WHEN Charlemagne grew old he felt the burden of government become
heavier year by year, till at last he called together his high
barons and peers to propose to abdicate the empire and the throne of
France in favor of his sons, Charlot and Lewis.
The Emperor was unreasonably partial to his eldest son; he would
have been glad to have had the barons and peers demand Charlot for
their only sovereign; but that prince was so infamous, for his
falsehood and cruelty, that the council strenuously opposed the
Emperor's proposal of abdicating, and implored him to continue to hold
a sceptre which he wielded with so much glory.
Amaury of Hauteville, cousin of Ganelon, and now head of the
wicked branch of the house of Maganza, was the secret partisan of
Charlot, whom he resembled in his loose morals and bad dispositions.
Amaury nourished the most bitter resentment against the house of
Guienne, of which the former Duke, Sevinus, had often rebuked his
misdeeds. He took advantage of this occasion to do an injury to the
two young children whom the Duke Sevinus had left under the charge
of the Duchess Alice, their mother; and, at the same time, to
advance his interest with Charlot by increasing his wealth and
power. With this view, he suggested to the prince a new idea.
He pretended to agree with the opinion of the barons; he said that
it would be best to try Charlot's capacity for government, by giving
him some rich provinces, before placing him upon the throne; and
that the Emperor, without depriving himself of any part of his
realm, might give Charlot the investiture of Guienne. For although
seven years had passed since the death of Sevinus, the young Duke, his
son, had not yet repaired to the court of Charlemagne to render the
homage due to his lawful sovereign.
We have often had occasion to admire the justice and wisdom of the
advice which on all occasions the Duke Namo of Bavaria gave to
Charlemagne, and he now discountenanced, with indignation, the selfish
advice of Amaury. He represented to the Emperor the early age of the
children of Sevinus, and the useful and glorious services of their
late father, and proposed to Charlemagne to send two knights to the
Duchess, at Bordeaux, to summon her two sons to the court of the
Emperor, to pay their respects and render homage.
Charlemagne approved this advice, and sent two chevaliers to
demand the two young princes of their mother. No sooner had the
Duchess learned the approach of the two knights, than she sent
distinguished persons to receive them; and as soon as they entered the
palace she presented herself before them, with her elder and younger
sons, Huon and Girard.
The deputies, delighted with the honors and caresses they
received, accompanied with rich presents, left Bordeaux with regret,
and, on their return, represented to Charlemagne that the young Duke
Huon seemed born to tread in the footsteps of his brave father,
informing him that in three months the young princes of Guienne
would present themselves at his court.
The Duchess employed the short interval in giving her sons her
last instructions. Huon received them in his heart, and Girard gave as
much heed to them as could be expected from one so young.
The preparations for their departure having been made, the Duchess
embraced them tenderly, commending them to the care of Heaven, and
charged them to call, on their way, at the celebrated monastery of
Cluny, to visit the Abbot, the brother of their father. This Abbot,
worthy of his high dignity, had never lost an opportunity of doing
good, setting an example of every excellence, and making virtue
attractive by his example.
He received his nephews with the greatest magnificence; and, aware
how useful his presence might be to them with Charlemagne, whose
valued counsellor he was, he took with them the road to Paris.
When Amaury learned what reception the two deputies of Charlemagne
had received at Bordeaux, and the arrangements made for the visit of
the young princes to the Emperor's court, he suggested to Charlot to
give him a troop of his guards, with which he proposed to lay wait for
the young men in the wood of Montlery, put them to death, and
thereby give the prince Charlot possession of the duchy of Guienne.
A plan of treachery and violence agreed but too well with
Charlot's disposition. He not only adopted the suggestion of Amaury,
but insisted upon taking a part in it. They went out secretly, by
night, followed by a great number of attendants, all armed in black,
to lie in ambuscade in the wood where the brothers were to pass.
Girard, the younger of the two, having amused himself as he rode
by flying his hawk at such game as presented itself, had ridden in
advance of his brother and the Abbot of Cluny. Charlot, who saw him
coming, alone and unarmed, went forth to meet him, sought a quarrel
with him, and threw him from his horse with a stroke of his lance.
