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Chapter 18


CHAPTER XVIII.
THE BATTLE OF RONCESVALLES.

AFTER the expulsion of the Saracens from France, Charlemagne led his
army into Spain, to punish Marsilius, the king of that country, for
having sided with the African Saracens in the late war. Charlemagne
succeeded in all his attempts, and compelled Marsilius to submit,
and pay tribute to France, Our readers will remember Gano, otherwise
called Gan, or Ganelon, whom we mentioned in one of our early chapters
as an old courtier of Charlemagne, and a deadly enemy of Orlando,
Rinaldo, and all their friends. He had great influence over Charles,
from equality of age and long intimacy; and he was not without good
qualities: he was brave and sagacious, but envious, false, and
treacherous. Gan prevailed on Charles to send him as ambassador to
Marsilius, to arrange the tribute. He embraced Orlando over and over
again at taking leave, using such pains to seem loving and sincere,
that his hypocrisy was manifest to every one but the old monarch. He
fastened with equal tenderness on Oliver, who smiled contemptuously in
his face, and thought to himself, "You may make as many fair
speeches as you choose but you lie." All the other paladins who were
present thought the same, and they said as much to the Emperor,
adding, that Gan should on no account be sent ambassador to the
Spaniards. But Charles was infatuated.
Gan was received with great honor by Marsilius. The king, attended
by his lords, came fifteen miles out of Saragossa to meet him, and
then conducted him into the city with acclamations. There was
nothing for several days but balls, games, and exhibitions of
chivalry, the ladies throwing flowers on the heads of the French
knights, and the people shouting, "France! Mountjoy and St. Denis!"
After the ceremonies of the first reception, the king and the
ambassador began to understand one another. One day they sat
together in a garden on the border of a fountain. The water was so
clear and smooth it reflected every object around, and the spot was
encircled with fruit-trees which quivered with the fresh air. As
they sat and talked, as if without restraint, Gan, without looking the
king in the face, was enabled to see the expression of his countenance
in the water, and governed his speech accordingly. Marsilius was
equally adroit, and watched the face of Gan while he addressed him.
Marsilius began by lamenting, not as to the ambassador, but as to
the friend, the injuries which Charles had done him by invading his
dominions, charging him with wishing to take his kingdom from him, and
give it to Orlando; till at length he plainly uttered his belief that,
if that ambitious paladin were but dead, good men would get their
rights.
Gan heaved a sigh, as if he was unwillingly compelled to allow the
force of what the king said; but, unable to contain himself long, he
lifted up his face, radiant with triumphant wickedness, and exclaimed:
"Every word you utter is truth; die he must, and die also must Oliver,
who struck me that foul blow at court. Is it treachery to punish
affronts like these? I have planned everything,- I have settled
everything already with their besotted master. Orlando will come to
your borders,- to Roncesvalles,- for the purpose of receiving the
tribute. Charles will await him at the foot of the mountains.
Orlando will bring but a small band with him: you, when you meet
him, will have secretly your whole army at your back. You surround
him, and who receives tribute then?"
The new Judas had scarcely uttered these words when his exultation
was interrupted by a change in the face of nature. The sky was
suddenly overcast, there was thunder and lightning, a laurel was split
in two from head to foot, and the Carob-tree under which Gan was
sitting, which is said to be the species of tree on which Judas
Iscariot hung himself, dropped one of its pods on his head.
Marsilius, as well as Gan, was appalled at this omen; but on
assembling his soothsayers they came to the conclusion that the
laurel-tree turned the omen against the Emperor, the successor of
the Caesars, though one of them renewed the consternation of Gan by
saying that he did not understand the meaning of the tree of Judas,
and intimating that perhaps the ambassador could explain it. Gan
relieved his vexation by anger; the habit of wickedness prevailed over
all other considerations; and the king prepared to march to
Roncesvalles at the head of all his forces.
Gan wrote to Charlemagne to say how humbly and submissively
Marsilius was coming to pay the tribute into the hands of Orlando, and
how handsome it would be of the Emperor to meet him halfway, and so be
ready to receive him after the payment at his camp. He added a
brilliant account of the tribute, and the accompanying presents. The
good Emperor wrote in turn to say how pleased he was with the
ambassador's diligence, and that matters were arranged precisely as he
wished. His court, however, had its suspicions still, though they
little thought Gan's object in bringing Charles into the
neighborhood of Roncesvalles was to deliver him into the hands of
Marsilius, after Orlando should have been destroyed by him.
