Crusaders - Alfred J. Church

Concerning the Tartars

The King now made ready to fortify Cęsarea, which lies between Acre and Jerusalem, and this he accomplished without any hindrance from the Saracens. It should be said that there had come to the King while he yet tarried in Cyprus an embassy from the King of the Tartars, bringing this message, that he would help him to take the kingdom of Jerusalem out of the hands of the Saracens. The King, by way of answer, sent to the King a chapel of scarlet cloth, and with it, carved in stone, images of the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Baptism, the Passion, the Ascension, and the Coming of the Holy Spirit; also books and vessels, and all that was needful for the singing of mass. So the envoys departed from Cyprus and came to Antioch, and from Antioch they travelled to the land of the Tartars, the journey of a year, though they rode ten leagues every day. They found that all the country had been conquered by the Tartars, and saw the ruins of sundry cities which they had destroyed. In former time they had been subjects of Prester John and of the Emperor of Persia and of other kings near whose territories they dwelt. To them they paid tribute for permission to pasture their cattle, for it is by their cattle that they live. These kings had such scorn of the Tartars that when these came to pay their yearly tribute they would not take it of their hands but turned their backs upon them.

After a while there rose up among them a wise man, who went about among their tribes, persuading them that they should seek deliverance from the servitude in which they were, and that for this end they must have one king, who should lead them. To this all the tribes agreed, and the manner in which the King was chosen was this. Each of the tribes—their number is fifty-and-two—sent an arrow, having its name written on it. These arrows were spread out before a child of five years old, and the tribe whose arrow was chosen by the child was set apart. Then out of this tribe there were chosen fifty-and-two chief men. Each of these gave an arrow on which his name was written. These arrows, again, were set before the child, and the man whose arrow was chosen by the child was made king. And this man was the same who had ordered the whole matter from the beginning.

When this man was made king, he said to his people: "The worst enemy that we have is Prester John. Let us march against him. If he prevail over us, then let every man do the best he can; but if we prevail over him, then I command that no one lay his hand on any spoil, but that he slay the enemy. And when we have made an end of them, then I will divide the spoil among you in such fashion that every man shall have satisfaction." So they marched against Prester John, and overcame him in battle. All the men that could wield sword they slew; but the priests and the rest that were in religion they spared; the remainder of the people, as many as were not present at the battle, they made subject to them. After this they marched against the Emperor of Persia, and dealt with him in the same fashion. But when the King of the Tartars received the gift of the chapel that King Louis had sent to him, he caused sundry princes that had not submitted themselves to him to come with a safe-conduct to him. To them he showed the chapel, and said: "See, now, how the King of France has made submission to me, and has sent this gift in token thereof. If you yield not yourselves to me, then we will send him after you." In the end it befell that there were many who for fear of the King of France submitted themselves to the King of the Tartars.

And now, while the King was at Cęsarea, as has been said, his ambassadors that he had sent to the Tartars came back to him, and with them certain messengers from the King of the Tartars. These last said to him: "Peace is a good thing, and peace thou shalt have, but on conditions. Prester John lifted himself up against him, as did other kings; they all perished by the sword. Therefore we command thee that every year thou send us gold and silver. If thou wilt so do, then shalt thou be our friend; but if not, then will we utterly destroy thee and thy people from off the face of the earth." When he heard these words, the King much repented that he had sent an embassy to the Tartars.