Girard uttered a cry as he fell; Huon heard it, and flew to his
defence, with no other weapon than his sword. He came up with him, and
saw the blood flowing from his wound. "What has this child done to
you, wretch?" he exclaimed to Charlot. "How cowardly to attack him
when unprepared to defend himself!" "By my faith," said Charlot, "I
mean to do the same by you. Know that I am the son of Duke Thierry
of Ardennes, from whom your father, Sevinus, took three castles; I
have sworn to avenge him, and I defy you." "Coward," answered Huon, "I
know well the baseness that dwells in your race; worthy son of
Thierry, use the advantage that your armor gives you; but know that
I fear you not." At these words Charlot had the wickedness to put
his lance in rest, and to run upon Huon, who had barely time to wrap
his arm in his mantle. With this feeble buckler be received the thrust
of the lance. It penetrated the mantle, but missed his body. Then,
rising upon his stirrups, Sir Huon struck Charlot so terrible a blow
with his sword that the helmet was cleft asunder, and his head too.
The dastardly prince fell dead upon the ground.
Huon now perceived that the wood was full of armed men. He called
the men of his suite, and they hastily put themselves in order, but
nobody issued from the wood to attack him. Amaury, who saw Charlot's
fall, had no desire to compromit himself; and, feeling sure that
Charlemagne would avenge the death of his son, he saw no occasion
for his doing anything more at present. He left Huon and the Abbot
of Cluny to bind up the wound of Girard, and, having seen them
depart and resume their way to Paris, he took up the body of
Charlot, and, placing it across a horse, had it carried to Paris,
where he arrived four hours after Huon.
The Abbot of Cluny presented his nephew to Charlemagne, but Huon
refrained from paying his obeisance, complaining grievously of the
ambush which had been set for him, which he said could not have been
without the Emperor's permission. Charlemagne, surprised at a charge
which his magnanimous soul was incapable of meriting, asked eagerly of
the Abbot what were the grounds of the complaints of his nephew. The
Abbot told him faithfully all that had happened, informing him that
a coward knight, who called himself the son of Thierry of Ardennes,
had wounded Girard, and run upon Huon, who was unarmed; but by his
force and valor he had overcome the traitor, and left him dead upon
Charlemagne indignantly disavowed any connection with the action
of the infamous Thierry, congratulated the young Duke upon his
victory, himself conducted the two brothers to a rich apartment,
stayed to see the first dressing applied to the wound of Girard, and
left the brothers in charge of Duke Namo of Bavaria, who, having
been a companion in arms of the Duke Sevinus, regarded the young men
almost as if they were his own sons.
Charlemagne had hardly quitted them when, returning to his
chamber, he heard cries, and saw through the window a party of armed
men just arrived. He recognized Amaury, who bore a dead knight
stretched across a horse; and the name of Charlot was heard among
the exclamations of the people assembled in the court-yard.
Charles's partiality for this unworthy son was one of his
weaknesses. He descended in trepidation to the court-yard, ran to
Amaury, and uttered a cry of grief on recognizing Charlot. "It is Huon
of Bordeaux," said the traitor Amaury, "who has massacred your son
before it was in my power to defend him." Charlemagne, furious at
these words, seized a sword, and flew to the apartment of the two
brothers to plunge it into the heart of the murderer of his son.
Duke Namo stopped his hand for an instant, while Charles told him
the crime of which Huon was accused. "He is a peer of the realm," said
Namo, "and if he is guilty, is he not here in your power, and are
not we peers the proper judges to condemn him to death? Let not your
hand be stained with his blood." The Emperor, calmed by the wisdom
of Duke Namo, summoned Amaury to his presence. The peers assembled
to hear his testimony, and the traitor accused Huon of Bordeaux of
having struck the fatal blow, without allowing Charlot an
opportunity to defend himself, and though he knew that his opponent
was the Emperor's eldest son.
The Abbot of Cluny, indignant at the false accusation of Amaury,
advanced, and said, "By Saint Benedict, sire, the traitor lies in
his throat. If my nephew has slain Charlot, it was in his own defence,
and after having seen his brother wounded by him, and also in
ignorance that his adversary was the prince. Though I am a son of
the Church," added the good Abbot, "I forget not that I am a knight by
birth. I offer to prove with my body the lie upon Amaury, if he
dares sustain it, and I shall feel that I am doing a better work to
punish a disloyal traitor, than to sing lauds and matins."
