Legends of the Middle Ages
Part 3 out of 8
Loudly reproaching his father, Wieland, for having provided him with such
an unreliable weapon, Wittich was about to announce himself conquered, when
Hildebrand, realizing that he had not acted honorably, gave him back his
own blade. Dietrich, to his surprise and dismay, found himself conquered in
this second encounter, and was forced to acknowledge that he owed his life
only to Wittich's magnanimity. But the northern hero soon confessed in his
turn that had it not been for his magic sword he would have been obliged to
yield to Dietrich, and voluntarily offered his services to him, thus
becoming one of his train.
"Sae gladly rode they back to Bern;
But Tidrick maist was glad;
And Vidrich o' his menyie a'
The foremost place aye had."
_The Ettin Langskanks_ (Jamieson's tr.).
Dietrich's next adventure, which is recorded in the "Eckenlied," was with
the giant Ecke, who held Bolfriana, the widowed Lady of Drachenfels, and
her nine daughters, in his power. The hero of Bern encountered the giant by
night, and, in spite of his aversion to fighting at such a time, was
compelled to defend himself against the giant's blows. He was about to
succumb when his steed Falke, scenting his danger, broke loose from the
tree to which it had been tied, and stamped Ecke to death.
Dietrich now rode on to Drachenfels, where he encountered Fasolt, Ecke's
brother, and, after defeating him also, and delivering the captive ladies,
went back to Bern, where Fasolt joined his chosen warriors. Dietrich,
moreover, delivered the knight Sintram from the jaws of a dragon, and made
him one of his followers. Then, having appropriated Ecke's sword, the great
Eckesax, Dietrich was about to give Nagelring to Heime; but hearing that
the latter had stood idly by while Wittich fought single-handed against
twelve robbers, he banished him from his presence, bidding him never return
until he had atoned for his dishonorable conduct by some generous deed.
Heime, incensed at this dismissal, sulkily withdrew to the Falster wood on
the banks of the Wisara (Weser), where he became chief of a body of
brigands, ruthlessly spoiled travelers, and daily increased the hoard he
was piling up in one of his strongholds.
But, although Dietrich thus lost one of his bravest warriors, his band was
soon reenforced by Hildebrand's brother Ilsan, who, although a monk, was
totally unfitted for a religious life, and greatly preferred fighting to
praying. There also came to Bern Wildeber (Wild Boar), a man noted for his
great strength. He owed this strength to a golden bracelet given him by a
mermaid in order to recover her swan plumage, which he had secured.
[Sidenote: Dietlieb the Dane.] As Dietrich was once on his way to Romaburg
(Rome), whither his uncle Ermenrich had invited him, he accepted the
proffered service and escort of Dietlieb the Dane. This warrior, seeing
that the emperor had forgotten to provide for the entertainment of
Dietrich's suite, pledged not only his own steed and weapons, but also his
master's and Hildebrand's, leading a jolly life upon the proceeds.
When the time of departure came, and Dietrich called for his steed,
Dietlieb was forced to confess what he had done. The story came to
Ermenrich's ears, and he felt called upon to pay the required sum to
release his guest's weapons and steeds, but contemptuously inquired whether
Dietlieb were good at anything besides eating and drinking, wherein he
evidently excelled. Enraged by this taunt, Dietlieb challenged Ermenrich's
champion warrior, Walther von Wasgenstein (Vosges), and beat him at spear
and stone throwing. He next performed feats hitherto unheard of, and won
such applause that Ermenrich not only paid all his debts, but also gave him
a large sum of money, which this promising young spendthrift immediately
expended in feasting all the men at arms.
Dietlieb's jests and jollity so amused Isung, the imperial minstrel, that
he left court to follow him to the land of the Huns, where the fickle youth
next offered his services to Etzel (Attila). The King of the Huns, afraid
to keep such a mercurial person near him, gave him the province of
Steiermark (Styria), bidding him work off all surplus energy by defending
it against the numerous enemies always trying to enter his realm.
[Sidenote: The dwarf Laurin.] Some time after this, Dietlieb returned to
his old master in sorrow, for his only sister, Kunhild (Similde, or
Similt), had been carried away by Laurin (Alberich), king of the dwarfs,
and was now detained prisoner in the Tyrolean mountains, not far from the
vaunted Rose Garden. This place was surrounded by a silken thread, and
guarded most jealously by Laurin himself, who exacted the left foot and
right hand of any knight venturing to enter his garden or break off a
single flower from its stem.
As soon as Dietrich heard this, he promised to set out and rescue the fair
Kunhild. He was accompanied by Dietlieb, Hildebrand, Wittich, and Wolfhart;
and as they came to the Rose Garden, all the heroes except Dietrich and
Hildebrand began to trample the dainty blossoms, and tried to break the
"Wittich, the mighty champion, trod the roses to the ground,
Broke down the gates, and ravaged the garden far renowned;
Gone was the portals' splendor, by the heroes bold destroyed;
The fragrance of the flowers was past, and all the garden's pride."
While they were thus employed, the dwarf Laurin donned his glittering
girdle of power, which gave him the strength of twelve men, brandished a
sword which had been tempered in dragons' blood and could therefore cut
through iron and stone, and put on his ring of victory and the magic cap of
darkness, Tarnkappe (Helkappe).
Dietrich, carefully instructed by Hildebrand, struck off this cap, and
appropriated it, as well as the girdles of strength and the ring of
victory. He was so angry against Laurin for resisting him that the dwarf
king soon fled to Dietlieb for protection, promising to restore Kunhild,
unless she preferred to remain with him as his wife.
This amicable agreement having been made, Laurin led the knights down into
his subterranean palace, which was illuminated by carbuncles, diamonds, and
other precious stones. Here Kunhild and her attendant maidens, attired with
the utmost magnificence, welcomed them hospitably and presided at the
"Similt into the palace came, with her little maidens all;
Garments they wore which glittered brightly in the hall,
Of fur and costly ciclatoun, and brooches of the gold;
No richer guise in royal courts might mortal man behold."
_Heldentuch_ (Weber's tr.).
The wines, however, were drugged, so the brave knights soon sank into a
stupor; and Laurin, taking a base advantage of their helplessness, deprived
them of their weapons, bound them fast, and had them conveyed into a large
prison. Dietlieb was placed in a chamber apart, where, as soon as he
recovered his senses, Laurin told him that he and his companions were
doomed to die on the morrow.
At midnight Dietrich awoke. Feeling himself bound, his wrath burned hot
within him, and his breath grew so fiery that it consumed the ropes with
which he was pinioned. He then released his captive companions, and, while
they were bewailing their lack of weapons, Kunhild stealthily opened the
door. Noiselessly she conducted them into the great hall, bade them resume
possession of their arms, and gave each a golden ring, of dwarf
manufacture, to enable them to see their tiny foes, who were else invisible
to all of mortal birth.
Joined by Dietlieb, who had also been liberated by Kunhild, the knights now
roused Laurin and his host of giants and dwarfs, and, after an encounter
such as mediaeval poets love to describe at great length, routed them
completely. Laurin was made prisoner and carried in chains to Bern, where
Kunhild, now full of compassion for him, prevailed upon Dietrich to set him
free, provided he would forswear all his malicious propensities and spend
the remainder of his life in doing good.
When this promise had been given, Laurin was set free; and after marrying
Kunhild, he went to live with her in the beautiful Rose Garden and the
underground palace, which peasants and simple-hearted Alpine hunters have
often seen, but which the worldly wise and skeptical have always sought in
[Sidenote: Rose Garden at Worms.] The mere fact of his having come off
victor in one Rose Garden affair made Dietrich hail with joy the tidings
brought by a wandering minstrel, that at Worms, on the Rhine, Kriemhild
(Grimhild, Gutrun, etc.), the Burgundian princess, had a similar garden.
This was guarded by twelve brave knights, ever ready to try their skill
against an equal number of warriors, the prize of the victor being a rose
garland and kisses from the owner of this charming retreat.
Eager to accept this challenge, Dietrich selected Hildebrand, Wittich,
Wolfhart, and five other brave men; but as he could think of no others
worthy to share in the adventure, Hildebrand suggested that Ruediger of
Bechlaren, Dietlieb of Steiermark, and his own brother, the monk Ilsan,
would be only too glad to help them. This little band soon rode into Worms,
where Dietrich and his men covered themselves with glory by defeating all
Kriemhild's champions, and winning the rose garlands as well as the kisses.
The knights, if we are to believe the ancient poem, appreciated the latter
reward highly, with the exception of the rude monk Ilsan, who, we are told,
scrubbed the princess's delicate cheek with his rough beard until the blood
[Illustration: THE VICTORIOUS HUNS.--Checa.]
"And when Chrimhild, the queen, gave him kisses fifty-two,
With his rough and grisly beard full sore he made her rue,
That from her lovely cheek 'gan flow the rosy blood:
The queen was full of sorrow, but the monk it thought him good."
_Heldenbuch_ (Weber's tr.).
Then Ilsan carried his garlands back to the monastery, where he jammed them
down upon the monks' bald pates, laughing aloud when he saw them wince as
the sharp thorns pierced them.
On his way home Dietrich visited Etzel, King of the Huns, and further
increased his train by accepting the services of Amalung, Hornbogi's son,
and of Herbrand the wide-traveled. On his arrival at Bern, he found that
his father, Dietmar, was dead, and thus Dietrich became King of the Amaling
[Sidenote: Campaign against the Wilkina land.] Shortly after his accession
to the throne, he went to help Etzel, who was warring against Osantrix,
King of the Wilkina land (Norway and Sweden). With none but his own
followers, Dietrich invaded the Wilkina land, and throughout that glorious
campaign old Hildebrand rode ever ahead, bearing aloft his master's
standard, and dealing many memorable blows.
In one encounter, Wittich was thrown from his horse and stunned. Heime, who
had joined the army, seeing him apparently lifeless, snatched the sword
Mimung out of his nerveless grasp and bore it triumphantly away. Wittich,
however, was not dead, but was soon after made prisoner by Hertnit, Earl of
Greece, Osantrix's brother, who carried him back to the capital, where he
put him in prison.
When the campaign against the Wilkina men was ended, Dietrich and his army
returned to Bern, leaving Wildeber in Hungary to ascertain whether Wittich
were really dead, or whether he still required his companions' aid.
Wishing to penetrate unrecognized into the enemy's camp, Wildeber slew and
flayed a bear, donned its skin over his armor, and, imitating the uncouth
antics of the animal he personated, bade the minstrel Isung lead him thus
disguised to Hertnit's court.
[Sidenote: Wittich rescued by Wildeber.] This plan was carried out, and
the minstrel and dancing bear were hailed with joy. But Isung was greatly
dismayed when Hertnit insisted upon baiting his hunting hounds against the
bear; who, however, strangled them all, one after another, without seeming
to feel their sharp teeth. Hertnit was furious at the loss of all his pack,
and sprang down into the pit with drawn sword; but all his blows glanced
aside on the armor concealed beneath the rough pelt. Suddenly the pretended
bear stood up, caught the weapon which the king had dropped, and struck off
his head. Then, joining Isung, he rushed through the palace and delivered
the captive Wittich; whereupon, seizing swords and steeds on their way,
they all three rode out of the city before they could be stopped.
When they arrived in Bern they were warmly welcomed by Dietrich, who forced
Heime to give the stolen Mimung back to its rightful owner. The brave
warriors were not long allowed to remain inactive, however, for they were
soon asked to help Ermenrich against his revolted vassal, Rimstein. They
besieged the recalcitrant knight in his stronghold of Gerimsburg, which was
given to Walther von Wasgenstein, while Wittich was rewarded for his
services by the hand of Bolfriana, the Lady of Drachenfels, and thus became
the vassal of Ermenrich.
[Sidenote: Sibich.] The estates of Ermenrich were so extensive and so
difficult to govern that he was very glad indeed to secure as prime
minister a capable nobleman by the name of Sibich. Unfortunately, this
Sibich had a remarkably beautiful wife, whom the emperor once insulted
during her husband's absence. As soon as Sibich returned from his journey
his wife told him all that had occurred, and the emperor's conduct so
enraged the minister that he vowed that he would take a terrible revenge.
