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

The Treason of Ganelon

B efore he had travelled far, Ganelon overtook the Saracen ambassadors, and, indeed, Blancandrin had delayed his journey that this might be so. Said the Saracen, "What a wonderful man is your King Charles! He has conquered Italy, and New Rome and Germany, and is ready to lay his hands on England. But why is he bent on persecuting us?" "Such is his will," answered Ganelon, "and there is no man of such stature as to be able to contend with him." "You are brave men, you lords of France," said Blancandrin, "but you serve your master ill when you give him such counsel. You will bring him to destruction, and many others with him." "Nay," said Ganelon. "I am not one that deserves such blame, nor indeed does any man deserve it, except Roland only. Of a truth this will bring him to shame at the last. Now listen to me. The other day the King was sitting under a tree when Roland came to him clad in his cuirass. He had taken great spoil at the town of Carcassonne. In his hand he had an apple. "Take this," said he to his uncle the King. "As I cast this apple at your feet so will I cast at your feet the crowns of all the Kings of the earth." Such pride must surely have a fall. Every day he exposes himself to death. I would that some one would slay him. We shall never have peace but at the price of his life."

Blancandrin answered, "This Roland must be hard of heart if he would subdue every nation and lay his hands upon every country. But on whom does he count to help him in so vast an enterprise?" "He relies on the French," said Ganelon. "There is nothing that he refuses them, neither gold, nor silver, nor chargers, nor mules, nor silk, nor armour. To the King himself he gives as much as he desires. I doubt not that he will conquer the world even as far as the sun rising."

The Saracen cast his eyes on Ganelon, and saw that he was of a fair countenance, but had an evil look. And Ganelon, when the Saracen's eyes were upon him, felt his whole body tremble from head to foot. Blancandrin said, "Are you minded to revenge yourself on this Roland? If you be, deliver him up to us. King Marsilas is a right generous giver, and will willingly share his treasures with you." Thus the two talked together, and by the time that they came to Saragossa they had agreed together to seek the means by which Roland might come by his death.

The King of Spain was sitting under a pine-tree on a throne that was covered with silk of Alexandria. There were thousands of his people around him, but not a word was said, so greatly did they all desire to hear the tidings that Ganelon and Blancandrin might be bringing with them.

Blancandrin came forward and stood before King Marsilas holding Ganelon by the right hand, and said, "In the name of the Prophet, health, O King. We delivered your message to King Charles. He lifted his hands to the sky and gave thanks to God, but he made no other answer. Nevertheless he has sent to you one of his chief nobles, who is a great man in France. 'Tis from him you will hear whether you will have peace or no." "Let him speak," said the King, "and we will listen."

Ganelon stood a while, thinking within himself. Then he began to speak, nor could any one have spoken better. "Health, O King, in the name of God, the God of Glory, to whom all honour is due. Hear now what King Charles commands. You must receive the Christian Faith. Then will he grant unto you half of the land of Spain to be held of him. The other half he grants to the Count Roland. Verily you will have a proud companion! If this please you not, then he will lay siege to Saragossa, will take you captive and carry you to Aachen, where he has his Imperial Throne. There shall sentence be pronounced upon you, and you will end your days in shame."

The King's face was changed with anger when he heard these words. He had a gilded staff in his hand, and would have struck Ganelon therewith, but that by good fortune his people held him back. When Ganelon saw it, he drew his sword two fingers' breadth out of the scabbard. "Sword," he said, "thou art fair and bright. So long as I have thee in my hands the King of France shall not say that I perished alone in the land of strangers; no verily, but their best warriors shall have paid for my death with their blood."

And now King Marsilas had been persuaded to sit down again on his throne. "You had put yourself in evil case," said his Vizier to him, "had you struck this Frenchman. Rather you must listen to his words."

"Sire," said Ganelon, "I will put up with this affront, but never will I consent, for all the treasures that there are in this land, nay, not for all the gold that God has made, not to speak the words that King Charles has commanded me to speak." And he threw to the ground his mantle of sable, covered with silk of Alexandria; but his sword he kept, holding its hilt in his right hand. "This is a noble baron," said the heathen chiefs.

Then Ganelon spoke the same words as before, and when he had ended them, he gave King Charles's letter into the King's hand. Now King Marsilas was a scholar, having learnt in the schools of the heathen. So when he had broken the seal of the letter, he read it from end to end; and having read it, the tears came into his eyes with rage, and he pulled his beard, and cried with a loud voice, "Listen, my lords, to this foolishness. Charles, who is King of France, bids me remember the two ambassadors whom I beheaded, and commands me, if I would redeem my life, to send him my Vizier. If I fail in this, he will be my enemy for ever."

