Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 80

“Fair Sir Comrade,” said Oliver to Roland, “methinks we shall have a fray with the heathen.”

“God grant it,” returned Roland. “Our duty is to hold this pass for our king. A vassal must endure for his lord grief and pain, heat and cold, torment and death; and a knight’s duty is to strike mighty blows, [Pg 138] that men may sing of him, in time to come, no evil songs. Never shall such be sung of me.”

Oliver Descries the Saracens

Hearing a great tumult, Oliver ascended a hill and looked towards Spain, where he perceived the great pagan army, like a gleaming sea, with shining hauberks and helms flashing in the sun. “Alas! we are betrayed! This treason is plotted by Ganelon, who put us in the rear,” he cried. “Say no more,” said Roland; “blame him not in this: he is my stepfather.”

Now Oliver alone had seen the might of the pagan array, and he was appalled by the countless multitudes of the heathens. He descended from the hill and appealed to Roland.

Roland will not Blow his Horn

“‘Comrade Roland, sound your war-horn,
Your great Olifant, far-sounding:
Charles will hear it and return here.’
‘Cowardice were that,’ quoth Roland;
‘In fair France my fame were tarnished.
No, these Pagans all shall perish
When I brandish Durendala.’
“‘Comrade Roland, sound your war-horn:
Charles will hear it and return here.’
‘God forbid it,’ Roland answered,
‘That it e’er be sung by minstrels
I was asking help in battle
From my King against these Pagans.
I will ne’er do such dishonour
To my kinsmen and my nation.
No, these heathen all shall perish
When I brandish Durendala.’
“‘Comrade Roland, sound your war-horn
Charles will hear it and return here.
See how countless are the heathen
And how small our Frankish troop is!’
[Pg 139] ‘God forbid it,’ answered Roland,
‘That our fair France be dishonoured
Or by me or by my comrades—
Death we choose, but not dishonour!’”

Roland was a valiant hero, but Oliver had prudence as well as valour, and his advice was that of a good and careful general. Now he spoke reproachfully.

It is Too Late

“Ah, Roland, if you had sounded your magic horn the king would soon be here, and we should not perish! Now look to the heights and to the mountain passes: see those who surround us. None of us will see the light of another day!”

“Speak not so foolishly,” retorted Roland. “Accursed be all cowards, say I.” Then, softening his tone a little, he continued: “Friend and comrade, say no more. The emperor has entrusted to us twenty thousand Frenchmen, and not a coward among them. Lay on with thy lance, Oliver, and I will strike with Durendala. If I die men shall say: ‘This was the sword of a noble vassal.’”