Were every hair upon his head a life,
And every life were to be supplicated
By numbers equal to those hairs quadrupled,
Life after life should out like waning stars
Before the daybreak - or as festive lamps,
Which have lent lustre to the midnight revel,
Each after each are quench'd when guests depart!
The entrance of Queen Berengaria into the interior of Richard's pavilion was withstood - in the most respectful and reverential manner indeed, but still withstood - by the chamberlains who watched in the outer tent. She could hear the stern command of the King from within, prohibiting their entrance.
"You see," said the Queen, appealing to Edith, as if she had exhausted all means of intercession in her power; "I knew it - the King will not receive us."
At the same time, they heard Richard speak to some one within: - "Go, speed thine office quickly, sirrah, for in that consists thy mercy - ten byzants if thou dealest on him at one blow. And hark thee, villain, observe if his cheek loses colour, or his eye falters; mark me the smallest twitch of the features, or wink of the eyelid. I love to know how brave souls meet death."
"If he sees my blade waved aloft without shrinking, he is the first ever did so," answered a harsh, deep voice, which a sense of unusual awe had softened into a sound much lower than its usual coarse tones.
Edith could remain silent no longer. "If your Grace," she said to the Queen, "make not your own way, I make it for you; or if not for your Majesty, for myself at least. - Chamberlain, the Queen demands to see King Richard - the wife to speak with her husband."
"Noble lady," said the officer, lowering his wand of office, "it grieves me to gainsay you, but his Majesty is busied on matters of life and death."
"And we seek also to speak; with him on matters of life and death," said Edith. "I will make entrance for your Grace." And putting aside the chamberlain with one hand, she laid hold on the curtain with the other.
"I dare not gainsay her Majesty's pleasure," said the chamberlain, yielding to the vehemence of the fair petitioner; and as he gave way, the Queen found herself obliged to enter the apartment of Richard.
The Monarch was lying on his couch, and at some distance, as awaiting his further commands, stood a man whose profession it was not difficult to conjecture. He was clothed in a jerkin of red cloth, which reached scantly below the shoulders, leaving the arms bare from about half way above the elbow; and as an upper garment, he wore, when about as at present to betake himself to his dreadful office, a coat or tabard without sleeves, something like that of a herald, made of dressed bull's hide, and stained in the front with many a broad spot and speckle of dull crimson. The jerkin, and the tabard over it, reached the knee; and the nether stocks, or covering of the legs, were of the same leather which composed the tabard. A cap of rough shag served to hide the upper part of a visage which, like that of a screech owl, seemed desirous to conceal itself from light, the lower part of the face being obscured by a huge red beard, mingling with shaggy locks of the same colour. What features were seen were stern and misanthropical. The man's figure was short, strongly made, with a neck like a bull, very broad shoulders, arms of great and disproportioned length, a huge square trunk, and thick bandy legs. This truculent official leant on a sword, the blade of which was nearly four feet and a half in length, while the handle of twenty inches, surrounded by a ring of lead plummets to counterpoise the weight of such a blade, rose considerably above the man's head as he rested his arm upon its hilt, waiting for King Richard's further directions.
On the sudden entrance of the ladies, Richard, who was then lying on his couch with his face towards the entrance, and resting on his elbow as he spoke to his grisly attendant, flung himself hastily, as if displeased and surprised, to the other side, turning his back to the Queen and the females of her train, and drawing around him the covering of his couch, which, by his own choice, or more probably the flattering selection of his chamberlains, consisted of two large lions' skins, dressed in Venice with such admirable skill that they seemed softer than the hide of the deer.
Berengaria, such as we have described her, knew well - what woman knows not? - her own road to victory. After a hurried glance of undisguised and unaffected terror at the ghastly companion of her husband's secret counsels, she rushed at once to the side of Richard's couch, dropped on her knees, flung her mantle from her shoulders, showing, as they hung down at their full length, her beautiful golden tresses, and while her countenance seemed like the sun bursting through a cloud, yet bearing on its pallid front traces that its splendours have been obscured, she seized upon the right hand of the King, which, as he assumed his wonted posture, had been employed in dragging the covering of his couch, and gradually pulling it to her with a force which was resisted, though but faintly, she possessed herself of that arm, the prop of Christendom and the dread of Heathenesse, and imprisoning its strength in both her little fairy hands, she bent upon it her brow, and united to it her lips.
