THE EMPEROR CHARLEMAGNE'S COUNCIL
 The Emperor Charlemagne was well pleased, for at last, after
much fighting, he had taken the city of Cordres. The walls
lay in ruins, and with his great war engines he had
shattered the towers and turrets. Within the town his
knights had found rich plunder of gold and silver and
precious stones, of wrought armour and princely weapons. So
they were well rewarded for days of fighting and of toil.
But most of all Charlemagne was glad that not a heathen man
remained within the walls. For those who would not be
baptized, and become good Christian men, had been slain.
Such was the great Emperor's way. To every prisoner was
given the choice to live as Christian or to die as heathen.
 And now, resting after his labours and his battles, great
Karl sat in a sunny orchard. Around him were gathered his
mighty men. Wise and old, bearded and grave, they sat upon
gay carpets spread upon the ground, talking together or
playing chess. Of the younger knights, some wrestled or ran
or tried their strength in friendly wise in the cool shadow
of the trees. Among them was the Emperor's nephew Roland,
the bravest knight of France, and his fast friend Oliver.
And into the cool shade of the orchard, where these knights
rested and played, rode Blancandrin and his train, on their
white mules. Bending low before Charlemagne, "In the name
of God we greet thee," said the messengers.
Then kneeling humbly, Blancandrin spoke. "The valiant King
Marsil sends me to thee," he said, "with presents rich and
rare. He promises to become thy vassal; he will place his
hands within thy hands, and swear to serve thee. But already
thou hast been too long time distant from thy fair realm of
 France. Go back, and there will King Marsil come to do thee
When Blancandrin had finished speaking, the Emperor bowed
his head in thought. He was never quick to speak, and now he
pondered long before he answered the kneeling stranger. In
silence around him, his own knights and the messengers of
Spain awaited his reply.
At last Charlemagne raised his head.
"Thou hast spoken well," he
said to Blancandrin, "but King Marsil is my great enemy.
Thy words are fair, but how may I know if there be any truth
This was even as Blancandrin had foreseen. "We will give
thee hostages," he said, "ten—twenty—whatever number
thou wilt ask. I will send mine own son to thee. And if we
keep not faith with thee, if King Marsil come not, as he
swears he will, to bow the knee to thee and receive the
baptism of Holy Christ, then mayest thou slay them all."
"So be it"; said Charlemagne, "it seemeth me King Marsil
may yet find grace."
 Then as the day was far gone, and the evening sun sent long
shadows through the trees, the Emperor gave orders that the
Saracens should be lodged with honour, that every respect
should be paid to them and that they should be waited upon
as noble guests.
So the night passed and very early in the morning,
Charlemagne rose. And after hearing morning prayer, he
called his wise men round him that they might give him
"My lords and barons," he said, "King Marsil hath sent
messengers to me with fair words and rich presents. He
promises to be my vassal and to be baptized in the name of
Holy Christ. And to this end he will follow me to France, if
I now return thither. But how may I know whether he lie to
me, or whether he speak truth?"
"Beware of him, beware!" cried the Franks.
Then, as silence once more fell upon them, Roland rose. His
cheek was flushed, his
 eye flashed in anger. "Believe not
thou this Marsil!" he cried. "He was ever a traitor. Once
before, dost thou not remember it, there came from him false
messengers, with olive branches in their hands and lies upon
their lips. And when thou sentest two of thy knights to him,
he smote off their heads. Listen not unto him, but end as
thou hast begun. Carry the war to Saragossa, and if the
siege should last all thy life long, it were still worth it,
to avenge the death of our noble knights upon this felon
Marsil. War! I say war!"
The Emperor bent his head. With his fingers he twisted his
long white beard as he sat in thought, and to his nephew he
answered no word good or bad. Around him stood his knights
and nobles, silent too.
