Stories of Charlemagne and the Twelve Peers of France - Alfred J. Church

Of the Treachery of King John

King Charles said to his knights and barons, "See now how this villain Reynaud has deceived me, and carried away my crown. Devise some means by which I may recover that which I have lost." "You must besiege," said the Duke Naymes, "his castle of Montalban." So the King gathered together a great army, so great indeed that provisions failed them. After Easter he set out from Paris, and in due time came to Reynaud's castle, Montalban.

The King had made Roland captain of his host. When Roland therefore saw the castle, he being even overbold, said to the King, "Let us assault this place without delay." But the King answered, "Not so, we will first try them, whether they will yield up the place peaceably." He sent therefore a messenger who should say to Reynaud, "The King bids you yield up your castle and also your brother Richard. If you refuse he will take it by force, and hang up both you and him." Reynaud answered, "I am not one that betrays friends. But if the King will assure to us our lives and our castle we will yield ourselves to him." To this the King would not consent. Therefore he besieged the place meaning to reduce it by famine, for he perceived that it could not be taken by force.

It fell on a certain day that Roland, seeing that there were many birds by the river, was minded to go hawking. So he went with Oliver his comrade (this Oliver was a very noble knight, and a close friend to Roland) and a company of knights, the bravest of the host. This was seen by a certain spy, who told it to Reynaud and Mawgis. Mawgis said, "Cousin, you will do well to attack the King's host, for they are not thinking of battle." So these two issued forth from the castle and four thousand knights with them.

Turpin the Archbishop was in charge of the King's host. When he saw the enemy come forth from the castle, he was not a little troubled. First he called to Ogier the Dane that he should arm himself, and afterwards to the other barons and knights that they should make ready for battle.

First Reynaud slew a certain knight of the King's army. When Turpin the Archbishop saw this he spurred his horse against Reynaud. The two met with so great force that the spears of both were broken in pieces; but Reynaud being the quicker to draw his sword dealt the Archbishop so grievous a blow that both he and his horse were well-nigh brought to the ground. Then cried Reynaud, "Father, are you that Turpin that boasts himself so much? By my faith you were better singing mass in some church than fighting with me." The Archbishop was much angered at these words, and made at Reynaud with all his might. But neither he nor Ogier the Dane nor any one of the King's men could hold their ground that day against the sons of Aymon. And when Mawgis and his knights came forth from the wood where they lay in ambush, and assailed the King's host on the flank, then the Frenchmen fled, not without great loss, especially at the crossing of the river. The knights from Montalban pursued them for a mile or so, and Mawgis took the golden dragon that was on Roland's tent (for Roland had not yet come back from hawking) and set it on the great tower of Montalban, so that all men might see it. When the King saw it he said, "Now has Roland taken the fortress of these villains." But when he knew the truth, he was well-nigh beside himself with rage.

Meanwhile King John was not a little troubled in mind. For he said to himself, "How will these things end? These five knights, for all that they are brave warriors, cannot always prevail against the power of the King." So he called his barons to a council, and demanded their advice. One said one thing, and another another, but the greater part had little love for Reynaud. Of these a certain old man that was called Earl Antony was the spokesman. He said, "I know this Reynaud, of how haughty a temper he is. His father had but a single town, and now he holds himself so high that he disdains to be the King's man. And now you have nourished his pride, giving him your sister to wife. And the end will be that he will take your kingdom from you, and have it for himself. If you would save yourself from such dishonour, deliver him and his brethren to the King."

When King John saw that this counsel pleased the greater part of his barons, he was much troubled in mind, and wept for grief and shame. Nevertheless he called his secretary to him, and said, "Now write to the King and say that, if he will leave wasting my land, I will presently deliver to him the sons of Aymon and Mawgis their cousin. If he will send to Vancouleurs, there he will find them, clothed with mantles of scarlet trimmed with fur, and riding upon mules." So the secretary wrote according to these words in a letter, and gave the letter to a knight that he might take it to King Charles. When the King had read the letter, he was very glad. And he delivered to the messenger of the King a letter wherein he had written what it was in his mind to do, namely, to send Ogier the Dane with a company of knights who should take the brethren prisoner. Also he sent from his treasury four mantles of scarlet, trimmed with fur.

