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

How Ralph Went to Court

T he next day, Ralph, having thought much on what he had undertaken, loaded his mare, as he was wont to do, with two panniers full of coals, and made ready to start on his journey to the court. "This is not of my counsel," said Gillian his wife; "this journey will not be to your profit. Remember the shrewd blow that you dealt him. Keep from the Court, say I." "Nay, Gill," said the Charcoal-burner, "I must have my way. I promised that I would go, and go I will, whether my going be for profit or for harm." So he loaded the panniers and went his way to the Court.

Meanwhile King Charles had not forgotten the matter. He called Roland to him, for, indeed, there was no man whom he trusted more, and said to him, "To-morrow morning take your horse and your harness, and watch well the road by which we went on the day that I was lost, and if you see anyone coming this way, whatever his errand may be, bring him with you to this place, and take care that he sees no one before he sees me."

Roland wondered much what the King might mean, for it seemed a strange thing that on the very day of Yuletide, when a man should rest, he should be sent on such an errand. Nevertheless he took his horse and his harness and rode forth early in the morning, and watched the roads as he had been commanded. For a long time he saw nothing either far or near; but a little past midday he saw the Charcoal-burner come driving his mare before him with two panniers filled with coals. The sight pleased him well; so he rode up to him with all the speed that he could. The man saluted him courteously, and Roland, in his turn, also saluted him. Their greetings ended, he said to the man, "Come now to the King; let nothing hinder you." "Nay," said Ralph, "I am not so foolish. This is a jest, Sir Knight, and it is ill courtesy for a knight to jest with a common man. There be many men better than I that come and go to Paris, and the King has no thought of them, whether it be morning or night. If you are in mind to trick me, I can hold my own, for all that I am ill-clad." "This is but foolishness," said Roland, "the King has straightly commanded that you should be brought to him." "Nay," answered Ralph, "I am on my way, according to promise made to one Wymond, and to him I will go and to none other." "Have done with your Wymond," cried Roland, "I must take you to the King as the King has commanded."

So they wrangled a long time, and still the churl was firmly set that he would go to Wymond and to none other. "And where dwells this Wymond of yours?" said Roland. "He dwells with the Queen at Paris, if his tale be true." "If that be so," answered Roland, "seeing that I know well the Queen and her ladies, and you are on your way to them, I will trust to your going. Only you must give me a pledge that this is truly your purpose." "Nay," said the Charcoal-burner, "I will pledge you no pledge. And as for you, get you out of my way, or it will be the worse for you."

Roland said to himself, "Now this is but folly to continue any longer with this fellow." And he took his leave of the man full pleasantly. But Ralph liked not such ways; for he thought that this knight that was so gaily clad had him in scorn. "Come hither, Sir Knight, to-morrow when we can be alone together, you and I; surely you shall see how I will deal with you."

Then Roland rode back to the King. By this time Mass was ended, and the King had put on his robes. "You are well come, Sir Roland," said he, "have you done my errand?" "Sire," answered Sir Roland, "I went as you gave me commandment, and watched the ways, but saw no man, but one only." "And who was this one?" asked the King. "He," said Roland, "was but a churl that had with him two panniers of coal." "Why did you not bring this said churl to me, as I bid you? It may be you durst not."

Roland saw that the King was wroth, and was not a little glad to go forth from his presence. Going forth he met a porter, "Whither go you, lazy loon?" said he. Said the porter, "There is one at the gate, a churl that has a mare and two panniers of coals, and he clamours to be let in at the gate" "Whom does he want?" said Roland. The porter answered, "He asks for one Wymond." Then Roland said, "Go back to your place, porter, and open the gate and bid him enter. But say that it does not lie within your office to go to this Wymond, but that he must himself seek him."

So the porter went back to the gate and opened it, saying to the Charcoal-burner, "Enter, man; but I have no leisure to seek for this Wymond for whom you ask. You must seek him yourself." Said Ralph, "If you will not seek the man, I must needs do it myself; see you then that no harm come to the mare and the coals, and I will look for Wymond, for certainly it was he that bade me come hither."

So the Charcoal-burner went his way through the palace asking for Wymond. There was not one that knew the man, or had so much as heard the name. They seemed to Ralph to lack courtesy; nevertheless he would not cease from his quest, nor was there any one of whom he failed to inquire. After he had passed through many chambers he came to one that was more splendid than all that he had seen before. It was a great hall finely painted and hung about with tapestries, and there the King sate at dinner in great state. On the table were many dainties, and there was a store of dishes, both silver, and gold, and many other adornments. "Here is royalty enough," cried Ralph. "If I could only have speech with Wymond, I would away, for this methinks is no place for a simple man." And still he went on. Many sought to put him back, for he seemed to press on in an unmannerly fashion; but he was a stalwart man that gave as much as he took.

At last, after not a little trouble, he got sight of the King, where he sat in state at the table. "See," he cried, "that is Wymond, yonder, the man whom I seek. Well do I know him, though, indeed, he is otherwise clad than when I last saw him. Now he is in cloth of gold. Truly he must be some greater man than he said. Alas, that I have been wiled hither. Truly this man has beguiled me." When the King heard this he laughed.

Ralph looked about on the company that sat with the King, for many worshipful men were there. But when he saw the Queen, then he was greatly troubled. "Lady," he said, "I am sorely troubled to see your fine attire, so splendid is it. Now if I can but escape hence this day, nothing in the whole world shall bring me hither again."

And now, dinner being over, the King rose from the table; and he told before the whole company how he had fared with the Charcoal-burner. The churl quaked as he heard the tale. And he said, "Would I were on the moor again this very hour, and the King alone, or any one of his knights, be he the bravest and strongest of them all."


Ralph in the Palace of Charlemagne.

Then the lords laughed aloud. Some, however, were angry, and would have had the man hanged. "What is this churl," said they, "that he should so misuse the King?" But Charles would have none of such doings. "He is a stalwart man, and can strike a hard blow. Heaven forbid that I should harm him. Rather will I make him a knight." So he dubbed Ralph the Charcoal-burner a knight, and gave him a revenue of 300 by the year, and "the next fee in France that shall come into my hands, that," said he, "will I give you. But now you must win your spurs." So the King gave him his armour and arms, and sixty squires of good degree to be his company. And Ralph was in after time a very perfect, noble knight, and did good service to the King.

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