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

Of Richard of Normandy

O n a certain day after these things Richard of Normandy said to his fellows, "How long are we to abide shut up in this Tower? I am sure that at the last we must perish by the hands of these Saracens. It would be well, therefore, that we send a messenger to King Charles, telling him that if he would not have us perish he must send us help." The Duke Naymes said, "This, Sir Richard, is but foolishly spoken. There is no man here that will dare take this message. Know you not that the whole land is covered with the Saracens, so that as soon as the messenger is parted from us he will be slain by them?" And Floripas said, "My lords, you are safe while you abide in this place; make yourselves, therefore, as happy as you can." But Duke Thierry was ill-content with such counsel, "We are shut in here, my lords," said he, "and our happiness must be but brief. Let us inform the King of our condition, that he may come to our help."

Ogier the Dane answered as the Duke Naymes had answered, that there was no man who would go on such an errand. "Nay," cried Roland, "say not so. I will go." But the Duke Naymes answered, "That would be ill done, Sir Roland; you must not go hence; the Saracens would not have so much fear of us by a half as now they have if you were gone." Then others proffered to go, as William the Scot, and Gerard, and Guy of Burgundy, this last being willing with all his heart, but Floripas would not suffer it.

At last Richard of Normandy spake thus: "My lords, you know that I am nobly born, and that I have a son of full age to bear arms, and fit to stand in my place. Now if it should chance that I am slain in taking this message, this my son would hold my heritage and do service to King Charles." So it was concluded that Richard of Normandy should take the message to the King. Roland said to him, "Sir Richard, promise now that you will not tarry in any place till you come to the King, saving if you should be hurt or taken prisoner." And Duke Richard promised it should be so. Having so promised, he said, "Let us consider now how I may get away from this place unseen of the-men-at-arms, for if they espy me I cannot escape."

Roland said, "My counsel is this. Let us sally forth from the Tower, and assault the Saracens with all our might, and while they are busied with us then shall Duke Richard steal away, for he well knows the country." To this they all agreed, not without tears, for they knew that the Duke had taken upon himself a very perilous enterprise.

The next day, when this thing should have been done, the French lords found that the gates of the Tower were so closely beset by a multitude of Saracens that no man could by any means go forth. And this was so for the space of two whole months. At the end of this time, the Admiral having gone a-hunting, and the watch of the bridge being negligently kept, the knights mounted their horses and issued forth. So soon as they were seen of the Saracens, there was a great blowing of horns and trumpets, and a multitude of men ran together to do battle with the knights. While they were so engaged Duke Richard secretly departed. After the Duke had ridden awhile, the road being very steep, for it was on the side of a mountain, his horse was sorely spent, and he was constrained to halt. And as he halted two of the Saracens, to wit Sortibrant and Brullant, espied him, and said to King Clarion, who was a very notable warrior, "See you, Sire, that man yonder. Of a truth he is one of the Frenchmen that are shut up in the Tower yonder. Without a doubt he is taking a message to Charlemagne. Now, if we do not hinder him in this his journey it may well turn to our great loss." When King Clarion heard this he armed himself without delay, and mounted on his beast—a marvellous beast that could gallop thirty leagues and not grow weary—and pursued after Duke Richard, and other Saracens went with him.

When Duke Richard, looking behind him, saw the Saracens following him, he was greatly troubled, for what could one man do against so many? Nor was it long before the pursuers came up with him, King Clarion leading them. The King said, "By Mahomet, you shall never deliver this message." Duke Richard spoke him fair, "What trespass have I done? I have never offended you or taken your treasure. Suffer me, therefore, to go in peace. Render me this service, and be sure that I will repay it many fold." But Clarion answered, "I would not do this, no not for half the treasure of the world."