When King John had received the letter with the mantles, he commanded a hundred knights to make themselves ready to ride with him to the Castle of Montalban. When he was come to the castle his sister came forth to greet him, but when she would have kissed him, as her custom was, he turned his face aside, saying, "Pardon me, my sister, I have an ill tooth that troubles me sore." Not long after the brethren came back to the castle, and when they heard that the King was there, they took each his horn and sounded a welcome. When the King heard the sound, he thought no little shame of himself, yet did not turn from his purpose. When he saw the brethren, he said to them, "I have spoken for you to King Charles, and he has promised that if you will go to the plain of Vancouleurs riding on mules, clad in scarlet mantles which I will presently give you, with flowers in your hands and with-out arms, he will make peace with you. For as soon as you shall cast yourselves at his feet, he will pardon you and give you again your lands."

There was not a little debate among the brethren on this matter, for Reynaud was minded to go, but the others were unwilling. The wife of Reynaud also was set against the journey, telling him of a terrible dream that she had dreamed. "I saw," she said, "a thousand wild boars come out of the forest of Ardennes. These fell upon you, and rent your body in pieces. I saw how Alard was slain by an arrow by Frenchmen, and how Richard was hanged on an apple tree." "Hold your peace," said Reynaud. "He that puts his trust in dreams has but little faith in God. Think you that your brother will betray us? Does he not send eight of his chief barons with us for surety." To his brethren he said, "If you are fearful then will I go alone."

So the four went their way to Vancouleurs, not without fears, for Reynaud himself doubted to what the matter might grow. Now the plain of Vancouleurs was a solitary place, where four ways met, with forests on every side, in which forests, by command of the King, many hundreds of knights lay in ambush, ready to issue forth and fall upon the brethren. Of these knights Ogier the Dane was the chief, and was not a little in doubt how he should bear him, for on the one hand he was near of kin to the brethren, and on the other he was bound in duty to perform the command of the King. Sometimes he was inclined one way, and sometimes another. First he suffered the brethren to pass unharmed when he might have taken them at a disadvantage in a narrow road; afterwards, when they were in the plain, he himself led his knights against them.

When the brethren found that a great treachery had been practised upon them, they prepared to defend themselves, having first confessed their sins to each other, for lack of a priest to whom they might confess. Great deeds did they that day, but not without suffering many things. First Guichard was taken prisoner by the King's men and bound upon a horse. Yet Reynaud delivered him from captivity. Then Richard was grievously wounded by Gerard Lord of Valence, and came very near to death, but him also Reynaud, than whom there was never greater fighter in the world, rescued before it was too late. And indeed it was in Richard's counsel that the brethren found deliverance. For when he opened his eyes, having before been in a swoon, and saw Reynaud, he said to him, "See you that rock yonder that is so high and strong? If we can win thither, we shall be safe from our enemies, at least for one while. Nor do I doubt that Mawgis, who knows things that are hidden from other men, knows in what plight we are, and will bring us help presently."

And Alard lifted Richard from the earth, and laid him upon his shield, and carried him to the rock, Reynaud and Guichard holding back meanwhile the King's men with such strength and valour as have never been surpassed, for they fought as men who have no hope for their lives, but think only how they may make most havoc among their enemies. And now again did Ogier the Dane render them good service. Truly they had scarce won their way to the rock but for this, for when they were most hardly pressed he drew back his own company the length of a bowshot. "You can deal with these men without me," said he to the King's barons. "It were better that I should not meddle with them any more, seeing that they are my kinsmen." And so somewhat by favour of Ogier, but chiefly by their own valour, the brethren won their way to the rock.

