Directory:EPIC & SAGA




THE KING our Emperor Carlemaine,

Hath been for seven full years in Spain.

From highland to sea hath he won the land;

City was none might his arm withstand;

Keep and castle alike went down—

Save Saragossa, the mountain town.

The King Marsilius holds the place,

Who loveth not God, nor seeks His grace:

He prays to Apollin, and serves Mahound;

But he saved him not from the fate he found.


In Saragossa King Marsil made

His council-seat in the orchard shade,

On a stair of marble of azure hue.

There his courtiers round him drew;

While there stood, the king before,

Twenty thousand men and more.

Thus to his dukes and his counts he said,

“Hear ye, my lords, we are sore bested.

The Emperor Karl of gentle France

Hither hath come for our dire mischance.

Nor host to meet him in battle line,

Nor power to shatter his power, is mine.

Speak, my sages; your counsel lend:

My doom of shame and death forefend.”

But of all the heathens none spake word

Save Blancandrin, Val Fonde's lord.


Blancandrin was a heathen wise,

Knightly and valiant of enterprise,

Sage in counsel his lord to aid;

And he said to the king, “Be not dismayed:

Proffer to Karl, the haughty and high,

Lowly friendship and fealty;

Ample largess lay at his feet,

Bear and lion and greyhound fleet.

Seven hundred camels his tribute be,

A thousand hawks that have moulted free.

Let full four hundred mules be told,

Laden with silver enow and gold

For fifty waggons to bear away;

So shall his soldiers receive their pay.

Say, too long hath he warred in Spain,—

Let him turn to France—to his Aix—again.

At Saint Michael's feast you will thither speed,

Bend your heart to the Christian creed,

And his liegeman be in duty and deed.

Hostages he may demand

Ten or twenty at your hand.

We will send him the sons whom our wives have nursed;

Were death to follow, mine own the first.

Better by far that they there should die

Than be driven all from our land to fly,

Flung to dishonor and beggary.


“Yea,” said Blancandrin, “by this right hand,

And my floating beard by the free wind fanned,

Ye shall see the host of the Franks disband

And hie them back into France their land;

Each to his home as beseemeth well,

And Karl unto Aix—to his own Chapelle.

He will hold high feast on Saint Michael's day

And the time of your tryst shall pass away.

Tale nor tidings of us shall be;

Fiery and sudden, I know, is he:

He will smite off the heads of our hostages all:

Better, I say, that their heads should fall

Than we the fair land of Spain forego,

And our lives be laden with shame and woe.”

“Yea,” said the heathens, “it may be so.”


King Marsil's council is over that day,

And he called to him Clarin of Balaguet,

Estramarin, and Eudropin his peer,

Bade Garlon and Priamon both draw near,

Machiner and his uncle Maheu—with these

Joïmer and Malbien from overseas,

Blancandrin for spokesman,—of all his men

He hath summoned there the most felon ten.

“Go ye to Carlemaine,” spake their liege,—

“At Cordres city he sits in siege,—

While olive branches in hand ye press,

Token of peace and of lowliness.

Win him to make fair treaty with me,

Silver and gold shall your guerdon be,

Land and lordship in ample fee.”

“Nay,” said the heathens, “enough have we.”


So did King Marsil his council end.

“Lords,” he said, “on my errand wend;

While olive branches in hand ye bring,

Say from me unto Karl the king,

For sake of his God let him pity show;

And ere ever a month shall come and go,

With a thousand faithful of my race,

I will follow swiftly upon his trace,

Freely receive his Christian law,

And his liegemen be in love and awe.

Hostages asks he? it shall be done.”

Blancandrin answered, “Your peace is won.”


Then King Marsil bade be dight

Ten fair mules of snowy white,

Erst from the King of Sicily brought

Their trappings with silver and gold inwrought—

Gold the bridle, and silver the selle.

On these are the messengers mounted well;

And they ride with olive boughs in hand,

To seek the Lord of the Frankish land.

Well let him watch; he shall be trepanned.



King Karl is jocund and gay of mood,

He hath Cordres city at last subdued;

Its shattered walls and turrets fell

By Catapult and mangonel;

Not a heathen did there remain

But confessed him Christian or else was slain.

The Emperor sits in an orchard wide,

Roland and Olivier by his side:

Samson the duke, and Anseis proud;

Geoffrey of Anjou, whose arm was vowed

The royal gonfalon to rear;

Gerein, and his fellow in arms, Gerier;

With them many a gallant lance,

Full fifteen thousand of gentle France.

The cavaliers sit upon carpets white,

Playing at tables for their delight:

The older and sager sit at the chess,

The bachelors fence with a light address.

Seated underneath a pine,

Close beside an eglantine,

Upon a throne of beaten gold,

The lord of ample France behold;

White his hair and beard were seen,

Fair of body, and proud of mien,

Who sought him needed not ask, I ween

The ten alight before his feet,

And him in all observance greet.


Blancandrin first his errand gave,

And he said to the king, “May God you save,

The God of glory, to whom you bend!

Marsil, our king, doth his greeting send.

Much hath he mused on the law of grace,

Much of his wealth at your feet will place—

Bears and lions, and dogs of chase,

Seven hundred camels that bend the knee,

A thousand hawks that have moulted free,

Four hundred mules, with silver and gold

Which fifty wains might scantly hold,

So shall you have of the red bezants

To pay the soldiers of gentle France.

