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Hero Tales

Page: 59

Great was the haste with which the army moved, and very impatient were the warriors; for the whole of France lay between them and fair Italy, and they knew that weeks of weary marching must be endured, ere they could meet their Pagan foe in battle, and drive him out of the Christians' land.

Many days they rode among the rich fields and between the blooming orchards of the Seine valley; many days they toiled over unbroken forest roads, and among marshes and bogs, and across untrodden moorlands. They climbed steep hills, and swam broad rivers, and endured the rain and the wind and the fierce heat of the noonday sun, and sometimes even the pangs of hunger and thirst. But they carried brave hearts within them; and they comforted themselves with the thought that all their suffering was for the glory of God and the honor of the king, for their country's safety and the security of their homes.

Every day, as they advanced, the army increased in numbers and in strength: for the news had been carried all over the land, that the Saracens had taken Rome, and that Charlemagne with his host was hastening to the rescue; and knights and noblemen from every city and town and countryside came to join his standard, sometimes alone and singly, and sometimes with a great retinue of fighting men and servitors. When at last they had passed the boundaries of France, and only the great mountains lay between them and Italy, Charlemagne could look behind him, and see an army of a hundred thousand men. And now messengers came to him again, urging him to hasten with all speed to the succor of the pope.

But the Alps Mountains lifted themselves up in his pathway, and their snowy crags frowned threateningly upon him; their steep, rocky sides arose like walls before him, and seemed to forbid his going farther; and there appeared to be no way of reaching Italy, save by a long and circuitous route through the southern passes.

In the hope that he might find some shorter and easier passage, Charlemagne now sent out scouts and mountaineers to explore every valley and gorge, and every seeming mountain pass. But all came back with the same story: there was not even so much as a path up which the mountain goats could clamber, much less a road broad enough for an army, with horses and baggage, to traverse. The king was in despair, and he called together his counsellors and wise men to consider what should be done. Duke Namon urged that they should march around by way of the southern passes; for, although a full month would thus be lost, yet there was no other safe and well-known land-route to Italy. Ganelon advised that they should turn back, and, marching to Marseilles, embark from thence on ships, and undertake to reach Rome by way of the sea.

Then the dwarf Malagis came before Charlemagne, bearing in his hand a book, from which he read many spells and weird enchantments. Upon the ground he drew with his wand a magic ring, and he laid therein the hammer of Thor and the sword of Mahomet. In a loud, commanding voice, he called upon the sprites, the trolls, and the goblins, with whom he was familiar, to come at once into his presence. Forthwith the lightning flashed, and the thunder rolled, and smoke and fire burst forth from the mountain peaks, and the rocks and great ice-fields were loosened among the crags, and came tumbling down into the valley. Dwarfs and elves, and many an uncanny thing, danced and shouted in the mountain caves; grinning ogres peeped out from the deep clefts and gorges; and the very air seemed full of ghost-like creatures. Then the wizard called by name a wise but wicked goblin, known among the Saracens as Ashtaroth; and the goblin came at once, riding in a whirlwind, and feeling very angry because he was obliged to obey.


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