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Bernardo Del Carpio
by [?]

Spain, like France, had its hero of legend. The great French hero was Roland, whose mighty deeds in the pass of Roncesvalles have been widely commemorated in song and story. In Spanish legend the gallant opponent of the champion of France was Bernardo del Carpio, a hero who perhaps never lived, except on paper, but about whose name a stirring cycle of story has grown. The tale of his life is a tragedy, as that of heroes is apt to be. It may be briefly told.

When Charlemagne was on the throne of France Alfonso II. was king of Christian Spain. A hundred years had passed since all that was left to Spain was the cave of Covadonga, and in that time a small kingdom had grown up with Oviedo for its capital city. This kingdom had spread from the Asturias over Leon, which gave its name to the new realm, and the slow work of driving back the Moslem conquerors had well begun.

Alfonso never married and had no children. People called him Alfonso the Chaste. He went so far as to forbid any of his family to marry, so that the love affairs of his sister, the fair infanta Ximena, ran far from smooth. The beautiful princess loved and was loved again by the noble Sancho Diaz, Count of Saldana, but the king would not listen to their union. The natural result followed; as they dared not marry in public they did so in private, and for a year or two lived happily together, none knowing of their marriage, and least of all the king.

But when a son was born to them the truth came out. It threw the tyrannical king into a violent rage. His sister was seized by his orders and shut up in a convent, and her husband was thrown into prison for life, some accounts saying that his eyes were put out by order of the cruel king. As for their infant son, he was sent into the mountains of the Asturias, to be brought up among peasants and mountaineers.

It was known that he had been sent there by Alfonso, and the people believed him to be the king’s son and treated him as a prince. In the healthy out-door life of the hills he grew strong and handsome, while his native courage was shown in hunting adventures and the perils of mountain life. When old enough he learned the use of arms, and soon left his humble friends for the army, in which his boldness and bravery were shown in many encounters with the French and the Arabs. Those about him still supposed him to be the son of the king, though Alfonso, while furnishing him with all knightly arms and needs, neither acknowledged nor treated him as his son. But if not a king’s son, he was a very valiant knight, and became the terror of all the foes of Spain.

All this time his unfortunate father languished in prison, where from time to time he was told by his keepers of the mighty deeds of the young prince Bernardo del Carpio, by which name the youthful warrior was known. Count Sancho knew well that this was his son, and complained bitterly of the ingratitude of the youth who could leave his father perishing in a prison cell while he rode freely and joyously in the open air, engaged in battle and banquet, and was everywhere admired and praised. He knew not that the young warrior had been kept in ignorance of his birth.

During this period came that great event in the early history of Spain in which Charlemagne crossed the Pyrenees with a great army and marched upon the city of Saragossa. It was in the return from this expedition that the dreadful attack took place in which Roland and the rear guard of the army were slain in the pass of Roncesvalles. In Spanish story it was Bernardo del Carpio who led the victorious hosts, and to whose prowess was due the signal success.