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ROLAND AND HIS HORN
[History tells us that when the Normans conquered the English at Hastings, in the front of the Norman army rode a warrior poet singing the Song of Roland. This is an old French poem about Roland, a prince who served Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, the Emperor of France and Germany and Italy, eleven hundred years ago. His most famous deed was his last fight against the Moors of Spain. Like all the heroes of old, he is represented as having more than human strength, and he perhaps appeals to us the more strongly because he was fighting, not only for his nation, but for his religion, for the Moors were Mohammedans, and all the nations of Europe were struggling to force them back into Africa. The story as given below is abridged and adapted from Sir G. W. Cox's Popular Romances of the Middle Ages.]
CHARLES the Great, king of the Franks, had fought seven years in Spain, until he had conquered all the land down to the sea, and there remained not a castle whose walls he had not broken down, save only Saragossa, a for5 tress on a rugged mountain top, so steep and strong that he could not take it. There dwelt the pagan King Marsilius, who feared not God, but served Mohammed.
King Marsilius sat on his throne in his garden, beneath an olive tree, and summoned his lords and nobles to 10 council. When twenty thousand of his warriors were gathered around him, he spoke to his dukes and counts, saying: "What shall we do? Lo! these seven years the
'great Charles has been winning all our lands, till only Saragossa remains to us. We are too few to give him battle, and man for man we are no match for his warriors. What shall we do to save our lands?”
5 Then up spake Blancandrin, a wily counselor: "It is plain we must be rid of this proud Charles; Spain must be rid of him; and since he is too strong to drive out with the sword, let us see what promises will do. Send envoys to him and say that we will give him great treasure 10 in gold and cattle. Say that we will be his vassals, and do him service at his call. Say that we will forsake our God and call upon his God. Say anything, so long as it will persuade him to ride away with his army and quit our land." And all the pagans said, "It is well spoken."
Charles the Emperor held festival before Cordova, and rejoiced, he and his host, because they had taken the city, had overthrown its walls, and had gotten much booty, both of gold and silver and rich raiment. The Emperor sat among his knights in a green meadow. Round about 20 him were Roland, his nephew, the captain of his host, and other princes, as well as fifteen thousand of the noblestborn of France. The Emperor sat upon a chair of gold, beneath a pine tree; white and long was his beard, and he was huge of limb and noble of countenance. When 25 the messengers of King Marsilius came into his presence, they knew him straightway, and alighted quickly from their mules, and came meekly bending at his feet.
Then said Blancandrin, "God save the king, the glorious king, whom all men ought to worship. My master King Marsilius sends greeting to the great Charles, whose power no man can withstand, and he prays thee make peace with him. with him. Marsilius offers gifts of bears and 5 lions and hounds, seven hundred camels, a thousand falcons, of gold and silver as much as four hundred mules harnessed to fifty chariots can draw, with all his treasure of jewels. Only make peace with us and retire with thy army to Aachen, and my master will meet thee there at 10 the feast of St. Michael. He will be baptized in thy faith, and will hold Spain as thy vassal. Thou shalt be his lord, and thy God shall be his God."
The emperor bowed his head while he thought upon the message; for he never spake a hasty word, and 15 never went back from a word once spoken. Having mused awhile, he raised his head and answered: "The King Marsilius is greatly my enemy. In what manner shall I be assured that he will keep his covenant?" The messengers said: "Great king, we offer hostages of 20 good faith, the children of our noblest. Take ten or twenty, as it seemeth good to thee; but treat them tenderly, for verily at the feast of St. Michael our king will redeem his pledge, and come to Aachen to be baptized and pay his homage and his tribute."
Then the king commanded a pavilion to be spread, wherein to lodge them for the night. And on the mor
row, after they had taken their journey home, and the king had heard mass, he called his barons to him. There came all the chiefs of his army and with them many thousand noble warriors. Then the king showed them 5 after what manner the messengers had spoken, and asked their advice. With one voice the Franks answer vered, "Beware of King Marsilius."
Then spake Roland and said: "Trust him not. Remember how he slew the messengers whom we sent to 10 him before. Seven years have we been in Spain, and now only Saragossa holds out against us. Be not slack to finish what is now well-nigh done. Gather the host. Lay siege to Saragossa with all thy might. Conquer the last stronghold of the pagans, and end this long and weary war.'
But Ganelon drew near to the king and spake: "Heed not the counsel of any babbler, unless it be to thine own profit. What has Marsilius promised? Will he not give up his God, himself, his service, and his treasure?" And all the Franks answered, "The counsel of Ganelon is good." So Charles said, "Who will go up to Saragossa to King Marsilius and make terms of peace with him?”
Roland answered, "Send Ganelon," and the Franks said, "Ganelon is the man, for there is none more cunning of speech than he." So King Charles sent Ganelon as his 25 envoy. But Ganelon was a traitor and gave evil counsel
to King Marsilius, saying: "Send back the hostages to Charles with me. Then will Charles gather his host