Then in the stillness, a knight whose name was Ganelon
sprang up. His face was dark and haughty, and with proud
gestures he strode to the foot of the throne. "Listen not to
the counsel of fools!" he cried. "Think rather of thine own
best good. King
Mar-  sil's gifts and promises, I say, thou
oughtest to accept. He who counselleth thee to refuse is a
fool, and thinketh not of the death we all may die. Listen
not to the counsel of pride. Let fools be, and hearken to
the wise." And casting a look of dark hatred at Roland,
Ganelon was silent.
Then from his seat an old man rose. He was the Duke Naimes.
His face was brown and wrinkled, his beard was white and
long, and in all the Emperor's court there was none more
wise than he.
Turning to the Emperor, "Thou hast heard," he said, "the
words of Count Ganelon. It is wise counsel that he giveth.
Let it be followed. King Marsil is vanquished in war. Thou
hast taken all his castles, the walls of his towns are laid
low by thy war engines, his villages are burned, his men are
beaten. To-day he prays thee to have mercy upon him, and
thou wrongest thyself if thou refuse. Send, I counsel thee,
one of thy knights to Saragossa to speak with King Marsil,
for it is time that this great war
 should end, and that we
return to our own land."
Then all the Franks cried out, "The Duke hath spoken well."
"My lords and barons," said the Emperor, "since ye think it
well, whom shall we send to do our bidding at Saragossa?"
"I will go right gladly," said Duke Naimes. "Give me here
and now thy glove and mace as tokens that I am thy
messenger, and let me go."
"Nay," replied the Emperor, "wisest art thou in counsel. By
my beard, thou shalt not go so far from me! Sit thee down, I
Duke Naimes was silent, and again the Emperor spoke. "My
lords and barons, whom will ye that we send?"
"Send me!" cried Roland, "right joyfully will I go."
"Nay," said Oliver, springing forward, "nay, not so. Too
fiery of temper art thou. Thou wouldst bring but evil out of
this. Let me go rather, if the Emperor will."
 "Be silent, both!" thundered Charlemagne. "Not a step shall
ye go, either one or other of you. Nay, by my white beard, I
swear none of my twelve chosen peers shall go." For Roland
and Oliver were two of the twelve noblest and best of
Charlemagne's knights, known as the Peers of France.
Before the anger of the Emperor the Franks stood silent and
abashed. Then from the ranks of knights, Turpin, the old
Archbishop of Rheims, stepped out. Raising his clear, strong
voice, he spoke. "Sire," he cried, "thy knights and barons
have suffered much in war these seven long years. Let them
now rest. But give to me thy glove and mace. I will find
this Saracen lord, and will speak unto him my mind."
"Nay," said the Emperor, and his brow grew yet more dark,
"nay, by my troth thou shalt not go. Sit thee down, and
speak not again until I command thee." Then, as Turpin was
silent and went back to his place, once again the Emperor
turned to his
 knights. "My lords of France," he cried, "now
choose ye, choose ye whom we shall send to do our bidding at
"Ah!" said Roland, "if I may not go, then send Ganelon my
step-father. Nowhere canst thou find a better knight or
"Well said! well said!" shouted the Franks. "If so the
Emperor will, there were no man better."
"Good," replied Charlemagne, "Ganelon it shall be. Approach,
Count, and receive the mace and glove. The Franks have
chosen thee. Thou hast heard."
But Ganelon stood in his place white and trembling with
passion. "This is Roland's work," he said in a voice low,
yet sharp with anger. "For this, I vow, I will love him no
more. No more will I love Oliver, for he is Roland's friend.
No more will I love the Peers, for they are his companions.
There, Sire, before thy face I fling defiance at them."
"Ganelon," replied the Emperor sternly,
 "there is too much
anger here. Since I order it, thou shalt go."
"Oh, I will go," cried Ganelon mad with anger, "I will go,
and I will die as the two knights before me died. For if I
go to Saragossa, I know well that I shall never return." Then seeing that his anger moved not the Emperor one whit,
he began to speak in a pleading, gentle voice. "Forget not
thou thy sister who is my wife," he said. "Forget not my
son, too. Oh, my pretty boy! If he lives he will be a noble
knight, and to him I leave all my lands and riches. Be thou
good to him and love him, for I shall never see him more."
