Page: 65Then the two traitors exchanged promises and pledges; and Ganelon, taking with him the keys of Saragossa, and rich presents for Charlemagne, went back to Cordova.
Right glad was Charlemagne to hear the message which the lying traitor brought. He was tired of warring, and he longed to return in peace to his own sweet France. The next day the trumpets sounded throughout the camp. The tents were struck; the baggage was packed on the sumter horses; the knights mounted their steeds; banners and pennons waved thick in the air; the great army began its glad march homeward. Joyful was the beginning of that march; but, ah, how sad the ending! The French did not see the crafty Moors following them through the upper valleys, their banners furled, their helmets closed, their lances in rest.
That first night the king was troubled with sad dreams. He thought that Ganelon seized his lance and shook it, and that it fell in pieces. He thought that he hunted in the forest of Ardennes, and that both a boar and a leopard attacked him. A thousand fearful fancies vexed him. Mountains fell upon him and crushed him; the earth yawned and swallowed him; perils beset him on every side: but amid them all, the face of Ganelon was ever to be seen.
By and by the army came to the Pyrenees, and the great land of France lay just beyond the mountains.
"To whom now," said the king to his peers, "shall we intrust our rear-guard while we pass safely through the mountain gates?"
"Give It to Roland, your nephew," said Ganelon. "There is none more worthy than he."
"And who shall lead the vanguard?"
"Ogier, the Dane. Next to Roland, he is the bravest of your barons."
Right willingly did Roland accept the dangerous trust.
"I will see to it," said he, "that no harm come to the French while passing through the gates. Neither pack-horse, nor mule, nor palfrey, nor charger, nor man shall we lose, that shall not be paid for by the blood of our foes."
Then he mounted his steed, and rode back to the rear. And with him went Oliver and Turpin the archbishop, and twenty thousand valiant fighting-men.
High were the mountains, and gloomy the valleys; dark were the rocks, and fearful were the glens. But the day was fair, and the sky was clear; and the bright shields of the warriors glittered in the sunlight like flashes of fire. All at once a sound, as of a thousand trumpets blowing, was heard in the valley below them. The French knights hearkened.