When he heard this, Duke Richard turned to meet the enemy. King Clarion smote him on the shield, but could not break it through, so stiff and strong was it. But the Duke, on the other hand, smote him full on the neck, and shore off his head cleanly with one blow. It flew a whole spear's length, so great was the stroke. Then the Duke, leaving his own horse, took King Clarion's for himself; never before had he ridden such a horse, so strong was it and so swift. He could have borne seven knights in armour, and never sweated a drop; as for swimming rivers, there never was beast like him. Then the Duke said to his own horse, "Farewell, my good horse; I am grieved that I cannot take thee when I will. God in heaven help thee to escape these Pagans, and come again into the hands of Christian men, whom thou mayst faithfully serve in great straits, even as thou hast served me." So saying he went on his way.

When the other Saracens came up and found King Clarion lying dead upon the ground they made great lamentation over him. Some would have taken Duke Richard's horse, but the beast would not suffer them to come near him but galloped as fast as he could to the place from which he had come. And, indeed, thither he came in a very short space of time. First the Admiral saw him, and cried aloud, "Now by Apollyon my god, this is well done of Clarion my nephew; without doubt he has slain the messenger of the Frenchmen, for see his horse is coming." And he bade his men catch the horse. But this they could not do, for the creature won its way to the gates of the Tower, and these the knights opened to receive him, lamenting much, for they had no doubt but that Duke Richard had been slain.

Nevertheless, Floripas bade them be of good cheer. "Stay your tears," she said; "as yet you know not the whole matter."

Meanwhile the Saracens that had accompanied King Clarion came back, bearing with them the King's body. When the Admiral saw it he swooned, not once only but four times, so that he seemed like to a dead man. The Saracens stood about, and made a great lamentation, so that the Barons began to take heart again, and Floripas, being well acquainted with the Saracen tongue, said, "Now I perceive the truth. Duke Richard has slain this man and taken his horse, for indeed there is no better horse in all the world. This lamentation that you hear is for this ill fortune."

All the Barons were glad when they heard these words, and Oliver said to Roland, "Now this is good news. I am sure in my mind that we shall safely return home. I had not been more sure had I been in the strongest castle in all France. God bless Duke Richard, for he has borne himself right bravely." And all the other knights agreed to his speech.

Meanwhile the Admiral called to him one of his favourites, by name Orage, saying to him, "Now take a dromedary and ride with all speed to Gallafer that keeps the Bridge of Mantryble, and say to him from me, "You suffered the messengers of King Charles to pass over, whereby I have suffered great damage. And now there goes a messenger to the King from the knights that are shut up in this Tower; wherein if you fail, you shall pay for it with your life." Orage said to the Admiral, "I will do your bidding with all speed, for I can take in one day such a journey as other men take in four." And he departed forthwith on his dromedary.

When he came to the Bridge Mantryble, he said to Gallafer, "The Admiral is ill content with you, because you suffered the messengers of King Charles to cross the bridge. They have done him great damage, holding his chief Tower, and therein his gods and Floripas his daughter, and have slain many of his servants. And now there comes a messenger from these same men, who is on his way to Charlemagne to seek for help. Keep him, therefore, from crossing the bridge, which thing if you fail to do, you will surely die shamefully." When he heard these words, Gallafer, the giant, was greatly enraged, and made as if he would smite Orage with a staff, but they that stood by hindered him. Then he mounted to the top of the Tower, and sounded his trumpet, so that many thousands of men assembled. Also the drawbridge was lifted.

Meanwhile Duke Richard considered within himself by what means he might cross the bridge, and was in great perplexity, "for," said he, "I do not see how I may win forward, nor may I return, and so fail in my promise to Roland. Now may God help me in my need." And looking about him, he saw how the whole land was covered with multitudes of Saracens, of whom some were now but a little space behind him. The foremost of these called to him with a loud voice, saying, "Now turn you, Sir Messenger, for your hour is come."

Duke Richard was ill content to hear such boasting, and, turning himself quickly, came upon him unawares and smote him so grievously that he fell dead to the earth. Then he took the Saracen's horse by the bridle and rode down to the river's bank. And lo! the stream ran as swiftly as a bolt from a cross-bow, with a noise like to thunder. And when he saw this and heard the roaring of the water, he commended himself to God.

