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Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago by  Evaleen Stein


 

 

THE KING GOES FALCONING

[75] It was now October and the crusading army had been ten days at Jaffa. They had found the walls broken down and much of the city destroyed; for Saladin, discouraged by his defeat at Assur, had not tried to hold the place, but rather to make it as little use as possible to Richard. But the latter, as soon as the soldiers had rested a little, had set them to work repairing the broken walls so the city might be a safe place for his ships to land their food.

Hugh and Raymond and all the other pages, whenever at leisure, helped carry mortar and wait on the men. The work was going well, and one bright morning King Richard decided to take a day's sport with his falcons. A small party of English and French knights, including Raymond's master and a few squires attending them, went along. When they were ready to start, at the king's command, the boys ran to the tent [76] where the royal falcons were kept and supplied those of the knights who had not brought their own birds from home. Hugh handed up to his master his favorite, Arrow, who sat proudly on King Richard's wrist. As was the custom for falcons, his head was covered with a tiny hood so nothing might distract his attention till some hawk came in sight and he was loosed to chase it; Arrow's hood was of purple velvet tipped with a gold tassel and he held his head very high as he rode along.

After the party was gone, the two pages explored the old city for a while, then went and hunted shells by the seashore; and when the afternoon was nearly spent they sat under a fig tree by the road, eating its fruit and watching for the return of the party.

As the boys talked and watched, the sun slowly sank in the west, and as dusk fell, others besides themselves began to look anxiously for the sportsmen. But it was quite dark and the torches had been lighted for some time in the camp before the falconers rode slowly into Jaffa. As a crowd of knights gathered about them they saw their pace had been slow because some of them were wounded. Everyone could see that [77] King Richard was silent and troubled; and when Raymond ran to attend Count William he could not find him anywhere.

One of the squires, noticing him, said , "If you are looking for Count William de Pratelles, he is not here."

Raymond stared at him a moment in blank amazement, then, "Where is he?" he cried. But the squire was already following King Richard, so the lad hurried along with Hugh and turned into the courtyard of the large stone house where the king lodged. When Hugh sprang to hold his master's stirrup, "Lad," said King Richard, "bring writing materials to my room at once."

Hugh hastened to obey, and soon fetched the tip of a cow's horn, set in silver, that served as inkstand, a quill pen and sheet of parchment; and the king, without waiting for rest or food, at once began to write. When he had finished and Hugh had brought wax and a lighted candle so he might seal the letter with his royal ring, the page's next errand was to find and bring to the house a trusty messenger whom the king named. To him Richard gave the letter and a large purse of gold, ordering him to take the swiftest [78] horse in camp and seek Saladin as quickly as possible. As soon as the messenger was gone, "Hugh," said the king, "now get me a basin of water and send in a squire to brush the dust from my tunic."

When the page and squire had helped their master freshen up, they brought him food and drink. Then, bidding Hugh hand him his lute, he dismissed them, and soon they could hear soft, plaintive strains of music and the echo of a song. For no matter how troubled over the happenings of the day, the Lion Heart could always comfort himself thus, or, best of all, by the making of a new song, which he could do wonderfully well.

Meantime, out in the courtyard a group of eager listeners had been hearing an account of the hawking party, from another of the squires, and this is what he told them: "Things went all very well at first. We rode along a little stream and started two or three herons and a hawk and the king and knights flew their falcons and had fine sport. Toward noon the sun got pretty hot, and we saw a wood ahead of us and rode into it and spread out the lunch we had brought. Afterward there was a little more [79] sport, and then most of the party were rather tired and were for turning back; you know how this climate is,—you can't do things the way you can at home.

"King Richard, though, wasn't ready to go back; he told the rest they could stay there and he would ride on a bit and see if he could start another hawk. You know how bold he is and never thinks of any danger to himself. But no sooner had he set off than count William de Pratelles—"

Here Raymond could keep still no longer: "Oh! Is he dead?"  he asked, his eyes full of tears.

"No, lad," answered the squire, "at least I hope not; but let me go on. As I was saying Count William, and a few of the other knights and a couple of us squires got on our horses and followed after, though the king did not see us. Pretty soon he spied a hawk and set Arrow loose and galloped ahead to see the chase, so fast we could hardly keep him in sight.

"At last, when Arrow had killed the hawk, even King Richard seemed tired, and getting off his horse, threw himself down under a tree and went to sleep as coolly as if there wasn't a Sara- [80] cen within a thousand miles. He slept an hour or more, and the afternoon was getting on, and we knew it would take a while to ride back to Jaffa, but nobody liked to wake him.

"In a few minutes, though, it was done for us. A party of Saracens suddenly burst out of a thicket and rushed on the king. At that he jumped up, half awake, and sprang on his horse and began slashing down with his sword. Of course we all hurried up to help him, and everybody began to fight hard, though none of us had anything but swords. King Richard disposed of at least seven of the Saracens single-handed, when the rest pretended to fly. But it was only a muse to draw us into ambush, for they had probably been watching our party from the start. Anyhow, we had chased them only a little way when a big group of heathen galloped out of the deep woods and surrounded our little handful of men, far outnumbering us.

"We were in a pretty bad fix, fighting against so many to one. King Richard, as usual, inched away furiously with the sword."

"They seemed to be trying to take him prisoner and it looked as if nothing could save him, when suddenly Count William, in the thick of the fight, [81] seeing how things were going, put on a disdainful air as if surprised that the heathen didn't know him, and called out—you know he can speak their barbaric tongue—that he  was 'The Malek Ric!' At this they left King Richard and rushed on him, which was what he meant them to do, for he wanted to save King Richard: and the infidels took him prisoner and rode off so fast we couldn't tell where they had gone."

Here the squire paused a moment, and a murmur of admiration for Count William rose from the listeners in the courtyard when they realized the noble sacrifice he had made; for everyone knew he was likely to be beheaded by the Saracens, who showed little mercy to prisoners. Poor Raymond, when he heard his master's probable fate discussed by those about him, was not ashamed to burst into tears, for Count William had always been good and kind to him and he loved him much.

But the squire went on: "There isn't much more to tell. King Richard had been fighting so hard he knew nothing of what count William had done till it was all over, and then he was hot for pursuing the Saracens no matter how many. But by this time it was dark and, besides, the [82] heathen had scattered and gone in different directions, so nobody knew which way the prisoner had been taken, and there was nothing left to do but come back here." Everyone was talking of what had happened when Hugh hurried into the courtyard after being dismissed by King Richard, and he soon learned the squire's story from Raymond, who could not repress a bitter sob as he thought of his master's probable cruel death. Hugh tried to comfort him as best he could, and, "Come, stay here with me," he said; "we can sleep together, and I'm sure King Richard will be glad to have you."

Raymond was glad to accept the offer, and later on, when the boys went to the little room where Hugh slept, they talked long. Hugh knew enough to hold his tongue about his master's affairs except those he was sure would make no difference to tell, and so had said nothing to anyone in the courtyard about Richard's letter to Saladin. But now an idea occurred to him, and knowing that Raymond, too, could hold his tongue, he told him of the letter and purse of gold. "I wondered at the time," he said, "why he was in such a hurry and what it was all about, [83] but I believe now he sent the messenger to try to ransom Count William. And they say that even if he is a heathen, Saladin is such a gentleman and admires King Richard so much that I think he won't have Count William killed, but will let him be ransomed."

Raymond quite took heart at what Hugh told him, and both, feeling much relieved, soon went to sleep. And indeed, Hugh had guessed exactly right as to what Richard had done.


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