'The Unbelievers are many,' said Oliver again, 'and we are very few. Roland, my friend, sound your horn; Charles will hear it, and come to our help.'
'I should be mad if I did so,' answered Roland. 'In France, when they knew it, I should lose all my glory! No; but my sword Durendal knows how to strike, and our Franks will fight hard, and with what joy! It was an ill day for the Unbelievers when they came here, for none, I tell you, none will escape death.'
'O Roland, I pray you sound your horn, and Charles will hear it as he passes the defiles, and the Franks, I will swear it, will come to our help.'
'Now God forbid,' said Roland, 'that through me my parents should be shamed, or that I should bring dishonour on the fair land of France. No; but my sword Durendal knows how to strike. The Unbelievers have come to their death, and they will find it.'
'I see no dishonour,' said Oliver. 'With my own eyes have I beheld the Saracens of Spain; the mountains and the valleys alike are full of them. And how few are we!'
'Then we shall have the more fighting,' answered Roland. 'God forbid that I should turn my Franks into cowards! Rather death than dishonour. The more we kill, the better the Emperor will love us.'
Roland was brave, but Oliver was wise also, and the souls of both were as high as their words. 'Look round you, and think for a moment,' said Oliver; 'they are close to us, and Charles is far. Ah! if you would only have sounded your horn, the King would have been here, and our troops would not have been in danger. The poor rear-guard will never more be again such as it is to-day.'
'You speak foolishly,' answered Roland. 'Cursed be he whose heart is afraid. We will be strong to hold our ground. From us will come the blows, from us the battle.'
When Roland saw that he must give battle to the Infidels, he called his Franks and bade Oliver stand beside him. 'Do not say these things, my friend and comrade,' said he. 'The Emperor has left us twenty thousand picked men, with not one craven heart amongst them. For our liege lord, one must be ready to suffer cold and heat, hunger and thirst, and cheerfully shed his blood and endure every ill. Strike with your lance, Oliver, as I shall strike with Durendal, the sword which was given me by the King himself. And if I am slain, the man who wins it may say, "it was the sword of a noble vassal."'
Then from a little hill Turpin the Archbishop spoke to them. 'Charles has left us here; he is our King, and it is our duty to die for him. Christianity is in danger, and you must defend it. You cannot escape a battle; then fight, and ask God's pardon for your sins. In His Name, I will give you absolution, and already they wait for you in Paradise.' The Franks got off their horses and knelt on the ground, and the Archbishop blessed them. After this they mounted again, and placed themselves in order of battle.
Like lightning Roland on his horse Veillantif swept along the defiles, his face bright and smiling, his lance in rest. Oliver his friend was close behind him, and the Franks said to each other, 'Look at our champion!' He glanced proudly at the Infidels, but when his eyes fell upon the Franks they were soft and gentle. 'Go slowly, noble barons,' said he; 'the Unbelievers to-day are seeking their martyrdom, and you will find richer booty than ever King of France did before.'
'Words of mine are useless,' said Oliver; 'you would not let Charles know of our peril, so you cannot blame him for our danger. Ride as hard as you can, and think only of two things, how best to give and receive blows. And do not forget the battle cry of King Charles.'
'Montjoie! Montjoie!' shouted the Franks, as the two armies came together with a crash.
It were long to tell of that battle and of the brave deeds that were done both by Christians and Unbelievers. Roland was there where the strife was hardest, and struck with his lance till the wood snapped. Then he drew Durendal from the scabbard and drove a bloody path through the ranks of the Infidels. Oliver and the Twelve Peers were not far behind him, and the ground was red from the corpses of the pagans. 'Well fought, well fought!' cried the Archbishop, 'Montjoie, Montjoie!'
Oliver seemed to be everywhere at once. His lance was broken in two, and there was only the head and a splinter remaining, but it dealt more death blows than the sword of many another man. 'What are you doing, comrade?' cried Roland, when for a moment their horses touched. 'It is not wood that is needed in this battle, but well-tempered steel! Where is your sword Hauteclair, with its guard of gold and its handle of crystal?'
'I have no time to draw it,' said Oliver. 'There are too many blows to strike.'
Fiercer and fiercer grew the combat; thicker and thicker the corpses lay on the ground. Who could count the Franks who were stretched there, never more to see their wives or their mothers, or the comrades that awaited them in the defiles? But the number of the dead Saracens was greater even than theirs. And while they fought on Spanish soil, a strange tempest arose in France, thunder and wild winds, and a trembling of the earth; walls fell down, and at mid-day there was darkness. Men whispered to each other: 'It is the end of the world.' No, no; the end of all things was not yet, it was nature mourning for the death of Roland. At length the Saracens turned and fled, and the Franks pursued them, and Margaris the Valiant was left alone. His lance was broken, his shield pierced with holes, his sword-blade bloody, while he himself was sorely wounded. Heavens! what a warrior he would have made if he had only been a Christian. He rode fast to Marsile the King, and cried to him to mount his horse, and rally his men, and bring up fresh soldiers to deal the Franks a last blow, while they were exhausted from the long fight. 'It will be easy to revenge the thousands that they have slain,' said he; 'but if you let them slip now the tide of battle may turn against us.'
The King Marsile sent for fresh forces, and at sight of them the Franks embraced each other for the last time, while the Archbishop promised them a speedy entrance into Paradise. 'The Emperor will avenge the treachery of Ganelon,' cried Roland, 'whether we live or die, but the worst part of the fight is before us, and we shall need all our strength to beat back the Unbelievers. They must not tell tales of cowardice in the fair land of France.' Then they spurred their horses and advanced in line, crying 'Montjoie! Montjoie!'
'Count Roland is not as other men,' said King Marsile, 'and as he is not content with two battles, we will give him a third. To-day Charles will cease to have power over Spain, and France will bow her head with shame.' And he gave his orders to the vanguard to go forward, while he himself waited on a little hill till the moment came to charge. Fierce was the shock as the two armies met, and bravely did their leaders fight, hand to hand and sword to sword. None struck harder than Turpin the Archbishop, who cursed his foes as he bore them from their saddles. 'He fights well,' said the Franks who watched his blows. But the Franks had fought long, and were faint and weary. They had lost much blood, and their arms were weak to strike. 'See how our brothers fall,' they whispered one to another, and Roland heard their groans, and his heart was near breaking. Thousands lay dead, thousands more were wounded, but still the battle went on. Horses without riders wandered about the field neighing for their masters. Then Marsile bade the trumpets sound, and his army gathered round the great standard with the Dragon, borne by a Saracen named Abimus. When Turpin the Archbishop caught sight of him, he dashed straight towards the banner, and with one blow of his mighty sword stretched the Unbeliever dead on the ground before the Dragon. 'Montjoie! Montjoie!' he cried, and the Franks heard, and said one to the other, 'Heaven send that Charles has many like him!' The lances of the Franks were broken, and their shields were for the most part split in two, but three hundred naked swords still were left to deal blows at the shining helmets of the Infidels. 'Help! help! O King!' cried the Saracens, and Marsile heard, and answered, 'Better die than flee before these Franks. Let no one think of himself, but all press round Roland. If Roland dies, Charles is conquered. If Roland lives, all is over for us!' But Roland, with Oliver at his side, swept a clear space with Durendal, and none might come near him; the Archbishop kept his enemies at bay with his lance. Four times the Franks endured the shock of the onset, but at the fifth they were borne down by numbers, and now only sixty remained upon the ground.
Then Roland turned to Oliver and said, 'Fair sir and dearest friend, well may we pity France who will henceforth be widowed of such brave warriors. O Charles, my King, why do you not come to us? Oliver, tell me, how can we let him know what straits we are in?' 'There is no way,' said Oliver, 'and death rather than dishonour.'
'I will sound my horn,' said Roland, 'and Charles will hear, and come back through the defiles. I know that the Franks will retrace their steps and come to our aid.'
'That would be a shameful thing for them,' replied Oliver; 'all our kinsfolk would blush for us for ever, and we should likewise blush for ourselves. When I begged you to do it you would not, and now the time is past.'
'The battle is sore,' said Roland, 'I shall sound the horn, and Charles will hear it.'
'You refused to do it while yet there was time,' answered Oliver. 'If the Emperor had come then, so many of our best warriors would not be lying dead before us. It is not his fault that he is not here. But if you sound the horn now, I will never give you my sister, the fair Aude, for your wife.'
'Why do you bear such malice?' said Roland.
'It is your fault,' answered Oliver. 'Courage and madness are not the same thing, and prudence is always better than fury. If so many Franks lie dead, it is your folly which has killed them, and now we can no longer serve the Emperor. If you would have listened to me, Charles would have been here, and Marsile and his Saracens would have been slain. Your courage, Roland, has cost us dear! For yourself, you will be killed and France be covered with dishonour. And before night falls our friendship will be ended.' Then he wept, and Roland wept also.
The Archbishop had been near, and heard their words. 'Do not quarrel at this hour,' he said. 'Your horn could not save them now. Charles is too far; it would take him too long to come. Yet sound it, for he will return and avenge himself on the Unbelievers. And they will take our bodies and put them on biers, and lay them on horses, and will bury us with tears of pity among the mountains, building up high walls round us, so that the dogs and the wild boar shall not devour us.' 'What you say is good,' answered Roland, and he lifted his horn, and its mighty voice rang through the mountains and Charles heard the echo thirty miles away. 'Our men are fighting,' he cried, but Ganelon answered, 'If another man had said that, we should have called him a liar.' Count Roland was sorely wounded and the effort to sound the horn caused the blood to pour from his mouth. But he sounded it once more, and the echoes leaped far. Charles heard it in the defiles, and all his Franks heard it too. 'It is Roland's horn,' said the King, 'and he is fighting.'