While he looked, lo! a white hart came to the river-side, and the river, which before had been so much below the bank as a man may conveniently cast a stone, began to rise, and so continued till it came to the very top of the bank and even overflowed it. Thereupon the white hart entered the water, and Richard, commending himself to the protection of God, did the same, and swam safely to the other side.

Meanwhile King Charles, being in great trouble about the knights whom he had sent with a message to the Admiral of Spain, called together his counsellors and told them what was in his mind, saying, "I am greatly troubled because that no report has come to me concerning the knights that I sent. I know not what to do, save that I will put off this crown, which I am not worthy to bear." Said Ganelon, "My lord, I will give you good counsel. Let us return forthwith to France. This town of Aygremore is too strong for us. And the Admiral is a great warrior, and has also all the Saracens and Pagans in the world to help him. And now that Fierabras, his son, has been made a Christian by you, he is even more evilly disposed to you than he was before. Let us therefore go back to France. It is true that many valiant peers and knights have perished, but they have left children behind them, and these, when they have grown to man's estate, will do those things wherein their fathers have failed. So shall we recover the Holy Things, for which, indeed, I feel great sorrow, and avenge also Roland, the good knight whom I am persuaded you will never see more."

When the King heard this he fell into a swoon for the space of an hour. When he came to himself he asked his lords again for counsel, for he was loath to go back and leave Roland and the other Peers without help.

But Ganelon and all that were of his kindred, and all that followed him, gave him the same counsel as before. "There are twenty thousand of us," said Ganelon, "that have sworn not to go any further." But the King said, "What shall my crown profit me, if I do this base thing, and leave these my knights to perish without help! He that gives me such counsel loves me but little." Then said Reyner, that was father to Oliver, "Sire, if you listen to these men you will do this realm of France such damage as may never be undone." But Aloys, one of the friends of Ganelon, answered, "You lie, Duke Reyner; were it not that the King is here, this is the last word that you should say. For indeed who are you that you take so much upon yourself? Your father was a man of low estate." Then Reyner waxed so wroth that he smote Aloys to the ground. Thereupon there was great tumult and quarrelling, and there would have been bloodshed had not the King been there. "For," said Charles, "any man that shall draw sword in this place shall be hanged as a thief, though he be of the highest estate." So after a while the King, Fierabras helping, made peace, but "first," said he, "Aloys that spake so scornfully of Duke Reyner must crave pardon." And this Aloys did, but sorely against his will. Nevertheless the counsel of those who were for going back prevailed; for Geoffrey of the High Tower, than whom there was no man more worshipful in the King's court, was urgent that it should be so. Then the King consented, but with much sorrow, and all the nobler sort among his lords were greatly troubled that this should be done. So the signal of retreat was given.

Scarcely had the army set forth, when King Charles, chancing to cast his eyes eastward, saw one on horseback, with a sword drawn in his hand, that was riding with all the speed to which he could put his horse. Thereupon he called a halt, "for," said he, "if my eyes fail me not, this is Richard of Normandy. God grant that he brings tidings of Roland and of the other Peers!"

As soon as Duke Richard was come to where he stood, the King asked him concerning Roland and the Peers. Then Duke Richard told him that they yet lived; also he told him concerning Floripas and the Holy Things, but that the knights were straitly besieged. "Can they hold out," said Charles, "six days? If so they shall be delivered." "It may be," answered Richard. "But they have no victual save what they can win with their swords; the Admiral also has a mighty host of Saracens about the Tower." Also he told him about the bridge Mantryble, and of the great giant that kept it. "This bridge," said he, "we must pass by subtlety, for by force we cannot. Now I have devised a plan by which this may be done. Let some of us clothe ourselves as merchants, having our armour and arms under our cloaks, and let the rest hide themselves in a wood hard by, and be ready armed for battle. So when we shall have gained the first gate, I will blow on my horn, and at this signal you shall ride up with all the speed you may."

The King greatly approved this counsel. Thereupon five hundred knights disguised themselves as merchants. They made great bundles of hay and grass, which was to serve as merchandise. Every man also was well armed under his cloak, Duke Richard was their leader, and with him was Duke Reyner and others of great repute.

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