ROLAND WINDS HIS HORN
 BEFORE his death Pepin had divided his kingdom between
his two sons, but in three years Carloman died.
Charles, soon to be called Charlemagne or Charles the
Great, ruled alone as King of the Franks.
As his father had done, so Charlemagne also marched
into Italy with his brave warriors and punished the
Lombards, who had again dared to besiege the city of
At home, too, the king had little peace, for again and
again the Saxons invaded his land. The great king
conquered them, and for a time they would live quietly
and be obedient to their conqueror. But as soon as he
went away to fight in distant lands they rebelled, and
for thirty years Charlemagne waged war against them.
When Charlemagne had conquered one of these tribes, he
would offer to pardon them if they would give up their
false gods and be baptized. If they refused to be
baptized, their heads were cut off.
As you can imagine, many Saxon tribes were willing to
be baptized rather than to suffer death. After their
baptism, Charlemagne would send missionaries to the
people, and thus little by little the teaching of the
White Christ became better known.
Around the name of this great King Charles, as around
the name of our own King Arthur, have gathered many
legends or marvellous tales. These tales may not all be
true, for legends are woven out of fancy as well as
fact. But sometimes legends help us to understand a man
or  woman, a country or an age, better than we
should if fancy had been idle and left facts untouched.
And so, although part of the story of the battle of
Roncesvalles, in which Roland, Charlemagne^s nephew,
fought so bravely, is not told to us in history but
only in legend, yet it is none the less worthy to be
The great battle of which I wish to tell you took place
in the valley of Roncesvalles.
Spain, as you have already heard, had been conquered by
the Saracens, those fierce followers of the Prophet
Mahomet. But they began to quarrel and fight among
themselves, and at last their King, Marsil, begged
Charlemagne to come and help him against his own
rebellious people, who were trying to wrest from him
the beautiful city of Saragossa.
Charlemagne did not need to be asked twice. To him it
was enough that those he was asked to fight were
infidels, followers of Mahomet and not of Christ. He
would destroy these fierce Saracens, or baptize them as
he had baptized the pagan Saxons at home.
So, to the joy of the King of Saragossa, Charlemagne
set out for Spain at the head of his brave Frankish
To reach Saragossa the king had to lead his army
through the valley of Roncesvalles. The valley was
really a narrow pass through which the army could march
only in a long thin line. Should an enemy steal down
the mountains and fall upon the soldiers as they
struggled along the narrow pass, nothing could save
them. But no foe was in ambush, and the great army
passed in safety out of the valley of Roncesvalles.
But when Charlemagne had laid siege to Saragossa his
difficulties began, for at once the Saracens stopped
fighting among themselves, to fight together against
the foe who had besieged their city. Marsil, too,
proved false, for he slew the ambassadors of the French
king, although he had sent them the olive branch of
peace. He had indeed no need of Charlemagne now that
the Saracens had ceased
 to fight against him, and
would gladly have seen Charlemagne and his army return
to their own land.
Meanwhile in the French camp provisions ran short and
sickness broke out among the soldiers. Tidings also
came from France telling of new invasions by the
Saxons. So when Marsil sent to beseech Charlemagne to
raise the siege and make peace with him, the king was
more pleased than the Saracens knew.
Now in history we hear little of Charlemagne's return
to France. But in a poem called "The Song of Roland,"which was loved by the Franks and often sung by them as
they marched to battle, the sad tale has been told. And
if the story of the treachery of King Marsil and all
that befell Roland and his friend Oliver in the valley
of Roncesvalles is partly legend, it is, as I have told
you, not the less worthy to be heard.
King Marsil had promised that if Charlemagne would go
back to his fair realm of France, he would become his
vassal and be baptized in the name of the Holy Christ.
Charlemagne did not know if he could trust the heathen
lord, so he called together a council of war, and told
his barons and knights King Marsil's words. "Yet
whether he spoke the truth or falsehood I know not," said Charlemagne.
