Heard ye the din of battle bray,
Lance to lance, and horse to horse?
 IT had been agreed, on account of the heat of the climate, that
the judicial combat which was the cause of the present assemblage
of various nations at the Diamond of the Desert should take place
at one hour after sunrise. The wide lists, which had been
constructed under the inspection of the Knight of the Leopard,
enclosed a space of hard sand, which was one hundred and twenty
yards long by forty in width. They extended in length from north
to south, so as to give both parties the equal advantage of the
rising sun. Saladin's royal seat was erected on the western side
of the enclosure, just in the centre, where the combatants were
expected to meet in mid encounter. Opposed to this was a gallery
with closed casements, so contrived that the ladies, for whose
accommodation it was erected, might see the fight without being
themselves exposed to view. At either extremity of the lists was
a barrier, which could be opened or shut at pleasure. Thrones
had been also erected, but the Archduke, perceiving that his was
lower than King Richard's, refused to occupy it; and Coeur de
Lion, who would have submitted to much ere any formality should
have interfered with the combat, readily agreed that the
sponsors, as they were called, should remain on horseback during
the fight. At one extremity of the lists were placed the
followers of Richard, and opposed to them were those who
accompanied the defender Conrade. Around the throne destined for
the Soldan were ranged his splendid Georgian Guards, and the rest
of the enclosure was occupied by Christian and Mohammedan
Long before daybreak the lists were surrounded by even a larger
number of Saracens than Richard had seen on the preceding
evening. When the first ray of the sun's glorious orb arose
above the desert, the sonorous call, "To prayer—to prayer!" was
poured forth by the Soldan himself, and answered by others, whose
rank and zeal entitled them to act as muezzins. It was a
striking spectacle to see them all sink to earth, for the purpose
of repeating their devotions, with their faces turned to Mecca.
But when they arose from the ground, the sun's rays, now
strengthening fast, seemed to confirm the Lord of Gilsland's
conjecture of the night before. They were flashed back from many
a spearhead, for the pointless lances of the preceding day were
certainly no longer such. De Vaux pointed it out to his master,
who answered with impatience that he had perfect confidence in
the good faith of the Soldan; but if De Vaux was afraid of his
bulky body, he might retire.
Soon after this the noise of timbrels was heard, at the sound of
which the whole Saracen cavaliers threw themselves from their
horses, and prostrated themselves, as if for a second morning
prayer. This was to give an opportunity to the Queen, with Edith
and her attendants, to pass from the pavilion to the gallery
intended for them. Fifty guards of Saladin's seraglio escorted
them with naked sabres, whose orders were to cut to pieces
whomsoever, were he prince or peasant, should venture to gaze on
the ladies as they passed, or even presume to raise his head
until the cessation of the music should make all men aware that
they were lodged in their gallery, not to be gazed on by the
This superstitious observance of Oriental reverence to the fair
sex called forth from Queen Berengaria some criticisms very
unfavourable to Saladin and his country. But their den, as the
royal fair called it, being securely closed and guarded by their
sable attendants, she was under the necessity of contenting
herself with seeing, and laying aside for the present the still
more exquisite pleasure of being seen.
Meantime the sponsors of both champions went, as was their duty,
to see that they were duly armed and prepared for combat. The
Archduke of Austria was in no hurry to perform this part of the
ceremony, having had rather an unusually severe debauch upon wine
of Shiraz the preceding evening. But the Grand Master of the
Temple, more deeply concerned in the event of the combat, was
early before the tent of Conrade of Montserrat. To his great
surprise, the attendants refused him admittance.
"Do you not know me, ye knaves?" said the Grand Master, in great
"We do, most valiant and reverend," answered Conrade's squire;
"but even you may not at present enter—the Marquis is about to
"Confess himself!" exclaimed the Templar, in a tone where alarm
mingled with surprise and scorn—"and to whom, I pray thee?"
"My master bid me be secret," said the squire; on which the Grand
Master pushed past him, and entered the tent almost by force.
The Marquis of Montserrat was kneeling at the feet of the hermit
of Engaddi, and in the act of beginning his confession.
"What means this, Marquis?" said the Grand Master; "up, for
shame—or, if you must needs confess, am not I here?"
"I have confessed to you too often already," replied Conrade,
with a pale cheek and a faltering voice. "For God's sake, Grand
Master, begone, and let me unfold my conscience to this holy
"In what is he holier than I am?" said the Grand Master.
—"Hermit, prophet, madman—say, if thou darest, in what thou
"Bold and bad man," replied the hermit, "know that I am like the
latticed window, and the divine light passes through to avail
others, though, alas! it helpeth not me. Thou art like the iron
stanchions, which neither receive light themselves, nor
communicate it to any one."
"Prate not to me, but depart from this tent," said the Grand
Master; "the Marquis shall not confess this morning, unless it be
to me, for I part not from his side."
