“Now praised be Heaven!” cried Charlemagne. “And thanks, my trusty Ganelon, for well hast thou sped. At length my wars are done, and home to gentle France we ride.”
So the trumpets were sounded, and soon the great army, with pennons waving and armor glittering in the sunshine, was rolling onward through the land, like a gleaming mighty river.
But following the Christian army, through valleys deep and dark, by pathways secret and unknown, crept the heathen host. They were clad in shining steel from head to foot, swords were by their sides, lances were in their hands, and bitter hatred in their hearts. Four hundred thousand strong they marched in stealthy silence. And, alas! the Franks knew it not.
When night came the Franks encamped upon the plain. And high upon the mountain-sides, in a dark forest the heathen kept watch upon them.
In the midst of his army King Charlemagne lay, and as he slept he dreamed he stood alone in the valley of Roncesvalles, spear in hand. There to him came Ganelon, who seized his spear and broke it in pieces before his eyes, and the noise of the breaking was as the noise of thunder. In his sleep Charlemagne stirred uneasily, but he did not wake. The vision passed, and again he dreamed. It seemed to him that he was now in his own city of Aix. Suddenly from out a forest a leopard sprang upon him. But even as its fangs closed upon his arm, a faithful hound came bounding from his hall and fell upon the savage beast with fury. Fiercely the hound grappled with the leopard. Snarling and growling they rolled over and over. Now the hound was uppermost, now the leopard. “Tis a splendid fight!” cried the Franks who watched. But who should win, the Emperor knew not, for the vision faded, and still he slept.
The night passed and dawn came. A thousand trumpets sounded, the camp was all astir, and the Franks made ready once more to march.
But Charlemagne was grave and thoughtful, musing on the dream that he had dreamed. “My knights and barons,” he said, “mark well the country through which we pass. These valleys are steep and straight. It would go ill with us did the false Saracen forget his oath, and fall upon us as we pass. To whom therefore shall I trust the rear-guard that we may march in surety?”
“Give the command to my stepson, Roland, there is none so brave as he,” said Ganelon.
As Charlemagne listened he looked at Ganelon darkly. “Thou art a very demon,” he said. “What rage possesseth thee? And if I give command of the rear to Roland, who, then, shall lead the van?”
“There is Ogier the Dane,” said Ganelon quickly, “who better?”
Still Charlemagne looked darkly at him. He would not that Roland should hear, for well he knew his adventurous spirit.
But already Roland had heard. “I ought to love thee well, Sir Stepsire,” he cried, “for this day hast thou named me for honor. I will take good heed that our Emperor lose not the least of his men, nor charger, palfrey, nor mule that is not paid for by stroke of sword.”