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The Crusaders by  Alfred J. Church

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HOW KING RICHARD DEPARTED

[211] FOR some little time, as I have already said, King Richard and his army dwelt in peace in the city of Ascalon. Nor can it be denied that they gathered strength; the sick, being duly handled by their physicians, were restored to a sound body, and they that were wearied with the labours of long-continued warfare had rest and refreshment. Nevertheless it may be doubted whether the King was able to advance the cause at all which he had in hand, namely, the taking of the Holy City. And the chief cause was this, that the Christians, not having for the present a common foe with whom to contend, began to quarrel among themselves more grievously than ever. So the King and the French, among whom, now that the French king had departed to his own land, a certain Duke of Burgundy was chief, fell out, and this with such heat, that the duke departed from Ascalon to Acre in great haste, [212] and all the Frenchmen followed him. Nor, indeed, when they came to Acre did they find peace and harmony. For though the city of Jerusalem had not been, nor of a truth seemed likely to be taken, yet was there ever a fierce contention as to what prince should have the kingdom thereof. Some favoured King Guy, who was of kin to them who held the kingdom of old time, and some were zealous for a certain Marquis of Montferrat, as they called him, who was friend to King Philip of France. These two parties had fallen out at Acre, and when the duke came thither they were already fiercely fighting. And, indeed, the duke came near to being killed, for some of them who were adverse to the French fell upon him as he drew nigh to the city, and killed the horse on which he rode, and flung him to the ground. This quarrel was made up after a while, but it was not forgotten, nor was the wound that it made wholly healed.

No long time after these things a great misfortune befell the Christians, to wit, the slaying in open day of this same Marquis of Montferrat of whom I have spoken above. As for the man himself, he was of but little account, nor had the army been much the better by his presence or the worse by his absence. He was [213] not a keen fighter—King Richard was worth twenty such at the least; nor was he good in council, for he was dull of wit, and ever a self-seeker. But his death gave great occasion to the enemies of the King to blaspheme. There were not wanting those who affirmed that the King had contrived the whole matter. 'Twas a most manifestly false accusation; yet there were many who believed it. Now, as I know of a certainty the whole truth of this matter, I will tell how the said marquis came by his death.

Some twelve months or so before this time there came a ship laden with merchandise into the harbour of Tyre. And the marquis, who was ever greedy of gain, gave commandment that this ship should be searched by his officers, and that a writing of the goods that were contained therein should be brought to him. "This thing was done, and the marquis having this paper before him, marked many of the goods, and these the most costly of all, and commanded that these should be taken from the merchants and brought to his dwelling, and this with no payment made. This thing was done. The merchants thinking that they had been abused by some officer of the harbour, and that they would, without doubt, have re- [214] dress if they should lay the whole matter before the marquis, sought an audience, and laid the whole matter before him. But as for redress none did they find. For the marquis spake very roughly to them, and gave them to know that they might esteem themselves fortunate if they had been suffered to retain aught of their possessions. Then they said, "We will tell these things to our lord." And the marquis made answer, "Ye may tell it to whom ye will, but from me ye shall receive nothing. Only take heed that ye suffer nothing worse." So the merchants departed from the presence of the marquis, nor even so did they escape. For one of the knights that stood by said to the marquis, "I will rid you of these people; you shall never hear of them again." And the marquis laughed; but whether he had any thought of what the knight was about to do, cannot be certainly known. But that the merchants were taken and drowned in the sea is known of all.

Now it has often fallen out that merchants have been spoiled of their goods, and when they have complained of the wrong have themselves been done to death; and that no harm, so far as this world is concerned, has come to them that have done the robbery and murder. [215] But it was not so with the marquis, for these merchants were the servants of no common master, as I will now go on to show.

