afraid and cried [370] to Huon, "I yield me to you; I pray you to do me no hurt,"

The Admiral was greatly pleased with the victory, and Esclairmonde had even greater joy. When Gerames saw what had befallen, he said to the Admiral, "Know that I am no Saracen, no, nor nephew of yours, but I came to look for my lord, Huon of Bordeaux." The Admiral, when he heard this, said, "Of a truth it is hard to be aware of the craft and subtlety of these Frenchmen."

Meanwhile Huon came and delivered up the giant to the Admiral. The giant knelt down, and said, "I did think myself the most mighty man upon the whole face of the earth, and that not ten men could prevail over me, but now am I overcome by one only. Therefore I submit myself to you and crave your pardon." "My pardon you shall have," answered the Admiral, "if you will promise not to trespass against me hereafter, and will swear to be my man so long as you shall live." "I promise," and kneeling down in the sight of all, he swore he would be the Admiral's man.

These things finished, the Admiral and his chief lords, with the Frenchmen, sat down to dinner. At dinner Huon took the cup that Oberon had given him, and showed it to the [371] Admiral saying, "See now what happens when I make this sign." And when he had made the sign of the cross, lo! the cup was filled with wine. Then he gave the cup into the Admiral's hand, and straightway the wine vanished away. The Admiral greatly marvelled at the sight, and said, "You have enchanted me." "Nay, sir," answered Huon, "this is no enchantment. This thing is a sign that you are full of sin. And now I beseech you to forsake your false gods and to be christened. Verily if you will not do this thing, I will overrun your palace and your whole city with armed men." "Now listen," cried the Admiral, "to this over-bold French-man! He hath lain in my prison for the half of a year, and now, forsooth, he will overrun my city with armed men. I marvel much where he will find them!" "Nevertheless," said Huon, "you had better do this thing." "I would not do it," answered the Admiral, "if Charlemagne and all his host were here."

Then Huon blew the horn. And Oberon heard it where he sat in his palace, and said, "Hark! there is the horn once more, and methinks it sounds true." And he wished, "I would be in Babylon with one hundred thousand armed men." And straightway it [372] happened as he wished. So Oberon and Huon overran the city of Babylon. All that would not be baptized they slew, and among them the Admiral, who was stout in refusing to leave his false gods, and all that consented to be baptized he saved alive. And Huon took to himself the Admiral's sceptre, and then Oberon wished again, and straightway he and Huon and all his company and the fair Esclairmonde were on the shore of the sea. And he caused that a goodly ship should be ready to take them to their own land. So Huon embarked with the fair Esclairmonde and all his people; also they took with them the chief treasures of the city of Babylon.

Then Oberon bade farewell to Huon, saying, "See now that you tell the truth and keep you from sin; so shall you prosper all your days, and come to bliss when your days are ended. And now render me again the cup and the horn, for you need them no more."

Then Huon and his company and the fair Esclairmonde departed in the ship, and in time came to the land of France. There did Huon render to Charlemagne the Admiral's sceptre; and the King received him into his royal favour, and gave him back his lands. Then was Huon wedded to the fair Esclairmonde, [373] and these two lived together in great happiness to their lives' end.

Not long after that Huon had been restored to his Duchy of Bordeaux, the Emperor Charlemagne died, having been seized by a fever, which, as being now old and worn out by many labours both in war and peace, he was unable to resist. There had been, it is said, many signs of his death—eclipses of the sun and moon, and other marvellous things. Also, when he was making his last expedition against the Danes, he saw a great light, as it were a blazing torch, pass through a clear sky and fall to the ground; and the horse on which he was riding fell to the ground with great violence. Also the palace in which he dwelt at Aachen was shaken by earthquakes, and in the Church which he himself had founded there happened this portent, that the word PRINCEPS, in the inscription which recorded this his munificence, so faded away that it could no longer be read. So Charlemagne died on the 28th of January in the year of Our Salvation, 814. He was buried in a sepulchral chamber in this same Church of Aachen. Many years after, the chamber having been opened, the body of the Emperor [374] was found seated on a throne as if he yet lived, clothed with imperial robes, bearing on his head the crown, and grasping the sceptre in his hand, while by his side lay his sword Joyous, and on his knees was a book of the Gospels. In life he was of a tall and strong person, being seven feet in height. His eyes were large and piercing, his hair and beard long. He was of pleasant speech, and could speak other tongues besides his own. Writing he strove to acquire in his mature years, but could not learn the art. He was in truth a very noble and mighty prince.


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