Blancandrin leads Ganelon before King Marsilion and greets the king in the name of “Mahound” and “Apollyon.” He reports the outcome of their mission and introduces Ganelon. Ganelon addresses Marsilion “with great cunning,” telling the king that he must convert to Christianity and become Charlemayn’s vassal, or else face doom in Charlemayn’s court at Aix. At this, Marsilion is so enraged that he nearly hurls a golden dart at Ganelon, but others stop him.
Ganelon’s treachery grows—spurred by his hatred of Roland, he already appears to have a plot in mind, and he unhesitatingly puts it in motion in a foreign court. Marsilion’s rash and wantonly violent character contrasts with Charlemayn’s deliberation and slowness to act, associating the former with paganism and the latter with Christendom.
Ganelon, seeing Marsilion’s anger, grasps his sword, but “the wiser Paynims” persuade their king to sit down and listen. Ganelon tells Marsilion that, under Charlemayn, he will share the rule of Spain with Roland, a worthy partner. He hands Marsilion a letter from Charlemayn which lays out these terms, and also demands Marsilion’s uncle, the caliph, as a hostage. Blancandrin tells the angry king that Ganelon will plot with them against Charlemayn. Marsilion apologizes to Ganelon for his rashness and offers his friendship.
The term “Paynim” is an archaic form of “pagan,” suggesting that the poet simply views the Spanish Muslims as non-Christian, and not as having a belief system worthy of its own distinction. In contrast to the self-regulated Charlemayn, Marsilion has to be carefully managed by his men, further establishing the distinction between the two leaders. Ganelon brings Roland’s name into his plot, showing how serious he is about betraying his stepson. Marsilion’s offer of friendship, and Ganelon’s acceptance, confirms this.
Marsilion and Ganelon discuss Charlemayn. Marsile wonders when the ancient king—who’s more than 200 years old—will tire of war. Ganelon explains that this will never happen; supported by Roland, Oliver, and his beloved Twelve Peers, Charlemayn is fearless, and his courage and appetite for battle won’t falter. They repeat this basic exchange three times.
Marsilion proposes going into battle against Charlemayn. Ganelon replies that the losses would be too great—he has a better idea. He suggests that Marsilion send a heap of treasure and 20 hostages to persuade Charlemayn to turn back to France; Charlemayn will leave Roland and Oliver in his rear-guard. If these knights are killed, Ganelon explains, Charlemayn will have no heart to continue fighting.
Ganelon reveals his plan more fully: they should follow Marsilion’s original proposal, sweetening the deal with gifts, in order to convince Charlemayn that Marsilion is no threat—then plot an ambush. Familiar with Charlemayn’s likely strategy, Ganelon knows that an ambush will kill some of Charlemayn’s most treasured knights.
Ganelon explains that Marsilion must send 100,000 of his army to engage Charlemayn’s rear-guard at the Roncevaux Pass through the Pyrenees, near the border between France and Spain. The losses will be heavy, but once Roland is killed, Charlemayn will have lost his right-hand man, and his power will dwindle. Marsilion likes what he hears and asks Ganelon to take an oath to betray Roland. Ganelon does, swearing on the relics of his sword, Murgleys.
Because swords were a valued symbol of a knight’s reputation, Ganelon’s willingness to swear betrayal on his sword is meant to suggest his rotten character to the audience, since they know he’s being dishonest. Ganelon’s betrayal is twofold—besides killing Roland, the plan is meant to diminish Charlemayn’s might.
Marsilion commands that a “volume […] / Of Termagant’s and of Mahomet’s law” be brought, and on this he swears to fight Roland. Then several pagans approach Ganelon with gifts—a sword and helm—in exchange for his help against Roland. Queen Bramimonda also gives Ganelon rich jewelry for his wife. Marsilion’s treasurer has prepared 700 camels laden with precious metals and hostages, and the king promises additional riches to Ganelon, if he follows through on his promises. Ganelon begins his journey back to France.
A book of “Mahomet’s law”—presumably a Qur’an—suggests some knowledge of Islam on the poet’s part, but the addition of “Termagant” (an imaginary deity which medieval Christians sometimes claimed that Muslims worshiped) shows the poet’s lack of knowledge (or concern) for accurate theological details.