Overlong have you dwelt in Spain,—

To Aix, your city, return again.

The lord I serve will thither come,

Accept the law of Christendom,

With claspèd hands your liegeman be,

And hold his realm of you in fee.”

The Emperor raised his hands on high,

Bent and bethought him silently.


The Emperor bent his head full low;

Never hasty of speech I trow;

Leisurely came his words, and slow,

Lofty his look as he raised his head:

“Thou hast spoken well,” at length he said.

“King Marsil was ever my deadly foe,

And of all these words, so fair in show,

How may I the fulfilment know?”

“Hostages will you?” the heathen cried,

“Ten or twenty, or more beside.

I will send my son, were his death at hand,

With the best and noblest of all our land;

And when you sit in your palace halls,

And the feast of St. Michael of Peril falls,

Unto the waters will come our king,

Which God commanded for you to spring;

There in the laver of Christ be laved.”

“Yea!” said Karl, “he may yet be saved.”


Fair and bright did the evening fall:

The ten white mules were stabled in stall;

On the sward was a fair pavilion dressed,

To give to the Saracens cheer of the best;

Servitors twelve at their bidding bide,

And they rest all night until morning tide,

The Emperor rose with the day-dawn clear,

Failed not Matins and Mass to hear,

Then betook him beneath a pine,

Summoned his barons by word and sign:

As his Franks advise will his choice incline.


Under a pine is the Emperor gone,

And his barons to council come forth anon:

Archbishop Turpin, Duke Ogier bold

With his nephew Henry was Richard the old,

Gascony's gallant Count Acelin,

Tybalt of Rheims, and Milo his kin,

Gerein and his brother in arms, Gerier,

Count Roland and his faithful fere,

The gentle and valiant Olivier:

More than a thousand Franks of France

And Ganelon came, of woful chance;

By him was the deed of treason done.

So was the fatal consult begun.


“Lords my barons,” the Emperor said,

“King Marsil to me hath his envoys sped.

He proffers treasure surpassing bounds,

Bears and lions, and leashèd hounds;

Seven hundred camels that bend the knee;

A thousand hawks that have moulted free;

Four hundred mules with Arab gold,

Which fifty wains might scantly hold.

But he saith to France must I wend my way:

He will follow to Aix with brief delay,

Bend his heart unto Christ's belief,

And hold his marches of me in fief;

Yet I know not what in his heart may lie.”

“Beware! beware!” was the Franks' outcry.


Scarce his speech did the Emperor close,

When in high displeasure Count Roland rose,

Fronted his uncle upon the spot,

And said, “This Marsil, believe him not:

Seven full years have we warred in Spain;

Commibles and Noples for you have I ta'en,

Tudela and Sebilie, cities twain;

Valtierra I won, and the land of Pine,

And Balaguet fell to this arm of mine.

King Marsil hath ever a traitor been:

He sent of his heathens, at first fifteen.

Bearing each one on olive bough,

Speaking the self-same words as now.

Into council with your Franks you went,

Lightly they flattered your heart's intent;

Two of your barons to him you sent,—

They were Basan and Basil, the brother knights:

He smote off their heads on Haltoia's heights.

War, I say!—end as you well began,

Unto Saragossa lead on your van;

Were the siege to last your lifetime through,

Avenge the nobles this felon slew.”


The Emperor bent him and mused within,

Twisted his beard upon lip and chin,

Answered his nephew nor good nor ill;

And the Franks, save Ganelon, all were still:

Hastily to his feet he sprang,

Haughtily his words outrang:—

“By me or others be not misled,—

Look to your own good ends,” he said.

“Since now King Marsil his faith assures,

That, with hands together clasped in yours,

He will henceforth your vassal be,

Receive the Christian law as we,

And hold his realm of you in fee,

Whoso would treaty like this deny,

Recks not, sire, by what death we die:

Good never came from counsel of pride,—

List to the wise, and let madmen bide.”


Then his form Duke Naimes upreared,

White of hair and hoary of beard.

Better vassal in court was none.

“You have hearkened,” he said, “unto Ganelon.

Well hath Count Ganelon made reply;

Wise are his words, if you bide thereby.

King Marsil is beaten and broken in war;

You have captured his castles anear and far,

With your engines shattered his walls amain,

His cities burned, his soldiers slain:

Respite and ruth if he now implore,

Sin it were to molest him more.

Let his hostages vouch for the faith he plights,

And send him one of your Christian knights.

'Twere time this war to an ending came.”

“Well saith the duke!” the Franks exclaim.


“Lords my barons, who then were best

In Saragossa to do our hest?”

“I,” said Naimes, “of your royal grace,

Yield me in token your glove and mace.”

“Nay—my sagest of men art thou:

By my beard upon lip and chin I vow

Thou shalt never depart so far from me:

Sit thee down till I summon thee.


“Lords my barons, whom send we, then,

To Saragossa, the Saracen den?”

“I,” said Roland, “will blithely go.”

“Nay,” said Olivier; “nay, not so.

All too fiery of mood thou art;

Thou wouldst play, I fear me, a perilous part.

I go myself, if the king but will.”

“I command,” said Karl, “that ye both be still.

