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Italian Literature: Geste Francor

The Franco-Italian 'Childhood of Roland' (Ms. Marc. XIII)

Rubric 318: Here we speak of Charles.

Sir barons, of this be certain: that the one who was the best king of France and Normans, he was the Emperor Charlemagne; and he was the one who endured the most pain and torment, from the time he was a small child, (10900) and was chased from his realm and raised with Turks and Persians. And when he believed to have joy in everything, then Oliver and Roland died because Ganelon betrayed them. (10905)

Great was the celebration that the Normans made; and the Emperor rode in good spirits, [1] with his knights, big and small. They pass by the Bachanel, which is the main road; they don't stop till just before Sutri. (10910) And there [Charles] was lodged for fifteen more days, for his knights who had endured great trials from all the coming and going and were not entirely well. There they rested, and didn't go further forward. And the great emperor, Charlemagne, had a bann announced through all of Sutri (10915) that no city- or castle-dweller should be left who didn't come see the court of Charlemagne, that each will have enough bread, wine and provisions. Everyone came there who was interested. (10920) Rolandin, [2] who was with other children, heard about [the bann]; when he heard it, he didn't think anything of it; he moves with more than thirty in his company. To the court he goes, all happy and rejoicing. But Rolandin always goes in front, (10925) as if he were their captain. They do not stop until [they arrive at] the great palace.

Rubric 319: How Roland went up to the palace.

Rolandin was at the palace with the other youths; no one dared go before Rolandin. Rolandin looks in front and behind; (10930) he sees knights all around who are sitting at tables eating. Rolandin looks and sees the Emperor, who had a plate bigger than the others. When Rolandin sees this, he begins to covet it; (10935) he doesn't want to wait too long, and begins to walk toward the King. When those servants went to meet him and wanted to make him turn back. Then Roland made himself so strong and firm, (10940) that he made one fall to the ground. The King saw this, and began to joke about it; and Charlemagne said to Naimes of Baiver, "Who ever saw such a courtly youth?" And then he said to the usher servants, (10945) "Let him come, don't make him stop." And these did as he wished, when the King asked. And Roland was a real character; he didn't go at all to any other plates, just to Charles the Emperor's, (10950) which he saw all full of meat. When [Roland] was near enough so that he could approach [the plate], Roland began to eat the meat as never did any hound or dog; Naimes of Baiver watches him carefully. (10955) Why should I prolong the story? You couldn't have gone a few yards, when Roland had cleared that plate. When the King saw him eat so, he had a chair [3] brought, (10960) and had the boy sit there. And when that plate was completely emptied, the King had another brought. And the barons begin to watch him, and start to marvel at him. (10965) But Roland didn't worry about that; nor did he look forwards or backwards, but constantly looked at the plate.

When [Rolandin] was well-stuffed, so that he couldn't eat any more, he began to hide the meat which seemed leftover, (10970) and put it down his shirt to hold, together with all of the bread that he could take. Charles saw this, and began to watch him, and then started to ask him the reason: "Tell me, youth, look, don't hide it from me, (10975) haven't you had enough to eat and drink? What do you want to do with what I see you steal, the meat and bread which I see you hide?" Said Rolandin, "Don't be surprised; for I take them to bring to my mother, (10980) and with her to one who is my father." The King heard this, asked for his chamberlain. He had a white tablecloth brought; he had it completely filled with meat and bread, and then he had it wrapped up at the neck.[4] (10985) And he said, "Good boy, this you must take to your father and to your mother; and I tell you, and I want to order you, that you come here tomorrow to eat." Said Rolandin, "Willingly and with pleasure." (10990) Thus when Rolandin wanted to leave, the Emperor had two youths called: "Lords," said he, "now go after him, and find out who his father and his mother are." And these said, "Willingly and with pleasure." (10995)

Rubric 320: How Rolandin went home.

Rolandin went away, he was never so happy. When he was down from the palace, he went forward; a running rabbit couldn't have caught him, [for] he knows all the streets, the big and small. He hasn't gone on two furlongs, (11000) when [it seemed] to those who followed him that he disappeared in front of them; they can't see any trace or semblance of him. They returned to Charlemagne, and they told him how the youth disappeared in front of them. Said the King, "Evil bums! (11005) I almost want to hang you. But tomorrow, if the child doesn't come to the court, neither great nor small will eat."

