Stories of Roland Told to the Children - H. E. Marshall

The Punishment of Ganelon

The Emperor sat upon his throne with all his wise men around him, and into the hall came Aude, the fair sister of Oliver. At the foot of the throne she knelt. 'Sire,' she said, 'where is Roland, whose bride I am?'

Full of grief the Emperor bent his head. Tears stood in his eyes, and at first he could not speak. Then gently taking Aude by the hand, 'Dear sister,' he said, 'dear friend, thou askest news of a dead man. But grieve not. Thou art not left without a lover. Thou shalt be the bride of Louis, my son.'

Then Aude stood up. Her face was very pale. With both hands she pushed back her golden hair from her face. 'What strange words are these?' she said. 'If Roland be dead, what is any man to me? Please God and His saints and angels, I too may die.' And so speaking she fell at the Emperor's feet.

Charlemagne thought that she had but fainted, and springing up, he lifted her in his arms. But her head fell back upon her shoulder, and he saw that she was dead. Then calling four countesses he bade them carry her to a convent near. And so tended by the greatest ladies in the land, fair Aude was laid to rest with chant, and hymn, and great state and pomp as befits a hero's bride.

Death of Aude

He saw that she was dead

Then, with chains upon his hands and feet, Ganelon was brought into the hall of judgment. Sitting upon his throne, the Emperor spoke to his wise men who were gathered around him, and told them all the tale of Ganelon's treachery, and of how for gold he had betrayed his comrades.

Proud and haughty as ever, Ganelon stood before his judges. 'It is true,' he said; 'I will never deny it. I hated Roland, for his riches made me wrathful against him. I sought to bring him to shame and death. But I do not admit that it was treason.'

'Of that we shall be the judges,' said the Franks.

Tall and straight and proud, Ganelon stood before the Emperor. With haughty looks he eyed his judges, and then his thirty kinsmen who stood near him. 'Hear me, barons,' he cried, in a bold, loud voice. 'When I was with the army of the Emperor, I served him in faith and love. But Roland his nephew hated me. He condemned me to death, yea, to a very miserable death, in sending me to the court of Marsil. That I escaped that death I owe to mine own skill. And I defied Roland, I defied Oliver and all his companions, before the face of Charlemagne and his barons. Well knew the Emperor of that defiance. It was just vengeance, then, that I took. Of no treason am I guilty.'

'We shall judge of that,' said the Franks. And so they passed into the council chamber.

Then when Ganelon saw that it was like to go ill with him, he gathered his thirty kinsmen about him, and begged them to plead for him. But it was chiefly in Pinabel, his nephew, that he trusted, for he was wise and could plead well, and as a good soldier there was none like him. 'In thee do I trust,' said Ganelon, 'thou art he who must save me from death and shame.'

'I will be thy champion,' replied Pinabel. 'If any Frank say that thou art a traitor, I will give him the lie with the steel of my sword.'

Then Ganelon fell upon his knees and kissed Pinabel's hand.

And when all the wise men and barons were gathered together, Pinabel pleaded so well for Ganelon that at last they said, 'Let us pray the Emperor to pardon Ganelon this once. Henceforward he will serve him in love and faith. Roland is dead. Not all the gold or all the silver in the world can bring him to life again. To fight about it, that were folly.'

Only one knight, called Thierry, would not agree. 'Ganelon is a traitor worthy of death,' he said. But the others would not listen to him, and they all returned to Charlemagne, to tell him what they had decided. 'Sire,' they said, 'we come to beg thee to set Ganelon free. He is a true knight, though this once he hath done ill. He repents him, and will henceforth serve thee in love and faith. Roland is dead, and not all the gold or silver in the world can bring him back again.'

When the Emperor heard these words, his face grew dark with anger. 'Ye are all felons,' he cried. Then dropping his head upon his breast, 'Unhappy man that I am,' he moaned, 'to be thus forsaken of all.'

Out of the crowd stepped Thierry. He was slim and slight, but very knightly to look upon. 'Sire,' he cried, 'thou art not forsaken of all. By my forefathers I have a right to be among the judges in this cause. What quarrel lay between Roland and Ganelon hath nought to do with this. Ganelon, I say, is a felon. Ganelon is a traitor. Ganelon is a liar. Let him be hanged and his body thrown to the dogs. Such is the punishment of traitors. And if any of his kin say I lie, I am ready to prove the truth of my words with my good sword which hangeth by my side.'

'Well spoken! well spoken!' cried the Franks.