"Is this YOUR pleasure?" said the hermit to Conrade; "for think
not I will obey that proud man, if you continue to desire my
"Alas," said Conrade irresolutely, "what would you have me say?
Farewell for a while—-we will speak anon."
"O procrastination!" exclaimed the hermit, "thou art a soul-murderer!—Unhappy man, farewell—not for a
while, but until we
shall both meet no matter where. And for thee," he added,
turning to the Grand Master, "TREMBLE!"
"Tremble!" replied the Templar contemptuously, "I cannot if I
The hermit heard not his answer, having left the tent.
"Come! to this gear hastily," said the Grand Master, "since thou
wilt needs go through the foolery. Hark thee—I think I know
most of thy frailties by heart, so we may omit the detail, which
may be somewhat a long one, and begin with the absolution. What
signifies counting the spots of dirt that we are about to wash
from our hands?"
"Knowing what thou art thyself," said Conrade, "it is blasphemous
to speak of pardoning another."
"That is not according to the canon, Lord Marquis," said the
Templar; "thou art more scrupulous than orthodox. The absolution
of the wicked priest is as effectual as if he were himself a
saint—otherwise, God help the poor penitent! What wounded man
inquires whether the surgeon that tends his gashes has clean
hands or no? Come, shall we to this toy?"
"No," said Conrade, "I will rather die unconfessed than mock the
"Come, noble Marquis," said the Templar, "rouse up your courage,
and speak not thus. In an hour's time thou shalt stand
victorious in the lists, or confess thee in thy helmet, like a
"Alas, Grand Master," answered Conrade, "all augurs ill for this
affair, the strange discovery by the instinct of a dog—the
revival of this Scottish knight, who comes into the lists like a
spectre—all betokens evil."
"Pshaw," said the Templar, "I have seen thee bend thy lance
boldly against him in sport, and with equal chance of success.
Think thou art but in a tournament, and who bears him better in
the tilt-yard than thou?—Come, squires and armourers, your
master must be accoutred for the field."
The attendants entered accordingly, and began to arm the Marquis.
"What morning is without?" said Conrade.
"The sun rises dimly," answered a squire.
"Thou seest, Grand Master," said Conrade, "nought smiles on us."
"Thou wilt fight the more coolly, my son," answered the Templar;
"thank Heaven, that hath tempered the sun of Palestine to suit
Thus jested the Grand Master. But his jests had lost their
influence on the harassed mind of the Marquis, and
notwithstanding his attempts to seem gay, his gloom communicated
itself to the Templar.
"This craven," he thought, "will lose the day in pure faintness
and cowardice of heart, which he calls tender conscience. I,
whom visions and auguries shake not—-who am firm in my purpose
as the living rock—I should have fought the combat myself.
Would to God the Scot may strike him dead on the spot; it were
next best to his winning the victory. But come what will, he
must have no other confessor than myself—our sins are too much
in common, and he might confess my share with his own."
While these thoughts passed through his mind, he continued to
assist the Marquis in arming, but it was in silence.
The hour at length arrived; the trumpets sounded; the knights
rode into the lists armed at all points, and mounted like men who
were to do battle for a kingdom's honour. They wore their visors
up, and riding around the lists three times, showed themselves to
the spectators. Both were goodly persons, and both had noble
countenances. But there was an air of manly confidence on the
brow of the Scot—a radiancy of hope, which amounted even to
cheerfulness; while, although pride and effort had recalled much
of Conrade's natural courage, there lowered still on his brow a
cloud of ominous despondence. Even his steed seemed to tread
less lightly and blithely to the trumpet-sound than the noble
Arab which was bestrode by Sir Kenneth; and the SPRUCH-SPRECHER
shook his head while he observed that, while the challenger rode
around the lists in the course of the sun—that is, from right to
left—the defender made the same circuit WIDDERSINS—that is,
from left to right—which is in most countries held ominous.
A temporary altar was erected just beneath the gallery occupied
by the Queen, and beside it stood the hermit in the dress of his
order as a Carmelite friar. Other churchmen were also present.
To this altar the challenger and defender were successively
brought forward, conducted by their respective sponsors.
Dismounting before it, each knight avouched the justice of his
cause by a solemn oath on the Evangelists, and prayed that his
success might be according to the truth or falsehood of what he
then swore. They also made oath that they came to do battle in
knightly guise, and with the usual weapons, disclaiming the use
of spells, charms, or magical devices to incline victory to their
side. The challenger pronounced his vow with a firm and manly
voice, and a bold and cheerful countenance. When the ceremony
was finished, the Scottish Knight looked at the gallery, and bent
his head to the earth, as if in honour of those invisible
beauties which were enclosed within; then, loaded with armour as
he was, sprung to the saddle without the use of the stirrup, and
made his courser carry him in a succession of caracoles to his
station at the eastern extremity of the lists. Conrade also
presented himself before the altar with boldness enough; but his
voice as he took the oath sounded hollow, as if drowned in his
helmet. The lips with which he appealed to Heaven to adjudge
victory to the just quarrel grew white as they uttered the
impious mockery. As he turned to remount his horse, the Grand
Master approached him closer, as if to rectify something about
the sitting of his gorget, and whispered, "Coward and fool!
recall thy senses, and do me this battle bravely, else, by
Heaven, shouldst thou escape him, thou escapest not ME!"
