Gateway to the Classics: Stories of Charlemagne by Alfred J. Church
Stories of Charlemagne by  Alfred J. Church

How Oliver and his Comrades Fared.

T he Saracens that had charge of Oliver and the other knights did not halt till they came to a rich city, Aygremore by name. Being arrived there they made a great braying of trumpets at the gate. Balan, who was father to Fierabras, hearing this came to the gate, and seeing there Brullant, said to him, "Tell me, Brullant, my friend, how you have fared. Have you taken King Charles, and put his Peers to flight?" Brullant answered, "I have no such tidings for you, Sir Admiral. We have been discomfited by King Charles, and Fierabras your son was overcome in single fight by one of the King's Barons, and has been made a Christian man."

When the Admiral heard this, he was greatly troubled, and fell into a swoon. Being recovered from this, he made a great complaint of his ill-fortune, and lamented over his son, as one who never having been vanquished before had now suffered defeat. And at last, so great was his rage, he cried, "Now if this be true, and Fierabras my son is lost to me, verily I will strike out the brains of this false god Mahomet, who having promised me so much has fulfilled so little." And he threw himself in an agony upon the ground.

After a while, his anger having now somewhat cooled, he said to Brullant, "Tell me now, was Fierabras my son vanquished by one of these knights whom I now see before me? If it be so, show the man to me." So Brullant showed to him Oliver, and Balan was fain to admire him, so tall he was and strong and fair. Nevertheless he cried, "Bring him hither to me, and I will cut him to pieces." When the others understood that it was his purpose to put Oliver to death, they were greatly troubled. But Oliver comforted them saying, "We are not in such ill case as you think. But mark this one thing that I counsel you. Tell not your true names to the Admiral. If he once knows that we are Peers of France, he will have no pity upon us, and we shall die." But the Saracens knew not what he said. After this Balan commanded that the prisoners should be brought before him, having been first bound with cords and blindfolded. This being done, he said to Oliver, "Tell me now your name and country, and mind that you say nothing that is false."

Oliver answered, "I am a poor knight, Eugenes by name, born in Lorraine, my father being a yeoman, and these my comrades whom you see are poor knights also, and we have taken service with the King, hoping thus to get advancement and reward." Balan was very wroth to hear this. "I thought," he cried, "that I had five of the best and bravest knights in France, and that having these I possessed, as it were, the keys of France." And he said to his chamberlain, "Strip these men of their raiment and bind them to that pillar yonder, and bring me darts well pointed with iron that I may shoot at them for my sport." But Brullant stood up and said, "Sir Admiral, I beseech you to hear me; it is now eventide, and too late to do justice in proper form; your lords and councillors also are not here; delay therefore this matter to the morrow, when the thing shall be known and your judgment better approved, for that these men rightly deserve such punishment I do heartily believe. Consider also that King Charles may be willing to give up Fierabras in exchange for these knights. Wherefore you would do well to keep them without harm."

"This is good counsel," said the Admiral. "Send for Brutamont, and let him take these men in charge." Now Brutamont was keeper of the King's prison.

Then Brutamont thrust these French knights into the prison, which was a dungeon so deep that no light could enter it. A horrible place it was, in which were nourished serpents and toads and all manner of venomous beasts, and there was a most evil stench in it. Also the water of the sea flowed in when the tide was high, and at this time it was so deep in the dungeon that it came up even to the shoulders of the prisoners. As for Oliver the salt water made his wounds, which were many and grievous, to smart beyond all bearing. He was therefore in evil case, and most certainly had died but for Gerard of Montdidier, who kept him up so that he should not drown. And indeed they were all in great peril of drowning, and doubtless had so perished, but that there were in the dungeon two pillars, fifteen feet or thereabouts in height, upon which they climbed, lifting up Oliver also, for of his own strength he could not have done it. Loudly did he lament, crying out that his father Reyner should never more see him alive. But Gerard comforted him, saying, "It is not for a brave knight to complain. Let us rather trust in God. Nevertheless I wish that we had each of us a good sword in his hand. I vow to God that we would slay not a few score of Saracens before they should put us again into this dungeon."

Now the Admiral had a daughter, Floripas by name, a very fair damsel, and not yet married. She was of a reasonable stature, and as bright as a rose in May. Her hair was like shining gold, and her eyes bright as the eyes of a falcon, and the eyebrows above them fine and straight, her nose shapely, her cheeks well rounded, fair as a fleur-de-lys, but with delicate colour of rose; her mouth small and delicate with a chin suitably fashioned, and her shoulders straight and her bosom of a most dainty curve. She was clad in a robe of purple broidered with gold, of noble aspect, and of such a virtue that no one wearing it could be harmed by any poison. Such was Floripas to behold. So fair was she, that if a man had fasted for three days or four and should then look upon her, he should be as well satisfied as with abundance of meat and drink.

