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

Of the Craft of Mawgis

W hen King John of Gascony heard all the trouble that had befallen the brethren, on the one side, and the Emperor and his knights, on the other, he could not rest, so much did his conscience trouble him. So having bidden farewell to his sister Clare, Reynaud's wife, he sought a certain Abbey, and there took a monk's habit. But a certain man that was a spy was aware of the matter, and told it to Roland. Also he said that the brethren and Mawgis were journeying to Montalban. Then Roland, having first called Oliver, said, "We will go now and fight with the sons of Aymon, and we will take four thousand men only with us, so that we shall have no advantage over them, inasmuch as they have five thousand well horsed and well armed."

Said Ogier the Dane, "I will go with you and see how you fare, and I promise that if you lay hands on them I will lend you a rope."

Roland first came to the Abbey, and said to the Abbot. "You have here in a monk's habit a certain John, whom men call King of Gascony. Deliver him to me that I may hang him as a thief." And when the Abbot would not consent, Roland entered the cloister, and took King John by force, the man being known to him, and set him on a horse, with his face to the tail. The King said to a certain knight whom he knew, "Go now to Reynaud and say that I am in sore straits." Sir," said the knight, "I doubt whether Reynaud will so much as stir a foot to help you." Nevertheless he consented to go.

Now Reynaud had come by this time to the castle of Montalban. But when his wife the Lady Clare came forth to meet him, he would not suffer her to come near to him. "Go," he said, "to your false brother John." The children also, for he had two sons, he spurned away. "I will have none of this evil brood," said he. But when the Lady Clare swore by all the Saints that she had no knowledge of her brother's wickedness and fell in a swoon at his feet, and his brothers also made intercession for her, his heart was softened, and he consented to receive her again. As they sat at meat there came the knight from King John. He said, "King John is in sore straits. Roland has taken him prisoner, and is steadfastly purposed to hang him. The King knows that he has sinned grievously against you, nevertheless he prays that you will help him." Then cried Alard, "If Roland hang that traitor, he will do well." But Reynaud said nothing.

When he had thought a long while he began to speak, telling all the story of his life, how he had himself done wrong to others, and how he had suffered many things, and was bound to show mercy rather than hardness. "King John," he said, "would have betrayed me, but he did it for fear of King Charles. It becomes me to help him in his need."

To this the brethren consented, though not willingly. So they set forth, having six thousand men on horseback, and one thousand on foot, and before they had gone many hours' journey there came Roland and Oliver and Ogier the Dane, having King John with them, as has been said.

When Ogier saw them, he greatly rejoiced. "If one had given me a thousand marks in gold," he said, "it had not pleased me so well as that Roland should meet the brethren and Mawgis and learn of what quality they are." To Roland he said, "See now what you have desired so long. If you take these men alive the King will give you great thanks therefore, and you will have Bayard for your own, and the war will be ended." Roland answered "Ogier, you say not this in kindness, but I will do my best."

Reynaud, on the other part, when he saw Roland and his company, said to his brothers, "Stay you behind till you are wanted. I will make trial of this great Roland." And when they would have kept him back he said, "I know that he is the strongest knight in all the world. Nevertheless I will meet him, for mine is the right cause and his the wrong. Therefore I shall certainly prevail."

When the two armies were now near, Oliver said to Roland, "these men are too many for us." "Not so," answered Roland, "the Gascons are but cowards." "Maybe," said Turpin the Archbishop, "but they have a good leader this day, and a valiant man has ever valiant men to follow him."

Roland, liking this talk but little, rode forth to meet Reynaud. But Reynaud, when he was now at the distance to charge, lighted down off Bayard, and fixing his spear in the earth, tethered his horse, and running forward knelt before Roland and said to him, "I pray you to have pity on me, for you are of kin to me. I will give you Bayard my horse, that is the most precious thing I have, and my lordship of Montalban, if you can make the King to be at peace with us. Further, I promise that I will leave France for the rest of my days, and go to the Holy Land with my brothers and Mawgis, and there make war upon the Saracens."


Reynaud Kneeling to Roland.

Roland was much troubled at these words, and said, "I would that it might be, but the King will not make peace except you deliver to him Mawgis." "Mawgis," said Reynaud, "is not one that a man can give or take. And now seeing that I have humbled myself in vain let us two settle this matter. There is no need that others should shed their blood, but we only. If you overcome me then shall you take me to the King, that he may do with me as he will; but if I, on the other hand, overcome, then will I take you to Montalban, but you shall suffer no harm or shame."

To this Roland consented, but his friends would not suffer it to be so. So the two armies met together in battle, and many were slain on both sides, but in the end Reynaud and his men prevailed over Roland and his army. Nevertheless Reynaud suffered this great loss and damage, that his brother Richard, having assailed Roland, was overthrown and taken prisoner.

When Reynaud heard these tidings he was greatly troubled, and would have given himself up to King Charles, if he might so deliver his brother. But this the others would not suffer. Then said Mawgis, "Trouble not yourselves about Richard, I will set him free. Do you go to Montalban." But they doubted how he should do this, and were in great heaviness.