And Rolandin goes on, happy and rejoicing; he runs along the pathways singing; (11010) never in his life was he so happy. When he saw his mother, who was in front of him, he gave her the bread and supplies. When she saw it, she was very mournful, and said, "Good son, who gave you these supplies?" (11015) "Mother," he replied, "A kind and courtly lord, and he gave me all I wanted to eat." At this the lady starts to ponder: "This is my brother, from whom this present comes." And Rolandin said to her, laughing, (11020) "Eat, Mother, be happy and rejoice! Tomorrow we'll have as much again. That lord told me, who gave me the provisions." Meanwhile, here is Milon walking in; when he saw those things, he was very happy, (11025) because he was not accustomed to eating such provisions. "Good son," said Berta, "you will obey my command. Don't go there anymore for anything in this world." Said Rolandin, "I will obey your command." He said it with his mouth, but he didn't mean it. (11030)

And Berta said plainly to Milon: "Milon," she said, "things are going badly for us. This is my brother from whom Rolandin comes to us; I recognize it from the appearance of the tablecloth.[5] It is not without reason when he gives us provisions; (11035) if he can recognize us, all the gold that ever was won't save us both from death, you hanged from the gibbet, and I burned in the flaming fire." Milon, when he heard her, fell into a bad mood; (11040) both weep, crying tenderly. All that day Milon stayed, relaxing, [since he] had as much food as he needed. He didn't worry at all about Rolandin.

But the lady felt otherwise; (11045) she knew the anger and rage of her brother. The next day she kept the child home; she wouldn't let him go in or out, and the hour was completely passed that the court usually sat down to eat. (11050) Rolandin went sneaking out, so that he disappeared from in front of his mother. Those at the court all stayed, listening; there was no one, big or small, who dared eat if the child didn't come. (11055) When they saw him coming, all became joyous; they washed and went to sit. And, know truly, it was nearly after nones, before that child came. His mother could seek him in and out, (11060) but he is at court to eat as before.

Rubric 321: How Rolandin came to the court.

When Rolandin had come to the court, the great and small rejoiced, because of the bann which had been made. Rolandin was constantly before Charlemagne; (11065) there he ate with force and strength. Naimes called lord Charles the strong, "Emperor, sire, haven't you noticed, this is a miracle of King Jesus: because this child is not born of a peasant. (11070) To the look, he seems of proud strength, and I believe that he is the child of some poor knight, of a knight who has fallen into poverty." Again the King asked those two [youths] that at [Rolandin's] departure, he be followed, (11075) so that the truth be known about his father and mother. And these said, "Say no more. We will go behind him, he won't flee at all."

Rubric 322: How Rolandin was before Charles.

Rolandin was before Charles, where he ate like a mastiff. (11080) The boy didn't look in front or in back of him, only at the meat and the bread and the wine. Those who were near him rejoiced greatly; Naimes says to Charles, the son of Pippin, "This is not the child of a barbarian: (11085) he is surely the son of a man of high lineage, of some knight, count or paladin. See how he is handsome? Hunger makes him haggard.[6] I can tell by the glances he makes. If he lives, before he reaches his death, (11090) he will make pagan and Saracen countries mourn. What I say, I don't say as a trick; my heart tells me from the looks of the boy. Don't you see how he keeps his eyes hooded? But when he raises his head and you are near him, (11095) he seems a lion or a marine dragon, or a peregrine falcon."

Rubric 323: How Naimes speaks to Charles.

"Good King," said Naimes, "listen to my thoughts; this boy, who is a small child, does not seem to me to be the son of a peasant. (11100) He has the glance of a lion; do it right and you'll have a reward, when you know his birth. If his father is poor and gives him to us, we'll take him with us to Lyon. (11105) In your court he'll only receive good;[7] if he will have enough to eat, he'll be a champion." And the King said, "And we will indeed be good to him."