There dwelt in a certain hilly place which is called Alamut, that is, by interpretation, the Nest of the Vulture, not far from the Caspian Sea, a certain prince who was known among men as the Old Man of the Mountain. This prince had caused a certain valley between two mountains to be enclosed, and had turned it into a garden, the largest and most beautiful that ever was seen, filled with every variety of fruit. In it were set up pavilions and palaces, adorned with gold, and with pictures very beautiful to behold. Also there were in this garden streams of honey and water, of wine, and of milk that flowed continually. There were damsels also of the most ravishing beauty, the fairest women that could be seen in the whole world, who sang and played on instruments of music most sweetly, and danced in the most skilful fashion. This prince having thus prepared his paradise, sent about those who should spy out the most likely youths in the whole country, men of strength and courage. These were caused to drink of a certain potion, of which I will speak hereafter, and being thus cast into a deep slumber, were carried, or [216] ever they came to themselves, into the said garden.

There they dwelt in all manner of delights for some months or more. And when the prince desired that any one for whom he had ill-will or that in any way hindered his purposes should be slain, he would choose two or more of the young men, taking for the most part such as were well acquaint with the country to which they would have travelled, and caused them to be thrown into a deep sleep in the same way as before, and so carried forth from the garden. When these found themselves all of a sudden separated from the delights which they had enjoyed, they would fall into great despair. Then the Old Man of the Mountain would cause them to be brought into his presence, and would say to them, "Do ye desire to dwell for ever in this paradise?" And when they answered that they desired it above all things, he would say further, that such a king or prince was hindering the cause of God and must be taken out of the way. "If therefore," he would proceed, "you desire to do such a service to God and to me as will be rewarded with perpetual happiness in this paradise, you shall slay this man; and be sure of this, that whether you live or die you shall not miss your reward.

[217] If you slay him not, what will it benefit you to escape with your lives, for into this paradise you shall in nowise enter. Go, therefore, and do your errand without fail." For the old man knew this, that they who seek to kill princes and such folk commonly fail because they are too careful of their own lives. Now the merchants who were robbed and slain by command of the marquis or not without his knowledge were servants of this same Prince of Alamut; and when he heard of the deed he sent two of his young men with a commandment that they should slay the marquis when they should find occasion, and the two were both men of Tyre.

So these men came, and offering themselves to be servants to the marquis were hired by him, for they were strong and of good presence, and also sought but a small wage. For three months and more did they serve him, and, showing themselves faithful and diligent, were promoted so that they had nearer access to his person. On the 27th day of April, therefore, as the marquis was coming back in a merry mood from a banquet that had been held in his honour by a certain bishop, the two fell upon him, each having a long knife in his hand, and slew him, piercing him with two deadly wounds, so that he fell straightway from [218] his saddle. One of the youths was slain upon the spot by a knight that rode at the marquis's side; the other fled away, and entering a church would have taken sanctuary at the altar. But this the marquis's folk would not suffer; so they dragged him from the place and took order that he should be dragged through the streets of the city by horses till he should be dead. But first they questioned him, not without torment, by whose bidding he had done this thing. He answered nothing, save that he had fulfilled the command of one whom he could not choose but obey. So did the Marquis of Montferrat die, a small loss, as I have said, save for the suspicion that arose out of the manner of his dying.'

Now about this same time there came a [219] messenger to King Richard bearing a letter from one that he had set to bear rule in his stead while he should be absent from his kingdom. In this letter there were written many things about the doings of a certain Prince John, who was the King's brother: how he had commerce with the French to the King's damage, and was troubling all loyal men, and had taken all the money that was in the treasury; but I reckon that of this there was not overmuch, seeing how royally the King scattered gold about him with both hands, so to speak. When the King heard these things he was sore distraught. And indeed he was in a great strait. On the one hand there was the purpose for which he had come on this present journey, the taking again of the Holy City; and, on the other, there was the loss of his own kingdom at home. For in the letter aforesaid it was plainly written in so many words that if he was not speedy in returning, then all the realm of England would be lost to him.

