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Roland in der Schlacht von Roncevalles
Nach dem Gemalde von A. Guesnet
The Emperor Charlemagne was surrounded by a circle of proud knights, the flower of whom was Count Roland of Angers, nephew of the King of the Franks. The name of no knight was so famous in battle and in tournaments as his.
Helpless innocency adored him, his friends admired, and his enemies esteemed him. His chivalrous spirit had no love for the luxuries of life, and scorning to remain inactive at the emperor's court, he went to his imperial uncle, begging leave to go and travel in those countries of the mighty kingdom of the Franks, which up to that time were unknown to him. In his youthful fervour he longed for adventures and dangers. The emperor was much grieved to part with the brave knight, but however, he willingly complied with his request.
One day early in the morning the gallant hero left his uncle's palace near the Seine, and rode towards the Vosges Mountains, accompanied by his faithful squire. The first object of his journey was castle Niedeck near Haslach, and from there he visited Attic, Duke of Alsace.
He continued his travels, and one evening as he was riding through the mountains, the glittering waters of the Rhine, washing both sides of the plain, greeted him. The river in that part of the country offered him few charms in its savage wildness, but he knew that the scenery would soon change. He moved on down the Rhine to where a gigantic mountain shuts the rushing current into a narrow space. Its foot stands chained in the floods, which only in places retire a little, thus leaving the poor folk a narrow stretch of land.
On the heights there were proud castles, telling the wanderer below of the fame of their illustrious races. Thus Roland made many a long journey on his adventurous course down the Rhine. He passed many a place rich in old memories: the Lorelei Rock, where the water nymph sang at night: the cheerful little spot where St. Goar lived and worked at the time of Childebert, the Merovingian, (that wonderful saint who once spread a fog over his imperial uncle, compelling him to pass the night in the open air, because his Majesty, while journeying from Ingelheim to Coblenz had neglected to bend his knee in his chapel) and the green meadows near Andernach, where Genovefa, wife of Palatine Count Siegfried lived. And now Roland neared the place where the stream reaches the end of the Rhine Valley, and where the seven giants are to be seen, the summit of one of which is crowned with a castle; there they stand like the seven knights who, in later times stood weeping round the holy remains of the German emperor.
A wooded island lay in the deep-blue waters. The setting sun threw a golden light over the hills. On the sides of the mountains there were numberless vineyards, to the left, hedges of beeches ascending to the heights of the rugged summits, to the right, the murmur of the rippling waters, and above, visible among the legendary rocks where once a terrible beast lived, the pinnacles of a knight's castle, and over all, the heavens clothed with a garment of silver stars.
The knight paused in silence; his glance rested admiringly on the beautiful picture. His steed pawed the ground uneasily with his bronze-shod hoofs, and his faithful squire looked anxiously at the darkening sky. He reminded his master modestly that it was time to seek shelter for the night.
"I should like to beg for it up there," said Roland dreamingly, an inexplicable feeling of sweet sadness coming over him for the first time. He bade his squire ask the boat-man who was putting out his little bark to cross the river, what was the name of the castle? The castle was the Drachenburg, where Count Heribert sojourned sometimes. Thus ran the answer which pleased Roland very much. He had been charged with many greetings and messages to the old count at the Drachenburg from his friends living near the upper Rhine. Roland now hesitated no longer, and soon a boat was ploughing the dark waves.
In the meantime night had come on. The full moon's soft beams showed them their way through the dark forest. Count Heribert, a worthy knight in the flower of his age, bade the nephew of his imperial master heartily welcome to his castle. Far past midnight they stayed in the count's chambers, engaged in entertaining conversation.
The next day Count Heribert presented his daughter Hildegunde to the knight. Roland's eves. full of admiration, rested on the blushing young maiden. Never before had the charms of a woman awakened any deep feeling in his heart; he had only thirsted after glory and deeds of daring, after tournaments and feuds. Now the bold champion was struck with a shaft from the quiver of love. He who had opposed the dreaded adversary so often, now bowed his fearless head in almost girlish confusion before Hildegunde's charms. She, too, stood crimsoning deeply before the celebrated hero whose name was famous, and who was beloved in all the country round.