"What needs this, Berengaria?" said Richard, his head still averted, but his hand remaining under her control.
"Send away that man, his look kills me!" muttered Berengaria.
"Begone, sirrah," said Richard, still without looking round, "What wait'st thou for? art thou fit to look on these ladies?"
"Your Highness's pleasure touching the head," said the man.
"Out with thee, dog!" answered Richard -"a Christian burial!" The man disappeared, after casting a look upon the beautiful Queen, in her deranged dress and natural loveliness, with a smile of admiration more hideous in its expression than even his usual scowl of cynical hatred against humanity.
"And now, foolish wench, what wishest thou?" said Richard, turning slowly and half reluctantly round to his royal suppliant.
But it was not in nature for any one, far less an admirer of beauty like Richard, to whom it stood only in the second rank to glory, to look without emotion on the countenance and the tremor of a creature so beautiful as Berengaria, or to feel, without sympathy, that her lips, her brow, were on his hand, and that it was wetted by her tears. By degrees, he turned on her his manly countenance, with the softest expression of which his large blue eye, which so often gleamed with insufferable light, was capable. Caressing her fair head, and mingling his large fingers in her beautiful and dishevelled locks, he raised and tenderly kissed the cherub countenance which seemed desirous to hide itself in his hand. The robust form, the broad, noble brow and majestic looks, the naked arm and shoulder, the lions' skins among which he lay, and the fair, fragile feminine creature that kneeled by his side, might have served for a model of Hercules reconciling himself, after a quarrel, to his wife Dejanira.
"And, once more, what seeks the lady of my heart in her knight's pavilion at this early and unwonted hour?"
"Pardon, my most gracious liege -pardon!" said the Queen, whose fears began again to unfit her for the duty of intercessor.
"Pardon - for what?" asked the King.
"First, for entering your royal presence too boldly and unadvisedly - "
Thou too boldly! - the sun might as well ask pardon because his rays entered the windows of some wretch's dungeon. But I was busied with work unfit for thee to witness, my gentle one; and I was unwilling, besides, that thou shouldst risk thy precious health where sickness had been so lately rife."
"But thou art now well?" said the Queen, still delaying the communication which she feared to make.
"Well enough to break a lance on the bold crest of that champion who shall refuse to acknowledge thee the fairest dame in Christendom."
"Thou wilt not then refuse me one boon - only one - only a poor life?"
"Ha! - proceed," said King Richard, bending his brows.
"This unhappy Scottish knight - " murmured the Queen.
"Speak not of him, madam," exclaimed Richard sternly; "he dies - his doom is fixed."
"Nay, my royal liege and love, 'tis but a silken banner neglected. Berengaria will give thee another broidered with her own hand, and rich as ever dallied with the wind. Every pearl I have shall go to bedeck it, and with every pearl I will drop a tear of thankfulness to my generous knight."
"Thou knowest not what thou sayest," said the King, interrupting her in anger. "Pearls! can all the pearls of the East atone for a speck upon England's honour - all the tears that ever woman's eye wept wash away a stain on Richard's fame? Go to, madam, know your place, and your time, and your sphere. At present we have duties in which you cannot be our partner."
"Thou hearest, Edith," whispered the Queen; "we shall but incense him."
"Be it so," said Edith, stepping forward. - "My lord, I, your poor kinswoman, crave you for justice rather than mercy; and to the cry of justice the ears of a monarch should be open at every time, place, and circumstance."
"Ha! our cousin Edith?" said Richard, rising and sitting upright on the side of his couch, covered with his long camiscia. "She speaks ever kinglike, and kinglike will I answer her, so she bring no request unworthy herself or me."