The better to accomplish his purpose, Sibich concealed his resentment, and
so artfully poisoned Ermenrich's mind that the latter ordered his eldest
son to be slain. To get rid of the second prince, Sibich induced him to
enter a leaky vessel, which sank as soon as he was out at sea. Then, when
the prime minister saw the third son, Randwer, paying innocent attentions
to his fair young stepmother, Swanhild, daughter of Siegfried and
Kriemhild, he so maliciously distorted the affair that Ermenrich ordered
this son to be hung, and his young wife to be trampled to death under the
hoofs of wild horses.
Sibich, the traitor, having thus deprived the emperor of wife and children,
next resolved to rob him of all his kin, so that he might eventually murder
him and take undisputed possession of the empire. With this purpose in
view, he forged letters which incited the emperor to war against his
nephews, the Harlungs. These two young men, who were orphans, dwelt at
Breisach, under the guardianship of their tutor, the faithful Eckhardt.
They were both cruelly slain, and the disconsolate tutor fled to the court
of Dietrich, little thinking that Ermenrich would soon turn upon this his
last male relative, also.
[Sidenote: Herbart and Hilde.] Dietrich, forsaken by Virginal, and anxious
to marry again, had, in the mean while, sent his nephew Herbart to Arthur's
court in the Bertanga land (Britain), to sue for the hand of Hilde, his
fair young daughter. But Arthur, averse to sending his child so far away,
would not at first permit the young ambassador to catch a glimpse of her
face, and sent her to church guarded by ten warriors, ten monks, and ten
In spite of all these safeguards, Herbart succeeded in seeing the princess,
and after ascertaining that she was very beautiful, he secured a private
interview, and told her of his master's wish to call her wife. Hilde,
wishing to know what kind of a man her suitor was, begged Herbart to draw
his portrait; but finding him unprepossessing, she encouraged Herbart to
declare his own love, and soon eloped with him.
[Sidenote: Dietrich in exile.] Dietrich had no time to mourn for the loss
of this expected bride, however, for the imperial army suddenly marched
into the Amaling land, and invested the cities of Garden, Milan, Raben
(Ravenna), and Mantua. Of course these successes were owing to treachery,
and not to valor, and Dietrich, to obtain the release of Hildebrand and a
few other faithful followers, who had fallen into the enemy's hands, was
forced to surrender Bern and go off into exile.
As he had thus sacrificed his kingdom to obtain their freedom, it is no
wonder that these men proudly accompanied him into banishment. They went to
Susat, where they were warmly welcomed by Etzel and Helche (Herka), his
wife, who promised to care for Diether, Dietrich's brother, and have him
brought up with her own sons.
There were in those days many foreigners at Etzel's court, for he had
secured as hostages Hagen of Tronje, from the Burgundians; the Princess
Hildegunde, from the Franks; and Walther von Wasgenstein from the Duke of
[Sidenote: Walther of Aquitaine and Hildegunde.] During the twenty years
which Dietrich now spent in the land of the Huns fighting for Etzel, peace
was concluded with Burgundy and Hagen was allowed to return home. Walther
of Aquitaine (or von Wasgenstein), whose adventures are related in a Latin
poem of the eighth or ninth century, had fallen in love with Hildegunde.
Seeing that Etzel, in spite of his promises to set them both free, had no
real intention of doing so, he and his ladylove cleverly effected their
escape, and fled to the Wasgenstein (Vosges), where they paused in a cave
to recruit their exhausted strength. Gunther, King of Burgundy, and Hagen
of Tronje, his ally, hearing that Walther and Hildegunde were in the
neighborhood, and desirous of obtaining the large sum of gold which they
had carried away from Etzel's court, set out to attack them, with a force
of twelve picked men. But Hildegunde was watching while Walther slept, and,
seeing them draw near, warned her lover. He, inspired by her presence, slew
all except Gunther and Hagen, who beat a hasty retreat.
They did not return to Worms, however, but lay in ambush beside the road,
and when Walther and Hildegunde passed by they attacked the former with
great fury. In spite of the odds against him, the poem relates that Walther
triumphantly defeated them both, putting out one of Hagen's eyes and
cutting off one of Gunther's hands and one of his feet.
The conflict ended, Hildegunde bound up the wounds of all three of the
combatants, who then sat down to share a meal together, indulged in much
jocularity about their wounds, and, parting amicably, sought their
respective homes. Walther and Hildegunde were next joyously welcomed by
their relatives, duly married, and reigned together over Aquitaine for many
a long year.
In the mean while Dietrich had been engaged in warring against Waldemar,
King of Reussen (Russia and Poland), in behalf of Etzel, who, however,
forsook him in a cowardly way, and left him in a besieged fortress, in the
midst of the enemy's land, with only a handful of men. In spite of all his
courage, Dietrich would have been forced to surrender had not Ruediger of
Bechlaren come to his rescue. By their combined efforts, Waldemar was
slain, and his son was brought captive to Susat.
[Sidenote: Dietrich and Queen Helche.] Dietrich and his noble prisoner were
both seriously wounded; but while Queen Helche herself tenderly cared for
the young prince of Reussen, who was her kinsman, Dietrich lay neglected
and alone in a remote part of the palace. The young prince was no sooner
cured, however, than he took advantage of Etzel's absence to escape,
although Helche implored him not to do so, and assured him that she would
have to pay for his absence with her life.
In her distress Helche now thought of Dietrich, who, weak and wounded, rose
from his couch, pursued the fugitive, overtook and slew him, and brought
his head back to her. The Queen of the Huns never forgot that she owed her
life to Dietrich, and ever after showed herself his faithful friend.
Twenty years had passed since Dietrich left his native land ere he asked to
return. Helche promised him the aid of her sons, Erp and Ortwine, whom she
armed herself, and furnished one thousand men. Etzel, seeing this, also
offered his aid, and Dietrich marched back to the Amaling land with all his
companions, and with an army commanded by the two Hun princes and Ruediger's
only son, Nudung.
The van of the army took Garden and Padauwe (Padua), and with Dietrich at
its head made a triumphant entrance into Bern. But, hearing that Ermenrich
was coming against him, Dietrich now went to meet him, and fought a
terrible battle near Raben in 493. The hero of Bern distinguished himself,
as usual, in this fray, until, hearing that Nudung, the two Hun princes,
and his young brother, Diether, had all been slain, he became almost insane
In his fury he wildly pursued Wittich, his former servant and Diether's
murderer, and would have slain him had the latter not saved himself by
plunging into the sea. Here his ancestress, the swan maiden Wachilde, took
charge of him, and conveyed him to a place of safety. Then, although
victorious, Dietrich discovered that he had no longer enough men left to
maintain himself in his reconquered kingdom, and mournfully returned to
Susat with the bodies of the slain.
[Sidenote: Marriage of Dietrich and Herrat.] It was during his second
sojourn at the court of the Huns that Dietrich married Herrat (Herand),
Princess of Transylvania, a relative of Helche. The latter died soon after
their union. Three years later Etzel married Kriemhild, Siegfried's widow;
and now occurred the fall of the brave Nibelung knights, recorded in the
"Nibelungenlied." Dietrich, as we have seen, took an active part in the
closing act of this tragedy, and joined in the final lament over the bodies
of the slain.
Ten years after the terrible battle of Raben, Dietrich again resolved to
make an attempt to recover his kingdom, and set out with only a very few
followers. As Ermenrich had succumbed, either under the swords of
Swanhild's brothers, as already related, or by the poison secretly
administered by the traitor Sibich, the crown was now offered to Dietrich,
who was glad to accept it.
All the lost cities were gradually recovered, and Hildebrand, coming to
Garden, encountered his son Hadubrand (Alebrand), who, having grown up
during his absence, did not recognize him, and challenged him to fight.
Mighty blows were exchanged between father and son, each of whom, in the
pauses of the combat, anxiously besought the other to reveal his name. It
was only when their strength was exhausted that Hadubrand revealed who he
was, and father and son, dropping their bloody swords, embraced with tears.
"So spake Hadubrand,
Son of Hildebrand:
'Said unto me
Some of our people,
Shrewd and old,
Gone hence already,
That Hildebrand was my father called,--
I am called Hadubrand.
Erewhile he eastward went,
Escaping from Odoaker,
Thither with Theodoric
And his many men of battle,
Here he left in the land,
Lorn and lonely,
Bride in bower,
Having no heritage.'"
_Song of Hildebrand_ (Bayard Taylor's tr.).
Hildebrand then rejoined his wife, Ute, and Dietrich, having slain the
traitor Sibich, who had made an attempt to usurp the throne, marched on to
Romaburg (Rome), where he was crowned Emperor of the West, under the name
of Theodoric. Some time after his accession, Dietrich lost his good wife
Herrat, whom, according to some accounts, he mourned as long as he lived.
According to others he married again, taking as wife Liebgart, widow of
Etzel, according to this version, having been lured by Aldrian, Hagen's
son, into the cave where the Nibelungen hoard was kept, was locked up
there, and died of hunger while contemplating the gold he coveted. His
estates then became the property of Dietrich, who thus became undisputed
ruler of nearly all the southern part of Europe.
[Sidenote: Dietrich and the coal-black steed.] In his old age Dietrich,
weary of life and imbittered by its many trials, ceased to take pleasure in
anything except the chase. One day, while he was bathing in a limpid
stream, his servant came to tell him that there was a fine stag in sight.
Dietrich immediately called for his horse, and as it was not instantly
forthcoming, he sprang upon a coal-black steed standing near, and was borne
The servant rode after as fast as possible, but could never overtake
Dietrich, who, the peasants aver, was spirited away, and now leads the Wild
Hunt upon the same sable steed, which he is doomed to ride until the
In spite of this fabulous account, however, the tomb of Theodoric is still
to be seen near Verona, but history demonstrates the impossibility of the
story of Dietrich von Bern, by proving that Theodoric was not born until
after the death of Attila, the unmistakeable original of the Etzel in the
[Illustration: THE TOMB OF THEODORIC.]
CHARLEMAGNE AND HIS PALADINS.
One of the favorite heroes of early mediaeval literature is Charlemagne,
whose name is connected with countless romantic legends of more or less
antique origin. The son of Pepin and Bertha the "large footed," this
monarch took up his abode near the Rhine to repress the invasions of the
northern barbarians, awe them into submission, and gradually induce them to
accept the teachings of the missionaries he sent to convert them.
[Sidenote: The champion of Christianity.] As Charlemagne destroyed the
Irminsul, razed heathen temples and groves, abolished the Odinic and
Druidic forms of worship, conquered the Lombards at the request of the
Pope, and defeated the Saracens in Spain, he naturally became the champion
of Christianity in the chronicles of his day. All the heroic actions of his
predecessors (such as Charles Martel) were soon attributed to him, and when
these legends were turned into popular epics, in the tenth and eleventh
centuries, he became the principal hero of France. The great deeds of his
paladins, Roland, Oliver, Ogier the Dane, Renaud de Montauban, and others,
also became the favorite theme of the poets, and were soon translated into
every European tongue.
The Latin chronicle, falsely attributed to Bishop Turpin, Charlemagne's
prime minister, but dating from 1095, is one of the oldest versions of
Charlemagne's fabulous adventures now extant. It contains the mythical
account of the battle of Roncesvalles (Vale of Thorns), told with infinite
repetition and detail so as to give it an appearance of reality.
[Sidenote: Chanson de Roland.] Einhard, the son-in-law and historian of
Charlemagne, records a partial defeat in the Pyrenees in 777-778, and adds
that Hroudlandus was slain. From this bald statement arose the mediaeval
"Chanson de Roland," which was still sung at the battle of Hastings. The
probable author of the French metrical version is Turoldus; but the poem,
numbering originally four thousand lines, has gradually been lengthened,
until now it includes more than forty thousand. There are early French,
Latin, German, Italian, English, and Icelandic versions of the adventures
of Roland, which in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were turned into
prose, and formed the basis of the "Romans de Chevalerie," which were
popular for so many years. Numerous variations can, of course, be noted in
these tales, which have been worked over again by the Italian poets Ariosto
and Boiardo, and even treated by Buchanan in our day.