The savage tone in which this was whispered perhaps completed the
confusion of the Marquis's nerves, for he stumbled as he made to
horse; and though he recovered his feet, sprung to the saddle
with his usual agility, and displayed his address in horsemanship
as he assumed his position opposite to the challenger's, yet the
accident did not escape those who were on the watch for omens
which might predict the fate of the day.
The priests, after a solemn prayer that God would show the
rightful quarrel, departed from the lists. The trumpets of the
challenger then rung a flourish, and a herald-at-arms proclaimed
at the eastern end of the lists—"Here stands a good knight, Sir
Kenneth of Scotland, champion for the royal King Richard of
England, who accuseth Conrade, Marquis of Montserrat, of foul
treason and dishonour done to the said King."
When the words Kenneth of Scotland announced the name and
character of the champion, hitherto scarce generally known, a
loud and cheerful acclaim burst from the followers of King
Richard, and hardly, notwithstanding repeated commands of
silence, suffered the reply of the defendant to be heard. He, of
course, avouched his innocence, and offered his body for battle.
The esquires of the combatants now approached, and delivered to
each his shield and lance, assisting to hang the former around
his neck, that his two hands might remain free, one for the
management of the bridle, the other to direct the lance.
The shield of the Scot displayed his old bearing, the leopard,
but with the addition of a collar and broken chain, in allusion
to his late captivity. The shield of the Marquis bore, in
reference to his title, a serrated and rocky mountain. Each shook
his lance aloft, as if to ascertain the weight and toughness of
the unwieldy weapon, and then laid it in the rest. The sponsors,
heralds, and squires now retired to the barriers, and the
combatants sat opposite to each other, face to face, with couched
lance and closed visor, the human form so completely enclosed,
that they looked more like statues of molten iron than beings of
flesh and blood. The silence of suspense was now general. Men
breathed thicker, and their very souls seemed seated in their
eyes; while not a sound was to be heard save the snorting and
pawing of the good steeds, who, sensible of what was about to
happen, were impatient to dash into career. They stood thus for
perhaps three minutes, when, at a signal given by the Soldan, a
hundred instruments rent the air with their brazen clamours, and
each champion striking his horse with the spurs, and slacking the
rein, the horses started into full gallop, and the knights met in
mid space with a shock like a thunderbolt. The victory was not
in doubt—no, not one moment. Conrade, indeed, showed himself a
practised warrior; for he struck his antagonist knightly in the
midst of his shield, bearing his lance so straight and true that
it shivered into splinters from the steel spear-head up to the
very gauntlet. The horse of Sir Kenneth recoiled two or three
yards and fell on his haunches; but the rider easily raised him
with hand and rein. But for Conrade there was no recovery. Sir
Kenneth's lance had pierced through the shield, through a plated
corselet of Milan steel, through a SECRET, or coat of linked
mail, worn beneath the corselet, had wounded him deep in the
bosom, and borne him from his saddle, leaving the truncheon of
the lance fixed in his wound. The sponsors, heralds, and Saladin
himself, descending from his throne, crowded around the wounded
man; while Sir Kenneth, who had drawn his sword ere yet he
discovered his antagonist was totally helpless, now commanded him
to avow his guilt. The helmet was hastily unclosed, and the
wounded man, gazing wildly on the skies, replied, "What would you
more? God hath decided justly—I am guilty; but there are worse
traitors in the camp than I. In pity to my soul, let me have a
He revived as he uttered these words.
"The talisman—the powerful remedy, royal brother!" said King
Richard to Saladin.
"The traitor," answered the Soldan, "is more fit to be dragged
from the lists to the gallows by the heels, than to profit by its
virtues. And some such fate is in his look," he added, after
gazing fixedly upon the wounded man; "for though his wound may be
cured, yet Azrael's seal is on the wretch's brow."
"Nevertheless," said Richard, "I pray you do for him what you
may, that he may at least have time for confession. Slay not
soul and body! To him one half hour of time may be worth more,
by ten thousandfold, than the life of the oldest patriarch."
"My royal brother's wish shall be obeyed," said Saladin.—
"Slaves, bear this wounded man to our tent."
"Do not so," said the Templar, who had hitherto stood gloomily
looking on in silence. "The royal Duke of Austria and myself
will not permit this unhappy Christian prince to be delivered
over to the Saracens, that they may try their spells upon him.
