Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 87

He Dies

However, his weakness overcame him before he reached the water, and he fell forward dying. Feebly he made his confession, painfully he joined his hands in prayer, and as he prayed his spirit fled. Turpin, the faithful champion of the Cross, in teaching and in battle, died in the service of Charlemagne. May God have mercy on his soul!

When Roland awoke from his swoon he looked for Turpin, and found him dead, and, seeing Olifant, he guessed what the archbishop’s aim had been, and wept for pity. Crossing the fair white hands over Turpin’s breast, he sadly prayed:

“‘Alas! brave priest, fair lord of noble birth,
Thy soul I give to the great King of Heaven!
No mightier champion has He in His hosts,
No prophet greater to maintain the Faith,
No teacher mightier to convert mankind
Since Christ’s Apostles walked upon the earth!
May thy fair soul escape the pains of Hell
And Paradise receive thee in its bowers!’”

Roland’s Last Fight

Now death was very near to Roland, and he felt it coming upon him while he yet prayed and commended himself to his guardian angel Gabriel. Taking in one hand Olifant, and in the other his good sword Durendala, Roland climbed a little hill, one bowshot within the realm of Spain. There under two pine-trees he found four marble steps, and as he was about to climb them, fell swooning on the grass very near his end. A lurking Saracen, who had feigned death, stole from his covert, [Pg 152] and, calling aloud, “Charles’s nephew is vanquished! I will bear his sword back to Arabia,” seized Durendala as it lay in Roland’s dying clasp. The attempt roused Roland, and he opened his eyes, saying, “Thou art not of us,” then struck such a blow with Olifant on the helm of the heathen thief that he fell dead before his intended victim.

He Tries to Break his Sword

Pale, bleeding, dying, Roland struggled to his feet, bent on saving his good blade from the defilement of heathen hands. He grasped Durendala, and the brown marble before him split beneath his mighty blows; but the good sword stood firm, the steel grated but did not break, and Roland lamented aloud that his famous sword must now become the weapon of a lesser man. Again Roland smote with Durendala, and clove the block of sardonyx, but the good steel only grated and did not break, and the hero bewailed himself aloud, saying, “Alas! my good Durendala, how bright and pure thou art! How thou flamest in the sunbeams, as when the angel brought thee! How many lands hast thou conquered for Charles my King, how many champions slain, how many heathen converted! Must I now leave thee to the pagans? May God spare fair France this shame!” A third time Roland raised the sword and struck a rock of blue marble, which split asunder, but the steel only grated—it would not break; and the hero knew that he could do no more.