And Rolandin ate with King Charles. When he had eaten, he didn't say yes or no. (11110) The tablecloth was prepared, and they filled it with bread and meat and big capons, and this good Duke Naimes had done. He gives [Rolandin] the cloth; away goes the boy, behind him the two companions. (11115) But this isn't worth a buttonhole, that they know where he goes or doesn't. The King had such anger, he almost exploded;[8] "Now I've truly sworn to God, who suffered the Passion, the court won't eat if the boy doesn't come!" (11120) "Good King," said Naimes, "we'll do otherwise. Leave the planning about that child to me; I and Teris will follow after him, on a horse or a good nag. He will not be able avoid our following him all the way to his house for anything in the world." (11125) Said the King, "God's benediction."

And Rolandin goes on, singing a song; "Don't cry, Mother, I [have for] you two good capons and white bread, not like what we usually have (11130) which is black like charcoal." The lady weeps, but Milon, who willingly eats those provisions, not at all.

Rubric 324: How Berta speaks to Rolandin.

Berta saw Rolandin, and began to cry; she took him into her arms, and began to kiss him. (11135) "Good son," she said, "I want to beg you that you should no longer go to that court." "Mother," he says, "why will it annoy you? Don't I bring you enough to eat? (11140) I don't look forward to the time when they will have to leave; if it weren't for you, I would follow them. He gives me food willingly and with good spirit; when one plate is empty, he has another one brought, and of such things as I could never eat. I pray God, to whom you make me pray, (11145) that they never have to leave here." "Good son," she said, "you must swear to me that you will not go to that court any more." Said Rolandin, though he was a youth, "Mother," he said, "it is hard to promise; (11150) it is a thing which is neither worthwhile to me nor convenient. You make me spend my time in these woods; and in that palace are many knights. And you make me suffer hunger. Since it pleases you, I won't go there any more; (11155) but I won't swear it to you for anything." Then Berta let him alone, but she stayed near him all the time, so that he could neither flee nor sneak away, nor go to the court for anything. (11160) [She stayed so close], that as nones seemed to near, Rolandin saw the time pass when he usually went to the court. But his mother didn't know how to guard him carefully enough that he didn't flee away by a path. (11165) When he come near the court, everyone cries, "Here's the youth!" Then the barons sat to eat; and Rolandin didn't forget it. He ate exactly as he had since the start. (11170) When he had eaten, and he wanted to leave, the King had a tablecloth brought and filled entirely with bread and meat. Before he left the palace, Naimes and Teris mounted their horses without delay; (11175) when the child goes forward, they follow.

Rubric 325: How Naimes follows Rolandin.

Away goes Rolandin, wandering on his route; Naimes and Teris follow directly behind him. When they come near the boy's house, his mother comes out, crying tenderly. (11180) Now listen to Naimes and Teris together; they see the lady in front of the house. When Berta saw them, she was horribly pained; she was trembling all over because of the fear she had. And she said, "Sirs, what are you looking for? (11185) I'm not the one you're seeking." And Naimes looked at her, he was surprised at her reactions. He recognized her from her face and appearance. He kneeled before her immediately; "Lady," said he, "don't fear at all; (11190) you will not have any annoyance." Rolandin, when he saw them, took up a pole; he would have wounded Naimes with it, right in the head, but his mother won't allow it at all. Now here is Milon, [returning] from the woods (11195) with a huge bundle of wood, very heavy. When he saw those people, he was very afraid; he tossed it to the ground, with great irritation, and the earth trembled in front of him and behind. When he had done that, he began to flee, (11200) but Duke Naimes will not allow it. [Naimes] calls to him "Don't go any further!" He makes [Milon] return against his own better judgement.

Rubric 326: How Naimes speaks.

Naimes, who was wise and talented, spoke: "Sir," he said, "don't be frightened at all; (11205) you will not be punished in any way. And you, Teris, will go tomorrow immediately into the city, and have clothing made as it should be for a queen and privy count; (11210) and for this boy, a quartered outfit." Said Teris, "Certainly it will be done." He goes into the city; he had all the tailors whom he found there sew that clothing, (11215) and he paid them as they required. When this was done, he returned.

