Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 86

Turpin is Mortally Wounded. The Horn Again

Turpin and Roland now stood together for a time and were joined by the brave Count Gautier, whose thousand men had been slain, and he himself grievously wounded; he now came, like a loyal vassal, to die with his lord Roland, and was slain in the first discharge of arrows which the Saracens shot. Taught by experience, the pagans kept their distance, and wounded Turpin with four lances, while they stood some yards away from the heroes. But when Turpin felt himself mortally wounded he plunged into the throng of the heathen, killing four hundred before he fell, and Roland fought on with broken armour, and with ever-bleeding head, till in a pause of the deadly strife he took his horn and again sent forth a feeble dying blast.

Charles Answers the Horn

Charlemagne heard it, and was filled with anguish. “Lords, all goes ill: I know by the sound of Roland’s horn he has not long to live! Ride on faster, and let all our trumpets sound, in token of our approach.” Then sixty thousand trumpets sounded, so that mountains echoed it and valleys replied, and the heathen heard it and trembled. “It is Charlemagne! Charles is coming!” they cried. “If Roland lives till [Pg 150] he comes the war will begin again, and our bright Spain is lost.” Thereupon four hundred banded together to slay Roland; but he rushed upon them, mounted on his good steed Veillantif, and the valiant pagans fled. But while Roland dismounted to tend the dying archbishop they returned and cast darts from afar, slaying Veillantif, the faithful war-horse, and piercing the hero’s armour. Still nearer and nearer sounded the clarions of Charlemagne’s army in the defiles, and the Saracen host fled for ever, leaving Roland alone, on foot, expiring, amid the dying and the dead.

Turpin Blesses the Dead

Roland made his way to Turpin, unlaced his golden helmet, took off his hauberk, tore his own tunic to bind up his grievous wounds, and then gently raising the prelate, carried him to the fresh green grass, where he most tenderly laid him down.

“‘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 great pain and many delays Roland traversed the field of slaughter, looking in the faces of the dead, till he had found and brought to Turpin’s feet the bodies of the eleven Peers, last of all Oliver, his own dear friend and brother, and Turpin blessed and absolved them all. Now Roland’s grief was so deep and his weakness so great that he swooned where he stood, and the archbishop saw him fall and heard his cry of pain. Slowly and painfully Turpin struggled to his feet, and, bending over Roland, took Olifant, the [Pg 151] curved ivory horn; inch by inch the dying archbishop tottered towards a little mountain stream, that the few drops he could carry might revive Roland.