Orlando, however, did as his lord and sovereign desired. He went
to Roncesvalles, accompanied by a moderate train of warriors, not
dreaming of the atrocity that awaited him. Gan, meanwhile, had
hastened back to France, in order to show himself free and easy in the
presence of Charles, and secure the success of his plot; while
Marsilius, to make assurance doubly sure, brought into the passes of
Roncesvalles no less than three armies, which were successively to
fall on the paladin in case of the worst, and so extinguish him with
numbers. He had also, by Gan's advice, brought heaps of wine and
good cheer to be set before his victims in the first instance; "for
that," said the traitor, "will render the onset the more effective,
the feasters being unarmed. One thing, however, I must not forget,"
added he; "my son Baldwin is sure to be with Orlando; you must take
care of his life for my sake."
"I give him this vesture off my own body," said the king. "let him
wear it in the battle, and have no fear. My soldiers shall be directed
not to touch him."
Gan went away rejoicing to France. He embraced the sovereign and the
court all round with the air of a man who had brought them nothing but
blessings, and the old king wept for very tenderness and delight.
"Something is going on wrong, and looks very black," thought
Malagigi, the good wizard; "Rinaldo is not here, and it is
indispensably necessary that he should be. I must find out where he
is, and Ricciardetto too, and send for them with all speed."
Malagigi called up by his art a wise, terrible, and cruel spirit,
named Ashtaroth. "Tell me, and tell me truly, of Rinaldo," said
Malagigi to the spirit. The demon looked hard at the paladin, and said
nothing. His aspect was clouded and violent.
The enchanter, with an aspect still cloudier, bade Ashtaroth lay
down that look; and made signs as if he would resort to angrier
compulsion; and the devil, alarmed, loosened his tongue, and said,
"You have not told me what you desire to know of Rinaldo."
"I desire to know what he has been doing, and where he is."
"He has been conquering and baptizing the world, east and west,"
said the demon, "and is now in Egypt with Ricciardetto."
"And what has Gan been plotting with Marsilius?" inquired
Malagigi; "and what is to come of it?"
"I know not," said the devil. "I was not attending to Gan at the
time, and we fallen spirits know not the future. All I discern is that
by the signs and comets in the heavens something dreadful is about
to happen,- something very strange, treacherous, and bloody;- and that
Gan has a seat ready prepared for him in hell."
"Within three days," cried the enchanter, loudly, "bring Rinaldo and
Ricciardetto into the pass of Roncesvalles. Do it, and I hereby
undertake to summon thee no more."
"Suppose they will not trust themselves with me?" said the spirit.
"Enter Rinaldo's horse, and bring him, whether he trust thee or
not."
"It shall be done," returned the demon.
There was an earthquake, and Ashtaroth disappeared.

Marsilius now made his first movement towards the destruction of
Orlando, by sending before him his vassal, King Blanchardin, with
his presents of wines and other luxuries. The temperate but
courteous hero took them in good part, and distributed them as the
traitor wished; and then Blanchardin, on pretence of going forward
to salute Charlemagne, returned, and put himself at the head of the
second army, which was the post assigned him by his liege-lord. King
Falseron, whose son Orlando had slain in battle, headed the first
army, and King Balugante the third. Marsilius made a speech to them,
in which he let them into his design, and concluded by recommending to
their good-will the son of his friend Gan, whom they would know by the
vest he had sent him, and who was the only soul amongst the Christians
they were to spare.
This son of Gan, meanwhile, and several of the paladins, who
distrusted the misbelievers, and were anxious at all events to be with
Orlando, had joined the hero in the fated valley; so that the little
Christian host, considering the tremendous valor of their lord and his
friends, were not to be sold for nothing. Rinaldo, alas! the second
thunderbolt of Christendom, was destined not to be there in time to
meet the issue. The paladins in vain begged Orlando to be on his guard
against treachery, and sent for a more numerous body of men. The great
heart of the Champion of the Faith was unwilling to harbor suspicion
as long as he could help it. He refused to summon aid which might be
superfluous; neither would he do anything but what his liege-lord
had directed. And yet he could not wholly repress a misgiving. A
shadow had fallen on his heart, great and cheerful as it was. The
anticipations of his friends disturbed him, in spite of the face
with which he met them. Perhaps by a certain foresight he felt his
death approaching; but he felt bound not to encourage the
impression. Besides, time pressed; the moment of the looked-for
tribute was at hand, and little combinations of circumstances
determine often the greatest events.
King Marsilius was to arrive early next day with the tribute, and
Oliver, with the morning sun, rode forth to reconnoitre, and see if he
could discover the peaceful pomp of the Spanish court in the distance.
He rode up the nearest height, and from the top of it beheld the first
army of Marsilius already forming in the passes. "O devil Gan," he
exclaimed, "this then is the consummation of thy labors!" Oliver put
spurs to his horse, and galloped back down the mountain to Orlando.
"Well," cried the hero, "what news?"
"Bad news," said his cousin, "such as you would not hear of
yesterday. Marsilius is here in arms, and all the world is with him."
The paladins pressed round Orlando, and entreated him to sound his
horn, in token that he needed help. His only answer was to mount his
horse, and ride up the mountain with Sansonetto.
As soon, however, as he cast forth his eyes, and beheld what was
round about him, he turned in sorrow, and looked down into
Roncesvalles, and said, "O miserable valley! the blood shed in thee
this day will color thy name forever."
Orlando's little camp were furious against the Saracens. They
armed themselves with the greatest impatience. There was nothing but
lacing of helmets and mounting of horses, while good Archbishop Turpin
went from rank to rank exhorting and encouraging the warriors of
Christ. Orlando and his captains withdrew for a moment to
consultation. He fairly groaned for sorrow, and at first had not a
word to say; so wretched he felt at having brought his people to die
in Roncesvalles. Then he said: "If it had entered into my heart to
conceive the king of Spain to be such a villain, never would you
have seen this day. He has exchanged with me a thousand courtesies and
good words; and I thought that the worse enemies we had been before,
the better friends we had become now. I fancied every human being
capable of this kind of virtue on a good opportunity, saving,
indeed, such base-hearted wretches as can never forgive their very
forgivers; and of these I did not suppose him to be one. Let us die,
if die we must, like honest and gallant men, so that it shall be
said of us, it was only our bodies that died. The reason why I did not
sound the horn was partly because I thought it did not become us,
and partly because our liege-lord could hardly save us, even if he
heard it." And with these words Orlando sprang to his horse, crying,
"Away, against the Saracens!" But he had no sooner turned his face,
than he wept bitterly, and said, "O Holy Virgin, think not of me,
the sinner Orlando, but have pity on these thy servants!"
And now, with a mighty dust, and an infinite sound of horns and
tambours which came filling the valley, the first army of the infidels
made its appearance, horses neighing, and a thousand pennons flying in
the air. King Falseron led them on, saying to his officers: "Let
nobody dare to lay a finger on Orlando. He belongs to myself. The
revenge of my son's death is mine. I will cut the man down that
comes between us."
"Now, friends," said Orlando, "every man for himself, and St.
Michael for us all! There is not one here that is not a perfect
knight," And he might well say it, for the flower of all France was
there, except Rinaldo and Ricciardetto,- every man a picked man, all
friends and constant companions of Orlando.
So the captains of the little troop and of the great army sat
looking at one another, and singling one another out as the latter
came on, and then the knights put spear in rest, and ran for a while
two and two in succession, one against the other.
Astolpho was the first to move. He ran against Arlotto of Soria, and
thrust his antagonist's body out of the saddle, and his soul into
the other world. Oliver encountered Malprimo, and, though he
received a thrust which hurt him, sent his lance right through the
heart of Malprimo.
Falseron was daunted at this blow. "Truly," thought he, "this is a
marvel." Oliver did not press on among the Saracens, his wound was too
painful; but Orlando now put himself and his whole band in motion, and
you may guess what an uproar ensued. The sound of the rattling of
blows and helmets was as if the forge of Vulcan had been thrown
open. Falseron beheld Orlando coming so furiously, that he thought him
a Lucifer who had burst his chain, and was quite of another mind
than when he purposed to have him all to himself. On the contrary,
he recommended himself to his gods, and turned away, meaning to wait
for a more auspicious season of revenge. But Orlando hailed him,
with a terrible voice, saying, "O thou traitor! was this the end to
which old quarrels were made up?" Then he dashed at Falseron with a
fury so swift, and at the same time with a mastery of his lance so
marvellous, that, though he plunged it in the man's body so as
instantly to kill him, and then withdrew it, the body did not move
in the saddle. The hero himself, as he rushed onwards, was fain to see
the end of a stroke so perfect, and turning his horse back, touched
the carcass with his sword, and it fell on the instant!
When the infidels beheld their leader dead, such fear fell upon them
that they were for leaving the field to the paladins, but they were
unable. Marsilius had drawn the rest of his forces round the valley
like a net, so that their shoulders were turned in vain. Orlando
rode into the thick of them, and wherever he went thunderbolts fell
upon helmets. Oliver was again in the fray, with Walter and Baldwin,
Avino and Avolio, while Archbishop Turpin had changed his crosier
for a lance, and chased a new flock before him to the mountains.
Yet what could be done against foes without number? Marsilius
constantly pours them in. The paladins are as units to thousands.
Why tarry the horses of Rinaldo and Ricciardetto?
The horses did not tarry, but fate had been quicker than
enchantment. Ashtaroth had presented himself to Rinaldo in Egypt, and,
after telling his errand, he and Foul-mouth, his servant, entered
the horses of Rinaldo and Ricciardetto, which began to neigh, and
snort, and leap with the fiends within them, till off they flew
through the air over the pyramids and across the desert, and reached
Spain and the scene of action just as Marsilius brought up his third
army. The two paladins on their horses dropped right into the midst of
the Saracens, and began making such havoc among them that Marsilius,
who overlooked the fight from a mountain, thought his soldiers had
turned against one another. Orlando beheld it, and guessed it could be
no other but his cousins, and pressed to meet them. Oliver coming up
at the same moment, the rapture of the whole party is not to be
expressed. After a few hasty words of explanation they were forced
to turn again upon the enemy, whose numbers seemed perfectly without
limit.
Orlando, making a bloody passage towards Marsilius, struck a youth
on the head, whose helmet was so strong as to resist the blow, but
at the same time flew off. Orlando prepared to strike a second blow,
when the youth exclaimed, "Hold! you loved my father; I am Bujaforte!"
The paladin had never seen Bujaforte, but he saw the likeness to the
good old man, his father, and he dropped his sword. "O Bujaforte,"
said he, "I loved him indeed; but what does his son do here fighting
against his friends?"
Bujaforte could not at once speak for weeping. At length he said: "I
am forced to be here by my lord and master, Marsilius; and I have made
a show of fighting, but have not hurt a single Christian. Treachery is
on every side of you, Baldwin himself has a vest given him by
Marsilius, that everybody may know the son of his friend Gan, and do
him no harm."
"Put your helmet on again," said Orlando, "and behave just as you
have done. Never will your father's friend be an enemy to the son."
The hero then turned in fury to look for Baldwin, who was
hastening towards him, at that moment, with friendliness in his looks.
"'Tis strange," said Baldwin, "I have done my duty as well as I
could, yet nobody will come against me. I have slain right and left,
and cannot comprehend what it is that makes the stoutest infidels
avoid me."
"Take off your vest," said Orlando, contemptuously, "and you will
soon discover the secret, if you wish to know it. Your father has sold
us to Marsilius, all but his honorable son."
"If my father," said Baldwin, impetuously tearing off the vest, "has
been such a villain, and I escape dying, I will plunge this sword
through his heart. But I am no traitor, Orlando, and you do me wrong
to say it. Think not I can live with dishonor."
Baldwin spurred off into the fight, not waiting to hear another word
from Orlando, who was very sorry for what he had said, for he
perceived that the youth was in despair.
And now the fight raged beyond all it had done before; twenty pagans
went down for one paladin, but still the paladins fell. Sansonetto was
beaten to earth by the club of Grandonio, Walter d'Amulion had his
shoulder broken, Berlinghieri and Ottone were slain, and at last
Astolpho fell, in revenge of whose death Orlando turned the spot where
he died into a lake of Saracen blood. The luckless Bujaforte met
Rinaldo, and, before he could explain how he seemed to be fighting
on the Saracen side, received such a blow upon the head that he
fell, unable to utter a word. Orlando, cutting his way to a spot where
there was a great struggle and uproar, found the poor youth Baldwin,
the son of Gan, with two spears in his breast. "I am no traitor
now," said Baldwin, and those were the last words he said. Orlando was
bitterly sorry to have been the cause of his death, and tears streamed
from his eyes. At length down went Oliver himself, He had become
blinded with his own blood, and smitten Orlando without knowing him.
"How now, cousin," cried Orlando, "have you too gone over to the
enemy?" "O my lord and master," cried the other, "I ask your pardon. I
can see nothing; I am dying. Some traitor has stabbed me in the
back. If you love me, lead my horse into the thick of them, so that
I may not die unavenged."
"I shall die myself before long," said Orlando, "out of very toil
and grief; so we will go together."
Orlando led his cousin's horse where the press was thickest, and
dreadful was the strength of the dying man and his tired companion.