When it was delivered to Naimes, Milon and Berta were changed and dressed. And Rolandin was not forgotten; (11220) his clothing was made and put together. To a quarter he was entitled, and that insignia [9] he wore throughout his life. When Rolandin saw himself so dressed, he was greatly delighted. (11225) All together they gathered; they all went toward the city. Before they entered the palace, Duke Naimes preceded them; he presented himself before Charles. (11230)

The King saw him, and asked: "And as for the child, what have you done?" And [Naimes] replied, "You will know all about it; you have granted me a gift, according to my wishes and desires."[10] (11235) The King replied, "That is true." And Naimes said, "Now you will see him; this is the gift which I ask you: Milon and Berta, whom you have exiled." Then they were presented before him. (11240) The King saw them, and was all upset; in his hand he holds a sharpened knife; this he would have thrown at their heads, when Rolandin came forward. He takes Charles by the hand (11245) and gives him a great handshake so that blood came out through his nails. The King saw who had [done] this to him; in all the world, east and west, he couldn't have been happier or more joyous. (11250) To himself he said and muttered, "This fellow will be the falcon of Christianity." Then he said to Naimes, "The gift will be given to you. For the love of this child, anger and desire and bad will is forgiven them." (11255) Then Milon kneeled, and with him Berta on the other side. And Rolandin looked around the room, and saw the tables set.

Rubric 327: How Naimes speaks to Charles.

Before Charles stood Duke Milon, (11260) and Lady Berta of the clear face. They ask mercy and pardon of the King; the King hears them, furrows his brows; he replies neither good nor bad. But God, for their redemption, (11265) gave Rolandin, who was a young child, great discretion in his heart:[11] "You, gentle sir, who gave me the capons, if you do anything bad to my mother or my father, I'll give you such a punch in the chin (11270) that you'll wish you'd never seen me born into the world." When Naimes heard those words, he said, laughing, to Charles, "Watch yourself well around this young man, that you do only good for his mother." (11275) The King took him in his lap; [12] he kissed his face, mouth and forehead; and he said thus to him: "Good son, I won't hide this from you; I will take you for my own son as I do Charlon."[13] This was all pleasing to Duke Milon, and also to Duke Naimes. (11280) "My lord," said Naimes, "why should we [avoid discussing this]? Since you have given your pardon, now do something that all good men will know about: have Berta take the child, (11285) and hold him in her arms, so that Milon marries her in front of you in the sight of knights and footsoldiers." And Charles said, "This is excellent advice; thus the child never hears anything but good." (11290) And Naimes said, "You will only do good. You will have a loyal reward."

Listen, my lords, briefly to a tale that valiant Milon said to [the King], "Thanks to your mercy, you have given me pardon; (11295) but I will tell you my thoughts. There is no man, youth nor aged, who can tell in verses or song the great pain which I have endured in the world to raise this little boy. (11300) From a knight, I became a peasant, and I went to the woods and endured suffering."

Rubric 328: How Milon speaks to the King.

"Listen to me, gentle Emperor: since I had to leave France, I have been surviving in the woods (11305) cutting wood and bearing bundles, in order to nourish this child and my gentle wife. And with all of that I do not want to bother you, [but] with great difficulty I got food. [Through] your mercy, as I hope, (11310)you will have taken that worry from me. Now I must think of another profession, combatting and jousting with pagans." Then Berta goes to pick up her son, to raise Rolandin in her arms. (11315) To the honor of God, the true justice, with the two rings which the Emperor gave them, Milon goes to marry the lady, in the sight of the court and all the lords. There was a great court from East and West, (11320) and the Emperor, who had himself greatly praised, didn't want to forget his part; according to the advice of Naimes of Baiver, he made Milon, and the others who wanted to carry arms, knights. (11325) All then could see Rolandin go through the room, forwards and backwards, dressed in a quartered outfit. Everyone sees him, and begins to praise him: "This will be the best knight, (11330) that is ever found in Christianity. The Saracens and Slavs have seen him born to their misfortune. This is the one who will be the advocate [of Christianity], he will be the warrior of all France, against pagans, Turks, and Slavs." Leslie Zarker Morgan (April 8, 1996)

Copyright (C) 1996, Leslie Zarker Morgan. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents,including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

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