Gateway to the Classics: Stories of Roland by H. E. Marshall
Stories of Roland by  H. E. Marshall

The Coming of the Emir of Babylon

K ING Marsil fled from the battlefield, and thus fleeing, at last he reached Saragossa. There in the shadow of an olive tree by his palace gateway, he lighted down. His servants crowded round him in sad astonishment to see their master return in such sorry plight. His broken sword, his shattered helmet and hauberk he gave to them. Then he flung himself down upon the grass, hiding his face.

When the Queen Bramimonde heard that her lord had returned, she hurried to him. Then as she listened to his woful tale, and saw his shattered wrist, from which the right hand was gone, she wept aloud and made great moan. With terrible curses she cursed Charlemagne and France, she cursed her own heathen gods and idols. Then she threw the image of Apollin down, taking from him his crown and sceptre and trampling him under foot. "Oh, wicked god," she cried, "why hast thou brought such shame upon us? Why hast thou allowed our king to be defeated? Thou rewardest but ill those who serve thee."

The images of Tervagan and Mahomet too she caused to be beaten and broken in pieces, and flung to the pigs and dogs. Never were idols treated with such scorn.

Then Queen Bramimonde beat upon her breast; she tore her hair and cried aloud to all the four corners of the earth. As for King Marsil, he went into his great vaulted room and lay upon his couch and would utter no word to any man, such was his grief.

But even as Queen Bramimonde cried aloud and King Marsil lay silent upon his couch, a mighty fleet came sailing up the Ebro.

Seven years before, when Charlemagne had first come to Spain, King Marsil had sent a message to the old Emir of Babylon, begging him for aid. But Babylon is far, and the Emir Baligant had to gather his knights and barons from forty kingdoms, so the years passed and no help came. But now at last, after long delay, he had reached the land of Spain, and was even now sailing up the Ebro with all his mighty men of war. By day the river for miles was gay with gilded prows and many-coloured pennons. By night thousands of lanterns glittered from the masts, and swung and flickered in the summer breeze, so that the country all around was lighted up with starry flame.

At length the Emir landed. A white silk carpet was thrown upon the ground, in the shade of a laurel tree an ivory chair was set and there the Emir took his seat. Around him stood seventeen kings together with knights and barons in such numbers that no man might count them.

"Listen, valiant warriors," cried Baligant. "I mean to bring this Charlemagne, of whom we hear such wondrous tales, so low that he shall not even dare to eat unless I give him leave. Too long hath he been making war in Spain, and I will carry battle and the sword into his fair France. I shall never cease from warring until I see him at my feet, or dead." And thus insolently boasting, Baligant struck his knee with his glove.

Then the Emir called two of his knights. "Go to Saragossa," he said, "and tell King Marsil that I have come to help him. And what battle there will be when I meet Charlemagne! Give Marsil this glove embroidered with gold; put it on his right hand. Give him, too, this golden mace, and say to him that so soon as he hath come to do me homage I will march against Charlemagne. And if the Emperor will not kneel at my feet asking mercy, if he will not deny the Christian faith, I will tear his crown from his head!"

" 'Tis well said!" cried the heathen.

"And now to horse, barons! to horse," cried Baligant. "One of ye shall carry the glove, the other the mace. Haste ye!"

"Thy will shall be done," answered the barons and, leaping upon their horses, they sped towards Saragossa.

But as they came near to the city they heard a great noise. It was the heathen folk who wept, and cried and made great moan, cursing their gods Tervagan and Apollin and Mahomet, who had done nought for them. "Miserable beings that we are," they cried, "what will become of us? Shame and misfortune have fallen upon us. We have lost our king, for Roland hath cut off his right hand. His fair son too is dead. All Spain is in the hands of the Franks."

In great astonishment the messengers of Baligant drew rein and lighted down at the steps of the palace. Then mounting the stairs, they entered the great vaulted room where the King lay silent and the Queen wept and mourned.

"May Apollin, and Tervagan and Mahomet our master save the King and guard the Queen," they said in greeting, bowing low.