The beauty of Edith was of a more intellectual and less voluptuous cast than that of the Queen; but impatience and anxiety had given her countenance a glow which it sometimes wanted, and her mien had a character of energetic dignity that imposed silence for a moment even on Richard himself, who, to judge by his looks, would willingly have interrupted her.
"My lord," she said, "this good knight, whose blood you are about to spill, hath done, in his time, service to Christendom. He has fallen from his duty through a snare set for him in mere folly and idleness of spirit. A message sent to him in the name of one who - why should I not speak it? - it was in my own - induced him for an instant to leave his post. And what knight in the Christian camp might not have thus far transgressed at command of a maiden, who, poor howsoever in other qualities, hath yet the blood of Plantagenet in her veins?"
"And you saw him, then, cousin?" replied the King, biting his lips to keep down his passion.
"I did, my liege," said Edith. "It is no time to explain wherefore. I am here neither to exculpate myself nor to blame others."
"And where did you do him such a grace?"
"In the tent of her Majesty the Queen."
"Of our royal consort!" said Richard. "Now by Heaven, by Saint George of England, and every other saint that treads its crystal floor, this is too audacious! I have noticed and overlooked this warrior's insolent admiration of one so far above him, and I grudged him not that one of my blood should shed from her high- born sphere such influence as the sun bestows on the world beneath. But, heaven and earth! that you should have admitted him to an audience by night, in the very tent of our royal consort! - and dare to offer this as an excuse for his disobedience and desertion! By my father's soul, Edith, thou shalt rue this thy life long in a monastery!"
"My liege," said Edith, "your greatness licenses tyranny. My honour, Lord King, is as little touched as yours, and my Lady the Queen can prove it if she think fit. But I have already said I am not here to excuse myself or inculpate others. I ask you but to extend to one, whose fault was committed under strong temptation, that mercy, which even you yourself, Lord King, must one day supplicate at a higher tribunal, and for faults, perhaps, less venial."
"Can this be Edith Plantagenet?" said the King bitterly - "Edith Plantagenet, the wise and the noble? Or is it some lovesick woman who cares not for her own fame in comparison of the life of her paramour? Now, by King Henry's soul! little hinders but I order thy minion's skull to be brought from the gibbet, and fixed as a perpetual ornament by the crucifix in thy cell!"
"And if thou dost send it from the gibbet to be placed for ever in my sight," said Edith, "I will say it is a relic of a good knight, cruelly and unworthily done to death by" (she checked herself) - "by one of whom I shall only say, he should have known better how to reward chivalry. Minion callest thou him?" she continued, with increasing vehemence. "He was indeed my lover, and a most true one; but never sought he grace from me by look or word - contented with such humble observance as men pay to the saints. And the good - the valiant - the faithful must die for this!"
"Oh, peace, peace, for pity's sake," whispered the Queen, "you do but offend him more!"
"I care not," said Edith; "the spotless virgin fears not the raging lion. Let him work his will on this worthy knight. Edith, for whom he dies, will know how to weep his memory. To me no one shall speak more of politic alliances to be sanctioned with this poor hand. I could not - I would not - have been his bride living - our degrees were too distant. But death unites the high and the low - I am henceforward the spouse of the grave."
The King was about to answer with much anger, when a Carmelite monk entered the apartment hastily, his head and person muffled in the long mantle and hood of striped cloth of the coarsest texture which distinguished his order, and, flinging himself on his knees before the King, conjured him, by every holy word and sign, to stop the execution.
"Now, by both sword and sceptre," said Richard, "the world is leagued to drive me mad! - fools, women, and monks cross me at every step. How comes he to live still?"
"My gracious liege," said the monk, "I entreated of the Lord of Gilsland to stay the execution until I had thrown myself at your royal - "
"And he was wilful enough to grant thy request," said the King;" but it is of a piece with his wonted obstinacy. And what is it thou hast to say? Speak, in the fiend's name!"
"My lord, there is a weighty secret, but it rests under the seal of confession. I dare not tell or even whisper it; but I swear to thee by my holy order, by the habit which I wear, by the blessed Elias, our founder, even him who was translated without suffering the ordinary pangs of mortality, that this youth hath divulged to me a secret, which, if I might confide it to thee, would utterly turn thee from thy bloody purpose in regard to him."
