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

Of the Bridge of Mantryble

D uke Reyner could neither eat nor drink for the grief that he had about his son; and when he could no longer endure this trouble, he came to King Charles and made his complaint. "Oh, sir," he said, "I am like to die of grief for my dear son Oliver. If I have no tidings of him then I must needs perish, or go myself to seek him." The King when he heard these words was full of pity, and sent for Roland, and said to him, "Fair nephew, you must go on the morrow to Aygremore, and get speech of Balan, and say to him, and that full plainly, that he must straightway deliver up the holy things that he has, and also set free those my knights that he has in keeping. And if he refuse to do these things, then tell him that I will most surely hang him as a thief." To this Roland answered, "Fair king and uncle, send me on no such errand, for if you do, you will never see me more." Then spake the Duke Naymes, "Take heed, Sire, what you do. You know what a valiant man is your nephew Roland. If you send him, he will return no more." Said King Charles, "Then you shall go with him, bearing the letters that I shall send to the Admiral." And then others of the Peers, as Duke Thierry and Ogier the Dane, stood up in their place, and said the same thing, then the King swore a great oath, even by the eyes in his head, that they also should go. So he did to six of the Peers. Last of all he spied Guy of Burgundy and said to him, "You are my cousin and nearest to me in blood, you shall be the seventh with these six to take my message to Balan the Admiral. You shall say to him that I purpose to baptize him, that he holds of me his whole kingdom, and that he must deliver up to me the holy things." Said Guy of Burgundy, "My lord, I pray you send me not on this errand, for if you will send me I am assured that you will never see me again." But the King took no heed. On the morrow the seven came and stood before him and said, "We crave your leave to depart; if we have done wrong to any in this company we pray his pardon, and if any have wronged us, him we pardon." At these words all that were there began to weep for pity. The King said, Well beloved, I commend you to God; may He have you in His keeping!" Then they went their way.

Meanwhile in Aygremore the Admiral was in great trouble and doubt. He sent, therefore, for fifteen Kings of the Saracens, that they might advise him. When they were come the fiercest of them, Maradas by name, said, "Sir Admiral, why have you sent for us?" Balan answered, "I will tell you truly: Charlemagne is on his way hither. He says that I hold my kingdom of him. Now he were better advised to sit still and rest his old body, and pray in his churches, and eat such food as he has. Go you, therefore, and demand of him my son Fierabras, and bid him do homage for his kingdom, or I will come with one hundred thousand men, and constrain him." Maradas liked not the matter, but said that he would go. So did the others also; so they armed themselves and departed.

So these two companies both went their way, and in no long while approached one to the other. And first Duke Naymes espied the Saracens, and said, "See now these Saracens are coming against us with a great force; advise what we shall do. Roland said: "Be in no haste, my lords. There be but twenty of them, or, at the most thirty; let us ride straight against them," and this advice seemed good to them all.

After this Maradas rode out from the company of the Saracens, and said, "It is an ill fortune for you, being Christian men, that you have met with us." "That is foolishly said," answered Duke Naymes. "We come from King Charles bearing a message to Balan your master." Maradas said again: "For all that you are in danger. Will any one joust with me?" "That will I," said Duke Naymes. "You are overbold," answered Maradas. "I would willingly fight with ten such as you. Hear you now, all of you; let no one move from his place; I will overcome you all, and give you to my lord the Admiral."

Roland, when he heard these words, was well-nigh beside himself with anger, and cried, "Before the sun set, thou shalt see what we can do." Then he charged at Maradas in great fury, and Maradas charged also. Each brake the corselet of the other with his spear's point; but Roland dealt Maradas such a blow that he brake his helmet from off his head, and then, quickly recovering himself, smote him on his bare skull and cleft it to the brain, so that he fell down dead. Then the other knights fell upon the rest of the Saracens and slew them, one only escaping, who did not draw rein till he came to the Admiral. Said the Admiral, "You have come back with good speed. What have you done?" And the King that had escaped answered, "It has gone very ill with us; we encountered seven Knights of France, who said they were King Charles's men. They ran upon us, and had such mastery over us that I only escaped to tell the tale." When the Admiral heard, he well-nigh died of grief and rage.

