Gateway to the Classics: Stories of Charlemagne by Alfred J. Church
Stories of Charlemagne by  Alfred J. Church

How Ganelon Went on an Errand to King Marsilas

F or seven years King Charles the Great tarried in Spain. He conquered the whole land from the sea to the mountains, saving Saragossa only, of which Marsilas, a heathen, was King. Marsilas called together his nobles, and said to them, "This King Charles will be our destruction, for we have no longer an army wherewith to meet him. Give me counsel, as wise men should, so that I may be saved from death or disgrace."

Now the wisest of the heathens was a certain Blancandrin, a man valiant in war and good at counsel. "Fear not," said he, "fear not, O King. Send a message to King Charles promising him faithful service and friendship. Send also a present to him. Let there be lions and bears, and dogs, seven hundred camels, and a thousand falcons. Send also four hundred mules laden with gold and silver, that King Charles may have wherewithal to pay his soldiers. And tell him that if he will return to France, you will follow him, and there, on the Feast of St. Michael, will be converted to the Christian Faith, and will be his vassal in all honour. If he ask for hostages, let him have them, ten or twenty, as he may desire. See, I offer my own son to be one of them, whatever may befall him. Better that they should lose their heads than that we should lose our lordship and our lands, and be brought to beg our bread." And all the chiefs of heathenry said: "It is well; we will willingly give the hostages."

Blancandrin spake again: "By this right hand and by this beard I swear that the end of the matter will be this : You will see the French raise their camp in all haste and go back to their own land. On the Feast of St. Michael King Charles will make a great entertainment. But when he neither sees you nor hears any tidings of you, he will fall into a great rage, and will smite off the heads of the hostages. If it be so, it is better that they should lose their heads than that we should lose this fair land of Spain." And all the chiefs of heathenry said: "It is well said; so let it be."

Then said King Marsilas to certain of his lords—ten they were in number, and these the most villainous of the whole company—"Take olive-branches in your hands, and go and say to King Charles, 'King Marsilas prays you to have pity upon him. He promises that, before a month is past he will come with a thousand loyal followers, and will receive the faith of Christ, and will become your vassal in all honour. Also he says, that if you seek for hostages you shall have them." Then the King gave the ten lords ten white mules, whereon to ride. They had reins of gold and saddles of silver. So the ten lords departed from Saragossa, and came to King Charles at the city of Cordova.


The Ambassadors of King Marsilas.

They found King Charles in great mirth and joyfulness. He had newly taken the fair city of Cordova, having broken down the walls and towers with his engines of war, and with the city he had taken a great spoil of gold and silver. Of the people, too, there was not one but had to make his choice between Christian baptism and death. Now he was sitting with his barons in a great orchard. Some played at cards, and some of the graver sort at chess, and the young men fenced with each other. As for the King himself, he was sitting under a thorn on a great chair of gold, a right noble man to see, with his long, white beard. When the heathen ambassadors saw him they lighted down from their mules, and paid him homage. Then said their leader, Blancandrin, "Glory to the name of God! Our master, King Marsilas, bids us say that, being persuaded that the law by which you live is the law of salvation, he would fain win your favour even by the half of his treasures. He sends therefore lions and bears, camels and falcons, four hundred mules laden with gold and silver, wherewith you can pay all your soldiers. Moreover, he says that when you shall have returned to your own country he will follow you thither, and will be obedient to your law, and do you homage for his kingdom of Spain."

When King Charles heard these words he bent his head as one deep in thought. So he tarried awhile, for his speech was never hasty. At last he spoke: "You have said well. But your King has long been my enemy. How can I trust these promises? "Blancandrin made answer, "You shall have hostages, Sire—ten, fifteen, twenty, as you will. My own son shall be one of them, and the others shall be of the noblest of the land. So you may rest assured that at the Feast of St. Michael next ensuing my master shall come to you at your palace at Aachen, and shall there consent to become a Christian."

"He will do well," said King Charles; "'tis thus only that he shall save his soul." Then he commanded that the white mules should be put into stalls, and that a tent should be pitched in the orchard, and the ambassadors have such entertainment as was meet.

The day following King Charles rose early, and having heard mass sent for his nobles, for he would do nothing without the counsel of the wise men of France. So the nobles came, Ogier the Dane among them, and Turpin the Archbishop, and Count Roland, and with him Oliver, his closest friend, and Ganelon, the same that was the traitor.

Then said the King, "My lords, King Marsilas has sent an embassy to me with many and rich gifts, lions and bears, and camels, and abundance of gold and silver. Only he makes this condition—that I go back to France; and he promises that he himself will come thither, even to Aachen, and will there profess himself a Christian and also do homage for his kingdom.

But whether he speaks the truth, that I know not. What think you, my lords?"

Then stood up the Count Roland, and said, "'Twere madness to trust this King Marsilas. Have we not been in this land of Spain for now seven years, and has not this King Marsilas always borne himself as a traitor? Did he not send fifteen of his heathens each with an olive-branch in his hand, and did they not make this same profession for him? You took counsel of your nobles, and you sent him—so ill-advised were you—two envoys. What did King Marsilas? He took their heads from them. What I counsel, Sire, is, that as you have begun this war, so you carry it to an end. Lead your army to Saragossa, lay siege to it, spend, if need be, the rest of your days before it, but take vengeance for the brave men whom King Marsilas did to death."

King Charles sat with his head bowed, and spake no word good or bad. Then rose up Ganelon, and said, "Sire, I would have you take no advice, except it be to your own advantage. King Marsilas has sent to you, saying that he is ready to profess our faith and to hold the kingdom of Spain as your vassal. He who would have you refuse such an offer knows nothing of business affairs. Counsels of pride are not for mortal men. Have done with folly, and listen to the words of the wise."

