A Book of Myths
Page: 136For days on end Charlemagne had been alarmed at the delay of his rearguard, but ever the false Ganelon had reassured him.
“Why shouldst thou fear, sire?” he asked. “Roland has surely gone after some wild boar or deer, so fond is he of the chase.”
But when Roland blew the blast that broke his mighty heart, Charlemagne heard it clearly, and no longer had any doubt of the meaning of its call. He knew that his dreams had come true, and at once he set his face towards the dire pass of Roncesvalles that he might, even at the eleventh hour, save Roland and his men.
Long ere Charlemagne could reach the children of his soul who stood in such dire need, the uncle of Marsile had reached the place of battle with a force of fifty thousand men. Pierced from behind by a cowardly lance, Oliver was sobbing out his life’s blood. Yet ever he cried, “Montjoie! Montjoie!” and each time his voice formed the words, a thrust from his sword, or from the lances of his men, drove a soul down to Hades. And when he was breathing his last, and lay on the earth, humbly confessing his sins and begging God to grant him rest in Paradise, he asked God’s blessing upon [Pg 282] Charlemagne, his lord the king, and upon his fair land of France, and, above all other men, to keep free from scathe his heart’s true brother and comrade, Roland, the gallant knight. Then did he gently sigh his last little measure of life away, and as Roland bent over him he felt that half of the glamour of living was gone. Yet still so dearly did he love Aude the Fair, the sister of Oliver, who was to be his bride, that his muscles grew taut as he gripped his sword, and his courage was the dauntless courage of a furious wave that faces all the cliffs of a rocky coast in a winter storm, when again, he faced the Saracen host.
Of all the Douzeperes, only Gautier and Turpin and Roland now remained, and with them a poor little handful of maimed men-at-arms. Soon a Saracen arrow drove through the heart of Gautier, and Turpin, wounded by four lances, stood alone by Roland’s side. But for each lance thrust he slew a hundred men, and when at length he fell, Roland, himself sorely wounded, seized once more his horn and blew upon it a piercing blast: