Page:A book of myths.djvu/325

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269
ROLAND THE PALADIN

chess under the shade of the fruit trees, and the fencing bouts of the younger warriors. Very dear to him were all his Douzeperes, yet dearest of all was his own nephew, Roland. In him he saw his own youth again, his own imperiousness, his reckless gallantry, his utter fearlessness—all those qualities which endeared him to the hearts of other men. Roland was his sister's son, and it was an evil day for the fair Bertha when she told her brother that, in spite of his anger and scorn, she had disobeyed his commands and had wed the man she loved, Milon, a poor young knight.

No longer would Charlemagne recognise her as sister, and in obscurity and poverty Roland was born. He was still a very tiny lad when his father, in attempting to ford a flooded river, was swept down-stream and drowned, and Bertha had no one left to fend for her and for her child. Soon they had no food left, and the little Roland watched with amazed eyes his famished mother growing so weak that she could not rise from the bed where she lay, nor answer him when he pulled her by the hand and tried to make her come with him to seek his father and to find something to eat. And when he saw that it was hopeless, the child knew that he must take his father's place and get food for the mother who lay so pale, and so very still. Into a great hall where Charlemagne and his lords were banqueting Roland strayed. Here was food in plenty! Savoury smelling, delicious to his little empty stomach were the daintily cooked meats which the Emperor and his court ate from off their silver platters. Only one