"Good father," said Richard, "that I reverence the church, let the arms which I now wear for her sake bear witness. Give me to know this secret, and I will do what shall seem fitting in the matter. But I am no blind Bayard, to take a leap in the dark under the stroke of a pair of priestly spurs."
"My lord," said the holy man, throwing back his cowl and upper vesture, and discovering under the latter a garment of goatskin, and from beneath the former a visage so wildly wasted by climate, fast, and penance, as to resemble rather the apparition of an animated skeleton than a human face, "for twenty years have I macerated this miserable body in the caverns of Engaddi, doing penance for a great crime. Think you I, who am dead to the world, would contrive a falsehood to endanger my own soul; or that one, bound by the most sacred oaths to the contrary - one such as I, who have but one longing wish connected with earth, to wit, the rebuilding of our Christian Zion - would betray the secrets of the confessional? Both are alike abhorrent to my very soul."
"So," answered the King, "thou art that hermit of whom men speak so much? Thou art, I confess, like enough to those spirits which walk in dry places; but Richard fears no hobgoblins. And thou art he, too, as I bethink me, to whom the Christian princes sent this very criminal to open a communication with the Soldan, even while I, who ought to have been first consulted, lay on my sick- bed? Thou and they may content themselves - I will not put my neck into the loop of a Carmelite's girdle. And, for your envoy, he shall die the rather and the sooner that thou dost entreat for him."
"Now God be gracious to thee, Lord King!" said the hermit, with much emotion; "thou art setting that mischief on foot which thou wilt hereafter wish thou hadst stopped, though it had cost thee a limb. Rash, blinded man, yet forbear!"
"Away, away," cried the King, stamping; "the sun has risen on the dishonour of England, and it is not yet avenged. -Ladies and priest, withdraw, if you would not hear orders which would displease you; for, by St. George, I swear - "
"Swear not!" said the voice of one who had just then entered the pavilion.
"Ha! my learned Hakim," said the King, "come, I hope, to tax our generosity."
"I come to request instant speech with you -instant - and touching matters of deep interest."
"First look on my wife, Hakim, and let her know in you the preserver of her husband."
"It is not for me," said the physician, folding his arms with an air of Oriental modesty and reverence, and bending his eyes on the ground - "it is not for me to look upon beauty unveiled, and armed in its splendours."
"Retire, then, Berengaria," said the Monarch; "and, Edith, do you retire also; - nay, renew not your importunities! This I give to them that the execution shall not be till high noon. Go and be pacified - dearest Berengaria, begone. - Edith," he added, with a glance which struck terror even into the courageous soul of his kinswoman, "go, if you are wise."
The females withdrew, or rather hurried from the tent, rank and ceremony forgotten, much like a flock of wild-fowl huddled together, against whom the falcon has made a recent stoop.
They returned from thence to the Queen's pavilion to indulge in regrets and recriminations, equally unavailing. Edith was the only one who seemed to disdain these ordinary channels of sorrow. Without a sigh, without a tear, without a word of upbraiding, she attended upon the Queen, whose weak temperament showed her sorrow in violent hysterical ecstasies and passionate hypochondriacal effusions, in the course of which Edith sedulously and even affectionately attended her.
"It is impossible she can have loved this knight," said Florise to Calista, her senior in attendance upon the Queen's person. "We have been mistaken; she is but sorry for his fate, as for a stranger who has come to trouble on her account."
"Hush, hush," answered her more experienced and more observant comrade; "she is of that proud house of Plantagenet who never own that a hurt grieves them. While they have themselves been bleeding to death, under a mortal wound, they have been known to bind up the scratches sustained by their more faint-hearted comrades. Florise, we have done frightfully wrong, and, for my own part, I would buy with every jewel I have that our fatal jest had remained unacted."
This work desires a planetary intelligence
Of Jupiter and Sol; and those great spirits
Are proud, fantastical. It asks great charges
To entice them from the guiding of their spheres,
To wait on mortals.