"What folly do ye speak!" cried Bramimonde, "our gods are only cowards. At Roncesvalles they have done vile deeds. They have left all our warriors to die. They have forsaken mine own lord, the King Marsil, his right hand hath been cut from his arm, and soon all Spain will be in the power of Charlemagne. Oh, misery! Oh, sorrow! What will become of me. Oh, woe! woe! is there none to slay me?"

"Hush, lady, cease thy weeping and thy moan," said one of the messengers. "We have come from the Emir Baligant, and he will be the deliverer of Marsil. Here is the glove and mace which he hath sent. There on the Ebro we have four thousand vessels, barques and rapid galleys, and who shall count our ships of war? The Emir is rich, he is powerful. He will follow and attack Charlemagne even to the borders of France. He will do battle until the proud Emperor kneels at his feet craving mercy, or until he die."

But the Queen shook her head. "The task is not thus light as ye deem it," she said. "Charlemagne will die rather than flee or beg for mercy. All the kings of the earth are as children to him. He fears no living man."

"Cease thy wailing," said King Marsil to the Queen. Then turning to the messengers, "It is I who shall speak," he said. "You see me now in deepest grief. I have neither son nor daughter to inherit the kingdom. Yesterday I had an only son, but Roland hath slain him. Say to your lord that he shall come to me, and that I will yield to him the whole of Spain, and lay my hand in his, and be his vassal, so that he fight Charlemagne and conquer him."

"It is well," said the messengers.

Then King Marsil told them all that had befallen, from the time in which Blancandrin had set forth until the moment in which he spoke to them. "Now," he ended, "the Emperor is not seven leagues from here. Say to the Emir that he would do well to prepare at once for battle. The Franks are even now upon their homeward way, but they will not refuse to fight."

Then taking their farewell and bowing low, the messengers departed. Quickly they mounted upon their horses, and full of wonder at all that they had heard, they sped back to the Emir.

"Ah, well," said he, when he saw them return alone, "where is Marsil, whom I bade ye bring unto me?"

"He is wounded unto death," they replied. Then they told Baligant all the tale that they had heard. "And if thou help the King now," they ended, "he swears to give thee the whole of Spain, and he will put his hand within thy hands and be thy man."

The Emir bent his head in thought. Then rising from his ivory chair he looked proudly round upon his barons. Joy was in his heart and a smile of insolent pride upon his lips. "Make no tarrying, my lords," he cried. "Leave your ships, mount your horses and ride forward. This old Charlemagne shall not escape us. From to-day is Marsil avenged. For that he hath lost, I will give unto him the Emperor's good right arm."

Then Baligant called one of his greatest barons. "I give thee command of all the army," he said, "until I return." And mounting upon his horse, with but four dukes beside him, he set out for Saragossa. There he lighted down at the marble steps of the palace and climbed to the chamber where Marsil lay.

When Bramimonde saw the Emir come she ran to meet him. "Oh, miserable, miserable one that I am!" she cried, and fell weeping at his feet.

The Emir raised her, and together they went to Marsil.

"Raise me up," said the King to two slaves, when he saw the Emir come. Then taking his glove in his left hand he gave it to the Emir. "My lord Baligant," he said, "with this I give you all my lands. I am henceforth thy vassal. I am lost! All my people are lost!"

"Thy grief is great," said Baligant, "and I cannot speak long with thee, for Charlemagne expects me not, and I must hasten to take him unawares. But I accept thy glove since thou givest it to me."

Then, glad at the thought of possessing all Spain, Baligant seized the glove. Quickly he ran down the steps, sprang upon his horse, and was soon spurring back to his army. "Forward, forward," he cried, "the Franks cannot now escape us."

And thus it was that as Charlemagne had made an end of burying the dead heroes, and was ready to depart homeward, a great noise of trumpets and of shouting, of clang and clatter of armour and neighing of horses came to his ear. Soon over the hills appeared the glitter of helmets, and two messengers from the heathen army came spurring towards the Emperor. "Proud King, thou canst no longer escape," they cried. "Baligant the Emir is here, and with him is a mighty army. To-day we will see if thou art truly valorous."