All held their peace save the King's son, who cried, "Ganelon has spoken as a fool speaks; verily he deserves to die. Deliver him to me, and I will deal with him."

But Ganelon drew his sword, and stood with his back to a pine. King Marsilas stood up from his throne, and went into the orchard hard by, bidding the chief of his counsellors follow him. When they were assembled there, Blancandrin said to the King, "You do ill to deal harshly with Ganelon. He has pledged his faith to serve us." "Bring him hither," said the King. So Blancandrin brought him before the King, holding him by the right hand.

"My lord Ganelon," said Marsilas, "I was ill-advised when in my anger I sought to strike you. I would make amends for the wrong with these skins of martens which I have purchased this very day. They are worth more than five hundred pieces of gold." Then the King hung them about Ganelon's neck. "I accept them," said he; "may God Himself make it up to you for your bounty!"

Said the King, "Believe me, Ganelon, that I greatly desire to be your friend. Come, now, tell me about Charlemagne. He is an old man, is he not? One who has lived his life? He must be two hundred years old. Over how many countries he has passed! and how many blows has he taken on his shield, and what mighty kings has he brought to beg their bread! When, think you, will he be tired of waging war? Surely 'tis time that he should be taking rest at Aachen."

Ganelon answered, "You do not know King Charles the Great. No man is a better knight than he, so say all that know him. As for myself, I cannot praise him enough; I had rather die than cease to be one of his barons. But for his ceasing to make war, that cannot be so long as Roland lives. There is no such knight in all the East. A right valiant warrior, too, is Roland's companion, Oliver; right valiant are the Twelve Peers also. Of a truth King Charles need fear no man alive."

"But," answered the King, "there is no people that can be compared with mine. Four hundred thousand horsemen I have with whom to fight against King Charles and his Frenchmen." "Yet," said Ganelon, "it is not thus that you will answer him. Rather will you lose thousands and thousands of your soldiers. Listen now to my counsel. Give the King money in abundance; give him hostages. Then he will go back to France, and so going he will leave behind him his rearguard. In the rear- guard I know well will be Roland, his nephew, and Oliver, who is Roland's companion. And being there, they are doomed to die. So will the great pride of King Charles have a fall. Never again will he rise to wage war against you.

"Ganelon," said the King, "tell us more plainly yet how I shall slay this Roland." Ganelon answered, "He and twenty thousand men of France will be in the rear of the King's army. It is your part, my lord, to gather your whole host. Send against them first a hundred thousand of your Saracens. I do not deny that they will be destroyed, but, on the other hand, the men of France will receive great damage. Then engage them in a second battle. It is not possible that Roland should escape both from one and from the other. And if he be slain, then you have taken from King Charles his right hand. France will have no more her marvellous armies; never again will King Charles lead such hosts into battle. So Spain will at last have peace."

"Swear that this shall be," said the King; and Ganelon swore that it should be on his sword Murgleis. Then they brought to the King a great book in which was written the law of Mahomet, and the King made a great oath upon it, that if by any means it could be so ordered, Roland should die and the Twelve Peers with him. "May our purpose be accomplished!" cried Ganelon.

Then the chiefs of the heathen came one after another to Ganelon with gifts in their hands. First came a certain Valdabrun. "Take this sword," he said; "no man has a better. The pommel and hilt are worth a thousand crowns. Let it be the pledge of our friendship. Only help us to bring Roland to his death." "It shall be done," said Ganelon.

Then came one Chimborin. "Take this helmet," he said; "no man has a better. See this great carbuncle that glitters on the vizor. Only help us to slay Roland." "It shall be done," said Ganelon.

Then came Queen Branimonde. "Sir," said she, "I regard you greatly. My lord and all his people much esteem you. I would send to your wife two bracelets. They are of amethysts, rubies, and gold. Your King has not, I well know, the like." Ganelon took the bracelets from her hand, and he stowed them in his riding-boot.

King Marsilas said to his treasurer, "Have you made ready the presents that I purpose to send to King Charles?" The treasurer answered, "They are ready: seven hundred camels laden with gold and silver, and twenty hostages, the noblest in the land."

And now the King would bid farewell to Ganelon. "I love you much," said he. "You shall not fail to have the best of my treasures, if you will only help me against Roland. Now I give you ten mules' burden of gold of Arabia, and every year you shall have the like. And now take the keys of this city, and give them to King Charles; when you present these treasures to him deliver to him also these twenty hostages, only see that Roland be put in the rearguard." "'Tis my thought," cried Ganelon, "that I tarry here too long." Thereupon he mounted his horse and rode away.

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