Alas, they knew not! It was the earth’s great mourning for the death of Roland, which was nigh.
The battle waxed horrible. The Saracens fled, and the Franks pursued till of that great heathen host but one was left. Of the Saracen army which had set out in such splendor, four hundred thousand strong, one heathen king alone remained. And he, King Margaris, sorely wounded, his spear broken, his shield pierced and battered, fled with the direful news to King Marsil.
The Franks had won the day, and now mournfully over the plain they moved, seeking their dead and dying comrades. Weary men and worn were they, sad at the death of many brother knights, yet glad at the might and victory of France.
ROLAND SOUNDS HIS HORN
Alone, King Margaris fled, weary and wounded, until he reached King Marsil, and fell panting at his feet.
“Ride! ride! Sire,” he cried, “thy army is shattered, thy knights to the last man lie dead upon the field; but thou wilt find the Franks in evil plight. Full half of them also lie dead. The rest are sore wounded and weary. Their armor is broken, their swords and spears are shattered. They have naught wherewith to defend themselves. To avenge the death of thy knights were now easy. Ride! oh, ride!”
In terrible wrath and sorrow King Marsil gathered a new army. In twenty columns through the valleys they came marching. The sun shone upon the gems and goldwork of their helmets, upon lances and pennons, upon buckler and embroidered surcoat. Seven thousand trumpets sounded to the charge, and the wind carried the clamor afar.
“Oliver, my comrade,” said Roland, when he heard it, “Oliver, my brother, the traitor Ganelon hath sworn our death. Here his treachery is plainly to be seen. But the Emperor will bring upon him a terrible vengeance. As for us, we must fight again a battle fierce and keen. I will strike with my trusty Durindal and thou with thy Hauteclere bright. We have already carried them with honor in many battles. With them we have won many a victory. No man may say scorn of us.”
And so once again the Franks made ready for battle.
But King Marsil was a wily foe. “Hearken, my barons all,” he cried, “Roland is a prince of wondrous strength. Two battles are not enough to vanquish him. He shall have three. Half of ye shall go forward now, and half remain with me until the Franks are utterly exhausted. Then shall ye attack them. Then shall we see the day when the might of Charlemagne shall fall and France shall perish in shame.”
So King Marsil stayed upon the hillside while half of his knights marched upon the Franks with battle-cry and trumpet-call.
“Oh Heaven, what cometh now!” cried the Franks as they heard the sound. “Wo, wo, that ever we saw Ganelon the felon.”
Then spoke the brave archbishop to them. “Now it is certain that we shall die. But it is better to die sword in hand than in slothful ease. Now is the day when ye shall receive great honor. Now is the day that ye shall win your crown of flowers. The gates of paradise are glorious, but therein no coward shall enter.”