So again, yet more unwillingly, the Emperor rode on.
Crimson-stained were the lips of Roland. His cheeks were sunken and white, yet once again he raised his horn. Faintly now, in sadness and in anguish, once again he blew. The soft, sweet notes took on a tone so pitiful, they wrung the very heart of Charlemagne, where, full thirty leagues afar, he onward rode.
“That horn is very long of breath,” he sighed, looking backward anxiously.
“It is Roland,” cried Duke Naimes. “It is Roland who suffers yonder. On my soul, I swear, there is battle. Some one hath betrayed him. If I mistake not, it is he who now deceives thee. Arm, Sire, arm! Sound the trumpets of war. Long enough hast thou hearkened to the plaint of Roland.”
Quickly the Emperor gave command. Quickly the army turned about, and came marching backward. The evening sunshine fell upon their pennons of crimson, gold and blue, it gleamed upon helmet and corslet, upon lance and shield. Fiercely rode the knights. “Oh, if we but reach Roland before he die,” they cried, “oh, what blows we will strike for him.”
Alas! alas! they are late, too late!
The evening darkened, night came, yet on they rode. Through all the night they rode, and when at length the rising sun gleamed like flame upon helmet, and hauberk and flowing pennon, they still pressed onward.
Foremost the Emperor rode, sunk in sad thought, his fingers twisted in his long white beard which flowed over his cuirass, his eyes filled with tears. Behind him galloped his knights—strong men though they were, every one of them with a sob in his throat, a prayer in his heart, for Roland, Roland the brave and fearless.
One knight only had anger in his heart. That knight was Ganelon. And he by order of the Emperor had been given over to the keeping of the kitchen knaves. Calling the chief among them, “Guard me well this felon,” said Charlemagne, “guard him as a traitor, who hath sold all mine house to death.”
Then the chief scullion and a hundred of his fellows surrounded Ganelon. They plucked him by the hair and buffeted him, each man giving him four sounding blows. Around his neck they then fastened a heavy chain, and leading him as one might lead a dancing bear, they set him upon a common baggage-horse. Thus they kept him until the time should come that Charlemagne would ask again for the felon knight.
THE RETURN OF CHARLEMAGNE
Roland was dead and bright angels had already carried his soul to heaven, when Charlemagne and all his host at last rode into the valley of Roncesvalles. What a dreadful sight was there! Not a path nor track, not a yard nor foot of ground but was covered with slain Franks and heathen lying side by side in death.
Charlemagne gazed upon the scene with grief and horror. “Where art thou, Roland?” he called. “The archbishop, where is he? Oliver, where art thou?” All the twelve peers he called by name. But none answered. The wind moaned over the field, fluttering here and there a fallen banner, but voice to answer there was none.