'He is not fighting,' answered Ganelon; 'you are old, and your words are those of a child. Beside, you know how great is the pride of Roland; it is a marvel that God has suffered him to live so long. For a hare, Roland would sound his horn all day, and at this moment he is most likely laughing with his Twelve Peers over the fright he has caused us. And again, who is there who would dare to attack Roland? No one. March on, sire; why make halt? France is still distant.'
Count Roland suffered grievous pain and a great wound was across his forehead. He sounded his horn for the third time, and Charles and his Franks heard it. 'That horn carries far,' said he, and Naimes answered, 'It is Roland who is calling for help. A battle is going on; some one has betrayed him. Quick, sire, he has called often enough. Sound your war-cry and hasten to his help.' Then the Emperor ordered his trumpets to be sounded, and his army gathered itself together and girded on their armour with what speed they might, and each man said to the other, 'If only we are in time to save Roland from death, what blows we will strike for him.' Alas, they are too late, too late!
But before the march back there was something for the Emperor to do. He sent for his head cook to appear in his presence, and he delivered the traitor Ganelon into his custody, and told him to treat his prisoner as he liked, for he had shown himself unworthy to mix with warriors. So the head cook did as he pleased with him, and beat him with sticks and put a heavy chain about his neck. And thus he guarded him till Charles came back.
How tall the mountains seemed to the returning army! how deep the valleys, and how swift the streams! but all the while the trumpets were sounded, that Roland might hear them and take heart. And as he rode, Charles had only one thought, 'If Roland is slain, shall I find one man alive?'
Roland stood looking at the mountains and at the plains, and wherever his eyes fell his dead comrades lay before him. Loudly he mourned their loss, and then he turned to Oliver, saying, 'Brother, we must die here with the rest of the Franks.' He spurred his horse and blew his horn, and dashed into the ranks of the foe, shouting 'Montjoie! Montjoie!' The remnant that was left closed eagerly round him, and the battle-cries were fierce and loud. If Marsile and his host fled before them, others not less valiant remained behind, and Roland knew that the hour of his doom was come. And in valour, Oliver was no whit behind him, but flung himself into the thickest of the battle. It was the Caliph who gave Oliver his death blow. 'Charles made a mistake when he left you to guard these defiles,' said he, 'but your life will pay for many that you have slain.' But Oliver was not dead yet, and the taunt of the Caliph stung his blood. With all the strength he had left, he swung his sword Hauteclair on high, and it came down upon the Caliph's helmet with a crash, cleaving it clean through. 'Ah, pagan,' said he, 'you will never boast now of the prizes you have taken in battle.' Then 'Roland! Roland!' he cried, and Roland came. When he saw Oliver before him, livid and bleeding, he swayed on his horse as if he should faint. Oliver's sight was weak and troubled from loss of blood, and not hearing Roland's voice he mistook him for an enemy, and struck him a hard blow on his helmet. This blow restored Roland to his senses, and he sat upright. 'My friend,' said he, 'why have you done this? I am Roland, who loves you well, and never did I think you could lift your hand against me.'
'I hear you,' answered Oliver, 'I hear you speak, but I cannot see you. If I have struck you, forgive me, for I knew it not.'
'I forgive you from my heart,' said Roland, and they embraced each other for the last time.
The agony of death was falling upon Oliver; his sight had failed, his hearing was fast failing too. Slowly he dismounted from his horse and laid himself painfully on the ground, making, in a loud voice, the confession of his sins. Then he prayed God to bless Charlemagne, fair France, and Roland his friend, and after that his soul left him. And Roland returned and found him dead, and wept for him bitterly. At last he stood up and looked around. Of all the twenty thousand men, not one was left except himself, and Turpin and Gautier. And these three placed themselves shoulder to shoulder, and sent many an Infidel to join his dead brothers. But the wounds they received in their bodies were without number, and at length the Archbishop tottered and fell. But they had not slain him yet: with a mighty struggle he rose to his feet and looked round for Roland. 'I am not conquered yet,' he said; 'a brave man dies but never surrenders.' Then with his good sword he rushed into the melee dealing death around him. Roland fought as keenly as his friend, but the moments seemed long till Charles brought them help. Again he sounded his horn, though the wound in his head burst out afresh with his effort. And the Emperor heard it, and stopped for an instant on his march. 'My lords,' he said, 'things are going badly with us; we shall lose my nephew Roland to-day, for I know by the way he blows his horn that he has not long to live. Spur your horses, for I would fain see him before he dies. And let every trumpet in the army sound its loudest!' The Unbelievers heard the noise of the trumpets, which echoed through the mountains and valleys, and they whispered fearfully to each other, 'It is Charles who is coming, it is Charles!' It was their last chance, and a band of their best warriors rode straight at Roland. At that sight the strength rushed back into his veins, and he waited for them proudly. 'I will fight beside you,' he said to Turpin, 'and till I am dead I will never leave you. Let them strike as hard as they will; Durendal knows how to strike back.'
'Shame be upon every man who does not fight his best,' answered the Archbishop, 'for this is our last battle. Charles draws near, and will avenge us.'
The Infidels said afterwards that an army could not have wrought the ruin that was done that day by the Archbishop and Roland. Veillantif received thirty wounds in his body and then fell dead under his master. But Roland leaped off, and smote the Saracens, who turned and fled before him. He was too weak to follow after them, and turned to see if the Archbishop still breathed. Kneeling by his side he unlaced Turpin's golden helmet, and bound up his gaping wounds. Then he pressed him closely to his heart and laid him gently on the ground. 'O friend, we must take farewell of each other, now all our comrades have gone before us. But let us do all we can for their bodies, which cannot be left lying here. I will myself go and seek their corpses, and bring them here and place them in rows before you.'
'Go,' answered the Archbishop, 'but do not stay long. Thanks be to God, the victory remains with you and me.'
Alone Roland searched the battle-field; he went up the sides of the mountains, he descended into the plains, and everywhere he saw the dead faces of his friends. One after another he brought them, and laid them at the feet of Turpin, and at the sight of their faces the Archbishop wept sore. Then he held up his hand to bless them for the last time. 'Noble lords,' he said, 'you have fallen upon evil days. May God receive your souls into His Paradise. As for me, among all the pains I suffer, the worst is that never shall I see my Emperor again.'
Under a pine, close to a sweet-briar, the corpse of Oliver was lying, and Roland raised him in his arms and bare him to the Archbishop, where he laid him on a shield, near to the other peers. Then his heart broke with a cry, and he fell fainting beside Oliver. At the sight of Roland's grief the Archbishop's own sorrow grew double, and he stretched out his hand for the horn which lay near him. A stream ran down the valley of Roncevalles, and he dragged himself towards it, to fetch water to revive Roland. But he was too weak from the blood he had lost to reach the river, and he fell where he stood. 'Pardon for my sins,' he said, and died, the servant of God and of Charles. The cry was heard by Roland, who was slowly coming back to life, and he rose to his feet and went to the dead Archbishop and crossed his hands upon his breast. 'Ah, noble Knight,' he said, 'in God's hands I leave you, for never since the Apostles has He had a more faithful servant. May your soul henceforth be free from sorrow, and may the Gates of Paradise stand wide for you to enter in!'
As he spoke, Roland knew that his own death was not far off. He made his peace with God, and took his horn in one hand and Durendal in the other. Then he mounted a small hill where stood two pine trees, but fell almost unconscious as soon as he reached the top. But a Saracen who had watched him, and had feigned to be dead, sprang up and seeing him cried, 'Conquered! he is conquered, the nephew of Charles! and his famous sword will be carried into Arabia'; so he grasped Durendal tightly in his fist, and pulled Roland's beard in derision. If the Saracen had been wise he would have left Roland's beard alone, for at his touch the Count was brought back to consciousness. He felt his sword being taken from him, and with his horn, which was always beside him, he struck the Saracen such a blow on his helmet that he dropped Durendal, and sank dead to the earth. 'Coward,' said Roland, 'who has told you that you might dare to set hands on Roland, living or dead? You were not worthy a blow from my horn.' Still death was pressing closer and closer, and Roland knew it. He rose panting for breath, his face as white as if he was already in the grave, and took Durendal out of its scabbard. Ten times he struck it hard on a brown rock before him, but the steel never gave way. 'O my faithful Durendal, do you know that the hour of our parting has come?' he cried. 'You have gained many battles for me, and won Charles many kingdoms. You shall never serve another master after I am dead.' Again he smote the rock with all his force, but the steel of Durendal glanced aside. When Roland saw that he could not break it, he sat down and wept and lamented sore, calling back to him all the fights that they had fought together. Yet another time he struck, but the steel held good. Death was drawing nearer; what was he to do? Under a pine tree he laid himself down to die, his head resting on the green grass, his face turned towards the Infidels. Beneath him he placed Durendal and his horn. Alone on the mountain, looking towards Spain, he made the confession of his sins, and offered up his last prayer. Then he held up his right hand, and the Angels came and bore his soul to Paradise.
THE PURSUIT OF DIARMID
THE PURSUIT OF DIARMID
Fionn, the son of Cumhaill, rose early from his bed and went and sat upon the clearing of grass that stretched at the foot of the hill of Allen, where was the favourite palace of the Irish Kings of Leinster. He had stolen out alone, while his attendants were sleeping, but soon he was missed and two of his men followed him to the green plain.
'Why have you risen so early?' said Ossian as he came up.
'Since my wife died,' answered Fionn, 'little sleep has come to me, and better I like to be sitting by the hill-side than to toss restlessly between walls.'
'Why did you not tell us?' answered Ossian, 'for there is not a girl in the whole land of Erin whom we would not have brought you by fair means or foul.'
Dearing, who had till now kept silence, then spoke. 'I myself know of a wife who would be a fitting mate even for Fionn, son of Cumhaill—Grania, the daughter of Cormac, who is fairer of speech and form than the daughters of other men.'