The old knight broke up the scene of embarrassing silence between the youthful couple with gay laughing words, and conducted his guest through the high halls of his castle.
Roland tarried longer at the friendly castle than he had ever done before in any other place in the country. He seemed bound to the blissful spot by love's indissoluble chains, and so it happened that one day these two found themselves, hand in hand, the deep love in their hearts rushing forth in ardent words. Count Heribert bestowed his lovely daughter very willingly on the celebrated knight, his only desire being to complete the happiness of his child whom he loved so dearly. A castle should be erected for her on the heights of the rocks on the other side of the Rhine, opposite the Drachenburg, and this proud tort on the rugged rocky corner of the mountain, should be a watch-tower for the glorious Seven Mountains and their castle. In later times it became the famous Rolandseck. Soon the walls could be seen raising themselves up, and every day the lovers stood On the balcony of the Drachenburg looking across, where industrious workmen and masons were busily toiling. Hildegunde began to weave sweet dreams of the future round her new home, where she meant to chain the adventurous hero with true love.
But one day a messenger appeared at the Drachenburg on a horse white with foam. He was sent by Charlemagne and brought the tidings .of a crusade which the .emperor had decreed against the Infidels beyond the Pyrenees. Charlemagne desired to have the famous knight among the leaders of his army. Roland received the message of his great master in silence. He looked at Hildegunde who with a death-like face was standing beside him. Grief stabbed cruelly at his heart, but he must obey the call of honour and duty, and, informing the royal messenger that he would arrive at the imperial camp in three days, he turned sorrowfully away, Hildegunde sobbing at his side.
The cross and the crescent were fighting furiously for the upper hand in Spain. Terrible battles were fought, and much blood flowed from both Christians and Infidels. Bloody victories were gained by the emperor's brave knights, the chief .of whom was Roland. His sword forced a triumphant way for Charlemagne, it guarded his army, passing victoriously through the unknown country of the enemies. But the sad day of Ronceval, so often sung by German and other poets was yet to come. Separated from the main body of the army, Roland's brave rearguard was making its way through the dusky forest. Suddenly wild shouts sounded from the heights, and the cowardly Moor pressed down on the little band, threatening them with destruction. But the noble Franks fought like lions. Roland's charger, Brilliador, flew now here, now there, and many a Saracen was hewn down by its noble rider's sword, Durand. But numbers conquer bravery. The little army of Franks became less and less, and at last Roland sank, struck by the lance of a gigantic Moor. The combat continued furiously round him. When night spread mournfully over the battle-field, the Infidels had already done their terrible work. The Franks lay dead; only a few had escaped from the slaughter.
"Where is Roland?" was the frightened cry from pale lips. He was not among the saved. "Where is Roland?" asked Charlemagne anxiously of the messengers. Through the whole kingdom their answers seemed to resound, Roland the hero had fallen in battle fighting against the Saracens; wherever this cry was heard, it awakened deep sorrow.
The news soon spread as far as the Rhine, and one day the imperial messengers appeared at the Drachenburg, bringing the sad tidings and the deepest sympathy of the emperor. Heribert sighed deeply on hearing the news and covered his eyes with his hands; Hildegunde's grief was heart-breaking. Before the altar of the Queen of sorrows she lay sobbing her heart out, imploring for comfort in her great need. For days on end she shut herself up in her little bower, and even her father's gentle sympathy could not assuage her bitter grief.
Weeks passed. Then one day the pale maiden .entered the knight's chamber, her grief quite transfigured. He drew her softly towards him, and then she revealed the resolution which was in her heart. Count Heribert was overwhelmed with grief, but he pressed a loving kiss on her pure forehead.
