Page: 61While Charlemagne and his peers gazed in rapt delight upon this vision, there came down from the mountain crags a beautiful creature such as none of them had ever before seen. It was a noble stag, white as the drifted snow, his head crowned with wide-branching antlers, from every point of which bright sunbeams seemed to flash.
"Behold our leader and our hope!" cried Turpin. "Behold the sure-footed guide which the Wonder-king has sent to lead us through narrow ways, and over dangerous steeps, to the smiling valleys and fields of Italy! Be only strong and trustful and believing, and a safe way shall open for us, even where there seemed to be no way."
Then the vision faded slowly away from the sight of the peers; and the mountain walls rose up before them as grim and steep as ever; and the snow-crowned crags looked down upon them even more angrily than before, and there seemed no road nor pathway which the foot of man could follow. But the wondrous white stag, which had filled their minds with a new-born hope, still stood in plain sight on the lowermost slopes of the mountain.
The king, without once taking his eyes from the Heaven-sent creature, mounted his war-steed, and sounded the bugle which hung at his girdle; and the great army, confiding in the wisdom of their leader, began to move. The white stag went first, steadily following a narrow pathway, which led upward by many steep ascents, seemingly to the very clouds; and behind him rode Charlemagne, keeping ever in view his radiant, hopeful guide, and followed by the long line of knights and warriors, who, cheered by his earnest faith, never once feared the end.
Higher and higher they climbed, and more and more difficult became the way. On one side of them arose a steep wall, shutting out from their sight more than half of the sky; on the other side, dark gorges and yawning gulfs descended, threatening to bury the whole army in their bottomless depths. And by and by they came to the region of snow and ice, where the Storm-king holds his court, and reigns in ever-lasting solitude. Looking back, they could see sweet France, lying spread out as a map beneath them, its pleasant fields and its busy towns seeming only as specks in the dim distance. But when they looked forward, hoping there to see a like map of fair Italy, only the rocks and the ice, and the narrow pathway, and the desolate mountain crags, met their sight.
They would have become disheartened by the difficulties before them, and have turned back in utter despair, had not the bright form of their guide, and the cheerful countenance of Charlemagne, inspired them with ever-renewed hope. For seven days they toiled among the dangerous steeps; and on the eighth a glorious vision burst upon their view—the smiling plains of Italy lay before them.
At this sight a great shout of joy went up from the throats of the toil-worn heroes, and the good archbishop returned thanks to Heaven for their deliverance from peril. And, a few hours later, the whole army emerged into the pleasant valleys of Piedmont, and encamped not far from Aosta.