We are his sponsors, and demand that he be assigned to our care."
"That is, you refuse the certain means offered to recover him?"
"Not so," said the Grand Master, recollecting himself. "If the
Soldan useth lawful medicines, he may attend the patient in my
"Do so, I pray thee, good brother," said Richard to Saladin,
"though the permission be ungraciously yielded.—But now to a
more glorious work. Sound, trumpets—shout, England—in honour
of England's champion!"
Drum, clarion, trumpet, and cymbal rung forth at once, and the
deep and regular shout, which for ages has been the English
acclamation, sounded amidst the shrill and irregular yells of the
Arabs, like the diapason of the organ amid the howling of a
storm. There was silence at length.
"Brave Knight of the Leopard," resumed Coeur de Lion, "thou hast
shown that the Ethiopian may change his skin, and the leopard his
spots, though clerks quote Scripture for the impossibility. Yet
I have more to say to you when I have conducted you to the
presence of the ladies, the best judges and best rewarders of
deeds of chivalry."
The Knight of the Leopard bowed assent.
"And thou, princely Saladin, wilt also attend them. I promise
thee our Queen will not think herself welcome, if she lacks the
opportunity to thank her royal host for her most princely
Saladin bent his head gracefully, but declined the invitation.
"I must attend the wounded man," he said. "The leech leaves not
his patient more than the champion the lists, even if he be
summoned to a bower like those of Paradise. And further, royal
Richard, know that the blood of the East flows not so temperately
in the presence of beauty as that of your land. What saith the
Book itself?—Her eye is as the edge of the sword of the Prophet,
who shall look upon it? He that would not be burnt avoideth to
tread on hot embers—wise men spread not the flax before a
flickering torch. He, saith the sage, who hath forfeited a
treasure, doth not wisely to turn back his head to gaze at it."
Richard, it may be believed, respected the motives of delicacy
which flowed from manners so different from his own, and urged
his request no further.
"At noon," said the Soldan, as he departed, "I trust ye will all
accept a collation under the black camel-skin tent of a chief of
The same invitation was circulated among the Christians,
comprehending all those of sufficient importance to be admitted
to sit at a feast made for princes.
"Hark!" said Richard, "the timbrels announce that our Queen and
her attendants are leaving their gallery—and see, the turbans
sink on the ground, as if struck down by a destroying angel. All
lie prostrate, as if the glance of an Arab's eye could sully the
lustre of a lady's cheek! Come, we will to the pavilion, and
lead our conqueror thither in triumph. How I pity that noble
Soldan, who knows but of love as it is known to those of inferior
Blondel tuned his harp to his boldest measure, to welcome the
introduction of the victor into the pavilion of Queen Berengaria.
He entered, supported on either side by his sponsors, Richard and
Thomas Longsword, and knelt gracefully down before the Queen,
though more than half the homage was silently rendered to Edith,
who sat on her right hand.
"Unarm him, my mistresses," said the King, whose delight was in
the execution of such chivalrous usages; "let Beauty honour
Chivalry! Undo his spurs, Berengaria; Queen though thou be, thou
owest him what marks of favour thou canst give.—Unlace his
helmet, Edith;—by this hand thou shalt, wert thou the proudest
Plantagenet of the line, and he the poorest knight on earth!"
Both ladies obeyed the royal commands—Berengaria with bustling
assiduity, as anxious to gratify her husband's humour, and Edith
blushing and growing pale alternately, as, slowly and awkwardly,
she undid, with Longsword's assistance, the fastenings which
secured the helmet to the gorget.
"And what expect you from beneath this iron shell?" said
Richard, as the removal of the casque gave to view the noble
countenance of Sir Kenneth, his face glowing with recent
exertion, and not less so with present emotion. "What think ye
of him, gallants and beauties?" said Richard. "Doth he resemble
an Ethiopian slave, or doth he present the face of an obscure and
nameless adventurer? No, by my good sword! Here terminate his
various disguises. He hath knelt down before you unknown, save
by his worth; he arises equally distinguished by birth and by
fortune. The adventurous knight, Kenneth, arises David, Earl of
Huntingdon, Prince Royal of Scotland!"
There was a general exclamation of surprise, and Edith dropped
from her hand the helmet which she had just received.
"Yes, my masters," said the King, "it is even so. Ye know how
Scotland deceived us when she proposed to send this valiant Earl,
with a bold company of her best and noblest, to aid our arms in
this conquest of Palestine, but failed to comply with her
engagements. This noble youth, under whom the Scottish Crusaders
were to have been arrayed, thought foul scorn that his arm should
be withheld from the holy warfare, and joined us at Sicily with a
small train of devoted and faithful attendants, which was
augmented by many of his countrymen to whom the rank of their
leader was unknown. The confidants of the Royal Prince had all,
save one old follower, fallen by death, when his secret, but too
well kept, had nearly occasioned my cutting off, in a Scottish
adventurer, one of the noblest hopes of Europe.—Why did you not
mention your rank, noble Huntingdon, when endangered by my hasty
and passionate sentence? Was it that you thought Richard capable
of abusing the advantage I possessed over the heir of a King whom
I have so often found hostile?"