Then up sprang Roland, Charlemagne's own nephew, and
the bravest knight of France, crying, "Trust not this
traitor Marsil. He sent thee the olive branch of peace,
yet he slew thine ambassador. Let us fight, nor heed
the false words of the traitor king."
As Roland ceased speaking, Ganelon, his stepfather,
rose, and an angry scowl was upon his face, for he
hated Roland, although others loved him well.
"Heed not the brave words of my stepson Roland," he
said. "Accept King Marsil's promises, lest we tarry
here and are slain."
Still Charlemagne sat silent, waiting, lest other
knights had aught to say.
 Then the wisest man in the king's council arose.
"The words of Ganelon are full of wisdom," he said.
"Let us make peace with King Marsil and return to our
"As thou sayest so shall it be," answered Charlemagne,
and he commanded Ganelon to go tell Marsil that
Charlemagne would accept his homage and look for him to
come to the fair realm of France to be baptized in the
name of Christ.
Ganelon was ill-pleased to be sent to the King of
Saragossa, lest he should prove false and slay him even
as he had already slain other ambassadors. And because
he was angry, he vowed to bring shame upon Charlemagne
and Roland, whom he hated.
Thus before Ganelon had spoken long with King Marsil he
had won for himself rich gifts, but he had betrayed
Charlemagne and offered up Roland to death, as you
When the ambassador returned to the French camp, he
told Charlemagne that he might well trust King Marsil
to do all that he had promised.
Charlemagne was filled with foreboding, he knew not
why. Yet he ordered the trumpets to sound and the great
army to prepare to start on its homeward journey.
But all unknown to the Franks, silent and still, there
stole after them, through the forests and along the
mountain tops, the hosts of King Marsil. For thus had
it been planned by the traitor Ganelon.
As they drew near to the valley of Roncesvalles,
Charlemagne ordered his army to halt. His distrust of
King Marsil was not allayed. "Were the enemy to prove
false," he said to his lords, "it would go ill with us
as we march through this pass. Who will guard the
entrance to the valley while we march onward? "
"Entrust the rearguard to Roland," said Ganelon
quickly, "for who is so brave a knight as he." But in
 heart Ganelon laughed, for well he knew that the
hosts of Marsil would fall upon Roland and his knights,
and slay them before Charlemagne was aware.
The king looked with displeasure at Ganelon. Yet it was
foolish to dream that one of his own knights would
betray the army. So, as Roland also pleaded that the
post of danger might be given to him, Charlemagne
yielded at last, saying, "Half of the army shall I
leave with thee to guard the pass."
"Nay," said Roland, "twenty thousand men only will I
have." And Ganelon, as he heard his stepson's words,
was well pleased.
Then the great army passed on, leaving Roland to guard
the entrance to the valley of Roncesvalles. With him
were his friend Oliver, the bold Archbishop Turpin, the
twelve chosen peers of France, and twenty thousand of
Charlemagne's bravest knights.
Among the army there were many who would fain have
stayed with Roland. But sadder than any of his soldiers
was the great king himself. Fear was in his heart,
tears in his eyes, for ever his heart whispered to him
that Roland was betrayed. Yet, saying farewell to his
dauntless rearguard, Charlemagne marched on at the head
of his army.
Roland and his knights were now left alone, and the
great host of the Saracens was drawing near. Soon
Roland could hear the tramp of armed men.
Then Oliver, his friend, climbed out of the valley on
to the top of a hill, and lo! he saw a great host
approaching, and he knew that Roland was betrayed, and
by the false traitor Ganelon.
Down again to the valley ran Oliver and told Roland
what he had seen.
"Wind a loud blast upon thy horn," cried Oliver. "Our
king will hear and hasten back to our aid." For ever
round his neck the knight wore an ivory horn. It had a
note of magic, and if Roland blew it in time of need
 sound was carried on and ever on. Neither lofty
mountains nor dense forests could dull the sweet clear
tone of Roland's magic horn.
"Blow thy horn," cried Oliver, but alas, this Roland
would not do.