Neither shall be on this errand bound,

Nor one of the twelve—my peers around;

So by my blanching beard I swear.”

The Franks are abashed and silent there.


Turpin of Rheims from amid the ranks

Said: “Look, my liege, on your faithful Franks:

Seven full years have they held this land,

With pain and peril on every hand.

To me be the mace and the glove consigned;

I will go this Saracen lord to find,

And freely forth will I speak my mind.”

The Emperor answered in angry plight,

“Sit thee down on that carpet white;

Speak not till I thy speech invite.


“My cavaliers,” he began anew,

“Choose of my marches a baron true,

Before King Marsil my hest to do.”

“Be it, then,” said Roland, “my stepsire Gan,

In vain ye seek for a meeter man.”

The Franks exclaim, “He is worth the trust,

So it please the king it is right and just.”

Count Ganelon then was with anguish wrung,

His mantle of fur from his neck he flung.

Stood all stark in his silken vest,

And his grey eyes gleamed with a fierce unrest.

Fair of body and large of limb,

All in wonderment gazed on him.

“Thou madman,” thus he to Roland cried,

“What may this rage against me betide?

I am thy stepsire, as all men know,

And thou doom't me on hest like this to go;

But so God my safe return bestow,

I promise to work thee scathe and strife

Long as thou breathest the breath of life.”

“Pride and folly!” said Roland, then.

“Am I known to wreck of the threats of men?

But this is work for the sagest head.

So it please the king, I will go instead.”


“In my stead?—never, of mine accord.

Thou art not my vassal nor I thy lord.

Since Karl commands me his hest to fill,

Unto Saragossa ride forth I will;

Yet I fear me to wreak some deed of ill,

Thereby to slake this passion's might.”

Roland listened, and laughed outright.


At Roland's laughter Count Ganelon's pain

Was as though his bosom were cleft in twain.

He turned to his stepson as one distraught:

“I do not love thee,” he said, “in aught;

Thou hast false judgment against me wrought.

O righteous Emperor, here I stand

To execute your high command.


“Unto Saragossa I needs must go;—

Who goeth may never return, I know;—

Yet withal, your sister is spouse of mine,

And our son—no fairer of mortal line—

Baldwin bids to be goodly knight;

I leave him my honors and fiefs of right.

Guard him—no more shall he greet my sight.”

Saith Karl, “Thou art over tender of heart.

Since I command it, thou shalt depart.


“Fair Sir Gan,” the Emperor spake,

“This my message to Marsil take:

He shall make confession of Christ's belief,

And I yield him, full half of Spain in fief;

In the other half shall Count Roland reign.

If he choose not the terms I now ordain,

I will march unto Saragossa's gate,

Besiege and capture the city straight,

Take and bind him both hands and feet,

Lead him to Aix, to my royal seat,

There to be tried and judged and slain,

Dying a death of disgrace and pain.

I have sealed the scroll of my command.

Deliver it into the heathen's hand.


“Gan,” said the Emperor, “draw thou near:

Take my glove and my bâton here;

On thee did the choice of thy fellows fall.”

“Sire, 'twas Roland who wrought it all.

I shall not love him while life may last,

Nor Olivier his comrade fast,

Nor the peers who cherish and prize him so,—

Gage of defiance to all I throw.”

Saith Karl, “Thine anger hath too much sway.

Since I ordain it, thou must obey.”

“I go, but warranty none have I

That I may not like Basil and Basan die.”


The Emperor reached him his right-hand glove;

Gan for his office had scanty love;

As he bent him forward, it fell to ground:

“God, what is this?” said the Franks around;

“Evil will come of this quest we fear.”

“My lords,” said Ganelon, “ye shall hear.”


“Sire,” he said, “let me wend my way;

Since go I must, what boots delay?”

Said the king, “In Jesus' name and mine!”

And his right hand sained him with holy sign.

Then he to Ganelon's grasp did yield

His royal mace and missive sealed.


Home to his hostel is Ganelon gone,

His choicest of harness and arms to don;

On his charger Taschebrun to mount and ride,

With his good sword Murgleis girt at side.

On his feet are fastened the spurs of gold,

And his uncle Guinemer doth his stirrup hold.

Then might ye look upon cavaliers

A-many round him who spake in tears.

“Sir,” they said, “what a woful day!

Long were you ranked in the king's array,

A noble vassal as none gainsay.

For him who doomed you to journey hence

Carlemagne's self shall be scant defence;

Foul was the thought in Count Roland's mind,

When you and he are so high affined.

Sir,” they said, “let us with you wend.”

“Nay,” said Ganelon, “God forefend.

Liefer alone to my death I go,

Than such brave bachelors perish so.

Sirs, ye return into France the fair;

Greeting from me to my lady bear,

To my friend and peer Sir Pinabel,

And to Baldwin, my son, whom ye all know well,—

Cherish him, own him your lord of right.”

He hath passed on his journey and left their sight.



Ganelon rides under olives high,

And comes the Saracen envoys nigh.

Blancandrin lingers until they meet,

And in cunning converse each other greet.

The Saracen thus began their parle:

“What a man, what a wondrous man is Karl!

Apulia—Calabria—all subdued,

Unto England crossed he the salt sea rude,

Won for Saint Peter his tribute fee;

But what in our marches maketh he?”

