Crusaders - Alfred J. Church

How the King Surrendered Himself

And now the army was sorely distressed for want both of food and of water. In Damietta, indeed, there were yet stores of barley, rice, and other grains; but in the camp scarce anything that could be eaten. Some small fishes were caught in the river; but these were very ill-savoured, and all the more so—so, at least, it seemed to such as eat them under constraint of hunger,—because they fed on dead bodies, of which many were thrown into the river. For a while some portion of the stores that were in the city were carried across the river to the camp. But this the Saracens hindered, for by this time their ships had the mastery over the ships of the Christians. They kept, therefore, the river, suffering nothing to pass. If anything was carried across, it was but a trifle. Some things the country people brought into the camp, but these were not to be purchased save for large sums of money, and money was by this time scarce even among the richer sort. And when it was judged expedient that the King's army should cross the river again and return to the camp, things were worse rather than better, so far as victuals were concerned. It was well that the army should be brought together, both for attack and for defence, but with the greater multitude the famine grew worse and worse.

After a while there was a treating for peace between the King and the Saracens; and for a while it seemed as if they might come to an agreement, and this not without advantage to the King, for the terms of the agreement were these: the King should give back Damietta to the Sultan; the Sultan, on the other hand, should give to the King Jerusalem, and also should keep the sick that were in Damietta, and such stores and engines of war as belonged to him, till he should have a convenient season for sending for them. But the matter came to nought, because the Saracens would have the King himself as a hostage for the due performance of the treaty. The Christians would have given the King's brothers, and these were willing to go; but the King they could not give. "It would be better," said one of the bravest knights in the army, and in this matter he spake the mind of all, "that we should all be taken captive or slain, than that we should leave the King in pledge."

So this treaty came to nothing, and the King, seeing that the condition of the army still grew from bad to worse, and that if they tarried where they were they would be all dead men, commanded that they should make their way, if they could so do by any means, into the town of Damietta. And this the army began to do the very next night. Now the first thing to be cared for was the taking of the sick, of whom there was a great multitude, on board the ships. But while this was being done, the Saracens entered the camp on the other side. When the sailors who were busy in embarking the sick saw this, they loosed the cables by which they were moored to the shore, and made as if they would fly. Now the King was on the bank of the river, and there was a galley in waiting for him, whereon, if he had been so minded, he might easily have escaped. Nor could he have been blamed therefor, because he was afflicted with the dysentery that prevailed in the camp. But this he would not do; "Nay," he said, "I will stay with my people." But when there was now no hope of safety, one of his officers—and there was but one left of all that he had to wait upon him—took him, mounted as he was on a pony that he had, to a village hard by, defending him all the way from such as chanced to fall in with him—but none knew that he was the King. When he was come to the village they took him into a house that there was, and laid him down almost dead. A good woman of Paris that was there took his head upon her lap, and there was no one but thought that he would die before nightfall. Then one of the nobles coming in asked the King whether he should not go to the chief of the Saracens, and see whether a treaty might not yet be made on such terms as they would. The King said yes; so he went. Now there was a company of the Saracens round the house, whither by this time not a few of the Christians had assembled. And one of the King's officers cried—whether from fear or with traitorous intent cannot be said—"Sir knights, surrender yourselves! The King will have it so; if you do not, the King will perish." So the knights gave up their swords, and the Saracens took them as prisoners. When the chief of the Saracens, with whom the noble aforesaid was talking, saw them, he said, "There can be no talk of truce and agreement with these men; they are prisoners."

And now the question was not of a treaty but of ransom. About this there was no little debate between the Sultan and the King. First the Sultan required that the King should surrender to him the castles of the Knights Templars and of the Hospitallers of St. John. "Nay," said the King, "that I cannot do, for they are not mine to give." This answer greatly provoked the Sultan, and he threatened to put the King to the torture, to which the King answered this only, that he was a prisoner in their hands, and that they could do with him as they would.

When they saw that they could not turn him from his purpose by threats or by fear, they asked him how much money he was willing to pay to the Sultan for his ransom, such money being over and above the rendering up of the town of Damietta. Then the King made answer: "If the Sultan will take a reasonable sum in money for ransom, I will recommend it to the Queen that she should pay the same." "Nay," said the envoy of the Sultan, "why do you not say outright that you will have it so?" "Because," answered the King, "in this matter it is for the Queen to say yea or nay. I am a prisoner, and my royal power is gone from me." So it was agreed that if the Queen would pay a thousand thousand gold pieces by way of ransom, the King should go free. Said the King, "Will the Sultan swear to this bargain?" They said that he would. So it was agreed that the King should pay for the ransom of his army a thousand thousand gold pieces, and for his own ransom the town of Damietta, "for," said he, "a King cannot be bought and sold for money." When the Sultan heard this, he said, "On my word, this is a noble thing of the Frenchman that he makes no bargaining concerning so great a thing. Tell him that I give him as a free gift the fifth part of the sum which he has covenanted to pay."