Crusaders - Alfred J. Church

Of the Ending of the Expedition

The King made a treaty with the emir of Egypt, for he hoped, by setting one part of the infidels against the other, so to gain the victory over all. By this treaty it was agreed that on a certain day the King should go to Jaffa, and that on the same day the emirs should go to Gaza, for the purpose of handing over to the King the kingdom of Jerusalem. The King, for his part, took an oath that he would help the emirs to the best of his power against the Sultan of Damascus. But when this came to the ears of the said sultan, he sent some four thousand men, well equipped, to hold the road at Gaza. The King made no delay in going to Jaffa, which town, being already fortified, he did all that he could to make yet stronger. So zealous was he, he would carry a basket on his back among those who worked in the trenches. The emirs, on their part, did not keep their covenants. Fearing the Sultan of Damascus, they did not come to Gaza. Nevertheless they sent to the King the heads of certain Christian folk which had been fastened to the walls of Cairo; also they sent the children who were taken prisoners along with the King; but these had been constrained to give up their faith. They also sent a gift to the King, an elephant, which the King caused to be taken to France.

In these days the Sultan of Persia, having been driven out of his kingdom, as has been told above, by the Tartars, came into the land of Palestine, and took the castle of Tiberias, and ravaged the whole country up to the very walls of Acre and Jaffa. Then the Count of Jaffa and others with him determined to attack this emperor before he could gather to him yet other strength. And this they did, and not without gaining some success; but by the cowardice of them that were with him, the count himself was taken prisoner by the emperor of Persia. The same emperor caused him to be taken to Jaffa and hanged on a cross before the wall, saying that he should hang there till he had possession of the town. But the count, though he was hanged by the arms, cried out to them that kept the castle, "Whatsoever these men may do to me, do ye keep the town. Verily, if ye yield it, I myself will slay you." After this the emperor sent the count by way of a gift to the Sultan of Cairo. And some of the traders of Cairo besought the Sultan that he would give the count into their hands, because he had done them much hurt in times past. And this the Sultan did, and they put him to death in the prison, not without torture.

After this there was a battle between the emirs of Egypt and the Sultan of Damascus, but neither gained the victory: for the main body of the Sultan defeated the emirs, and the emirs put to flight the rearguard of the Sultan. As for the Sultan, he was sorely wounded in his head and in his hand, and he went to Gaza to be healed of his wounds. While he lay there the emirs sent an embassy desiring peace. Thus these two made a treaty; and the emirs broke the treaty which they had made with the Crusaders. These, therefore, had the whole power of the infidels leagued against them, and there were fourteen hundred of them in all.

After this there were sundry battles, in which the Crusaders for the most part prevailed, yet suffered no small loss of men and horses. And sometimes men would go forth from the camp without leave or licence for the sake of plunder, and fall into an ambush or be cut off from their return. Nevertheless not a few gallant deeds of arms were done. This that follows, for example, was done by a knight of Ghent, whom they called John the Great.

Certain light-armed men had gone forth from Acre, and Sir John was sent to bring them back, lest they should be cut off. While he was doing this a Saracen cried out in his own tongue to him, "Come, sir knight, let us joust together." "Right willingly," said Sir John. But as he rode to meet the Saracen, looking to his left hand he was aware of a little company of Turks, some eight in number or thereabouts, who were waiting to see this feat of arms. Thereupon he left thinking of the joust, and rode at the Turks, who were unaware of his coming, and smiting one of them full in the body, laid him dead. Thereupon the others made at him, he having turned his horse meanwhile to the city. One of them gave him a great blow with his mace on his iron head-cap; but him as he passed Sir John smote on the turban they wear these turbans to defend the head—and shore it clean off. Then yet another of the Turks rode at him, desiring to smite him with his spear between the shoulders. But Sir John swerved from the blow, and smote the man on the arm, so that the spear flew from his hand to the earth. This done he rode back to Acre, bringing his men with him. It was a gallant deed of arms, and much admired by all that stood on the walls.

After this there befell a great disaster, to wit, the sacking of the city of Sidon. The baron who was in command saved himself and his men in the castle, which was a strong place and surrounded on all sides by the sea; but the town was sacked, for, indeed, it was not fortified, and much booty that had been stored therein was taken, and many people slain.

While the King was at Jaffa it was told him that if he desired to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem the Sultan of Damascus would give him a safe-conduct. The King consulted his nobles on the matter, and both he and they were of one mind in the matter, to wit, that he should not go. "For," said they, "if the King should go as a pilgrim, when he has not been able to take the Holy City itself out of the hands of the infidel, then will other kings in time to come do the same. They will be content to go as pilgrims, but will take no thought as to the city, whether it beheld by Christian or infidel."

After these things the King went to the city of Sidon, and fortified it with strong walls, for he was greatly unwilling to give up his hope of winning the whole land out of the hands of the infidel. But when he had brought this work to an end, there came news to him from his own country that the Queen, his mother, who was charged with the government thereof, was dead. Then he took counsel with his nobles what he should do, and it seemed to them that he must of necessity return to France. They charged, therefore, one among them to put the case before the King; and this he did, as follows:—

"Sire, we see that it will not profit the kingdom of Jerusalem that you tarry longer here. You have done what was in your power. You have fortified the city of Sidon, and Cęsarea, and Jaffa, and you have made the city of Acre much stronger than it was. And now, for your own kingdom's sake, you must needs depart." And to this the King gave his consent, though with an unwilling heart. So he departed, and this, as it chanced, on his birthday. As the ship went forth from the harbour he said to the Lord of Joinville, who stood by him, "On this day I was born." And the Lord of Joinville said to him, "Truly, sire, I should say that you are beginning another life, now that you are safely quit of this land of death."