Meanwhile King Marsil was gathering all his host. From far
and near came the heathen knights, all impatient to fight,
each one eager to have the honour of slaying Roland with his
own hand, each swearing that none of the twelve Peers should
ever again see France.
Among them was a great champion called Chernuble. He was
huge and ugly, and his strength was such that he could lift
with ease a burden which four mules could scarcely carry.
His face was inky black, his lips thick and hideous, and his
coarse long hair reached the ground. It was said that in the
land from whence he came, the sun never shone, the rain
never fell, and the very stones were black as coal. He too,
 swearing that the Franks should die and that France should
perish, joined the heathen host.
Very splendid were the Saracens as they moved along in the
gleaming sunshine. Gold and silver shone upon their armour,
pennons of white and purple floated over them, and from a
thousand trumpets sounded their battle song.
To the ears of the Frankish knights the sound was borne as
they rode through the valley of Roncesvalles.
"Sir Comrade," said Oliver, "it seemeth me there is battle
at hand with the Saracen foe."
"Please Heaven it may be so," said Roland. "Our duty is to
hold this post for our Emperor. Let us strike mighty blows
that nothing be said or sung of us in scorn. Let us fight
these heathen for our country and our faith."
As Oliver heard the sounds of battle come nearer, he climbed
to the top of a hill, so that he could see far over the
country. There before him he saw the Saracens marching in
pride. Their helmets, inlaid
 with gold, gleamed in the sun.
Gaily painted shields, hauberks of shining steel, spears and
pennons waved and shone, rank upon rank in countless
Quickly Oliver came down from the hill, and went back to the
Frankish army. "I have seen the heathen," he said to Roland.
"Never on earth hath such a host been gathered. They march
upon us many hundred thousand strong, with shield and spear
and sword. Such battle as awaiteth us have we never fought
"Let him be accursed who fleeth!" cried the Franks. "There
be few among us who fear death."
"It is Ganelon the felon, who hath betrayed us," said
Oliver, "let him be accursed."
"Hush thee, Oliver," said Roland; "he is my step-sire. Let
us hear no evil of him."
"The heathen are in fearful force," said Oliver, "and our
Franks are but few. Friend Roland, sound upon thy horn. Then
will Charlemagne hear and return with all his host to help
 For round Roland's neck there hung a magic horn of carved
ivory. If he blew upon this in case of need, the sound of it
would be carried over hill and dale far, far onward. If he
sounded it now, Charlemagne would very surely hear, and
return from his homeward march.
But Roland would not listen to Oliver. "Nay," he said, "I
should indeed be mad to sound upon my horn. If I call for
help, I, Roland, I should lose my fame in all fair France.
Nay, I will not sound, but I shall strike such blows with my
good sword Durindal that the blade shall be red to the gold
of the hilt. Our Franks, too, shall strike such blows that
the heathen shall rue the day. I tell thee, they be all dead
"Oh Roland, friend, wind thy horn," pleaded Oliver. "To the
ear of Charlemagne shall the sound be borne, and he and all
his knights will return to help us."
"Now Heaven forbid that my kin should ever be pointed
scorn because of me," said Roland, "or that fair France
 to such dishonour. No! I will not sound upon my
horn, but I shall strike such blows with my sword Durindal
that the blade shall be dyed red in the blood of the
In vain Oliver implored. "I see no dishonour shouldst thou
wind thy horn," he said, "for I have beheld the Saracen
host. The valleys and the hills and all the plains are
covered with them. They are many and great, and we are but a
"So much the better," cried Roland, "my desire to fight them
grows the greater. All the angels of Heaven forbid that
France, through me, should lose one jot of fame. Death is
better than dishonour. Let us strike such blows as our
Emperor loveth to see."
Roland was rash as Oliver was wise, but both were knights of
wondrous courage, and now Oliver pleaded no more. "Look," he
cried, "look where the heathen come! Thou hast scorned,
Roland, to sound thy horn, and our noble men will this day
do their last deeds of bravery."
 "Hush!" cried Roland, "shame to him who weareth a coward's
And now Archbishop Turpin spurred his horse to a little hill
in front of the army. "My lords and barons," he cried,
turning to them, "Charlemagne hath left us here to guard the
homeward march of his army. He is our King, and we are bound
to die for him, if so need be. But now, before ye fight,
confess your sins, and pray God to forgive them. If ye die,
ye die as martyrs. In God's great paradise your places await
Then the Franks leapt from their horses and kneeled upon the
ground while the Archbishop blessed them, and absolved them
from all their sins. "For penance I command that ye strike
the heathen full sore," he said.
Then springing from their knees the Franks leapt again into
their saddles, ready now to fight and die.
"Friend," said Roland, turning to Oliver, "thou wert right.