Fionn looked up quickly at Dearing's words.
'There has been strife for long between me and Cormac,' said he, 'and it is not seemly that I should ask anything of him which might be refused. Therefore go you and Ossian and, as from yourselves, see if this marriage pleases him. It were better that he should refuse you, rather than me.'
'Farewell then,' said Ossian, 'but let no man know of our journey till we come back again.'
So the two went their ways, and found Cormac, King of Erin, holding a great council on a wide plain, with the chiefs and the great nobles gathered before him. He welcomed Ossian and Dearing with courtesy, and as he felt sure they bore some message, he bade the council meet again on the morrow. When the nobles and chiefs had betaken themselves to their homes, Ossian told the King of Erin that they had come to know his thoughts as to a marriage between his daughter and Fionn, son of Cumhaill.
'There is not the son of a king or of a great prince, a hero or a champion in the whole of Erin,' answered Cormac, 'whom my daughter has not refused to wed, and it is I whom all hold guilty for it, though it is none of my doing. Therefore betake yourselves to my daughter, and she will speak for herself. It is better that you be displeased with her than with me.'
Thereupon Ossian and Dearing were led by the King to the dwelling of the women, and they found Grania lying on a high couch. 'Here, O Grania,' said the King, 'are two of the men of Fionn, the son of Cumhaill, and they have come to ask you as wife for him. What is your answer?'
'If he be a fitting son-in-law for you, why should he not be a fitting husband for me?' said Grania. And at her words, her father ordered a banquet to be made in the palace for Ossian and Dearing, and sent them back to Fionn with a message summoning him to a tryst in a fortnight's time.
When Ossian and Dearing were returned into Kildare, they found Fionn and his men, the Fenians, on the hill of Allen, and they told them their tale from the beginning to end. And the heart of Fionn grew light as he heard it, and the fortnight of waiting stretched long before him. But everything wears away at last, and so did those fifteen days; and on the last, Fionn assembled seven battalions of his Fenians from wherever they might be, and they set forth in troops for the great plain where Cormac, King of Erin, had given them tryst.
The King had made ready a splendid feast, and welcomed the new-comers gladly, and they ate and drank together. When the feast was over the Druid Derry sang songs before Grania, and she, knowing he was a man of wisdom, asked him why Fionn had come thither. 'If you know not that,' said the Druid, 'it is no wonder that I know it not.'
'I wish to learn it from you,' answered Grania.
'Well then,' replied the Druid, 'it is to ask you for wife that he is come.'
'I marvel,' said Grania, 'that it is not for Ossian that he asks me. For my father himself is not as old as Fionn. But tell me, I pray you, who is that softly spoken man with the curling black hair and ruddy countenance, that sits on the left hand of Ossian, the son of Fionn?'
'That is Diarmid, son of Dowd, the best lover in the whole world.'
'It is a goodly company,' said Grania, and ordered her lady to bring her the golden goblet chased with jewels. When it was brought she filled it up with the drink of nine times nine men, then bade her handmaid carry it to Fionn and say that she had sent it to him, and that he was to drink from it. Fionn took the goblet with joy, but no sooner had he drunk than he fell down into a deep slumber; and the same thing befel also Cormac, and Cormac's wife, and as many as drank of the goblet sent by Grania.
When all were sleeping soundly, she rose softly and said to Ossian, 'I marvel that Fionn should ask such a wife as I, for it were fitter that he should give me a husband of my own age than a man older than my father.'
'Say not so, O Grania,' answered Ossian, 'for if Fionn were to hear you, he would not have you, neither should I dare to ask for you.'
'Then you will not listen to word of marriage from me?' asked Grania.
'I will not,' answered Ossian, 'for I must not lay my hand on what Fionn has looked on.'
Then Grania turned her face to Diarmid Dowd and what she said was, 'Will you receive courtship from me, O Son of Dowd, since Ossian will not receive it?'
'I will not,' answered Diarmid, 'for whatever woman is betrothed to Fionn, I may not take her.'
'I will put you under bonds of destruction, O Diarmid,' said Grania, 'if you take me not out of this house to-night.'
'Those are indeed evil bonds,' answered Diarmid, 'and wherefore have you laid them on me, seeing there is no man less worthy to be loved by you than myself?'
'Not so, O son of Dowd,' said Grania, 'and I will tell you wherefore.'
'One day the King of Erin held a muster on the great plain of Tara, and Fionn and his seven battalions were there. And a goaling match was played, and all took part, save only the King, and Fionn, and myself and you, O Diarmid. We watched till the game was going against the men of the kingdom of Erin, then you rose, and, taking the pole of the man who was standing by, threw him to the ground, and, joining the others, did thrice win the goal from the warriors of Tara. And I turned the light of my eyes upon you that day, and I never gave that love to any other from that time to this, and will not for ever. So to-night we will pass through my wicket-gate, and take heed you follow me.'
After she had spoken, Diarmid turned to Ossian and his companions. 'What shall I do, O Ossian, with the bonds that have been laid on me?'
'Follow Grania,' said Ossian, 'and keep away from the wiles of Fionn.'
'Is that the counsel of you all to me?' asked Diarmid.
'It is the counsel of us all,' said they.
Then Diarmid bade them farewell, and went to the top of the Fort, and put the shafts of his two javelins under him, and rose like a bird into the air, and found himself on the plain where Grania met him. 'I trow, O Grania,' said he, 'this is an evil course upon which you are come, for I know not to which corner of Erin I can take you. Return to the town, and Fionn will never harm you.'
'I will never go back,' answered Grania, 'and nothing save death shall part us.'
'Then go forward,' said Diarmid.
The town was a mile behind them when Grania stopped. 'I am weary, son of O'Dowd.'
'It is a good time to weary, Grania, for your father's house is still nigh at hand, and I give you my word as a warrior that I will never carry you or any woman.'
'You need not do that,' answered Grania, 'for my father's horses are in a fenced meadow by themselves, and have chariots behind them. Go and bring two horses and a chariot, and I will wait for you here.'
And Diarmid did what Grania bade him, and he brought two of the horses, and they journeyed together as far as Athlone.
'It is the easier for Fionn to follow our track,' said Diarmid at last, 'now we have the horses.'
'Then leave them,' cried Grania, 'one on each side of the stream, and we will travel on foot.' So they went on till they reached Galway, and there Diarmid cut down a grove, and made a palisade with seven doors of wattles, and gathered together the tops of the birch trees and soft rushes for a bed for Grania.
* * * * *
When Fionn and all that were in Tara awoke and found that Diarmid and Grania were not among them, a burning rage seized upon Fionn. At once he sent out trackers before him, and he followed them himself with his men, till they reached the land of Connaught. 'Ah, well I know where Grania and Diarmid shall be sought,' cried Fionn. And Ossian and Dearing heard him, and said to each other, 'We must send Diarmid a warning, lest he should be taken. Look where Bran is, the hound of Fionn, and he shall take it, for he does not love Fionn better than he loves Diarmid, so, Oscar, tell him to go to Diarmid who is in Derry.' And Oscar told that to Bran, and Bran understood, and stole round to the back part of the army where Fionn might not see him; then he bounded away to Derry and thrust his head into Diarmid's bosom as he lay asleep.
At that Diarmid awoke and sprang up and woke Grania, and told her that Bran had come, which was a token that Fionn himself was coming. 'Fly then,' said Grania; but Diarmid would not fly. 'He may take me now,' said he, 'seeing he must take me some time.' At his words Grania shook with fear, and Bran departed.
All this while the friends of Diarmid took counsel together, and they dreaded lest Bran had not found them, and they resolved to give them another warning. So they bade the henchman Feargus to give three shouts, for every shout could be heard over three counties. And Diarmid heard them, and awoke Grania, and told her that it was a warning they had sent him of Fionn. 'Then take that warning,' said she. 'I will not,' answered Diarmid, 'but will stay in this wood till Fionn comes.' And Grania trembled when she heard him.
By-and-by the trackers came back to Fionn with news that they had seen Diarmid and Grania, and though Ossian and Diarmid's friends tried to persuade Fionn that the men had been mistaken, Fionn was not to be deceived. 'Well did I know the meaning of the three shouts of Feargus, and why you sent Bran, my own hound, away. But it shall profit him nothing, for Diarmid shall not leave Derry till he has paid me for every slight he has put upon me.'
'Great foolishness it is of you, O Fionn,' said Oscar, 'to think that Diarmid would stay in this plain waiting to have his head taken from him.'
'Who else would have cut down the trees, and have made a palisade of them, and cut seven doors in it? Speak, O Diarmid, is the truth with me or with Oscar?'
'With you, O Fionn,' said Diarmid, 'and truly I and Grania are here.'
When he heard this, Fionn bade his men surround Diarmid and take him, and Diarmid rose up and kissed Grania three times in presence of Fionn and his men, and Fionn, seeing that, swore that Diarmid should pay for those kisses with his head.
But Angus, the foster-father of Diarmid, knew in what straits his foster-son was, and he stole secretly to the place where Diarmid was hidden with Grania, and asked him what he had done to bring his head into such danger. 'This,' said Diarmid; 'Grania, the daughter of Cormac, King of Erin, has fled with me against my will to escape marriage with Fionn.'
'Then let one of you come under my mantle,' answered Angus, 'and I will carry you out of your prison.'
'Take Grania,' answered Diarmid. 'If I live, then will I follow you, but if not, carry her to her father, and let him deal with her as seems good.'
After that Angus put Grania under his mantle and they went their ways, and neither Fionn nor his Fenians knew of it.
When Angus and Grania had left him, Diarmid girded his arms upon him, and standing at one of the seven wattled doors, asked who stood behind. 'No foe to you,' answered a voice, 'but Ossian, the son of Fionn, and Oscar, the son of Ossian, and others who are your friends. Come out, and none will do you hurt.'
