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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor

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THE VIKINGS BESIEGE PARIS

[59] THE names given by the French to their kings in these olden days were sometimes strangely undignified, as you will agree when I tell you that the next king to reign was Charles the Fat.

Charles was indeed of an enormous size, and unfortunately he was as lazy as he was fat.

The story of the reign of Charles the Fat is really the story of how the Northmen besieged Paris, while the king, who was also Emperor of Germany, spent his time among his German barons.

Rollo was the name of the chief who now led the Vikings to Paris. He was a greater chief even than Hasting, of whom you read in the last chapter.

Seven hundred huge ships, with bright red sails, were one day seen to be making their way up the river Seine. These ships were the Viking fleet under Rollo.

The people of Paris resolved to defend their city against the fierce Northmen as long as they could.

Soon they heard that the town of Rouen, which is only a short distance from Paris, had been taken, and that Rollo with thirty thousand men was marching on Paris.

Hasting, now a respectable count, was sent to ask Rollo what he wished.

"Valiant warrior," said Hasting to Rollo, "whence come ye? What seek ye here? What is the name of your lord and master? Tell us this, for we be sent unto you by the King of the Franks."

[60] "We be Danes," answered Rollo, "and all be equally masters among us. We be come to drive out the inhabitants of this land, and subject it to our country. But who art thou who speakest so glibly?"

Then, perhaps with some shame in his face, Hasting told how he had once been, as Rollo now was, a Viking chief. But Rollo interrupted him, saying with scorn, "We have heard tell of that fellow. Hasting began well and ended ill."

But the former chief had no wish to be taunted by Rollo. It may be the sight of the wild sea-robbers had brought to life a hidden wish to be again a lawless roving chief. In any case he stopped Rollo's taunts, demanding roughly, "Will ye yield you to the Emperor Charles?"

"We yield," answered Rollo, "to none. All that we take by our arms we will keep as our right. Go and tell this, if thou wilt, to the emperor whose envoy thou boastest to be."

So Hasting, none too pleased, withdrew from his meeting with Rollo, the chief of the Viking band.

It was the dreary month of November, 885 A.D., when Rollo led his army beneath the walls of Paris. But when he saw the great ramparts and defences of the city, he hesitated to begin the attack.

Instead, he begged to speak with the bishop of the city, and being admitted to his presence he said, "Take pity on thyself and on thy flock. Let us pass through this city, and we will in no wise touch the town."

But the bishop was too wise to trust the Viking's words. Charles the Fat was in Germany, and had left the city in his charge, and in that of a brave man called Count Eudes.

So the bishop answered Rollo, "This city hath been entrusted to us by our king. If the city had been entrusted to thee, wouldst thou do as thou biddest me?"

"Nay," said Rollo, "sooner would I be slain than betray [61] my trust. Yet if thou yield not we will besiege thee, and famine shall force thee to give us the city."

But the bishop and Count Eudes agreed with the Viking in one thing. Sooner would they too be slain than betray their trust, so there was nothing for Rollo to do but fulfil his threat and besiege the city.

Thirteen months passed slowly away, for Rollo had surrounded Paris, and as each day dragged its slow length, the citizens were ever in sorer straits. Food grew scarce and famine stared the citizens in the face.

Messengers had been sent to Charles the Fat, telling him of the needs of his faithful subjects in Paris, but he was lazy and paid no heed to their distress.

Then Count Eudes determined that he would go to the king to ask him why he delayed to send help to his loyal citizens.

It was no easy matter to get through the enemy's lines, but messengers had already done so, and Count Eudes was brave and, when it was necessary, careful, and he got away unseen by the Northmen.

But by and by it became known that Count Eudes had escaped from the besieged city, and every opening was now strictly guarded by the enemy, that he might not be able to get back into Paris.

The citizens knew that the Vikings were on the watch for their brave leader, and they crowded on to the ramparts and towers watching anxiously for him to appear.

At length the count was seen in the distance. What would he do? Would he forsake the city seeing it so closely guarded?

The people trembled at the thought, for Count Eudes was brave and had won their trust.

But if the count was careful he was also, if need be, rash. "As he drew near to the city, he saw that he could enter it only in one way.

Putting spurs to his powerful war-horse, he rode straight [62] forward through the lines of the bewildered Northmen, striking boldly with his battle-axe all who dared to come in his way. But, indeed, there were few who opposed the count. His boldness had so startled the Vikings, that Count Eudes was safe within the walls of the city before they had recovered from their surprise. As for the citizens, they welcomed the count's return with laughter and tears, as a starving people might well do.

Count Eudes had, however, succeeded in rousing the indolent king; for in November 886 A.D., after Paris had been besieged for a year, Charles the Fat did actually appear before the city with a large army.

But, after all, he proved a coward and a sluggard. In spite of the large army, he had not come to fight. About a month later, to the unspeakable anger of Count Eudes and the citizens, they found that Charles had bribed the Vikings with large sums of money to raise the siege of Paris.

So angry were the people, not only in Paris, but throughout France, that early in the following year they met together and deposed Charles the Fat, because he was not fit to be a king. Soon after Charles the Fat died in a monastery.


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