Meanwhile Mawgis disguised himself in such a fashion that no one could know him. By eating of a certain herb he made himself much bigger to see, and with another herb he darkened his face almost to blackness. Then he put on him the habit of a pilgrim, having a mantle and hood, and great boots on his feet, and a staff in his hand. This done, he conveyed himself with more speed than if he had ridden the swiftest of horses to the King's camp, for he was a magician, as has been said. This speed he used that he might be beforehand with Roland. When he was come to the Camp, he watched till the King came forth from his tent, and said to him, "God keep you, Sir, from all treason!" Now the King, having been deceived many times, said, "Who is this knave? Does he compass some treason?" For a while the false pilgrim made no answer. But then, as one that takes courage to speak, he said, "Sir, you may see that I am a poor man that has more need of health than of compassing treason. I am newly come from Jerusalem, where I worshipped at the Holy Sepulchre, and now I must go to Rome and to St. James of Compostella, but I am in great trouble. Yesterday, as I was passing over the river Gironde with ten men that I had to guard me, there fell upon me some thieves that slew all my men and took all that I had. These thieves told me that they were the four sons of Amyon, and one Mawgis, their cousin. And when I asked them why they dealt so hardly with me, they answered that they were in such sore need at their castle of Montalban that they could not choose but rob all wayfarers. Then they beat me and let me go. And now, Sire, I pray that you will avenge me of these robbers."

The King answered, "Gladly would I avenge you if I might, but I can do nothing against these men." And the false pilgrim said, "If I cannot have help of man, yet surely I shall have it of God." The King said, "This seems to be a godly man." And he turned to his lords. "It would be a good deed to give this pilgrim alms." And he commanded his steward to give him twenty pounds in silver.

When Mawgis received the money, he said to himself, "Surely you shall have a reward for this." But aloud he said, "I pray you, Sire, to give me some meat, for since yesterday I have neither eaten nor drunk." And the King commanded that he should be served with the very best.

So Mawgis ate and drank; he said nothing, but looked very earnestly at the King. And Charlemagne said, "Tell me, pilgrim, why you look so earnestly upon me?" The false pilgrim answered, "Sire, I have travelled in many lands, but never saw I, whether among Saracens or Christian men, so godly and courteous a prince. Now, therefore, of all the pardons that I have I will give you half." "That," answered the King, "is a fair gift. I take it willingly." So the false pilgrim gave him his staff to kiss for a token. And now came Roland with Richard his prisoner. But before he had audience of the King, the Duke Naymes and other Barons said to him, "It will be ill done if you deliver Richard to the King. Let him depart in peace." "That," answered Roland, "I will do right willingly if I may."

But a certain yeoman that was standing by heard the, Barons and Roland talking together, and told the matter to the King. And he, coming forth from his tent, when he saw Richard, cried, "Villain, now that I have you, I will see that you are hanged by the neck," and he smote him with his staff. Then Richard leapt upon the King, for he had been unbound, and the two wrestled together and fell to the earth. But the Barons laid hands upon them and held them apart.

When Mawgis saw how the King had smitten Richard, he had much ado to keep still. Nevertheless he restrained himself, making a sign to Richard, and when Richard knew him he was glad, being sure that he should be delivered by his means.

After this Mawgis departed from the King's camp, and went with all speed to Montalban. Being come there, he said to the three brethren, "Richard is yet alive, but he is in great straits. Come and deliver him while there is yet time." Thereupon they all set out. But when they were come near to the camp, and had hidden themselves in a wood that was hard by, it so happened that for weariness they all fell into a deep sleep. And this thing came near to the undoing of Richard.

Meanwhile the King called his Barons together. First he said to Berenger, Lord of Valois, "I will make you quit of all service to me if you will take this knave Richard and see that he is hanged." Berenger answered, "You love me little, my lord King, if you make such a demand of me. I will not do this thing."

Then the King said to another of the Barons, "You hold Bavaria of me, and are bound to serve me with three thousand men. I will quit you of this service if you will hang this knave Richard." "I will not hurt the man," answered the Earl.

Then he turned to Ogier the Dane and said, "Now, if you would prove me your love, hang this fellow." "Nay," answered Ogier, "I will not, and, moreover, I hold any man to be my enemy that shall harm Richard."

At the last he said to Turpin the Archbishop, "Hang this Richard, and I will make you Pope of Rome." "Sire," answered Turpin, "to do so would be against my priest's duty."

At last the King prevailed with a certain knight, Ripus by name, that he should do this deed. So this Ripus, having put a halter about Richard's neck, led him to the gallows which had been set up outside the wood. And when Richard would have given him gold he would have none of it. Only he suffered that a priest should shrive him, to whom indeed Richard confessed more sins than he had committed in his whole life, so gaining a little time, for he yet looked for help. And when the shriving was ended, then he begged for time wherein he might make his prayers, nor could Ripus say him nay.

And now, when he was in the greatest need, did the good horse Bayard help him, for he, having such wit as never horse had before, seeing that Reynaud his master was fast asleep, smote with his hoof on his shield that he woke him, and he, looking up, the gallows being hard by the wood, saw Richard now beginning to mount the ladder that was set against the gallows. Then he leapt on Bayard's back, and made all haste to deliver Richard, Mawgis and Alard and Guichard following him with all the speed they could use.

As for Ripus and his men, they could make no stand against the brothers and Mawgis. Many were slain, and the rest were right glad to fly. Then Reynaud took the bodies of Ripus and fifteen of his knights that lay dead upon the plain and hanged them on the gallows that had been set up for Richard.

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