'I will not open the door until I find out where Fionn himself is.' And so it befel at six of the doors, and Diarmid would not open them, lest his friends should come under the wrath of Fionn. But as he drew near the seventh, and put his question, the answer came loud: 'Here are Fionn, the son of Cumhaill, and four hundred of his servants, and we bear you no love, and if you come out we will tear your bones in sunder.'
'I pledge my word,' said Diarmid, 'that yours is the first door by which I will pass,' and he rose into the air on the shafts of his javelins, with a bound as light as a bird's, and went far beyond Fionn and his people, and they knew nothing of it. Then he looked back and shouted that he had got the better of them, and followed after the track of Angus and Grania.
He found them warm in a hut with a fire in it, watching a wild boar roasting on a spit, and Grania's soul almost left her body for joy at seeing Diarmid. They told their stories before the fire, and when morning broke Angus rose and said to Diarmid, 'I must now depart, O son of O'Dowd, and this counsel I leave you. Go not into a tree having but one trunk, when you fly before Fionn. And go not to a cave of the earth having only one door, or to an island which can only be reached by one channel. And in whatever place you cook your meal, there eat it not; and in whatever place you eat, there lie not; and in whatever place you lie down to sleep, there rise not on the morrow.' So saying, he bade them farewell, and went his way.
The next day Diarmid and Grania journeyed up the Shannon, and they killed a salmon, and crossed the river to eat it, as Angus had told them. Soon they met a youth called Muadan, who wished to take service with them; and he was strong, and carried them over the rivers across their path. When evening came they found a cave, where Muadan spread out soft rushes and birch twigs for Diarmid and Grania to lie on, and as soon as they were asleep he stole into the next wood, and broke a long straight rod from a tree, and put a hair line and a hook upon it, and a holly berry on the rod, and fished in the stream. In three casts he had taken three fish. That night they ate a good supper, and while Diarmid and Grania slept, Muadan kept watch for them.
At dawn Diarmid woke Grania and told her to watch while Muadan slept, as he was going to climb a hill near by, and see where they had best go.
He soon stood on the top and looked round about him. In front of him was a great company of ships bearing towards him out of the west. They landed at the foot of the hill where Diarmid stood, and he swiftly ran down to meet them and to ask of what country they were.
'We are three royal chiefs,' said they, 'and are sent by Fionn to take an enemy of his whom he has outlawed, called Diarmid O'Dowd. And with us are three fierce hounds whom we will loose upon his track. Fire burns them not, nor water drowns them, nor weapons wound them, and of us there are two thousand men. Moreover, tell us who you yourself are, and if you have any tidings of the son of O'Dowd.'
'I am but a warrior walking the world with the strength of my arm and the blade of my sword. But I warn you, you will have no common man to deal with if you meet Diarmid, whom but yesterday I saw.'
'Well, no one has been found yet,' said they.
'Is there wine in your ships?' asked Diarmid.
'There is,' answered they.
'If you would bring a tun of it here, I would do a trick for you.' So the wine was sent for, and Diarmid raised the cask up and drank from it, and took it up to the top of the hill and stood on it, and it glided with him to the bottom. And that trick he did thrice, standing on the tun as it came and went. But the strangers only scoffed, and they told him they could do a much better trick than that, and one of them jumped on the tun. Then, before it could move, Diarmid gave the tun a kick, and the young man fell, and the tun rolled over and crushed him. And in like manner he did to many more, and the rest fled back to their ships.
The next morning they came to Diarmid where he stood on the hill, and he asked if they would like him to show them any more tricks, but they said they would rather hear some news of Diarmid first. 'I have seen a man who met him to-day,' answered Diarmid, and thereupon he laid his weapons on the ground and bounded upwards upon his javelin, coming down lightly beyond the host.
'If you call that a feat, then you have never seen a feat,' said a young warrior of the green Fenians—for so were they called from the colour of their armour. And he rose in like manner on his javelin and came down heavily on it, and it pierced his heart. Diarmid drew out the javelin, and another man took it and tried to do the same thing, and he also was slain, and so to the number of fifty. And they went to their ships while Diarmid returned to Muadan and Grania.
As soon as Diarmid awoke he went to the forest and cut two forked poles, which he took to the hill and placed upright, and he balanced the sword of Angus across the top. Then he rose lightly over and came down safely over it. 'Is there any man among you who can do that?' asked he of the men who had come up from their ships.
'That is a foolish question,' answered one, 'for no man ever did a feat in Erin which one of us could not do,' and he arose and leapt over the sword, but his foot caught in it, and he was cut in half. After that others tried, but none jumped that sword and lived. 'Have you any tidings of the son of O'Dowd?' asked the rest at last.
'I have seen him that saw him to-day,' answered Diarmid. 'I will seek tidings of him to-night.' And he returned to Grania.
When the sun rose Diarmid put on his coat of mail which no sword could pierce, and girded on the sword of Angus, and took his two javelins, whose stroke none could cure. Grania trembled at this brave sight, but Diarmid soothed her fears, and went off to meet the Fenians.
'What tidings of the son of O'Dowd?' said they. 'Show us where he is, that we may take his head to Fionn.'
'The body and life of Diarmid are under my protection, and I will not betray him.'
'Then we will take your head, as Fionn is your enemy,' said they.
'Take it if you can,' answered Diarmid, and he drew his sword and struck at the head of the man next him, and it rolled away from the body. Then he rushed on the host, and slew them right and left, and none lived to tell the tale but the three green chiefs and a few men who went back to their ships. And they returned the next morning and renewed the fight, but Diarmid vanquished them, and binding them fast, left them where they were. For he knew that there were only four men in the world that could loose them.
After this Diarmid called to Grania and Muadan to come with him, and they travelled till Grania grew weary, and Muadan carried her on his back to the foot of a great mountain. And there they rested on the bank of the stream.
Meanwhile the few men who had been left alive abandoned their ship, and sought the three chiefs who were lying bound on the hill. They tried to loosen the bands of the captives, but only drew them tighter.
Soon they saw the witch-messenger of Fionn coming over the tops of the hills skimming from one to the other as lightly as a swallow.
'Who has made this great slaughter?' said she.
'Who are you that ask?' said they.
'I am Deirdre, the witch-messenger of Fionn, and he has sent me to look for you.'
'We know not who the man was,' answered they, 'but his hair was black and curly, and his countenance ruddy. And he has bound our three chiefs, so that we cannot loose them.'
'It was Diarmid himself,' said she; 'so loosen your hounds on his track, and I will send Fionn and his Fenians to help you.'
The men went down to their ships, and brought out their hounds, and loosened them on the track of Diarmid. The hounds made straight for the door of the cave, and the men followed them; and the hounds left the cave, and set forth westwards.
But Diarmid knew not of their coming till he saw silken banners waving, and three mighty warriors marching at the head. And he was filled with hatred of them, and went his ways, and Muadan took Grania on his back and bore her a mile along the mountain.
It was not long before they heard the hound coming, and Muadan bade Diarmid follow Grania, and he would keep the hound at bay. And when he had slain the hound, he departed after Diarmid and Grania.
Then the second hound was loosened, and Diarmid waited till he came close, so that he could take sure aim; and he cast his javelin into the hound and it fell dead like its fellow, and having drawn his javelin, he followed after Grania.
They had not gone much farther before the third hound was upon them. He bounded straight over the head of Diarmid, and would have seized Grania, but Diarmid took hold of his two hind legs, and swung him so fiercely against a rock that he was slain on the spot. And when that was done, Diarmid put on his arms, and slipped his little finger into the silken string of the javelin, and cast it straight at a youth in a green mantle that had outstripped his fellows, and slew him; and so to the rest, while Deirdre, the witch, wheeled and hovered about them all.
Now when news of the green Fenians that were bound by Diarmid reached Fionn he summoned his men, and they took the shortest ways till they reached the hill of slaughter. Then Fionn spoke, and what he said was, 'O Ossian, loose the three chiefs for me.'
'I will not,' replied Ossian, 'for Diarmid bound me not to loose any warrior that he should bind.'
'O Oscar, loose them,' said Fionn.
'Nay,' answered Oscar, 'rather would I place more bands upon them.' And so said the other two, and, before their eyes, the chiefs died of their bondage. So Fionn ordered their graves to be dug, and their flag laid upon their stone, and the heart of Fionn was heavy.
He raised his head and saw drawing near Deirdre, the witch, her legs trembling, her tongue raving, and her eyes dropping out of her head. 'I have great and evil tidings for you,' said she, and she told him of all the slaughter Diarmid had made, and how she herself had hardly escaped.
'Whither went the son of O'Dowd?' asked Fionn.
'I know not,' said she. At that Fionn and his Fenians departed, and wandered far before they could hear news of Diarmid.
On the road that led to the county of Galway, Fionn saw fifty stout warriors coming towards him. 'I know not who they are,' said Fionn, 'yet I think they are enemies of mine'; and, indeed, this proved to be so, for the leaders of the company told Fionn that his father and their fathers had fought in battle. 'Then you must give me payment for the death of my father,' said Fionn, 'and in return you shall have power among the Fenians.'
'But we have neither silver, nor gold, nor herds, O Fionn,' answered the two young men.
'I want none of these,' replied Fionn; 'the payment I ask is but the head of a warrior, or a handful of berries from the magic tree of Dooros.'
'Take counsel from me,' cried Ossian, 'for it is no light matter to bring to Fionn that which he asks of you. The head is the head of Diarmid, son of Dowd, and if there were two thousand of you instead of fifty, Diarmid would not let it go.'
'And what are the berries that Fionn asks of us?' said they.
