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Hero Tales

Page: 62

WHAT HAPPENED AT RONCEVAUX

In all the world there was not such another king as Charlemagne. Wherever his arms were carried, there victory followed; and neither Pagan nor haughty Christian foe dared lift up hands any more against him. His kingdom stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Italian shores, and from beyond the Rhine to the great Western Ocean. Princes were his servants; kings were his vassals; and even the Pope of Rome did him homage. And now he had crossed the Pyrenees, and was carrying fire and sword into the fair fields and rich towns of the Spanish Moors; for he had vowed to punish Marsilius, king of Spain, for the injuries he had done the French in former years. He had overrun the whole of that haughty land, and had left neither castle, nor city, nor wall, unbroken, save only the town of Saragossa.

One day Charlemagne sat beneath the blossoming trees of an orchard near Cordova. White was his beard, and flowered was his head; yet still handsome was his body, and proud his form. Around him were the noblest of knights, Roland and Oliver and old Duke Namon, and fifteen thousand of the choicest men of France. It was a gala-day for the French, and the warriors amused themselves with field sports, and many pleasant games. Then a party of Moorish messengers were brought before the king. They came from Marsilius at Saragossa, who had sent to beg peace of Charlemagne.

"What will Marsilius give for peace?" asked the king.

"If you will go back to your own country, and cease this unhappy war," answered they, "then Marsilius binds himself to do this: he will go to Aix at Michaelmas, and be baptized; he will do homage then for Spain, and will faithfully hold it in fief from you; he will give you great store of treasures,—four hundred mules loaded with gold, and fifty cart-loads of silver, besides numbers of bears and lions and tame greyhounds, and seven hundred camels, and a thousand moulted falcons. Too long has this cruel war been waging. Marsilius would fain have peace."

Charlemagne listened to the words of the messengers, but he was not quick to answer. He called together his peers, and laid the matter before them.

"What think you of the Moor's offers of peace?" asked he.

"Put no trust in Marsilius!" cried Roland. "He is the most faithless of Pagans, and speaks only lies. Carry on the war as you have begun, and talk not of peace until Saragossa is ours."

Charlemagne's face grew dark, yet he said not a word. It was plain that he coveted the treasures which Marsilius had promised. Then Ganelon arose, and with curling lip, thus answered,—

"If Marsilius offers to do fealty for Spain, and to hold it as a gift from you, wherefore should we refuse his plea? He who would advise you otherwise cares not what manner of death we die."

And Namon of Bavaria added, "If the Moor is beaten, and cries for mercy, it would be an unknightly act to continue warring against him. My voice is for peace."


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