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Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago by  Evaleen Stein


 

 

ON THE ROAD TO JERUSALEM

[58] Ten days after its fall, the crusading army made its grand entry into Acre. By this time Richard was again able to ride Favelle, and as usual he led the procession. Kings, queens, and knights, all were magnificently dresses, and even the common soldiers had freshened up their tunics and polished their spears and shields so they looked very fine as they streamed through the crooked streets of the dingy old city. Hugh and Raymond, following their masters on foot, gazed curiously around at the queer flat-roofed houses of stone or plaster, all showing heavy doors, and their few windows closely latticed.

Richard soon established himself, with the two queens and their attendants, in the largest of the stone houses. It had been the palace used by Saladin when in Acre and was built around a courtyard where had once been a beautiful gar- [59] den; tall palms and cypress trees still rose from it, but the flowers were withered and neglected, for water had been too scarce in the besieged city to spare any for them. Like most houses in Eastern countries, the palace proved much handsomer within than you would have supposed from the plain wall without; but it was not furnished like the castles Hugh was used to at home, and as he followed his master to his room he looked in vain for chairs or beds, or tables. What did they sit and sleep on? Why, divans built against the walls and piled with cushions. Were there tabourettes to eat from? To be sure; handsome ones, inlaid with pearll and ebony and silver, and trays with fine porcelain bowls and tiny coffee cups in holders of filigree gold and silver. And everywhere were magnificent rugs and curtains. Hugh helped bring his master's belongings to him, and placed his own in a little alcove near by.

Meanwhile, King Philip was not at all pleased to put up with a second-best place; while as for Duke Leopold of Austria, he was cross and sulky as could be because he was obliged to take what was left, for, stupid and conceited as he was, he thought himself quite as good as any [60] king there; and, to prove it, that very evening he had his banner set up on the tower where floated those of Richard and Philip.

Next morning, Hugh, who had risen early, heard a commotion in his master's rrom. Richard was not yet up, but already one of his knights had brought him word, "Sire, Duke Leopold's banner is mounted beside your own!"

That was enough for the Lion Heart. "What?"  he cried. "Dares the impudent Austrian swine insult us so?" Then rising up to his bed, "Hugh!" he called, "Quick! Bring me water and comb!" For he had taken a great notion for Hugh's help at his toilet. Hugh hurried to serve his master, who, with further aid from his squires, was soon dressed. One of them insisted on bringing him some bread and wine, which he quickly dispatched; then he strode from the house toward the tower, followed by a little party of knights, all anxious to see what he would do.

Hugh ran along and watched to tower as the king mounted the winding stair and came to the parapet where the banners floated. With a low growl as of an angry lion, he seized Duke Leopold's, and tearing it from its place, flung [61] it down and set his foot upon it. Everybody drew a long breath as he coolly came down the stair and returned to his quarters.

Later in the day, when the two pages got together as they usually managed to, they talked it over. "They say Duke Leopold is furious!" said Raymond. "Yes," agreed Hugh, "but he knows well enough he'd better keep away from King Richard. It was fine the way he tore down that Austrian rag!" and Hugh's eyes snapped, for he was proud to serve the Lion Heart, whose reckless boldness and bravery he ardently admired. Some of Richard's knights, however, were not sure he had done well to trample on the banner as he did, for though Duke Leopold did not dare to do anything then, they knew him to be a sullen, resentful man, who would nurse his wrath and bide his time to do the king an ill turn. And Richard, though warmly loved by a host of admiring friends, nevertheless, by his proud bearing and contempt for those he disliked, had made numerous enemies among the crusaders, who could ill afford to add to the many quarrels among themselves.

But though the older people kept up their disputes, the two pages continued the best of [62] friends and every day found some chance to explore the old city together. In ordinary times its narrow, crooked streets would have been crowded with just such noisy throngs as had gone daily among the tents beyond the moat. But now the boys could peer into the dark, empty little booths that served for shops, and into the deserted mosques; these were the Saracen churches, each with a domed roof, and beside it qa tall, slender tower circled high up by a balcony where every day their priests had many times called the people to pray to Allah, which was their name for God. The dwelling-houses all had their flat roofs protected by low walls or little wooden fences, and looking at these one day, "Those house-tops are queer," said Hugh, "but they surely are a very good plan for a warm country like this."

"Yes, indeed," said Raymond, "and Count William says that the people in Palestine often eat and sleep and do all sorts of things on their roofs when they are shady in the mornings and evenings. And they are splendid places to see anything going on in the street." Sometimes the boys climbed the battered city walls and looked down at the camp, where the common soldiers [63] were still quartered, and at the blue sea beyond them and the green mountains behind.

Thus the crusading army rested for about three weeks, when more trouble began to brew. This time it was the lack of real friendliness between the two kings that began to be whispered about more boldly, though almost from the fall of the city it had been hinted at. And soon everybody knew the trouble. King Philip was going home! Hugh could hardly believe his ears when he heard one of the squires say so. "What!"  he exclaimed, "going to leave the crusade? How dares  he?"

