Fiction > Harvard Classics > The Song of Roland
  The Song of Roland.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Part I: The Treason of Ganelon
Saragossa. The Council of King Marsil

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—        5
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.        10

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,        15
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.        20
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        25
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:        30
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,        35
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.        40
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.        45
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        50
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        55
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.        60
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,        65
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,        70
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.        75
“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,        80
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;        85
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,        90
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.”        95

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.        100
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.


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