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The Story of Old France by  H. A. Guerber
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THE FIRST KINGS

THE Franks, who had not been able to prevent the arrival of the Burgundians or Visigoths in Gaul, now thought it high time to secure a larger slice of the country [45] for themselves, and therefore began to rob the Gauls and Romans. The result was nearly twenty years of warfare, during which the chiefs of the Salian Franks (Western Franks) greatly extended their territory. But all fighting among the different nations in Gaul came to a stop when they heard that an immense army of the terrible Huns was coming.

These barbarians were even worse than the Vandals; so thorough was their destruction, that land which they had conquered often lay waste for years. The Huns were of the yellow or Mongolian race, and were as ugly as they were fierce and cruel. They had small eyes, flat noses, big ears, and bushy hair. They traveled on horseback, and lived on mares' milk and on horse meat, which they carried between steed and saddle, to make it tender before devouring it raw. Their fierce king, Attila, was known as the "Scourge of God," and boasted that "Grass ceases to grow where the horse of Attila has trod."

The Gauls fled before him. Twenty of their towns lay in ruins, and the Parisians were about to desert their city also, when a young shepherd girl, Genevieve, spoke to them, saying: "Forsake not your homes, for God has heard my prayers. Attila shall retreat." The Parisians, knowing how holy Genevieve was, believing her words, and remained quietly in their homes. To their great relief, Atilla, instead of attacking Paris, suddenly changed his plans and went on to Or'leans. This city was saved from ruin by the bravery of its bishop, who kept up the people's courage and made them resist Attila, until the combined armies of the Romans, Gauls, Franks, Visgoths, and Burgundians could meet the mighty Huns.

[47] Atilla, hearing they were coming, forsook the siege of Orleans, and went tot he plain of Châlons (shä-loN'), where was fought one of the great battles of the world (451). One hundred and sixty thousand men were slain there, and such was their hatred that it was said their spirits continued to fight in the air for the next three days! When the battle was over, the Huns were so sorely beaten that Attila was glad to retreat.

The chief of the Salian Franks at Châlons was Meroveus, and the victory added greatly to his renown. He is considered the founder of the Merovingian line, or dynasty, of Frankish kings in Gaul.

His son, Childeric, was so disliked that he had to leave the country and spend eight hears in exile beyond the Rhine. But he finally came back with a German wife, who on her wedding night, it is said, foretold in an allegory that the first Merovingians would be brave, but that their successors would be cruel, revengeful, mean, sly, and cowardly, each member of the royal family sinking lower, until the last would be driven away by the smallest among his subjects. You will see that this "prophecy"—which of course was made long after, and not before, the events—came true as you go on reading this story.

After ruling the Franks for some time, Childeric died and was buried in state in northern Gaul. Nearly twelve hundred years after, his tomb was opened, and besides ashes and bits of bone, there was found within it a ring bearing the portrait of a long haired man, a stylus, a crystal globe, an ax0head, and some remains of a red silk cloak, to which still clung many little ornaments [48] in the shape of gold bees. These treasures are now carefully preserved in a French museum, and when France became an Empire, Napoleon adopted the golden bees of the Merovingian king as one of the emblems of the new dynasty which he founded.

When Childeric died, the Salian Franks raised Clovis, his fifteen-year-old son, on a shield, thus making him their leader. They owned as yet only a very small part of northern Gaul. Their rivals were Romans and Gauls in the north of the country. Bretons (Celts) in the west, Visigoths in the south, and Burgundians in the east. Still Clovis was very ambitious, and though young, was eager to win land and wealth.

He began by attacking and defeating the Romans at Soissons, 486. Then his men scattered and roamed about in search of spoil. As they were not Christians, they plundered churches, and among other things they took a golden vase from a church at Rheims (rēmz or ra&774;Nss). But St. Rémi (rāmee'), the bishop of Rheims, happened to be a friend of Clovis, and asked that the vase might be returned. When the booty was collected at Soissons, ready to be divided among the warriors, Clovis therefore asked that the vase might be given to him over and above his share. All the soldiers were willing save one, who angrily broke the vase with his battle-ax, saying, "No; you shall have no more than is yours by lot!"

A Frankish chief had no right to more than his share of the booty, so Clovis dared not punish the man then and there, but he was not of a forgiving nature. Noticing, one day, that there was something wrong with this man's arms, Clovis snatched them from him and flung them down [49] on the ground. Then, when the man stooped to pick them up, Clovis suddenly cleft his skull with his battle-ax, crying, "Remember the vase of Soissons!"


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