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The Crusaders by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

THE FIRST CRUSADE

[36] WHILE I tarried in Constantinople I practised, as was my wont, when opportunity offered, the art of healing. On a certain day I was called to visit a sick man who lay, for so the messenger affirmed, in great peril of his life at a certain tavern, hard by the water's side. Nor, indeed, did the messenger speak otherwise than truly, if only one that is most certainly near to death can be said to be in peril, great or other, of his life. When I looked upon the man, who was, as it were, on the threshold of old age, having, so far as I could judge, some three-score and six years, I saw that he had been known to me in time past, and had done me also no small kindness in a certain matter of which it boots not now to tell. He was a Greek by nation, a merchant by occupation, one accustomed to travel, on errands of trade, to distant lands, wealthy also, for his ventures [37] had been great and fortunate beyond the common.

When he had revived somewhat, for I had commanded that some strong waters should be given him, I whispered in his ear, "Nicias, my friend"—for Nicias was his name—"it grieves me much to see you in this plight." Now before this the sick man had not so much as regarded me, lying with his eyes shut, as one that had resigned himself to die. But when he heard his name, being also, as I have said, somewhat strengthened by the cordial, he stretched out his hand and made a motion as though he would have risen. This latter I would not suffer, for it might have been his death, so wasted with sickness was he. So I said, "Lie still, friend Nicias, and it may yet be well with you." "Nay," answered he, "flatter me not with idle words, for I know well that I have taken my last journey. Is it so? Tell me the truth as you would desire that the truth should be told to you." And when I had told him in such words as physicians are wont to use in like cases, that he was indeed near to death, he said again, "Tell me now how long I may live." And when I had answered, being constrained, as it were, to such plainness [38] of speech, that he might live for one day or even for two days, he was silent for a while. About the space of half-an-hour after he said, "Give me yet another draught of the cordial, for I have much to say." And when I would have had him understand that to speak much would greatly waste his strength, he made answer, "What matters it if I live twelve hours or six, so that I utter the things which are in my heart?" Then he bade me unbind the purse that was about his loins and open it. There were in it some sixty gold pieces, some small leather bags which were filled with jewels, and various writings. Now the substance of what the merchant Nicias said to me, so far as it concerns the purpose of my present writing, was this. He was on his way home to the city of Antioch in Syria, having visited sundry places in which he had affairs of trade in time past. "I had always purposed," said he, "that this should be my last journey, and that, this being finished, I would spend the [39] rest of my days in peace. That this might be accomplished was my prayer, and part God has granted and part He has denied. He has suffered me to finish all my business; but He gives me not the days of peace that I desired. So be it; haply I had wearied of them, as I have myself seen others weary in the like case, and had so come to despise His good gift."

Then he told me what was in his mind. First he would have me travel to Antioch where he had left his children, a son and a daughter, the son being a youth of some nineteen years, and the daughter younger by two years. "I married," said he, "when I was somewhat advanced in years, having before found no leisure for the business. In this I did ill, or so it now seems to me, seeing that I leave my children but ill prepared to care for themselves. And yet "—so I heard him murmur to himself—" had I not so delayed, thou hadst not been my wife, O Euphrosyne, fairest and best of women!" After this he spoke about the things that were in the purse, that the gold and the jewels were for me, for the cost of travel and payment of labour and the like. Nor would he listen to me when I said that the payment was by many times too great for the service. "Nay, nay," he cried, [40] "vex not an old man with these disputings. My children have already so much wealth that they will scarce find good uses for it." Then he took the papers one by one, and set forth what they were and what should be done with them. Some were acknowledgments of money and other treasure in jewels and pearls and cloth of gold received; and some were bills of exchange; and some were to serve as guides to places where treasure was buried. And when the merchant had made an end with them I could not but allow that his children would of a surety have a great burden of wealth. "As for my will," said he, "a notary, Phocion by name, who dwells hard by the east gate, has it in his charge; but that my children know."

When Nicias was dead—he lived some four days, being not a little eased in mind by the settlement of his affairs—I took my passage eastward in the very ship by which he had journeyed to Constantinople, it being bound for Antioch, or rather for Seleucia, which serves for a port to that city. We had a prosperous voyage of some twenty days or thereabouts, reaching our journey's end about the time of the summer solstice.

