Crusaders - Alfred J. Church

Of the Slaying of the Sultan, and what Followed

All things were now settled, and there were but four days before the fulfilling of the treaty, when the King should give up Damietta to the Sultan, and the Sultan, on his part, should suffer the King and his people to go free. But lo! there came to pass that which was like to bring the whole matter to nothing. The emirs of the Sultan made a conspiracy against him. "Know this," they said one to another, "that so soon as he shall find himself master of Damietta, he will slay us. Let us therefore be beforehand with him." And it was agreed that this should be done. First, when the Sultan was going to his chamber after a banquet which he had given to the emirs, one, who was, indeed, his sword-bearer, dealt him a blow and struck off his hand. But the Sultan, being young and nimble, escaped into a strong tower that was hard by his chamber, and three of his priests were with him. The emirs called upon him to give himself up. "That," said he, "I will do, if you will give me a promise of my life." "Nay," they answered, "we will give you no promises. If you surrender not of your own free will, then will we compel you." Then they threw Greek fire at the tower, and the tower, which was built of pine-wood, caught fire on the instant. When the Sultan saw this he ran down with all the speed that he could, seeking to reach the river, if so be he could find a ship. But the emirs and their men were ranged along the way, nor was it long before they slew him. And he that dealt him the last blow came to the King, his hand yet dripping with blood, and said, "What will you give me? I have slain your enemy, who would assuredly have done you to death had he lived." But the King answered him not a word.

It may well be that the man spoke truth. Certainly the Sultan had broken his promises. He had caused many of the prisoners to be put to death; others he had sent to Cairo. Nor, in the end, did the Christians fare the worse for his having been slain. For now the covenant between the King and the Saracen chiefs was renewed, nor was any change made in the conditions; only the payment was differently ordered; that is to say, one half of the ransom was to be paid before the King left the place where he was, and the other half in the town of Acre.

Then the emirs on the one part and the King on the other took the oaths that were held to be the most binding on them. The King indeed held staunchly by his faith, and when the emirs would have had him swear in a way that he thought to be unseemly to him as a Christian man he would not. And the emirs paid him the more honour and reverence for this very cause. It was said, indeed, that they would have made him Sultan of Cairo, if he had been minded to receive that dignity at their hands; furthermore, some that knew the King affirmed that he was not altogether set against it. But none knew for certain the truth in the matter. Yet it was well said by one of the emirs, "There surely never was better or more steadfast Christian than this King Louis. Verily if he had been made our sultan he would never have been content till he had either made us all Christians, or, failing this, had put us all to the sword."

And now there came a time of great peril to the prisoners. First the town of Damietta was given up to the Saracens, the gates being opened and their flag hoisted on the towers. So soon as this was done the emirs and their men, save some of the better sort, flew upon the wine and drank themselves drunk therewith. Now there is always danger from a drunken man, when he has a sword in his hand, and is free to do what he will; and this danger is the greater when the man knows within himself that he has already broken the law. And so it was with these men, for their law strictly forbids the drinking of wine. Certain it is that one of them came to the galley where the Lord of Joinville was, bearing in his hand a sword dripping with blood. This fellow cried, "I have already slain six of these accursed Christians and I will slay yet six more." But whether he spoke truly or was boasting cannot be told.

That there was a debate about the slaying of the prisoners is well known. One of the emirs said, "Listen to me, my friends. If you would have peace and safety, kill the King and his nobles. Say you that their children will avenge them? Nay, but those children are yet but babes, so that at the least you have many years of peace before you."

To him another emir answered: "Surely if we slay the King now that we have slain our own Sultan all the world will say that the Egyptians are the most wicked of men." Then spoke a third emir, saying, "Truly we did evil when we slew the Sultan, for we transgressed the commandment of Mahomet: 'Ye shall keep the lord who rules over you as you would keep the apple of your eye.' But there is another commandment"—and while he spoke he turned over the leaves of a book till he came to a place where it was written, "For the assuring of the faith, thou shalt slay the enemies of thy faith."

But in the end the party that was for keeping of the covenant and setting the prisoners free had the upper hand. So the prisoners were released. On the next day the paying of the ransom was begun. When the money was counted it was found to be short by some thirty thousand pieces. These were taken from the treasury of the Templars much against their will, but the necessities of the prisoners prevailed.

As for the King, there could not have been a man more loyal in the fulfilling of his promise. When one of those that counted the money said that the Saracens had received less than their due by some ten thousand pieces, the King would not suffer but that the whole matter should be looked into, lest the Saracens should have wrong. The counter, indeed, averred that this thing was said in jest; but the King answered that such a jest was out of season, and that above all things it was necessary that a Christian should show good faith.

While the King was awaiting the payment of the ransom there came to him a Saracen finely clothed and of a handsome presence who brought him a present, frozen milk and a nosegay of flowers; these, he said, were a gift from the children of a certain village, Narac by name. These things he gave to the King, speaking at the same time in French. "How came you to speak French?" said the King. And when the man said that he was born in France and that he had been a Christian, the King cried, "Get you gone!" for no man, he thought, could commit a greater sin than to deny his faith. The Lord of Joinville was standing by the King, and he drew the man aside, and asked him who he was and how he had come thither. The man said that he had come to Egypt some years before, and had married a wife in Egypt, and was now a man of rank and substance. "But," said the Lord of Joinville, "know you not that if you die in this condition you will be lost?" "Aye," said the other, "I do not doubt but that the Christian religion is the best of all religions. Nevertheless I fear the poverty, for I must needs give up all that I have. Also I fear the reproaches that I should have to suffer. Would not men say when they saw me, 'There goes the renegade!'?" "Ah!" said the Lord of Joinville, "you will hear more than that at the Great Judgment." But he spoke to no purpose.

After this the King went to Acre, where he tarried till what was left over of the ransom was paid.