A S Ganelon and Blancandrin rode along together beneath the olive-trees and through the fruitful vineyards of sunny Spain, the heathen began to talk cunningly. "What a wonderful knight is thy Emperor," he said. "He hath conquered the world from sea to sea. But why cometh he within our borders? Why left he us not in peace?"
"It was his will," replied Ganelon. "There is no man in all the world so great as he. None may stand against him."
"You Franks are gallant men indeed," said Blancandrin, "but your dukes and counts deserve blame when they counsel the Emperor to fight with us now."
"There is none deserveth that blame save Roland," said Ganelon. "Such pride as his ought to be punished. Oh, that some one would slay him!" he cried fiercely. "Then should we have peace."
"This Roland is very cruel," said Blancandrin, "to wish to conquer all the world as he does. But in whom does he trust for help?"
"In the Franks," said Ganelon. "They love him with such a great love that they think he can do no wrong. He giveth them gold and silver, jewels and armour, so they serve him. Even to the Emperor himself he maketh rich presents. He will not rest until he hath conquered all the world, from east to west."
The Saracen looked at Ganelon out of the corner of his eye. He was a right noble knight, but now that his face was dark with wrath and jealousy, he looked like a felon.
"Listen thou to me," said Blancandrin softly. "Dost wish to be avenged upon Roland? Then by Mahomet deliver him into our hands. King Marsil is very generous; for such a kindness he will willingly give unto thee of his countless treasure."
Ganelon heard the tempter's voice, but he rode onward as if unheeding, his chin sunken upon his breast, his eyes dark with hatred.
But long ere the ride was ended and Saragossa reached, the heathen lord and Christian knight had plotted together for the ruin of Roland.
At length the journey was over, and Ganelon lighted down before King Marsil, who awaited him beneath the shadow of his orchard trees, seated upon a marble throne covered with rich silken rugs. Around him crowded his nobles, silent and eager to learn how Blancandrin had fared upon his errand.
Bowing low, Blancandrin approached the throne, leading Ganelon by the hand. "Greeting," he said, "in the name of Mahomet. Well, O Marsil, have I done thy behest to the mighty Christian King. But save that he raised his hands to heaven and gave thanks to his God, no answer did he render to me. But unto thee he sendeth one of his nobles, a very powerful man in France. From him shalt thou learn if thou shalt have peace or war."
"Let him speak," said King Marsil. "We will listen."
"Greeting," said Ganelon, "in the name of God—the God of glory whom we ought all to adore. Listen ye to the command of Charlemagne:—Thou, O king, shalt receive the Christian faith, then half of Spain will he leave to thee to hold in fief. The other half shall be given to Count Roland—a haughty companion thou wilt have there. If thou wilt not agree to this, Charlemagne will besiege Saragossa, and thou shalt be led captive to Aix, there to die a vile and shameful death."
King Marsil shook with anger and turned pale. In his hand he held an arrow fledged with gold. Now, springing from his throne, he raised his arm as if he would strike Ganelon. But the knight laid his hand upon his sword and drew it half out of the scabbard. "Sword," he cried, "thou art bright and beautiful; oft have I carried thee at the court of my king. It shall never be said of me that I died alone in a foreign land, among fierce foes, ere thou wert dipped in the blood of their bravest and best."
For a few moments the heathen king and the Christian knight eyed each other in deep silence. Then the air was filled with shouts. "Part them, part them," cried the Saracens.
The noblest of the Saracens rushed between their king and Ganelon. "It was a foolish trick to raise thy hand against the Christian knight," said Marsil's Calif, seating him once more upon his throne. " 'Twere well to listen to what he hath to say."
"Sir," said Ganelon proudly, "thinkest thou for all the threats in the wide world I will be silent and not speak the message which the mighty Charlemagne sendeth to his mortal enemy? Nay, I would speak, if ye were all against me." And keeping his right hand still upon the golden pommel of his sword, with his left he unclasped his cloak of fur and silk and cast it upon the steps of the throne. There, in his strength and splendour, he stood defying them all.
" 'Tis a noble knight!" cried the heathen in admiration.
Then once more turning to King Marsil, Ganelon gave him the Emperor's letter. As he broke the seal and read, Marsil's brow grew black with anger. "Listen, my lords," he cried; "because I slew yonder insolent Christian knights, the Emperor Charlemagne bids me beware his wrath. He commands that I shall send unto him as hostage mine uncle the Calif."
"This is some madness of Ganelon!" cried a heathen knight. "He is only worthy of death. Give him unto me, and I will see that justice is done upon him." So saying, he laid his hand upon his sword.
Like a flash of lightning Ganelon's good blade Murglies sprang from its sheath, and with his back against a tree, the Christian knight prepared to defend himself to the last. But once again the fight was stopped, and this time Blancandrin led Ganelon away.
