Very splendid were the Saracens as they moved along in the gleaming sunshine. Gold and silver shone upon their armor, pennons of white and purple floated over them, and from a thousand trumpets sounded their battle-song.
To the ears of the Frankish knights the sound was borne as they rode through the valley of Roncesvalles.
“Sir Comrade,” said Oliver, “it seemeth me there is battle at hand with the Saracen foe.”
“Please Heaven it may be so,” said Roland. “Our duty is to hold this post for our Emperor. Let us strike mighty blows, that nothing be said or sung of us in scorn. Let us fight these heathen for our country and our faith.”
As Oliver heard the sounds of battle come nearer, he climbed to the top of the hill, so that he could see far over the country. There before him he saw the Saracens marching in pride. Their helmets, inlaid with gold, gleamed in the sun. Gaily painted shields, hauberks of shining steel, spears and pennons waved and shone, rank upon rank in countless numbers.
Quickly Oliver came down from the hill, and went back to the Frankish army. “I have seen the heathen,” he said to Roland. “Never on earth hath such a host been gathered. They march upon us many hundred thousand strong, with shield and spear and sword. Such battle as awaiteth us have we never fought before.”
“Let him be accursed who fleeth!” cried the Franks. “There be few among us who fear death.”
“It is Ganelon the felon, who hath betrayed us,” said Oliver, “let him be accursed.”
“Hush thee, Oliver,” said Roland; “he is my stepsire. Let us hear no evil of him.”
“The heathen are in fearful force,” said Oliver, “and our Franks are but few. Friend Roland, sound upon thy horn. Then will Charlemagne hear and return with all his host to help us.”
For round Roland’s neck there hung a magic horn of carved ivory. If he blew upon this in case of need, the sound of it would be carried over hill and dale, far, far onward. If he sounded it now, Charlemagne would very surely hear, and return from his homeward march.
But Roland would not listen to Oliver. “Nay,” he said, “I should indeed be mad to sound upon my horn. If I call for help, I, Roland, I should lose my fame in all fair France. Nay, I will not sound, but I shall strike such blows with my good sword Durindal that the blade shall be red to the gold of the hilt. Our Franks, too, shall strike such blows that the heathen shall rue the day. I tell thee, they be all dead men.”
“Oh Roland, friend, wind thy horn,” pleaded Oliver. “To the ear of Charlemagne shall the sound be borne, and he and all his knights will return to help us.”
“Now Heaven forbid that my kin should ever be pointed at in scorn because of me,” said Roland, “or that fair France should fall to such dishonor. No! I will not sound upon my horn, but I shall strike such blows with my sword Durindal that the blade shall be dyed red in the blood of the heathen.”