The day came, when down below on the island Nonnenwert, the convent bells rang solemnly. A new novice, Count Heribert's lovely daughter, knelt before the altar. In the holy stillness of the convent she sought the peace which she could not find in the castle of her father. With a last great convulsive sob she had torn her lover's name from her heart, had quenched the flame of sorrowing love for him, and now her soul was to be filled ever with the holy fire of the love of God. In vain her afflicted father hoped that the unaccustomed loneliness of the convent would shake her resolution, and that when the first year's trial was over, she would return to him. But no! the pious young maiden fervently begged the bishop, who was a relation of her father, to release her from the year's trial and to allow her after a short time to take her final vows. Her longing desire was fulfilled. After a month Hildegunde's golden locks were no more, and the lovely daughter of the Drachenburg was dedicated to the Lord forever.
Time rolled on. Spring had vanished and the sheaves were ripening in the fields. Where the river reaches the end of the Rhine valley crowned by the Seven Giants, a knight with his horse stopped to rest. Far away in the south, where the valley of Ronceval lies bathed in sunshine, he had lain in the hut of a poor herd. There the faithful squire had dragged his master pierced by a Moorish lance. The bold hero and leader had remained for weeks and months on his sick-bed struggling with death, till the force of his iron nature had at last conquered. Roland was recovering under loving care, while they were mourning him as dead in the land of the Franks. Then having recovered, he hurried back to the Rhine urged by an irresistible longing.
A wooded island lay in the deep-blue waters. The setting sun threw a golden light over the hills; numberless vineyards flanked the mountains, hedges of beeches were on one side, the murmur of waters on the other, and above the pinnacles of a knight's castle among the legendary rocks where once a terrible beast lived, over all the heavens clothed with a garment of silver stars.
Silently the knight paused, his glance resting admiringly on the beautiful picture. Now as in months before an inexplicable feeling of sweet sadness came over the dreamer.
"Hildegunde!" murmured Roland, glancing up at the starry heavens. Again as formerly a boat-man rowed across the stream, and Roland soon was striding through the forest towards the Drachenburg, accompanied by his faithful squire.
The old watchman at the castle stared at the late guest, and crossing himself, he rushed up to the chambers of his master. A man's figure, bent with age and sorrow, tottered forward. "Roland!" he gasped forth. The knight supported the broken-down old man in his arms. When Roland had departed long ago, his grief had found no tears; now they flowed abundantly down his cheeks.
The knight tore himself from the other's arms.
"Where is she?" he asked in a hoarse voice, "dead?"
Count Heribert looked at him with unspeakable sorrow. "Hildegunde, bride of Roland whom they supposed dead, is now a bride of Heaven."
The hero groaned aloud, covering his face with his hands.
In spring he left the Drachenburg and went to the castle on the rocky corner, and there he laid down his arms for ever; his thirst for action was quenched. Day by day he sat over there, looking silently down on the green island in the Rhine, where the nun, Hildegunde, wandered about among the flowers in the convent garden every morning. Sometimes indeed it seemed that she bowed kindly to him, then the knight's face would be lighted up with a gleam of his old happiness.
But even this joy was taken from him, One day his beloved did not appear; and soon the death-bell tolled sorrowfully over the island. He saw a coffin which they were carrying to its last resting-place, and he heard the nuns chanting the service for the dead, he saw them all, only one was wanting . . . then he covered his face. He knew whom they were carrying to the grave.
Autumn came, withering the fresh green on Hildegunde's tomb. But Roland still kept his watch, gazing motionlessly at the little churchyard, and one day his squire found him there, cold and dead, his half-closed eyes turned towards the place where his loved one was sleeping.
For many a century the proud castle which they called Rolandseck, crowned the mountain. Then it fell into ruins, like the mighty Drachenburg, the tower of which is still standing. Fifty years ago the last arches of Roland's castle were blown down one stormy night, but later on they were built up again in memory of this tale of true and faithful love in the olden times.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine