THE BATTLE OF RONCEVALLES
About twelve hundred years ago there lived an Emperor of the West whose name was Charles the Great, or, as some called him, Charlemagne, which means Carolus Magnus. When he was not making war he ruled well and wisely at Aix-la-Chapelle, but at the time that this story begins he had been for seven years in Spain, fighting against the Saracens. The whole country had fallen before him, except only Saragossa, a famous town on the river Ebro, not far from the outskirts of the Pyrenees, which was held by the Moorish King Marsile, with a great host.
One hot day Marsile was lying on a cool slab of blue marble which was shaded by overhanging fruit trees, and his nobles were sitting all round him. Suddenly the King sat up, and, turning to his followers, he said:
'Listen to me, my Lords, for I have something of note to say unto you. Evil days are upon us, for the Emperor of fair France will never rest until he has driven us out of our country, and I have no army wherewith to meet him. Then counsel me, my wise men, how to escape both death and shame.'
At the King's speech there was silence, for none knew how to reply, till Blancandrin, Lord of Val-Fonde, stood up.
'Fear nothing,' he said to the King, 'but send a
messenger to this proud Charles, promising to do him
faithful service and asking for his friendship. And let
there go with the messenger presents to soften his heart,