Story of Roland - James Baldwin

Ogier the Dane

On the day that Roland was fourteen years old, he was allowed to lay aside his page's dress, and don the garb of a squire. Very proud was he of this new honor, and faithfully did he try to merit it. He was now no longer a boy, whose chief duties were to serve the ladies of the household, and to wait on his master at table. He was regarded as a youth perfecting himself in the use of arms, and making himself ready for the active business of knighthood. He learned how to handle all kinds of weapons, and very expert did he become in the use of the sword and the heavy lance. He practised himself in every manly art, and learned to endure every sort of hardship. And there was no one in Charlemagne's court, nor, indeed, in all France, who could excel him in the feats of skill and strength in which the young men of those days prided themselves.

About this time there came to dwell in the household of Duke Namon a youth, some three years older than Roland, named Ogier. He was a Dane, and had come to France as a hostage. Very tall he was, and straight as a mountain pine; and men said that a handsomer youth had never been seen. His father was Godfrey, king of Denmark, known everywhere as one of the bravest and most daring of the Northmen: he lived in a strong-built castle on the shore of the sea, and had long boasted that he acknowledged no man as his peer, not even the mighty Charlemagne of France. Many years had Godfrey ruled over the rude and danger-loving people of Denmark; and the swift-sailing dragon ships of the jarls and vikings who owned him as their master were known and feared in every sea and on every coast, from Jutland to Cornwall and Finisterre. And it was whispered that the Danish king had even hoped to rival Charlemagne in power, and that he had dreamed of making himself, some day, the master of all Europe.

And this is the story that men tell of the childhood of Ogier. When he was but a babe in his mother's arms, there was heard one day, in his father's castle, the sweetest music that mortals ever listened to. Nobody knew whence the bewitching sounds came; for they seemed to be now here, now there: yet every one was charmed with the delightful melody, and declared that only angels could make music so heavenly. Then suddenly there came into the chamber where Ogier lay six fairies, whose beauty was so wonderful and awful, that none but a babe might gaze upon them without fear. And each of the lovely creatures bore in her hands a garland of the rarest flowers, and rich gifts of gold and gems. And the first fairy took the child in her arms, and kissed him, and said,—

"Better than kingly crown, or lands, or rich heritage, fair babe, I give thee a brave, strong heart. Be fearless as the eagle, and bold as the lion; be the bravest knight among men."

Then the second fairy took the child, and dandled him fondly on her knees, and looked long and lovingly into his clear gray eyes.

"What is genius without opportunity?" said she. "What is a brave heart without the ability to do brave deeds? I give to thee many an opportunity for manly action."

The third fairy laid the dimpled hands of the babe in her own white palm, and stroked softly his golden hair.

"Strong-hearted boy, for whom so many noble deeds are waiting, I, too, will give thee a boon. My gift is skill and strength such as shall never fail thee in fight, nor allow thee to be beaten by a foe. Success to thee, fair Ogier!"

The fourth fairy touched tenderly the mouth and the eyes and the noble brow of the babe.

"Be fair of speech," said she, "be noble in action, be courteous, be kind: these are the gifts I bring thee. For what will a strong heart, or a bold undertaking, or success in every enterprise, avail, unless one has the respect and the love of one's fellow-men?"

Then the fifth fairy came forward, and clasped Ogier in her arms, and held him a long time quietly, without speaking a word. At last she said,—

"The gifts which my sisters have given thee will scarcely bring thee happiness; for, while they add to thy honor, they may make thee dangerous to others. They may lead thee into the practice of selfishness, and base acts of tyranny. That man is little to be envied who loves not his fellow-men. The boon, therefore, that I bring thee is the power and the will to esteem others as frail mortals equally deserving with thyself."

And then the sixth fairy, the youngest and the most beautiful of all, who was none other than Morgan le Fay, the Queen of Avalon, caught up the child, and danced about the room in rapturous joy. And, in tones more musical than mortals often hear, she sang a sweet lullaby, a song of fairyland and of the island vale of Avalon, where the souls of heroes dwell.

And, when she had finished singing, Morgan le Fay crowned the babe with a wreath of laurel and gold, and lighted a fairy torch that she held in her hand. "This torch," said she, "is the measure of thy earthly days; and it shall not cease to burn until thou hast visited me in Avalon, and sat at table with King Arthur and the heroes who dwell there in that eternal summer-land."

Then the fairies gave the babe gently back into his mother's arms, and they strewed the floor of the chamber with many a rich gem and lovely flower; and the odor of roses and the sweetest perfumes filled the air, and the music of angels' voices was heard above; and the fairies vanished in a burst of sunbeams, and were seen no more. And when the queen's maidens came soon afterward into the chamber, they found the child smiling in his mother's arms. But she was cold and lifeless: her spirit had flown away to fairyland.

And Ogier, though left motherless, was carefully tended and reared, and became, not only the pet of the king's household, but the hope of all Denmark. The wisest men were lured from other lands, and employed as teachers of the young prince; and he was instructed in all the arts, and in all the learning, of the times. And he grew to be a strong and handsome youth, tall and comely, and skillful in every manly exercise. No knight in all his father's domains could ride so well as he; none could wield the sword with greater skill, or handle the lance more easily; and no one was more courteous, more king to his friends, more terrible to his foes, than Ogier. And the Danes looked forward with secret pleasure to the time when he should become their king. But he had scarcely passed the years of a page and been made a squire in his father's household, when there came a great change to him, and his life's outlook was sadly altered. His father had married a scheming, heartless woman, who hated Ogier, and who sought to drive him away from Denmark in order that her own son, Guyon, might be the heir to the kingdom. And she daily poisoned the king's mind by persuading him that Ogier was plotting against him, and planning to seize his kingdom. And King Godfrey, when he saw with what favor the people looked upon his son, grew strangely jealous and cold, and treated him harshly and ofttimes cruelly. But Ogier, nothing daunted by ill fortune, or by the frowns of his father, or by the taunts of his evil-minded step-mother, held on his way, and allowed neither malice nor despair to interfere with his happiness, or to make him forgetful of his duties.

At about the time when Ogier was sixteen years old, the news first came to Charlemagne of the greatness of the Danish king, and of his project to set up a rival kingdom in the North. And he vowed that the Danes too, as all the neighboring nations had already done, should acknowledge him as their sovereign lord, and pay him tribute. He sent, therefore, an embassy of a hundred knights, under Ganelon of Mayence, to demand of King Godfrey a promise of homage and fealty, as the holder of a fief from France. King Godfrey received the messengers kindly, and entertained them in the most kingly manner for seven days. And, when they had told him their errand, he led them through the different apartments of his strong castle, and showed them the well-built walls, and the variety of weapons, and the great store of provisions, that he had laid in, in readiness against a siege. And he said, "Tell Charlemagne that here are a hundred such castles in Denmark, and that not one has ever been surprised or taken by a foe."

Then he caused to pass before them the flower of his army,—ten thousand knights, clad in complete armor, and mounted on matchless steeds of war.

"Tell Charlemagne," said he, "that what you have seen is but a small part of my strength, and that, if he wishes to fight for the mastership, I am ready to meet him."

"On what conditions?" asked Ganelon. "You would best make them liberal, for Charlemagne seldom grants, and never asks terms."

"On these conditions," answered the king,—"that the vanquished shall embrace the religion of the victor, and become his vassal."

"it is well," said Ganelon. "I will carry your answer to Charlemagne."

Then the king gave rich presents to the messengers, and sent them back again into their own country.

When Charlemagne heard the boastful message that was brought to him by Ganelon, he at once called together an army of fifty thousand men, and marched northward to chastise the audacious Dane. A great battle was fought, and King Godfrey was terribly defeated. The ten thousand knights, of whose bravery he had boasted, were found to be no match for the better trained and more skilful warriors of France. The Danish army was routed, and the king himself was taken prisoner.

"What now sayest thou about the mastership?" asked Charlemagne in great anger. "What now wilt thou give for thy life?"

"I will abide by the conditions on which I at first offered to fight you," answered Godfrey. "I will become a Christian, and be your vassal; and, if I may hold the fief of Denmark, I will pay you a yearly tribute of whatever sum you may demand."

Then Charlemagne, who was ever lenient to a fallen foe, willingly made peace with the Danish king, and, after he had been baptized, made him Duke of Denmark. But he asked, that, in proof of his sincerity, Godfrey should give up as hostages four of the noblest youths about his court. This the humbled Dane agreed to do; and by the advice of his wife he gave his own son, the matchless Ogier, as one of the four. And not long after this, Charlemagne and his host returned home.

It chanced that Duke Namon of Bavaria saw the Danish prince, and was much pleased with his open countenance, his noble form, and his courtly manner; and he hastened to get leave of the king to have the young man in his own household, not as an underling or a servant, but as a worthy and honored squire. And it was thus that Ogier and Roland came to dwell beneath the same roof. And their friendship waxed daily stronger and stronger, until tin the end they exchanged tokens, and pledged each other as brothers in arms. Nevertheless, Roland still remembered Oliver with the same brotherly love as of yore, and allowed not his affection for Ogier to make him forget his earlier vows of brotherhood.

Ogier grew daily stronger and more handsome, and more skilful in every feat of arms, and more graceful in every deed of courtesy. And none of the youths about the French court, not even Roland, could equal him in the games wherein their strength and endurance were tried. But as months and months went by, and his father allowed him still to be held as a hostage and a prisoner in a strange land, his heart sometimes burned with impatience, or sometimes grew sad with a weary longing for freedom.

In the mean while, Duke Godfrey, the father of Ogier, was too busy plotting treason against his liege lord Charlemagne to have much thought for his son; and indeed, so great was his feeling of jealousy toward Ogier, that he had no wish to have him ever return to Denmark. His wife was very anxious that the Danish crown might be left to her own son, Guyon; and she at length persuaded her husband to withhold from Charlemagne the tribute which had been promised; for she hoped that the French king would become so angered by this neglect that he would put the hostages to death.

And now four years had passed, and Charlemagne had not received a penny of tribute from Godfrey; nor had the Danish duke come once to his court to do him homage, as he had agreed. Often the king threatened to punish the Dane for his neglect. But his wars in Italy and with the Saracens had claimed all his time, and the affairs of Denmark were allowed to rest without much attention. And Godfrey went on strengthening his castles, and building a fleet, and training his fighting men; and he persuaded himself that he would yet outwit and get the better of the king. But one day Charlemagne, as he sat at table with his peers around him, chanced to remember the slighted tribute, and the homage so long due him from Duke Godfrey.

"While all my enemies are humbled in the dust," said he, "this Dane is the only man who dares neglect his duty. He shall be reminded at once of his broken promises, and of the debt which he owes us."

And he immediately despatched an embassy of four trustworthy knights, with a retinue of squires and servitors, to the court of Denmark to demand that the tribute so long overdue should be paid without further delay.