It would be impossible to give in this work a complete synopsis of all the
_chansons de gestes_ referring to Charlemagne and his paladins, so we will
content ourselves with giving an abstract of the most noted ones and
telling the legends which are found in them, which have gradually been
woven around those famous names and connected with certain localities.
[Sidenote: Charlemagne and the heavenly message.] We are told that
Charlemagne, having built a beautiful new palace for his use, overlooking
the Rhine, was roused from his sleep during the first night he spent there
by the touch of an angelic hand, and, to his utter surprise, thrice heard
the heavenly messenger bid him go forth and steal. Not daring to disobey,
Charlemagne stole unnoticed out of the palace, saddled his steed, and,
armed cap-a-pie, started out to fulfill the angelic command.
He had not gone far when he met an unknown knight, evidently bound on the
same errand. To challenge, lay his lance in rest, charge, and unhorse his
opponent, was an easy matter for Charlemagne. When he learned that he had
disarmed Elbegast (Alberich), the notorious highwayman, he promised to let
him go free if he would only help him steal something that night.
Guided by Elbegast, Charlemagne, still incognito, went to the castle of one
of his ministers, and, thanks to Elbegast's cunning, penetrated unseen into
his bedroom. There, crouching in the dark, Charlemagne overheard him
confide to his wife a plot to murder the emperor on the morrow. Patiently
biding his time until they were sound asleep, Charlemagne picked up a
worthless trifle, and noiselessly made his way out, returning home unseen.
On the morrow, profiting by the knowledge thus obtained, he cleverly
outwitted the conspirators, whom he restored to favor only after they had
solemnly sworn future loyalty. As for Elbegast, he so admired the only man
who had ever succeeded in conquering him that he renounced his dishonest
profession to enter the emperor's service.
In gratitude for the heavenly vision vouchsafed him, the emperor named his
new palace Ingelheim (Home of the Angel), a name which the place has borne
ever since. This thieving episode is often alluded to in the later romances
of chivalry, where knights, called upon to justify their unlawful
appropriation of another's goods, disrespectfully remind the emperor that
he too once went about as a thief.
[Sidenote: Frastrada's magic ring.] When Charlemagne's third wife died, he
married a beautiful Eastern princess by the name of Frastrada, who, aided
by a magic ring, soon won his most devoted affection. The new queen,
however, did not long enjoy her power, for a dangerous illness overtook
her. When at the point of death, fearful lest her ring should be worn by
another while she was buried and forgotten, Frastrada slipped the magic
circlet into her mouth just before she breathed her last.
Solemn preparations were made to bury her in the cathedral of Mayence
(where a stone bearing her name could still be seen a few years ago), but
the emperor refused to part with the beloved body. Neglectful of all
matters of state, he remained in the mortuary chamber day after day. His
trusty adviser, Turpin, suspecting the presence of some mysterious
talisman, slipped into the room while the emperor, exhausted with fasting
and weeping, was wrapped in sleep. After carefully searching for the magic
jewel, Turpin discovered it, at last, in the dead queen's mouth.
"He searches with care, though with tremulous haste,
For the spell that bewitches the king;
And under her tongue, for security placed,
Its margin with mystical characters traced,
At length he discovers a ring."
SOUTHEY, _King Charlemain_.
[Sidenote: Turpin and the magic ring.] To secure this ring and slip it on
his finger was but the affair of a moment; but just as Turpin was about to
leave the room the emperor awoke. With a shuddering glance at the dead
queen, Charlemagne flung himself passionately upon the neck of his prime
minister, declaring that he would never be quite inconsolable as long as he
Taking advantage of the power thus secured by the possession of the magic
ring, Turpin led Charlemagne away, forced him to eat and drink, and after
the funeral induced him to resume the reins of the government. But he soon
wearied of his master's constant protestations of undying affection, and
ardently longed to get rid of the ring, which, however, he dared neither to
hide nor to give away, for fear it should fall into unscrupulous hands.
Although advanced in years, Turpin was now forced to accompany Charlemagne
everywhere, even on his hunting expeditions, and to share his tent. One
moonlight night the unhappy minister stole noiselessly out of the imperial
tent, and wandered alone in the woods, cogitating how to dispose of the
unlucky ring. As he walked thus he came to a glade in the forest, and saw a
deep pool, on whose mirrorlike surface the moonbeams softly played.
Suddenly the thought struck him that the waters would soon close over and
conceal the magic ring forever in their depths; and, drawing it from his
finger, he threw it into the pond. Turpin then retraced his steps, and soon
fell asleep. On the morrow he was delighted to perceive that the spell was
broken, and that Charlemagne had returned to the old undemonstrative
friendship which had bound them for many a year.
"Overjoy'd, the good prelate remember'd the spell,
And far in the lake flung the ring;
The waters closed round it; and, wondrous to tell,
Released from the cursed enchantment of hell,
His reason return'd to the king."
SOUTHEY, _King Charlemain_.
Charlemagne, however, seemed unusually restless, and soon went out to hunt.
In the course of the day, having lost sight of his suite in the pursuit of
game, he came to the little glade, where, dismounting, he threw himself on
the grass beside the pool, declaring that he would fain linger there
forever. The spot was so charming that he even gave orders, ere he left it
that night, that a palace should be erected there for his use; and this
building was the nucleus of his favorite capital, Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen).
"But he built him a palace there close by the bay,
And there did he love to remain;
And the traveler who will, may behold at this day
A monument still in the ruins at Aix
Of the spell that possess'd Charlemain."
SOUTHEY, _King Charlemain_.
According to tradition, Charlemagne had a sister by the name of Bertha,
who, against his will, married the brave young knight Milon. Rejected by
the emperor, and therefore scorned by all, the young couple lived in
obscurity and poverty. They were very happy, however, for they loved each
other dearly, and rejoiced in the beauty of their infant son Roland, who
even in babyhood showed signs of uncommon courage and vigor.
[Sidenote: Charlemagne and the boy Roland.] One version of the story
relates, however, that Milon perished in a flood, and that Bertha was
almost dying of hunger while her brother, a short distance away, was
entertaining all his courtiers at his board. Little Roland, touched by his
mother's condition, walked fearlessly into the banquet hall, boldly
advanced to the table, and carried away a dishful of meat. As the emperor
seemed amused at the little lad's fearlessness, the servants did not dare
to interfere, and Roland bore off the dish in triumph.
A few minutes later he reentered the hall, and with equal coolness laid
hands upon the emperor's cup, full of rich wine. Challenged by Charlemagne,
the child then boldly declared that he wanted the meat and wine for his
mother, a lady of high degree. In answer to the emperor's bantering
questions, he declared that he was his mother's cupbearer, her page, and
her gallant knight, which answers so amused Charlemagne that he sent for
her. He then remorsefully recognized her, treated her with kindness as long
as she lived, and took her son into his own service.
Another legend relates that Charlemagne, hearing that the robber knight of
the Ardennes had a priceless jewel set in his shield, called all his
bravest noblemen together, and bade them sally forth separately, with only
a page as escort, in quest of the knight. Once found, they were to
challenge him in true knightly fashion, and at the point of the lance win
the jewel he wore. A day was appointed when, successful or not, the
courtiers were to return, and, beginning with the lowest in rank, were to
give a truthful account of their adventures while on the quest.
All the knights departed and scoured the forest of the Ardennes, each
hoping to meet the robber knight and win the jewel. Among them was Milon,
accompanied by his son Roland, a lad of fifteen, whom he had taken as page
and armor-bearer. Milon had spent many days in vain search for the knight,
when, exhausted by his long ride, he dismounted, removed his heavy armor,
and lay down under a tree to sleep, bidding Roland keep close watch during
[Sidenote: Roland and the jewel.] Roland watched faithfully for a while;
then, fired by a desire to distinguish himself, he donned his father's
armor, sprang on his steed, and rode into the forest in search of
adventures. He had not gone very far when he saw a gigantic horseman coming
to meet him, and, by the dazzling glitter of a large stone set in his
shield, he recognized in him the invincible knight of the Ardennes. Afraid
of nothing, however, the lad laid his lance in rest when challenged to
fight, and charged so bravely that he unhorsed the knight. A fearful battle
on foot ensued, where many gallant blows were given and received; yet the
victory finally remained with Roland. He slew his adversary, and wrenching
the jewel from his shield, hid it in his breast. Then, riding rapidly back
to his sleeping father, Roland laid aside the armor, and removed all traces
of a bloody encounter. When Milon awoke he resumed the quest, and soon came
upon the body of the dead knight. When he saw that another had won the
jewel, he was disappointed indeed, and sadly rode back to court, to be
present on the appointed day.
Charlemagne, seated on his throne, bade the knights appear before him, and
relate their adventures. One after another strode up the hall, followed by
an armor-bearer holding his shield, and all told of finding the knight
slain and the jewel gone, and produced head, hands, feet, or some part of
his armor, in token of the truth of their story. Last of all came Milon,
with lowering brows, although Roland walked close behind him, proudly
holding his shield, in the center of which the jewel shone radiant. Milon
related his search, and reported that he too had found the giant knight
slain and the jewel gone. A shout of incredulity made him turn his head.
But when he saw the jewel blazing on his shield he appeared so amazed that
Charlemagne questioned Roland, and soon learned how it had been obtained.
In reward for his bravery in this encounter, Roland was knighted and
allowed to take his place among his uncle's paladins, of which he soon
became the most renowned.
Charlemagne, according to the old _chanson de geste_ entitled "Ogier le
Danois," made war against the King of Denmark, defeated him, and received
his son Ogier (Olger or Holger Danske) as hostage. The young Danish prince
was favored by the fairies from the time of his birth, six of them having
appeared to bring him gifts while he was in his cradle. The first five
promised him every earthly bliss; while the sixth, Morgana, foretold that
he would never die, but would dwell with her in Avalon.
[Sidenote: Ogier king of Denmark.] Ogier the Dane, owing to a violation of
the treaty on his father's part, was soon confined in the prison of St.
Omer. There he beguiled the weariness of captivity by falling in love with,
and secretly marrying, the governor's daughter Bellissande. Charlemagne,
being about to depart for war, and wishing for the hero's help, released
him from captivity; and when Ogier returned again to France he heard that
Bellissande had borne him a son, and that, his father having died, he was
now the lawful king of Denmark.
Ogier the Dane then obtained permission to return to his native land, where
he spent several years, reigning so wisely that he was adored by all his
subjects. Such is the admiration of the Danes for this hero that the common
people still declare that he is either in Avalon, or sleeping in the vaults
of Elsinore, and that he will awaken, like Frederick Barbarossa, to save
his country in the time of its direst need.
"'Thou know'st it, peasant! I am not dead;
I come back to thee in my glory.
I am thy faithful helper in need,
As in Denmark's ancient story.'"
INGEMANN, _Holder Danske_.
After some years spent in Denmark, Ogier returned to France, where his son,
now grown up, had a dispute with Prince Chariot [Ogier and Charlemagne.]
over a game of chess. The dispute became so bitter that the prince used the
chessboard as weapon, and killed his antagonist with it. Ogier, indignant
at the murder, and unable to find redress at the hands of Charlemagne,
insulted him grossly, and fled to Didier (Desiderius), King of Lombardy,
with whom the Franks were then at feud.
Several ancient poems represent Didier on his tower, anxiously watching the
approach of the enemy, and questioning his guest as to the personal
appearance of Charlemagne. These poems have been imitated by Longfellow in
one of his "Tales of a Wayside Inn."
"Olger the Dane, and Desiderio,
King of the Lombards, on a lofty tower
Stood gazing northward o'er the rolling plains,
League after league of harvests, to the foot
Of the snow-crested Alps, and saw approach
A mighty army, thronging all the roads
That led into the city. And the King
Said unto Olger, who had passed his youth
As hostage at the court of France, and knew
The Emperor's form and face, 'Is Charlemagne
Among that host?' And Olger answered, 'No.'"
LONGFELLOW, _Tales of a Wayside Inn_.
This poet, who has made this part of the legend familiar to all English
readers, then describes the vanguard of the army, the paladins, the clergy,
all in full panoply, and the gradually increasing terror of the Lombard
king, who, long before the emperor's approach, would fain have hidden
himself underground. Finally Charlemagne appears in iron mail, brandishing
aloft his invincible sword "Joyeuse," and escorted by the main body of his
army, grim fighting men, at the mere sight of whom even Ogier the Dane is
struck with fear.