'Those berries would never have been heard of but for the jealousy of two women of different tribes, each of whom swore that her husband could hurl a pole farther than the other. So all the rest of the tribes came out to take part in the goaling match, and the game lasted long, and neither won a goal. At last the tribe of the Tuatha De Denann saw that the Fenians were stronger than they, and they went away bearing their provisions with them—nuts, and apples, and fragrant berries. And as they passed near the river Moy one of the berries fell, and turned into a quicken tree. No disease or sickness can touch anyone who eats three of its berries, and were he a hundred years old, the eater of them shall become no more than thirty.
'Since those days the tribe has set a guard over it. He is a crooked giant, with an eye in the midst of his forehead. No weapon can wound him, and he can only die of three strokes from his own iron club. At night he sleeps on the top of the tree, and by day watches at the foot. Around him is a wilderness, and the Fenians dare not hunt there, for fear of that terrible one. These are the berries which Fionn asks of you.'
But Aod, the son of Andala, spoke and declared that he would rather die seeking those berries than return to his own land with his head bowed in shame. So he and Angus his cousin took farewell of Ossian and went their ways, and as they drew near the forest they came on the track of Diarmid; and they followed to the tent, where they found him with Grania. 'Who are you?' asked Diarmid.
'We are Aod and Angus of the Clan Moirna,' said Aod, 'and it is your head that we seek, Diarmid, son of O'Dowd. For Fionn will either have that, or a handful of berries from the quicken tree.'
'Neither task is easy,' answered Diarmid, 'and woe to him that falls under the power of Fionn. He it was who slew your father, and surely that is payment enough. And whichever of those things you take him, you shall never have peace.'
'What berries are those that Fionn wants?' asked Grania, 'and why cannot they be got for him?' Then Diarmid told her the story, and how the country round was laid waste. 'But when Fionn put me under his ban,' continued he, 'the giant gave me leave to hunt there if I would, but forbade me to touch the berries. And now, O children of Moirna, will you fight me or seek the berries?'
'We will fight you first,' said they.
They fought long and well, but Diarmid got the better of them both, and bound them on the spot where they fell. 'You struck valiantly,' said Grania to Diarmid, 'but I vow that even if the children of Moirna go not after those berries, I will never rest in my bed till I have eaten them.'
'Force me not to break faith with the giant,' answered Diarmid, 'for he would not give them me more readily for that.'
'Loose our bonds,' said the children of Moirna, 'and we will go with you, and give ourselves for your sake.'
'Not so,' answered Diarmid, 'for the sight of him might kill you.'
'Then let us go to watch you fight, before you cut off our heads.' And Diarmid did so.
They found the giant asleep before the tree, and Diarmid pushed him with his foot.
The giant raised his head and looked at him: 'Are you fain to break peace, O Diarmid?'
'Not I,' answered he, 'but Grania my wife is ill, and she longs for the taste of your berries, and it is to get a handful of them that I am now come.'
'If she should die,' said the giant, 'she should have none.'
'I may not do you treachery,' replied Diarmid, 'therefore I tell you I will have them by fair means or foul.'
The giant having heard that, stood up and dealt Diarmid three mighty strokes with his club, so that he staggered. Then, flinging down his weapons, he sprang upon the giant and grasped the club between his hands, hurling the giant to the ground by the weight of his body. Without giving him time to rise, Diarmid struck three blows with the club at the giant's head and he died without a word.
Aod and Angus had watched the combat, and now came forth. 'Bury the giant under the brushwood of the forest,' said Diarmid, 'so that Grania may not see him, and then go and bring her to me, for I am very weary.'
And the young men did so. 'There, Grania, are the berries you asked for,' said Diarmid when she came, but she swore that she would not taste a berry except he plucked it for her. So he plucked the berries for her and for the children of Moirna, and they ate their fill of them. 'Now go,' said he, 'take as many berries as you can to Fionn, and tell him that it was you who slew the giant.' And they gave thanks to Diarmid and left him, and he and Grania went to sleep on the top of the tree where the sweetest berries grew.
The children of Moirna reached Fionn, and bowed before him. 'We have slain the giant,' said they, 'and have brought you the berries, and now we shall have peace for the death of our father.' Fionn took the berries into his hand, and stooped down and smelt them. 'I swear,' he cried, 'that it was Diarmid O'Dowd who gathered these berries, and full sure I am that it was he who slew the giant. I will follow him to the quicken tree, and it shall profit you nothing to have brought the berries to me.'
With seven battalions of his Fenians, he marched along Diarmid's track till he reached the foot of the quicken tree, and finding the berries with no watch on them, they ate their fill. The sun was hot, and Fionn said he would stay at the foot of the tree till it grew cooler, as well he knew that Diarmid was at the top. 'You judge foolishly,' answered Ossian, 'to think that Diarmid would stay up there when he knows that you are bent on his death.'
In spite of the heat and his long march, Fionn could not sleep, and called for a chess-board, and bade Ossian play with him. Fionn was the most skilled, and at length he said, 'There is but one move that can save you the game, O Ossian, and I dare all that are by to show you that move.' And in the top of the tree Diarmid heard him, and said, 'O Ossian, why am I not there to show you?'
'It is worse for you to be here in the power of Fionn, than for Ossian to lack that move,' answered Grania.
But Diarmid plucked one of the berries, and aimed it at the man which should be moved, and Ossian moved it, and turned the game against Fionn. And so he did a second time, and a third, when Ossian was in straits, and he won the game and the Fenians sent up a great shout.
'I marvel not at your winning, O Ossian, seeing that Oscar is doing his best for you, and that the skilled knowledge of Dearing, and the prompting of Diarmid, are all with you.'
'Now your eyes must be blinded, O Fionn, to think that Diarmid would stay in that tree when you are beneath him.'
'Which of us has the truth on his side, O Diarmid?' said Fionn, looking up.
'Never did you err in your wisdom, O Fionn,' answered Diarmid, 'and truly, I and Grania are here.' Then, in presence of them all, he kissed Grania three times. 'Thou shalt give thy head for those three kisses,' said Fionn.
So Fionn and the four hundred that were with him surrounded the quicken tree, and he bade them on pain of death not to let Diarmid pass through them. Further, he promised to whichever man should go up the tree and fetch down Diarmid, he would give him arms and armour, and whatever place his father held among the Fenians. But Angus heard what Fionn said, and being somewhat of a wizard, came to Diarmid's help, without being seen of the Fenians. And one man after another rolled down the tree.
Howbeit, both Diarmid and Angus felt that this was no place for Grania, and Angus said he would take her with him.
'Take her,' answered Diarmid; 'if I be alive this evening I will follow you. If not, send Grania to her father at Tara.' And with that Angus bade farewell to Diarmid, and flung his magic mantle over himself and Grania, and they passed out and no man knew aught of them till they reached the river Boyne.
When they were safely gone, Diarmid, son of O'Dowd, spoke from the top of the tree. 'I will go down to you, O Fionn, and to the Fenians, and will deal slaughter and discomfiture upon you and your people, seeing that I know your wish is to allow me no escape, but to work my death after some manner. Moreover, I have no friend who will help or protect me, since full often have I wrought havoc among the warriors of the world, for love of you. For there never came on you battle or strait, but I would plunge into it for your sake, and for that of the Fenians. Therefore I swear, O Fionn, that thou shalt not get me for nothing.'
'Diarmid speaks truth,' said Oscar. 'Grant him, I pray you, mercy and forgiveness.'
'I will not,' answered Fionn, 'till he has paid for every slight put upon me.'
'It is a foul shame in thee to say that,' said Oscar, 'and I pledge the word of a soldier that unless the heavens fall upon me or the earth opens under my feet, I will not suffer you nor your Fenians to strike him a single blow, and I will take him under my protection, and keep him safe in spite of you all. Therefore, O Diarmid, come down out of the tree, since Fionn will not grant you mercy. 'I will pledge that no evil will come to you to-day.'
So Diarmid rose, and stood upon the topmost bough of the tree, and leapt light and birdlike, by the shafts of his spears, and passed out far beyond Fionn and the Fenians of Erin. And he and Oscar went their way, and no tidings were heard of them till they reached Grania and Angus on the banks of the Boyne.
After Diarmid and Oscar had departed, Fionn ordered a ship to be made ready, and as soon as it was done he marched on board with a thousand of his warriors and set sail for the north of Scotland. When he arrived at the harbour nearest the King's palace, he moored his ship and took the path to the palace, where the King received him kindly, and gave him food and drink. Then Fionn told the King why he was come. 'And truly you should give me a host,' said he, 'for Diarmid it was who slew your father and two brothers and many of your men besides.'
'That is so,' answered the King, 'and I will give you my two sons, with a thousand men to each of them.' Joyful was Fionn to hear this, and he departed with his company, and nothing was known of them till they reached the Boyne, where Fionn challenged Diarmid and Angus to battle.
'What shall I do touching this, O Oscar?' asked Diarmid.
'We will give them battle and slay them all,' answered Oscar.
On the morrow Diarmid and Oscar rose, and put on their armour and went their way to the place of combat, where they bound the rims of their shields together, so that they might not be parted in the fight. Next they proclaimed battle against Fionn, and the Scots said they would land and fight them first. They rushed together, and Diarmid passed under them and through them and over them, as a whale would go through small fish. And all of them fell by Diarmid and Oscar before night came, while they themselves had neither cut nor wound.
When Fionn saw that great slaughter he and his men put out to sea, and sailed to the cave where dwelt an old woman, Fionn's nurse. And he told her his story from the beginning. 'I will go with you,' said she, 'and will practise magic against him.'
They came to the Boyne, and the witch threw magic over Fionn and his Fenians, so that the men of Erin knew not they were there; and that day Diarmid was hunting alone, for he had parted from Oscar the day before. Now the witch knew this, and she flew to where a water-lily leaf lay with a hole in the middle of it, and as the wind lifted the leaf from the surface of the water she cast deadly darts at Diarmid through the hole, and did him great hurt. And every evil that had come upon him was little compared with that evil. Then he felt that unless he could strike her through the hole in the leaf she would slay him on the spot; so he lay down on his back and took his javelin in his hand, and reached her through the hole, and she fell dead.
