Our Little Frankish Cousin of Long Ago  by Evaleen Stein


W HEN the King passed on, Rainolf stood quite bewildered at his sudden advancement; though he could not help but wonder how it would suit Charloun, a fat dull-faced boy who had been made cup-bearer because his father was a powerful noble.

And he did not have to wait long to see. For Charloun had noticed the King talking to Rainolf and as now the latter was alone for a moment, he marched up to him demanding angrily "What did the King say to you?"

Rainolf drew himself up haughtily as he answered, "I don't know that it's any of your business, Charloun! Though," he added, "perhaps it is a little, seeing that he told me I am to be cup-bearer instead of you."

At this Charloun's dull face flushed with rage and he half doubled up his fist to strike Rainolf. But Rainolf, who was watching him, looked him straight in the eye, and "Be careful!" he warned. "This is no place to fight! But if you want to come out doors and do it, I am ready whenever you are."

Charloun, who was at heart a coward, dropped his fat fist and began to think he was not so anxious for a fight after all. And, the truth was, he was really relieved to be rid of the office of cup-bearer as several times Charlemagne had asked him questions about his lessons which he was quite unable to answer. So, muttering to himself, he stalked off; and Rainolf watching him smiled, for he knew Charloun was much more interested in the fact that it was nearly dinner-time than in his lost honors.

Meantime in the great banquet hall near the schoolroom long tables were set, the one for the royal family being placed on a dais at the upper end of the room. There were no cloths on these tables which were all made of polished boards laid over trestles, but on the royal one and those for the many noble ladies and gentlemen of the household were fine silver plates and gold and silver cups and flagons. There were neither forks nor spoons, however, only knives, which were needed to cut the meat of which there was always a great supply, and this and the other things people were expected to eat with their fingers. At the lower end of the hall were tables for the humbler palace folks, who had only wooden plates and great earthenware platters for their meat.

Rainolf had come into the hall while things were being made ready, and as he stood quietly watching them he thought how different was the great palace, with its handsome rooms and all the gold and silver dishes from his own home. His father's castle, like those of most of the Frankish nobles through the country, was just a big wooden house built around a square courtyard and protected outside by a palisade of roughly hewn logs and a moat beyond that. To be sure, there were many things going on within the wooden walls of the big rambling house. His father had had his own armorer; there was a stable for his war horses; there was a small mill where they ground the grain raised by the peasants on the castle lands; there were rooms where his mother and her maids spun and wove and embroidered;—though as Rainolf looked at the wonderful tapestries hanging on the palace walls he could not but admit they were more beautiful than those his mother had so carefully made for their home and which he had always before thought the finest in all the world. And then the dishes at home were just great wooden bowls with only a few silver and copper flagons,—but never mind, for dinner was ready and all the palace folks were taking their places.

Rainolf, as he had been bidden, came and stood near the chair of Charlemagne. Though it seemed strange to him to be so close to the great King, yet he was not so awkward in his new place as he had been used to waiting on his father in the same way.

Meantime, Aymon and the other pages busied themselves bringing in food for the royal table and those of the nobles. The boys only carried the dishes, for the carving and serving of them was an honor belonging to the high-born young men.

"Boy," whispered one of these, a tall handsome youth standing near Rainolf, "take that golden flagon and fill the King's cup with wine."

Rainolf hastened to do as he was told, and lifting in both hands the beautiful golden cup richly chased with figures of saints and circled with precious stones, he sank on one knee, as his father had taught him, and held it up to the King, who received it graciously, barely tasted it, and set it down by his plate. And Rainolf found that being cup-bearer for Charlemagne was not very hard work, as he took only three sips of wine all through the dinner. Wine was then the common drink, but the King despised drunkenness and always set the example of taking but little.

Neither was the dinner elaborate, for Charlemagne liked simple things, and, best of all, the roasted pheasants and hares which presently two hunters came bringing in piping hot and still on the long iron spits on which they had been cooked at the kitchen fireplace. These were carved and placed on the King's plate by the young Frankish noble who served also Queen Luitgarde and a tall man in rich priestly robes who sat at the King's left. This was the Archbishop of the Aachen cathedral, and near him was the teacher Master Alcuin; for Charlemagne always delighted to honor religion and learning.

At the royal table also sat young Master Einhard who smiled kindly at Rainolf, who colored and smiled back; for the two seemed drawn to one another, and, indeed, were to become close friends in spite of the difference in their ages. Next to Master Einhard the dwarf Malagis perched on his own special chair, and now and then catching Rainolf's eye he would give him so droll a wink that the boy could hardly keep his face straight; and he did not dare to laugh for all through dinner everybody kept very still because at one side of the hall a brown-robed monk was standing holding in his hands a parchment book from which he read aloud in Latin.

The book was a beautifully painted copy of "The City of God," written by the good Saint Augustine. Rainolf was not yet far enough along in his studies to understand it very well, and very likely most of the other people in the room were in the same case; but he noticed that Charlemagne listened attentively and seemed greatly to enjoy it, for he understood Latin and liked always to be read to while he ate.

Presently, however, the reading and dinner both came to an end; the latter finishing with large baskets of apples and cherries which were passed around to every one.

When the King left the hall it was to go, as usual, straight upstairs to his sleeping-room where he took off his clothes and went to bed for a couple of hours. Charlemagne counted much on this after-dinner nap, for his life was busy and full of care and he was but a poor sleeper at night. So hush, everybody!