Then, walking alone with the king, Blancandrin told of all that he had done, and of how even upon the way hither, Ganelon had promised to betray Roland, who was Charlemagne's greatest warrior. "And if he die," said Blancandrin, "then is our peace sure."
"Bring hither the Christian knight to me," cried King Marsil.
So Blancandrin went, and once more leading Ganelon by the hand, brought him before the king.
"Fair Sir Ganelon," said the wily heathen, "I did a rash and foolish thing when in anger I raised my hand to strike at thee. As a token that thou wilt forget it, accept this cloak of sable. It is worth five hundred pounds in gold." And lifting a rich cloak, he clasped it about the neck of Ganelon.
"I may not refuse it," said the knight, looking down. "May Heaven reward thee!"
"Trust me, Sir Ganelon," said King Marsil, "I love thee well. But keep thou our counsels secret. I would hear thee talk of Charlemagne. He is very old, is he not?—more than two hundred years old. He must be worn out and weary, for he hath fought so many battles and humbled so many kings in the dust. He ought to rest now from his labours in his city of Aix."
Ganelon shook his head. "Nay," he said, "such is not Charlemagne. All those who have seen him know that our Emperor is a true warrior. I know not how to praise him enough before you, for there is nowhere a man so full of valour and of goodness. I would rather die than leave his service."
"In truth," said Marsil, "I marvel greatly. I had thought that Charlemagne had been old and worn. Then if it is not so, when will he cease his wars?"
"Ah," said Ganelon, "that he will never do so long as his nephew Roland lives. Under the arch of heaven there bides no baron so splendid or so proud. Oliver, his friend, also is full of prowess and of valour. With them and his peers beside him, Charlemagne feareth no man."
"Fair Sir Ganelon," said King Marsil boldly, knowing his hatred, "tell me, how shall I slay Roland?"
"That I can tell thee," said Ganelon. "Promise thou the Emperor all that he asketh of thee. Send hostages and presents to him. He will then return to France. His army will pass through the valley of Roncesvalles. I will see to it that Roland and his friend Oliver lead the rear-guard. They will lag behind the rest of the army, then there shalt thou fall upon them with all thy mighty men. I say not but that thou shalt lose many a knight, for Roland and his Peers will fight right manfully. But in the end, being so many more than they, thou shalt conquer. Roland shall lie dead, and slaying him thou wilt cut off the right arm of Charlemagne. Then farewell to the wondrous army of France. Never again shall Charlemagne gather such a company, and within the borders of Spain there shall be peace for evermore."
When Ganelon had finished speaking, the king threw his arms about his neck and kissed him. Then turning to his slaves, he commanded them to bring great treasure of gold, and silver and precious stones, and lay it at the feet of the knight.
"But swear to me," said Marsil, "that Roland shall be in the rear-guard, and swear to me his death."
And Ganelon, laying his hand upon his sword Murglies, swore by the holy relics therein, that he would bring Roland to death.
Then came a heathen knight who gave to Ganelon a sword, the hilt of which glittered with gems so that the eyes were dazzled in looking upon it. "Let but Roland be in the rear-guard," he said, "and it is thine." Then he kissed Ganelon on both cheeks.
Soon another heathen knight followed him, laughing joyfully. "Here is my helmet," he cried. "It is the richest and best ever beaten out of steel. It is thine so that thou truly bring Roland to death and shame." And he, too, kissed Ganelon.
Next came Bramimonde, Marsil's queen. She was very beautiful. Her dark hair was strung with pearls, and her robes of silk and gold swept the ground. Her hands were full of glittering gems. Bracelets and necklaces of gold, rubies and sapphires fell from her white fingers. "Take these," she said, "to thy fair lady. Tell her that Queen Bramimonde sends them to her because of the great service thou hast done." And bowing low, she poured the sparkling jewels into Ganelon's hands. Thus did the heathen reward Ganelon for his treachery.
"Ho there!" called King Marsil to his treasurer, "are my gifts for the Emperor ready?"
"Yea, Sire," answered the treasurer, "seven hundred camels' load of silver and gold and twenty hostages, the noblest of the land; all are ready."
Then King Marsil leant his hand on Ganelon's shoulder. "Wise art thou and brave," he said, "but in the name of all thou holdest sacred, forget not thy promise unto me. See, I give thee ten mules laden with richest treasure, and every year I will send to thee as much again. Now take the keys of my city gates, take the treasure and the hostages made ready for thine Emperor. Give them all to him, tell him that I yield to him all that he asks, but forget not thy promise that Roland shall ride in the rearguard."
Impatient to be gone, Ganelon shook the King's hand from his shoulder. "Let me tarry no longer," he cried. Then springing to horse he rode swiftly away.