"This at a single glance Olger the Dane
Saw from the tower; and, turning to the King,
Exclaimed in haste: 'Behold! this is the man
You looked for with such eagerness!' and then
Fell as one dead at Desiderio's feet."
LONGFELLOW, _Tales of a Wayside Inn_.
Charlemagne soon overpowered the Lombard king, and assumed the iron crown,
while Ogier escaped from the castle in which he was besieged. Shortly
after, however, when asleep near a fountain, the Danish hero was surprised
by Turpin. When led before Charlemagne, he obstinately refused all proffers
of reconciliation, and insisted upon Charlot's death, until an angel from
heaven forbade his asking the life of Charlemagne's son. Then, foregoing
his revenge and fully reinstated in the royal good graces, Ogier, according
to a thirteenth-century epic by Adenet, successfully encountered a
Saracenic giant, and in reward for his services received the hand of
Clarice, Princess of England, and became king of that realm.
[Sidenote: Ogier in the East.] Weary of a peaceful existence, Ogier finally
left England, and journeyed to the East, where he successfully besieged
Acre, Babylon and Jerusalem. On his way back to France, the ship was
attracted by the famous lodestone rock which appears in many mediaeval
romances, and, all his companions having perished, Ogier wandered alone
ashore. There he came to an adamantine castle, invisible by day, but
radiant at night, where he was received by the famous horse Papillon, and
sumptuously entertained. On the morrow, while wandering across a flowery
meadow, Ogier encountered Morgana the fay, who gave him a magic ring.
Although Ogier was then a hundred years old, he no sooner put it on than he
became young once more. Then, having donned the golden crown of oblivion,
he forgot his home, and joined Arthur, Oberon, Tristan, and Lancelot, with
whom he spent two hundred years in unchanged youth, enjoying constant
jousting and fighting.
At the end of that time, his crown having accidentally dropped off, Ogier
remembered the past, and returned to France, riding on Papillon. He reached
the court during the reign of one of the Capetian kings. He was, of course,
greatly amazed at the changes which had taken place, but bravely helped to
defend Paris against an invasion from the Normans.
[Sidenote: Ogier carried to Avalon.] Shortly after this, his magic ring was
playfully drawn from his finger and put upon her own by the Countess of
Senlis, who, seeing that it restored her vanished youth, would fain have
kept it always. She therefore sent thirty champions to wrest it from Ogier,
who, however, defeated them all, and triumphantly retained his ring. The
king having died, Ogier next married the widowed queen, and would thus have
become King of France had not Morgana the fay, jealous of his affections,
spirited him away in the midst of the marriage ceremony and borne him off
to the Isle of Avalon, whence he, like Arthur, will return only when his
country needs him.
[Sidenote: Roland and Oliver.] Another _chanson de geste_, a sort of
continuation of "Ogier le Danois," is called "Meurvin," and purports to
give a faithful account of the adventures of a son of Ogier and Morgana, an
ancestor of Godfrey of Bouillon, King of Jerusalem. In "Guerin de
Montglave," we find that Charlemagne, having quarreled with the Duke of
Genoa, proposed that each should send a champion to fight in his name.
Charlemagne selected Roland, while the Duke of Genoa chose Oliver as his
defender. The battle, if we are to believe some versions of the legend,
took place on an island in the Rhone, and Durandana, Roland's sword, struck
many a spark from Altecler (Hautecler), the blade of Oliver. The two
champions were so well matched, and the blows were dealt with such equal
strength and courage, that "giving a Roland for an Oliver" has become a
After fighting all day, with intermissions to interchange boasts and
taunts, and to indulge in sundry discussions, neither had gained any
advantage. They would probably have continued the struggle indefinitely,
however, had not an angel of the Lord interfered, and bidden them embrace
and become fast friends. It was on this occasion, we are told, that
Charlemagne, fearing for Roland when he saw the strength of Oliver, vowed a
pilgrimage to Jerusalem should his nephew escape alive.
[Sidenote: Charlemagne's pilgrimage to Jerusalem.] The fulfillment of this
vow is described in "Galyen Rhetore." Charlemagne and his peers reached
Jerusalem safely in disguise, but their anxiety to secure relics soon
betrayed their identity. The King of Jerusalem, Hugues, entertained them
sumptuously, and, hoping to hear many praises of his hospitality, concealed
himself in their apartment at night. The eavesdropper, however, only heard
the vain talk of Charlemagne's peers, who, unable to sleep, beguiled the
hours in making extraordinary boasts. Roland declared that he could blow
his horn Olivant loud enough to bring down the palace; Ogier, that he could
crumble the principal pillar to dust in his grasp; and Oliver, that he
could marry the princess in spite of her father.
The king, angry at hearing no praises of his wealth and hospitality,
insisted upon his guests fulfilling their boasts on the morrow, under
penalty of death. He was satisfied, however, by the success of Oliver's
undertaking, and the peers returned to France. Galyen, Oliver's son by
Hugues's daughter, followed them thither when he reached manhood, and
joined his father in the valley of Roncesvalles, just in time to receive
his blessing ere he died. Then, having helped Charlemagne to avenge his
peers, Galyen returned to Jerusalem, where he found his grandfather dead
and his mother a captive. His first act was, of course, to free his mother,
after which he became king of Jerusalem, and his adventures came to an end.
The "Chronicle" of Turpin, whence the materials for many of the poems about
Roland were taken, declares that Charlemagne, having conquered nearly the
whole of Europe, retired to his palace to seek repose. But one evening,
while gazing at the stars, he saw a bright cluster move from the "Friesian
sea, by way of Germany and France, into Galicia." This prodigy, twice
repeated, greatly excited Charlemagne's wonder, and was explained to him by
St. James in a vision. The latter declared that the progress of the stars
was emblematic of the advance of the Christian army towards Spain, and
twice bade the emperor deliver his land from the hands of the Saracens.
[Sidenote: Charlemagne in Spain.] Thus admonished, Charlemagne set out for
Spain with a large army, and invested the city of Pamplona, which showed no
signs of surrender at the end of a two months' siege. Recourse to prayer on
the Christians' part, however, produced a great miracle, for the walls
tottered and fell like those of Jericho. All the Saracens who embraced
Christianity were spared, but the remainder were slain before the emperor
journeyed to the shrine of St. James at Santiago de Compostela to pay his
A triumphant march through the country then ensued, and Charlemagne
returned to France, thinking the Saracens subdued. He had scarcely crossed
the border, however, when Aigolandus, one of the pagan monarchs, revolted,
and soon recovered nearly all the territory his people had lost. When
Charlemagne heard these tidings, he sent back an army, commanded by Milon,
Roland's father, who perished gloriously in this campaign. The emperor
speedily followed his brother-in-law with great forces, and again besieged
Aigolandus in Pamplona. During the course of the siege the two rulers had
an interview, which is described at length, and indulged in sundry
religious discussions, which, however, culminated in a resumption of
hostilities. Several combats now took place, in which the various heroes
greatly distinguished themselves, the preference being generally given to
Roland, who, if we are to believe the Italian poet, was as terrible in
battle as he was gentle in time of peace.
"On stubborn foes he vengeance wreak'd,
And laid about him like a Tartar;
But if for mercy once they squeak'd,
He was the first to grant them quarter.
The battle won, of Roland's soul
Each milder virtue took possession;
To vanquished foes he o'er a bowl
His heart surrender'd at discretion."
ARIOSTO, _Orlando Furioso_ (Dr. Burney's tr.).
Aigolandus being slain, and the feud against him thus successfully ended,
Charlemagne carried the war into Navarre, where he was challenged by the
giant Ferracute (Ferragus) to meet him in single combat. Although the
metrical "Romances" describe Charlemagne as twenty feet in height, and
declare that he slept in a hall, his bed surrounded by one hundred lighted
tapers and one hundred knights with drawn swords, the emperor felt himself
no match for the giant, whose personal appearance was as follows:--
"So hard he was to-fond [proved],
That no dint of brond
No grieved him, I plight.
He had twenty men's strength;
And forty feet of length
Thilke [each] paynim had;
And four feet in the face
Y-meten [measured] on the place;
And fifteen in brede [breadth].
His nose was a foot and more;
His brow as bristles wore;
(He that saw it said)
He looked lothliche [loathly],
And was swart [black] as pitch;
Of him men might adrede!"
_Roland and Ferragus_.
[Sidenote: Roland and Ferracute.] After convincing himself of the danger of
meeting this adversary, Charlemagne sent Ogier the Dane to fight him, and
with dismay saw his champion not only unhorsed, but borne away like a
parcel under the giant's arm, fuming and kicking with impotent rage. Renaud
de Montauban met Ferracute on the next day, with the same fate, as did
several other champions. Finally Roland took the field, and although the
giant pulled him down from his horse, he continued the battle all day.
Seeing that his sword Durandana had no effect upon Ferracute, Roland armed
himself with a club on the morrow.
In the pauses of the battle the combatants talked together, and Ferracute,
relying upon his adversary's keen sense of honor, even laid his head upon
Roland's knee during their noonday rest. While resting thus, he revealed
that he was vulnerable in only one point of his body. When called upon by
Roland to believe in Christianity, he declared that the doctrine of the
Trinity was more than he could accept. Roland, in answer, demonstrated that
an almond is but one fruit, although composed of rind, shell, and kernel;
that a harp is but one instrument, although it consists of wood, strings,
and harmony. He also urged the threefold nature of the sun,--i.e., heat,
light, and splendor; and these arguments having satisfied Ferracute
concerning the Trinity, he removed his doubts concerning the incarnation by
equally forcible reasoning. The giant, however, utterly refused to believe
in the resurrection, although Roland, in support of his creed, quoted the
mediaeval belief that a lion's cubs are born into the world dead, but come
to life on the third day at the sound of their father's roar, or under the
warm breath of their mother. As Ferracute would not accept this doctrine,
but sprang to his feet proposing a continuation of the fight, the struggle
"Quath Ferragus: 'Now ich wot
Your Christian law every grot;
Now we will fight;
Whether law better be,
Soon we shall y-see,
Long ere it be night.'"
_Roland and Ferragus_.
Roland, weary with his previous efforts, almost succumbed beneath the
giant's blows, and in his distress had recourse to prayer. He was
immediately strengthened and comforted by an angelic vision and a promise
of victory. Thus encouraged, he dealt Ferracute a deadly blow in the
vulnerable spot. The giant fell, calling upon Mohammed, while Roland
laughed and the Christians triumphed.
The poem of Sir Otuel, in the Auchinleck manuscript, describes how Otuel, a
nephew of Ferracute, his equal in size and strength, came to avenge his
death, and, after a long battle with Roland, yielded to his theological
arguments, and was converted at the sight of a snowy dove alighting on
Charlemagne's helmet in answer to prayer. He then became a devoted adherent
of Charlemagne, and served him much in war.
Charlemagne, having won Navarre, carried the war to the south of Spain,
where the Saracens frightened the horses of his host by beating drums and
waving banners. Having suffered a partial defeat on account of this device,
Charlemagne had the horses' ears stopped with wax, and their eyes
blindfolded, before he resumed the battle. Thanks to this precaution, he
succeeded in conquering the Saracen army. The whole country had now been
again subdued, and Charlemagne was preparing to return to France, when he
remembered that Marsiglio (Marsilius), a Saracen king, was still intrenched
"Carle, our most noble Emperor and King,
Hath tarried now full seven years in Spain,
Conqu'ring the highland regions to the sea;
No fortress stands before him unsubdued,
Nor wall, nor city left, to be destroyed,
Save Sarraguce, high on a mountain set.
There rules the King Marsile, who loves not God,
Apollo worships, and Mohammed serves;
Nor can he from his evil doom escape."
_Chanson de Roland_ (Rabillon's tr.).
[Sidenote: Battle of Roncesvalles.] The emperor wished to send an embassy
to him to arrange the terms of peace, but discarded Roland's offer of
service because of his impetuosity. Then, following the advice of Naismes
de Baviere, "the Nestor of the Carolingian legends," he selected Ganelon,
Roland's stepfather, as ambassador. This man was a traitor, and accepted a
bribe from the Saracen king to betray Roland and the rear guard of the
French army into his power. Advised by Ganelon, Charlemagne departed from
Spain at the head of his army, leaving Roland to bring up the rear. The
main part of the army passed through the Pyrenees unmolested, but the rear
guard of twenty thousand men, under Roland, was attacked by a superior
force of Saracens in ambush, as it was passing through the denies of
Roncesvalles. A terrible encounter took place here.