Ganelon said, “He is great of heart,

Never man shall fill so mighty a part.”


Said Blancandrin, “Your Franks are high of fame,

But your dukes and counts are sore to blame.

Such counsel to their lord they give,

Nor he nor others in peace may live.”

Ganelon answered, “I know of none,

Save Roland, who thus to his shame hath done.

Last morn the Emperor sat in the shade,

His nephew came in his mail arrayed,—

He had plundered Carcassonne just before,

And a vermeil apple in hand he bore:

‘Sire,’ he said, ‘to your feet I bring

The crown of every earthly king.’

Disaster is sure such pride to blast;

He setteth his life on a daily cast.

Were he slain, we all should have peace at last.”


“Ruthless is Roland,” Blancandrin spake,

“Who every race would recreant make,

And on all possessions of men would seize;

But in whom doth he trust for feats like these?”

“The Franks! the Franks!” Count Ganelon cried;

“They love him, and never desert his side;

For he lavisheth gifts that seldom fail,

Gold and silver in countless tale,

Mules and chargers, and silks and mail,

The king himself may have spoil at call.

From hence to the East he will conquer all.”


Thus Blancandrin and Ganelon rode,

Till each on other his faith bestowed

That Roland should be by practice slain,

And so they journeyed by path and plain,

Till in Saragossa they bridle drew,

There alighted beneath a yew.

In a pine-tree's shadow a throne was set;

Alexandrian silk was the coverlet:

There the monarch of Spain they found,

With twenty thousand Saracens round,

Yet from them came nor breath nor sound;

All for the tidings they strained to hear,

As they saw Blancandrin and Ganelon near.


Blancandrin stepped before Marsil's throne,

Ganelon's hand was in his own.

“Mahound you save,” to the king he said,

“And Apollin, whose holy law we dread!

Fairly your errand to Karl! was done;

But other answer made he none,

Save that his hands to Heaven he raised,

Save that a space his God he praised;

He sends a baron of his court,

Knight of France, and of high report,

Of him your tidings of peace receive.”

“Let him speak,” said Marsil, “we yield him leave.”


Gan had bethought him, and mused with art;

Well was he skilled to play his part;

And he said to Marsil, “May God you save,

The God of glory, whose grace we crave!

Thus saith the noble Carlemaine:

You shall make in Christ confession plain.

And he gives you in fief full half of Spain;

The other half shall be Roland's share

(Right haughty partner, he yields you there);

And should you slight the terms I bear,

He will come and gird Saragossa round,

You shall be taken by force and bound,

Led unto Aix, to his royal seat,

There to perish by judgment meet,

Dying a villainous death of shame.”

Over King Marsil a horror came;

He grasped his javelin, plumed with gold,

In act to smite, were he not controlled.


King Marsil's cheek the hue hath left,

And his right hand grasped his weapon's heft.

When Ganelon saw it, his sword he drew

Finger lengths from the scabbard two.

“Sword,” he said, “thou art clear and bright;

I have borne thee long in my fellows's sight,

Mine emperor never shall say of me,

That I perished afar, in a strange countrie,

Ere thou in the blood of their best wert dyed.”

“Dispart the mellay,” the heathens cried.


The noblest Saracens thronged amain,

Seated the king on his throne again,

And the Algalif said, “ 'Twas a sorry prank,

Raising your weapon to slay the Frank.

It was yours to hearken in silence there.”

“Sir,” said Gan, “I may meetly bear,

But for all the wealth of your land arrayed,

For all the gold that God hath made,

Would I not live and leave unsaid,

What Karl, the mightiest king below,

Sends, through me, to his mortal foe.”

His mantle of fur, that was round him twined,

With silk of Alexandria lined,

Down at Blancandrin's feet he cast,

But still he held by his good sword fast,

Grasping the hilt by its golden ball.

“A noble knight,” say the heathens all.


Ganelon came to the king once more.

“Your anger,” he said, “misserves you sore.

As the princely Carlemaine saith, I say,

You shall the Christian law obey.

And half of Spain you shall hold in fee,

The other half shall Count Roland's be,

(And a haughty partner 'tis yours to see).

Reject the treaty I here propose,

Round Saragossa his lines will close;

You shall be bound in fetters strong,

Led to his city of Aix along.

Nor steed nor palfrey shall you bestride,

Nor mule nor jennet be yours to ride;

On a sorry sumpter you shall be cast,

And your head by doom stricken off at last.

So is the Emperor's mandate traced,”—

And the scroll in the heathen's hand he placed.


Discolored with ire was King Marsil's hue;

The seal he brake and to earth he threw,

Read of the scroll the tenor clear.

“So Karl the Emperor writes me here.

Bids me remember his wrath and pain

For sake of Basan and Basil slain,

Whose necks I smote on Haltoia's hill;

Yet, if my life I would ransom still,

Mine uncle the Algalif must I send,

Or love between us were else at end.”

Then outspake Jurfalez, Marsil's son:

“This is but madness of Ganelon.

For crime so deadly his life shall pay;

Justice be mine on his head this day.”

Ganelon heard him, and waved his blade,

While his back against a pine he stayed.


Into his orchard King Marsil stepped.

His nobles round him their station kept:

There was Jurfalez, his son and heir,

Blancandrin of the hoary hair,

The Algalif, truest of all his kin.