It is Ganelon who is the traitor. But the Emperor will
 upon him. As for Marsil, he deemeth that he hath bought us,
and that Ganelon hath sold us unto him. But he will find
that it is with our swords that we will pay him."
And now the battle began. "Montjoie!" shouted the Franks. It
was the Emperor's own battle cry. It means "My joy," and
came from the name of his famous sword Joyeuse or joyous.
This sword was the most wonderful ever seen. Thirty times a
day the shimmering light with which it glowed changed. In
the gold of the hilt was encased the head of the spear with
which the side of Christ had been pierced. And because of
this great honour the Emperor called his sword Joyeuse, and
from that the Franks took their battle cry "Montjoie." Now
shouting it, and plunging spurs into their horses' sides,
they dashed upon the foe. Never before had been seen such
pride of chivalry, such splendour of knightly grace.
With boasting words, King Marsil's nephew came riding in
front of the battle.
 "Ho, felon Franks!" he cried, "ye are met at last. Betrayed
and sold are ye by your king. This day hath France lost her
fair fame, and from Charlemagne is his right hand torn."
Roland heard him. With spur in side and slackened rein, he
dashed upon the heathen, mad with rage. Through shield and
hauberk pierced his spear, and the Saracen fell dead ere his
scoffing words were done. "Thou dastard!" cried Roland, "no
traitor is Charlemagne, but a right noble king and
King Marsil's brother, sick at heart to see his nephew fall,
rode out with mocking words upon his lips. "This day is the
honour of France lost," he sneered.
But Oliver struck his golden spurs into his steed's side!
"Caitiff, thy taunts are little worth," he cried, and,
pierced through shield and buckler, the heathen fell.
Bishop Turpin, too, wielded well both sword and lance. "Thou
lying coward, be silent evermore!" he cried, as a scoffing
 heathen king fell beneath his blows. "Charlemagne our lord
is true and good, and no Frank shall flee this day."
"Montjoie! Montjoie!" sounded high above the clang of
battle, as heathen after heathen was laid low. Limbs were
lopped, armour flew in splinters. Many a heathen knight was
cloven through from brow to saddle bow. The plain was strewn
with the dying and the dead.
In Roland's hand his lance was shivered to the haft.
Throwing the splintered wood away, he drew his famous
Durindal. The naked blade shone in the sun and fell upon the
helmet of Chernuble, Marsil's mighty champion. The sparkling
gems with which it shone were scattered on the grass.
Through cheek and chine, through flesh and bone, drove the
shining steel, and Chernuble fell upon the ground, a black
and hideous heap. "Lie there, caitiff!" cried Roland, "thy
Mahomet cannot save thee. Not unto such as thou is the
Chernuble, Marsil's mighty champion
On through the press rode Roland.
Dur-  indal flashed and fell
and flashed again, and many a heathen bit the dust. Oliver,
too, did marvellous deeds. His spear, as Roland's, was
shivered into atoms. But scarcely knowing what he did, he
fought still with the broken shaft, and with it brought many
a heathen to his death.
"Comrade, what dost thou?" said Roland. "Is it now the time
to fight with staves? Where is thy sword called Hauteclere
with its crystal pommel and golden guard?"
"I lacked time in which to draw it," replied Oliver, "there
was such need to strike blows fast and hard."
But now he drew his shining Hauteclere from its scabbard,
and with it he dealt such blows that Roland cried, "My
brother art thou, Oliver, from henceforth. Ah! such blows
our Emperor would dearly love to see."
Furious and more furious waxed the fight. On all sides might
be heard the cry of "Montjoie! Montjoie!" and many a blow
did Frank and heathen give and take. But although
 thousands of Saracens lay dead, the Franks too had lost many
of their bravest knights. Shield and spear, banner and
pennon, broken, bloodstained and trampled, strewed the
Fiercer, wilder still, the battle grew. Roland, Oliver,
Archbishop Turpin and all the twelve Peers of France fought
in the thickest of the press. Many of the heathen fled, but
even in flight they were cut down.
Meanwhile over France burst a fearful storm. Thunder rolled,
lightning flashed, the very earth shook and trembled. There
was not a town in all the land but the walls of it were
cracked and riven. The sky grew black at mid-day, rain and
hail in torrents swept the land. "It is the end of the
world," the people whispered in trembling fear.
Alas, they knew not! It was the earth's great mourning for
the death of Roland, which was nigh.
The battle waxed horrible. The Saracens fled, and the Franks
pursued till of that great
 heathen host but one was left. Of
the Saracen army which had set out in such splendour, four
hundred thousand strong, one heathen king alone remained.
And he, King Margaris, sorely wounded, his spear broken, his
shield pierced and battered, fled with the direful news to
The Franks had won the day, and now mournfully over the
plain they moved, seeking their dead and dying comrades.
Weary men and worn were they, sad at the death of many
brother knights, yet glad at the might and victory of