After that he cut off her head and carried it with him to Angus.
The next day Diarmid rose early and Angus with him, and they went to Fionn and asked if he would make peace with Diarmid, and also to Cormac, King of Erin, with a like question; and they agreed thereto, and asked Diarmid what terms he wanted. Diarmid demanded several of the best baronies in Ireland, and he got them, and they blotted out all Diarmid had done during the sixteen years of his outlawry, and Cormac gave his other daughter to Fionn that he might let Diarmid be, and there was peace for many years, and Diarmid prospered mightily, and had four sons and one daughter.
THE GREEN BOAR
But one day a restless spirit seized on Grania, and she told Diarmid that it was a shame to them that the two greatest men in Erin, Cormac and Fionn, had never visited their house, and she wished to give a splendid feast and to bid them to it. And this was done: for a year Grania and her daughter were preparing the feast, and when it was ready the guests came, and stayed feasting for a year.
It was on the last day of the year that in his sleep Diarmid heard the voice of a dog that caused him to start and to wake Grania. 'What is the matter?' said she, and Diarmid told her. 'May you be kept safely,' answered Grania; 'lie down again.' So Diarmid lay down, but no sleep would come to him, and by-and-by he heard the hound's voice again, but again Grania kept him from seeking it. This time he fell into a deep slumber, and a third time the hound bayed, and he woke and said to Grania, 'Now it is day, and I will go.' 'Well, then,' said she, 'take your large sword and the red javelin.' But Diarmid answered, 'No, I will take the little sword that bites, and the small javelin, and my favourite hound on a chain.'
So he went without stopping to the top of a mountain, where Fionn stood alone. Diarmid asked if he was hunting, and Fionn said no, but that after midnight a company of Fenians had come out, and one of the hounds had crossed the track of the wild boar of Ben Gulbain, which had slain thirty Fenians that morning.
'He is even now coming up this mountain against us,' added he, 'so let us leave the place.'
'I will never leave the place for him,' answered Diarmid.
'Know you not that when you were a child a wizard prophesied that you should live as long as a green boar without ears or tail, and that it was by him that you should fall at last?'
'No, I knew nothing of these things, but for all that I will not leave the mountain,' answered Diarmid. And Fionn went his way, and Diarmid stood alone on the top. 'It was to slay me that you made this hunt, O Fionn; and if it is fated that I die here, die I must.'
The wild boar came tearing up the mountain, and behind him followed the Fenians. Diarmid slipped his hound, but it profited him nothing, for he did not await the boar, but fled before him. 'Woe unto him that doeth not the counsel of a good wife,' said Diarmid to himself, 'for Grania bade me take my best hound and my red javelin.' Then he aimed carefully at the boar's head, and smote him in the middle of his forehead; but he did not so much as cut one of his bristles, far less pierce his skin. At that Diarmid felt his heart quail like those of weaker men, and he drew his sword and dealt the boar a stout blow, but the sword broke in two; and the beast stood unharmed. With a spring he threw himself upon Diarmid, so that he tripped and fell, and somehow when he rose up he was sitting astride the back of the boar, with his face looking towards the tail. The boar tried to fling him off but could not, though he rushed down the hill and jumped three times backwards and forwards out of the river at the foot; but Diarmid never stirred, and at last the boar dashed up the hill again, and Diarmid fell from his back. Then the boar sprang upon Diarmid with a mighty spring, and wounded him mortally; but Diarmid swung his broken sword about his head as he lay, and hit the boar such a blow on his head that where he stood there he fell dead.
Not long after that Fionn and his Fenians came up and watched Diarmid, who was dying fast. 'It pleases me well to see you in that plight, O Diarmid,' said Fionn, 'and I grieve that all the fair women of Erin cannot see you also.'
'If you wished you could still heal me, O Fionn,' answered Diarmid.
'How could I heal you, O Diarmid?'
'Easily,' answered Diarmid. 'Was it not given to you that whoever should drink from the palms of your hands should become young and whole again?'
'You have not deserved that I should give you that drink,' said Fionn.
'That is not true, O Fionn, well have I deserved it of you. Was it not I who avenged you and slew fifty of your enemies who tried to set on fire the house wherein you were holding your great feast? Had I asked you for such a drink then, you would have given it to me, and now I deserve it no less.'
'Not so,' answered Fionn; 'you have deserved ill at my hands since that time, and little reason have I to give you drinks or any good thing. For did you not bear away Grania from me before all the men of Erin the night you were set as guard over her in Tara?'
'The guilt of that was not mine, O Fionn, but Grania besought me, else I would not have failed to keep my charge for all the bonds in the world. And well do I deserve you should give me a drink, for many is the day since I came among the Fenians in which I have perilled my life for your sake. Therefore you should not do me this foul treachery. And soon a dire defeat will come upon the Fenians, and few children will be left to them to carry on the race. It is not for you that I grieve, O Fionn, but for Ossian and for Oscar, and for the rest of my faithful comrades. And you shall lack me sorely yet, O Fionn.'
'I am near of kin to you, O Fionn,' said Oscar, 'but you shall not do Diarmid this wrong. Further, I swear that were any other prince in the world to have done this to Diarmid, we would have seen whose hand was strongest and who should bring him a drink.'
'I know no well upon this mountain,' answered Fionn.
'That is not true,' replied Diarmid, 'for nine paces from this is the best well of pure water in the world.'
So Fionn went to the well and filled his palms with water; but he had only come half way to where Diarmid lay when he let the water run down between his fingers. 'The water would not stay in my hands,' he said, as he reached the rest.
'You spilt it of your will,' answered Diarmid.
For the second time Fionn set out to fetch the water, but returning he thought of Grania, and let it run upon the ground. Diarmid saw and sighed piteously. 'I swear by my sword,' cried Oscar, 'that if this time you bring not that water either you or I, O Fionn, shall leave our body here.'
And Fionn trembled when he heard those words, and brought back the water, but as he came to his side the life went out of Diarmid. And the company of the Fenians raised three exceeding great cries; while Oscar looked fiercely at Fionn, and told him it had been better for the Fenians had Fionn himself died, and not Diarmid. Then Fionn left the top of the mountain, leading Diarmid's hound, and his Fenians came after. But Ossian and Oscar and two others returned and laid their four mantles over Diarmid, and when they had done that they went their ways after Fionn.
Now Grania was standing on the ramparts of her house when she saw Fionn and the Fenians approaching. She said to herself that if Diarmid were alive it was not Fionn who would lead his hound, and at this thought she swooned and fell heavily over the battlements. Ossian's heart was full of pity, and he bade Fionn and the Fenians to go, and ran himself to help her, but she lifted her head and begged that Fionn would leave her the hound of Diarmid. Fionn said No, he would not; but Ossian took the stag-hound from Fionn's hand and put it into Grania's, and then followed after the Fenians.
When they had gone, Grania uttered a loud and grievous cry that was heard far round, so that the people came to her and asked her what was the matter, and when she told them that Diarmid was dead they sat down and wailed also. After that Grania sent five hundred men to bring her the body of Diarmid.
That night it was shown to Angus in a dream that Diarmid was dead on Ben Gulbain; and he was carried by the wind, and reached the place at the same moment as Grania's men, who knew him, and held out the insides of their shields to him in token of peace. And they sent up three exceeding great cries, which were heard even at the gates of heaven.
Then Angus spoke: 'There has not been one night since I took you, an infant of nine months old, to the Boyne that I have not watched over you, O Diarmid, until last night, when Fionn did you basely to death, for all you were at peace with him.' And he told Grania's men he himself would bear Diarmid's body to the Boyne. So the dead man was placed on a gilded bier with his javelins over him pointed upwards, and the men of Grania returned to their mistress, and said as Angus had bade them.
The first thing she did was to send messengers to her sons, who lived each in his own house, and bade them come with their followings to the house of Grania, for that their father Diarmid had been foully slain by Fionn. They all came forthwith, and after they had eaten and drunk she pointed to the weapons and arms of Diarmid, and said they were theirs, and by them they should learn all arts of brave men, till they should reach their full strength, and after that they should avenge themselves on Fionn.
The sayings of Grania were whispered in the ears of Fionn, and a great fear fell upon him. He called his Fenians together, and told them how the sons of Diarmid had gone to their mother, and returned to their own homes again. 'It is to rebel against me that they have done this,' and he asked counsel in the matter. 'The guilt is yours and no other man's,' spoke Ossian, 'and we will not stand by you, for you slew Diarmid in time of peace.'
Without Ossian, Oscar, and their men Fionn knew that he could not conquer Grania, and resolved to try what cunning would do. So he slipped away secretly, and went to her house, and greeted her with soft words, in reply to her bitter ones. But so cunning was he that at last her wrath broke down, and she agreed to go with him back to his Fenians.
It was a long while before the Fenians knew who that could be walking by the side of Fionn, but when they did they laughed and mocked till Grania bowed her head for shame. 'This time, O Fionn, you will guard her well,' said Ossian.
For seven years the sons of Diarmid exercised themselves in all the skill of a warrior, and then they came back to Grania's house. There they learned how long ago Grania had fled with Fionn, and in wrath they set out to seek Fionn, and proclaimed battle against him. Fionn sent Dearing to ask how many men it would take to fight them, and they answered that each one of them would fight a hundred. So Fionn brought four hundred men, and the young men rushed under them and through them and over them, till there was not a man left. 'What shall we do concerning these youths, O Grania,' said Fionn, 'for I have not men enough to go through many such fights?'
