For seven long years the great King Charlemagne had been fighting in Spain against the Saracens. From shore to shore he had conquered the land. Everywhere the heathen people had bowed before him, owning him as their master and Christ as their God. Only the fair city of Saragossa, sitting safe among its hills, was yet unconquered. But Charlemagne had taken the not far distant Cordres, and he now was making ready to march against Saragossa.
King Marsil knew not how to save his city from the conqueror. So one day he seated himself upon his marble throne, and called his wise men together. The throne was set under the shade of his great orchard trees, for there, when the summer sun was hot, he held his court.
"My lords," he said, "great Karl of France besets our town. No host have I strong enough to meet him in the field, none that may guard our walls against him. I pray you, my lords, give me counsel. How shall we guard us, that shame and death come not upon us?"
Then all the wise men were silent, for well they knew the power and might of Charlemagne, and they wist not what to counsel.
At last Blancandrin spoke. A knight of great valour was he, and of all the heathen lords he was the wisest and most prudent. And when he spoke, all men listened.
"Send a message to this proud and haughty Karl," he said. "Promise him great friendship, give him rich presents of lions, bears and dogs; seven hundred camels ye shall send unto him, a thousand falcons. Give him four hundred mules laden with gold and silver; give him as much as fifty waggons may hold, so that he may have gold and to spare with which to pay his soldiers. But say to him, 'Too long hast thou been far from France. Return, return to thy fair city of Aix, and there at the feast of Holy Michael will I come to thee and be thy man, and be baptized, and learn of thy gentle Christ.' Charlemagne will ask hostages of thee. Well, give them—ten—twenty—whatever he may ask of thee. We will give our sons. See! I will be the first, I will give my son. And if he perish it is better so than that we should all be driven from our land to die in beggary and shame."
Then Blancandrin was silent, and all the heathen lords cried aloud, "It is well spoken."
"Yea," Blancandrin went on, "by my long beard I swear, then shalt thou see the Franks quickly return to their own land, each man to his home. St. Michael's Day will dawn. Charlemagne will hold a great feast awaiting thee. But the days will pass and thou wilt not come. Then, for the Emperor is terrible and his wrath fierce, he will slay our sons whom he holds as hostages for thee. Better so, I say, than that we should lose fair Spain and live in slavery and woe."
"Yea, so say we all!" cried the heathen lords.
"So be it," said King Marsil; "let it be done as Blancandrin hath said."
Then one by one the King called ten of his greatest lords about him. "Go ye with Blancandrin," he said. "Take olive branches in your hands in token of peace and lowliness. Say to the great Karl that for the sake of his gentle Christ he shall show pity upon me, and give me peace. Say that ere a month has gone I will follow after you. Then will I kneel to him, and put my hands in his, and swear to be his true and faithful vassal. Then shall he sprinkle me with the water of Holy Christ, and I shall be his for evermore."
All this King Marsil said with treachery in his heart, for well he knew that he would do none of these things.
"It is well," said Blancandrin, "the peace is sure."
Then mounted upon white mules, with saddles of silver and harness of gold, with olive branches in their hands and followed by a great train of slaves carrying rich presents, Blancandrin and the ten messengers set out to seek the court of the great Christian King, Charlemagne.