Then stood up the Duke of Bavaria; snowy white was his beard and hair. King Charles had no better counsellor than he. "Sire," said he, "Ganelon has given you good advice. You will do well to follow it. You have conquered King Marsilas in this war, taken his castles, broken down his walls, burnt his towns, and put his armies to flight. Now he begs for mercy from you. Surely 'twere a crime to ask too much. Remember, too, that he is ready to give you hostages. Send one of your nobles to treat with him, for indeed it is time this war should have an end." So spake the Duke of Bavaria, and all the men of France cried out, "The Duke has spoken well."

"But," said King Charles, "whom shall we send?" "I will go," answered the Duke, "if it so please you. Give me the gauntlet and the staff an ambassador should have. "Not so," said King Charles, "you shall not go. I would not have so wise a counsellor so far away. Sit you down. 'Tis my command"; and he spake again, "Whom shall we send to King Marsilas, my lords?" "I will go," cried Count Roland. "Nay," said Oliver, "you are of too fiery and fierce a spirit. I fear that you would but ill-manage such a business. 'Tis better that I should go, if it so please the King." "Be silent, both of you," said the King, "neither of you shall have a hand in this matter. By this white beard of mine, I declare that no one of the Twelve Peers shall go on this embassage."

Then stood up Turpin the Archbishop. "Sire," said he, "you have been in this land of Spain now seven years, and your nobles have suffered for your sake many labours and sorrows. Give me the gauntlet and the staff; I will go to this Saracen, and say somewhat to him after my own fashion."

But Charles answered him in great anger. "By this beard you shall not do it. Sit you down again, and speak not till I bid you. And now," he went on, "my lords, choose you for yourselves one who shall go on this errand. Let him be a man of counsel, who can deal a blow also, if need should be."

Then said the Count Roland: "Whom should we choose but Ganelon? You cannot find a better than he." And all the men of France cried: "It is right that he should go, if the King will have it so."

Said King Charles to Ganelon: "Come hither, Ganelon, and take this gauntlet and this staff. The voice of the men of France has chosen you. You heard it." But Ganelon liked not the matter at all. "This is Roland's doing," he cried. "Never, so long as I live, will I love Roland again, no, nor Oliver, for that he is Roland's friend, nor any one of the Twelve Peers, for that they also love Roland. Here, under your eyes, Sir King, I defy them all." "It profits not to be angry," cried King Charles. "If I bid you, you must go."

"Yes," answered Ganelon; "I perceive that I must go to Saragossa, and he that goes thither comes not back. Remember, Sire, that I have your sister to wife. We have one son; a fairer child you could not see. One day, so he live, he will be a gallant knight. I leave him my lands. Have a care for him, I entreat you, for I shall never see him more." "You have too soft a heart," said King Charles. "If I bid you, you must go."

Ganelon was in great trouble of mind. He turned him to Roland, and said, "What means your wrath against me? 'Tis you, as all men know, that have put on me this errand to King Marsilas. 'Tis well. But know that if God suffer me to return, I will bring upon you such trouble and sorrow that you shall remember it all the days of your life." "This is but folly," answered Roland. "All the world knows that I care nothing for your threats. Nevertheless, seeing that there is need of a wise man to take this message of the King's, I am ready to go in your stead."

"You shall not go," answered Ganelon. "You are not my vassal, nor am I your lord. I will go to Saragossa, to King Marsilas. But be sure that there will be something wherewith I may solace myself." When Roland heard this he laughed aloud, and Ganelon grew so full of anger that his heart was fain to burst. "I hate you," said he to Roland,—"I hate you! for you have made this evil choice light on me." But to Charles he said. "Behold me, Sire, I am ready to do your will."

"Ganelon," said the King, "listen to me. Say to King Marsilas, that if he will come and own himself to be my vassal and receive holy baptism, I will give him half the kingdom of Spain; the other half is for Count Roland. But if he will not do this thing, then I will lay siege to his city of Saragossa, and when I shall have taken it I will bring him by force to my city of Aachen, and will pass judgment on him and he shall end his days in sorrow and shame. Take this letter, which bears my seal, and give it into the King's right hand." So saying he reached out the gauntlet to Ganelon with his right hand. But when Ganelon reached out and would have taken it, it fell to the ground. "This is an ill starting," said the men of France, "this message will be the beginning of many troubles." "You shall hear of them in good time," answered Ganelon. To King Charles he said, "Sire, give me leave to depart, since I must needs go, 'twere well to lose no time." "Go," said the King, "for our Lord Christ's honour and for mine." And with his right hand he made the sign of the cross, and gave him absolution. At the same time he gave him the ambassador's staff and the letter.

Then Ganelon went to his house and clad himself in his finest armour. On his feet he fixed his spurs of gold, and by his side he bound his good sword Murgleis, and he mounted his charger Tachebrun. His uncle Guinemer held the stirrup for him. Many gallant knights wept to see him go. "O Sir," they cried, "this is an ill return for all the service that you have done to the King. Never should Count Roland have had such a thought. Send us, my lord, in your stead."

"Nay," answered Ganelon. "Why should I doom so many gallant men? Let me rather die alone. Do you, my friends, go back to fair France. Carry my greetings to my wife and to my son. Keep him safe, and see that his possessions suffer no loss." So saying, he went on his way to Saragossa.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: Of the End of Balan the Admiral  |  Next: The Treason of Ganelon
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.