'I will visit them,' answered Grania, 'and will try to make peace between you.'
And Fionn bade her offer them terms such as no man then living would refuse, yet for long the young men did refuse them. But at the last the prayers of Grania prevailed, and peace was made, and Fionn and Grania lived together till they died.
[Footnote 3: From the Transactions of the Ossianic Society.]
WILLIAM SHORT NOSE
ADVENTURES OF WILLIAM SHORT NOSE
William Short Nose was also styled William of Orange, quite a different man from the one who came to be King of England, although they both took their title from the same small town in the south of France. This William of Orange spent his life battling with the Saracens in the south of France, and a very hard task he had, for their numbers seemed endless, and as fast as one army was beaten another was gathered together.
Now by a great effort the Infidels had been driven back south in the year 732, but before a hundred years had passed they had again crossed the Pyrenees and were streaming over France, south of the Loire, and, what was worse, the men of Gascony were rising too. Someone had to meet the enemy and to crush the rebels, and of all the subjects of King Louis, the son of the Emperor Charles, no one was so fit to lead the army of the Franks as William Short Nose, Count of Orange, husband of the Lady Gibourc.
It was at the Aliscans that he met them, and a great host they were, spreading over the country till whichever way you looked you saw men flocking round the Golden Dragon, which was the banner of the Saracens. But it was not Count William's way to think about numbers, and he ordered his trumpeters to sound the charge. Spurring his horse, he dashed from one part of the fight to the other, striking and killing as he went, and heeding as little the wounds that he got as those that he gave, and they were many. The Franks whom he led followed after him, and slew the Pagans as they came on; but the Christians were in comparison but a handful, and their enemies as the sands of the sea. The young warriors whom William had brought with him were prisoners or dying men, and from far he saw Vivian, whom he loved the best, charging a multitude with his naked sword. 'Montjoie! Montjoie!' cried he, 'O noble Count! O Bertrand my cousin, come to my aid! O my Lady Gibourc, never more shall my eyes look upon you!'
Bertrand heard and pressed to his side. 'Ride to the river,' he said, 'and I will protect you with my life'; but Vivian was too weak even to sit on his horse, and fell half fainting at the feet of Bertrand.
At this moment there rode at them a large troop of Saracens, headed by their King Haucebier, and the Christian Knights knew that all was lost. 'It is too late now for me to think of life,' said Vivian, 'but I will die fighting,' and again they faced their enemies till Bertrand's horse was killed under him. Then Vivian seized the horse of a dead Infidel, and thrust the bridle into Bertrand's hand, 'Fly, for God's sake, it is your only chance. Where is my uncle? If he is dead we have lost the battle.'
But Bertrand did not fly, though every instant made the danger more deadly. 'If I forsake you, if I take flight,' he said, 'I shall bring eternal shame upon myself.'
'No, no,' cried Vivian, 'seek my uncle down there in the Aliscans, and bring him to my aid.'
'Never till my sword breaks,' answered Bertrand, and laid about him harder than ever. And to their joy they heard a war cry sounding in their ears, and five Frankish Counts, cousins of Vivian and of Bertrand, galloped up. Fight they did with all their might, but none fought like Vivian. 'Heavens! what a warrior!' cried the Counts as they saw his blows, while the Saracens asked themselves if the man whom they had killed at mid-day had been brought back to life by the help of devils. 'If we let them escape now we shall be covered with shame before Mahomet,' said they, 'but ere night falls William shall acknowledge that he is conquered.'
'Indeed!' said Bertrand, and with his cousins he fell upon them till they fled.
The Counts were victors on this field, but, wounded and weary as they were, another combat lay before them, for a force of twenty thousand Saracens was advancing from the valley. Their hearts never failed them, but they had no strength left; the young Counts were all taken prisoners, except Vivian, who was left for dead by the side of a fountain where he had been struck down. 'O Father in Heaven,' he said, feeling his life going from him, 'forgive me my sins, and help my uncle, if it is Thy holy will.'
William Short Nose was still fighting, though he knew that the victory lay with the Unbelievers and their hosts. 'We are beaten,' he said to the fourteen faithful comrades that stood by him. 'Listen as you will, no sound of our war cry can be heard. But by the Holy Rood, the Infidels will know no rest while I am alive. I will give my forefathers no cause for shame, and the minstrels shall not tell in their songs how I fell back before the enemy.'
They then gave battle once more, and fought valiantly, till all lay dead upon the ground, save only William himself.
Now the Count knew that if the Infidel was ever to be vanquished and beaten out of fair France he must take heed of his own life, for the task was his and no other man's; so he turned his horse's head towards Orange, and then stopped, for he saw a troop of freshly landed Saracens approaching him along the same road.
'The whole world is full of these Infidels!' he cried in anger; 'cursed be the day when they were born. Fair God, you alone can save me. My Lady Gibourc, shall I ever again behold you? My good horse,' added he, 'you are very tired. If you had had only five hours' rest, I would have led you to the charge; but I see plainly that I can get no help from you, and I cannot blame you for it, as you have served me well all day, and for this I thank you greatly. If ever we reach Orange you shall wear no saddle for twenty days, your food shall be the finest corn, and you shall drink out of a golden trough. But how should I bear it if the Pagans captured you and carried you to Spain?'
And the horse understood as well as a man, and he threw up his head, and pawed the ground, and his strength came back to him as of old. At this sight William Short Nose felt more glad than if he had been given fourteen cities.
But no sooner had he entered a valley that led along the road to Orange than he saw a fresh body of Pagans blocking one end. He turned to escape into another path, but in front of him rode a handful of his enemies. 'By the faith that I swore to my dear Lady Gibourc,' he said, 'I had better die than never strike a blow,' and so went straight at Telamon, their leader, on his horse Marchepierre. 'William!' cried the Saracen, 'this time you will not escape me.' But the sun was in his eyes, and his sword missed his aim. Before he could strike another blow William had borne him from his horse and galloped away on Bausant.
The mountain that he was climbing now was beset with Infidels, like all the rest, and William looked in vain for a way of escape. He jumped from his horse and rubbed his flanks, saying to him the while, 'Bausant, what will you do? Your sides are all bloody, and you can scarcely stand; but remember, if once you fall it means my death.' At these words Bausant neighed, pricked up his ears and shook himself, and as he did so the blood seemed to flow strongly in his veins, as of old. Then the Count rode down into the field of the Aliscans, and found his nephew Vivian lying under a tree.
'Ah! my God,' cried William, 'what sorrow for me! To the end of my life I shall mourn this day. Earth, do thou open and swallow me! Lady Gibourc, await me no longer, for never more shall I return to Orange!'
So he lamented, grieving sore, till Vivian spoke to him. The Count was full of joy to hear his words, and, kneeling beside the youth, took him in his arms, and bade him, as no priest was there, confess his sins to him, as to his own father. One by one Vivian remembered them all, then a mist floated before his eyes, and, murmuring a farewell to the Lady Gibourc, his soul left the world.
William laid him gently down on his shield, and took another shield for covering, and turned to mount his horse, but at this his heart failed him.
'Is it you, William, that men look to as their leader, and whom they call Fierbras, who will do this cowardly deed?' he said to himself, and he went back to his nephew's side, and lifted the body on to his horse, to bury it in his city of Orange.
He had done what he could to give honour to Vivian, but he might as well, after all, have left him where he fell, for in a fierce combat with some Pagans on the road the Count was forced to abandon his nephew's body and fight for his own life. He knew the two Saracens well as brave men, but he soon slew one, and the other he unhorsed after a struggle.
'Come back, come back,' cried the Unbeliever; 'sell me your horse, for never did I behold his like! I will give you for him twice his weight in gold, and set free besides all your nephews that have been taken prisoners.' But William loved his horse, and would not have parted with him to Charles himself; so he cut off the Saracen's head with his sword, and mounted his horse Folatisse, taking the saddle and bridle off Bausant so that he might the more easily escape from the Pagans.
At length, after fighting nearly every step of the way, he saw the towers of Orange before him, and his palace, Gloriette, where dwelt his wife, the Lady Gibourc. 'Ah, with what joy did I leave these walls,' he said to himself, 'and how many noble Knights have I lost since then! Oh! Gibourc, my wife, will you not go mad when you hear the tidings I have brought!' And, overcome with grief, the Count bowed his head on the neck of his horse.
When he recovered himself he rode straight to the City Gate, and commanded the porter to let him in. 'Let down the drawbridge,' called he, 'and be quick, for time presses.' But he forgot that he had changed his own arms, and had taken instead those of Aerofle the Saracen; therefore the porter, seeing a man with a shield and pennon and helmet that were strange to him, thought he was an enemy, and stood still where he was. 'Begone!' he said to William; 'if you approach one step nearer I will deal you a blow that will unhorse you! Begone, I tell you, and as quick as you can, or when William Short Nose returns from the Aliscans it will be the worse for you.'
'Fear nothing, friend,' replied the Count, 'for I am William himself. I went to the Aliscans to fight the Saracens, and to help Vivian; but all my men are dead, and I only am left to bring these evil tidings. So open the gates, for the Saracens are close behind.'
'You must wait a moment,' answered the porter, and he quitted the turret where he had been standing and hastened to the chamber of the Lady Gibourc. 'Noble Countess,' cried he, 'there knocks at the drawbridge a Knight in pagan armour, who seems fresh from battle, for his arms are bloody. He is tall of stature and bears himself proudly, and he says he is William Short Nose. I pray you, my lady, come with me and see him for yourself.'
The face of Gibourc grew red when she heard the porter's words, and she left the Palace and mounted the battlements, where she called across the fosse, 'Warrior, what is your will?'
'Oh, lady!' answered he, 'open the gate, and that quickly. Twenty thousand Saracens are close upon my track; if they reach me, I am a dead man.'