"Well," said the squire, "crusade or no crusade, that's what he is going to do. I was talking with some of the French soldiers, and they have their orders to get ready to go."

"But why?"  asked Hugh in amazement.

"I guess he don't tell all his reasons to everybody," said the squire, "but he says he is sick and that he is needed at home. But the soldiers seemed to think it's more because he's out of sorts with King Richard and doesn't like to take second place, as he generally has to." And the squire smiled, for the Lion Heart's followers all liked his high-handed way of doing things.

[64]

That afternoon Raymond came running to the nook by the Cursed tower, where the boys usually met, looking very woe-begone. "Hugh", he burst out, "isn't it dreadful that King Philip is going home?"

"Yes, indeed," said Hugh, "and will he take all the French with him?"

"No," replied Raymond, "it seems the other rusaders made such a fuss he has to leave ten thousand men under the Duke of Burgundy, and thank goodness, Count William is one of them, so I won't have to go!" For the lad was really very much mortified that his king should desert the cause, and would have been heart-broken had he been compelled to follow him. And Hugh also was delighted that he would not have to part from his friend.

Sure enough, a few days later the French king and the greater part of his army took their leave. As the ships sailed out of the harbor there came a sound of hissing from the troops on shore, who felt themselves deserted without reason; and they had to realize that to conquer the Holy Land was a thousand times harder task than they had supposed. But Richard watched in silent scorn; there was a far-away [65] look in his eyes and, as the last sail disappeared, the smouldering fire in them seemed to leap to little tongues of flame. He was deeply and bitterly disappointed in the action of Philip; morever, he was sure the latter had more reason than jealousy for going home and that he meant to scheme to get his French possessions away from him, though he had solemnly promised to do nothing unfriendly while the crusade lasted. But Richard said no word of this, keeping his thoughts to himself. And as to the crusade, though no one saw more clearly than he the difficulty of the task, he still hoped that he might be able to take Jerusalem if only he could get enough soldiers. So to this end he sent messengers on the returning ships to try and gain more men from his English and French dominions.

Meanwhile, he gave orders for the host still in Acre to make ready to start for the holy city, for he knew that it would be a long march, and thought that if more soldiers came from home they could join them on the way. But to get things ready to move was no easy matter; for many of the men who had been besieging the city longest had grown lazy with their rest [66] within it and lost their enthusiasm for going farther; and Duke Leopold and his Austrians were surly and unmanageable because Richard was now the head of the crusade. However, after many delays, all was finally arranged. The two queens and their ladies were to stay in the palace at Acre, a garrison was left to guard the city and at last late in July the crusaders set out, and in spite of all their troubles looked very brave and gay.

The white surcoats and red crosses of the knights gleamed in the sunlight and their fluttering banners were as bright as a garden of flowers. Behind these came the foot-soldiers marching in solid columns, then the great baggage-wagons, beside which were grouped the pages of the various knights. Hugh and Raymond walked together, though when the army paused for food and rest or to camp at night they separated to find and wait upon their masters. Then at the end of the whole body of troops was always a guard of soldiers to protect them from attack behind. King Richard had arranged also that a fleet of ships should sail along as the army moved and supply it with food.

[67] Thus the crusaders started off over the sands and beneath the hot sun that was soon to make their armor an intolerable burden, though they dared not cast it off because of the constant shower of arrows that day by day fell upon them from the Saracen hosts. For back of the long line of hills, which ran parallel to the narrow strip of coast, Saladin led a great army, moving as the crusader moved. These hills were beautiful with groves of olive and fig and citron trees, and here and there shone the gold of oranges, but the soldiers of the cross had little time to look at them, so busy were they watching for the flying arrows. Though Saladin's men outnumbered Richard's three to one, he did not wish to risk an open battle with the latter, but hoped rather to wear them out by his bands of archers, who would dash out on their swift Arab horses, shoot their volley of arrows, and rush back at a wild gallop.

"Goodness!" cried Hugh, as a shower of darts fell on the men just ahead of them as the marched along one hot morning, "they have so many arrows sticking in their chain armor, they look like porcupines!"

"I don't think many are hurt who have good [68] armor," said Raymond, "but some who haven't are hard hit! I'm thankful we have the big baggage-wagons between us and the hills yonder!"

"Our cross-bowman seem to do more damage with their long bolts when they can get a chance at those heathen, but their Arab horses are so fast they're gone before you know it!" said Hugh.

"Well," said Raymond, "they must have plenty of arrows to waste! They are fairly paving the ground with them. I'm tired of tramping over them!"

"They're not so bad as tarantulas, though," answered Hugh. "Look out! There's one now!"