"The Count Rolland rides through the battlefield
And makes, with Durendal's keen blade in hand,
A mighty carnage of the Saracens.
Ah! had you then beheld the valiant Knight
Heap corse on corse; blood drenching all the ground;
His own arms, hauberk, all besmeared with gore,
And his good steed from neck to shoulder bleed!"
_Chanson de Roland_ (Rabillon's tr.).
[Illustration: THE DEATH OF ROLAND.--Keller.]
All the Christians were slain except Roland and a few knights, who
succeeded in repulsing the first onslaught of the painims. Roland then
bound a Saracen captive to a tree, wrung from him a confession of the
dastardly plot, and, discovering where Marsiglio was to be found, rushed
into the very midst of the Saracen army and slew him. The Saracens,
terrified at the apparition of the hero, beat a hasty retreat, little
suspecting that their foe had received a mortal wound, and would shortly
breathe his last.
During the first part of the battle, Roland, yielding to Oliver's entreaty,
sounded a blast on his horn Olivant, which came even to Charlemagne's ear.
Fearing lest his nephew was calling for aid, Charlemagne would fain have
gone back had he not been deterred by Ganelon, who assured him that Roland
was merely pursuing a stag.
"Rolland raised to his lips the olifant,
Drew a deep breath, and blew with all his force.
High are the mountains, and from peak to peak
The sound reechoes; thirty leagues away
'Twas heard by Carle and all his brave compeers.
Cried the king: 'Our men make battle!' Ganelon
Retorts in haste: 'If thus another dared
To speak, we should denounce it as a lie.'
_Chanson de Roland_ (Rabillon's tr.).
[Sidenote: Steed Veillantif slain.] Wounded and faint, Roland now slowly
dragged himself to the entrance of the pass of Cisaire,--where the Basque
peasants aver they have often seen his ghost, and heard the sound of his
horn,--and took leave of his faithful steed Veillantif, which he slew with
his own hand, to prevent its falling into the hands of the enemy.
"'Ah, nevermore, and nevermore, shall we to battle ride!
Ah, nevermore, and nevermore, shall we sweet comrades be!
And Veillintif, had I the heart to die forgetting thee?
To leave thy mighty heart to break, in slavery to the foe?
I had not rested in the grave, if it had ended so.
Ah, never shall we conquering ride, with banners bright unfurl'd,
A shining light 'mong lesser lights, a wonder to the world.'"
BUCHANAN, _Death of Roland_.
[Sidenote: Sword Durandana destroyed.] Then the hero gazed upon his sword
Durandana, which had served him faithfully for so many years, and to
prevent its falling into the hands of the pagans, he tried to dispose of it
also. According to varying accounts, he either sank it deep into a poisoned
stream, where it is still supposed to lie, or, striking it against the
mighty rocks, cleft them in two, without even dinting its bright blade.
"And Roland thought: 'I surely die; but, ere I end,
Let me be sure that thou art ended too, my friend!
For should a heathen hand grasp thee when I am clay,
My ghost would grieve full sore until the judgment day!'
Then to the marble steps, under the tall, bare trees,
Trailing the mighty sword, he crawl'd on hands and knees,
And on the slimy stone he struck the blade with might--
The bright hilt, sounding, shook, the blade flash'd sparks of light;
Wildly again he struck, and his sick head went round,
Again there sparkled fire, again rang hollow sound;
Ten times he struck, and threw strange echoes down the glade,
Yet still unbroken, sparkling fire, glitter'd the peerless blade."
BUCHANAN, _Death of Roland_.
Finally, despairing of disposing of it in any other way, the hero, strong
in death, broke Durandana in his powerful hands and threw the shards away.
Horse and sword were now disposed of, and the dying hero, summoning his
last strength, again put his marvelous horn Olivant to his lips, and blew
such a resounding blast that the sound was heard far and near. The effort,
however, was such that his temples burst, as he again sank fainting to the
One version of the story (Turpin's) relates that the blast brought, not
Charlemagne, but the sole surviving knight, Theodoricus, who, as Roland had
been shriven before the battle, merely heard his last prayer and reverently
closed his eyes. Then Turpin, while celebrating mass before Charlemagne,
was suddenly favored by a vision, in which he beheld a shrieking crew of
demons bearing Marsiglio's soul to hell, while an angelic host conveyed
Roland's to heaven.
Turpin immediately imparted these revelations to Charlemagne, who, knowing
now that his fears were not without foundation, hastened back to
Roncesvalles. Here the scriptural miracle was repeated, for the sun stayed
its course until the emperor had routed the Saracens and found the body of
his nephew. He pronounced a learned funeral discourse or lament over the
hero's remains, which were then embalmed and conveyed to Blaive for
Another version relates that Bishop Turpin himself remained with Roland in
the rear, and, after hearing a general confession and granting full
absolution to all the heroes, fought beside them to the end. It was he who
heard the last blast of Roland's horn instead of Theodoricus, and came to
close his eyes before he too expired.
The most celebrated of all the poems, however, the French epic "Chanson de
Roland," gives a different version and relates that, in stumbling over the
battlefield, Roland came across the body of his friend Oliver, over which
he uttered a touching lament.
"'Alas for all thy valor, comrade dear!
Year after year, day after day, a life
Of love we led; ne'er didst thou wrong to me,
Nor I to thee. If death takes thee away,
My life is but a pain.'"
_Chanson de Roland_ (Rabillon's tr.).
[Sidenote: Death of Roland.] Slowly and painfully now--for his death was
near--Roland climbed up a slope, laid himself down under a pine tree, and
placed his sword and horn beneath him. Then, when he had breathed a last
prayer, to commit his soul to God, he held up his glove in token of his
"His right hand glove he offered up to God;
Saint Gabriel took the glove.--With head reclined
Upon his arm, with hands devoutly joined,
He breathed his last. God sent his Cherubim,
Saint Raphael, _Saint Michiel del Peril._
The soul of Count Rolland to Paradise.
_Chanson de Roland_ (Rabillon's tr.).
It was here, under the pine, that Charlemagne found his nephew ere he
started out to punish the Saracens, as already related. Not far off lay the
bodies of Ogier, Oliver, and Renaud, who, according to this version, were
all among the slain.
"Here endeth Otuel, Roland, and Olyvere,
And of the twelve dussypere,
That dieden in the batayle of Runcyvale:
Jesu lord, heaven king,
To his bliss hem and us both bring,
To liven withouten bale!"
On his return to France Charlemagne suspected Ganelon of treachery, and had
him tried by twelve peers, who, unable to decide the question, bade him
prove his innocence in single combat with Roland's squire, Thiedric.
Ganelon, taking advantage of the usual privilege to have his cause defended
by a champion, selected Pinabel, the most famous swordsman of the time. In
spite of all his valor, however, this champion was defeated, and the
"judgment of God"--the term generally applied to those judicial
combats--was in favor of Thiedric. Ganelon, thus convicted of treason, was
sentenced to be drawn and quartered, and was executed at Aix-la-Chapelle,
in punishment for his sins.
"Ere long for this he lost
Both limb and life, judged and condemned at Aix,
There to be hanged with thirty of his race
Who were not spared the punishment of death.
_Chanson de Roland_ (Rabillon's tr.).
[Sidenote: Roland and Aude.] Roland, having seen Aude, Oliver's sister, at
the siege of Viane, where she even fought against him, if the old epics are
to be believed, had been so smitten with her charms that he declared that
he would marry none but her. When the siege was over, and lifelong
friendship had been sworn between Roland and Oliver after their memorable
duel on an island in the Rhone, Roland was publicly betrothed to the
charming Aude. Before their nuptials could take place, however, he was
forced to leave for Spain, where, as we have seen, he died an heroic death.
The sad news of his demise was brought to Paris, where the Lady Aude was
awaiting him. When she heard that he would never return, she died of grief,
and was buried at his side in the chapel of Blaive.
"In Paris Lady Alda sits, Sir Roland's destined bride.
With her three hundred maidens, to tend her, at her side;
Alike their robes and sandals all, and the braid that binds their
And alike the meal, in their Lady's hall, the whole three hundred
Around her, in her chair of state, they all their places hold;
A hundred weave the web of silk, and a hundred spin the gold,
And a hundred touch their gentle lutes to sooth that Lady's pain,
As she thinks on him that's far away with the host of Charlemagne.
Lulled by the sound, she sleeps, but soon she wakens with a
And, as her maidens gather round, she thus recounts her dream:
'I sat upon a desert shore, and from the mountain nigh,
Right toward me, I seemed to see a gentle falcon fly;
But close behind an eagle swooped, and struck that falcon down,
And with talons and beak he rent the bird, as he cowered beneath
The chief of her maidens smiled, and said; 'To me it doth not
That the Lady Alda reads aright the boding of her dream.
Thou art the falcon, and thy knight is the eagle in his pride,
As he comes in triumph from the war, and pounces on his bride.'
The maiden laughed, but Alda sighed, and gravely shook her head.
'Full rich,' quoth she, 'shall thy guerdon be, if thou the truth hast
'Tis morn; her letters, stained with blood, the truth too plainly tell,
How, in the chase of Ronceval, Sir Roland fought and fell."
_Lady Alda's Dreams_ (Sir Edmund Head's tr.).
[Sidenote: Legend of Roland and Hildegarde.] A later legend, which has
given rise to sundry poems, connects the name of Roland with one of the
most beautiful places on the Rhine. Popular tradition avers that he sought
shelter one evening in the castle of Drachenfels, where he fell in love
with Hildegarde, the beautiful daughter of the Lord of Drachenfels. The
sudden outbreak of the war in Spain forced him to bid farewell to his
betrothed, but he promised to return as soon as possible to celebrate their
wedding. During the campaign, many stories of his courage came to
Hildegarde's ears, and finally, after a long silence, she heard that Roland
had perished at Roncesvalles.
Broken-hearted, the fair young mourner spent her days in tears, and at last
prevailed upon her father to allow her to enter the convent on the island
of Nonnenworth, in the middle of the river, and within view of the gigantic
crag where the castle ruins can still be seen.
"The castled crag of Drachenfels
Frowns o'er the wide and winding Rhine,
Whose breast of water broadly swells
Between the banks which bear the vine,
And hills all rich with blossomed trees,
And fields which promise corn and wine,
And scattered cities crowning these,
Whose fair white walls along them shine."
BYRON, _Childe Harold_.
With pallid cheeks and tear-dimmed eyes, Hildegarde now spent her life
either in her tiny cell or in the convent chapel, praying for the soul of
her beloved, and longing that death might soon come to set her free to join
him. The legend relates, however, that Roland was not dead, as she
supposed, but had merely been sorely wounded at Roncesvalles.
When sufficiently recovered to travel, Roland painfully made his way back
to Drachenfels, where he presented himself late one evening, eagerly
calling for Hildegarde. A few moments later the joyful light left his eyes
forever, for he learned that his beloved had taken irrevocable vows, and
was now the bride of Heaven.
That selfsame day Roland left the castle of Drachenfels, and riding to an
eminence overlooking the island of Nonnenwoerth, he gazed long and tearfully
at a little light twinkling in one of the convent windows. As he could not
but suppose that it illumined Hildegarde's cell and lonely vigils, he
watched it all night, and when morning came he recognized his beloved's
form in the long procession of nuns on their way to the chapel.
[Sidenote: Rolandseck.] This view of the lady he loved seemed a slight
consolation to the hero, who built a retreat on this rock, which is known
as Rolandseck. Here he spent his days in penance and prayer, gazing
constantly at the island at his feet, and the swift stream which parted him
One wintry day, many years after he had taken up his abode on the rocky
height, Roland missed the graceful form he loved, and heard, instead of the
usual psalm, a dirge for the dead. Then he noticed that six of the nuns
were carrying a coffin, which they lowered into an open tomb.