Meanwhile Charlemagne lay encamped, awaiting Marsil's answer. And as one morning he sat beside his tent, with his lords and mighty men around him, a great cavalcade appeared in the distance. And presently Ganelon, the traitor, drew rein before him. Softly and smoothly he began his treacherous tale. "God keep you," he cried; "here I bring the keys of Saragossa, with treasure rich and rare, seven hundred camels' load of silver and gold and twenty hostages of the noblest of the heathen host. And King Marsil bids me say, thou shalt not blame him that his uncle the Calif comes not too, for he is dead. I myself saw him as he set forth with three hundred thousand armed men upon the sea. Their vessels sank ere they had gone far from the land, and he and they were swallowed in the waves." Thus Ganelon told his lying tale.
"Now praised be Heaven!" cried Charlemagne. "And thanks, my trusty Ganelon, for well hast thou sped. At length my wars are done, and home to gentle France we ride."
So the trumpets were sounded, and soon the great army, with pennons waving and armour glittering in the sunshine, was rolling onward through the land, like a gleaming mighty river.
But following the Christian army, through valleys deep and dark, by pathways secret and unknown, crept the heathen host. They were clad in shining steel from head to foot, swords were by their sides, lances were in their hands, and bitter hatred in their hearts. Four hundred thousand strong they marched in stealthy silence. And, alas! the Franks knew it not.
When night came the Franks encamped upon the plain. And high upon the mountain sides, in a dark forest the heathen kept watch upon them.
In the midst of his army King Charlemagne lay, and as he slept he dreamed he stood alone in the valley of Roncesvalles, spear in hand. There to him came Ganelon who seized his spear and broke it in pieces before his eyes, and the noise of the breaking was as the noise of thunder. In his sleep Charlemagne stirred uneasily, but he did not wake. The vision passed, and again he dreamed. It seemed to him that he was now in his own city of Aix. Suddenly from out a forest a leopard sprang upon him. But even as its fangs closed upon his arm, a faithful hound came bounding from his hall and fell upon the savage beast with fury. Fiercely the hound grappled with the leopard. Snarling and growling they rolled over and over. Now the hound was uppermost, now the leopard. " 'Tis a splendid fight," cried the Franks who watched. But who should win the Emperor knew not, for the vision faded, and still he slept.
The night passed and dawn came. A thousand trumpets sounded, the camp was all astir, and the Franks made ready once more to march.
But Charlemagne was grave and thoughtful, musing on the dream that he had dreamed. "My knights and barons," he said, "mark well the country through which we pass. These valleys are steep and straight. It would go ill with us did the false Saracen forget his oath, and fall upon us as we pass. To whom therefore shall I trust the rear-guard that we may march in surety?"
"Give the command to my step-son, Roland, there is none so brave as he," said Ganelon.
As Charlemagne listened he looked at Ganelon darkly. "Thou art a very demon," he said. "What rage possesseth thee? And if I give command of the rear to Roland, who, then, shall lead the van?"
"There is Ogier the Dane," said Ganelon quickly, "who better?"
Still Charlemagne looked darkly at him. He would not that Roland should hear, for well he knew his adventurous spirit.
But already Roland had heard. "I ought to love thee well, Sir Step-sire," he cried, "for this day hast thou named me for honour. I will take good heed that our Emperor lose not the least of his men, nor charger, palfrey, nor mule that is not paid for by stroke of sword."
"That know I right well," replied Ganelon, "therefore have I named thee."
Then to Charlemagne Roland turned, "Give me the bow of office, Sire, and let me take command," he said.
But the Emperor sat with bowed head. In and out of his long white beard he twisted his fingers. Tears stood in his eyes, and he kept silence. Such was his love for Roland and fear lest evil should befall him.
Then spoke Duke Naimes, "Give the command unto Roland, Sire; there is none better."
So, silently, Charlemagne held out the bow of office, and kneeling, Roland took it.
Then was Ganelon's wicked heart glad.
"Nephew," said Charlemagne, "half my host I leave with thee."
"Nay, Sire," answered Roland proudly, "twenty thousand only shall remain with me. The rest of ye may pass onward in all surety, for while I live ye have naught to fear."
Then in his heart Ganelon laughed.
So the mighty army passed onward through the vale of Roncesvalles without doubt or dread, for did not Roland the brave guard the rear? With him remained Oliver his friend, Turpin the bold Archbishop of Rheims, all the peers, and twenty thousand more of the bravest knights of France.
As the great army wound along, the hearts of the men were glad. For seven long years they had been far from home, and now soon they would see their dear ones again. But the Emperor rode among them sadly with bowed head. His fingers again twined themselves in his long white beard, tears once more stood in his eyes. Beside him rode Duke Naimes. "Tell me, Sire," he said, "what grief oppresseth thee?"
"Alas," said Charlemagne, "by Ganelon France is betrayed. This night I dreamed I saw him break my lance in twain. And this same Ganelon it is that puts my nephew in the rear-guard. And I, I have left him in a strange land. If he die, where shall I find such another?"
It was in vain that Duke Naimes tried to comfort the Emperor. He would not be comforted, and all the hearts of that great company were filled with fearful, boding dread for Roland.