"R AINOLF," said Aymon as the two boys went out into the courtyard after they had had their dinner, "while the King is sleeping, let's get the other boys and go over to the forest and see if there is anything in our rabbit snares."
"All right!" said Rainolf, and soon the group of pages left the palace and crossing a few open meadows came to the edge of the great wild forest that stretched on and on, nobody knew how far.
Here the boys scattered for awhile hunting the traps which several of them had placed there. But the little forest creatures had all been too wary for them and none had been caught. So by and by, answering Rainolf's halloo, they all came out and, as the air was heavy and warm under the dense boughs, were glad to throw themselves on the grass beneath a great oak tree which stood near a bubbling spring. This spring was thought to have miraculous power, but many people who visited it were afraid of witches and fairies whom they thought lived in the forest beyond; so as charms against these they often brought little silver trinkets, a number of which dangled from the boughs of the oak. The spot was a favorite lounging place for the boys, and this time they found some one ahead of them.
"Look!" said Aymon, "There's Malagis! I wonder if he thinks he can straighten his crooked foot by hanging it in the spring?"
"Tut! Tut!" said Malagis, who had heard them, "I'm not so silly! I'm just poking up these bubbles with my toes to see if there are really fairies playing ball with them as some people say."
"You had better be careful," said Aymon seriously, "They might not like your impudence."
"Pshaw!" retorted Malagis, taking care however to remove his foot, "I'm not afraid of fairies,—or witches either!" he added loftily. "I guess I know a few spells myself."
Here the boys looked at him respectfully and with some awe; for while he liked to chaff with them and allowed them to be very familiar with him, nevertheless everybody declared Malagis was a master of magic arts.
"Well," said one of the boys, after a pause, "maybe the King will let you work your spells, because you're his dwarf; but I heard one of the officers of the palace say the other day that Charlemagne had made a new law forbidding anybody to practice witchcraft."
At this Malagis looked very wise, but merely said, "That doesn't hurt me any. I'm not a witch! Though there are plenty of them in yonder forest!" and he nodded his head toward the dark trees behind them.
The boys shivered a little and drew closer together; for most people then believed in witches and fairies and dragons, too, for that matter. More than once it had been whispered that firebreathing dragons were to be found in some of the rocky caverns hidden among the trees.
"Malagis," said Rainolf, as he peered into its shadows, "how far does the forest reach?"
"Oh," answered the dwarf vaguely, "ever and ever and ever so far! Leagues and leagues and leagues; I dare say it's part of the big forest where Charlemagne overthrew the Irminsul."
"What was that?" asked one of the other boys.
"Why," said Malagis, "it was the special idol of the Saxon folks. You know they are the wild heathen tribes up north of here that tie their hair up in top-knots and carry great wooden clubs, and that Charlemagne has been fighting for years and years trying to conquer and make Christians of."
"Well, the thing they called the Irminsul was a big wooden pillar set up in a certain place in the forest and on top of it was an image of a man wearing a helmet and carrying a shield with a bear and lion carved on it. There were great treasures of gold and jewels at the foot of the pillar, offerings from the Saxons; for the Irminsul was their most sacred idol."
"And did you say Charlemagne threw it over?" put in Aymon.
"Indeed he did!" answered Malagis. "He marched up there with his army and hunted through the forest till he found where it was. Of course the Saxons rushed out all ready to fight, but then they felt sure the idol would do something terrible to the King and save them the trouble. So they stood around waiting for it to happen."
"But that didn't bother Charlemagne a bit. He defied them. And then instead of the Irminsul doing anything, he simply walked up to it and knocked it over and smash! down it tumbled and broke all to pieces! After that he burned up the wooden pillar and took the treasures and divided them among his bravest captains."
"What did the Saxons say to that?" asked Rainolf.
"Well," said Malagis, "at first they were stunned; but they still had hopes of revenge. For it seems the King's army had had to march a long way without any water, and the Saxons saw the Franks were half dead from thirst and thought they would all die entirely in a few minutes and that that was the way the Irminsul meant to punish them."
"But, bless your heart," went on Malagis chuckling, "just then along came a big black cloud and when it got right over Charlemagne's army what did it do but burst and pour down buckets and buckets-full of water, so they had all they could drink and more, too! When the Saxons saw that, they were as meek as could be and all said they would submit to the King and be Christians. And there were so many that it kept Archbishop Turpin and all the priests who were along with Charlemagne busy for three days baptizing them. Of course more of the heathen ones keep cropping up now and then for the King to fight, but he has them very well under control now."
"The King is surely a great warrior!" said Rainolf.
