King Marsil’s brother, sick at heart to see his nephew fall, rode out with mocking words upon his lips. “This day is the honor of France lost,” he sneered.
But Oliver struck his golden spurs into his steed’s side! “Caitiff, thy taunts are little worth,” he cried, and, pierced through shield and buckler, the heathen fell.
Bishop Turpin, too, wielded both sword and lance. “Thou lying coward, be silent evermore!” he cried, as a scoffing heathen king fell beneath his blows. “Charlemagne our lord is true and good, and no Frank shall flee this day.”
“Montjoie! Montjoie!” sounded high above the clang of battle, as heathen after heathen was laid low. Limbs were lopped, armor flew in splinters. Many a heathen knight was cloven from brow to saddle bow. The plain was strewn with the dying and the dead.
In Roland’s hand his lance was shivered to the haft. Throwing the splintered wood away, he drew his famous Durindal. The naked blade shone in the sun and fell upon the helmet of Chernuble, Marsil’s mighty champion. The sparkling gems with which it shone were scattered on the grass. Through cheek and chine, through flesh and bone, drove the shining steel, and Chernuble fell upon the ground, a black and hideous heap. “Lie there, caitiff!” cried Roland, “thy Mahomet cannot save thee. Not unto such as thou is the victory.”
On through the press rode Roland. Durindal flashed and fell and flashed again, and many a heathen bit the dust. Oliver, too, did marvelous deeds. His spear, as Roland’s, was shivered into atoms. But scarcely knowing what he did, he fought still with the broken shaft, and with it brought many a heathen to his death.
“Comrade, what dost thou?” said Roland. “Is it now the time to fight with staves? Where is thy sword called Hauteclere with its crystal pommel and golden guard?”
“I lacked time in which to draw it,” replied Oliver, “there was such need to strike blows fast and hard.”
But now he drew his shining Hauteclere from its scabbard, and with it he dealt such blows that Roland cried, “My brother art thou, Oliver, from henceforth. Ah! such blows our Emperor would dearly love to see.”
Furious and more furious waxed the fight. On all sides might be heard the cry of “Montjoie! Montjoie!” and many a blow did Frank and heathen give and take. But although thousands of Saracens lay dead, the Franks too had lost many of their bravest knights. Shield and spear, banner and pennon, broken, bloodstained and trampled, strewed the field.
Fiercer, wilder still, the battle grew. Roland, Oliver, Archbishop Turpin and all the twelve peers of France fought in the thickest of the press. Many of the heathen fled, but even in flight they were cut down.
Meanwhile over France burst a fearful storm. Thunder rolled, lightning flashed, the very earth shook and trembled. There was not a town in all the land but the walls of it were cracked and riven. The sky grew black at midday, rain and hail in torrents swept the land. “It is the end of the world,” the people whispered in trembling fear.