I T was the day of the great boar hunt for which spears and knives had been sharpening for at least a week. Everybody had been up since dawn and the palace courtyard rang with the neighing of horses and the baying of hounds.
It was the day of the great boar hunt.
Presently the king appeared, his blue eyes sparkling and eager; for hunting was his favorite sport. Indeed, the great wild forest full of wild beasts to be chased was, next to the warm springs, the chief reason why he had built his finest palace at the edge of Aachen.
Soon Charlemagne had mounted a splendid black horse which had been pawing the ground impatiently as a young Frankish noble clung to the bronze chains which served for bridle and which he now handed over to the King as the latter arranged himself on the handsomely carved leather saddle. He was dressed as usual, save that stuck through his sword-belt shone a long knife with a jeweled handle, while slung over one shoulder was a silver chain from which hung his hunting horn. It was made from the horn of an ox, the broad end being finished with a band of silver on which were chased hounds running at full speed.
The young Frank next handed the King a long, polished boar-spear, and at this signal all the other huntsmen sprang to their saddles, seized their spears from the attendants, the packs of hounds were turned loose, and Clatter! Clatter! Clatter! Thud! Thud! Thud! Bow-wow! Wow-wow-wow! Brrh-rrh! off they rushed toward the great forest.
On, on they pelted, across the meadows, toward the tall trees; and once within their shadows little they cared whether witch or fairy crossed their path. For the one thought of all those headlong huntsmen was for their bellowing hounds to start up some one of the fierce wild boars from his forest lair, so that they might chase him as with quivering bristles and red burning eyes he flew before them.
As Rainolf and the other boys, who had been in the courtyard watching the hunt start, heard the last echoes die away in the forest they all sighed enviously, and "Oh," said Rainolf, "don't I wish they'd have let us go along!"
All the rest felt quite the same way about it; for they had been taught to ride and could shoot very well with their bows and arrows, though, of course, they could not handle spears as yet. As they turned around with long faces, they were only half consoled when Aymon said, "Well, one comfort, Master Alcuin says we are to have a half holiday and need only take our singing lesson over in the cathedral."
So in a little while they all went over to the great cathedral which the King had caused to be built near the palace. It was very beautiful, being patterned after one Charlemagne had seen in Italy; and, as for the palace, he had brought wonderful Italian marbles and mosaics for it. Inside, in the place for the choir, was a carved wooden rack which held a very large parchment book. Its open pages were covered with bars of music made big enough so a number of singers could stand in front of it and yet be able to see the notes; for books were too scarce for everybody to have one.
When the boys entered the cathedral a row of men were already ranged in front of the choir book, among them Master Einhard, who smiled at Rainolf and made room for him beside himself as the other boys took their places behind, peering at the book as best they could. Facing them all stood the black-eyed teacher whom Charlemagne had brought from Italy to show the Frankish singers how properly to chant the church service and also to instruct the children in music.
As now the Italian beat time with one hand and sang "do-re-mi-fa," he frowned at the untrained voices of the Franks; that is, all but Master Einhard and Rainolf. These two had very sweet voices which blended well together; and as Rainolf stood beside Master Einhard he felt that he would rather sing beautifully than to do almost anything else, and he wondered if this was what Master Leobard meant when he said there would be something he would care more for than being a warrior. "Yes," he said to himself, "if I could only sing and make up songs of my own like Master Einhard does! And I will some day!" For, as Rainolf sang, a power began to waken within him.
Meantime, the Italian teacher fairly wrung his hands as the other singers went on do-re-mi-fa-ing without the least idea how badly they were doing it. And soon another sound arose which was almost as bad as their singing. It was the cathedral organ, which a young Frank was playing while another strapping youth puffed and panted as he worked a large bellows by which he forced the air into its few brass pipes. The keys were wide and heavy, and the young Frank in front of them struck each one a resounding blow with his fist, as that was the only way anybody could play on them.
Nevertheless, this organ which was the first any of the Frankish people had seen, was considered very wonderful indeed, and had been sent all the way from Constantinople as a present from the Greek emperor. And only the Sunday before, a noble Frankish lady had actually fainted from sheer joy at hearing so marvelous a musical instrument! So, you see, you really had better not laugh at it nor at the young Frank cheerfully pounding away with both fists.
The choir singers and the boys listened to the organ with great respect, as they had been taught, and supposed of course it must be very grand. Still, most of them felt relieved when the music lesson was over and they went out into the quiet morning air.
In the cathedral porch was a stone seat; and here as the boys passed along they saw Malagis curled up beside an old man wrapped in a long mantle and holding on his knees a musical instrument which looked something like a fiddle.
"I wonder where Malagis picked up that minnesinger?" whispered Rainolf to Aymon. But here the dwarf greeted the boys with a laugh. "Hey!" he cried. "We have been listening to your squawking,— all but Rainolf there,—he sings fairly well,—but as for the rest of you I thought some angry cats had climbed in at the windows and were fighting it out inside! But my friend here says he knows that Italian teacher of yours and that he is so fine that no matter how badly you bellow now, by and by you will all sing like a parcel of blue-birds. So cheer up!"
The old man, who had a gentle face, smiled at the speech of Malagis, and "Come, friend minstrel," said the dwarf, "sing us another song, like you sang to me a while ago, and show the youngsters what singing is!"
The boys crowded eagerly around, for everybody delighted in these wandering minstrels, or minnesingers as they were often called, and whose songs usually told some story, thus taking the place of story books which nobody had then.
The singer was from the southern part of Gaul, where they were better trained than in the ruder parts of the kingdom, and they all listened with pleasure as he touched the strings of his instrument and sang several song-stories in a voice still sweet and mellow, though he was no longer young.
Presently, after he had paused to rest awhile, "Won't you sing us another, sir minstrel?" begged Rainolf.
"I am a little tired, lad," answered the minstrel, "for before I fell in with your friend Malagis here, I had been practicing my song about Roland and the battle of Roncesvalles, which is my most difficult piece."
"Well," said Malagis, pursing his lips and shaking his head, "you had better leave that out of your list, my friend, if you want to sing in the palace before King Charlemagne, as I believe you said you did."
"Why," said the minstrel with a disappointed look, "it is my best song, and I thought he would like it. It is a favorite subject with the minnesingers where I come from. The Pass of Roncesvalles is not so very far from my home."
"That may be," said Malagis firmly, "but you don't know the King. He has never gotten over the loss of his nephew Roland and all the brave Paladins with him, and has never been quite the same since that battle. So I advise you to choose some other subject for him."
"But, sir minstrel," put in one of the boys, "won't you tell us the story? We won't ask you to sing it if you are tired, but just tell it. Of course we've heard of Roland and the Pass of Roncesvalles, but we'd like to hear what you have to say about it."
But the story will make a chapter all to itself.