And now with mocking words the heathen host rushed upon
the hero and his twenty thousand knights.
"Ye are sold, sold and betrayed by your king," they
Roland heard the base lie, and furiously he rode
against the foe, striking fierce blows with his good
Listen to the "Song of Roland" as it tells how Roland
looked that day:
"Oh in his harness he looks grand;
On, on he goes with lance on high,
Its tip is pointed to the sky;
It bears a snow-white pennon, and
Its golden fringes sweep his hand."
Oliver and the brave Archbishop Turpin fought as they
had never fought before, as did also the knights, until
King Marsil's host lay slain upon the ground.
Four hundred thousand strong had been the heathen
hosts, and but one was left to tell King Marsil the
dread tidings that his army had perished.
When Marsil heard that Roland was still alive and that
all his hosts were slain, his rage was terrible.
Without a moment's delay he assembled another great
army, and himself marched at its head toward the valley
As he drew near to the battlefield, he divided his
army. Sending one division to fight the Franks, he kept
the other back on the hillside to watch how the battle
Then, when Roland saw another force approaching, he
rallied his knights to a fresh attack, and so valiantly
 they fight, that erelong the heathen host fled,
calling upon Marsil for help.
There were now but three hundred of Charlemagne's
peerless warriors on the battlefield. The others were
dead or wounded. But the handful of gallant knights
never flinched as King Marsil himself advanced upon
them with his men. And ever in the forefront of the
battle rode Roland, and by his side was Oliver.
At length, when but sixty Franks were left, Archbishop
Turpin besought Roland to sound his horn, that
Charlemagne might hear and come back to avenge the
death of so many of his peerless knights.
Then Roland, thinking it now no shame to wind his horn,
did as the good archbishop wished. And far away a note,
clear but faint, fell upon the ear of Charlemagne.
"It is the ivory horn I hear," he cried. "Roland hath
need of us."
But Ganelon was by the king's side, and he laughed,
saying, "It is but the wind that my lord hears, as it
whistles among the trees."
So Charlemagne, for all that he was ill at ease, rode
Once again Roland placed the horn to his lips, but he
was faint from many wounds, and the note he blew was
sad and low. Yet on and on it journeyed, until far away
the great king heard the mournful sound.
"ONCE MORE ROLAND BLEW HIS IVORY HORN."
"Roland hath need of us," he cried, as the sound crept
into his heart. "There hath surely been a battle." Yet,
for Ganelon still mocked at the king's fears,
Charlemagne moved on toward France, but now he rode
Once more Roland blew his ivory horn, but he was weak
from loss of blood, and it was a sad sweet note that
reached the king.
Charlemagne's knights heard the note also, and cried,
"It is Roland who calls us, for his need is great. He
has been betrayed/ and they looked darkly at the
 Then Charlemagne hesitated no longer. He ordered
his army to turn and march back to the valley of
Roncesvalles. And because the soldiers loved Roland
well, each one put spurs to his horse and rode in haste
to his comrade's aid.
As for Ganelon, the king gave him into the charge of
the kitchen knaves, who beat him and called him traitor
and false knight.
For it was indeed Ganelon who had said to Marsil, "If
you kill Roland, there will be no one left to be your
enemy. For Charlemagne grows old, and there is no
knight so bold as Roland." He had promised that Roland
and no other should be left at Roncesvalles, and that
but a few knights should stay with him. And for this
treachery he had received rich gifts from King Marsil.
Well might the kitchen knaves call Ganelon traitor and
On the battlefield at Roncesvalles there were now left
alive only Roland, the brave priest Turpin, and a noble
count. Oliver had perished with the other knights.
The heathen host was still more than a thousand strong,
yet so bravely did the three warriors stand that they
dared not attack them. Only from afar they hurled their
javelins at the dauntless three, until, pierced by a
dart, the count fell dead.
Roland too was sore wounded, but yet again he blew his
ivory horn. Faint and dull the notes were wafted on the
breeze, faint and dull they fell upon the ear of
"Let my trumpets sound," cried the king, "that Roland
may know we come. Sore wounded must he be, or not thus
would he wind his horn."