Said Blancandrin, “Summon the Christian in;

His troth he pledged me upon our side.”

“Go,” said Marsil, “be thou his guide.”

Blancandrin led him, hand-in-hand,

Before King Marsil's face to stand.

Then was the villainous treason planned.


“Fair Sir Ganelon,” spake the king,

“I did a rash and despighteous thing,

Raising against thee mine arm to smite.

Richly will I the wrong requite.

See these sables whose worth were told

At full five hundred pounds of gold:

Thine shall they be ere the coming day.”

“I may not,” said Gan, “your grace gainsay.

God in His pleasure will you repay.”


“Trust me I love thee, Sir Gan, and fain

Would I hear thee discourse of Carlemaine.

He is old, methinks, exceedingly old;

And full two hundred years hath told;

With toil his body spent and worn,

So many blows on his buckler borne,

So many a haughty king laid low,

When will he weary of warring so?”

“Such is not Carlemaine,” Gan replied;

“Man never knew him, nor stood beside,

But will say how noble a lord is he,

Princely and valiant in high degree.

Never could words of mine express

His honor, his bounty, his gentleness,

'Twas God who graced him with gifts so high.

Ere I leave his vassalage I will die.”


The heathen said, “I marvel sore

Of Carlemaine, so old and hoar,

Who counts I ween two hundred years,

Hath borne such strokes of blades and spears,

So many lands hath overrun,

So many mighty kings undone,

When will he tire of war and strife?”

“Not while his nephew breathes in life.

Beneath the cope of heaven this day

Such vassal leads not king's array.

Gallant and sage is Olivier,

And all the twelve, to Karl so dear,

With twenty thousand Franks in van,

He feareth not the face of man.”


“Strange,” said Marsil, “seems to me,

Karl, so white with eld is he,

Twice a hundred years, men say,

Since his birth have passed away.

All his wars in many lands,

All the strokes of trenchant brands,

All the kings despoiled and slain,—

When will he from war refrain?”

“Not till Roland breathes no more,

For from hence to eastern shore,

Where is chief with him may vie?

Olivier his comrades by,

And the peers, of Karl the pride,

Twenty thousand Franks beside,

Vanguard of his host, and flower:

Karl may mock at mortal power.”


“I tell thee, Sir Gan, that a power is mine;

Fairer did never in armor shine,

Four hundred thousand cavaliers,

With the Franks of Karl to measure spears.”

“Fling such folly,” said Gan, “away;

Sorely your heathen would rue the day.

Proffer the Emperor ample prize,

A sight to dazzle the Frankish eyes;

Send him hostages full of score,

So returns he to France once more.

But his rear will tarry behind the host;

There, I trow, will be Roland's post—

There will Sir Olivier remain.

Hearken to me, and the counts lie slain;

The pride of Karl shall be crushed that day,

And his wars be ended with you for aye.”


“Speak, then, and tell me, Sir Ganelon,

How may Roland to death be done?”

“Through Cizra's pass will the Emperor wind,

But his rear will linger in march behind;

Roland and Olivier there shall be,

With twenty thousand in company.

Muster your battle against them then,

A hundred thousand heathen men.

Till worn and spent be the Frankish bands,

Though your bravest perish beneath their hands.

For another battle your powers be massed,

Roland will sink, overcome at last.

There were a feat of arms indeed,

And your life from peril thenceforth be freed.


“For whoso Roland to death shall bring,

From Karl his good right aim will wring,

The marvellous host will melt away,

No more shall be muster a like array,

And the mighty land will in peace repose.”

King Marsil heard him to the close;

Then kissed him on the neck, and bade

His royal treasures be displayed.


What said they more? Why tell the rest?

Said Marsil, “Fastest bound is best;

Come, swear me here to Roland's fall.”

“Your will,” said Gan, “be mine in all.”

He swore on the relics in the hilt

Of his sword Murgleis, and crowned his guilt.


A stool was there of ivory wrought.

King Marsil bade a book be brought,

Wherein was all the law contained

Mahound and Termagaunt ordained.

The Saracen hath sworn thereby,

If Roland in the rear-guard lie,

With all his men-at-arms to go,

And combat till the count lay low.

Sir Gan repeated, “Be it so.”


King Marsil's foster-father came,

A heathen, Valdabrun by name.

He spake to Gan with laughter clear.

“My sword, that never found its peer,—

A thousand pieces would not buy

The riches in the hilt that lie,—

To you I give in guerdon free;

Your aid in Roland's fall to see,

Let but the rear-guard be his place.”

“I trust,” said Gan, “to do you grace.”

Then each kissed other on the face.


Next broke with jocund laughter in,

Another heathen, Climorin.

To Gan he said, “Accept my helm,

The best and trustiest in the realm,

Conditioned that your aid we claim

To bring the marchman unto shame.”

“Be it,” said Ganelon, “as you list.”

And then on cheek and mouth they kissed.


Now Bramimonde, King Marsil's queen,

To Ganelon came with gentle mien.

“I love thee well, Sir Count,” she spake,

“For my lord the king and his nobles' sake.

See these clasps for a lady's wrist,

Of gold, and jacinth, and amethyst,

That all the jewels of Rome outshine;

Never your Emperor owned so fine;

These by the queen to your spouse are sent.”