Then before the Emperor, Pinabel advanced. He was tall and strong, and with his sword most skilful. 'Sire,' he cried, 'thine is the right to decide this cause. Thierry hath dared to judge in it. I say he lieth. Battle thereon will I do,' and so speaking he flung his glove on the ground.

'Good,' said Charlemagne, well pleased. 'But I must have hostages. Thirty of Ganelon's kinsmen shall be held in ward until this jousting be done.'

Then Thierry too drew off his glove and gave it to the Emperor. For him also thirty hostages were held in ward until it should be seen who should have right in this quarrel.

Beyond the walls of Aix there was a fair meadow, and there the champions met. All around there were seats set so that the knights and barons might look on, and in the middle of them was Charlemagne's throne.

The champions were both clad in new and splendid armour, the trumpets sounded, and springing to horse they dashed upon each other. Fiercely they fought. Their shields were dinted by many a blow, their armour battered and broken, and at last they met with such a shock that both were unhorsed and fell to the ground.

'Oh, Heaven!' cried Charlemagne, 'show me which hath right.' Then he remembered his dream of the bear and his thirty brethren, and of how the hound from out his palace hall had grappled with the greatest of them.

Both knights sprang lightly from their fall and began to fight on foot. 'Yield thee, Thierry,' cried Pinabel, 'and I will henceforth be thy man and serve thee in faith and love. All my treasure will I give to thee, if thou but pray the Emperor to forgive Ganelon.'

'Never,' cried Thierry, 'shame be to me should I think thereon. Let God decide between me and thee this day.'

So they fought on.

'Pinabel,' said Thierry presently, 'thou art a true knight. Thou art tall and strong, and all men know of thy courage, so yield thee, and make thy peace with Charlemagne. As to Ganelon, let justice be done on him, and let us never more speak his name.'

'Nay,' replied Pinabel, 'God forbid that I should so forsake my kinsman, and to mortal man I will never yield. Rather let me die than earn such disgrace.'

So once again they closed in fight. Thicker and faster fell the blows. Their chain-mail was hacked to pieces. The jewels of their helmets sparkled on the grass. Thierry was wounded in the face. Blood blinded him, but raising his sword with all his remaining strength, he brought it crashing down on Pinabel's helmet.

For a moment the knight waved his sword wildly in the air. Then he fell to the ground dead. The fight was over.

'Now by the judgment of God, is it proved that Ganelon is a traitor,' cried the Franks. 'He deserves to be hanged, both he and all his kindred who have answered for him.'

And as all the people cheered the champion of Roland's cause, Charlemagne rose from his throne, and going to him took him in his arms and kissed him, and threw his royal mantle around his shoulders. Then very tenderly his squires disarmed the wounded knight, set him upon a gently pacing mule, and led him back in triumph to Aix.

Once again Charlemagne called all his wise men and barons together. 'What shall be done with the hostages who pled for Ganelon?' he asked.

'Let them all die the death,' replied the Franks.

Then the Emperor called an old provost to him. 'Go,' he said, 'hang them all on the gallows there. And if one escape, by my long white beard, thou shalt die the death.'

'None shall escape,' replied the provost, 'trust me.' Then taking with him a hundred sergeants he hanged the thirty high upon the gallows tree.

But a still more fearful death was to be the fate of the traitor Ganelon himself. Bound hand and foot, he was led through the town riding upon a common cart-horse, while the people cursed him as he passed. And beyond the walls, where his champion had fought and died for him, he was torn to pieces by wild horses.

Death of Ganelon

The people cursed him as he passed

And thus in fearful wise was Ganelon repaid for his treachery, and thus was Roland avenged.

Now when the Emperor's anger was satisfied, he called all his bishops together. 'In my house,' he said, 'there is a prisoner of noble race. 'Tis Bramimonde the Saracen Queen. She hath been taught in grace, and hath opened her heart to the true light. Let her now be baptized, so that her soul may be saved.'

Then many noble ladies were gathered together to be sponsors for the Queen, and a great crowd of knights and nobles came too, and Bramimonde was baptized and became Christian, and was no longer called Bramimonde, but Julienne.

Then at last had the Emperor rest. The long day was over, quiet night came, and Charlemagne lay down to sleep. But as he lay in his vaulted chamber the angel Gabriel stood beside him. 'Charlemagne, Charlemagne,' he called, 'gather all the armies of thy kingdom. March quickly to the land of Bire to help the Christian King Vivien, for there the heathen besiege him in his city and the Christians cry aloud for help.'

Then the Emperor turned upon his couch and wept. He longed for rest from his great labours, and yet he could not disobey the command.

'Alas,' he cried, 'what a life of toil is mine!'