"I did you not that injustice, royal Richard," answered the Earl
of Huntingdon; "but my pride brooked not that I should avow
myself Prince of Scotland in order to save my life, endangered
for default of loyalty. And, moreover, I had made my vow to
preserve my rank unknown till the Crusade should be accomplished;
nor did I mention it save IN ARTICULO MORTIS, and under the seal
of confession, to yonder reverend hermit."
"It was the knowledge of that secret, then, which made the good
man so urgent with me to recall my severe sentence?" said
Richard. "Well did he say that, had this good knight fallen by
my mandate, I should have wished the deed undone though it had
cost me a limb. A limb! I should have wished it undone had it
cost me my life—-since the world would have said that Richard
had abused the condition in which the heir of Scotland had placed
himself by his confidence in his generosity."
"Yet, may we know of your Grace by what strange and happy chance
this riddle was at length read?" said the Queen Berengaria.
"Letters were brought to us from England," said the King, "in
which we learned, among other unpleasant news, that the King of
Scotland had seized upon three of our nobles, when on a
pilgrimage to Saint Ninian, and alleged, as a cause, that his
heir, being supposed to be fighting in the ranks of the Teutonic
Knights against the heathen of Borussia, was, in fact, in our
camp, and in our power; and, therefore, William proposed to hold
these nobles as hostages for his safety. This gave me the first
light on the real rank of the Knight of the Leopard; and my
suspicions were confirmed by De Vaux, who, on his return from
Ascalon, brought back with him the Earl of Huntingdon's sole
attendant, a thick-skulled slave, who had gone thirty miles to
unfold to De Vaux a secret he should have told to me."
"Old Strauchan must be excused," said the Lord of Gilsland. "He
knew from experience that my heart is somewhat softer than if I
wrote myself Plantagenet."
"Thy heart soft? thou commodity of old iron and Cumberland
flint, that thou art!" exclaimed the King.—"It is we
Plantagenets who boast soft and feeling hearts. Edith," turning
to his cousin with an expression which called the blood into her
cheek, "give me thy hand, my fair cousin, and, Prince of
"Forbear, my lord," said Edith, hanging back, and endeavouring to
hide her confusion under an attempt to rally her royal kinsman's
credulity. "Remember you not that my hand was to be the signal
of converting to the Christian faith the Saracen and Arab,
Saladin and all his turbaned host?"
"Ay, but the wind of prophecy hath chopped about, and sits now in
another corner," replied Richard.
"Mock not, lest your bonds be made strong," said the hermit
stepping forward. "The heavenly host write nothing but truth in
their brilliant records. It is man's eyes which are too weak to
read their characters aright. Know, that when Saladin and
Kenneth of Scotland slept in my grotto, I read in the stars that
there rested under my roof a prince, the natural foe of Richard,
with whom the fate of Edith Plantagenet was to be united. Could
I doubt that this must be the Soldan, whose rank was well known
to me, as he often visited my cell to converse on the revolutions
of the heavenly bodies? Again, the lights of the firmament
proclaimed that this prince, the husband of Edith Plantagenet,
should be a Christian; and I—weak and wild interpreter!—argued
thence the conversion of the noble Saladin, whose good qualities
seemed often to incline him towards the better faith. The sense
of my weakness hath humbled me to the dust; but in the dust I
have found comfort! I have not read aright the fate of others—
who can assure me but that I may have miscalculated mine own?
God will not have us break into His council-house, or spy out His
hidden mysteries. We must wait His time with watching and
prayer—with fear and with hope. I came hither the stern seer
—the proud prophet—skilled, as I thought, to instruct princes,
and gifted even with supernatural powers, but burdened with a
weight which I deemed no shoulders but mine could have borne.
But my bands have been broken! I go hence humble in mine
ignorance, penitent—and not hopeless."
With these words he withdrew from the assembly; and it is
recorded that from that period his frenzy fits seldom occurred,
and his penances were of a milder character, and accompanied with
better hopes of the future. So much is there of self-opinion,
even in insanity, that the conviction of his having entertained
and expressed an unfounded prediction with so much vehemence
seemed to operate like loss of blood on the human frame, to
modify and lower the fever of the brain.
It is needless to follow into further particulars the conferences
at the royal tent, or to inquire whether David, Earl of
Huntingdon, was as mute in the presence of Edith Plantagenet as
when he was bound to act under the character of an obscure and
nameless adventurer. It may be well believed that he there
expressed with suitable earnestness the passion to which he had
so often before found it difficult to give words.