At the first he made no doubt of departing with but as little delay as might be. "I must be gone," he said, "or my kingdom will not be worth a silver penny." But before many days his purpose was changed. 'Twas said that a [220] holy man, a priest of the land of France, took courage to speak to him and set before him his duty in this matter. He said that the hearts of all were sorely troubled by the King's purpose to depart—and this was most certainly true, seeing that they who were most jealous of the King and chafed most at his command were not less dismayed by the news of his departure than were his best friends. "Think too," he is reported to have spoken, "how that you will greatly dim your kingly renown. You have done well, O King, and God has manifestly bestowed His blessings on you. Will you then be ungrateful, and, if your royal grace will suffer me to say so much, unfaithful to Him? Verily there is a great reward laid up for him that recovers the Holy City out of the hands of the heathen, and will you give this up on the bare rumour of mischief that may befall your estate in this world?" So the holy man is reported to have spoken, nor would I deny that such words may have had weight with the King, who was ever greatly moved by eloquent words. But I also believe that when he came to himself he judged that there was no great need of haste in the matter; that the Prince John his brother was not greatly loved, nor was ever like to be; that when the people [221] of England had had a year's trial of his rule, if such should come to pass, they would be the less likely to stand by him; and, moreover, that if he should go back to his country in high esteem among all men, as having set up yet again a Christian kingdom in the Holy City, his enemies would be brought to nought by the mere rumour of his coming. Certain it is that, let the cause be what it might, he caused it to be made known throughout the army that they would set out for the Holy City in three days' time.

Why should I tell again that which I have told before. Again there was great joy in the army; again the sick rose from their beds, and the lame threw away their crutches, that they might go without hindrance on this great journey. Again did the army come almost in sight of the Holy City; again were all things ready for the assault. And then once more the more skilful and prudent of the leaders hindered the matter. It was not well, they said, to run into such danger. It might well be that if they should assail the city they would not take it; it was well-nigh certain that even if they should take it, they could not hold it to any good purpose. And so it came to pass that King Richard and the army hav- [222] ing once more come to Beitenoble, once more departed, leaving their task unaccomplished.

Yet there is one more thing which I must needs tell. When the leaders had taken this resolve that they would turn back and the army was now about to depart, there came to King Richard a certain man-at-arms, who was well acquainted with the country, for, indeed, he had travelled on foot as a pilgrim from the coast to Jerusalem, and this not once only but twice or thrice. This man said, "My lord King, if you are minded to see the Holy City, you can do so at little pains. If you will ride a mile or so you will come to a hill from whence you can see the walls, and the hill on which the Temple was built and other of the holy places." But the King answered, "I thank you much, nor, indeed, is there any sight in the whole world on which I would more gladly look with my eyes, but I am not worthy of so great a favour. If it had been the will of God that I should see His city, I do not doubt that I had done so, not as one who looks upon some spectacle from far, but as the conqueror in some great battle looks upon the thing that he has won. But of this grace I, by reason I doubt not of my sins, have been judged unworthy." And when he had [223] so spoken he turned his horse's head to the west, as being minded to return yet again to the sea-coast. And this he did.

I have spoken of the King's courage and skill in arms and wisdom in leadership, nor need I say these things again. But one thing I will add, namely, that of all the men that came to this land from the West none left behind him so great a fame as did King Richard. So if a mother was minded to make a crying child hold his peace, she would say, "Hush, child, or King Richard shall have thee; "or if a horse started unaware, his rider would say, "Dost see King Richard in the bush?"

On the 9th day of October did the King of England set sail to return to his own country. But it fared ill with him on his journey. For it fell out that he was separated from all his friends, and that when he was in this case a certain duke, with whom he had had a strife, laid hands upon him, and laid him in prison. There he remained for the space of a year and more, fretting much, I doubt not, against his condition, for never surely was a man more impatient of bonds. But he could not escape, nor did his friends so much as know where he was. And when this was discovered by some strange chance, there was yet much delay, nor [224] indeed was he set free till there had been paid for him a ransom of many thousands of gold pieces. Not many years after—so I heard from the lips of a certain pilgrim that came from the land of England—he was slain by a chance arrow shot from the walls of a certain castle which he was besieging, being then in the forty-second year of his age. He was not without much nobleness, but he was unstable in all his ways, and he prospered not.


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