The gems within his boot he pent.


Then did the king on his treasurer call,

“My gifts for Karl, are they ready all?”

“Yea, sire, seven hundred camels' load

Of gold and silver well bestowed,

And twenty hostages thereby,

The noblest underneath the sky.”


On Ganelon's shoulder King Marsil leant.

“Thou art sage,” he said, “and of gallant bent;

But by all thy holiest law deems dear,

Let not they thought from our purpose veer.

Ten mules' burthen I give to thee

Of gold, the finest of Araby;

Nor ever year henceforth shall pass

But it brings thee riches in equal mass

Take the keys of my city gates,

Take the treasure that Karl awaits—

Render them all; but oh, decide

That Roland in the rear-guard bide;

So may I find him by pass or height,

As I swear to meet him in mortal fight.”

Cried Gan, “Meseemeth too long we stay,”

Sprang on his charger and rode away.


The Emperor homeward hath turned his face,

To Gailne city he marched apace,

(By Roland erst in ruins strown—

Deserted thence it lay and lone,

Until a hundred years had flown).

Here waits he, word of Gan to gain

With tribute of the land of Spain;

And here, at earliest break of day,

Came Gan where the encampment lay.


The Emperor rose with the day dawn clear,

Failed not Matins and Mass to hear,

Sate at his tent on the fair green sward,

Roland and Olivier nigh their lord,

Duke Naimes and all his peers of fame.

Gan the felon, the perjured, came—

False was the treacherous tale he gave,—

And these his words, “May God you save!

I bear you Saragossa's keys,

Vast the treasure I bring with these,

And twenty hostages; guard them well,

The noble Marsil bids me tell—

Not on him shall your anger fall,

If I fetch not the Algalif here withal;

For mine eyes beheld, beneath their ken,

Three hundred thousand armèd men,

With sword and casque and coat of mail,

Put forth with him on the sea to sail,

All for hate of the Christian creed,

Which they would neither hold nor heed.

They had not floated a league but four,

When a tempest down on their galleys bore.

Drowned they lie to be seen no more.

If the Algalif were but living wight,

He had stood this morn before your sight.

Sire, for the Saracen king I say,

Ere ever a month shall pass away,

On into France he will follow free,

Bend to our Christian law the knee,

Homage swear for his Spanish land,

And hold the realm at your command.”

“Now praise to God,” the Emperor said,

“And thanks, my Ganelon, well you sped.”

A thousand clarions then resound,

The sumpter-mules are girt on ground,

For France, for France the Franks are bound.


Karl the Great hath wasted Spain,

Her cities sacked, her castles ta'en;

But now “My wars are done,” he cried,

“And home to gentle France we ride.”

Count Roland plants his standard high

Upon a peak against the sky;

The Franks around encamping lie.

Alas! the heathen host the while,

Through valley deep and dark defile,

Are riding on the Christians' track,

All armed in steel from breast to back;

Their lances poised, their helmets laced,

Their falchions glittering from the waist,

Their bucklers from the shoulder swung,

And so they ride the steeps among,

Till, in a forest on the height,

They rest to wait the morning light,

Four hundred thousand crouching there.

O God! the Franks are unaware.


The day declined, night darkling crept,

And Karl, the mighty Emperor, slept.

He dreamt a dream: he seemed to stand

In Cizra's pass, with lance in hand.

Count Ganelon came athwart, and lo,

He wrenched the aspen spear him fro,

Brandished and shook it aloft with might,

Till it brake in pieces before his sight;

High towards heaven the splinters flew;

Karl awoke not, he dreamed anew.


In his second dream he seemed to dwell

In his palace of Aix, at his own Chapelle.

A bear seized grimly his right arm on,

And bit the flesh to the very bone.

Anon a leopard from Arden wood,

Fiercely flew at him where he stood.

When lo! from his hall, with leap and bound,

Sprang to the rescue a gallant hound.

First from the bear the ear he tore,

Then on the leopard his fangs he bore.

The Franks exclaim, “'Tis a stirring fray,

But who the victor none may say.”

Karl awoke not—he slept alway.


The night wore by, the day dawn glowed,

Proudly the Emperor rose and rode,

Keenly and oft his host he scanned.

“Lords, my barons, survey this land,

See the passes so straight and steep:

To whom shall I trust the rear to keep?”

“To my stepson Roland:” Count Gan replied.

“Knight like him have you none beside.”

The Emperor heard him with moody brow.

“A living demon,” he said, “art thou;

Some mortal rage hath thy soul possessed.

To head my vanguard, who then were best?”

“Ogier,” he answered, “the gallant Dane,

Braver baron will none remain.”


Roland, when thus the choice he saw,

Spake, full knightly, by knightly law:

“Sir Stepsire, well may I hold thee dear,

That thou hast named me to guard the rear;

Karl shall lose not, if I take heed,

Charger, or palfrey, or mule or steed,

Hackney or sumpter that groom may lead;

The reason else our swords shall tell.”

“It is sooth,” said Gan, “and I know it well.”


Fiercely once more Count Roland turned

To speak the scorn that in him burned.

“Ha! deem't thou, dastard, of dastard race,

That I shall drop the glove in place,

As in sight of Karl thou didst the mace?”


