Crusaders - Alfred J. Church

More Concerning the Siege of Acre

I came back to the camp when the month of May was half spent, this being the time of which the pilgrims, concerning whom I have written above, had spoken for the coming of the King of England. But the King was still absent, though he had accomplished a great part of his journey, being then, as was reported, in the island of Chittim (which the Greeks call Cyprus). Here also he had matters to conclude, and these of no small moment, for he that called himself Emperor of Cyprus had laid hands on the persons and goods of certain servants of the King. These had been shipwrecked on the coast of the island, and, many of their comrades having been drowned, had with difficulty escaped to the land; but this Isaac, for such was the name which he most unworthily bore, had taken from them such poor remains of goods and money as they had saved from the wreck, and had cast them into prison. 'Tis no wonder that the King, who is of a fiery temper—and, indeed, such a wrong would move a man of the very mildest mood—was inclined to punish this evil-doer; no man could blame him therefore. Nevertheless, all these things keep him back from doing the main errand on which he was bent.

But though the King of England yet tarried behind, his chief ally, Philip, King of France, had come to the camp, having arrived a month or so before. This King had put a new heart into the besiegers. I liked not the man, thinking that he had a crafty look, and was more like to a fox than to a lion—King Richard commonly bears the name of "Lion Heart"—nevertheless, it must be confessed that he set to work upon the business in hand with no little courage and vigour. He commanded that his tent, or, I should rather say, his house—'twas a building of wood that could be moved from one place to another—should be set up nearer to the walls of the city than had been done before by any of the besiegers. (I myself have seen the stones that were cast by the engines in the city strike on the walls and fly over the roof.) Also, having brought with him a store of such things as are used for the battering and undermining of walls, he had caused these to be brought up to the foremost lines of the besiegers. He would sometimes see in his own person to the working of these machines, nor can I deny that in doing he showed not only skill but also courage. But when it was said by some of his followers and others who were of his party that, having made such a breach in the walls that the city might easily have been taken, he was loath that the English king should miss his share of the glory, I was not a little doubtful whether such spoke the truth. For he was not one that was willing to run great risks, and that this was a very great risk is manifest from the fact that in the end, when the walls had been even more battered, the city was not taken by storm, nor indeed was such storm so much as essayed. And again, he was in truth a self-seeker, and not one of those who are willing to give up their own advantage or reputation for the sake of others. And of this there was, while the camp was yet waiting for the coming of King Richard, a most manifest proof. This I will now set down.

On the first day of the month of June there died in the camp a prince of no little renown, Philip, Count of Flanders. He had been sick. of the fever for some ten days and might have been recovered of his ailment, as indeed he had been some twelve months before, but for the meddling of his physician. He had sent his body-servant to me for some of the healing herb, of which I have already written, having found it before to have most salutary properties, but was over-persuaded against the taking of it by the said physician. This man was obstinately set against all novelties, as indeed are almost all of his craft. He had been taught in his youth to use certain remedies, and these he would apply without distinction of youth or age, of diversity of temperament or of climate. And he would also use, with a like prodigality and lack of discretion, the remedy of bleeding—if remedy it may be called. This man did, as I was credibly informed by one that attended in the sick-room, take from the said Count Philip some twelve ounces of blood when he was almost on the point to die of weakness, the fever being spent. If it had been possible to put blood into the sick man's veins, this had been more likely to do him service. But enough of this—'tis an old quarrel this between those who slay their fellows according to the rules of art and those, with whom I join myself, who would keep them alive whether by following rules or by going against them. I will now to the tale that I have to tell.

