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The Crusaders by  Alfred J. Church

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OF KING LOUIS AT ACRE

[290] NOT many days after the paying of the ransom the King sent for his chief counsellors and opened his mind to them in the matter of his return to France. He said, "The Queen, my mother, begs me to come back to France, saying that my kingdom is in great peril seeing that I have no peace, nor even a truce with England. Tell me, then, what you think. And because it is a great matter, I give you eight days to consider it."

Now the greater part of the counsellors favoured the King's return, but the Lord of Joinville was of contrary opinion. He would, indeed, have gladly gone back to France, but there remained in his memory what a kinsman whom he much honoured had said to him: "You are going: take heed how you return; no man, be he great or small, rich or poor, may come back and leave the sepulchre of our Lord Christ in the hands of [291] the infidel but there shall rest a curse upon him." On the day appointed the counsellors came before the King, who said to them, "What do you advise? Shall I go, or shall I stay?" They said that they had chosen one from among them, a certain Guy Malvoisin, to speak for them. Thereupon this Guy said, "These lords have taken counsel together, and are agreed that you cannot tarry in this country without damage to yourself and your kingdom. For think how that of all the knights whom you had in Cyprus, two thousand eight hundred in number, there remain with you here in Acre scarce one hundred. Our counsel, therefore, is that you return to France, and there gather another army, with which you may come hither again and take vengeance on your enemies for their trespasses against God and against you."

The King would not be content till he had heard from the mouth of his brothers and of other great nobles what they thought. And when they also agreed with Guy, then he turned to a certain John, who was Count of Jaffa, and asked him for his judgment. Count John answered: "Ask me not, sire; my domain is here, and if I bid you stay, then it [292] will be said that I did this for my own profit." But when the King was urgent for his advice he said, "If you stay for a year it will be for your honour." And one other of the counsellors gave the same judgment; but all the rest were urgent for the King's return. Then the King said, "I will tell you eight days hence what it is my pleasure to do."

On the day appointed they all came together again, and the King said, "I thank you, my lords, for your counsel—both those who have advised my going back and those who have advised my staying. Now I hold that if I stay, my kingdom of France will be in no peril, seeing that the Queen, my mother, is well able to keep it in charge; but that if I depart, then the kingdom of Jerusalem will most certainly be lost, because no man will be bold enough to stay after I am gone. Now, it was for the sake of this same kingdom of Jerusalem that I have come hither. My purpose, therefore, is to stay." There was no little trouble among the barons when they heard these words. There were some among them who could not hold back their tears. But though the King resolved himself to stay, yet he commanded his brothers to depart. And this they did before many days.

[293] About this time the Sultan of Damascus sent envoys to the King with the message that he was ill-content with the emirs of Egypt, because they had slain his kinsman, the Caliph; that he desired friendship with the King; and that he would deliver up to him the kingdom of Jerusalem. When the King received this message, he thought it well to send to him envoys of his own, with whom went a certain priest from the land of Brittany, whom they called Brother Yves. This priest could speak and understand the tongue of the Saracens. So the envoys went to Damascus, and the priest went with them. When the priest came back, he told this story: "I saw a woman in the street who was carrying in one hand a brazier full of fire, and in the other a pitcher of water. And when I asked her what she meant by carrying the fire and the water, she said, 'With this fire I would burn Paradise, and with this water I would extinguish hell.' 'Why so?' said I. 'Because then men would not do good deeds and abstain from evil deeds for hope of Paradise or for fear of hell, but only for the love of God.'" This was the priest's story.

Here again is the story told by one Ermin, who was engineer to the King and went to [294] Damascus to buy horn and glue for the making of cross-bows: "I went to the bazaar and there I saw an old man who said to me, 'Are you a Christian?' and when I made answer that I was, then he said, 'It is because of your sins that you cannot stand against us.' I answered, 'Why talk you of the sins of Christians when the sins of the Saracens are so much greater?' The Saracen said, 'Have you a son?' 'I have,' said I. 'Answer me, then,' said he; 'Which would vex you most; that I should smite you on the face, or that your son should smite you?' When I replied that it would be the worse pain if my son should smite me, the old man said, 'Now listen to me: you Christians are sons of God, and you are called after the names of the Lord Christ, and your Father has sent you teachers from whom you learn what is good and what is evil. Therefore it is that God has greater wrath at your sins than at the sins of those who know Him not and have not been taught His law.'"

While the King tarried at Acre there came to him messengers from the Old Man of the Mountain. One of the messengers was the spokesman, and had his place in front; the second had in his hand three daggers, to signify [295] what danger threatened him who should not listen to the message; the third carried a shroud of buckram for him who should be smitten with the daggers. The King said to the first envoy, "Speak on." Then the envoy said, "My master says, 'Know you me?'" The King answered, "I know him not, for I have never seen him; yet I have often heard others talk of him." "Why, then," went on the envoy, "have you not sent him such gifts as would have gained his friendship, even as the Emperor of Germany and the King of Hungary and other princes have done, yea, and do now year after year, knowing well that they cannot live save by my lord's pleasure?" The King made no answer, but bade the envoys come again in the afternoon. When they came they found the King sitting with the Master of the Templars on one side and the Master of the Hospitallers on the other. Now the Old Man is in great awe of these two, for he knows that if he slay them there will be put in their place other two as good or better. The envoys were not a little disturbed when they saw the two. And the Master of the Templars said, "Your lord is over bold to send you with such a message for the King. Now be sure that we would have drowned you in [296] the sea, but that so doing might be a wrong to him. Go now to your lord, and come again in fourteen days with such a token and such gifts as may suffice for the making of peace."

So the envoys departed, and came again in the time appointed, and they brought with them the shirt of the Old Man and his ring, which was of the finest gold, and with these things this message: "As man wears no garment that is nearer to him than his shirt, so the Old Man would have the King nearer to him than any other king upon earth; and as a ring is the sign of marriage by which two are made one, so the Old Man would have himself and the King to be one." Other gifts there were, an elephant of crystal, very cunningly wrought, and a monster which they call a giraffe, also of crystal, and draughts and chessmen, all finely made. The King, on his part, sent to the Old Man a great store of jewels, and scarlet cloth, and dishes of gold and bridles of silver. Also he sent with them Father Yves, who might teach the true religion to the Old Man.

When the father came to the Old Man and his people he found many things worth noting, as that they do not hold the same faith as other Mahometans, and that they believe that [297] if a man lose his life in fulfilling his master's command he is straightway carried to happiness that is beyond all belief; also that no man dies before the time appointed, so that they count it to be wickedness when a man seeks to defend his body with armour. Also the father found under the pillow of the Old Man's bed a book wherein were written many words spoken by the Lord to Peter, and the father said, "My lord, read this book very often, for these words are very good," to which the Old Man answered, "Yea; I have a great reverence for my lord St. Peter; for when Abel was slain by Cain his brother, in due time his soul went into the body of Noah; and when Noah died, then it went, in due time, into the body of Abraham, and, in like manner, it went into the body of St. Peter in the days when the Lord came upon the earth." Father Yves sought to prove to him that these things were not so, but the Old Man would not hear him.


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