They made a street through which they passed out of the battle, and
Orlando led his cousin away to his tent, and said, "Wait a little till
I return, for I will go and sound the horn on the hill yonder."
"'Tis of no use," said Oliver, "my spirit is fast going, and desires
to be with its Lord and Saviour."
He would have said more, but his words came from him imperfectly,
like those of a man in a dream, and so he expired.
When Orlando saw him dead, he felt as if he was alone on the
earth, and he was quite willing to leave it; only he wished that
King Charles, at the foot of the mountains, should know how the case
stood before he went. So he took up the horn and blew it three
times, with such force that the blood burst out of his nose and mouth.
Turpin says that at the third blast the horn broke in two.
In spite of all the noise of the battle, the sound of the horn broke
over it like a voice out of the other world. They say that birds
fell dead at it, and that the whole Saracen army drew back in
terror. Charlemagne was sitting in the midst of his court when the
sound reached him; and Gan was there. The Emperor was the first to
hear it.
"Do you hear that?" said be to his nobles. "Did you hear the horn as
I heard it?"
Upon this they all listened, and Gan felt his heart misgive him. The
horn sounded a second time.
"What is the meaning of this?" said Charles.
"Orlando is hunting," observed Gan, "and the stag is killed."
But when the horn sounded yet a third time, and the blast was one of
so dreadful a vehemence, everybody looked at the other, and then
they all looked at Gan in fury. Charles rose from his seat.
"This is no hunting of the stag," said he. "The sound goes to my
very heart. O Gan! O Gan! Not for thee do I blush, but for myself. O
foul and monstrous villain! Take him, gentlemen, and keep him in close
prison. Would to God I had not lived to see this day!"
But it was no time for words. They put the traitor in prison, and
then Charles with all his court took his way to Roncesvalles, grieving
and praying.
It was afternoon when the horn sounded, and half an hour after it
when the Emperor set out; and meantime Orlando had returned to the
fight that he might do his duty, however hopeless, as long as he could
sit his horse. At length he found his end approaching, for toil and
fever, and rode all alone to a fountain where he had before quenched
his thirst. His horse was wearier than he, and no sooner had his
master alighted than the beast, kneeling down as if to take leave, and
to say, "I have brought you to a place of rest," fell dead at his
feet. Orlando cast water on him from the fountain, not wishing to
believe him dead; but when he found it to no purpose, he grieved for
him as if he had been a human being, and addressed him by name with
tears, and asked forgiveness if he had ever done him wrong. They say
that the horse, at these words, opened his eyes a little, and looked
kindly at his master, and then stirred never more. They say also
that Orlando then, summoning all his strength, smote a rock near him
with his beautiful sword Durindana, thinking to shiver the steel in
pieces, and so prevent its falling into the hands of the enemy; but
though the rock split like a slate, and a great cleft remained ever
after to astonish the eyes of pilgrims, the sword remained uninjured.
And now Rinaldo and Ricciardetto came up, with Turpin, having driven
back the Saracens, and told Orlando that the battle was won. Then
Orlando knelt before Turpin, and begged remission of his sins, and
Turpin gave him absolution. Orlando fixed his eyes on the hilt of
his sword as on a crucifix, and embraced it, and he raised his eyes
and appeared like a creature seraphical and transfigured, and,
bowing his head, he breathed out his pure soul.
And now King Charles and his nobles came up. The Emperor, at sight
of the dead Orlando, threw himself, as if he had been a reckless
youth, from his horse, and embraced and kissed the body, and said:
"I bless thee, Orlando; I bless thy whole life, and all that thou
wast, and all that thou ever didst, and the father that begat thee;
and I ask pardon of thee for believing those who brought thee to thine
end. They shall have their reward, O thou beloved one! But indeed it
is thou that livest, and I who am worse than dead."
Horrible to the Emperor's eyes was the sight of the field of
Roncesvalles. The Saracens indeed had fled, conquered; but all his
paladins but two were left on it dead, and the whole valley looked
like a great slaughter-house, trampled into blood and dirt, and
reeking to the heat. Charles trembled to his heart's core for wonder
and agony. After gazing dumbly on the place, he cursed it with a
solemn curse, and wished that never grass might grow in it again,
nor seed of any kind, neither within it nor on any of its mountains
around, but the anger of Heaven abide over it forever.
Charles and his warriors went after the Saracens into Spain. They
took and fired Saragossa, and Marsilius was hung to the carob-tree
under which he had planned his villainy with Gan; and Gan was hung and
drawn and quartered in Roncesvalles, amidst the execrations of the
country.

Thomas Bulfinch

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