Now the rock had four faces. Of these Reynaud kept two, so strong was he, and Guichard one and Alard one. As for Richard he was so spent with loss of blood that he lay upon the ground and could render no help. After a while an evil chance fell upon them, for Guichard was so sorely wounded in the thigh that he could no longer stand upon his feet. He cried to Reynaud, "Let us yield ourselves to the King, seeing that neither Richard nor I can help you any more." "This is to speak as a coward," answered Reynaud. "I would not yield myself for all the gold and silver in the world, no nor for Bayard my horse, though I love him better than all other things. And, indeed, what were the profit of yielding ourselves? We should of a certainty be hanged by the King, and it were better to perish here than to die in so shameful a fashion." When Guichard heard these words he was greatly troubled in spirit. "You are right, brother," he said. "Cut me now the half of my shirt into strips and I will bind up my wounds as best I may, and so make shift to help you against our enemies." This he did; so these three still held the rock against the King.

Meanwhile Mawgis knew how his kinsmen had been betrayed, and made haste to succour them. He saddled the horse Bayard, and rode with a great company of knights as fast as might be to the place where the brethren were. Great was Reynaud's joy to see him; while he was yet a long way off he knew him, not so much for himself as for the horse Bayard on which he rode. Swift as a swallow was Bayard, every stride was of thirty feet at the least. When Richard heard it, he said to his brother, "Lift me up in your arms that I may see him." So Reynaud lifted him up, and when he saw Mawgis and Bayard coming up as a storm comes he said, "The sight makes me whole again."

Ogier the Dane was glad to see that help had come to his kinsmen. "See you these men?" he said to the Frenchmen, "we cannot stand against them; let us retreat." But while he was speaking, Mawgis came upon him, so swift was the horse Bayard, and defied him. "Ogier," he said, "you came of true men, but you are yourself untrue," and he spurred Bayard against him, and smote him on the breast with his spear so stoutly that he broke both shield and corslet. What would have been the end no man can say, for Ogier on his part was not backward, but now the horse Bayard, knowing that his master was near, carried away Mawgis in his own despite, and came and knelt before Reynaud. Then Mawgis lighted down from him, and greeted the brethren most lovingly.

As for Ogier and the Frenchmen, not being minded to stand against the new-comers, they rode back to the river Dordogne, Reynaud crying out to his kinsman, "Ho! cousin! have you then left being a soldier and become a fisherman for eels or salmon?"

When they had crossed over the river the Frenchmen blamed Ogier the Dane, for that he had favoured the brethren, while Ogier, on his part, was greatly troubled, knowing that they spake truly, and yet that the brethren held him in no regard for all that he had done. These things so wrought upon him that he mounted his horse and swam back across the river. When he had come to the other bank, Reynaud, having ridden down to the river on Bayard to meet him, said, "Cousin, surely we have had enough of fighting; let us be content therewith." But Ogier answered, "You have blamed me for treachery, and my own friends say the same thing. I would rather be slain than endure such reproaches."

Reynaud said, "So be it." And the two charged at each other and met with so great a shock that both were thrust from their saddles and fell to the ground. Before they could raise themselves, for both received no small damage, the two horses, Bayard and the other, fell to fighting. Then Ogier, knowing that Bayard was the stronger by far of the two, would have smitten him with his sword. Reynaud, on the other hand, hindered him. And when Mawgis and the brothers, that is to say, Alard and Guichard, for Richard was too sorely wounded, saw this, they made all haste to come. When Ogier perceived them, he had no choice but to mount on his horse and flee. Then Reynaud cried after him, "Come back if you will and fetch your saddle," for the girths had been broken when the two jousted together, "and I will greet you in such a place that Charlemagne with all his men could not help you." So Ogier passed over the river once again, and Mawgis with the brethren went back to the rock where they had left Richard.