A Book of Myths

Page: 132

[Pg 272] of want, and from that day she never knew aught but kindness and tenderness from him, while Roland was dear to him as his own child.

He was a Douzepere now, and when the envoys from Saragossa had delivered their message to Charlemagne, he was one of those who helped to do them honour at a great feast that was held for them in a pavilion raised in the orchard.

Early in the morning Charlemagne heard mass, and then, on his golden throne under the great pine, he sat and took counsel with his Douzeperes. Not one of them trusted Marsile, but Ganelon, who had married the widowed Bertha and who had a jealous hatred for his step-son—so beloved by his mother, so loved and honoured by the King—was ever ready to oppose the counsel of Roland. Thus did he persuade Charlemagne to send a messenger to Marsile, commanding him to deliver up the keys of Saragossa, in all haste to become a Christian, and in person to come and, with all humility, pay homage as vassal to Charlemagne.

Then arose the question as to which of the peers should bear the arrogant message. Roland, ever greedy for the post of danger, impetuously asked that he might be chosen. But Charlemagne would have neither him nor his dear friend and fellow-knight, Oliver—he who was the Jonathan of Roland’s David—nor would he have Naismes de Bavière, nor Turpin, “the chivalrous and undaunted Bishop of Rheims.” He could not afford to risk their lives, and Marsile was known to be treacherous. Then he said to his peers:

[Pg 273] “Choose ye for me whom I shall send. Let it be one who is wise; brave, yet not over-rash, and who will defend mine honour valiantly.”

Then Roland, who never knew an ungenerous thought, quickly said: “Then, indeed, it must be Ganelon who goes, for if he goes, or if he stays, you have none better than he.”

And all the other peers applauded the choice, and Charlemagne said to Ganelon:

“Come hither, Ganelon, and receive my staff and glove, which the voice of all the Franks have given to thee.”

But the honour which all the others coveted was not held to be an honour by Ganelon. In furious rage he turned upon Roland:

“You and your friends have sent me to my death!” he cried. “But if by a miracle I should return, look you to yourself, Roland, for assuredly I shall be revenged!”

And Roland grew red, then very white, and said:

“I had taken thee for another man, Ganelon. Gladly will I take thy place. Wilt give me the honour to bear thy staff and glove to Saragossa, sire?” And eagerly he looked Charlemagne in the face—eager as, when a child, he had craved the cup of wine for his mother’s sake.

But Charlemagne, with darkened brow, shook his head.

“Ganelon must go,” he said, “for so have I commanded. Go! for the honour of Jesus Christ, and for your Emperor.”

[Pg 274] Thus, sullenly and unwillingly, and with burning hatred against Roland in his heart, Ganelon accompanied the Saracens back to Saragossa. A hate so bitter was not easy to hide, and as he rode beside him the wily Blancandrin was not long in laying a probing finger on this festering sore. Soon he saw that Ganelon would pay even the price of his honour to revenge himself upon Roland and on the other Douzeperes whose lives were more precious than his in the eyes of Charlemagne. Yet, when Saragossa was reached, like a brave man and a true did Ganelon deliver the insulting message that his own brain had conceived and that the Emperor, with magnificent arrogance, had bidden him deliver. And this he did, although he knew his life hung but by a thread while Marsile and the Saracen lords listened to his words. But Marsile kept his anger under, thinking with comfort of what Blancandrin had told him of his discovery by the way. And very soon he had shown Ganelon how he might be avenged on Roland and on the friends of Roland, and in a manner which his treachery need never be known, and very rich were the bribes that he offered to the faithless knight.

Thus it came about that Ganelon sold his honour, and bargained with the Saracens to betray Roland and his companions into their hands in their passage of the narrow defiles of Roncesvalles. For more than fifty pieces of silver Marsile purchased the soul of Ganelon, and when this Judas of the Douzeperes returned in safety to Cordova, bringing with him princely gifts for Charlemagne, the keys of Saragossa, and the promise [Pg 275] that in sixteen days Marsile would repair to France to do homage and to embrace the Christian faith, the Emperor was happy indeed. All had fallen out as he desired. Ganelon, who had gone forth in wrath, had returned calm and gallant, and had carried himself throughout his difficult embassy as a wise statesman and a brave and loyal soldier.