Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 73

“Here sits Charles the King”

The ambassadors greeted Charlemagne with all honour, and Blancandrin opened the embassy thus:

“Peace be with you from God the Lord of Glory whom you adore! Thus says the valiant King Marsile: He has been instructed in your faith, the way of salvation, and is willing to be baptized; but you have been [Pg 125] too long in our bright Spain, and should return to Aix. There will he follow you and become your vassal, holding the kingdom of Spain at your hand. Gifts have we brought from him to lay at your feet, for he will share his treasures with you!”

He is Perplexed

Charlemagne raised his hands in thanks to God, but then bent his head and remained thinking deeply, for he was a man of prudent mind, cautious and far-seeing, and never spoke on impulse. At last he said proudly: “Ye have spoken fairly, but Marsile is my greatest enemy: how can I trust your words?”

Blancandrin replied: “He will give hostages, twenty of our noblest youths, and my own son will be among them. King Marsile will follow you to the wondrous springs of Aix-la-Chapelle, and on the feast of St. Michael will receive baptism in your court.”

Thus the audience ended. The messengers were feasted in a pavilion raised in the orchard, and the night passed in gaiety and good-fellowship.

He Consults his Twelve Peers

In the early morning Charlemagne arose and heard Mass; then, sitting beneath a pine-tree, he called the Twelve Peers to council. There came the twelve heroes, chief of them Roland and his loyal brother-in-arms Oliver; there came Archbishop Turpin; and, among a thousand loyal Franks, there came Ganelon the traitor. When all were seated in due order Charlemagne began:

“My lords and barons, I have received an embassy of peace from King Marsile, who sends me great gifts and offers, but on condition that I leave Spain and return to Aix. Thither will he follow me, to receive [Pg 126] the Faith, become a Christian and my vassal. Is he to be trusted?”

“Let us beware,” cried all the Franks.

Roland Speaks

Roland, ever impetuous, now rose without delay, and spoke: “Fair uncle and sire, it would be madness to trust Marsile. Seven years have we warred in Spain, and many cities have I won for you, but Marsile has ever been treacherous. Once before when he sent messengers with olive-branches you and the French foolishly believed him, and he beheaded the two counts who were your ambassadors to him. Fight Marsile to the end, besiege and sack Saragossa, and avenge those who perished by his treachery.”

Ganelon Objects

Charlemagne looked out gloomily from under his heavy brows, he twisted his moustache and pulled his long white beard, but said nothing, and all the Franks remained silent, except Ganelon, whose hostility to Roland showed clearly in his words:

“Sire, blind credulity were wrong and foolish, but follow up your own advantage. When Marsile offers to become your vassal, to hold Spain at your hand and to take your faith, any man who urges you to reject such terms cares little for our death! Let pride no longer be your counsellor, but hear the voice of wisdom.”