23 May 2012

Massacres: Roncevaux 778, Part II - A Medieval Massacre That Became Crusades Propaganda

By Kim Rendfeld

The Cross and the Dragon provides another interpretation, this one inspired by a German legend in which Hruodland survives the attack but his wife is told he died. In my story, Hruodland is left comatose by the ambush. Believing death is imminent, the scouting party leaves him at an abbey hospital to await Christian burial and tells everyone that he perished. They want to spare his family some grief and prevent his wife, Alda, from making a dangerous journey to see him. Instead, that well-intentioned lie sends her into peril as Hruodland fights his way back to health.

As a novelist, I could not resist having my Hruodland comment on “The Song of Roland.” Here, he is letting the world think he’s dead while he travels back home under an assumed name with two nuns who cared for him at the hospital, Sisters Elisabeth and Illuna, and are staying with Elisabeth’s brother, the archbishop of Bordeaux:

A few notes on the harp stirred Hruodland from his thoughts.

“This song is about a hero in our time, a man you spoke of a little while ago,” the singer began. “I speak of Hruodland, prefect of the March of Brittany and nephew of the king. His story is the ultimate tale of loyalty, courage, and sacrifice.”

Hruodland stared into the flames. He was not sure if he wanted to hear this about himself. He took a gulp of wine from a cup and passed it to Illuna, who patted his hand.

The man sang about the Saracens massing on the field, breaking their promise of peace with the Franks. Hruodland and other nobles in the rear guard stayed behind. Then the singer described how Hruodland sliced ribs off his enemies’ bodies and burst their eyeballs. Although defeat was imminent, Hruodland was proud and refused to blow on his horn, until almost everyone around him was dead and needed a Christian burial.

Hruodland walked away from the fire for a moment. He still had no memory of Roncevaux, except that he and the other soldiers were marching through densely wooded, narrow mountain passes, but a gut feeling told him the battle did not happen like this. For one thing, if he were facing thousands of Saracens—or any other foe—on the battlefield as the song described, sounding the horn would be the first thing he would have done to summon help and perhaps scare the enemy.

From what the nuns told him about the ambush by the Gascons, there had been no glory, not the way the singer was portraying it. Hruodland mourned for Alfihar and the others all over again. Anger burned in his belly. His friends and kinsmen had been slaughtered, and here was this fool who had obviously never seen battle making it into a song.

When Hruodland turned toward the fire, Elisabeth was staring at him, and Illuna was wringing her hands.

“Were you there?” Hruodland asked the singer. He made no effort to disguise his ire.

“I would be dead if I was. I first heard about what happened at Roncevaux when the king was here, and the song just came to me.”

“I doubt the prefect of the March of Brittany would be that stupid,” Hruodland growled.

“He was a gifted warrior,” the singer said, “but he was proud.”

“Not to the point of idiocy!”

Elisabeth coughed to disguise a laugh, and he knew what she was thinking. He had left the safety of the abbey with only a knife, a dog, and the clothes on his back. He had neither horse nor food nor even a wineskin.

“Not to the point of needlessly endangering others,” Hruodland added, looking directly at Elisabeth.

“Did you know Hruodland?” the singer asked.

Elisabeth and Illuna nervously glanced at each other.

“My father is from the March of Brittany,” Hruodland answered. “Hruodland was a good warrior and proud of his scars, but he was not so proud that he would allow the slaughter of his fellows without calling for aid. And the people who attacked the rear guard were the Gascons, not the Saracens.”

“I don’t care who it was. The Saracens are infidels and followers of Muhammad, and our king was there because they threatened the Church.”

“We were there…” Hruodland stopped himself, partly because he did not want to reveal himself, partly he could not make sense of the war against the ruler of Cordova.

Kim Rendfeld is the author of The Cross and the Dragon, to be published by Fireship Press. For more about Kim and her fiction, visit www.kimrendfeld.com, read her blog at www.kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.