Page:A book of myths.djvu/323

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267
ROLAND THE PALADIN

of the hero of whom they sang, ere ever sword met sword, or spear met the sullen impact of the stark frame of a Briton born, fighting for his own.

The story of Roland, so we are told, is only a splendid coating of paint put on a very slender bit of drawing. A contemporary chronicle tells of the battle of Roncesvalles, and says: "In which battle was slain Roland, prefect of the marches of Brittany." Merely a Breton squire, we are told to believe—a very gallant country gentleman whose name would not have been preserved in priestly archives had he not won for himself, by his fine courage, such an unfading laurel crown. But because we are so sure that "it is the memory that the soldier leaves after him, like the long trail of light that follows the sunken sun," and because so often oral tradition is less misleading than the written word, we gladly and undoubtingly give Roland high place in the Valhalla of heroes of all races and of every time.

777 or 778 A.D. is the date fixed for the great fight at Roncesvalles, where Roland won death and glory. Charlemagne, King of the Franks, and Head of the Holy Roman Empire, was returning victoriously from a seven years' campaign against the Saracens in Spain.

"No fortress stands before him unsubdued.
"Nor wall, nor city left to be destroyed,"

save one—the city of Saragossa, the stronghold of King Marsile or Marsiglio. Here amongst the mountains the King and his people still held to their idols, worshipped "Mahommed, Apollo, and Termagaunt," and looked