The hermit followed the ladies from the pavilion of Richard, as shadow follows a beam of sunshine when the clouds are driving over the face of the sun. But he turned on the threshold, and held up his hand towards the King in a warning, or almost a menacing posture, as he said, "Woe to him who rejects the counsel of the church, and betaketh himself to the foul divan of the infidel! King Richard, I do not yet shake the dust from my feet and depart from thy encampment; the sword falls not - but it hangs but by a hair. Haughty monarch, we shall meet again."
"Be it so, haughty priest," returned Richard, "prouder in thy goatskins than princes in purple and fine linen."
The hermit vanished from the tent, and the King continued, addressing the Arabian, "Do the dervises of the East, wise Hakim, use such familiarity with their princes?"
"The dervise," replied Adonbec, "should be either a sage or a madman; there is no middle course for him who wears the khirkhah, [Literally, the torn robe. The habit of the dervises is so called.] who watches by night, and fasts by day. Hence hath he either wisdom enough to bear himself discreetly in the presence of princes; or else, having no reason bestowed on him, he is not responsible for his own actions."
"Methinks our monks have adopted chiefly the latter character," said Richard. "But to the matter. In what can I pleasure you, my learned physician?"
"Great King," said El Hakim, making his profound Oriental obeisance, "let thy servant speak one word, and yet live. I would remind thee that thou owest - not to me, their humble instrument -but to the Intelligences, whose benefits I dispense to mortals, a life - "
"And I warrant me thou wouldst have another in requital, ha?" interrupted the King.
"Such is my humble prayer," said the Hakim, "to the great Melech Ric - even the life of this good knight, who is doomed to die, and but for such fault as was committed by the Sultan Adam, surnamed Aboulbeschar, or the father of all men."
"And thy wisdom might remind thee, Hakim, that Adam died for it," said the King, somewhat sternly, and then began to pace the narrow space of his tent with some emotion, and to talk to himself. "Why, God-a-mercy, I knew what he desired as soon as ever he entered the pavilion! Here is one poor life justly condemned to extinction, and I, a king and a soldier, who have slain thousands by my command, and scores with my own hand, am to have no power over it, although the honour of my arms, of my house, of my very Queen, hath been attainted by the culprit. By Saint George, it makes me laugh! By Saint Louis, it reminds me of Blondel's tale of an enchanted castle, where the destined knight was withstood successively in his purpose of entrance by forms and figures the most dissimilar, but all hostile to his undertaking! No sooner one sunk than another appeared! Wife - kinswoman - hermit -Hakim-each appears in the lists as soon as the other is defeated! Why, this is a single knight fighting against the whole melee of the tournament - ha! ha! ha!" And Richard laughed aloud; for he had, in fact, begun to change his mood, his resentment being usually too violent to be of long endurance.
The physician meanwhile looked on him with a countenance of surprise, not unmingled with contempt; for the Eastern people make no allowance for these mercurial changes in the temper, and consider open laughter, upon almost any account, as derogatory to the dignity of man, and becoming only to women and children. At length the sage addressed the King when he saw him more composed: -
"A doom of death should not issue from laughing lips. Let thy servant hope that thou hast granted him this man's life."
"Take the freedom of a thousand captives instead," said Richard; "restore so many of thy countrymen to their tents and families, and I will give the warrant instantly. This man's life can avail thee nothing, and it is forfeited."
"All our lives are forfeited," said the Hakim, putting his hand to his cap. "But the great Creditor is merciful, and exacts not the pledge rigorously nor untimely."
"Thou canst show me," said Richard, "no special interest thou hast to become intercessor betwixt me and the execution of justice, to which I am sworn as a crowned king."
"Thou art sworn to the dealing forth mercy as well as justice," said El Hakim; "but what thou seekest, great King, is the execution of thine own will. And for the concern I have in this request, know that many a man's life depends upon thy granting this boon."
"Explain thy words," said Richard; "but think not to impose upon me by false pretexts."