"Yes," said Malagis, "but he's greater still at making good laws and seeing that people mind them. He's great on learning, too. That's why, years ago, he sent all the way to Britain for Master Alcuin to come over and start the palace school; he wanted his children and everybody's children to learn something. You boys are lucky to have Master Alcuin teach you awhile, for he is a famous scholar."
"Why, won't he teach us all the time?" asked Rainolf.
"No," said Aymon, "didn't I tell you that three years ago the King gave him the Abbey at Tours and he has started another big school there?"
"Yes," said Malagis, "he is just here now because the King wanted to consult him about something."
"Who will teach us when he goes back?" again asked Rainolf.
"Probably that big sandy-haired monk who
"No," said Rainolf, who had been rather bewildered by the number of grown people in the school.
"Well," said Malagis, who was in a talkative mood, "it's funny how he got here. One day, about two years ago, I was going along the street in Aachen, and when I came to the marketplace there on a bench stood that monk and another one like him, both Scotch though they had come here from Ireland. They were both crying out at the top of their lungs, 'Knowledge to sell! Knowledge to sell! Who'll buy?' for all the world like a couple of fish-mongers."
"I thought it so odd, that when I got back to the palace I told Charlemagne and he sent for them to come to him. He asked them if it was true they were trying to hawk knowledge as if it were a brace of pigeons, and they said yes, it was; that they had first-rate knowledge to sell to the highest bidder. The King was pleased with them, and amused, too, I think. Anyway, he engaged them for teachers, and they proved to be fine. One of them is off now starting more schools."
"Does Master Einhard teach?" asked Rainolf, who wanted to know who everybody was.
"No," said Malagis, "he has about all he can do as the King's scribe; though he is a mighty good minnesinger besides and often sings in the evenings. He was taught in the palace school with the King's children and always stood so high in his studies that Charlemagne noticed him and has shown him great favor."
"You were lucky, boy," continued the dwarf,
eying Rainolf shrewdly, "to attract the King's
"No," said Rainolf wonderingly.
"I will tell you," said Malagis, clasping his hands around his knees on which he rested his peaked chin. "He was on his way home from the town of Paderborn and stopped for dinner at the monastery of Saint Martin, and after dinner went in to look at the monastery school. About half the children there came from noble families and lived in castles, and the rest were just poor children from the village of Saint Martin. The King began asking questions, and it seems all the noble children had been spending their time playing and paying no attention to the monks; so just about all the answers he got came from the poor children who were used to minding and did what they were told and studied their books.
"Charlemagne was very angry. He quickly sorted out all the poor children and put them at his right hand and praised them and spoke kindly to them. And then he turned around and if he didn't give those noble children the worst lecture they ever got!"
Here Malagis pursed up his lips and smiled as he went on, "He told them they would be terribly fooled if they thought because their fathers were noblemen they could have honors whether they knew anything or not. He said he would show his favor to the people who were learning things, no matter how poor they were, and if those noble children expected to get anything from him they would have to start in and do some studying."
Here some of the boys who had not been getting on much at the palace school, began to look very uncomfortable, and one of them hastened to change the subject. "Malagis," he said, pointing to one of the high towers of the palace not far away, "is that really a brazen eagle there on top of the tower? It is so high up I can't see it very well."
"And," said another boy, "is it true that sometimes it turns by magic, and that then the King knows that he is needed in whatever part of kingdom the eagle seems to look toward?"
"Yes," answered Malagis gravely, "it is quite true. I helped to place that eagle myself!" and he wagged his head proudly. "You just keep watch of it,"—here Malagis crumpled his claw-like hands into a sort of funnel through which his keen eyes peered at the eagle as he went on slowly,—"it's beginning now to turn—just the least—little tiny bit— to the south!"
"What does that mean?" asked the boys eagerly. "What is south of here?" For none of them knew much geography; nor did anybody else, for that matter. You would have laughed to see their maps and wondered how anyone found his way about at all.
"Hm," said Malagis sagely, "there is a great deal south of us. There is Burgundy and Africa and Spain and a great deal of Asia and the kingdom of Prester John,"—which most people thought was a wonderful place, somewhere to the southeast, where there were red and blue lions and many marvelous things. So Malagis supposed he was telling the truth, as also about Asia; but then he came back to facts when he added, "Yes, and there's Italy and Rome where the Pope lives. I wouldn't wonder if the eagle is going to mean Italy."
Here a little group of Aachen folk came bringing a blind man to the spring so that he might bathe his eyes in its miraculous waters. And the boys and Malagis slowly strolled off toward the palace.