I found the city in no little turmoil, and [41] much troubled with rumours of wars. Some said one thing and some another, and there were those who spake of multitudes of men, whose numbers were beyond all belief, who were marching eastward on the same errand which had brought Peter and his companions and followers. But they that were now coming—so 'twas commonly said—were not a mere rabble, without order or discipline, and caring little whether they slew friend or foe, but an orderly army of princes and nobles and knights and common men. Nor was there any one in the city who had a more accurate knowledge of these things than the lad Cleon, the son of Nicias, on whose behalf I had come to this same city of Antioch. There are none who have a more speedy and credible account of such new enterprises as may be set on foot than have the great merchants of the world. And by this word merchants I mean not so much those who sell in the markets and streets of a city, but they who do traffic with far-off countries. Such was the Greek Nicias of whom I have spoken above. And when I came to have converse with his son, a young man of as quick an understanding as I have ever seen, I came to have a very clear knowledge of these affairs. Not many days after [42] my coming I had some talk with him concerning this matter, and judging from what I had heard from Peter, I spoke lightly of it as a thing that would most certainly come to nothing. "For how," said I, "shall these disorderly multitudes that have scarce a serviceable sword or spear to a score of men subdue great princes who have well-equipped armies or take strong fenced cities? "Nay," said he; "these things of which you tell me are but as the little gusts of wind that one may see now and again before a before a great storm. I verily believe that there will be such a contending between East and West as has not been seen for a thousand years—aye, and you may add to the thousand half as much again. Listen now to this. 'Tis a letter from a certain Jew, a lender of money in a country which they call England, with whom my father had some dealings: 'Duke Robert, who is the elder brother of the king of this land, seeks to borrow money for the equipping of himself and his company. He and many other princes have bound them- [43] selves by an oath to make war against them that have possession of the Holy City; but war, as thou well knowest, cannot be made without money.' So writes Jacob, a Jew of the city of London. And other letters to the same intent have come which, as bearing the superscription of my father, I have opened." So spoke Cleon, son of Nicias, and before many days were passed his words had confirmation.

About the space of one month after the summer solstice there came a rider to Antioch with an epistle from a certain merchant dwelling in the city of Nicaea. It was no safe or easy journey that he had made, passing over rivers and mountains by ways beset by wild beasts and robbers. The substance of the letter was this: "A great army from the West has taken this city out of the hands of the Sultan Solyman, after besieging it for some forty days, not without much labour and the loss of many valiant men. The number of this army cannot certainly be known; but it is beyond all doubt very great, covering the whole face of the country, as could be seen from the walls of the city while the siege was doing. There are many princes of high estate, [44] but none who is acknowledged to be chief of all. Some indeed are more highly esteemed than others, either as having brought to the war a greater multitude of well-equipped soldiers, or as having shown themselves valiant in battle, or as being prudent in counsel, or excellent in temperance and purity of life," The writer of the epistle proceeded to speak of a certain Godfrey of Bouillon as surpassing his fellows, not in one only, but in all these respects. None, he said, had so great a following of men, not less, it was commonly reported, than fourscore thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand horsemen. Now, though some had perished by war and more by disease, yet he had at that present not less than threescore thousand men, and these well equipped and of an excellent conduct, for that there were many in the host that were no less to be dreaded by their friends than by their enemies. Also, he was reported to be right valiant and greatly skilled in arms, prudent in counsel, albeit not one who could conceal his thoughts, but, on the contrary, must ever speak out his mind plainly. Having said so much of the army in general, and of this Godfrey, of whom I heard now for the first time, he wrote these [45] words: "Having talked with one of the scribes who attend at the councils of the chiefs, I have heard a thing which it concerns you to know without delay. It is the purpose of the chiefs when they have rested awhile in this city to march to Jerusalem, but first they will possess themselves of the city of Antioch, for they that know the land are certainly persuaded that Antioch must be first taken before they can safely lay siege to Jerusalem. Do you, therefore, make such preparation as may seem fit to you before the coming of the host, for that it will come in due time you may count for certain. And I would say this to you—Take good care to hide away such wealth as you may have. 'Tis true that in this city of Nicaea good order has been kept, and there has been little plundering or violence. But then the city was surrendered, not taken by force, and it was surrendered not to the princes of the army but to the Emperor of New Rome. Nevertheless there was much murmuring among the common men that they had been defrauded of their rights. This letter I have sent by a messenger whom I know to be trustworthy, with a commandment that he deliver it in your hand with such speed as may be. Another of the same intent I have sent by another hand and another [46] way, so that the news may most certainly reach you. Farewell." And here I may say that this second letter never came into the hands of Cleon. I reckon that the messenger perished on his way.


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