"Be it far from thy servant!" said Adonbec. "Know, then, that the medicine to which thou, Sir King, and many one besides, owe their recovery, is a talisman, composed under certain aspects of the heavens, when the Divine Intelligences are most propitious. I am but the poor administrator of its virtues. I dip it in a cup of water, observe the fitting hour to administer it to the patient, and the potency of the draught works the cure."
"A most rare medicine," said the King, "and a commodious! and, as it may be carried in the leech's purse, would save the whole caravan of camels which they require to convey drugs and physic stuff; I marvel there is any other in use."
"It is written," answered the Hakim, with imperturbable gravity, "'Abuse not the steed which hath borne thee from the battle.' Know that such talismans might indeed be framed, but rare has been the number of adepts who have dared to undertake the application of their virtue. Severe restrictions, painful observances, fasts, and penance, are necessary on the part of the sage who uses this mode of cure; and if, through neglect of these preparations, by his love of ease, or his indulgence of sensual appetite, he omits to cure at least twelve persons within the course of each moon, the virtue of the divine gift departs from the amulet, and both the last patient and the physician will be exposed to speedy misfortune, neither will they survive the year. I require yet one life to make up the appointed number."
"Go out into the camp, good Hakim, where thou wilt find a-many," said the King, "and do not seek to rob my headsman of his patients; it is unbecoming a mediciner of thine eminence to interfere with the practice of another. Besides, I cannot see how delivering a criminal from the death he deserves should go to make up thy tale of miraculous cures."
"When thou canst show why a draught of cold water should have cured thee when the most precious drugs failed," said the Hakim, "thou mayest reason on the other mysteries attendant on this matter. For myself, I am inefficient to the great work, having this morning touched an unclean animal. Ask, therefore, no further questions; it is enough that, by sparing this man's life at my request, you will deliver yourself, great King, and thy servant, from a great danger."
"Hark thee, Adonbec," replied the King, "I have no objection that leeches should wrap their words in mist, and pretend to derive knowledge from the stars; but when you bid Richard Plantagenet fear that a danger will fall upon him from some idle omen, or omitted ceremonial, you speak to no ignorant Saxon, or doting old woman, who foregoes her purpose because a hare crosses the path, a raven croaks, or a cat sneezes."
"I cannot hinder your doubt of my words," said Adonbec; "but yet let my Lord the King grant that truth is on the tongue of his servant - will he think it just to deprive the world, and every wretch who may suffer by the pains which so lately reduced him to that couch, of the benefit of this most virtuous talisman, rather than extend his forgiveness to one poor criminal? Bethink you, Lord King, that, though thou canst slay thousands, thou canst not restore one man to health. Kings have the power of Satan to torment, sages that of Allah to heal - beware how thou hinderest the good to humanity which thou canst not thyself render. Thou canst cut off the head, but not cure the aching tooth."
"This is over-insolent," said the King, hardening himself, as the Hakim assumed a more lofty and almost a commanding tone. "We took thee for our leech, not for our counsellor or conscience- keeper."
"And is it thus the most renowned Prince of Frangistan repays benefit done to his royal person?" said El Hakim, exchanging the humble and stooping posture in which he had hitherto solicited the King, for an attitude lofty and commanding. "Know, then," he said, "that: through every court of Europe and Asia - to Moslem and Nazarene - to knight and lady - wherever harp is heard and sword worn - wherever honour is loved and infamy detested - to every quarter of the world - will I denounce thee, Melech Ric, as thankless and ungenerous; and even the lands - if there be any such - that never heard of thy renown shall yet be acquainted with thy shame!"
"Are these terms to me, vile infidel?" said Richard, striding up to him in fury. "Art weary of thy life?"
"Strike!" said El Hakim; "thine own deed shall then paint thee more worthless than could my words, though each had a hornet's sting."
Richard turned fiercely from him, folded his arms, traversed the tent as before, and then exclaimed, "Thankless and ungenerous! - as well be termed coward and infidel! Hakim, thou hast chosen thy boon; and though I had rather thou hadst asked my crown jewels, yet I may not, kinglike, refuse thee. Take this Scot, therefore, to thy keeping; the provost will deliver him to thee on this warrant."
