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Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago by  Evaleen Stein


 

 

THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN

[96] King Richard had hoped to find some of his food ships at Ascalon, but though a number were on the way there, several had gone to the bottom in the hard storms and the rest were unable to land. Every day Hugh and Raymond went down to the wharf, hungrily watching for these ships, but it was over a week before they could sail into the harbor. "Good!" cried Hugh, who first spied them, " There they come! I hope they have plenty on board! I feel as if I could eat a whole sheep and several loaves of bread all by myself!

"So do I!" answered Raymond, as they ran to see the vessels unload.

When everybody had enough to eat again and had rested a little from their hard march, they were much better humored, and King Richard set himself to work to coax them to make up their many quarrels and be friends; for he [97] knew that unless all the crusaders were united they could never hope to capture Jerusalem. He even sent messengers to ask the Duke of Burgundy to come back with all the French troops he had taken away, and this the jealous duke at last consented to do.

The next thing King Richard undertook was to rebuild the broken walls of the city, and as these were very large he knew it would take a long time unless everybody helped; so he commanded all, from the noblest knight to the commonest foot-soldier, to go to work, setting the example himself by seizing a trowel and mixing up mortar and starting to lay stones as hard as ever he could. Count William went to work near the king, and soon nearly everybody was busy, Hugh and Raymond hurrying about helping mix and carry mortar, and often laying some of the smaller stones themselves.

The army had been working thus for several days when Hugh said to Raymond, "Seems to me everyone who is able is working on these walls except those Austrian soldiers and their Duke Leopold. I'd like to know what's the matter with them and if they think they're any better than King Richard and the rest of us!"

[98] "Look!" said Raymond. "There comes Duke Leopold now! I wish King Richard would do something to him!"

And Raymond was not disappointed: for just then the Lion Heart, working at a gap in the wall near by, glanced up and saw the duke as he strolled idly along. "Halt!" cried the king instantly, as his eyes flashed. The other, staring, paused sulkily. "Now, sir," said King Richard, "get a trowel and go to work like the rest of the army!"

But Leopold only tossed his head and replied haughtily, "I am the son of neither a carpenter nor a stone mason that I should work like a common laborer!" With this he tried to pass on, but Richard was too quick for him. Without another word he pounced upon him, and seizing the proud duke's burly shoulders, thrust him out through the gap in the wall, helping him along with a sound kick. Everybody near looked on open-mouthed as the king, calmly picking up his trowel, went on with his work as though nothing had happened.

Hugh and Raymond, peeping through the gap, could hardly keep from laughing as Leopold, amazed at finding himself thrown out of the [99] city, and afraid to touch the Lion Heart, at last gathered himself together and stalked off in a towering rage. "Of course King Richard has been trying to keep things peaceful," whispered Hugh, "but I guess that stupid Duke Leopold was just too much for him! You know how he detests him!"

"Yes," said Raymond, "and I don't blame him! I suppose Leopold will go home now, but I don't think he or his Austrians will be much loss."

Evidently Richard thought the same way, for he gave orders for the duke and all his followers who were lodged in the city the walls they would not help build, for he said they had no right to any protection from them. And as soon as they could get ready to leave, they set off for Austria as fast as they could go. Leopold still raging and biding his time to pay King Richard back.

Day by day the broken walls rose higher and higher; though Richard looked in vain for the reinforcements he longed for. Saladin, too, camped as usual behind the hills, was waiting for fresh troops, and there was a truce between the two armies. As was their custom when not [100] really fighting, the king and sultan behaved to each other with the greatest friendliness; and as the weather grew better toward spring, the armies would often have parades and tournaments, in which the knights and nobles of both sides took part. As the two pages were watching a tournament one day, "Doesn't it seem funny," said Raymond, "how friendly everybody is between fights?"

"Yes," replied Hugh, "and the sultan and King Richard give each other lots of presents, all kinds of things. I'm glad when I see Saladin's black slaves coming to the door, for they always bring something pleasant, and that's more than can be said for the Christian messengers who have been coming lately."

"What do you mean?" said Raymond. "Well," said Hugh, "a messenger came from England a while ago, and another one yesterday: they bring big parchment letters all covered with wax seals, and when King Richard reads them he looks worried to death. I'm sure he has been getting bad news from home."

And this was quite true. Richard had been getting the worst kind of news from home. Letters from his mother and friends urged him to [101] return and save his kingdom, which his own brother John was trying to get away from him. They told him also that King Philip, in spite of his solemn promises to do nothing against Richard while he was away, had broken his word and invaded Normandy. All these evil tidings were hard for the Lion Heart to bear after all his misfortunes and suffering in the Holy Land. He was really in a very trying position. Though he had never lost a battle, everything had gone against him. He could not bear to go away and leave Jerusalem unconquered; neither could he afford to lose his kingdom. Then too, if he returned to England, he knew he must leave some leader strong enough to hold what the crusaders had already won; and Richard could not but admit that the man who could do this best was Conrad of Montferrat. You remember this was the Conrad who was disputing with Guy of Lusignan about being king of Jerusalem. The quarrel had been going on for months, and everybody took sides one way or another. Indeed, if any crusader had nothing else to start a quarrel, he could always succeed by beginning to argue about Guy and Conrad. For though the walls of Jerusalem were still unshaken, all [102] still hoped that they would soon take the city; and if they did, of course it would be very important to be its king.