On the day after that on which the Count Philip died I encountered the pilgrim of whom I have before written. "This matter," said he, for we had been speaking of the Count, "is a stroke of good fortune for King Philip." "How so?" answered I; "truly the Count was a great warrior, and the King, having lost so good a helper, is so much the weaker. Surely you should have said baa' fortune rather than good." "So it would seem," said the pilgrim, "and I wonder not at your thought. But listen to me, for indeed I know this whole matter from the top to the bottom, seeing that I come from this same land of Flanders. 'Tis not a thing easy to be explained, but I will make such shift as I can to make it plain. My lord the Caliph here makes and unmakes the governors of his provinces at his pleasure. He sends this man to a city or a region to rule it, and if he has or thinks that he has reason to call him away he does so. Is it not so?"

"Yes, it is so," answered I, "though it may sometimes come to pass that, if the governor be strong and the Caliph weak, the man will stay where he is at his own pleasure. But this is not so when such a one as the Lord Saladin holds the rule. There is not, I take it, a city or a province within the whole realm where he could not by the bare word of his mouth set up a ruler or pull him down." "These things," said the pilgrim, "are ordered far otherwise among us. This King Philip of France has certain provinces over which he has some such power as has the Caliph over his whole realm; but there are other provinces of which he is lord in name rather than in truth. These have princes of their own, whom he cannot set up or pull down of his own will. They do owe him a certain respect, and pay him, it may be, a tribute; but these things done, the said princes cannot be dispossessed by him. If one of them dies, then his son succeeds him in due course, and the King cannot say `yea' or `nay' in the matter. Now this province of Flanders is of such a kind. King Philip is, in a way, the overlord thereof, but he has no power over it. His laws do not run therein; he cannot so much as cross its borders without leave received."

"'Tis a passing strange history," said I, "and I know not whether I wholly understand it. But tell me now, if these things be so, why should the death of the Count be, as you say, a stroke of good fortune for the King?" "Because," the pilgrim made answer, "neither the King nor the lords are content with what they have. The King ever seeks to make himself master of these regions in fact and not in name only; the lord desires, on the other hand, to have done with the King altogether and to be free of observance and tribute. Nor are there any occasions when the one or the other is more likely to have the fulfillment of his desire than when there is a passing of power by death. Yesterday, when the breath was but barely out of Count Philip's body, the King sent his officers to put seals on all his possessions." "But is that," said I, "according to the law?" "I know not," answered the pilgrim, "but 'tis certain that the King had a great advantage in fact because of the count dying in the camp. And now, mark me, King Philip will henceforth have Flanders rather than Jerusalem in his thoughts. If he can make that country his own it will be a great gain, for it is a rich land, rich in the fruits of the earth and in trade also; I know not more of the future than any other man, but I am persuaded that the King of France will take the first occasion that may come to his hand of leaving the war here and hasting home, where he will busy himself with this same matter of Flanders."

It was some four days after this talk with the pilgrim that it was noised abroad in the camp that the King's fleet was at hand. There is a port, Scandalion by name, some three leagues from this place, where was a garrison of the Christians. The commander of this fort had despatched a swift runner with tidings of the King's coming. I myself was at the north gate of the camp when the man came, it being then an hour and a half or so after sunset, and the message which he brought was this, for I heard it with my own ears, as he delivered it to the captain of the gate: "At sunset the fleet of the King of England, forty ships or thereabouts, cast anchor in the harbour of Tyre. It may be looked for, if the wind hold good, about noon to-morrow." Scandalion is some three leagues and a half from the camp, and the runner had done his work bravely. He had come the sooner, he said, but that the light failed him when his journey was three parts done, and 'tis ill running in the dark, as I, having been a post in years past, know full well.

No man can tell the joy that there was in the camp when these tidings were known. I take it that there were few that slept that night, so busy were they in talking of the mighty things that King Richard would do. And as for the runner, 'twas a lucky day and a profitable journey for him. Every man must hear the tidings for himself, though indeed there was nothing to be told but what has been written already. Nor did they share their gifts. A full pouch did he carry away with him, not, I believe, without some gold pieces in it. One such piece he had to my certain knowledge from King Philip, who must needs show delight in the coming of his brother king, whatever he may have felt in his heart.