The hour of noon now approached, and Saladin waited to receive
the Princes of Christendom in a tent, which, but for its large
size, differed little from that of the ordinary shelter of the
common Kurdman, or Arab; yet beneath its ample and sable covering
was prepared a banquet after the most gorgeous fashion of the
East, extended upon carpets of the richest stuffs, with cushions
laid for the guests. But we cannot stop to describe the cloth of
gold and silver—the superb embroidery in arabesque—the shawls
of Kashmere and the muslins of India, which were here unfolded in
all their splendour; far less to tell the different sweetmeats,
ragouts edged with rice coloured in various manners, with all the
other niceties of Eastern cookery. Lambs roasted whole, and game
and poultry dressed in pilaus, were piled in vessels of gold, and
silver, and porcelain, and intermixed with large mazers of
sherbet, cooled in snow and ice from the caverns of Mount
Lebanon. A magnificent pile of cushions at the head of the
banquet seemed prepared for the master of the feast, and such
dignitaries as he might call to share that place of distinction;
while from the roof of the tent in all quarters, but over this
seat of eminence in particular, waved many a banner and pennon,
the trophies of battles won and kingdoms overthrown. But amongst
and above them all, a long lance displayed a shroud, the banner
of Death, with this impressive inscription—"SALADIN, KING OF
KINGS—SALADIN, VICTOR OF VICTORS—SALADIN MUST DIE." Amid these
preparations, the slaves who had arranged the refreshments stood
with drooped heads and folded arms, mute and motionless as
monumental statuary, or as automata, which waited the touch of
the artist to put them in motion.
Expecting the approach of his princely guests, the Soldan,
imbued, as most were, with the superstitions of his time, paused
over a horoscope and corresponding scroll, which had been sent to
him by the hermit of Engaddi when he departed from the camp.
"Strange and mysterious science," he muttered to himself, "which,
pretending to draw the curtain of futurity, misleads those whom
it seems to guide, and darkens the scene which it pretends to
illuminate! Who would not have said that I was that enemy most
dangerous to Richard, whose enmity was to be ended by marriage
with his kinswoman? Yet it now appears that a union betwixt this
gallant Earl and the lady will bring about friendship betwixt
Richard and Scotland, an enemy more dangerous than I, as a wildcat in a chamber is more to be dreaded
than a lion in a distant
desert. But then" he continued to mutter to himself, "the
combination intimates that this husband was to be Christian.
—Christian!" he repeated, after a pause. "That gave the insane
fanatic star-gazer hopes that I might renounce my faith! But me,
the faithful follower of our Prophet—me it should have
undeceived. Lie there, mysterious scroll," he added, thrusting
it under the pile of cushions; "strange are thy bodements and
fatal, since, even when true in themselves, they work upon those
who attempt to decipher their meaning all the effects of
falsehood.—How now! what means this intrusion?"
He spoke to the dwarf Nectabanus, who rushed into the tent
fearfully agitated, with each strange and disproportioned feature
wrenched by horror into still more extravagant ugliness—his
mouth open, his eyes staring, his hands, with their shrivelled
and deformed fingers, wildly expanded.
"What now?" said the Soldan sternly.
"ACCIPE HOC!" groaned out the dwarf.
"Ha! sayest thou?" answered Saladin.
"ACCIPE HOC!" replied the panicstruck creature, unconscious,
perhaps,that he repeated the same words as before.
"Hence, I am in no vein for foolery," said the Emperor.
"Nor am I further fool," said the dwarf, "than to make my folly
help out my wits to earn my bread, poor, helpless wretch! Hear,
hear me, great Soldan!"
"Nay, if thou hast actual wrong to complain of," said Saladin,
"fool or wise, thou art entitled to the ear of a King. Retire
hither with me;" and he led him into the inner tent.
Whatever their conference related to, it was soon broken off by
the fanfare of the trumpets announcing the arrival of the various
Christian princes, whom Saladin welcomed to his tent with a royal
courtesy well becoming their rank and his own; but chiefly he
saluted the young Earl of Huntingdon, and generously
congratulated him upon prospects which seemed to have interfered
with and overclouded those which he had himself entertained.
"But think not," said the Soldan, "thou noble youth, that the
Prince of Scotland is more welcome to Saladin than was Kenneth to
the solitary Ilderim when they met in the desert, or the
distressed Ethiop to the Hakim Adonbec. A brave and generous
disposition like thine hath a value independent of condition and
birth, as the cool draught, which I here proffer thee, is as
delicious from an earthen vessel as from a goblet of gold."
The Earl of Huntingdon made a suitable reply, gratefully
acknowledging the various important services he had received from
the generous Soldan; but when he had pledged Saladin in the bowl
of sherbet which the Soldan had proffered to him, he could not
help remarking with a smile, "The brave cavalier Ilderim knew not
of the formation of ice, but the munificent Soldan cools his
sherbet with snow."