He hastily traced one or two lines, and gave them to the physician. "Use him as thy bond-slave, to be disposed of as thou wilt - only, let him beware how he comes before the eyes of Richard. Hark thee -thou art wise - he hath been over-bold among those in whose fair looks and weak judgments we trust our honour, as you of the East lodge your treasures in caskets of silver wire, as fine and as frail as the web of a gossamer."
"Thy servant understands the words of the King," said the sage, at once resuming the reverent style of address in which he had commenced. "When the rich carpet is soiled, the fool pointeth to the stain - the wise man covers it with his mantle. I have heard my lord's pleasure, and to hear is to obey."
"It is well," said the King; "let him consult his own safety, and never appear in my presence more. Is there aught else in which I may do thee pleasure?"
"The bounty of the King hath filled my cup to the brim," said the sage - " yea, it hath been abundant as the fountain which sprung up amid the camp of the descendants of Israel when the rock was stricken by the rod of Moussa Ben Amram."
"Ay, but," said the King, smiling, "it required, as in the desert, a hard blow on the rock ere it yielded its treasures. I would that I knew something to pleasure thee, which I might yield as freely as the natural fountain sends forth its waters."
"Let me touch that victorious hand," said the sage, "in token that if Adonbec el Hakim should hereafter demand a boon of Richard of England, he may do so, yet plead his command."
"Thou hast hand and glove upon it, man." replied Richard; "only, if thou couldst consistently make up thy tale of patients without craving me to deliver from punishment those who have deserved it, I would more willingly discharge my debt in some other form."
"May thy days be multiplied!" answered the Hakim, and withdrew from the apartment after the usual deep obeisance.
King Richard gazed after him as he departed, like one but half- satisfied with what had passed.
"Strange pertinacity," he said, "in this Hakim, and a wonderful chance to interfere between that audacious Scot and the chastisement he has merited so richly. Yet let him live! there is one brave man the more in the world. And now for the Austrian. Ho! is the Baron of Gilsland there without?"
Sir Thomas de Vaux thus summoned, his bulky form speedily darkened the opening of the pavilion, while behind him glided as a spectre, unannounced, yet unopposed, the savage form of the hermit of Engaddi, wrapped in his goatskin mantle.
Richard, without noticing his presence, called in a loud tone to the baron, "Sir Thomas de Vaux, of Lanercost and Gilsland, take trumpet and herald, and go instantly to the tent of him whom they call Archduke of Austria, and see that it be when the press of his knights and vassals is greatest around him, as is likely at this hour, for the German boar breakfasts ere he hears mass - enter his presence with as little reverence as thou mayest, and impeach him, on the part of Richard of England, that he hath this night, by his own hand, or that of others, stolen from its staff the Banner of England. Wherefore say to him our pleasure that within an hour from the time of my speaking he restore the said banner with all reverence - he himself and his principal barons waiting the whilst with heads uncovered, and without their robes of honour. And that, moreover, he pitch beside it, on the one hand, his own Banner of Austria reversed, as that which hath been dishonoured by theft and felony, and on the other, a lance, bearing the bloody head of him who was his nearest counsellor, or assistant, in this base injury. And say, that such our behests being punctually discharged we will, for the sake of our vow and the weal of the Holy Land, forgive his other forfeits."
"And how if the Duke of Austria deny all accession to this act of wrong and of felony?" said Thomas de Vaux.
"Tell him," replied the King, "we will prove it upon his body - ay, were he backed with his two bravest champions. Knightlike will we prove it, on foot or on horse, in the desert or in the field, time, place, and arms all at his own choice."
"Bethink you of the peace of God and the church, my liege lord," said the Baron of Gilsland, "among those princes engaged in this holy Crusade."