Huon to this time had kept silent, amazed at the black calumny of
Amaury; but now he stepped forth, and, addressing Amaury, said:
"Traitor! darest thou maintain in arms the lie thou hast uttered?"
Amaury, a knight of great prowess, despising the youth and slight
figure of Huon, hesitated not to offer his glove, which Huon seized;
then, turning again to the peers, he said: "I pray you let the
combat be allowed me, for never was there a more legitimate cause."
The Duke Namo and the rest, deciding that the question should be
remitted to the judgment of Heaven, the combat was ordained, to
which Charlemagne unwillingly consented. The young Duke was restored
to the charge of Duke Namo, who the next morning invested him with the
honors of knighthood, and gave him armor of proof, with a white
shield. The Abbot of Cluny, delighted to find in his nephew sentiments
worthy of his birth, embraced him, gave him his blessing, and hastened
to the church of St. Germains to pray for him, while the officers of
the king prepared the lists for the combat.
The battle was long and obstinate. The address and agility of Huon
enabled him to avoid the terrible blows which the ferocious Amaury
aimed at him. But Huon had more than once drawn blood from his
antagonist. The effect began to be perceived in the failing strength
of the traitor; at last he threw himself from his horse, and,
kneeling, begged for mercy. "Spare me," he said, "and I will confess
all. Aid me to rise and lead me to Charlemagne." The brave and loyal
Huon, at these words, put his sword under his left arm, and
stretched out his right to raise the prostrate man, who seized the
opportunity to give him a thrust in the side. The hauberk of Huon
resisted the blow, and he was wounded but slightly. Transported with
rage at this act of baseness, he forgot how necessary for his complete
acquittal the confession of Amaury was, and without delay dealt him
the fatal blow.
Duke Namo and the other peers approached, had the body of Amaury
dragged forth from the lists, and conducted Huon to Charlemagne. The
Emperor, however, listening to nothing but his resentment and grief
for the death of his son, refused to be satisfied; and under the
plea that Huon had not succeeded in making his accuser retract his
charge, seemed resolved to confiscate his estates and to banish him
forever from France. It was not till after long entreaties on the part
of Duke Namo and the rest, that he consented to grant Huon his pardon,
under conditions which he should impose.
Huon approached, and knelt before the Emperor, rendered him
homage, and cried him mercy for the involuntary killing of his son.
Charlemagne would not receive the hands of Huon in his own, but
touched him with his sceptre, saying, "I receive thy homage, and
pardon thee the death of my son, but only on one condition. You
shall go immediately to the court of the Sultan Gaudisso; you shall
present yourself before him as he sits at meat; you shall cut off
the head of the most illustrious guest whom you shall find sitting
nearest to him; you shall kiss three times on the mouth the fair
princess his daughter, and you shall demand of the sultan, as token of
tribute to me, a handful of the white hair of his beard, and four
grinders from his mouth."
These conditions caused a murmur from all the assembly. "What!" said
the Abbot of Cluny; "slaughter a Saracen prince without first offering
him baptism?" "The second condition is not so hard," said the young
peers, "but the demand that Huon is bound to make of the old Sultan is
very uncivil, and will be hard to obtain."
The Emperor's obstinacy when he had once resolved upon a thing is
well known. To the courage of Huon nothing seemed impossible. "I
accept the conditions," said he, silencing the intercessions of the
old Duke of Bavaria; "my liege, I accept my pardon at this price. I go
to execute your commands, as your vassal and a peer of France."
The Duke Namo and the Abbot of Cluny, being unable to obtain any
relaxation of the sentence passed by Charlemagne, led forth the
young Duke, who determined to set out at once on his expedition. All
that the good Abbot could obtain of him was, that he should prepare
for this perilous undertaking by going first to Rome, to pay his
homage to the Pope, who was the brother of the Duchess Alice, Huon's
mother, and from him demand absolution and his blessing. Huon promised
it, and forthwith set out on his way to Rome.