Hero Tales

Page: 64

"What answer bring you from your liege-lord Charlemagne?" asked he.

Ganelon had studied well what he should say; and he answered, like one long used to cunning guile, "If thou wilt be baptized and become a Christian, Charlemagne will give thee the half of Spain to hold in fief. If thou wilt not accept this offer, then he will besiege thee in Saragossa, and take thee prisoner; and he will send thee bound upon the back of a sumter horse to Aix, and there he will have thee put to death. This is the message which Charlemagne sends thee."

Great was the anger of the Moorish king, and he raised his javelin to strike the messenger dead. But Ganelon, no whit daunted, set his back against the trunk of a tree, and drew his sword part way from its scabbard.

"Good sword," said he, "thou art fair and bright, and thou hast done me many a service. Never shall it be said that Ganelon died alone in a strange land."

But the courtiers of King Marsilius stepped in between them. "It were better," said they, "to treat with this man than to slay him. If his face slander him not, he is a man who may be persuaded to help us. Try him."

Then Marsilius called Ganelon to his side, and offered him five hundred pounds of gold for his friendship. And the two sat long together, and plotted bloodshed and treason.

"Indeed, what think you of this Charlemagne?" asked the Moor. "Through how many lands has he carried that old body of his? How many scars are there on his shield? How many kingdoms has he stolen, and how many kings impoverished? Methinks that his days are well-nigh spent. He must be more than two hundred years old."

But Ganelon, although a traitor, would say naught against the king.

"None can see him," said he, "but will say that he is a man. None can so praise or honor him, but that there shall yet be in him more worth and goodness."

"Yet, methinks," said the Moor, "that he is very old. His beard is white; his hair is flowered. It is strange that he grows not tired of fighting."

"That he will never do so long as Roland, his nephew, lives," answered Ganelon. "There, too, is Oliver; and there are the other peers of the realm, all of whom the king holds most dear. They alone are worth twenty thousand men."

"I have heard much of Roland," said the Moor; "and I would fain put him out of the way. Tell me how it can be done, and thou shalt have three baggage-horse loads of gold, three of silver, and three of fine silk and red wine and jewels."

Now Ganelon desired, above all things, the death of Roland; and he eagerly made known his plans to Marsilius.

"Send to Charlemagne," said he, "great store of rich gifts, so that every Frenchman shall wonder at your wealth. Send also hostages, and promise him that on next Michaelmas you will be baptized at Aix and do him homage for Spain. Pleased with your promises, he will return to France. But his rear-guard, with Roland and Oliver, and twenty thousand Frenchmen, will be long among the passes of the Pyrenees. A hundred thousand Moors could well cope with them there."