Charlemagne tore his beard, looking darkly at the messengers. Then drawing himself up, he threw a proud look over his army. In a loud and strong voice he cried, "To horse, my barons, to horse and to arms."

Such was Charlemagne's answer to the prideful message of the Emir. The Emperor himself was the first to arm, and when the Franks saw him ride before them with his glittering helmet and shield, and his sword Joyeuse girt about him, they cried aloud, "Such a man was made indeed to wear a crown."

Then calling to him two of his best knights, Charlemagne gave to them, one the sword of Roland, the other his ivory horn. "Ye shall carry them," he said, "at the head of all the army." And when the trumpets sounded to battle, louder and sweeter than them all sounded the horn of Roland.

The day was bright, the sun shone dazzlingly upon both armies, glittering with gold, and gems and many colours. In the ranks of the heathen were many men fierce and terrible to look upon, Moors and Turks, Negroes black as ink, giants and monsters were there. But the hearts of the Franks were stout and strong, and they feared none of them.

Soon the battle waxed fierce and terrible. "Montjoie, Montjoie," the Emperor's war-cry, sounded once again to all the winds of Spain. "Precieuse, Precieuse," the cry of the Emir, answered it. The heathen, like the Christian cry, was taken from the name of their leader's sword. The Emir had heard of the fame of Charlemagne's sword, and he called his Precieuse, or precious, in imitation. And in imitation too of the Christian knights the heathen used this name as a battle-cry.

The fight was fierce and long, and marvellous deeds of skill and valour were done, until at length the field was once more strewn with dead and dying, with dinted shields and splintered spears, helmets and swords, and trodden, blood-stained banners and pennons.

In the thickest of the fight the Emperor and the Emir met. "Precieuse," cried the Emir. "Montjoie," replied the Emperor. Then a fearful fight took place. Blow upon blow fell, sparks flew. Again and again the two knights charged, and wheeled and charged anew. Such were the shocks, that at last their saddle-girths broke and both were thrown to the ground.

Quickly the Emperor and the Emir sprang up again, and renewed the fight on foot. "Think, Charlemagne," cried the Emir, as they fought, "ask pardon of me and promise to be my vassal, and I will give thee all Spain and the East."

"I owe neither peace nor love to a heathen," replied Charlemagne. "Become a Christian, and I will love thee henceforth."

"I will rather die," answered the Emir.

So they fought on. With a mighty blow the Emir broke Charlemagne's helmet and wounded him sorely on the head. The Emperor staggered and almost fell, and it seemed as if his strength went from him. But his guardian angel whispered to him, "Great King, what doest thou?"

And when Charlemagne heard the angel whisper, his strength came to him anew, and with one great blow he laid the Emir dead at his feet. Then the Emperor remembered his dream, and knew that the victory was to him, and that the Emir was the lion who attacked him in his dream. "Montjoie," he cried, and leapt upon his horse.

As to the heathen, when they saw their leader fall, they fled.

Terrible was the slaughter and the chase. Through the heat and dust of the day, the Franks pursued the fleeing heathen, even to the walls of Saragossa.

There in a high tower sat Queen Bramimonde, praying with her heathen priests for the victory of the Emir. But when she looked forth from her tower and saw the heathen ride in dire confusion, chased by the victorious Franks, she broke out again into loud wailing. Running to King Marsil she cried, "Oh, noble King, our men are beaten. We are undone."

Then Marsil, in utter grief, turned his face to the wall and died.

Now to the very gates of the palace the noise of battle came. The streets of the town were full of armed men, pursuing and pursued. And before night fell all the city was in the hands of Charlemagne.

The Franks entered every heathen temple and broke the images in pieces.

Then all the heathen were baptized, and those who would not become Christian were put to death. Such was the way in those fierce old times.

Leaving a garrison to guard the town, Charlemagne set forth for France once more, leading with him captive Queen Bramimonde.

At Blaye, upon the shores of the Gironde, the three heroes, Roland, Oliver, and Archbishop Turpin were buried with great pomp and ceremony, and after long journeying the Emperor arrived at last at his great city of Aix. Then from all the corners of his kingdom he gathered his wise men to judge the traitor Ganelon.

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