A Book of Myths

Page: 137

“... a blast of that dread horn,
On Fontarabian echoes borne,
That to King Charles did come,
When Rowland brave, and Olivier,
And every paladin and peer,
On Roncesvalles died.”

Sir Walter Scott.


That blast pierced right into the heart of Charlemagne, and straightway he turned his army towards the pass of Roncesvalles that he might succour Roland, whom he so greatly loved. Yet then it was too late. Turpin was nearly dead. Roland knew himself to be dying. [Pg 283] Veillantif, Roland’s faithful warhorse, was enduring agonies from wounds of the Paynim arrows, and him Roland slew with a shrewd blow from his well-tried sword. From far, far away the hero could hear the blare of the trumpets of the Frankish army, and, at the sound, what was left of the Saracen host fled in terror. He made his way, blindly, painfully, to where Turpin lay, and with fumbling fingers took off his hauberk and unlaced his golden helmet. With what poor skill was left to him, he strove to bind up his terrible wounds with strips of his own tunic, and he dragged him, as gently as he could, to a spot under the beech trees where the fresh moss still was green.

“‘Ah, gentle lord,’ said Roland, ‘give me leave
To carry here our comrades who are dead,
Whom we so dearly loved; they must not lie
Unblest; but I will bring their corpses here
And thou shalt bless them, and me, ere thou die.’
‘Go,’ said the dying priest, ‘but soon return.
Thank God! the victory is yours and mine!’”

With exquisite pain Roland carried the bodies of Oliver and of the rest of the Douzeperes from the places where they had died to where Turpin, their dear bishop, lay a-dying. Each step that he took cost him a pang of agony; each step took from him a toll of blood. Yet faithfully he performed his task, until they all lay around Turpin, who gladly blessed them and absolved them all. And then the agony of soul and of heart and body that Roland had endured grew overmuch for him to bear, and he gave a great cry, like the last sigh of a mighty tree that the woodcutters [Pg 284] fell, and dropped down, stiff and chill, in a deathly swoon. Then the dying bishop dragged himself towards him and lifted the horn Olifant, and with it in his hand he struggled, inch by inch, with very great pain and labour, to a little stream that trickled down the dark ravine, that he might fetch some water to revive the hero that he and all men loved. But ere he could reach the stream, the mists of death had veiled his eyes. He joined his hands in prayer, though each movement meant a pang, and gave his soul to Christ, his Saviour and his Captain. And so passed away the soul of a mighty warrior and a stainless priest.

Thus was Roland alone amongst the dead when consciousness came back to him. With feeble hands he unlaced his helmet and tended to himself as best he might. And, as Turpin had done, so also did he painfully crawl towards the stream. There he found Turpin, the horn Olifant by his side, and knew that it was in trying to fetch him water that the brave bishop had died, and for tenderness and pity the hero wept.

“Alas! brave priest, fair lord of noble birth,
Thy soul I give to the great King of Heaven!

May thy fair soul escape the pains of Hell,
And Paradise receive thee in its bowers!”

Then did Roland know that for him, also, there “was no other way but death.” With dragging steps he toiled uphill a little way, his good sword Durendala in one hand, and in the other his horn Olifant. Under a little clump of pines were some rough steps hewn in a boulder of marble leading yet higher up the hill, and these Roland [Pg 285] would have climbed, but his throbbing heart could no more, and again he fell swooning on the ground. A Saracen who, out of fear, had feigned death, saw him lying there and crawled out of the covert where he lay concealed.