Roland's nameless fears were confirmed in the evening, when the convent
priest visited him, and gently announced that Hildegarde was at rest.
Calmly Roland listened to these tidings, begged the priest to hear his
confession as usual, and, when he had received absolution, expressed a
desire to be buried with his face turned toward the convent where
Hildegarde had lived and died.
The priest readily promised to observe this request, and departed. When he
came on the morrow, he found Roland dead. They buried him reverently on the
very spot which bears his name, with his face turned toward Nonnenwoerth,
where Hildegarde lay at rest.
THE SONS OF AYMON.
The different _chansons de gestes_ relating to Aymon and the necromancer
Malagigi (Malagis), probably arose from popular ballads commemorating the
struggles of Charles the Bald and his feudatories. These ballads are of
course as old as the events which they were intended to record, but the
_chansons de gestes_ based upon them, and entitled "Duolin de Mayence,"
"Aymon, Son of Duolin de Mayence," "Maugis," "Rinaldo de Trebizonde," "The
Four Sons of Aymon," and "Mabrian," are of much later date, and were
particularly admired during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
One of the most famous of Charlemagne's peers was doubtless the noble Aymon
of Dordogne; and when the war against the Avars in Hungary had been
successfully closed, owing to his bravery, his adherents besought the king
to bestow upon this knight some reward. Charlemagne, whom many of these
later _chansons de gestes_ describe as mean and avaricious, refused to
grant any reward, declaring that were he to add still further to his
vassal's already extensive territories, Aymon would soon be come more
powerful than his sovereign.
[Sidenote: War between Aymon and Charlemagne.] This unjust refusal
displeased Lord Hug of Dordogne, who had pleaded for his kinsman, so that
he ventured a retort, which so incensed the king that he slew him then and
there. Aymon, learning of the death of Lord Hug, and aware of the failure
of his last embassy, haughtily withdrew to his own estates, whence he now
began to wage war against Charlemagne.
Instead of open battle, however, a sort of guerrilla warfare was carried
on, in which, thanks to his marvelous steed Bayard, which his cousin
Malagigi, the necromancer, had brought him from hell, Aymon always won the
advantage. At the end of several years, however, Charlemagne collected a
large host, and came to lay siege to the castle where Aymon had intrenched
himself with all his adherents.
[Sidenote: Loss of the horse Bayard.] During that siege, Aymon awoke one
morning to find that his beloved steed had vanished. Malagigi, hearing him
bewail his loss, bade him be of good cheer, promising to restore Bayard ere
long, although he would be obliged to go to Mount Vulcanus, the mouth of
hell, to get him. Thus comforted, Aymon ceased to mourn, while Malagigi set
to work to fulfill his promise. As a brisk wind was blowing from the castle
towards the camp, he flung upon the breeze some powdered hellebore, which
caused a violent sneezing throughout the army. Then, while his foes were
wiping their streaming eyes, the necromancer, who had learned his black art
in the famous school of Toledo, slipped through their ranks unseen, and
journeyed on to Mount Vulcanus, where he encountered his Satanic Majesty.
His first act was to offer his services to Satan, who accepted them gladly,
bidding him watch the steed Bayard, which he had stolen because he
preferred riding a horse to sitting astride a storm cloud as usual. The
necromancer artfully pretended great anxiety to serve his new master, but
having discovered just where Bayard was to be found, he made use of a
sedative powder to lull Satan to sleep. Then, hastening to the angry steed,
Malagigi made him tractable by whispering his master's name in his ear;
and, springing on his back, rode swiftly away.
Satan was awakened by the joyful whinny of the flying steed, and
immediately mounted upon a storm cloud and started in pursuit, hurling a
red-hot thunderbolt at Malagigi to check his advance. But the necromancer
muttered a magic spell and held up his crucifix, and the bolt fell short;
while the devil, losing his balance, fell to the earth, and thus lamed
[Sidenote: Bayard restored by Malagigi.] Count Aymon, in the mean while,
had been obliged to flee from his besieged castle, mounted upon a sorry
steed instead of his fleet-footed horse. When the enemy detected his
flight, they set out in pursuit, tracking him by means of bloodhounds, and
were about to overtake and slay him when Malagigi suddenly appeared with
Bayard. To bound on the horse's back, draw his famous sword Flamberge,
which had been made by the smith Wieland, and charge into the midst of his
foes, was the work of a few seconds. The result was that most of Aymon's
foes bit the dust, while he rode away unharmed, and gathering many
followers, he proceeded to win back all the castles and fortresses he had
Frightened by Aymon's successes, Charlemagne finally sent Roland, his
nephew and favorite, bidding him offer a rich ransom to atone for the
murder of Lord Hug, and instructing him to secure peace at any price. Aymon
at first refused these overtures, but consented at last to cease the feud
upon receipt of six times Lord Hug's weight in gold, and the hand of the
king's sister, Aya, whom he had long loved.
These demands were granted, peace was concluded, and Aymon, having married
Aya, led her to the castle of Pierlepont, where they dwelt most happily
together, and became the parents of four brave sons, Renaud, Alard,
Guiscard, and Richard. Inactivity, however, was not enjoyable to an
inveterate fighter like Aymon, so he soon left home to journey into Spain,
where the bitter enmity between the Christians and the Moors would afford
him opportunity to fight to his heart's content.
Years now passed by, during which Aymon covered himself with glory; for,
mounted on Bayard, he was the foremost in every battle, and always struck
terror into the hearts of his foes by the mere flash of his blade
Flamberge. Thus he fought until his sons attained manhood, and Aya had long
thought him dead, when a messenger came to Pierlepont, telling them that
Aymon lay ill in the Pyrenees, and wished to see his wife and his children
In answer to these summons Aya hastened southward, and found her husband
old and worn, yet not so changed that she could not recognize him. Aymon,
sick as he was, rejoiced at the sight of his manly sons. He gave the three
eldest the spoil he had won during those many years' warfare, and promised
Renaud (Reinold) his horse and sword, if he could successfully mount and
ride the former.
[Sidenote: Bayard won by Renaud.] Renaud, who was a skillful horseman,
fancied the task very easy, and was somewhat surprised when his father's
steed caught him by the garments with his teeth, and tumbled him into the
manger. Undismayed by one failure, however, Renaud sprang boldly upon
Bayard; and, in spite of all the horse's efforts, kept his seat so well
that his father formally gave him the promised mount and sword.
When restored to health by the tender nursing of his loving wife, Aymon
returned home with his family. Then, hearing that Charlemagne had returned
from his coronation journey to Rome, and was about to celebrate the
majority of his heir, Aymon went to court with his four sons.
During the tournament, held as usual on such festive occasions, Renaud
unhorsed every opponent, and even defeated the prince. This roused the
anger of Charlot, or Berthelot as he is called by some authorities, and
made him vow revenge. He soon discovered that Renaud was particularly
attached to his brother Alard, so he resolved first to harm the latter.
Advised by the traitor Ganelon, Chariot challenged Alard to a game of
chess, and insisted that the stakes should be the players' heads.
This proposal was very distasteful to Alard, for he knew that he would
never dare lay any claim to the prince's head even if he won the game, and
feared to lose his own if he failed to win. Compelled to accept the
challenge, however, Alard began the game, and played so well that he won
five times in succession. Then Charlot, angry at being so completely
checkmated, suddenly seized the board and struck his antagonist such a
cruel blow that the blood began to flow. Alard, curbing his wrath, simply
withdrew; and it was only when Renaud questioned him very closely that he
told how the quarrel had occurred.
Renaud was indignant at the insult offered his brother, and went to the
emperor with his complaint. The umpires reluctantly testified that the
prince had forfeited his head, so Renaud cut it off in the emperor's
presence, and effected his escape with his father and brothers before any
one could lay hands upon them. Closely pursued by the imperial troops,
Aymon and his sons were soon brought to bay, and fought so bravely that
they slew many of their assailants. At last, seeing that all their horses
except the incomparable Bayard had been slain, Renaud bade his brothers
mount behind him, and they dashed away. The aged Aymon had already fallen
into the hands of the emperor's adviser, Turpin, who solemnly promised that
no harm should befall him. But in spite of this oath, and of the
remonstrances of all his peers, Charlemagne prepared to have Aymon publicly
hanged, and consented to release him only upon condition that Aymon would
promise to deliver his sons into the emperor's hands, were it ever in his
power to do so.
The four young men, knowing their father safe, and unwilling to expose
their mother to the unpleasant experiences of the siege which would have
followed had they remained at Pierlepont, now journeyed southward, and
entered the service of Saforet, King of the Moors. With him they won many
victories; but, seeing at the end of three years that this monarch had no
intention of giving them the promised reward, they slew him, and offered
their swords to Iwo, Prince of Tarasconia.
[Sidenote: Fortress of Montauban.] Afraid of these warriors, yet wishing to
bind them to him by indissoluble ties, Iwo gave Renaud his daughter
Clarissa in marriage, and helped him build an impregnable fortress at
Montauban. This stronghold was scarcely finished when Charlemagne came up
with a great army to besiege it; but at the end of a year of fruitless
attempts, the emperor reluctantly withdrew, leaving Montauban still in the
hands of his enemies.
Seven years had now elapsed since the four young men had seen their mother;
and, anxious to embrace her once more, they went in pilgrims' robes to the
castle of Pierlepont. Here the chamberlain recognized them and betrayed
their presence to Aymon, who, compelled by his oath, prepared to bind his
four sons fast and take them captive to his sovereign. The young men,
however, defended themselves bravely, secured their father instead, and
sent him in chains to Charlemagne. Unfortunately the monarch was much
nearer Pierlepont at the time than the young men supposed. Hastening
onward, he entered the castle before they had even become aware of his
approach, and secured three of them. The fourth, Renaud, aided by his
mother, escaped in pilgrim's garb, and returned to Montauban. Here he found
Bayard, and without pausing to rest, he rode straight to Paris to deliver
his brothers from the emperor's hands.
Overcome by fatigue after this hasty journey, Renaud dismounted shortly
before reaching Paris, and fell asleep. When he awoke he found that his
steed had vanished, and he reluctantly continued his journey on foot,
begging his way. He was joined on the way by his cousin Malagigi, who also
wore a pilgrim's garb, and who promised to aid Renaud, not only in freeing
his brothers, but also in recovering Bayard.
[Sidenote: Malagigi's stratagem.] Unnoticed, the beggars threaded their way
through the city of Paris and came to the palace. There a great tournament
was to be held, and the emperor had promised to the victor of the day the
famous steed Bayard. To stimulate the knights to greater efforts by a view
of the promised prize, the emperor bade a groom lead forth the renowned
steed. The horse seemed restive, but suddenly paused beside two beggars,
with a whinny of joy. The groom, little suspecting that the horse's real
master was hidden under the travel-stained pilgrim's robe, laughingly
commented upon Bayard's bad taste. Then Malagigi, the second beggar,
suddenly cried aloud that his poor companion had been told that he would
recover from his lameness were he only once allowed to bestride the famous
steed. Anxious to witness a miracle, the emperor gave orders that the
beggar should be placed upon Bayard; and Renaud, after feigning to fall off
through awkwardness, suddenly sat firmly upon his saddle, and dashed away
before any one could stop him.
As for Malagigi, having wandered among the throng unheeded, he remained in
Paris until evening. Then, making his way into the prison by means of the
necromantic charm "Abracadabra," which he continually repeated, he
delivered the other sons of Aymon from their chains. He next entered the
palace of the sleeping emperor, spoke to him in his sleep, and forced him,
under hypnotic influence, to give up the scepter and crown, which he
triumphantly bore away.
[Treachery of Iwo.] When Charlemagne awoke on the morrow, found his
prisoners gone, and realized that what had seemed a dream was only too
true, and that the insignia of royalty were gone, he was very angry indeed.
More than ever before he now longed to secure the sons of Aymon; so he
bribed Iwo, with whom the brothers had taken refuge, to send them to him.
Clarissa suspected her father's treachery, and implored Renaud not to
believe him; but the brave young hero, relying upon Iwo's promise, set out
without arms to seek the emperor's pardon. On the way, however, the four
sons of Aymon fell into an ambuscade, whence they would scarcely have
escaped alive had not one of the brothers drawn from under his robe the
weapons Clarissa had given him.
