How Roland Lost His Helmet
ROLAND did not know how long he had been confined in the wizard's castle. It might have been a few days, it might have been many months. The whole affair was to him but a dim remembrance, a vague and shadowy dream. When he found himself free to go where he pleased, he turned his horse's head toward the east, and hurried forward, hoping within a short time to join the hosts of Charlemagne. He had not gone far, however, when he was overtaken by two knights, who, like himself, had just escaped from the prison-towers of Atlantes, and were on their way back to the scene of war. They were Sacripant the Circassian king, and Ferrau the dark-browed Moor. But the eyes of the three knights had been so blinded by the wizard's enchantments, that they did not know each other.
"Who are you?" cried Ferrau, riding furiously down upon Roland. "Turn back, or take another road!"
Roland grew very angry at the words and the tone of the Moor; and, turning himself about, he answered, "Thou beastly fellow, were it not that thy head is bare, I would soon teach thee who has the best right to this road. Turn back thyself, or else ride on in peace."
"Trouble not thyself on account of my bare head," said Ferrau. "I am well able to take care of it, as I will show thee if thou move not out of my way!"
"Friend," said Roland to Sacripant, who had just ridden up, "I pray thee lend this fellow thy helmet. I would fain teach him something of knightly courtesy."
"Dost thou take me for a fool?" asked Sacripant. "Whose head would then be bare? Lend him thine own helmet, or hush this pother."
Then Ferrau, fairly boiling with rage, cried out, "Fools are ye both! As if I might not help myself to a helmet if I wished. But I have sworn to go bareheaded until I win the matchless casque of Roland. No other helmet shall ever touch my head."
"I warrant," said our hero, smiling, "that, wert thou to meet the knight of whom thou speakest, thy very knees would quake with fear, and thou wouldst not only forego the helmet, but wouldst gladly buy thy life with thy other arms."
Then Ferrau began to boast that he had often before had Roland on the hip, and that it would be mere child's play to win the helmet from that much over-rated hero.
"Thou brutish braggart," cried Roland, no longer able to hold himself, "know that I am he of whom thou speakest! Now see if thou hast the might to take the helmet from me." And with these words he lifted the fair casque from his head, and hung it upon a branch of a spreading beech, and at the same time he drew the dread blade Durandal, and called upon Ferrau to defend himself.
Long and fiercely did the two heroes fight. Their swords flashed hither and thither like the lightning's play. Their shields were bruised and dinted in many a place, and yet neither seemed to get the better of the other. Sacripant, who was now more eager than ever to return to his own country, stopped not to see the issue of the combat, but rode onward, little caring which of the knights should be the victor.
Now, it happened that the Princess Angelica had taken the same road; and as she came near to the scene of combat, and heard the clashing of the swords, and the ringing of the shields, she felt curious to know who it was that fought thus furiously. The thick undergrowth of shrubs and the leafy branches of the great beech hid her from the sight of the busy combatants; and, without any fear of being seen, she paused, and watched the conflict with great interest. She saw the glittering helmet hanging from the bough above her, and she understood at once what the fighting was about. She did not want the fierce Moor to win that casque: he should not have it, even though he should be the victor. So, while the two knights were blinded by their angry strife, she quietly took the helmet down, turned her palfrey about, and galloped away toward Marseilles.
It was long ere either of the knights noticed the loss of the prize. Ferrau was the first to turn his eyes toward the spot where it had hung.
"Ah, silly blockheads we are!" he cried, "to fight thus blindly, while the knave who rode hither with us carries the rich prize away."
When Roland saw that the casque was really gone, he agreed with Ferrau in thinking that it had been stolen by Sacripant; and the two who, had just been the bitterest of foes, now ceased their fighting, and spurred onward in pursuit of the supposed thief. By and by they came to a place where the road forked, and here they were at a loss to know what to do; for they saw the prints of horses' hoofs going either way. At length Roland took the road which turned to the right, hoping to overtake the thief in the valley below, while Ferrau kept the path which led nearer the slope of the mountain. All day long did Roland urge his steed forward; but no traces did he find of the Circassian chief, nor did he for many a month recover the gleaming helmet that he so highly prized.
As Ferrau rode leisurely along the pathway which he had chosen, he came to a pleasant grove, where a spring of water gurgled up among rocks and flowers. He stopped a moment to enjoy the pleasant shade; and, as his eyes glanced upward, he was amazed to see the coveted helmet hanging on a branch above the spring. With a hoarse cry of delight he sprang forward, and seized it in his hands; and, as he did so, he caught a glimpse of the fair princess fleeing, like a frightened deer, through the forest. Well pleased was the fierce Ferrau. The matchless helmet of Roland was at last his own. What cared he now for the success of the Pagan arms in France. He turned his horse about, and with his swarthy head incased in the long-wished-for casque, he rode back leisurely, toward Spain.