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

The Coming of Roland

R eynaud and his brothers, with Mawgis their cousin, came in their riding to Poictiers, where it was told them that John, King of Gascony was hard pressed by the Saracens. Reynaud said to his comrades, "Let us go to the help of the King." To this they consented, and so coming to the city of Bordeaux were joyfully received by the King and his courtiers.

Not many days after, the King of the Saracens came to Bordeaux, and Reynaud and his comrades went forth from the city to attack him. Then followed a great battle, and the Saracens fled, whom Reynaud pursued so hotly that all his friends counted him to have been slain. Great, therefore, was their joy when Reynaud came back, not only safe and sound, but bringing with him the King of the Saracens, as prisoner, for he had taken him in single combat. Thereupon, King John, holding that he could not honour too greatly so valiant a knight, yielded to him a fair hill whereon was a castle, and gave him also his sister in marriage. This castle Reynaud made very strong with towers and the like, and called it Montalban; and for a while the brothers had peace.

It befell that King Charles, going on a pilgrimage, saw this same hill with the castle built upon it, and much admiring, would know who dwelt there. When he heard that it was the castle of the sons of Aymon, he was very wroth, and sent an embassy, of which Ogier the Dane was the leader, to King John, demanding that the brothers and their company should be delivered to him. "I will do no such thing," said the King. Thereupon King Charles said to his barons, "You see how this man defies us. Come now, we will go to Paris, and hold a council of the whole realm, and consider how we shall deal with him."

When the Council was assembled, the King stood up, and set the matter before them. Then the Duke Naymes spake in this fashion; "Sir, we are wrong in this war; let us have peace for five years; after that, if you are so minded, we will fight again." This counsel angered the King greatly, but while he doubted what he should say, there came to the palace a young man, very fair, and well arrayed, with thirty squires following him, and did obeisance to the King. "Tell me your name," said Charles. "Sire," answered the stranger, "my name is Roland, and I am your nephew, being son of your sister that is married to the Duke of Milan." "You are welcome," said the King. "To-morrow I will make you a knight and you shall make war upon these traitors, the sons of Aymon." "That I will do right willingly," answered Roland, "seeing that Reynaud slew my cousin, Berthelot."

On the morrow the King made Roland a knight. But while they sat at the feast, there came a messenger saying that the city of Cologne was beset of Saracens. Said Roland to the King, "Let me go against these infidels," and the King answered, "You shall go." So Roland went with twenty thousand men well armed and fell upon the Saracens, and took from them spoils and prisoners, and overcame their King in single combat, bringing him back to Paris and delivering him to the King.

The King said to Duke Naymes, "How did Roland, my nephew, bear himself in the battle?" "Never did knight bear himself better," answered the Duke, "only he needs a horse that should carry him well when he is fully armed. I counsel you, therefore, to make a proclamation that there shall be a race of all the best horses in your realm, and that you will give to the horse that shall prevail your crown of gold, and five hundred marks of fine silver, and a hundred rolls of silk." "This is good counsel," said the King, and he caused proclamation to be made, and the lists to be set up.

Now it chanced that a yeoman of Gascony, being in Paris, heard the proclamation, and going back to his own country told the matter to Reynaud and Mawgis. When Reynaud heard it, he laughed and said: "Now shall the King see as good a race as ever was run in the world, for I will go to Paris with Bayard and win this prize." "I will go with you," said Mawgis, "and your brethren also, and we will have with us some knights well armed."

So Reynaud and his company set out, and when any one would know who they were, they said that they were from Bearn, and that they were journeying to Paris to run their horses in the King's race. When they were now near to Paris, Mawgis, being a great magician, took a certain herb that he knew, and when he had pounded it with the pommel of his sword, and tempered it with water, he rubbed Bayard therewith, so that he became all white. And he took another herb that he knew and therewith caused Reynaud to look like a youth of twenty years. When the others saw Reynaud and his horse, how changed they were, they laughed aloud. Then Reynaud and Mawgis parted from them, and went on alone to Paris with Bayard the horse.

Meanwhile, the King had sent the Duke Naymes, and Ogier the Dane, and another, with a hundred knights to keep the road from Orleans, that none might pass without their knowledge. There they abode, not a few days, suffering much from hunger and thirst. "What do we here?" said Duke Naymes. "Does the King hold us to be fools that he makes us tarry here for nothing?" "You say well," said Ogier the Dane, "let us go back." But even as he spake, they were aware of two men on horseback. Said the Duke, "That horse is Bayard, but that he is of another colour." When the men were near, the Duke said to them, "Who are you?" Mawgis answered, "My name is Sousser, and I come from Peron, and this is my son, but he speaks no French."

The Duke said to Reynaud, "Man, know you anything of Reynaud, the son of Aymon?" Reynaud answered him with strange words that no man could understand. "What devil taught thee to speak such strange French? Maybe 'tis Latin, but thou art more like to a fool than to a bishop." And he suffered the two to pass in peace.

When they came to Paris some ill fellow saw them, and cried in a loud voice, "This is Reynaud, son of Aymon," at which saying many ran together. Thereupon the villain, growing bold, caught Bayard by the bridle. But the horse smote the man on the breast with his fore foot, and killed him.

Then the two rode on, and took a lodging in an inn; where when they bedded their horses, Mawgis took a thread of silk and waxed it well and after bound the fore feet of Bayard. Said the host, "Why do you this? The horse can run but ill being so bound. But tell me who is the knight; had he more years he were like Reynaud the son of Aymon." Mawgis answered, "I bound the horse's feet because he is given to fighting. As for his rider he is my son." But it chanced that, not long after, Mawgis named Reynaud by name, and the host heard it and said, "This beyond all doubt is Reynaud who slew the King's nephew. Truly, before I sleep, I will tell the matter to the King." Reynaud heard the man speak and straightway slew him. Thereat there was no small outcry, but the two knights mounted on their horses, and mingling with the crowd, so escaped.

After mass the King and his lords went down to a certain meadow that is by the river Seine, where the race should be run. And the two knights went with him, but Bayard having his foot bound halted much. Then said one knight, "See here the horse that will win the prize," and another said, "Verily, he will win, if God so favour him." And they laughed him to scorn.

When the trumpets sounded for the starting of the horses they all ran. When Mawgis saw this, he lighted from his horse and cut the thread of silk that was bound about Bayard's foot. And Reynaud spurred his horse, saying to him, "Bayard, we are far behind, now it is time for you to haste." When Bayard heard his master so speak, he understood him as well as though he had been a man. Straightway he held up his head, and stretched forth his neck, and ran so fast that he speedily passed all the other horses. When the King saw this he said to Richard of Normandy, "This white horse is marvellously swift, and he is like to Bayard, the horse of Reynaud, son of Aymon."

Reynaud, having prevailed in the race, took the crown of gold, but the silver and the silk he disdained. Then having the crown in his hand, he rode back to the palace where the King sat with his lords. The King said to him, "I will give you for your horse such treasure as will content you." Reynaud answered: "Sire, I have angered you many times, and slain your men, and now I carry away your crown. Know that I am Reynaud, son of Aymon. Seek elsewhere for a horse that you may give to Roland your nephew. But Bayard you shall not have." So saying he spurred his horse, and rode away, and when he had travelled certain miles, then came Mawgis on his black horse. So these two returned to the castle of Montalban, and were received with great joy.

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