After the battle with the Saracens Roland and his fellows rested awhile in a meadow that was nigh at hand. And the Duke Naymes said, "It were well that we should return to King Charles and tell him how we have faded. I take it he will be well pleased." But Roland said, "Do you talk of returning, Sir Duke? So long as I have my good sword Durendal in my hand I will not return. We will do our message to the Admiral as the King commanded. Come now, let us take each one a head of a pagan in his hand and present them to the Admiral." "You are out of your wits, Sir Roland," said the Duke Naymes; "if we do so, we shall surely be all slain." But the others were of Roland's opinion; therefore each man took a head of a pagan in his hand, and they went their way.

So they journeyed till they came to the Bridge Mantryble. When the Duke Naymes saw the bridge, he said, "This is Mantryble, and on the other side of the bridge lies the town of Aygremore, where we shall find the Admiral." Then said Ogier the Dane, "We must first pass the bridge, and it is a very dangerous place. There are in it thirty arches, and on it are great towers, and the walls are so wide that ten knights can ride abreast upon them. And in the midst of it is a great draw-bridge, which is let down and pulled up with ten chains of iron. And under the bridge there is a river, which they call Flagot. This river flows as fast as a bolt flies out of a cross-bow; so fierce is the current that no boat or galley can by any means cross over it. And the Keeper of the bridge is a giant, Gallafer by name, a very terrible monster to behold. He is armed with an axe of steel with which to smite down any one that may presume to pass over the bridge against his will."

Then said Roland, Do not trouble yourselves, my lords. As long as it shall please God to keep me, and I have Durendal in my hand, I care not one penny for any pagan, be he giant or other. This porter I will slay, if he seek to hinder me." But Duke Naymes said to Sir Roland, "This is foolish talk; it is not wise to give one blow and to receive a score. Leave the matter to me, and I will deal so with the porter, that he will let us pass over the bridge without any trouble."

So when they came to the bridge, the Duke Naymes rode before them. He was an old man, and his hair was white, so that it became him to ride first. The porter said to him, "Whither do you go with this company, and what is your errand?" The Duke answered, "We are messengers from King Charles, and we go to Aygremore with a message to Balan the Admiral. He has not driven all evil men out of his country, for on our way we met some fifteen villains who would have taken from us our horses and our lives. But we took such order with them that they will not trouble us any more. See, here are their heads."

When the porter heard these words he was well-nigh out of his wits with anger. He said to the Duke Naymes, "Hear me; you must pay your toll for the passing of this bridge." The Duke answered, "What is the toll. We will content you." "It is no little, this toll," said the porter. "You must pay thirty couple of hounds, and a hundred damsels, and a hundred falcons in their cages, and a hundred horses, and for each foot of each horse a piece of gold. Also you must give me four pack-horses laden with gold and silver." The Duke said, "All this and more you will find in our baggage, which comes after us. You shall have your toll by noon. Of a truth there are many more things than you say, as hauberks, and helmets, and good shields. You shall take of them as much as you will." This Gallafer the Porter believed, so boldly did the Duke speak, and he let them pass by the drawbridge. Then Roland laughed out, and said, "Sir Duke, you have indeed kept your word; "and when they had gone a little further Roland espied a Turk that was coming across the bridge, and without ado he lighted down from his beast, took the Turk by the middle, and threw him over the wall of the bridge into the river. When the Duke Naymes, looking behind him, saw what he had done, he said, "Surely the devil is in this Roland; he has no patience in him. If God does not keep us he will bring us all to our death." And indeed Roland was of so high a courage that he took no count of time or place; wherever he found his enemy he would forthwith avenge himself on him.

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