"Wouldst thou have an Arab or a Kurdman as wise as a Hakim?"
said the Soldan. "He who does on a disguise must make the
sentiments of his heart and the learning of his head accord with
the dress which he assumes. I desired to see how a brave and
single-hearted cavalier of Frangistan would conduct himself in
debate with such a chief as I then seemed; and I questioned the
truth of a well-known fact, to know by what arguments thou
wouldst support thy assertion."
While they were speaking, the Archduke of Austria, who stood a
little apart, was struck with the mention of iced sherbet, and
took with pleasure and some bluntness the deep goblet, as the
Earl of Huntingdon was about to replace it.
"Most delicious!" he exclaimed, after a deep draught, which the
heat of the weather, and the feverishness following the debauch
of the preceding day, had rendered doubly acceptable. He sighed
as he handed the cup to the Grand Master of the Templars.
Saladin made a sign to the dwarf, who advanced and pronounced,
with a harsh voice, the words, ACCIPE HOC! The Templar started,
like a steed who sees a lion under a bush beside the pathway; yet
instantly recovered, and to hide, perhaps, his confusion, raised
the goblet to his lips. But those lips never touched that
goblet's rim. The sabre of Saladin left its sheath as lightning
leaves the cloud. It was waved in the air, and the head of the
Grand Master rolled to the extremity of the tent, while the trunk
remained for a second standing, with the goblet still clenched in
its grasp, then fell, the liquor mingling with the blood that
spurted from the veins.
There was a general exclamation of treason, and Austria, nearest
to whom Saladin stood with the bloody sabre in his hand, started
back as if apprehensive that his turn was to come next. Richard
and others laid hand on their swords.
"Fear nothing, noble Austria," said Saladin, as composedly as if
nothing had happened,—"nor you, royal England, be wroth at what
you have seen. Not for his manifold treasons—not for the
attempt which, as may be vouched by his own squire, he instigated
against King Richard's life—not that he pursued the Prince of
Scotland and myself in the desert, reducing us to save our lives
by the speed of our horses—not that he had stirred up the
Maronites to attack us upon this very occasion, had I not brought
up unexpectedly so many Arabs as rendered the scheme abortive—
not for any or all of these crimes does he now lie there,
although each were deserving such a doom—but because, scarce
half an hour ere he polluted our presence, as the simoom
empoisons the atmosphere, he poniarded his comrade and
accomplice, Conrade of Montserrat, lest he should confess the
infamous plots in which they had both been engaged."
"How! Conrade murdered?—And by the Grand Master, his sponsor
and most intimate friend!" exclaimed Richard. "Noble Soldan, I
would not doubt thee; yet this must be proved, otherwise—"
"There stands the evidence," said Saladin, pointing to the
terrified dwarf. "Allah, who sends the fire-fly to illuminate
the night season, can discover secret crimes by the most
The Soldan proceeded to tell the dwarf's story, which amounted to
this. In his foolish curiosity, or, as he partly confessed, with
some thoughts of pilfering, Nectabanus had strayed into the tent
of Conrade, which had been deserted by his attendants, some of
whom had left the encampment to carry the news of his defeat to
his brother, and others were availing themselves of the means
which Saladin had supplied for revelling. The wounded man slept
under the influence of Saladin's wonderful talisman, so that the
dwarf had opportunity to pry about at pleasure until he was
frightened into concealment by the sound of a heavy step. He
skulked behind a curtain, yet could see the motions, and hear the
words, of the Grand Master, who entered, and carefully secured
the covering of the pavilion behind him. His victim started from
sleep, and it would appear that he instantly suspected the
purpose of his old associate, for it was in a tone of alarm that
he demanded wherefore he disturbed him.
"I come to confess and to absolve thee," answered the Grand
Of their further speech the terrified dwarf remembered little,
save that Conrade implored the Grand Master not to break a
wounded reed, and that the Templar struck him to the heart with a
Turkish dagger, with the words ACCIPE HOC!—words which long
afterwards haunted the terrified imagination of the concealed
"I verified the tale," said Saladin, "by causing the body to be
examined; and I made this unhappy being, whom Allah hath made the
discoverer of the crime, repeat in your own presence the words
which the murderer spoke; and you yourselves saw the effect which
they produced upon his conscience!"
The Soldan paused, and the King of England broke silence.
"If this be true, as I doubt not, we have witnessed a great act
of justice, though it bore a different aspect. But wherefore in
this presence? wherefore with thine own hand?"
"I had designed otherwise," said Saladin. "But had I not
hastened his doom, it had been altogether averted, since, if I
had permitted him to taste of my cup, as he was about to do, how
could I, without incurring the brand of inhospitality, have done
him to death as he deserved? Had he murdered my father, and
afterwards partaken of my food and my bowl, not a hair of his
head could have been injured by me. But enough of him—let his
carcass and his memory be removed from amongst us."
