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

How Archbishop Turpin Died

W hen Roland came to himself he looked about him and saw how great was the calamity that had befallen his army. For now there were left alive to him two only, Turpin the Archbishop and Walter of Hum. Walter had but that moment come down from the hills where he had been fighting so fiercely with the heathen that all his men were dead; now he cried to Roland for help. "Noble Count, where are you? I am Walter of Hum, and am not unworthy to be your friend. Help me therefore. For see how my spear is broken and my shield cleft in twain, my hauberk is in pieces, and my body sorely wounded. I am about to die; but I have sold my life at a great price." When Roland heard him cry he set spurs to his horse and galloped to him. "Walter," said he, "you are a brave warrior and a trustworthy. Tell me now where are the thousand valiant men whom you took from my army. They were right good soldiers, and I am in sore need of them."

"They are dead," answered Walter; "you will see them no more. A sore battle we had with the Saracens yonder on the hills; they had the men of Canaan there and the men of Armenia and the Giants; there were no better men in their army than these. We dealt with them so that they will not boast themselves of this day's work. But it cost us dear; all the men of France lie dead on the plain, and I am wounded to the death. And now, Roland, blame me not that I fled; for you are my lord, and all my trust is in you."

"I blame you not," said Roland, "only as long as you live help me against the heathen." And as he spake he took his cloak and rent it into strips and bound up Walter's wounds therewith. This done he and Walter and the Archbishop set fiercely on the enemy. Five-and-twenty did Roland slay, and Walter slew six, and the Archbishop five. Three valiant men of war they were; fast and firm they stood one by the other; hundreds there were of the heathen, but they dared not come near to the three valiant champions of France. They stood far off, and cast at the three spears and darts and javelins and weapons of every kind. Walter of Hum was slain forthwith; and the Archbishop's armour was broken, and he wounded, and his horse slain under him. Nevertheless he lifted himself from the ground, still keeping a good heart in his breast. "They have not overcome me yet "; said he, "as long as a good soldier lives, he does not yield."

Roland took his horn once more and sounded it, for he would know whether King Charles were coming. Ah me! it was a feeble blast that he blew. But the King heard it, and he halted and listened. "My lords!" said he, "things go ill for us, I doubt not. To-day we shall lose, I fear me much, my brave nephew Roland. I know by the sound of his horn that he has but a short time to live. Put your horses to their full speed, if you would come in time to help him, and let a blast be sounded by every trumpet that there is in the army." So all the trumpets in the host sounded a blast; all the valleys and hills re-echoed with the sound; sore discouraged were the heathen when they heard it. King Charles has come again," they cried; "we are all as dead men. When he comes he shall not find Roland alive." Then four hundred of them, the strongest and most valiant knights that were in the army of the heathen, gathered themselves into one company, and made a yet fiercer assault on Roland.

Roland saw them coming, and waited for them without fear. So long as he lived he would not yield himself to the enemy or give place to them. "Better death than flight," said he, as he mounted his good steed Veillantif, and rode towards the enemy. And by his side went Turpin the Archbishop on foot. Then said Roland to Turpin, "I am on horseback and you are on foot. But let us keep together; never will I leave you; we two will stand against these heathen dogs. They have not, I warrant, among them such a sword as Durendal." "Good," answered the Archbishop. "Shame to the man who does not smite his hardest. And though this be our last battle, I know well that King Charles will take ample vengeance for us."

When the heathen saw these two stand together they fell back in fear and hurled at them spears and darts and javelins without number. Roland's shield they broke and his hauberk; but him they hurt not; nevertheless they did him a grievous injury, for they killed his good steed Veillantif. Thirty wounds did Veillantif receive, and he fell dead under his master. Roland stood alone, for the heathen had fled from his presence, alone and on foot. Fain would he have followed after the enemy; but he could not. Then he bethought him of the Archbishop; when he looked, he saw him laid upon the plain. He unlaced his helmet and took the corslet from off him, and bound up his wounds with strips of his shirt of silk, and taking him in his arms laid him down softly on the grass. This done, he said to him, "Dear friend, suffer me to leave you awhile. All our comrades, the men whom we loved so much, are dead. Yet we must not leave them lying where they are. Listen then. I will go and seek for their bodies, and I will bring them hither, and set them in order before you." "Go," said the Archbishop, "and come back as soon as you may. The field is left to me and to you. Thanks be to God for the same!"

Then Roland went to seek his comrades. Alone he went, and passed over all the field of battle. He searched the mountains, he searched the valley. There he found the dead bodies of Gerier and of Engelier the Gascon, of Berenger and of Otho; and of others also. All the Peers of France he found where they lay. Then he carried them one by one and set them all on their knees before the Archbishop. Turpin could not choose but weep when he saw these brave comrades dead. He raised his hand and gave them his blessing.

Friends," said he, "an evil fate has overtaken you in this world; may the God of glory receive you in the world to come!"


On the Field of Roncesvalles.

Now Roland went again and searched the plain till he found the body of his comrade Oliver. Under a thorn he found it, and he raised it tenderly in his arms, and brought it back to where the Archbishop sat, and put it hard by the other Peers of France. And Turpin gave him also blessing and absolution. This done, Roland said with many tears, "Oliver, my brave comrade, never was there a better knight than you to break a lance, and shatter a shield, to give good counsel to the brave, and to put to shame traitors and cowards." And when he had said this he looked round on that fair company of the dead, and his heart failed within him. Such goodly knights they were, and so dear to him, and now they were gone. And he fell in a swoon upon the ground.

When the Archbishop saw him fall he reached out his hand and laid hold of the horn. There was a spring of water in the place, and he would fain give a draught to his comrade. Gathering all that he had of strength together, he lifted himself from the ground, stumbling and staggering he went, but his strength did not suffice for the task; before he had gone the length of a furlong he fell staggering to the ground, and the agony of death came upon him.

Roland came out of his swoon and lifted himself from the ground. He looked down and he looked up, and lo! on the other side of his dead comrades, stretched on the green grass, lay the great prince, the Archbishop. His life was well-nigh spent. "I have sinned," he said, and he clasped his hands and lifted them to heaven, and prayed to God that he would take him into Paradise. And with these words he died. This was the end of Turpin. Never was there a man who dealt with the heathen with mightier blows or weightier discourse. May the blessing of God be upon him!

When Roland saw that the Archbishop was dead, his heart was sorely troubled in him. Never did he feel a greater sorrow for comrade slain, save Oliver only. "Charles of France," he said, "come as quickly as you may, many a gallant knight have you lost in Roncesvalles. But King Marsilas, on his part, has lost his army. For one that has fallen on this side there has fallen full forty on that." So saying he turned to the Archbishop; he crossed the dead man's hands upon his breast and said, "I commit thee to the Father's mercy. Never has man served his God with a better will, never since the beginning of the world has there lived a sturdier champion of the faith. May God be good to you and give you all good things!"

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