The trumpets sounded and the army went to France. The next day King Charles called his lords together:
”Do you see,” he said, these narrow passes? Who shall I put here to guard them?”
Sir Ganelon said:
”I think we should choose my son-in-law, Count Roland. You don't have a better man in the army.”
When Count Roland heard the news, he said:
”Thank you, father-in-law, for the trust. When I command the guard, the King will never lose a man, or a horse.” Then he turned to the King and said:
”Give me twenty thousand brave men only, and I will keep the passes safe. As long as I live, you don't have to fear.”
The king gave him the men.
Then Roland together with his friends Oliver, Otho, Berenger, old Gerard of Roussillon, Turpin the Archbishop and other famous warriors went to guard the passes to Gascony, a part of France. The king with the army went on their way home. The soldiers were happy to go home, but he was sad. He wasn't happy to leave his nephew Count Roland behind.
The Saracen King Marsilas began to gather his army. Three days later this huge army started to move from Saragossa in Spain to the north - to France. They moved very quickly and after a while they were at the place where Roland guarded the way to France. The Saracens were very strong and they had very good weapons.
The day was very bright and sunny. The Saracens moved towards Roland's army. Oliver climbed to the top of a hill, where he saw the huge Saracen army. There were so many of them, that he couldn't count them. Then he went back to Roland and said:
”There are a hundred thousand men at least. And there are only 20,000 of us. Blow your horn, my friend, King Charles will hear it, and will return.”
”No, I will not dishonour my country. We are strong. If we stand still we will win. I swear they will die here.”
”I don't think we would dishonour our country,” said Oliver. ”I saw the valleys and the mountains full of Saracens. There are a lot of them and there are a few of us.”
”That is good,” answered Roland. ”It makes my courage grow. It is better to die than call for help.”
Oliver was wise, but Roland was stubborn. Then Turpin the Archbishop spoke to the army:
”King Charles has left us here. Our Christian faith is in danger. Pray to God and He will have mercy on you. It is our duty to die for our God, for our king, and for our country!”
All the brave warriors sat on their horses, ready for the battle. Then with a loud cry they quickly rode to battle. They met the Saracens unprepared. A lot of Saracens died that day. Count Roland killed many Saracens with his sword. He was all red with the blood of his enemies.
The battle was hard. The warriors of France were liver killed a Saracen knight Justin of the Iron Valley – with one blow of his sword he split the knight in two halves. But the Frenchmen started to be tired. Saracens killed many men of France. And now Saracen King Almaris, with many men, attacked from behind and broke the lines of the men of France.
Now count Roland saw this terrible attack and told Oliver:
”Many brave men lie dead on the ground. And there are still a lot of Saracens. I will blow my horn, King Charles will hear it, and he will come back to help us.”
”It is too late, Roland,” answered Oliver. ”It is your fault that a lot of brave men are dead now. And we will die, too.”
The Archbishop saw the friends. He said:
”Don't quarrel. It will not help us. I know that the king is far away but Roland, you can try to blow your horn. Perhaps the king will hear it and will come. If we are dead, he will avenge us. And he will also bury our bodies.”
”You are right,” said Roland, and he blew his horn so strongly, that people could hear it 30 km away. King Charles and his men heard it, and the king said:
”Our countrymen need help.”
But Ganelon answered, ”My lord, I think you are wrong.”
Then Roland blew his horn again, so strong that his chest hurt. People could hear the sound 40 km away. And again the king heard it. His men could hear it, too.
”That,” he said, ”is Roland's horn. I am sure he needs our help.
But Ganelon answered again:
”Believe me, sir, there is no battle. You are an old man, you cannot hear well. And you know Roland. Do you think that somebody could attack such a brave and strong warrior? Nobody! Let's ride on. France is far away.”
Now Roland blew his horn for the third time. This time it was so strong, that people could hear it 50 km away. The king heard it very clearly.
”Roland is in trouble,” said he. ”He is fighting the enemy. Let's go back to help him!”
Then the army marched quickly to help Roland. They had strong weapons and flags of red, white and blue. But they didn't march quickly enough. They were too far from Roland. There were a lot of dead French warriors. Roland stopped blowing his horn and started to fight again. But the Saracens saw there were a few Frenchmen. One of Saracen lords went to Oliver and injured him seriously. But Oliver managed to kill the lord in a terrible fight. Then he fell to the ground, bleeding. He was very tired. He couldn't see clearly. When Roland came to his friend, Oliver thought it was the enemy and hit Roland on his head and crushed his helmet.
”Why, my friend? Don't you recognize me?” Roland asked in surprise.
”Ah!” said Oliver. ”I hear you speak, but I cannot see you. I am sorry, Roland, I am dying.” Then death came to him. Oliver couldn't see anything. The sound of the battle slowly faded away, he was dead. Roland cried when he saw his friend dead. He sat on his horse and looked around and saw two of his friends – Turpin the Archbishop and Walter of Hum. Walter lost all his men. He cried for help. When Roland heard it, he went to him quickly. Walter was injured. Roland took his cloak and tore in into strips. Then he treated Walter's injuries. Then the three friends, Roland, Walter and Turpin, stood bravely together against the enemy. There were no other Frenchmen alive, but still hundreds of Saracens. Roland killed twenty-five Saracens, Walter killed six, and Turpin five. Then the Saracens killed Walter and Turpin's horse. But he stood up and continued fighting. Roland took his horn again and blew it. The sound was very week. But King Charles heard it.
”Oh! I can hear Roland's horn, but it is very week. I am afraid that we will lose my brave nephew Roland. Run as fast as you can before it is too late!” The Frenchmen blew their trumpets very strongly and went quickly to the battle.
Now the Saracens could hear the trumpets. They were afraid.
”King Charles is coming again!” they cried. ”Quickly, kill Roland!”
Then the strongest four hundred Saracens attacked Roland. He saw them coming and waited for them without fear.
”Better die then run away,” he said and sat on his horse. Turpin the Archbishop stood next to him.
When the Saracens came near to them and saw them standing without fear, they stopped. They were afraid to attack them. They threw spears and shot hundreds of arrows at them. They broke Roland's shield, but didn't hurt him. However, Roland was sad, because they killed his horse. Then they killed the Archbishop. When the Saracens saw that they couldn't kill Roland with spears and arrows, they went away. Roland was alone.
He was sad that his friend was dead. He took his horn in one hand, and his sword in the other hand and went to a hill nearby to sit under a tree. But one Saracen saw him. This man was a coward. He was afraid to fight, so he lay on the ground and pretended to be dead. Now he slowly got up and came quietly to Roland from behind. When he was behind his back, he hit Roland's back. Roland cried of pain, turned back and killed the cowardly Saracen.
But Roland's wound was fatal. He lay on the ground and died. He died for his king and his country.