The body was carried away, and the marks of the slaughter
obliterated or concealed with such ready dexterity, as showed
that the case was not altogether so uncommon as to paralyze the
assistants and officers of Saladin's household.
But the Christian princes felt that the scene which they had
beheld weighed heavily on their spirits, and although, at the
courteous invitation of the Soldan, they assumed their seats at
the banquet, yet it was with the silence of doubt and amazement.
The spirits of Richard alone surmounted all cause for suspicion
or embarrassment. Yet he too seemed to ruminate on some
proposition, as if he were desirous of making it in the most
insinuating and acceptable manner which was possible. At length
he drank off a large bowl of wine, and addressing the Soldan,
desired to know whether it was not true that he had honoured the
Earl of Huntingdon with a personal encounter.
Saladin answered with a smile that he had proved his horse and
his weapons with the heir of Scotland, as cavaliers are wont to
do with each other when they meet in the desert; and modestly
added that, though the combat was not entirely decisive, he had
not on his part much reason to pride himself on the event. The
Scot, on the other hand, disclaimed the attributed superiority,
and wished to assign it to the Soldan.
"Enough of honour thou hast had in the encounter," said Richard,
"and I envy thee more for that than for the smiles of Edith
Plantagenet, though one of them might reward a bloody day's
work.—But what say you, noble princes? Is it fitting that such
a royal ring of chivalry should break up without something being
done for future times to speak of? What is the overthrow and
death of a traitor to such a fair garland of honour as is here
assembled, and which ought not to part without witnessing
something more worthy of their regard?—How say you, princely
Soldan? What if we two should now, and before this fair company,
decide the long-contended question for this land of Palestine,
and end at once these tedious wars? Yonder are the lists ready,
nor can Paynimrie ever hope a better champion than thou. I,
unless worthier offers, will lay down my gauntlet in behalf of
Christendom, and in all love and honour we will do mortal battle
for the possession of Jerusalem."
There was a deep pause for the Soldan's answer. His cheek and
brow coloured highly, and it was the opinion of many present that
he hesitated whether he should accept the challenge. At length
he said, "Fighting for the Holy City against those whom we regard
as idolaters and worshippers of stocks and stones and graven
images, I might confide that Allah would strengthen my arm; or if
I fell beneath the sword of the Melech Ric, I could not pass to
Paradise by a more glorious death. But Allah has already given
Jerusalem to the true believers, and it were a tempting the God
of the Prophet to peril, upon my own personal strength and skill,
that which I hold securely by the superiority of my forces."
"If not for Jerusalem, then," said Richard, in the tone of one
who would entreat a favour of an intimate friend, "yet, for the
love of honour, let us run at least three courses with grinded
"Even this," said Saladin, half smiling at Coeur de Lion's
affectionate earnestness for the combat—"even this I may not
lawfully do. The master places the shepherd over the flock not
for the shepherd's own sake, but for the sake of the sheep. Had
I a son to hold the sceptre when I fell, I might have had the
liberty, as I have the will, to brave this bold encounter; but
your own Scripture saith that when the herdsman is smitten, the
sheep are scattered."
"Thou hast had all the fortune," said Richard, turning to the
Earl of Huntingdon with a sigh. "I would have given the best
year in my life for that one half hour beside the Diamond of the
The chivalrous extravagance of Richard awakened the spirits of
the assembly, and when at length they arose to depart Saladin
advanced and took Coeur de Lion by the hand.
"Noble King of England," he said, "we now part, never to meet
again. That your league is dissolved, no more to be reunited,
and that your native forces are far too few to enable you to
prosecute your enterprise, is as well known to me as to yourself.
I may not yield you up that Jerusalem which you so much desire to
hold—it is to us, as to you, a Holy City. But whatever other
terms Richard demands of Saladin shall be as willingly yielded as
yonder fountain yields its waters. Ay and the same should be as
frankly afforded by Saladin if Richard stood in the desert with
but two archers in his train!"
The next day saw Richard's return to his own camp, and in a short
space afterwards the young Earl of Huntingdon was espoused by
Edith Plantagenet. The Soldan sent, as a nuptial present on this
occasion, the celebrated TALISMAN. But though many cures were
wrought by means of it in Europe, none equalled in success and
celebrity those which the Soldan achieved. It is still in
existence, having been bequeathed by the Earl of Huntingdon to a
brave knight of Scotland, Sir Simon of the Lee, in whose ancient
and highly honoured family it is still preserved; and although
charmed stones have been dismissed from the modern Pharmacopoeia,
its virtues are still applied to for stopping blood, and in cases
of canine madness.
Our Story closes here, as the terms on which Richard relinquished
his conquests are to be found in every history of the period.
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