Richard thought it over, and at last, though much against his will, decided to allow Conrad to be called king of Jerusalem; for he could not be crowned without Richard's consent. He despised Conrad's treachery in offering to join Saladin, but felt sure that if he won in the quarrel with Guy, he would come back to the crusaders, whom he could hold together better than anyone else. Richard decided also to make up for Guy's disappointment by giving him the island of Cyprus, which he had taken away from King Isaac on his way to Acre. He then made his plans to return to his kingdom and overcome his enemies in England and France so that he might start another crusade; for he could not give up hope of some day conquering Jerusalem.

Having made up his mind, Richard sent his nephew, Count Henry of Champagne, sailing up the coast to the city of Tyre, of which Conrad had made himself master, to tell him he was to be crowned king of Jerusalem. It was very ridiculous that he had to be crowned in Tyre because the city of which he was called king was [103] still held by the Sultan Saladin; but nobody seemed to see it that way.

When the camp knew Richard's decision, there was a great deal of discussion. They were still talking about it when, scarcely two weeks later, there came sailing into port the same royal galley that had taken Count Henry to Tyre, and a messenger quickly landed and hurried to the quarters of the king. Having delivered his message first to Richard, he came into the courtyard, and soon all there knew the word he brought, for it was no secret. Conrad, before he could be crowned, had been killed by the order of The Old Man of the Mountain. Before long the whole camp had heard it, and if tongues had wagged before, now they were buzzing twice as busily.

Hugh was burning with curiosity and longed for a chance to ask the messenger more; so he was glad when presently food was made ready and he was sent to bid the man into the house and serve him while he ate. The moment he had finished, "Sir" he said, "will you please tell me who is "The Old Man of the Mountain?'"

"Gracious!" exclaimed the messenger, "have you just come to this country that you have never heard of him?"

[104] "No," said Hugh, "I've been here a good while, and I've heard his name and asked the soldiers about him once or twice, but they seemed almost afraid to talk of him, so I never found out much."

"Well," replied the messenger, "nobody knows so very much about him. I guess because nobody wants to go very near to find out. All the crusaders call him 'The Old Man of the Mountain,' but the Saracens, who know more than we do of the heathenish people over here, say his real name is Senan, and that he is chief of a tribe called Ismaelians, who live up on Mount Lebanon. They say he has a splendid castle up there, with wonderful gardens and fountains, and that he has gold and jewels and clothes and things to eat fit for a king. And no wonder, for he has had enough people robbed and killed to get most anything he wants."

"Mercy!" cried Hugh, "can't anybody stop him?"

"No," said the messenger, "that's not so easy. He's no ordinary bandit, and he doesn't do the work himself, either; he's too high and mighty for that. They say he takes boys from the tribe and trains them in his castle till they grow up, [105] and he gives them a queer kind of drug that makes them do anything he tells them to. So if he orders them to kill anybody, they will surely do it, if it takes them years to get a chance. Everybody in this country knows a man's life isn't worth a fig if the Old Man of the Mountain wants him put out of the way. So you see it isn't so easy to get rid of The Old Man. It's not like fighting an open battle; he does everything so secretly, and has so many people to obey him, that nobody who makes an enemy of him knows what minute he may have a dagger thrust into him as Conrad did."

Hugh shivered. "Did he rob Conrad?" he asked.

"No," said the messenger, "he doesn't always kill for robbery. People in Tyre think there was some quarrel between them. And what do you suppose The Old Man did? Six months ago he sent to Tyre two of the young men he had trained, and they were ordered to kill Conrad. They disguised themselves as monks, pretended they were good Christians, and made friends with some of the best people in the city, all the while watching for a chance to get at Conrad."

"Did nobody suspect them?" asked Hugh.

[106] "Not a soul," replied the messenger. "They went to church and behaved so piously that everybody thought they were all right."

"How did they get Conrad at last?" again asked Hugh.

"Well," said the messenger, "it was the night after Count Henry came, and Conrad and his friends were tremendously pleased that he was to be king of Jerusalem. The Bishop of Beauvaise gave a fine dinner for him, and as he was riding back to his house, suddenly the two false monks sprang at him, stabbing him with their daggers so he fell dying from his horse." Hugh shuddered again, and said, "Did they catch the young men?"

"Oh, yes, to be sure," replied the other, "the people around soon caught them, and made short work of them without much trouble. The Old Man of the Mountain tells all his followers that if they lose their lives in obeying his wicked orders, they will go straight to Paradise and have the grandest kind of a time. And the miserable wretches believe everything he says, so when they have carried out his commands, they don't seem to mind it at all if they get killed themselves."

[107] Here the messenger got up and stretched himself. "Well," he said I suppose King Richard will have to pick out another king for Jerusalem. Meantime I must go aboard the galley, for we are to sail back to Tyre whenever he gives the order."

That night, when Hugh went to bed, he dreamed of disguised monks and Old Men of the Mountains till he was thankful to wake up and find himself still alive and the sun shining.


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