The Song of Roland

Introduction

Charlemagne, the great emperor of the Franks, had been in Spain for seven long years with his massive army. During his extended stay, he had conquered that proud land as far as the stormy sea. No stone castle or fortified fortress could resist Charlemagne's compelling attacks. Every wall, city, and town was destroyed except for Saragossa which stood unyieldingly on a high mountain.

This majestic castle is held by King Marsile, who, being a pagan, doesn't love God and despises those who do. Bowing down to Apollo, Marsile worships him along with Muhammad. He can pray to his false gods all he wants, but there is no escape from the disaster which is overtaking him.

Chapter One

Beneath the cool, refreshing shade in his luscious garden, King Marsile lounged. Lying on a bluish marble slab, the pagan was mingling with his many followers. Summoning his dukes and counts, the king lays the pressing problem before them, "Hear me, lords. As you know, there is a great misfortune weighing upon us all. It threatens to crush us completely." The crowd around him started to murmur and nod in agreement. King Marsile raised his hand authoritatively, and they quieted. "The emperor, Charlemagne, has come from his fair land of France. Believing that it is righteous to crush us and redeem Spain to the Christian faith, he has come with his vast army to destroy us. I have no army that is sufficient to match him in open battle, let alone powerful enough men to break his army down completely."

The men began to become angry that such a man as Charlemagne would dare come to subdue them. They started to shout, "Apollo with protect us and give us victory over these villains!"

Again, Marsile silenced them and motioned for his dukes and counts to be seated near to him, "My wise men, I pray that you would give me counsel to protect me from both death and shame." None of them uttered a word. None could fathom what needed to be done to defend themselves against Charlemagne's army, but then one of them stood up amidst the gathering. This man was Blancandrin from the Castel de Valfunde

He was both wise and valiant; a most valuable knight to Marsile. Always trying to be helpful to his lord Blancandrin spoke, "My lord, do not be dismayed; I have a solution. Offer the arrogant and cruel Charles faithful service and a trustworthy friendship. Promise him mighty bears, lions and dogs along with seven hundred camels, a thousand molted hawks and four hundred mules laden with gold and silver. Even offer this wicked emperor, carts to carry it all away with. With all that wealth, he shall be able to pay his mercenaries well." The pagans started to smile again; they all loved it when they could deceive others to get out of hard places. The king appeared to be in deep thought. He didn't want to part with such wealth, but to save himself and his people, he would have to.

Blancandrin began again after receiving no opposition, "You know that he has waged war for a long time in this land. Do you not think that he yearns to return to his home land? The time is ripe, indeed, for Charlemagne to return to Aix in France. When you send him these extravagant gifts, tell him that you will follow him to Michaelmas and receive the Christian faith."

At this, many men jumped up and began to shout that they would not serve such a king, but would do anything to murder him. King Marsile, still interested in Blancandrin's proposition, held up his hand to command order. Blancandrin resumed, "Tell him that you will be his honoring vassal and will give him freely anything that he should desire from your goods. If Charlemagne requests hostages, give to him, without hesitation, sons of our wives. Even if it means his death, I shall send mine because it would be far better for them to lose their heads there than for us to lose our honor and our jurisdiction, and be reduced to begging."

Marsile was turning all this in his mind, trying to see any flaw or if there could be some other path chosen to lead them to freedom. He could think of none and nodded for Blancandrin to continue.

Blancandrin resumed he proposition, "By my right hand, you will then see the Frankish host disband and return to their homeland, France. Each man will be back at his own home, and Charlemagne will be in Aix. Then, when Michaelmas approaches, he will organize a great festival. But when the day of our coming arrives and passes, proud Charlemagne will not receive any news from us. Then, seeing he was deceived, the cruel king will change his fierce temperament towards us and he will order our hostages to be beheaded. However, is it not better for them to lose their heads then for us to lose our fair and beautiful land of Spain? Or perhaps suffer vast misfortunes and brutality by the hand of the wicked Franks?"

Once again the crowd murmured together agreeing with each other that Blancandrin was right and that there is no other way. Even though they disliked the idea of even submitting that much to their enemy, they would rather sacrifice a couple of their men then their whole culture and land.

Thus King Marsile concluded his council when he had deemed that Blancandrin's plan was indeed a good one. Then he summoned Clarin of Balaguer, Estamarin, Eudropin, Priamon, Guarlan, Machiner, Matthew, Jouner, and Malbien of Outremer. Also, Marsile required of Blancandrin to be the spokesman. The pagan king had chosen his men carefully, "Lord barons, you all will go unto Charlemagne where he is currently besieging the city of Cordoba. Bear olive branches to signify peace and humility. And in the end, if you can obtain me peace with the hostile Franks, I shall bestow upon you all sorts of conceivable riches in abundance. If treasure be your want, let me slacken them with gold, silver and precious jewels; and if vast properties be your need, I will supply you with extended lands and fiefs."

The pagans' eyes grew wide with their greed and coveting and announced, "We will do this thing to please our king. May Apollo curse Charlemagne this day."

Finishing his council, sly King Marsile instructed his men, "Lords, go now and, on my behalf, speak to the great King Charlemagne. Ask of him, by his God, to grant mercy to me and people. Say that he will not see the end of this first month without my following him with a thousand of my vassals, and tell him that I will receive the Christian faith of his God and become his loyal subject in love and in faith. If, by any whim, Charlemagne should ask for hostage; assure him that he shall receive some. Do not let any word slip that would alert the Franks of our foul play."

"You will have an excellent pact, my king," grinned Blancandrin, with a determined look. The selected men bowed low to their king and left the palace to do his bidding.