Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 78

“‘Ah! what a wondrous king is Charles!
How far and wide his conquests range!
The salt sea is no bar to him:
From Poland to far England’s shores
He stretches his unquestioned sway;
But why seeks he to win bright Spain?’
‘Such is his will,’ quoth Ganelon;
‘None can withstand his mighty power!’
“‘How valiant are the Frankish lords
But how their counsel wrongs their king
To urge him to this long-drawn strife—
They ruin both themselves and him!’
‘I blame not them,’ quoth Ganelon,
‘But Roland, swollen with fatal pride.
Near Carcassonne he brought the King
An apple, crimson streaked with gold:
“Fair sire,” quoth he, “here at your feet
I lay the crowns of all the kings.”
If he were dead we should have peace!’

“Ganelon rode away”

To Betray Roland

The bitterness in Ganelon’s tone at once struck: Blancandrin, who cast a glance at him and saw the Frankish envoy trembling with rage. He suddenly addressed Ganelon in whispered tones: “Hast thou aught against the nephew of Charles? Wouldst thou have revenge on Roland? Deliver him to us, and King Marsile will share with thee all his treasures.” Ganelon was at first horrified, and refused to hear more, but so well did Blancandrin argue and so skilfully did he lay his snare that before they reached Saragossa and came to the presence of King Marsile it was agreed that Roland should be destroyed by their means.

Ganelon with the Saracens

Blancandrin and his fellow ambassadors conducted Ganelon into the presence of the Saracen king, and announced Charlemagne’s peaceable reception of their message and the coming of his envoy. “Let him speak: we listen,” said Marsile.

Ganelon then began artfully: “Peace be to you in the name of the Lord of Glory whom we adore! This is the message of King Charles: You shall receive the Holy Christian Faith, and Charles will graciously grant you one-half of Spain as a fief; the other half he intends for his nephew Roland (and a haughty partner you will [Pg 132] find him!). If you refuse he will take Saragossa, lead you captive to Aix, and give you there to a shameful death.”

Marsile’s Anger

Marsile’s anger was so great at this insulting message that he sprang to his feet, and would have slain Ganelon with his gold-adorned javelin; but he, seeing this, half drew his sword, saying:

“‘Sword, how fair and bright thou art!
Come thou forth and view the light.
Long as I can wield thee here
Charles my Emperor shall not say
That I die alone, unwept.
Ere I fall Spain’s noblest blood
Shall be shed to pay my death.’”

The Saracen Council

However, strife was averted, and Ganelon received praise from all for his bold bearing and valiant defiance of his king’s enemy. When quiet was restored he repeated his message and delivered the emperor’s letter, which was found to contain a demand that the caliph, Marsile’s uncle, should be sent, a prisoner, to Charles, in atonement for the two ambassadors foully slain before. The indignation of the Saracen nobles was intense, and Ganelon was in imminent danger, but, setting his back against a pine-tree, he prepared to defend himself to the last. Again the quarrel was stayed, and Marsile, taking his most trusted leaders, withdrew to a secret council, whither, soon, Blancandrin led Ganelon. Here Marsile excused his former rage, and, in reparation, offered Ganelon a superb robe of marten’s fur, which was accepted; and then began the tempting of the traitor. First demanding a pledge of secrecy, Marsile [Pg 133] pitied Charlemagne, so aged and so weary with rule. Ganelon praised his emperor’s prowess and vast power. Marsile repeated his words of pity, and Ganelon replied that as long as Roland and the Twelve Peers lived Charlemagne needed no man’s pity and feared no man’s power; his Franks, also, were the best living warriors. Marsile declared proudly that he could bring four hundred thousand men against Charlemagne’s twenty thousand French; but Ganelon dissuaded him from any such expedition.

Ganelon Plans Treachery

“‘Not thus will you overcome him;
Leave this folly, turn to wisdom.
Give the Emperor so much treasure
That the Franks will be astounded.
Send him, too, the promised pledges,
Sons of all your noblest vassals.
To fair France will Charles march homeward,
Leaving (as I will contrive it)
Haughty Roland in the rearguard.
Oliver, the bold and courteous,
Will be with him: slay those heroes,
And King Charles will fall for ever!’
‘Fair Sir Ganelon,’ quoth Marsile,
‘How must I entrap Count Roland?’
‘When King Charles is in the mountains
He will leave behind his rearguard
Under Oliver and Roland.
Send against them half your army:
Roland and the Peers will conquer,
But be wearied with the struggle—
Then bring on your untired warriors.
France will lose this second battle,
And when Roland dies, the Emperor
Has no right hand for his conflicts—
Farewell all the Frankish greatness!
Ne’er again can Charles assemble
Such a mighty host for conquest,
And you will have peace henceforward!’”

[Pg 134]

Welcomed by Marsile

Marsile was overjoyed at the treacherous advice and embraced and richly rewarded the felon knight. The death of Roland and the Peers was solemnly sworn between them, by Marsile on the book of the Law of Mahomet, by Ganelon on the sacred relics in the pommel of his sword. Then, repeating the compact between them, and warning Ganelon against treason to his friends, Marsile dismissed the treacherous envoy who hastened to return and put his scheme into execution.

Ganelon Returns to Charles

In the meantime Charles had retired as far as Valtierra, on his way to France, and there Ganelon found him, and delivered the tribute, the keys of Saragossa, and a false message excusing the absence of the caliph. He had, so Marsile said, put to sea with three hundred thousand warriors who would not renounce their faith, and all had been drowned in a tempest, not four leagues from land. Marsile would obey King Charles’s commands in all other respects. “Thank God!” cried Charlemagne. “Ganelon, you have done well, and shall be well rewarded!”

The French Camp. Charles Dreams

Now the whole Frankish army marched towards the Pyrenees, and, as evening fell, found themselves among the mountains, where Roland planted his banner on the topmost summit, clear against the sky, and the army encamped for the night; but the whole Saracen host had also marched and encamped in a wood not far from the Franks. Meanwhile, as Charlemagne slept he had dreams of evil omen. Ganelon, in his dreams, seized [Pg 135] the imperial spear of tough ash-wood, and broke it, so that the splinters flew far and wide. In another dream he saw himself at Aix attacked by a leopard and a bear, which tore off his right arm; a greyhound came to his aid but he knew not the end of the fray, and slept unhappily.

A Morning Council

When morning light shone, and the army was ready to march, the clarions of the host sounded gaily, and Charlemagne called his barons around him.

“‘My lords and Peers, ye see these strait defiles:
Choose ye to whom the rearguard shall be given.’
‘My stepson Roland,’ straight quoth Ganelon.
‘’Mid all the Peers there is no braver knight:
In him will lie the safety of your host.’
Charles heard in wrath, and spoke in angry tones:
‘What fiendish rage has prompted this advice?
Who then will go before me in the van?’
The traitor tarried not, but answered swift:
‘Ogier the Dane will do that duty best.’”

When Roland heard that he was to command the rearguard he knew not whether to be pleased or not. At first he thanked Ganelon for naming him. “Thanks, fair stepfather, for sending me to the post of danger. King Charles shall lose no man nor horse through my neglect.” But when Ganelon replied sneeringly, “You speak the truth, as I know right well,” Roland’s gratitude turned to bitter anger, and he reproached the villain. “Ah, wretch! disloyal traitor! thou thinkest perchance that I, like thee, shall basely drop the glove, but thou shalt see! Sir King, give me your bow. I will not let my badge of office fall, as thou didst, Ganelon, at Cordova. No evil omen shall assail the host through me.”

[Pg 136]