The emperor's warriors, afraid of the valor of these doughty brethren now
that they were armed, soon withdrew to a safe distance, whence they could
watch the young men and prevent their escape. Suddenly, however, Malagigi
came dashing up on Bayard, for Clarissa had warned him of his kinsmen's
danger, and implored him to go to their rescue. Renaud immediately mounted
his favorite steed, and brandishing Flamberge, which his uncle had brought
him, he charged so gallantly into the very midst of the imperial troops
that he soon put them to flight.
[Sidenote: Renaud and Roland.] The emperor, baffled and angry, suspected
that Iwo had warned his son-in-law of the danger and provided him with
weapons. In his wrath he had Iwo seized, and sentenced him to be hanged.
But Renaud, seeing Clarissa's tears, vowed that he would save his
father-in-law from such an ignominious death. With his usual bravery he
charged into the very midst of the executioners, and unhorsed the valiant
champion, Roland. During this encounter, Iwo effected his escape, and
Renaud followed him, while Roland slowly picked himself up and prepared to
follow his antagonist and once more try his strength against him.
On the way to Montauban, Roland met Richard, one of the four brothers, whom
he carried captive to Charlemagne. The emperor immediately ordered the
young knight to be hanged, and bade some of his most noble followers to see
the sentence executed. They one and all refused, however, declaring death
on the gallows too ignominious a punishment for a knight.
The discussions which ensued delayed the execution and enabled Malagigi to
warn Renaud of his brother's imminent peril. Mounted upon Bayard, Renaud
rode straight to Montfaucon, accompanied by his two other brothers and a
few faithful men. There they camped under the gallows, to be at hand when
the guard came to hang the prisoner on the morrow. But Renaud and his
companions slept so soundly that they would have been surprised had not the
intelligent Bayard awakened his master by a very opportune kick. Springing
to his feet, Renaud roused his companions, vaulted upon his steed, and
charged the guard. He soon delivered his captive brother and carried him
off in triumph, after hanging the knight who had volunteered to act as
[Sidenote: Montauban besieged by Charlemagne.] Charlemagne, still anxious
to seize and punish these refractory subjects, now collected an army and
began again to besiege the stronghold of Montauban. Occasional sallies and
a few bloody encounters were the only variations in the monotony of a
several-years' siege. But finally the provisions of the besieged became
very scanty. Malagigi, who knew that a number of provision wagons were
expected, advised Renaud to make a bold sally and carry them off, while he,
the necromancer, dulled the senses of the imperial army by scattering one
of his magic sleeping powders in the air. He had just begun his spell when
Oliver perceived him and, pouncing upon him, carried him off to the
emperor's tent. Oliver, on the way thither, never once relinquished his
grasp, although the magician tried to make him do so by throwing a pinch of
hellebore in his face.
While sneezing loudly the paladin told how he had caught the magician, and
the emperor vowed that the rascal should be hanged on the very next day.
When he heard this decree, Malagigi implored the emperor to give him a good
meal, since this was to be his last night on earth, pledging his word not
to leave the camp without the emperor. This promise so reassured
Charlemagne that he ordered a sumptuous repast, charging a few knights to
watch Malagigi, lest, after all, he should effect his escape. The meal
over, the necromancer again had recourse to his magic art to plunge the
whole camp into a deep sleep. Then, proceeding unmolested to the imperial
tent, he bore off the sleeping emperor to the gates of Montauban, which
flew open at his well-known voice.
Charlemagne, on awaking, was as surprised as dismayed to find himself in
the hands of his foes, who, however, when they saw his uneasiness,
gallantly gave him his freedom without exacting any pledge or ransom in
return. But when Malagigi heard of this foolhardy act of generosity, he
burned up his papers, boxes, and bags, and, when asked why he acted thus,
replied that he was about to leave his mad young kinsmen to their own
devices, and take refuge in a hermitage, where he intended to spend the
remainder of his life in repenting of his sins. Soon after this he
disappeared, and Aymon's sons, escaping secretly from Montauban just before
it was forced to surrender, took refuge in a castle they owned in the
Here the emperor pursued them, and kept up the siege until Aya sought him,
imploring him to forgive her sons and to cease persecuting them.
Charlemagne yielded at last to her entreaties, and promised to grant the
sons of Aymon full forgiveness provided the demoniacal steed Bayard were
given over to him to be put to death. Aya hastened to Renaud to tell him
this joyful news, but when he declared that nothing would ever induce him
to give up his faithful steed, she besought him not to sacrifice his
brothers, wife, and sons, out of love for his horse.
[Sidenote: Death of Bayard.] Thus adjured, Renaud, with breaking heart,
finally consented. The treaty was signed, and Bayard, with feet heavily
weighted, was led to the middle of a bridge over the Seine, where the
emperor had decreed that he should be drowned. At a given signal from
Charlemagne the noble horse was pushed into the water; but, in spite of the
weights on his feet, he rose to the surface twice, casting an agonized
glance upon his master, who had been forced to come and witness his death.
Aya, seeing her son's grief, drew his head down upon her motherly bosom,
and when Bayard rose once more and missed his beloved master's face among
the crowd, he sank beneath the waves with a groan of despair, and never
Renaud, maddened by the needless cruelty of this act, now tore up the
treaty and flung it at the emperor's feet. He then broke his sword
Flamberge and cast it into the Seine, declaring that he would never wield
such a weapon again, and returned to Montauban alone and on foot. There he
bade his wife and children farewell, after committing them to the loyal
protection of Roland. He then set out for the Holy Land, where he fought
against the infidels, using a club as weapon, so as not to break his vow.
This evidently proved no less effective in his hands than the noted
Flamberge, for he was offered the crown of Jerusalem in reward for his
services. As he had vowed to renounce all the pomps and vanities of the
world, Renaud passed the crown on to Godfrey of Bouillon. Then, returning
home, he found that Clarissa had died, after having been persecuted for
years by the unwelcome attentions of many suitors, who would fain have
persuaded her that her husband was dead.
[Sidenote: Death of Renaud.] According to one version of the story, Renaud
died in a hermitage, in the odor of sanctity; but if we are to believe
another, he journeyed on to Cologne, where the cathedral was being built,
and labored at it night and day. Exasperated by his constant activity,
which put them all to shame, his fellow-laborers slew him and flung his
body into the Rhine. Strange to relate, however, his body was not carried
away by the strong current, but lingered near the city, until it was
brought to land and interred by some pious people.
Many miracles having taken place near the spot where he was buried, the
emperor gave orders that his remains should be conveyed either to
Aix-la-Chapelle or to Paris. The body was therefore laid upon a cart, which
moved of its own accord to Dortmund, in Westphalia, where it stopped, and
where a church was erected in honor of Renaud in 811. Here the saintly
warrior's remains were duly laid to rest, and the church in Dortmund still
bears his name. A chapel in Cologne is also dedicated to him, and is
supposed to stand on the very spot where he was so treacherously slain
after his long and brilliant career.
HUON OF BORDEAUX.
It is supposed that this _chanson de geste_ was first composed in the
thirteenth century; but the version which has come down to us must have
been written shortly before the discovery of printing. Although this poem
was deservedly a favorite composition during the middle ages, no manuscript
copy of it now exists. Such was the admiration that it excited that Lord
Berners translated it into English under Henry VIII. In modern times it has
been the theme of Wieland's finest poem, and of one of Weber's operas, both
of which works are known by the title of "Oberon." It is from this work
that Shakespeare undoubtedly drew some of the principal characters for his
"Midsummer-Night's Dream," where Oberon, king of the fairies, plays no
[Sidenote: Charlot slain by Huon.] The hero of this poem, Huon of Bordeaux,
and his brother Girard, were on their way from Guienne to Paris to do
homage to Charlemagne for their estates. Charlot, the monarch's eldest son,
who bears a very unenviable reputation in all the mediaeval poems,
treacherously waylaid the brothers, intending to put them both to death. He
attacked them separately; but, after slaying Girard, was himself slain by
Huon, who, quite unconscious of the illustrious birth of his assailant,
calmly proceeded on his way.
The rumor of the prince's death soon followed Huon to court, and
Charlemagne, incensed, vowed that he would never pardon him until he had
proved his loyalty and repentance by journeying to Bagdad, where he was to
cut off the head of the great bashaw, to kiss the Sultan's daughter, and
whence he was to bring back a lock of that mighty potentate's gray beard
and four of his best teeth.
"'Yet hear the terms; hear what no earthly power
Shall ever change!' He spoke, and wav'd below
His scepter, bent in anger o'er my brow.--
'Yes, thou may'st live;--but, instant, from this hour,
Away! in exile rove far nations o'er;
Thy foot accurs'd shall tread this soil no more,
Till thou, in due obedience to my will
Shalt, point by point, the word I speak fulfill;
Thou diest, if this unwrought thou touch thy native shore.
"'Go hence to Bagdad; in high festal day
At his round table, when the caliph, plac'd
In stately pomp, with splendid emirs grac'd,
Enjoys the banquet rang'd in proud array,
Slay him who lies the monarch's left beside,
Dash from his headless trunk the purple tide.
Then to the right draw near; with courtly grace
The beauteous heiress of his throne embrace;
And thrice with public kiss salute her as thy bride.
"'And while the caliph, at the monstrous scene,
Such as before ne'er shock'd a caliph's eyes,
Stares at thy confidence in mute surprise,
Then, as the Easterns wont, with lowly mien
Fall on the earth before his golden throne,
And gain (a trifle, proof of love alone)
That it may please him, gift of friend to friend,
Four of his grinders at my bidding send,
And of his beard a lock with silver hair o'ergrown."
WIELAND. _Oberon_ (Sotheby's tr.).
[Illustration: HUON BEFORE THE POPE--Gabriel Max.]
[Sidenote: Huon's quest.] Huon regretfully, left his native land to begin
this apparently hopeless quest; and, after visiting his uncle, the Pope, in
Rome, he tried to secure heavenly assistance by a pilgrimage to the holy
sepulcher. Then he set out for Babylon, or Bagdad, for, with the visual
mediaeval scorn for geography, evinced in all the _chansons de gestes_,
these are considered interchangeable names for the same town. As the hero
was journeying towards his goal by way of the Red Sea, it will not greatly
surprise the modern reader to hear that he lost his way and came to a
pathless forest. Darkness soon overtook him, and Huon was blindly stumbling
forward, leading his weary steed by the bridle, when he perceived a light,
toward which he directed his way.
"Not long his step the winding way pursued,
When on his wistful gaze, to him beseems,
The light of distant fire delightful gleams.
His cheek flash'd crimson as the flame he view'd.
Half wild with hope and fear, he rushed to find
In these lone woods some glimpse of human kind,
And, ever and anon, at once the ray
Flash'd on his sight, then sunk at once away,
While rose and fell the path as hill and valley wind."
WIELAND, _Oberon_ (Sotheby's tr.).
[Sidenote: Sherasmin.] Huon at last reached a cave, and found a gigantic
old man all covered with hair, which was his sole garment. After a few
moments' fruitless attempt at conversation in the language of the country,
Huon impetuously spoke a few words in his mother tongue. Imagine his
surprise when the uncouth inhabitant of the woods answered him fluently,
and when he discovered, after a few rapid questions, that the man was
Sherasmin (Gerasmes), an old servant of his father's! This old man had
escaped from the hands of his Saracen captors, and had taken refuge in
these woods, where he had already dwelt many years. After relating his
adventures, Huon entreated Sherasmin to point out the nearest way to
Bagdad, and learned with surprise that there were two roads, one very long
and comparatively safe, even for an inexperienced traveler, and the other
far shorter, but leading through an enchanted forest, where countless
dangers awaited the venturesome traveler.
The young knight of course decided to travel along the most perilous way;
and, accompanied by Sherasmin, who offered his services as guide, he set
out early upon the morrow to continue his quest. On the fourth day of their
journey they saw a Saracen struggling single-handed against a band of
Arabs, whom Huon soon put to flight with a few well directed strokes from
his mighty sword.