"Bethink you how to execute my commands, my liege vassal," answered Richard impatiently. "Methinks men expect to turn our purpose by their breath, as boys blow feathers to and fro. Peace of the church! Who, I prithee, minds it? The peace of the church, among Crusaders, implies war with the Saracens, with whom the princes have made truce; and the one ends with the other. And besides, see you not how every prince of them is seeking his own several ends? I will seek mine also - and that is honour. For honour I came hither; and if I may not win it upon the Saracens, at least I will not lose a jot from any respect to this paltry Duke, though he were bulwarked and buttressed by every prince in the Crusade."
De Vaux turned to obey the King's mandate, shrugging his shoulders at the same time, the bluntness of his nature being unable to conceal that its tenor went against his judgment. But the hermit of Engaddi stepped forward, and assumed the air of one charged with higher commands than those of a mere earthly potentate. Indeed, his dress of shaggy skins, his uncombed and untrimmed hair and beard, his lean, wild, and contorted features, and the almost insane fire which gleamed from under his bushy eyebrows, made him approach nearly to our idea of some seer of Scripture, who, charged with high mission to the sinful Kings of Judah or Israel, descended from the rocks and caverns in which he dwelt in abstracted solitude, to abash earthly tyrants in the midst of their pride, by discharging on them the blighting denunciations of Divine Majesty, even as the cloud discharges the lightnings with which it is fraught on the pinnacles and towers of castles and palaces. In the midst of his most wayward mood, Richard respected the church and its ministers; and though offended at the intrusion of the hermit into his tent, he greeted him with respect - at the same time, however, making a sign to Sir Thomas de Vaux to hasten on his message.
But the hermit prohibited the baron, by gesture, look, and word, to stir a yard on such an errand; and holding up his bare arm, from which the goatskin mantle fell back in the violence of his action, he waved it aloft, meagre with famine, and wealed with the blows of the discipline.
"In the name of God, and of the most holy Father, the vicegerent of the Christian Church upon earth, I prohibit this most profane, bloodthirsty, and brutal defiance betwixt two Christian princes, whose shoulders are signed with the blessed mark under which they swore brotherhood. Woe to him by whom it is broken! - Richard of England, recall the most unhallowed message thou hast given to that baron. Danger and death are nigh thee! - the dagger is glancing at thy very throat! - "
"Danger and death are playmates to Richard," answered the Monarch proudly; "and he hath braved too many swords to fear a dagger."
"Danger and death are near," replied the seer, and sinking his voice to a hollow, unearthly tone, he added, "And after death the judgment!"
"Good and holy father," said Richard, "I reverence thy person and thy sanctity - "
"Reverence not me!" interrupted the hermit; "reverence sooner the vilest insect that crawls by the shores of the Dead Sea, and feeds upon its accursed slime. But reverence Him whose commands I speak - reverence Him whose sepulchre you have vowed to rescue -revere the oath of concord which you have sworn, and break not the silver cord of union and fidelity with which you have bound yourself to your princely confederates."
"Good father," said the King, "you of the church seem to me to presume somewhat, if a layman may say so much, upon the dignity of your holy character. Without challenging your right to take charge of our conscience, methinks you might leave us the charge of our own honour."
"Presume!" repeated the hermit. "Is it for me to presume, royal Richard, who am but the bell obeying the hand of the sexton - but the senseless and worthless trumpet carrying the command of him who sounds it? See, on my knees I throw myself before thee, imploring thee to have mercy on Christendom, on England, and on thyself!"
"Rise, rise," said Richard, compelling him to stand up; "it beseems not that knees which are so frequently bended to the Deity should press the ground in honour of man. What danger awaits us, reverend father? and when stood the power of England so low that the noisy bluster of this new-made Duke's displeasure should alarm her or her monarch?"
"I have looked forth from my mountain turret upon the starry host of heaven, as each in his midnight circuit uttered wisdom to another, and knowledge to the few who can understand their voice. There sits an enemy in thy House of Life, Lord King, malign at once to thy fame and thy prosperity - an emanation of Saturn, menacing thee with instant and bloody peril, and which, but thou yield thy proud will to the rule of thy duty, will presently crush thee even in thy pride."
"Away, away - this is heathen science," said the King. "Christians practise it not - wise men believe it not. Old man, thou dotest."
"I dote not, