Our Little Frankish Cousin of Long Ago  by Evaleen Stein

Christmas Day of the Year 800

I T was quite true, as Malagis had said, Charlemagne was going to Italy early in the autumn and was to take most of his household with him. The household, however, was used to moving about with the King from palace to palace, and even when at war he often took his family and the school along. So everybody knew just how to arrange things.

But as this story must end with this very chapter, I cannot begin to tell you about all these preparations; of the army which, of course, must be got ready, of the ox-carts and ox-carts full of baggage, of the horses for the men to ride, the ponies for the pages and the covered wagons with embroidered scarlet curtains and cushions for the ladies, of the quantities of food, and the thousand and one things that must go along when a lot of people set out to travel.

Neither can I stop to tell how they started off and all the interesting and wonderful things which Rainolf and the palace pages saw as they rode along with the great cavalcade. At the town of Mainz they crossed the River Rhine on a wooden bridge with stone piers, which the King had caused to be built a few years before, and everybody thought it most remarkable! And no wonder, for it was the only real bridge in all the Frankish kingdom; at other places they had only boats to cross rivers.

On, on, they went, always southward; and, by and by, up, up, they clambered over the towering white peaks of the Alps Mountains, round precipices that made Rainolf and his companions fairly hold their breath, and then at last down, down, into the lovely land of Italy with its blue skies and olive and orange trees and its cities with such beautiful castles and palaces and churches that again the boys caught their breath, but this time with wonder and admiration. And you would have gasped, too, if you had been a Frankish boy used only to Aachen and the wild forests around it, and if you had always thought the King's palace and the cathedral the two finest buildings in all the world!

Indeed, Rainolf and the rest of the pages found out a great many things on that journey; and when they drew near to the ancient city of Rome they began to realize what it was to be in a country that had been civilized hundreds of years before. But we cannot stop to hear all the things they did, nor of how at length Pope Leo with his bishops and cardinals came to meet King Charlemagne and together they entered imperial Rome, all the great cavalcade following close behind.

Rainolf and Aymon and the other boys were quite silent as they rode through the streets of the famous city. They had seen so much and exclaimed so much on the way, that they had used up all the wonder adjectives they knew, and Rainolf scarcely answered when Malagis, who rode a little piebald pony beside him, poked him with his wand with "Well, boy, Aachen will look a bit tame when we go back, hey?"

Malagis had been in Rome once before with the King, and he now began to point out this and that wonderful place, till they reached the beautiful marble palace where the King was to stay with his family and many of his nobles and closest attendants, among these Malagis and Rainolf his cup-bearer. Aymon and the other boys and the rest of the household were lodged in palaces near by.

It is too bad we have not time to talk about the splendid feasts for the King, for they lasted for seven days, and at all of them Rainolf stood behind his chair, and it is not likely he missed anything that went on. Then, after the feasting, King Charlemagne set himself to see to the matters which had brought him to Rome; and the end of it was he delivered Pope Leo from the enemies who had been plotting against him.

By this time it was very near Christmas, and this is the great day we have been hurrying up to reach; for it was to be a tremendously important one in the life of Charlemagne, and, indeed, in the history of the world, and we cannot possibly finish this story without telling about it.

Very early in the morning everybody in Rome crowded toward the great church of Saint Peter for the Christmas service. All who could, squeezed in, and hundreds and hundreds, who couldn't, stood in the large square outside. A place within had been reserved for the King's household, or Rainolf, who came with Master Einhard and a number of other Franks, would never have had a spot to stand.

As they made their way through the throng, they noticed that the faces of the Roman people all showed a curious air of expectancy. There seemed to be a feeling everywhere that something unusual was going to happen. Rainolf felt it, and wondered, as he looked around the church which was the most splendid sight imaginable. Gold and jewels and mosaics glittered everywhere, and between the lofty marble columns of the long aisles hung curtains of the richest purple velvet which were brought out only on the grandest occasions.

These partly shut out the light gleaming dimly through the windows of clouded glass, but hundreds of tall wax tapers shone brightly and at the eastern end of the church, high over the altar, a dazzle of golden light hung from golden chains.

"Oh, Master Einhard," whispered Rainolf, "what is that beautiful thing?"

"That is called the 'Pharos,'" said Master Einhard. "It is a candelabrum of pure gold, and they say it holds three thousand candles. I was here once before but I never saw it lighted, for it is only for great celebrations. Isn't it splendid! And look at the beautiful triumphal arch over it! I think that is new for to-day."

Here Rainolf breathed another long "Oh!" and so did Master Einhard; for just then some of the crowd in front of them moved a little so they could see between. And there, directly under the blazing Pharos and the triumphal arch, shone the wonderful shrine of the Apostle Peter in whose honor the church had been named. The shrine was covered with plates of gold and silver and studded with jewels; mosaics in all the colors of the rainbow glittered around it, and on the steps in front of it was a majestic kneeling figure.

For a moment Rainolf stared in silence; then turning to Master Einhard with a bewildered look, "Is it—can it be King Charlemagne?"

"Yes," replied Master Einhard in a low voice, "it could be no other."

