A Book of Myths

Page: 135

A hundred thousand men, untired, and fiercely thirsting for revenge, came against the handful of wearied, wounded heroes. Yet with unwavering courage the Franks responded to their leaders’ call.

The war-cry of the soldiers of France—“Montjoie! Montjoie!”—rang clear above the fierce sound of the trumpets of the Saracen army.

“‘Soldiers of the Lord,’ cried Turpin,
‘Be ye valiant and steadfast,
For this day shall crowns be given you
Midst the flowers of Paradise.
In the name of God our Saviour,
Be ye not dismayed nor frighted,
Lest of you be shameful legends
Chanted by the tongues of minstrels.
Rather let us die victorious,
Since this eve shall see us lifeless!—
Heaven has no room for cowards!
Knights, who nobly fight, and vainly,
Ye shall sit among the holy
In the blessed fields of Heaven.
On then, Friends of God, to glory!’”

[Pg 280] Marsile fell, the first victim to a blow from the sword of Roland, and even more fiercely than the one that had preceded it, waged this terrible fight.

And now it seemed as though the Powers of Good and of Evil also took part in the fray, for a storm swept down from the mountains, thick darkness fell, and the rumble of thunder and the rush of heavy rain dulled the shouts of those who fought and the clash and clang of their weapons. When a blood-red cloud came up, its lurid light showed the trampled ground strewn with dead and dying. At that piteous sight Roland proposed to send a messenger to Charlemagne to ask him for aid, but it was then too late.

When only sixty Franks remained, the pride of Roland gave way to pity for the men whom he had led to death, and he took the magic horn Olifant in his hand, that he might blow on it a blast that would bring Charlemagne, his mighty army behind him, to wipe out the Saracen host that had done him such evil. But Oliver bitterly protested. Earlier in the day, when he had willed it, Roland had refused to call for help. Now the day was done. The twilight of death—Death the inevitable—was closing in upon them. Why, then, call now for Charlemagne, when nor he nor any other could help them? But Turpin with all his force backed the wish of Roland.

“The blast of thy horn cannot bring back the dead to life,” he said. “Yet if our Emperor return he can save our corpses and weep over them and bear them reverently to la belle France. And there shall they lie in sanctuary, and not in a Paynim land where the wild [Pg 281] beasts devour them and croaking wretches with foul beaks tear our flesh and leave our bones dishonoured.”

“That is well said,” quoth Roland and Oliver.

Then did Roland blow three mighty blasts upon his horn, and so great was the third that a blood-vessel burst, and the red drops trickled from his mouth.