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The Grievous Council
The Sardonyx Stone #3: Roland and Ganelon Speak, verses 11-16
“On an evening, pleasant and sun-streaked,
Charles had the ten mounts stabled.
In the spacious garden a tent was pitched
And in the tent the ten messengers lodged,
Twelve slaves attending them.
They would remain until daybreak.
The emperor was up before dawn
And heard the three nocturns of the liturgy.
Then the king sat his throne next to a pine;
He summoned his lords to council,
Wishing to be guided by his countrymen.”
Duke Ogier, Archbishop Turpin, Richard the Old, his nephew Henry, brave Count Acekin of Gascony, Tebald of Reims, his cousin Milon, and Gerer and Gerin attended, along with Count Roland and brave Oliver. In all there were more than a thousand Franks, including Genelon, who was there with treasonous intentions.
Thus began the council that came to grief.
Charles repeated to his lords the payment that King Marsile was prepared to make, contingent on the following conditions, “He demands that I return to France, that he will follow me to my home in Aix, where he will come to Christ. He says that he will become a Christian and my vassal, keeping his lands and owing me service. But I do not know his true intentions.”
The Frankish lords respond with suspicion, urging the king to be on his guard for treachery.
Count Roland rose to his feet and spoke against the pact, “Believe the Saracen King and you will know regret. We have been in Spain these seven long years. In your name I have taken Noples, Commibles, Valterne, Pineland, Balaguer, Tudela and Sezile. Recall when King Marsile sent fifteen messengers bearing each an olive branch and a similar proposal. Your lords counseled you then to negotiate. This treacherous Saracen king had our messengers' heads loped off on the slope beneath Haltile.”
Roland, alone among the Frankish lords, remained driven to conquer. His words to the war-weary king were passionate, “Continue the war. Take your troops to Saragossa; besiege it for the rest of your life if need be—avenge the victims of this treacherous foe.”
The emperor responded to this argument for war with a silent weariness, while the Franks remained quiet, not seconding or opposing Roland’s plan, for he was feared, and his ambition was equally feared.
Ganelon stood and gave a fiery speech, “Trust foolish council and you shall regret it, whether it comes from my lips or another’s. Trust only to your advantage. King Marsile offers to hold all of Spain for you as a vassal, to receive Christ and come to the True Faith. He who counsels against the pact is heedless of doom, an arrogant man of war. Do not heed fearless fools, but rather wisdom.”
Naimes then came forward and seconded the council of Ganelon, “King Marsile is defeated, thoroughly by any measure. Now that he begs for your mercy it would be a sin to continue the war, and with his offer of hostages we would be wrong to continue.”
The Franks, weary of war, and reminded of its rules when waged among Christians, applaud the council of Ganelon.*
Charlemagne was in essence the first of the medieval crusader kings, in that his stated goal for his far-reaching military conquests was the conversion of pagans and Muslims to Christianity, and barring this, their slaughter and the appropriation of their lands. In essence, such rules of war—which, in an agrarian setting sought annual resolutions along lines sustainable by a simple farming and craft economy—were only applied to Christian versus Christian conflicts, with Pagans, heretics and Muslims treated without mercy.
By offering to convert to Christianity, Marsile appealed to the war-weariness of the Franks, who served as vassals without pay, and at the same time offered Charlemagne the gold necessary to pay off his mercenaries, who would be likewise grumbling about the extended and uncompensated nature of the war from beyond the circle of Frankish lords. In the face of these considerations, Roland came off as a warmonger, intent only on keeping his peers at war, a stage upon which he shined much more brightly than did they.
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