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Roland The Paladin
by [?]

“Roland, the flower of chivalry,
Expired at Roncevall.”

Thomas Campbell.

“Hero-worship endures for ever while man


“Roland, the gode knight.”

Turpin’s History of Charlemagne.

The old chroniclers tell us that on that momentous morning when William the Conqueror led his army to victory at Hastings, a Norman knight named Taillefer (and a figure of iron surely was his) spurred his horse to the front. In face of the enemy who hated all things that had to do with France, he lifted up his voice and chanted aloud the exploits of Charlemagne and of Roland. As he sang, he threw his sword in the air and always caught it in his right hand as it fell, and, proudly, the whole army, moving at once, joined with him in the Chanson de Roland, and shouted, as chorus, “God be our help! God be our help!”

“Taillefer … chantoit de Rollant
Et d’Olivier, et de Vassaux
Qui mourent en Rainschevaux.”

Wace, Roman de Rose.

Fifteen thousand of those who sang fell on that bloody day, and one wonders how many of those who went down to the Shades owed half their desperate courage to the remembrance of the magnificent deeds of the hero of whom they sang, ere ever sword met sword, or spear met the sullen impact of the stark frame of a Briton born, fighting for his own.

The story of Roland, so we are told, is only a splendid coating of paint put on a very slender bit of drawing. A contemporary chronicle tells of the battle of Roncesvalles, and says: “In which battle was slain Roland, prefect of the marches of Brittany.” Merely a Breton squire, we are told to believe–a very gallant country gentleman whose name would not have been preserved in priestly archives had he not won for himself, by his fine courage, such an unfading laurel crown. But because we are so sure that “it is the memory that the soldier leaves after him, like the long trail of light that follows the sunken sun,” and because so often oral tradition is less misleading than the written word, we gladly and undoubtingly give Roland high place in the Valhalla of heroes of all races and of every time.

777 or 778 A.D. is the date fixed for the great fight at Roncesvalles, where Roland won death and glory. Charlemagne, King of the Franks, and Head of the Holy Roman Empire, was returning victoriously from a seven years’ campaign against the Saracens in Spain.

“No fortress stands before him unsubdued,
Nor wall, nor city left to be destroyed,”

save one–the city of Saragossa, the stronghold of King Marsile or Marsiglio. Here amongst the mountains the King and his people still held to their idols, worshipped “Mahommed, Apollo, and Termagaunt,” and looked forward with horror to a day when the mighty Charlemagne might, by the power of the sword, thrust upon them the worship of the crucified Christ. Ere Charlemagne had returned to his own land, Marsile held a council with his peers. To believe that the great conqueror would rest content with Saragossa still unconquered was too much to hope for. Surely he would return to force his religion upon them. What, then, was it best to do? A very wily emir was Blancandrin, brave in war, and wise in counsel, and on his advice Marsile sent ambassadors to Charlemagne to ask of him upon what conditions he would be allowed to retain his kingdom in peace and to continue to worship the gods of his fathers. Mounted on white mules, with silver saddles, and with reins of gold, and bearing olive branches in their hands, Blancandrin and the ten messengers sent by Marsile arrived at Cordova, where Charlemagne rested with his army. Fifteen thousand tried veterans were with him there, and his “Douzeperes”–his Twelve Peers–who were to him what the Knights of the Round Table were to King Arthur of Britain. He held his court in an orchard, and under a great pine tree from which the wild honeysuckle hung like a fragrant canopy, the mighty king and emperor sat on a throne of gold.