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I. A 14 ft tall giant named Ferragus was preying upon Charlemagne’s subjects, carrying them away at will and devouring them in his cave. When the Emperor was made aware of this situation by the inhabitants of the affected region he called for a volunteer from among his Paladins to kill the giant.
Roland was the first and loudest volunteer and so Charlemagne, despite being worried over his nephew’s safety, permitted him to ride off to battle Ferragus.
A few days later Roland had ridden to the site of the giant’s mountain cave. The monster emerged to battle the armored adventurer and the two clashed. Hours went by with Ferragus unable to slay Roland and with Roland’s enchanted sword Durindana failing to penetrate the giant’s thick skin.
Night fell, and the two combatants agreed to a truce until sunrise. They both lay down to sleep within sight of each other but neither feared treachery because they had sworn to a truce. Roland even went so far as to fetch a smooth stone for Ferragus to use as a pillow.
The giant, touched by that gesture, became relaxed and talkative, bragging about all the Franks he had eaten and boasting at one point that his skin was impenetrable everywhere except the middle of his breast. Roland noted that slip of the tongue.
When the battle was resumed at daybreak, Roland immediately went on the offensive, and made Ferragus pay dearly for his boastfulness by sinking his sword Durindana into the giant’s breast up to the hilt.
II. Not long after Roland returned from his successful mission against Ferragus, Guerin, Lord of Vienne, quarreled with the Emperor Charlemagne and vowed to withhold that year’s tribute to him.
Charlegmagne and his army went forth, drove Guerin’s forces from the field and then besieged Vienne itself. Guerin swore he would hold out against the Emperor for the rest of his life if need be, and word of that reached Marsilius, King of Muslim-colonized Spain.
With Charlemagne’s forces tied up in Vienne, Marsilius marched into the western frontier of the Emperor’s domain, hoping to add it to Spain as a conquered state. Soon Charlemagne and Guerin learned of this encroachment and mutually decided that the colonialists needed to be dealt with.
The pair agreed to put their own dispute into God’s hands and would have one Paladin from each of their armies meet in combat to decide the issue. By chance Roland was selected to be Charlemagne’s champion and a Paladin unknown to the Emperor’s men was selected as Lord Guerin’s champion.
The pair faced each other the next day on an island in the middle of the Rhone River, with the opposing armies lining each bank of the river. The armored men faced each other in a joust, then went sword to sword and seemed evenly-matched all the way.
After two hours of this deadlock, Roland and his opponent agreed to toss aside their swords and settle the issue hand-to-hand. In the grappling that followed, Roland succeeded in tearing off the helmet of his foe, and was stunned to see that it was really Oliver, his boyhood friend from long ago. The pair had been inseparable in the days when Roland worked as a thief to support his mother, before he knew his royal heritage.
Roland tore off his own helmet and the two friends embraced each other. They refused to fight any longer and ultimately Charlemagne and Guerin decided that honor was satisfied on both sides. Oliver was permitted to switch his allegiance to the Emperor so that he and Roland should never again be separated.
With Oliver serving among Charlemagne’s army, the Emperor and his forces rode west, with Marsilius hastily retreating back into Spain at the news of the approach of the Franks. +++
I’ll be examining more tales of Charlemagne soon.
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