"Ganelon," said Charlemagne scornfully, "thy heart is too
tender methinks. If I command thee to go, go thou must."
And now Count Ganelon's anger knew no bounds. Shaking with
wrath, he flung his cloak backward from his shoulders,
showing the silken vest which he wore beneath. He was very
tall and splendid, and his dark proud face glowed with
passion, and his
 grey eyes glittered as he turned to Roland.
"Fool," he cried, "dastard, why this hatred against me? Ah!
every one knows. I am thy step-father, and therefore hast
thou condemned me to go to Marsil and to death. But wait," he went on, his voice trembling and choking with passion,
"wait, and if it please Heaven that I return, I will bring
upon thee such sorrow and mourning as shall last all thy
"Pride and folly," laughed Roland scornfully, "thou knowest
that I care not for thy threats. But such a message as that
upon which the Emperor now sends thee requires a man of
wisdom, and if so the Emperor will, I will take thy place."
But neither did this please Ganelon. "Thou art not my
vassal," he cried, "nor am I thy lord. The Emperor hath
commanded me to go to Saragossa, and go I shall. But I shall
do thee and thy companions an evil to avenge me of this
At that Count Roland laughed aloud in scorn.
 When Ganelon heard Roland laugh he became as one beside
himself. His face grew purple with anger, he gasped and
choked. "I hate thee," he hissed at last, "I hate thee!" Then struggling to be calm he turned once more to the
Emperor. "Great Karl," he said, "I am ready to do thy will."
'I hate thee,' hissed Ganelon
"Fair Sir Ganelon," said the Emperor, "this is my message to
the heathen King Marsil. Say to him that he shall bend the
knee to gentle Christ and be baptized in His name. Then will
I give him full half of Spain to hold in fief. Over the
other half Count Roland, my nephew well-beloved, shall
reign. If Marsil doth not choose to accept these terms then
will I march to Saragossa. I will besiege and take his city.
I will bind him hand and foot, and will lead him prisoner to
Aix, my royal seat. There he shall be tried, and judged and
slain, dying a death of torture and disgrace. Here is the
letter which I have sealed with my seal. Give thou it into
the hands of the heathen lord."
Thus speaking, the Emperor held out the
 letter and his right
hand glove to Ganelon. But he, in his anger scarce knowing
what he did, as he knelt to take them, let the glove slip
from his fingers, and it fell to the ground between them.
"Alas!" cried the Franks, "that is an evil omen. Ill-luck
will come to us of this quest."
"Ye shall have news of it anon," said Ganelon darkly,
turning from them. Then to the Emperor he said, "Sire, let
me go. Since go I must, why delay?"
The Emperor raised his hand, and signed him with the sign of
the cross. "Go," he said, "in Christ's name and mine." And
giving his mace into Ganelon's hand, he bade him God-speed.
Without a look at the gathered peers, without a word of
farewell, Ganelon turned on his heel, and went to his own
house. There he clad himself in his finest armour. Golden
spurs were bound upon his feet, a cloak of rich fur and silk
was flung about his shoulders. Murglies, his famous sword,
he girt to his side, and as he sprang upon
 his horse
Taschebrun, many a knight pressed round him to say farewell,
many begged to be allowed to go with him. For they were
gallant knights and bold, and to go upon a quest of danger
was their greatest joy. But Ganelon would have none of them.
"God forbid!" he cried; "I had rather go upon my death
alone. But, gentle sirs, ye return to fair France, whither I
too would fain go. Greet there for me my dear lady and my
boy. Defend him and guard his rights as ye would your own." Then with bent head Ganelon turned slowly from their sight,
and rode to join the heathen Blancandrin.
As he journeyed, his heart was heavy. Sadly he thought of
that fair France which he might never see again, more sadly
still of his wife and child whom never again perhaps would
he hold in his arms. Then his heart grew hot with jealous
anger at the thought that these knights and nobles whom he
hated would now soon return to France, and that he alone of
all that gallant host would be left to die in heathen Spain.