After resting a few moments, Huon bade Sherasmin lead the way into the
neighboring forest, although his guide and mentor again strove to dissuade
him from crossing it by explaining that the forest was haunted by a goblin
who could change men into beasts. The hero, who was on his way to insult
the proudest ruler on earth, was not to be deterred by a goblin; and as
Sherasmin still refused to enter first, Huon plunged boldly into the
enchanted forest. Sherasmin followed him reluctantly, finding cause for
alarm in the very silence of the dense shade, and timorously glancing from
side to side in the gloomy recesses, where strange forms seemed to glide
"Meanwhile the wand'ring travelers onward go
Unawares within the circuit of a wood,
Whose mazy windings at each step renew'd,
In many a serpent-fold, twin'd to and fro,
So that our pair to lose themselves were fain."
WIELAND, _Oberon_ (Sotheby's tr.).
[Sidenote: Meeting with Oberon.] The travelers lost their way entirely as
they penetrated farther into the forest, and they came at last to a little
glade, where, resting under the spreading branches of a mighty oak, they
were favored with the vision of a castle. Its golden portals opened wide to
permit of the egress of Oberon, king of the fairies, the son of Julius
Caesar and Morgana the fay. He came to them in the radiant guise of the god
of love, sitting in a chariot of silver, drawn by leopards.
Sherasmin, terrified at the appearance of this radiant creature, and under
the influence of wild, unreasoning fear, seized the bridle of his master's
steed and dragged him into the midst of the forest, in spite of all his
remonstrances. At last he paused, out of breath, and thought himself safe
from further pursuit; but he was soon made aware of the goblin's wrath by
the sudden outbreak of a frightful storm.
"A tempest, wing'd with lightning, storm, and rain,
O'ertakes our pair: around them midnight throws
Darkness that hides the world: it peels, cracks, blows,
As if the uprooted globe would split in twain;
The elements in wild confusion flung,
Each warr'd with each, as fierce from chaos sprung.
Yet heard from time to time amid the storm,
The gentle whisper of th' aerial form
Breath'd forth a lovely tone that died the gales among."
WIELAND, _Oberon_ (Sotheby's tr.).
All Sherasmin's efforts to escape from the spirit of the forest had been in
vain. Oberon's magic horn had called forth the raging tempest, and his
power suddenly stayed its fury as Huon and his companion overtook a company
of monks and nuns. These holy people had been celebrating a festival by a
picnic, and were now hastening home, drenched, bedraggled, and in a sorry
plight. They had scarcely reached the convent yard, however, where
Sherasmin fancied all would be quite safe from further enchantment, when
Oberon suddenly appeared in their midst like a brilliant meteor.
"At once the storm is fled; serenely mild
Heav'n smiles around, bright rays the sky adorn,
While beauteous as an angel newly born
Beams in the roseate dayspring, glow'd the child.
A lily stalk his graceful limbs sustain'd,
Round his smooth neck an ivory horn was chain'd;
Yet lovely as he was, on all around
Strange horror stole, for stern the fairy frown'd,
And o'er each sadden'd charm a sullen anger reign'd."
WIELAND, _Oberon_ (Sotheby's tr.).
[Sidenote: Oberon's aid promised.] The displeasure of the king of the
fairies had been roused by Huon and Sherasmin's discourteous flight, but he
merely vented his anger and showed his power by breathing a soft strain on
his magic horn. At the same moment, monks, nuns, and Sherasmin, forgetting
their age and calling, began to dance in the wildest abandon. Huon alone
remained uninfluenced by the music, for he had had no wish to avoid an
encounter with Oberon.
The king of the fairies now revealed to Huon that as his life had been pure
and his soul true, he would help him in his quest. Then, at a wave from the
lily wand the magic music ceased, and the charm was broken. Sherasmin was
graciously forgiven by Oberon, who, seeing the old man well-nigh exhausted,
offered him a golden beaker of wine, bidding him drink without fear. But
Sherasmin was of a suspicious nature, and it was only when he found that
the draught had greatly refreshed him that he completely dismissed his
[Sidenote: The magic horn.] After informing Huon that he was fully aware of
the peculiar nature of his quest, Oberon gave him the golden beaker,
assuring him that it would always be full of the richest wine for the
virtuous, but would burn the evil doer with a devouring fire. He also
bestowed his magic horn upon him, telling him that a gentle blast would
cause all the hearers to dance, while a loud one would bring to his aid the
king of the fairies himself.
"Does but its snail-like spiral hollow sing,
A lovely note soft swell'd with gentle breath,
Though thousand warriors threaten instant death,
And with advancing weapons round enring;
Then, as thou late hast seen, in restless dance
All, all must spin, and every sword and lance
Fall with th' exhausted warriors to the ground.
But if thou peal it with impatient sound,
I at thy call appear, more swift than lightning glance."
WIELAND, _Oberon_ (Sotheby's tr.).
Another wave of his lily wand, and Oberon disappeared, leaving a subtle
fragrance behind him; and had it not been for the golden beaker and the
ivory horn which he still held, Huon might have been tempted to consider
the whole occurrence a dream.
The journey to Bagdad was now resumed in a more hopeful spirit; and when
the travelers reached Tourmont they found that it was governed by one of
Huon's uncles, who, captured in his youth by the Saracens, had turned
Mussulman, and had gradually risen to the highest dignity. Seeing Huon
refresh some of the Christians of his household with a draught of wine from
the magic cup, he asked to be allowed to drink from it too. He had no
sooner taken hold of it, however, than he was unmercifully burned, for he
was a renegade, and the magic cup refreshed only the true believers.
Incensed at what he fancied a deliberate insult, the governor of Tourmont
planned to slay Huon at a great banquet. But the young hero defended
himself bravely, and, after slaying sundry assailants, disposed of the
remainder by breathing a soft note upon his magic horn, and setting them
all to dancing wildly, until they sank breathless and exhausted upon their
[Sidenote: The giant Angoulaffre.] As Huon had taken advantage of the spell
to depart and continue his journey, he soon reached the castle of the giant
Angoulaffre. The latter had stolen from Oberon a magic ring which made the
wearer invulnerable, and thus suffered him to commit countless crimes with
impunity. When Huon came near the castle he met an unfortunate knight who
imformed him that the giant detained his promised bride captive, together
with several other helpless damsels.
Like a true knight errant, Huon vowed to deliver these helpless ladies,
and, in spite of the armed guards at every doorway, he passed unmolested
into Angoulaffre's chamber. There he found the giant plunged in a lethargy,
but was rapturously welcomed by the knight's fair betrothed, who had long
sighed for a deliverer. In a few hurried sentences she told him that her
captor constantly forced his unwelcome attentions upon her; but that, owing
to the protection of the Virgin, a trance overtook him and made him
helpless whenever he tried to force her inclinations and take her to wife.
"'As oft the hateful battle he renews,
As oft the miracle his force subdues;
The ring no virtue boasts whene'er that sleep assails.'"
WIELAND, _Oberon_ (Sotheby's tr.).
Prompted by this fair princess, whose name was Angela, Huon secured the
ring, and donned a magic hauberk hanging near. But, as he scorned to take
any further advantage of a sleeping foe, he patiently awaited the giant's
awakening to engage in one of those combats which the mediaeval poets loved
[Sidenote: Angela and Alexis.] Of course Huon was victorious, and after
slaying Angoulaffre, he restored the fair Angela to her lover, Alexis, and
gave a great banquet, which was attended by the fifty rescued damsels, and
by fifty knights who had come to help Alexis. Although this gay company
would fain have had him remain with them, Huon traveled on. When too
exhausted to continue his way, he again rested under a tree, where Oberon
caused a tent to be raised by invisible hands. Here Huon had a wonderful
dream, in which he beheld his future ladylove, and was warned of some of
the perils which still awaited him before he could claim her as his own.
The journey was then resumed, and when they reached the banks of the Red
Sea, Oberon sent one of his spirits, Malebron, to carry them safely over.
They traveled through burning wastes of sand, refreshed and strengthened by
occasional draughts from the magic goblet, and came at last to a forest,
where they saw a Saracen about to succumb beneath the attack of a monstrous
lion. Huon immediately flew to his rescue, slew the lion, and, having drunk
deeply from his magic cup, handed it to the Saracen, on whose lips the
refreshing wine turned to liquid flame.
"With evil eye, from Huon's courteous hand,
Filled to the brim, the heathen takes the bowl--
Back from his lip th' indignant bubbles roll!
The spring is dried, and hot as fiery brand,
Proof of internal guilt, the metal glows.
Far from his grasp the wretch the goblet throws,
Raves, roars, and stamps."
WIELAND, _Oberon_ (Sotheby's tr.).
With a blasphemous exclamation the Saracen flung aside the cup, and seeing
that his own steed had been slain by the lion, he sprang unceremoniously
upon Huon's horse, and rode rapidly away.
[Sidenote: Princess Rezia.] As there was but one mount left for them both,
Huon and Sherasmin were now obliged to proceed more slowly to Bagdad, where
they found every hostelry full, as the people were all coming thither to
witness the approaching nuptials of the princess, Rezia (Esclamonde), and
Babican, King of Hyrcania. Huon and Sherasmin, after a long search, finally
found entertainment in a little hut, where an old woman, the mother of the
princess's attendant, entertained them by relating that the princess was
very reluctant to marry. She also told them that Rezia had lately been
troubled by a dream, in which she had seen herself in the guise of a hind
and pursued through a pathless forest by Babican. In this dream she was
saved and restored to her former shape by a radiant little creature, who
rode in a glistening silver car, drawn by leopards. He was accompanied by a
fair-haired knight, whom he presented to her as her future bridegroom.
"The shadow flies; but from her heart again
He never fades--the youth with golden hair;
Eternally his image hovers there,
Exhaustless source of sweetly pensive pain,
In nightly visions, and in daydreams shown."
WIELAND, _Oberon_ (Sotheby's tr.).
Huon listened in breathless rapture, for he now felt assured that the
princess Rezia was the radiant creature he had seen in his dream, and that
Oberon intended them for each other. He therefore assured the old woman
that the princess should never marry the detested Babican. Then, although
Sherasmin pointed out to him that the way to a lady's favor seldom consists
in cutting off the head of her intended bridegroom, depriving her father of
four teeth and a lock of his beard, and kissing her without the usual
preliminary of "by your leave," the young hero persisted in his resolution
to visit the palace on the morrow.
[Sidenote: Oberon again to the rescue.] That selfsame night, Huon and Rezia
were again visited by sweet dreams, in which Oberon, their guardian spirit,
promised them his aid. While the princess was arraying herself for her
nuptials on the morrow, the old woman rushed into her apartment and
announced that a fair-haired knight, evidently the promised deliverer, had
slept in her humble dwelling the night before. Comforted by these tidings,
Rezia made a triumphant entrance into the palace hall, where her father,
the bridegroom, and all the principal dignitaries of the court, awaited her
"Emirs and viziers, all the courtly crowd
Meantime attendant at the sultan's call,
With festal splendor grace the nuptial hall.
The banquet waits, the cymbals clang aloud.
The gray-beard caliph from his golden door
Stalks mid the slaves that fall his path before;
Behind, of stately gesture, proud to view,
The Druse prince, though somewhat pale of hue,
Comes as a bridegroom deck'd with jewels blazing o'er."
WIELAND, _Oberon_ (Sotheby's tr.).
In the mean while Huon, awaking at early dawn, found a complete suit of
Saracenic apparel at his bedside. He donned it joyfully, entered the palace
unchallenged, and passed into the banquet hall, where he perceived the
gray-bearded caliph, and recognized in the bridegroom at his left the
Saracen whom he had delivered from the lion, and who had so discourteously
stolen his horse.
[Sidenote: Huon's success.] One stride forward, a flash of his curved
scimitar, and the first part of Charlemagne's order was fulfilled, for the
Saracen's head rolled to the ground. The sudden movement caused Huon's
turban to fall off, however, and the princess, seated at the caliph's
right, gazed spellbound upon the knight, whose golden locks fell in rich
curls about his shoulders.
There are several widely different versions of this part of the story. The
most popular, however, states that Huon, taking advantage of the first
moments of surprise, kissed Rezia thrice, slipping on her finger, in sign
of betrothal, the magic ring which he had taken from Angoulaffre. Then,
seeing the caliph's guards about to fall upon him, he gently breathed soft
music on his magic horn, and set caliph and court a-dancing.
"The whole divan, one swimming circle glides
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