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- Journeys Through Bookland V3 - 69/69 -
our clarions loud and long."
The mighty mountains tossed the sound from peak to peak and carried it down into the valley of Roncesvalles where the pagans heard the echoes and knew that Charles was approaching for revenge.
"There is but one man more to slay," they cried. "Let us slaughter him and flee."
Then four hundred of the mounted Moslems charged at Roland, flinging their long javelins but venturing not to approach within reach of his sword, for they thought no man born of woman could slay this Roland. Veillantif dropped down dead, and Roland, his armor pierced with spear points, fell beneath him with a last great "Montjoy."
Spent with the fall, he lay there in a swoon, though not a single spear had touched his body. When the pagans looked on him they thought him dead, and fled through the pass, leaving the gloomy field in possession of the dead and wounded.
When the spirit of Roland came back from its swoon he looked about him and saw that the pagans had fled. With great pain he drew himself from beneath his horse and staggered to his feet, for scarcely could he stand from the pain beating in his temples. He dragged his bruised and weary body, searching everywhere among the slain. Round about each Christian lay a heap of pagan slain, and as Roland's eye wandered o'er the bloody field he said, "Charles will see that the rear guard has done its duty." At last he found where Oliver lay, and lifting the body tenderly in his arms, he said, "Comrade dear, ever wast thou a friend to me, kind and gentle. No better warrior ever broke a spear or wielded a sword. Now do I repent the only time that I failed to heed thy counsel. God rest thy soul. A sweeter friend and truer comrade no man ever had."
Then Roland heard a feeble voice, and turning, saw the Archbishop Turpin dying on the ground, a piteous sight, his face all marred with wounds and his body well-nigh cut in twain. Yet Turpin raised his hand and blessed the dead about him, saying, "Thank God, dear Roland, the field is thine and mine. We have fought a good fight."
Then he joined his hands as though in prayer, but his strength failed him and he fell back fainting. Roland crawled away towards a little rill where water was flowing, but his own weakness was so great that when he came feebly to where the Archbishop lay he found him with his hands still clasped, but now at rest; for neither thirst nor pain would trouble him again. All alone in that field of death Roland wept with his slaughtered friends.
When Roland found death was drawing near he took Durendal in one hand and his good horn in the other and crept away to a green hillock, where he lay down in his armor. While he lay there in agony a Saracen appeared plundering the dead and as he stole by Roland he saw the glitter of Durendal's hilt and put out his hand and snatched the sword. Roland opened his eyes and saw the thief before him with the sword in his hands, and turning suddenly he raised his horn and dealt the fellow so heavy a blow upon the skull that he stretched him dead upon the ground. Then, recovering Durendal, he clasped it in his hands and said, "Oh Durendal, keen of edge and bright of blade, God sent thee by his angels to Charles to be his captain's sword. Charles girt thee at my side, and many a country hast thou helped to conquer in my hands. Though it grieveth me sore to part with thee, yet would I rather break thee asunder than that thou shouldst fall into the hands of an enemy of France."
So, praying God to give him strength, he struck the sword so mightily upon a gray stone of granite that the stone was chipped and splintered, but the good sword broke not nor was its good edge turned in the least. A second time he struck the stone, and though under the blow it was cleft in twain, the blade leaped back unharmed. On the third blow he powdered the stone, but failed to turn the blade of polished steel.
Then Roland knew that the sword was indeed holy, and holding the cross upon its hilt before his eyes, he said, "Oh Durendal, I am to blame. The angels brought thee and they will keep thee safe for Charles and France."
Now indeed Roland felt the throes of death approach, and turning his face toward Spain and toward his enemies he placed his sword and horn beneath him, and lifting his weary hands to heaven he closed his eyes. Death and silence brooded o'er the valley; the mists of night came up, and darkness hid the scene.
Charles and his followers had ridden hard and did not draw rein till they reached the mountain top and looked down into the valley of Roncesvalles. They blew the clarions loud, but no answering sound was heard save the echoes from the mountain sides. Then down through the mists and darkness they rode and saw the awful carnage. Roland and Oliver dead, Archbishop Turpin and the noble Twelve, and all the twenty thousand stretched among the heaps of pagan corpses.
Charles fell upon his face and wept, for he had brought up and nourished Roland from a babe, had taught him war and made him the bravest of knights and captain in his army. But anger burned in his bosom and dried his tears, so that when his officers approached and told him that they had found the tracks of the flying pagans he was ready to follow fiercely along their track.
Looking up, he saw that the sun was still some hours high, for God had miraculously stayed its passage that the Christians might be avenged. They overtook the flying enemy in the valley of Tenebrus, close by the swift torrent of the Ebro, and there with the swollen river in front and the fierce Franks on the flanks and rear the pagans were slowly cut to pieces. Only Marsilius and a little band, who had gone another way, escaped. Every Saracen in Tenebrus had perished before the Franks gave up their bloody work. Back to Roncesvalles went King Charles, where he buried the dead, all excepting Roland and Oliver, whose bodies he embalmed and carried in his richest chariots on his return journey.
Bitterly mourned the king in spite of the richness of his revenge. "Oh my Roland," he cried, "little pleasure have I in the land we have conquered. When I come again to my palace and people ask tidings, what can I say but that we have conquered cities, provinces and countries and left Roland dead? Then will there be no rejoicing. Sadness will fall upon our land, and every one will say the war has been in vain. Oh Roland, my friend, would God that I had died for thee."
When Charles had returned to Aachen he haled Ganelon before him and flatly accused the knight of treachery. This Ganelon denied, and the king set him on trial. By using the price of his treason, Ganelon secured among the judges thirty of his kinsmen, who by spending riches lavishly procured judgment for him, all voting him no traitor excepting a gentle youth, Tierry, who persisted in impeaching Ganelon as a felon and traitor who had betrayed Roland and the twenty thousand. Moreover, he accused the judges of treason and false judgment and offered to prove his charges upon any champion the accused should bring forth.
Tierry was a slender little lad, slight of limb and feeble in strength, and the champion selected by the accused was Pinabel, a giant among the Franks. All pitied Tierry and urged that some more doughty champion take up the cause, but King Charles said, "God will show the right."
So the lists were made ready and the combat began. Long and terrible was the fight, for the little champion seemed endowed with more than human strength and courage. Yet ever was he beaten back, and ever it seemed that he must be crushed to death under the terrific blows of the mighty Pinabel. At last a blow came which cut his helmet in two and split off his right cheek. Then with vision clouded by the blood and with fast-failing strength, Tierry aimed a blow with all his force straight at the head of Pinabel. God gave force to the weakening arm and directed the stroke so that it cleft the steel helmet and the skull, and entered the brain of Pinabel, who fell gasping to the earth and died there in his sins.
Then all the people with one accord shouted, "God hath spoken the word. Again has the right triumphed in trial by battle. Away with Ganelon and his fellows."
King Charles from his judgment hall pronounced sentence. "Take the thirty false judges and hang them. Let not one escape," decreed the king.
As for Ganelon, ten times worse was his punishment. Ropes were tied to the wrists and ankles of Ganelon and fastened to four prancing horses. Whining and begging for his life, the traitor lay extended while the horses, proud of their part, stood with noble arching necks ready without whip or spur to drag the coward traitor limb from limb. The halters were cast off, the horses sprang away, and Ganelon had paid his penalty.
Then to his lonely chamber retired the king, very old and decrepit, for years of grief had done more to age Charlemagne than years of war.
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