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Stories of Charlemagne by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

OF THE PUNISHMENT OF GANELON

[315]

T
HE King sent messengers to all parts of his dominions, bidding all the judges learned in the law come to him at his palace at Aachen. So the judges came as he commanded, and were gathered together on the Feast of St. Silvester, which was the last day of December. When they were all assembled he bade the serjeants fetch Ganelon out of his prison, and bring him before the judges. When they had done this, the King said, "My Lords, I would have you judge this man Ganelon. He came with me when I went with my army to the land of Spain; he has robbed me of twenty thousand men of France; he has robbed me of Roland my nephew, whom we shall see no more, and of Oliver the courteous knight, and of the Twelve Peers of France—and all this he has done for the sake of money."

"It is true," said Ganelon; "may a curse fall [316] on me if I deny it. But listen; Roland did me wrong in the matter of gold and silver. Therefore I sought to revenge myself upon him; and I compassed his death. That I confess; but I deny that I wrought any treason." So Ganelon spake, as he stood before the King. He was of a fair presence, and had been a noble knight if only he had been true of heart.

Ganelon spake again, saying, "I beseech you, my lords, to hear my defence. When I was in the King's army I served him loyally and well. But my nephew Roland cherished in his heart a great hatred of me, and would have done me to death. Did he not bring it about that I was sent on an embassy to King Marsilas? If I escaped, it was of my own contriving. Thereupon I bade defiance to Roland and to Oliver and to all his company, as the King and all here present will bear witness. This was revenge, I confess, but I affirm it was not treason."

Now there had come to the support of Ganelon thirty men of his kindred, of whom the chief was a certain Pinabel. A great orator was this Pinabel, when there was need of pleading a cause, and a good soldier also, when there was need of arms. To him said [317] Ganelon, "I trust in you, and you only; you can deliver me from dishonour and death." "You shall have a champion," answered Pinabel; "the first man that shall pronounce against you the sentence of death, to him will I give the lie with the edge of this sword." Thereupon Ganelon fell at his feet and thanked him.

A great company from many regions were gathered together to the King at Aachen; men from Saxony and from Bavaria, and from Poitou, Normans, and French, and Germans from beyond the Rhine. And of all none had more favour for Ganelon than the barons of Auvergne. "Let the matter rest where it is," said they. "We will beseech the King to show mercy to Ganelon. Roland is dead, and all the gold and silver in the world will not bring him back. As for fighting, it is sheer folly." To this all the barons agreed—all save one, Thierry, to wit, that was brother to Geoffrey of Anjou. Thereupon the barons of Auvergne went to the King and said, "Sire, we beseech you, to hold the Count quit of this charge. Henceforth he will serve you with all good faith and loyalty. Suffer him to live, for he is a nobleman. As for Roland, he is dead and neither gold nor silver will bring him back."

[318] "You are nothing but traitors, all of you!" cried the King in great anger. But when he saw how the barons favoured these words, he was greatly troubled. Thereupon Thierry, that was brother to Geoffrey of Anjou, stood before him, and said, "Trouble not yourself, my good lord. Beyond all doubt, this Ganelon is a traitor. Though Roland may have done him wrong, for your sake he should have suffered him to go unscathed. Therefore I pronounce sentence of death upon him, that he be hanged by the heels till he die, and that they throw his carcase to the dogs. This is the just punishment of traitors. And if any kinsman of his say me nay, then will I give him the lie with the edge of the sword." So spake the Count Thierry, and all the men of France cried with one voice, "It is well said."

Pinabel, when he heard these words, came near to the King. "Sire," said he, "bid them cease from this clamour. The Count Thierry has given his judgment; I, for my part, say that he has lied. Let us put the matter to the trial of the sword." "So be it," answered the King; "but I must have hostages." Thereupon thirty kinsmen of the Count offered themselves. And the King, on his part offered hostages also.

[319] First the two champions made confession and received absolution. Also they gave great alms to the poor. After this they armed themselves for the battle. There is a great plain near to the city of Aachen; on this the two champions met to do battle, the one for the good name of Roland and his comrades, the other for Ganelon. First they charged with their spears in rest. So equally matched were they that neither gained any advantage in the encounter. The spurs of both were broken; the corslets of both were broken through, and the belts of the horses were so torn that the saddles turned in their place. So the two champions were unhorsed. Quickly did they leap to their feet, and fall to with their swords. Mighty blows did they both deal, and the men of France were in great fear. Then Pinabel cried aloud, "Take back your words, Count Thierry, I will be your friend and comrade, and divide my wealth with you, if only you will make Ganelon friends with the King." "Far be it from me!" answered Thierry. "Never will I do such a thing. God shall judge between us." After a while he spake again; "Pinabel, you are a true knight, strong, and of a noble presence, and all men know your courage. Have done with this battle. I will [320] make peace between you and the King. As for Ganelon, let him have his deserts." "God forbid," answered Pinabel, "that I should desert my kinsman." So the champions turned again to the duel. First Pinabel struck a mighty blow, and wounded Thierry on the right cheek, coming near to slay him outright. But God preserved him, for was he not champion of the right! Then Thierry, in his turn, smote his adversary. On the helmet fell the blow, cleaving it in twain, and the skull beneath, so that the man's brain was scattered on the earth.

Then came the punishment. The King asked, "What shall we do with those that pledged themselves for the traitor's innocence?" "Let them be hanged," answered the nobles. And this was done. As for Ganelon, they lashed his limbs to four horses, so that he was torn into four pieces. This was the end of the traitor.


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