Then of his uncle he made demand:

“Yield me the bow that you hold in hand;

Never of me shall the tale be told,

As of Ganelon erst, that it failed my hold.”

Sadly the Emperor bowed his head,

With working finger his beard he spread,

Tears in his own despite he shed.


But soon Duke Naimes doth by him stand—

No better vassal in all his band.

“You have seen and heard it all, O sire,

Count Roland waxeth much in ire.

On him the choice for the rear-guard fell,

And where is baron could speed so well?

Yield him the bow that your arm hath bent,

And let good succor to him be lent.”

The Emperor reached it forth, and lo!

He gave, and Roland received, the bow.


“Fair Sir Nephew, I tell thee free.

Half of my host will I leave with thee.”

“God be my judge,” was the count's reply,

“If ever I thus my race belie.

But twenty thousand with me shall rest,

Bravest of all your Franks and best;

The mountain passes in safety tread,

While I breathe in life you have nought to dread.”


Count Roland sprang to a hill-top's height,

And donned his peerless armor bright;

Laced his helm, for a baron made;

Girt Durindana, gold-hilted blade;

Around his neck he hung the shield,

With flowers emblazoned was the field;

Nor steed but Veillantif will ride;

And he grasped his lance with its pennon's pride.

White was the pennon, with rim of gold;

Low to the handle the fringes rolled.

Who are his lovers men now may see;

And the Franks exclaim, “We will follow thee.”


Roland hath mounted his charger on;

Sir Olivier to his side hath gone;

Gerein and his fellow in arms, Gerier;

Otho the Count, and Berengier,

Samson, and with him Anseis old,

Gerard of Roussillon, the bold.

Thither the Gascon Engelier sped;

“I go,” said Turpin, “I pledge my head;”

“And I with thee,” Count Walter said;

“I am Roland's man, to his service bound.”

So twenty thousand knights were found.


Roland beckoned Count Walter then.

“Take of our Franks a thousand men;

Sweep the heights and the passes clear,

That the Emperor's host may have nought to fear.”

“I go,” said Walter, “at your behest,”

And a thousand Franks around him pressed.

They ranged the heights and passes through,

Nor for evil tidings backward drew,

Until seven hundred swords outflew.

The Lord of Belferna's land, that day,

King Almaris met him in deadly fray.


Through Roncesvalles the march began;

Ogier, the baron, led the van;

For them was neither doubt nor fear,

Since Roland rested to guard the rear,

With twenty thousand in full array:

Theirs the battle—be God their stay.

Gan knows all; in his felon heart

Scarce hath he courage to play his part.


High were the peaks, and the valleys deep,

The mountains wondrous dark and steep;

Sadly the Franks through the passes wound,

Full fifteen leagues did their tread resound.

To their own great land they are drawing nigh,

And they look on the fields of Gascony.

They think of their homes and their manors there,

Their gentle spouses and damsels fair.

Is none but for pity the tear lets fall;

But the anguish of Karl is beyond them all.

His sister's son at the gates of Spain

Smites on his heart, and he weeps amain.


On the Spanish marches the twelve abide,

With twice ten thousand Franks beside.

Fear to die have they none, nor care:

But Karl returns into France the fair;

Beneath his mantle his face he hides.

Naimes, the duke, at his bridle rides.

“Say, sire, what grief doth your heart oppress?”

“To ask,” he said, “brings worse distress;

I cannot but weep for heaviness.

By Gan the ruin of France is wrought.

In an angel's vision, last night, methought

He wrested forth from my hand the spear:

'Twas he gave Roland to guard the rear.

God! should I lose him, my nephew dear,

Whom I left on a foreign soil behind,

His peer on earth I shall never find!”


Karl the Great cannot choose but weep,

For him hath his host compassion deep;

And for Roland, a marvellous boding dread.

It was Gan, the felon, this treason bred;

He hath heathen gifts of silver and gold,

Costly raiment, and silken fold,

Horses and camels, and mules and steeds.—

But lo! King Marsil the mandate speeds,

To his dukes, his counts, and his vassals all,

To each almasour and amiral.

And so, before three suns had set,

Four hundred thousand in muster met.

Through Saragossa the tabors sound;

On the loftiest turret they raise Mahound:

Before him the Pagans bend and pray,

Then mount and fiercely ride away,

Across Cerdagna, by vale and height,

Till stream the banners of France in sight,

Where the peers of Carlemaine proudly stand,

And the shock of battle is hard at hand.


Up to King Marsil his nephew rode,

With a mule for steed, and a staff for goad:

Free and joyous his accents fell,

“Fair Sir King, I have served you well.

So let my toils and my perils tell.

I have fought and vanquished for you in field.

One good boon for my service yield,—

Be it mine on Roland to strike the blow;

At point of lance will I lay him low;

And so Mohammed to aid me deign,

Free will I sweep the soil of Spain,

From the gorge of Aspra to Dourestan,

Till Karl grows weary such wars to plan.

Then for your life have you won repose.”

King Marsil on him his glove bestows.


His nephew, while the glove he pressed,

Proudly once more the king addressed.

“Sire, you have crowned my dearest vow;

Name me eleven of your barons now,

In battle against the twelve to bide.”

Falsaron first to the call replied;

Brother to Marsil, the king, was he;

“Fair Sir nephew, I go with thee;

In mortal combat we front, to-day,

The rear-guard of the grand array.

