Roland strikes so aggressively with his lance that it soon shatters. He then takes up his sword, Durendal, and stabs one of the remaining Peers through the brain and body, even killing his horse. Soon both Roland and his horse are bloody from the fray. Oliver kills freely as well, so busy striking with his broken spear that he doesn’t have time to draw with his sword, Hauteclaire. He finally does, though, and Roland praises Oliver with the encouragement that Charlemayn loves such strokes. The Franks continue to shout, “Mountjoy!”
Roland and Oliver are exemplary knights—they strike until their weapons are broken and their bodies are bloodied, taking joy in the conquest—all for the honor of their lord, Charlemayn. Their greatest motivation, even more than killing the enemy, is pleasing the emperor.
Amid the fray, Archbishop Turpin kills Siglorel, a “sorcerer, / who’d once been down to Hell,” with Jupiter for his guide.
The Roman god Jupiter, like the Greek Apollo (Apollyon) earlier, is here portrayed as a kind of demon, not a deity—further highlighting the poet’s confusion of religious categories and rejection of any non-Christian belief system.
Though the Franks wreak destruction on the pagans, a grievous number of the French lie dead, also. The poet remarks that Ganelon served Charlemayn poorly by betraying him, but that, later, he justly lost his own life, along with many of his kin, at Aix. For the moment, Charlemayn “scans the pass with anxious eyes.”
Though the Franks are bringing honor to France with their work on the battlefield, the poet also wants to stress the fact that Ganelon’s treacherous actions have come at a great cost. To that end, he also doesn’t hesitate to preview Ganelon’s coming downfall.
Meanwhile, all of France is buffeted by thunderstorms, wind, hail, and even earthquakes. At noon, total darkness falls. Many people fear it’s the end of the world, not knowing that, in fact, these signs are caused by Roland’s impending death.
The poet also gives away the fact that Roland is soon to fall. The use of apocalyptic imagery helps underscore the poem’s portrayal of Roland as an ideally chivalrous knight whose death will be disastrous for France.
As the weeping French search the field for their dead, Marsile rides through the gorge, preparing to strike with his men. The whole country fills with the mighty sound of their trumpets. Roland tells Oliver that Ganelon’s treason is plain, and it will be repaid by Charlemayn, but for now, they must bravely wield Durendal and Hauteclaire. A notoriously vicious Saracen rides forward, prompting Archbishop Turpin to muse that the man “looks right heretic to me.” When Turpin strikes him down, the Franks cry, “Right strong to save is our Archbishop’s crook!”
Turpin’s remark about the Saracen’s appearance indicates that one’s character and one’s religion are understood to be intimately connected—to the extent that “heresy” is visible. Turpin’s “crook” (the shepherd’s crook, a traditional symbol of a bishop) is actually his sword—a clever conflation that points, once again, to Turpin’s role as both bishop and warrior.
Some of the French urge Roland, Oliver, and the Peers to flee for their lives, but Archbishop Turpin tells them to be strong, and that it would be better to die than retreat. He promises the men that, even if they die, the gates of heaven stand open for them. When Engelier, one of the bravest knights, is struck down, Oliver kills his slayer in revenge and then goes on an angry spree, as Roland watches in approval.
Again, the warriors’ defense of France is cast in terms of martyrdom: faithfulness unto death in battle, especially against pagans, is a sure path to heaven.
A pagan named Valdabron, Marsilion’s godfather, had captured Jerusalem, sacked Solomon’s Temple, and murdered a patriarch. He strikes down France’s Duke Samson, grieving the Franks and spurring Roland to kill both Valdabron and his horse with Durendal. The French suffer further setbacks with the deaths of Gerin and Berenger, but Roland swiftly destroys their killer, Prince Grandoyne of Cappadocia. The frightened Saracens begin to break, and the French pursue them with fury; the ground is red with blood.
As if in contrast with the piety of the Frankish knights, the poet lists Valdabron’s anti-Christian “credentials”—all egregiously sacrilegious. The faithful knights appear to be turning the tide against the pagan ambush—but not for long, given Roland’s imminent death.