Raymond jumped aside as Hugh, spying a stone, promptly dropped it on the great spider. These tarantulas, and scorpions, too, added much to the hardships of the soldiers, often creeping into their tents and wounding them with poisonous bites. Indeed, as the crusaders toiled on day after day beneath the scorching sun, they found more and more discomforts to bear. Many at last tore off their heavy armor and threw it away, preferring to risk the Saracens' arrows rather than endure it longer. Often their feet [69] were torn and bleeding from the low-growing thorny bushes through which their way lef; and always they must watch for some sudden move of the enemy; for though Saladin did not want to risk a big battle, many were the whirlwind attacks his followers made on the less protected parts of the army. At such times, when King Richard would hear of it, he would gallop furiously along the lines, hurling his lance and wielding his great battle-ax, and always then the Saracens, shouting, "The Malek Ric!"  fled before him as fast as their Arab horses could carry them.

At last the army neared Jaffa, and the two pages toiling along with the rest were glad. Raymond, limping a little from a thorn in his foot, listened as Hugh said, "I heard the folks around king Richard's tent talking last evening, and they said we'd reach Jaffa in a couple of days, but that tomorrow we have such a narrow strip of coast to march over that our army will have to string out, so maybe the Saracens will dare attack us more boldly; but the king, while he wants an open battle, doesn't want one to begin till we get to a better place to fight."

"I heard pretty much the same thing in Count [70] William's tent," said Raymond. "I guess everybody is warned to be on the watch tomorrow."

Sure enough, that night, after the herald had cried through the camp "God save the Holy Sepulchre!", the word was passed around that no battle was to be started on the morrow until they heard King Richard's signal, two blasts on the trumpet, blown three times.

Next morning the boys were all excitement as the army started off. The king led as usual, and after him rode the Knights of the Temple' behind these came the long line of crusaders, both on horse and foot, while guarding the rear along the narrow coast, soon they came in sight of the beautiful gardens around a town named Assur. "Oh, look!" cried Hugh, gazing at the wilderness of roses and jessamines and laden fruit trees of every kind, while shining among them were ripe oranges and lemons and scarlet pomegranates, and towering overhead rose clusters of stately palms. But scarely had the boys begun to admire all this, when suddenly such a storm of arrows broke over the rear of the army, and even the baggage-wagons, that the two pages had to dodge to keep from being hit.

[71] It was as King Richard had guessed. The Sultan Saladin had decided to make a bold attack at that spot, hoping to drive the crusaders into the sea. He had began On the Knights of St. John, as being farthest from the fiery Richard. The knights chafed and fretted under their orders not to fight till the signal was given and sent a messenger galloping to the king begging permission to charge the Saracens, but Richard sent back word to wait for his signal. Thicker and thicker fell the arrows, till at last the brave knights could bear it no longer, and with a loud shout, "For Saint George and the Sepulchre!" they dashed headlong at the foe.

The battle thus begun, though sooner than Richard had planned, he at once took the lead. The baggage column and the pages, being ordered to keep out of the way, drew off to one side of where the main fight was raging. Hugh and Raymond, aching to be in it, were obliged to content themselves with climbing on top of one of the loaded wagons and looking on' and so fearful a sight it grew that for a little while they stared in utter silence, thought he din of battle was so great that they could scarcely have heard each other speak, had they tried. Led by the [72] brave Saladin, on rushed the Saracens, pouring from the defiles of the hills with the most frightful cries. They seemed to think the more noise they made the more terrifying they would be. They beat on brazen drums, they blew on great trumpets, they shrieked and yelled as they swept on, white men, yellow men, brown and black, from the different countries that Saladin ruled. Gorgeously dressed in many stripes and colors and with heads wound with white or gay turbans, there seemed no end of the host from behind the hills. But the crusaders were ready for them. Raising their own war-cries and meeting them fearlessly, knights and foot-soldiers stood their ground bravely, dealing terrific blows with their heavier weapons.

As the boys watched breathlessly, presently, "Look at King Richard!" cried Hugh. But Raymond was already starig with all his might as the Lion Heart, mounted Favelle, dashed furiously to and fro through the fight, fiercely swinging his battle-ax and cutting a wide path before him as he went.

"Did you ever see anything like him?" again exclaimed Hugh. "You can fairly see the blue fire darting from his eyes, and he mows down [73] the Saracens like wheat in August. See how they fly before him!"

"He is simply terrific!" replied Raymond. "We saw some pretty stiff fighting around Acre, but King Richard was sick then. I didn't know anybody could  do things like that! Why, if all the soldiers were like him there wouldn't be a Saracen left alive!"

Indeed, with all his daring exploits and fame for bravery, never had Richard deserved the name of Lion Heart more truly than as he dashed headlong through the battle Assur, dealing death with every blow, and all the while so skillfully directing the movements of his army that in the end the Saracens were utterly defeated. Those who remained of Saladin's great host, leaving their thousands of slain heaped upon the shore, fled terror-stricken to the refuge of the hills.

The losses of the crusaders were few compared to those of the enemy; andd when the dead and wounded had been cared for, theymade their camp around the walls of Assur, where they were to rest for a day. Richard's tent was pitched in the midst of the beautiful gardens which luckily had been beyond the bat- [74] tlefield, and Hugh gathered some of the choicest fruit from these and brought it on a silver salver to refresh his master after the hard-fought struggle of the day.


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