Foredoomed to die by our spears are they.”


King Corsablis the next drew nigh,

Miscreant Monarch of Barbary;

Yet he spake like vassal staunch and bold—

Blench would he not for all God's gold.

The third, Malprimis, of Brigal's breed,

More fleet of foot than the fleetest steed,

Before King Marsil he raised his cry,

“On unto Roncesvalles I:

In mine encounter shall Roland die.”


An Emir of Balaguet came in place,

Proud of body, and fair of face;

Since first he sprang on steed to ride,

To wear his harness was all his pride;

For feats of prowess great laud he won;

Were he Christian, nobler baron none.

To Marsil came he, and cried aloud,

“Unto Roncesvalles mine arm is vowed;

May I meet with Roland and Olivier,

Or the twelve together, their doom is near.

The Franks shall perish in scathe and scorn;

Karl the Great, who is old and worn,

Weary shall grow his hosts to lead,

And the land of Spain be for ever freed.”

King Marsil's thanks were his gracious meed.


A Mauritanian Almasour

(Breathed not in Spain such a felon Moor)

Stepped unto Marsil, with braggart boast:

“Unto Roncesvalles I lead my host,

Full twenty thousand, with lance and shield.

Let me meet with Roland upon the field,

Lifelong tears for him Karl shall yield.”


Turgis, Count of Tortosa came.

Lord of the city, he bears its name.

Scathe to the Christian to him is best,

And in Marsil's presence he joined the rest.

To the king he said, “Be fearless found;

Peter of Rome cannot mate Mahound.

If we serve him truly, we win this day;

Unto Roncesvalles I ride straightway.

No power shall Roland from slaughter save:

See the length of my peerless glaive,

That with Durindana to cross I go,

And who the victor, ye then shall know.

Sorrow and shame old Karl shall share,

Crown on earth never more shall wear.”


Lord of Valtierra was Escremis;

Saracen he, and the region his;

He cried to Marsil, amid the throng,

“Unto Roncesvalles I spur along,

The pride of Roland in dust to tread,

Nor shall he carry from thence his head;

Nor Olivier who leads the band.

And of all the twelve is the doom at hand.

The Franks shall perish, and France be lorn,

And Karl of his bravest vassals shorn.”


Estorgan next to Marsil hied,

With Estramarin his mate beside.

Hireling traitors and felons they.

Aloud cried Marsil, “My lords, away

Unto Roncesvalles, the pass to gain,

Of my people's captains ye shall be twain.”

“Sire, full welcome to us the call,

On Roland and Olivier we fall.

None the twelve from their death shall screen,

The swords we carry are bright and keen;

We will dye them red with the hot blood's vent,

The Franks shall perish and Karl lament.

We will yield all France as your tribute meet.

Come, that the vision your eyes may greet;

The Emperor's self shall be at your feet.”


With speed came Margaris—lord was he

Of the land of Sibilie to the sea;

Beloved of dames for his beauty's sake,

Was none but joy in his look would take,

The goodliest knight of heathenesse,—

And he cried to the king over all the press,

“Sire, let nothing your heart dismay;

I will Roland in Roncesvalles slay,

Nor thence shall Olivier scathless come,

The peers await but their martyrdom.

The Emir of Primis bestowed this blade;

Look on its hilt, with gold inlaid:

It shall crimsoned be with the red blood's trace:

Death to the Franks, and to France disgrace!

Karl the old, with his beard so white,

Shall have pain and sorrow both day and night;

France shall be ours ere a year go by;

At Saint Denys' bourg shall our leaguer lie.”

King Marsil bent him reverently.


Chernubles is there, from the valley black,

His long hair makes on the earth its track;

A load, when it lists him, he bears in play,

Which four mules' burthen would well outweigh.

Men say, in the land where he was born

Nor shineth sun, nor springeth corn,

Nor falleth rain, nor droppeth dew;

The very stones are of sable hue.

'Tis the home of demons, as some assert.

And he cried, “My good sword have I girt,

In Roncesvalles to dye it red.

Let Roland but in my pathway tread,

Trust ye to me that I strike him dead,

His Durindana beat down with mine.

The Franks shall perish and France decline.”

Thus were mustered King Marsil's peers,

With a hundred thousand heathen spears.

In haste to press to the battle on,

In a pine-tree forest their arms they don.


They don their hauberks of Saracen mould,

Wrought for the most with a triple fold;

In Saragossa their helms were made;

Steel of Vienne was each girded blade;

Valentia lances and targets bright,

Pennons of azure and red and white.

They leave their sumpters and mules aside,

Leap on their chargers and serried ride.

Bright was the sunshine and fair the day;

Their arms resplendent gave back the ray.

Then sound a thousand clarions clear,

Till the Franks the mighty clangor hear,

“Sir Comrade,” said Olivier, “I trow

There is battle at hand with the Saracen foe.”

“God grant,” said Roland, “it may be so.

Here our post for our king we hold;

For his lord the vassal bears heat and cold,

Toil and peril endures for him,

Risks in his service both life and limb.

For mighty blows let our arms be strung,

Lest songs of scorn be against us sung.

With the Christian is good, with the heathen ill:

No dastard part shall ye see me fill.”

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