It was indeed the King; though no wonder Rainolf was puzzled, for instead of wearing the familiar Frankish dress, he was clad as a Roman noble of the highest rank. A wide mantle of pure white wool bordered with royal purple covered him with its many folds and was held at one shoulder by a jeweled golden clasp. On his feet were sandals laced with golden cords.

It was a splendid picture; and as the King continued to kneel with bowed head, all eyes were fixed upon him, still with that curious look of expectancy. In a moment a hush fell everywhere, for Pope Leo and his attendant priests had entered. All wore magnificent robes stiff with gold embroidery and precious stones, and after them came choir-boys in lace and velvet, swinging clouds of sweet incense from beautifully jeweled censers, and the solemn mass began.

At a pause in the service, "Master Einhard," whispered Rainolf softly, "what is it? I feel as if something great is going to happen." Indeed, this feeling, which had been in the air all the morning, seemed to grow stronger with everybody.

"I do not know," whispered Master Einhard slowly, "but—I believe—King Charlemagne will leave this church something different—"

But again the sound of chanting rose and fell; and then, by and by, the last notes, one by one, died away, the clouds of fragrant incense dissolved faintly in the quiet air, there was a moment of intense silence, and then just as King Charlemagne was about to rise from his knees, suddenly Pope Leo stood before him holding in his hands a golden crown. With a swift movement he placed this on the King's head, and at the same instant, as if by magic, thousands of voices rang out, "To Charles the Augustus, crowned of God, the great and pacific Emperor, long life and victory!" which was the ancient greeting with which the Roman people were accustomed to hail their Emperors. Then, led by Pope Leo, everybody sang a hymn asking all the saints to bless the new Emperor, his children and his subjects.

"What—what does it all mean?" asked Rainolf, when he could get his breath for bewilderment.

"It means," slowly answered Master Einhard, who had been keenly watching everything, "that our Frankish King Charlemagne is now also Emperor of the Roman Empire and the greatest monarch in all Christendom."

"But," said Rainolf, still puzzled, "I thought he was the greatest monarch before?"

"Yes," said Master Einhard, "he was; and what is left of the ancient Roman Empire has for years looked to him to defend it from its enemies; yet really to wear the crown as Emperor means a glory and power nothing else can quite give. You will understand better by and by, lad."

As to what King,—no, we forget,—Emperor Charlemagne himself thought about it all, nobody will ever be quite sure. Perhaps in his wisdom he foresaw how for centuries after his own time, when the Roman Empire had ceased to be either Roman or even an empire, the kings who followed him would still strive to be crowned Emperor as he had been and there would be much war and bloodshed because of it. Perhaps he dimly guessed something of this, for after the coronation was over, though he accepted all its responsibility, nevertheless he declared that he would never have gone to Saint Peter's Church that Christmas morning had he known what Pope Leo meant to do.

But whether he knew about it beforehand or not, there he was that Christmas Day of the year 800 leaving Saint Peter's with the Roman crown glittering on his head. And having thus seen our noble King Charlemagne made into an Emperor, our story must end.

Good-by, Rainolf! Good-by, Aymon, and Malagis and Masters Einhard and Alcuin and all the rest!—And would you really like to know what became of some of them? Well, Rainolf's horoscope worked out fairly true. When troubles came to him he met them manfully, and always when needed for the Frankish wars he proved a good and loyal soldier; but always, too, as Master Leobard had said, there was something else for which he cared much more. It was his songs. And as he grew older his voice grew sweeter still, and he and Master Einhard together used often to delight the Emperor with their singing. Rainolf, by and by, became a famous minnesinger, making up his own beautiful song-stories, and even at last fulfilling his boyish wish, he learned to paint and write so well that he made a lovely book all of his own songs.

Aymon and the other boys all turned out well, too; though none of them made a name for himself as did Rainolf.

Malagis continued to wear the yellow tunic of jester and capered good-humoredly through life; though long afterward people declared he had been a great wizard and minnesingers told no end of marvelous stories about him.

Master Einhard served faithfully as scribe as long as Charlemagne lived; and then two years later he wrote a life of the Emperor. It is not very long, but is so perfectly well done that to this day when people want to know about him first of all they look to see what Master Einhard wrote.

As for the mighty Charlemagne himself, when he died no King or Emperor ever had so wonderful a burial. He was placed in a splendid tomb in the cathedral of Aachen, seated on a marble throne, arrayed in the magnificent royal robes he had scorned to wear during life, his jeweled crown upon his head, his golden scepter in his right hand, and spread open across his knees the beautiful painted Bible made at Tours and which Master Alcuin had presented to him that famous Christmas Day.

And then, by and by, the minnesingers began to make up songs about him; and for hundreds of years more and more were made up, all of them growing more and more wonderful till the song-stories of which Charlemagne is the hero are counted today among the most beautiful in the world. And many of these minnesingers tell strange tales. Some of them even declare that the great monarch is not dead, but that fairies and wizards carried him off to a marvelous cavern in the lofty mountain of Dessenberg, and that there he sits sleeping a magical sleep, his head resting on a white marble table and his long white beard flowing to his feet. They say the mountain dwarfs guard the cavern, but that some day—some day—Charlemagne will waken! And, if he does—Oh, wouldn't you like to be there to see?