Crusaders - Alfred J. Church

How King Richard Parleyed with Saladin

Never had the Caliph Saladin suffered so great a defeat as that which fell upon him in the battle of Arsuf, never, indeed, after that day did he dare to meet King Richard in the open field. Nevertheless, from that very day did the hope of the Christians that they should accomplish the end of their warfare grow less and less. But, if any one ask what was the cause of this falling, and who should bear the blame, I, for one, know not what answer should be made to him. There was not one in the whole army more brave and more zealous in this matter than King Richard; yet even he, I hold, had not a wholly single heart. He was ever thinking of worldly things; he desired greatly to win the city of Jerusalem, yet he desired it as much for his own sake, for his own glory and renown, and the increase of his royal power, as for any other cause. Yea, though I loved him, if such a one as I may say so much of a great and mighty prince—for to me he was ever kind and courteous—yet I could have found it in my heart to wish that he had met his death while he was still at the height of his good repute.

Once indeed he was like to have come to his end, and that in a very strange fashion. I have said that these kings and princes from the West set great store by sport, and especially by the use of hawks for the hunting of other birds; and of all the nations that were gathered in the army of the Christians there was none so zealous in this matter as the English, and of all the English not a man more given to it heart and soul than the King himself. Well, it fell out some four-and-twenty days after the battle of Arsuf, that the King rose early to be abroad with some of his knights to try some hawks that had been newly given to him—if any man would win the King's favour there was no better way than to give him a good hawk. The sun was shining hotly, and the King and his company had ridden far when they halted at noon, and sitting down under an oak, took their meal. And here I will say again what I have said before, that these men of the West eat flesh and drink wine to no small excess, not remembering that what may be well in their own land may be far more than will suffice in this. So it was that, his meal ended, the King fell asleep, aye, and all his companions, of whom there were some five or six, fell asleep also. None thought to watch; indeed in the matter of watching they were commonly very careless. Here some Turks espied them, for they had ridden far from the camp, and were, so to speak, in the midst of the enemy's country.

And now I will tell what followed as 'twas told to me by the King's own yeoman. "I was fast asleep, as I confess to my shame"—'twas thus the young man spoke—"when I was awoke by the bird that was on my wrist"—'tis thus they carry the hawks—"pecking me sharply with her bill, a thing that she was not wont to do. Then I saw a company of horsemen, Turks, as was manifest from their garb and arms, who were coming towards us, being then, as it seemed to me, some four hundred paces away. At this instant I woke my lord the King. By good fortune his horse—'twas that he purchased for himself in Cyprus, and was by far the swiftest of all that he had—was standing close by. It is my lord's way to have it so, and it served him well that day. The King leapt upon the beast's back and was ready or ever the Turks came up. But it fared ill with his companions, their horses being tied to trees that were distant some fifty paces; not only so, but the men themselves were without arms, or had but daggers in their belts. So it fell out that four of them were slain straightway, among them a certain Reynier than whom there was no better marksman in the army, and his nephew, and two knights, brothers, by name de Stabulo. As for the King, he having his long sword, and being mounted on a horse that was swift and knowing also beyond all compare, he defended himself most valiantly. And yet, for all his skill, he was like to be taken, seeing that a troop of Turks had separated themselves from the main body, so that taking their stand on the way, they might hinder the King from escape. But now one of the company, Sir William de Preaux, a very valiant knight, delivered him by his ready wit, and also by that which is greater than wit, by his devotion of himself. This Sir William cried aloud, 'Melek! Melek!'  which word in the Saracen tongue means 'king.' This the Turks hearing were deceived, for they thought that it was the King calling his comrades to his help. Therefore they left assailing King Richard and followed Sir William. And this they did one and all, even they who had disposed themselves on the way between the King and the camp. This indeed was but poor soldiership on their part, for it was their manifest duty to abide in their place. But the case was this: the Caliph Saladin had proclaimed that the man who should take King Richard prisoner should receive therefore a thousand pieces of gold. Every man then was eager to gain this for himself, and strove not so much that the King should be taken as that he himself should take him. Of a truth there were Turks enough, had they been skillfully disposed, to accomplish the business twice or thrice over, But by their own greed, and the services of the good knight Sir William, and the ordering of God, the King escaped."

The yeoman also said that he himself was delivered by the King, for that as he fled he was wounded in the leg by an arrow, and that the King set him behind himself on his horse, which being strong and swift beyond all measure carried this double burden as easily as it had been a child. I myself saw the rejoicing of the camp when the King came back safe and sound. I remember also how the chief men in the army fell at the King's feet, and entreated him that he would not so endanger his life. Even so in the history of my own people did the elders entreat King David that he would not adventure himself any more in the battle, lest, as they said, "he should quench the light of Israel." King David indeed was content to listen to them, for he was past his first youth and the fire of battle burnt not so high in him as of old. But King Richard was yet young—at this time he had but four-and-thirty years—and he would have none of such counsel; of a truth these things were the very salt of life to him; he had as lief do without meat and drink as live without fighting.