'You cannot enter,' replied Gibourc. 'I am alone here except for this porter, a priest, a few children, and some ladies whose husbands are all at the war. Neither gate nor wicket will be opened until the return of my beloved lord, William the Count.' Then William bowed his head for a moment, and two tears ran down his cheeks.
'My lady, I am William himself,' said he. 'Do you not know me?'
'Infidel, you lie,' replied Gibourc. 'Take off your helmet, and let me see who you are!'
But the Count in his thought felt the earth trembling under his feet from the steps of the accursed ones. 'Noble Countess,' cried he, 'this is no time to parley. Look round you! Is not every hill covered with Pagans?'
'Ah, now I know you are not William,' answered she, 'for all the Pagans in the world would never have stirred him with fear. By St. Peter! neither gate nor wicket shall be opened till I have seen your face. I am alone and must defend myself. The voices of many men are alike.'
Then the Count lifted his helmet: 'Lady, look and be content. I am William himself. Now let me in.'
Gibourc knew that it was indeed the Count who had returned, and was about to order the gates to be opened when there appeared in sight a troop of Saracens escorting two hundred prisoners, all of them young Knights, and thirty ladies with fair white faces. Each one was loaded with chains, and they cowered under the blows of their captors. Their cries and prayers for mercy reached the ears of Gibourc, and, changing her mind, she said quickly: 'There is the proof that you are not William my husband, the "Strong Arm," whose fame has spread far! For he would never have suffered his brethren to be so shamefully entreated while he was by!'
'Heavens!' cried the Count, 'to what hard tests does she put me! But if I lose my head I will do her bidding, for what is there that I would not do for the love of God and of her!' Without a word more he turned, and, relacing his helmet, spurred his horse at the Saracens with his lance in rest. So sudden and fierce was his attack that the foremost riders fell back on those behind, who were thrown into confusion, while William's sword swept him a path to the centre, where the prisoners stood bound. The Pagans expected the city gates to open and a body of Franks to come forth to destroy them, and without waiting another moment they turned and fled. Though the prisoners were free, William pursued the enemy hotly.
'Oh, fair lord!' called Gibourc, who from the battlements had watched the fight, 'come back, come back, for now indeed you may enter.' And William heard her voice, and left the Saracens to go where they would while he struck the chains off the prisoners, and led them to the gates of Orange, while he himself rode back to the Saracens.
Not again would the Lady Gibourc have reason to call him coward.
And Gibourc saw, and her heart swelled within her, and she repented her of her words. 'It is my fault if he is slain,' she wept. 'Oh, come back, come back!'
And William came.
Now the drawbridge was let down before him, and he entered the city followed by the Christians whom he had delivered, and the Countess unlaced his helmet, and bathed his wounds, and then stopped, doubting.
'You cannot be William after all,' said she, 'for William would have brought back the young kinsmen who went with him; and Guy and Vivian, and all the young Barons of the country side. And William would have been encircled by minstrels singing the great deeds he had done.'
'Ah, noble Countess, you speak truth,' answered he. 'Henceforth my life will be spent in mourning, for my friends and comrades who went to war with me are lying dead at the Aliscans. Vivian is dead also, but Bertrand and Guy, Guichard the bold, and Gerard the brave, are captives in the Saracen camp.'
Great was the sorrow in the city of Orange, great likewise was the sorrow in the palace of her lord, where the ladies of the Countess mourned for their husbands. But it was Gibourc herself who first dried her tears, and roused herself from her grief for Vivian and others whom she had loved well. 'Noble Count,' she said, 'do not lose your courage, and let the Infidels crush your spirit. Remember it is not near Orleans, in safety, that your lands lie, but in the very midst of the Saracens. Orange never will have peace till they are subdued. So send messengers to Paris, to your brother-in-law King Louis, and to your father Aimeri, asking for aid. Then march upon the Saracens, and rescue the captives that are in their hands before they are carried across the sea.'
'Heavens!' cried William, 'has the world ever seen so wise a lady?'
'Let no one turn you from your road,' she went on. 'At the news of your distress Ermengarde of Pavia, whom may God bless, and Aimeri with the white beard, and all the Barons that are your kin, will fly to your help. Their numbers are as the sands of the sea.'
'But how shall I make them believe in what has befallen us?' answered William. 'Gibourc, sweetheart, in France they would hold any man mad who brought such a message. If I do not go myself I will send nobody, and go myself I will not, for I will not leave you alone again for all the gold in Pavia.'
'Sir, you must go,' said Gibourc, weeping. 'I will stay here with my ladies, of whom there are plenty, and each will place a helmet on her head, and hang a shield round her neck, and buckle a sword to her side, and with the help of the Knights whom you have delivered we shall know how to defend ourselves if the Unbelievers should seek to take the city by assault.'
William's heart bounded at her words; he took her in his arms, and promised that he himself would go, and more, that he would never lie soft nor eat delicately nor kiss the cheek of any lady, however fair, till he returned again to Orange.
Thus William Short Nose set forth and the next day passed through Orleans. There he met with his brother Ernaut, who had ridden home from escorting King Louis back to Paris. Ernaut promised his help and that of his father and brothers, but counselled William to go to Laon, where a great feast would be held and many persons would be assembled. The Count followed Ernaut's counsel, but refused the troop of Knights and men-at-arms which Ernaut offered him, liking rather to ride alone.
He made his entrance into Laon on Sunday, and the people laughed at him and made jests on his tall thin horse; but William let them laugh, and rode on until he reached the Palace. There he alighted under an olive tree, and, fastening his horse to one of the branches, took off his helmet and unbuckled his breastplate. The people stared as they passed by, but nobody spoke to him.
Someone told the King that a strange man without a squire or even a man-at-arms was sitting before the Palace under an olive tree. The King's face grew dark as he heard their tale, for he loved to keep his gardens for his own pleasure. 'Sanson,' he called to one of his guards, 'go and find out who this stranger is and whence he comes, but beware of bringing him hither.'
Sanson hastened to do his errand, and William answered, 'My name is one that is known to France. I am William Short Nose, and I come from Orange. My body is worn out with much riding; I pray you hold my horse until I have spoken to King Louis.'
'Noble Count,' replied Sanson, 'let me first return to the King and tell him who you are. And be not angry, I beseech you, for such are my orders.'
'Be quick, then, my friend,' said William, 'and do not neglect to tell the King that I am in great distress. This is the time to show his love for me; and if he truly does love me, let him come to meet me with the great lords of his Court. If he does not come, I have no other hope.'
'I will tell him what you say,' said Sanson, 'and if it rests with me you shall be content.'
Then Sanson went back to the King. 'It is William, the famous William!' he said, 'and he wishes you to go out to meet him.'
'Never!' answered Louis. 'Will he always be a thorn in my side? Woe be to him who rejoices at his coming.'
So the King sat still, and on the steps of the Palace there gathered Knights and Nobles in goodly numbers, and hardly one but wore a mantle of ermine or marten, a helmet set with precious stones, a sword or a shield which had been given him by William himself. But now they were rich and he was poor, so they mocked at him.
'My lords,' said William, 'you do ill to treat me so. I have loved you all, and you bear the tokens of my love about you at this moment. If I can give you no more gifts, it is because I have lost all I have in the world at the Aliscans. My men are dead, and my nephews are prisoners in the hands of the Saracens. It is the Lady Gibourc who bade me come here, and it is she who asks for help through me. Have pity on us, and help us.' But without a word, they rose up and went into the Palace, and William knew what their love was worth.
The young men told Louis of the words that the Count had spoken, and the King rose and leaned out of the window. 'Sir William,' said he, 'go to the inn, and let them bathe your horse. You seem in a sorry plight, without a groom or esquire to help you.'
William heard and vowed vengeance. But if the King and the courtiers had no hearts, in his need a friend came to him, Guimard, a citizen of Laon, who took the Count home and offered him rich food. But because of his vow to the Lady Gibourc, he would only eat coarse bread, and drink water from the spring; and as soon as it was light he rose up from his bed of fresh hay, and dressed himself. 'Where are you going?' asked his host.
'To the Palace, to entreat the aid of the King, and woe be to him who tries to stop me.'
'May God protect you, Sir,' answered Guimard. 'To-day the King crowns Blanchefleur, your sister, who no doubt loves you well. And he gives her the Vermandois for her dower, the richest land in all fair France, but a land that is never at peace.'
'Well,' said William, 'I will be present at the ceremony. Indeed they cannot do without me, for all France is under my care, and it is my right to bear her standard in battle. And let them beware how they move me to wrath, lest I depose the King of France and tear the crown from his head.'
The Count placed a breastplate under his jerkin and hid his sword under his cloak. The gates of the Palace opened before him and he entered the vaulted hall. It was filled with the greatest nobles in the land, and ladies with rich garments of silk and gold. Lords and ladies both knew him, but not one gave him welcome—not even his sister, the Queen. His fingers played with his sword, and he had much ado not to use it. But while his wrath was yet kindling the heralds announced that his father Aimeri had come.
The Lord of Narbonne stepped on to the grass with Ermengarde, his noble Countess, his four sons, and many servants. King Louis and the Queen hastened to meet them, and amid cries of joy they mounted the steps into the hall. Aimeri sat beside the King of Saint-Denis, and the Countess was seated next the Queen, while the Knights placed themselves on the floor of the hall. And William sat also, but alone and apart, nursing his anger.
At last he rose, and, advancing to the middle of the floor, he said with a loud voice: 'Heaven protect my mother, my father, my brothers and my friends; but may His curse alight on my sister and on the King, who have no hearts, and have left me to be the butt of all the mockers of the Court. By all the Saints! were not my father sitting next him, this sword should ere now have cloven his skull.' The King listened, pale with fright, and the Queen wished herself at Paris or at Senlis. The rest whispered to each other, 'William is angry, something will happen!'