A Book of Myths

Page: 138

“It is Roland, the nephew of the Emperor!” he joyously thought, and in triumph he said to himself, “I shall bear his sword back with me!” But as his Pagan hand touched the hilt of the sword and would have torn it from Roland’s dying grasp, the hero was aroused from his swoon. One great stroke cleft the Saracen’s skull and laid him dead at Roland’s feet. Then to Durendala Roland spoke:

“I surely die; but, ere I end,
Let me be sure that thou art ended too my friend!
For should a heathen grasp thee when I am clay,
My ghost would grieve full sore until the judgment day!”

More ghost than man he looked as with a mighty effort of will and of body he struggled to his feet and smote with his blade the marble boulder. Before the stroke the marble split asunder as though the pick-axe of a miner had cloven it. On a rock of sardonyx he strove to break it then, but Durendala remained unharmed. A third time he strove, and struck a rock of blue marble with such force that the sparks rushed out as from a blacksmith’s anvil. Then he knew that it was in vain, for Durendala would not be shattered. And so he raised Olifant to his lips and blew a dying blast that echoed down the cliffs and up to the mountain tops and rang through the trees of the forest. And still, to this day, do they say, when the spirit of the warrior rides by night down the heights and through the dark [Pg 286] pass of Roncesvalles, even such a blast may be heard, waking all the echoes and sounding through the lonely hollows of the hills.

Then he made confession, and with a prayer for pardon of his sins and for mercy from the God whose faithful servant and soldier he had been unto his life’s end, the soul of Roland passed away.

“... With hands devoutly joined
He breathed his last. God sent his Cherubim,
Saint Raphael, Saint Michel del Peril.
Together with them Gabriel came.—All bring
The soul of Count Rolland to Paradise.

Charlemagne and his army found him lying thus, and very terrible were the grief and the rage of the Emperor as he looked on him and on the others of his Douzeperes and on the bodies of that army of twenty thousand.

“All the field was with blod ouer roun”—“Many a good swerd was broken ther”—“Many a fadirles child ther was at home.”

By the side of Roland, Charlemagne vowed vengeance, but ere he avenged his death he mourned over him with infinite anguish:

“‘The Lord have mercy, Roland, on thy soul!
Never again shall our fair France behold
A knight so worthy, till France be no more!