Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 72

“Taillefer, the noble singer,
On his war-horse swift and fiery,
Rode before the Norman host;
Tossed his sword in air and caught it,
Chanted loud the death of Roland,
And the peers who perished with him
At the pass of Roncevaux.”

Roman de Rou.

The “Song of Roland” bears an intimate relation to the development of European thought, and the hero is doubly worth our study as hero and as type of national character. Thus runs the story:

The Story

The Emperor Charles the Great, Carolus Magnus, or Charlemagne, had been for seven years in Spain, and had conquered it from sea to sea, except Saragossa, which, among its lofty mountains, and ruled by its brave king Marsile, had defied his power. Marsile still held to his idols, Mahomet, Apollo, and Termagaunt, dreading in his heart the day when Charles would force him to become a Christian.

[Pg 123]

The Saracen Council

The Saracen king gathered a council around him, as he reclined on a seat of blue marble in the shade of an orchard, and asked the advice of his wise men.

“‘My lords,’ quoth he, ‘you know our grievous state.
The mighty Charles, great lord of France the fair,
Has spread his hosts in ruin o’er our land.
No armies have I to resist his course,
No people have I to destroy his hosts.
Advise me now, what counsel shall I take
To save my race and realm from death and shame?’”

Blancandrin’s Advice

A wily emir, Blancandrin, of Val-Fonde, was the only man who replied. He was wise in counsel, brave in war, a loyal vassal to his lord.

“‘Fear not, my liege,’ he answered the sad king.
‘Send thou to Charles the proud, the arrogant,
And offer fealty and service true,
With gifts of lions, bears, and swift-foot hounds,
Seven hundred camels, falcons, mules, and gold—
As much as fifty chariots can convey—
Yea, gold enough to pay his vassals all.
Say thou thyself will take the Christian faith,
And follow him to Aix to be baptized.
If he demands thy hostages, then I
And these my fellows give our sons to thee,
To go with Charles to France, as pledge of truth.
Thou wilt not follow him, thou wilt not yield
To be baptized, and so our sons must die;
But better death than life in foul disgrace,
With loss of our bright Spain and happy days.’
So cried the pagans all; but Marsile sat
Thoughtful, and yet at last accepted all.”

An Embassy to Charlemagne

Now King Marsile dismissed the council with words of thanks, only retaining near him ten of his most [Pg 124] famous barons, chief of whom was Blancandrin; to them he said: “My lords, go to Cordova, where Charles is at this time. Bear olive-branches in your hands, in token of peace, and reconcile me with him. Great shall be your reward if you succeed. Beg Charles to have pity on me, and I will follow him to Aix within a month, will receive the Christian law, and become his vassal in love and loyalty.”

“Sire,” said Blancandrin, “you shall have a good treaty!”

The ten messengers departed, bearing olive-branches in their hands, riding on white mules, with reins of gold and saddles of silver, and came to Charles as he rested after the siege of Cordova, which he had just taken and sacked.

Reception by Charlemagne

Charlemagne was in an orchard with his Twelve Peers and fifteen thousand veteran warriors of France. The messengers from the heathen king reached this orchard and asked for the emperor; their gaze wandered over groups of wise nobles playing at chess, and groups of gay youths fencing, till at last it rested on a throne of solid gold, set under a pine-tree and overshadowed with eglantine. There sat Charles, the king who ruled fair France, with white flowing beard and hoary head, stately of form and majestic of countenance. No need was there of usher to cry: “Here sits Charles the King.”