Then loud sounded the trumpets of the Franks, and the
heathen host heard the blast, and knowing that the
great king was coming to avenge the death of his
knights, they fled, hurling their spears at the two
heroes who alone were left on the battlefield.
 One of the spears struck the good archbishop, and
he fell to the ground. Roland only was left alive.
But he too was nigh to death. With one last effort he
placed his good sword Durindal and his ivory horn
beneath his body, that there Charlemagne might find
them when he came.
"Then not unmindful of His care,
Once more he sues to God for grace.
'O Thou true Father of us all . . .
From all the perils I deserve
For sinful life, my soul preserve.'
"Then to his God out stretcheth he
The glove from his right hand—and see!
St. Gabriel taketh it instantly.
God sends a cherub—angel bright,
And Michael, Saint of Peril hight—
And Gabriel comes; up, up they rise,
And bear the Count to Paradise."
God had Roland's soul safe in Paradise, but his body
lay quiet and still on the battlefield, and there
Charlemagne found it, with the sword and magic horn
Sorely did the great king grieve for Roland and his
peerless knights, yet did he not tarry on the
battlefield to weep. But at the head of his army he
followed the heathen host, nor did he order the
trumpets to sound the retreat until every one of the
vast army was slain.
Ganelon, the traitor, suffered a terrible death, for by
the order of Charlemagne and the judgment of the
knights of France, he was torn to pieces by wild
During his long reign Charlemagne had often helped the
Pope against his enemies.
When Leo III. became Pope, he was glad to have the great
king as his friend, and in 799 A.D., when the Romans
rebelled against him, Leo fled to Charlemagne for help.
The king agreed to punish the Pope's enemies, and send
him back in safety to Rome. Perhaps it was in gratitude
 that Leo III. then agreed to crown Charlemagne
Emperor of the West.
You remember that Romulus, the last emperor, had been
deposed in 476 A.D., and since then there had been no
Emperor of the West.
But now, on Christmas Day, in the year 800 A.D., Charlemagne,
who had journeyed to Rome, went into the
great church of St. Peter's. As he kneeled before the
altar the Pope placed a crown upon his head, while all
the people who had crowded into the church shouted,
"Long life and victory to Charles, Emperor of the
It was an empty title, for the Romans had now no power
and no position in the world.
But the Pope having bestowed the title upon
Charlemagne, he henceforth ruled over his great kingdom
All Gaul from the Rhine to the Pyrenees was his; also,
for the most part, Italy and all central and western
Germany belonged to him, while many races, scattered
over the world, owned their allegiance to the Emperor
For fourteen years there was now peace in France, and
during these years the emperor worked as hard as he had
done in time of war.
You will be surprised to hear that though he was an old
man now, he was so anxious to learn that he studied
harder than any schoolboy. Astronomy, arithmetic,
grammar, and music, these were some of the studies that
were dear to the emperor. But he had never learned to
write, and that was Charlemagne's great ambition. So he
was often to be seen walking about with tablets in his
hand, and at every odd moment he would practise making
letters. But he never knew them well enough to do more
than sign his name.
The emperor was anxious that the boys and girls in his
land should learn the things which he had never been
taught when he was young, so he built schools and sent
 scholars to teach in them. But there were lazy
pupils then just as there are lazy pupils now, and when
the emperor visited the schools, he would tell the lazy
boys and girls how sorry they would be if they grew up,
as he had done, without even knowing how to write. And
then the boys and girls would do their lessons better,
until they forgot the emperor's words, and began to
grow lazy once more.
The great emperor was old now, and his long reign was
nearly over. He was more than seventy years of age when
he grew ill and died.
His people buried him near to his favourite hunting
ground. Upon his knees they placed an open Bible, on
which rested the little purse filled with alms which he
had carried with him to Rome. Upon his head they left
his crown, his good sword lying by his side, while at
his feet rested his shield and the sceptre he had
wielded so wisely and so well.
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