The maiden hearing the complaints of the French knights felt a great pity for them. So she went from her chamber to the hall, and twelve maidens that waited upon her followed. And when she came to the hall she found a great lamenting, and asking the cause she heard that her brother Fierabras had been vanquished in battle and taken prisoner. Thereupon she cried aloud, and wept bitterly, and all that were in the hall wept with her.

After that the maiden's grief was somewhat spent, she sent for Brutamont the jailer, and demanded of him who were these men that he had in the dungeon. "Madam," said he, "they are French knights, servants of King Charles, and they have wrought great harm to our people, and done dishonour to our gods. This also they have added to their crimes, that they have helped to slay Fierabras your brother. One of them there is who is as seemly a man as ever I beheld; 'twas he, I am told, that prevailed over your brother." Then said Floripas, "Open now the dungeon, for I would fain know how they fare." But Brutamont answered, "Not so, madam; the place is foul and loathsome, and so dark that you could see the men. Also your father has strictly charged me that I should suffer no one to come near to the prison, and least of all a woman, seeing that many are deceived and shamed by women.

Floripas was very wroth to hear such words, "Thou evil beast!" said she; "dost use such speech to me?" And she called her chamberlain and bade him fetch her a staff. Which when he had brought, she smote Brutamont the jailer so mighty a blow upon the head that he fell to the ground a dead man.

Then Floripas bade them light a torch and open the door of the prison. And when she saw the prisoners how they had climbed upon the pillars, as has been told, she said, "Tell me now, my lords, who you are and how you are named." Oliver answered, "Fair lady, we are men of France, and knights of King Charles, and having been brought hither have been put by the Admiral into this horrible dungeon. Better had we been slain in battle than that we should rot in this place!" Floripas, who for all that she was not a Christian woman, was of great courtesy and compassion, said to them, "Now I promise that I will take you out of this prison, only you must engage to do what I demand of you." And Oliver said, "That will we do, madam, right gladly. We are true men and faithful, nor have we ever been aught else, nor will be. Give us arms in our hands, and set us where we may fight with these Saracens. Verily they shall be ill content with us."

"Now," answered Floripas, "methinks you boast overmuch. Here are you in prison, and you boast yourself against them that are at liberty. 'Tis better for a man to be quiet than to talk so foolishly." Then spake Gerard, "Lady, he that is so kept in prison will oft use light words that he may forget his pain." Then Floripas said to Gerard, "You excuse your fellow right courteously. I trow that you have a flattering tongue wherewith to win a maiden's heart." You speak truly, lady," cried William the Scot; "you shall not find his peer for three hundred miles and more."

After this Floripas sent her chamberlain to fetch a rope, which she let down into the dungeon. When the prisoners saw it they put it first round Oliver, and Floripas and her chamberlain drew him up out of the water with no little labour. After him the others were drawn up more easily. Having so rescued them, she took them by a secret way into her own lodging, which was a very fair and spacious abode, marvellously adorned with all manner of paintings, as of the sun and the moon and all the host of heaven, with woods and mountains and living creatures of all kinds, made, as some will have it, by the son of Methuselah. This dwelling stood on a black rock, altogether surrounded by the sea, and near to it was a garden of which the flowers and fruits never failed. There were precious herbs also which availed to cure all manner of sickness and maladies, save only the malady of death.

Now Floripas had a governess, by name Maragonde. Maragonde said to the maiden, "Madam, I know these Frenchmen well. That is Oliver, son of Reyner, the same that has vanquished Fierabras your brother; that yonder is Gerard of Montdidier, and this William the Scot. Now may Mahomet send his curse upon me if I do not straightway tell your father, the lord Admiral." When Floripas heard these words she changed colour, being moved to much anger, which nevertheless she hid. Then she called the woman to come to her where she stood by a window; when she was come she struck her to the ground with a great blow, and calling her servant, bade him throw her into the sea, for she much feared her father and his malice. "Go now, spiteful wretch," said Floripas when she saw Maragonde sink in the water, "You have your reward."

This done, she greeted the Frenchmen right courteously, and when she saw how Sir Oliver was covered with blood, she gave him a draught of a certain herb that is named Mandegloire, which when he had drunk he was immediately made whole. Then the knights were refreshed with baths and were furnished with goodly apparel, and had entertainment of meat and drink. And when they were satisfied, she said to them, "My lords, I know full well who you are, that this, for instance, is Sir Oliver who vanquished Fierabras my brother; yet I have showed you this great kindness, nor this without danger to myself. Now there is a certain knight in France whom I have long loved, Guy of Burgundy by name, he is the goodliest man that ever I saw, and is of the kindred of Charlemagne and of Roland. I saw him at Rome when my father the Admiral took that city, and then and there gave him my heart, when he had struck down to the earth a certain Lucifer that was chief of the pagan warriors. For the sake of this Guy I will become a Christian, and if I may not have him to my husband, I will never marry. Now therefore I beg that you will help me in this matter." Then said Gerard of Montdidier, "Madam, give us arms, and we will put the Saracens to flight." But Floripas was prudent and said, "Rest awhile, my friends, for it will need much counsel before it can be seen what you had best do."

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