This story concerning the King I have thought it expedient to relate, not so much for what happened in fact, as for what might have been. But there is no need to tell of all the combats, skirmishes, and the like that took place, how on one day a company of the Templars fell into an ambush, how on another the Hospitallers suffered some damage. For the most part the Christians had the better in these things, and this not a little because of the great skill and valour of the English King. Nevertheless, the fortunes of the army seemed to go backwards rather than forwards. And for this there were many and sufficient reasons. First, if a soldier of the Christians was slain in battle, or died of disease, or was so hurt that he could do no more service, 'twas a greater loss than if the like should happen to two or three or even four of the Turks. For commonly he was an expert man-at-arms, and if his place was filled, and this was not always easy to be done, it was by a youth new to the business; while, on the other hand, the Turks had more men by thousands than they ever needed, and their warfare is of a kind that is mighty easy to learn. In the second place, the army of the Christians suffered not only by the accidents of battle and sickness, but through the lack of a common authority. When matters came to fighting, then all were well content to follow the King of England. So to do was to their own profit and safety, for he was, by common consent, the best of leaders. But his authority did not always prevail. There were many in the army, as, for example, those who had followed the King of France and the Duke of Burgundy, whose obedience was, so to speak, voluntary, and was not yielded further Than for their own profit and convenience. So it came to pass that no small part of the Frenchmen, being wearied of the hardships of the camp, went back, some to Tyre and some to Ptolemais, and lived there in luxury and ease. This they did the more eagerly, because the Caliph Saladin caused the towns in which the army of the Christians might have found a settled abode to be destroyed. The King did all that a man could do to call back these deserters, journeying to Tyre, for example, and exhorting them, as was told me, in most moving words, to do their duty. And some he persuaded to come back, but many remained, and the army was greatly weakened.

About this time the King began to have dealings for peace with the Caliph Saladin, sending an embassage to him, and receiving the like from him. But it was ever thus that the King asked more than he looked for the Caliph to give; and the Caliph promised more than he had the purpose to fulfill. There were many courtesies passed between them, and gifts also. King Richard would send a set of hawks, and, indeed, he had not much that he could give; but the presents that came from the Caliph were of exceeding richness and splendour; there was a tent made of cloth of gold, and horses such as kings only have in their stalls, and rare beasts and birds, and snow from Lebanon, for the cooling of wines, and many other things, both for show and for use, of which it were long to tell. And these things, for all that they were costly, served the Caliph's purpose well, and for this reason, they seemed to show his good will, and all the while he was busy destroying the towns and laying waste the country. Verily, if the King had received the whole land as a gift it would have been scarce better than a desert. Of these things he heard something, but not all, for in the matter of news he was ill served, as, indeed, it must ever be with them who make war in a strange country. And all the while the Turks ceased not to do all the mischief that they could, slaying such as strayed from the camp, yea, and coming into the camp itself, and doing men to death in their very tents, and Saladin, or rather Saphadin, his brother, for he it was who held converse with King Richard, when complaints were made of their deeds, affirmed that they were done by robbers and others who were not subject to him, and paid no reverence to his commands; of which pretence there need be said this only, that these robbers or murderers, whether they were the Caliph's men or no, never harmed any but such as were his enemies.

For all this King Richard still strove by all means that he could devise to come to a peaceful agreement with his adversaries. Nor did he refuse any instrument by which he might hope to compass this end, though indeed he sometimes not only made himself a laughing-stock to his enemies, but gave great scandal to his friends. Nor of all the devices which he contrived was there any one more vain than this. There was a certain emir, for so the Turks call their princes, who was near akin to the Sultan, a man of a goodly presence, who had gone backwards and forwards between Saladin and King Richard many times, and the King had conceived a great liking for him. He wrote, therefore, or caused to be written, for he himself could neither write nor read, a letter to this effect:—"I have a sister that is a widow, her husband, the King of Sicily, being newly dead, a fair woman and yet in her youth. Her I will give to wife to my friend and brother, Al Adil. She shall be queen in Jerusalem, and to her I will yield all the towns and lands that I have won by my sword. You, on your part, shall give to Al Adil all that part of this country which you still hold, and he shall keep all that he now possesses. These two, therefore, shall be king and queen in Jerusalem. As for the money that you are under promise to pay, let it go. What is any such thing between you and me? Only you shall yield to me the True Cross, which in your eyes is but a piece of wood, but to us Christians the most precious thing in all the world. If you hold any Franks in bondage, you shall give them back, and we will do the same with such Turks as may be in our hands."

Al Adil was well pleased with this desire, a thing not to be marvelled at, seeing that he gained much by it—a kingdom and a wife—and lost nothing. As for the Caliph, he said nothing. This was ever his way, not to waste words, but to act as soon as ever occasion came. But there was one of those concerned in this matter who used many words when it was brought before her, and this was the King's sister, the Queen Joan of Sicily. "What," she is reported to have said, "what means the King, my brother, by this? Shall I be wife to a Turk, one who bows down to stocks and stones? Nay, that I will never be, no, verily, though I should become thereby Queen not of Jerusalem only, but of the whole world." And the lady, methinks, did well to be angry, though she erred when she said that the Turks bowed down to stocks and stones. I take it that the Christians rather lie open to this reproach. Certain it is that the business, whether from the wrath of Queen Joan or from some other cause, came to nothing.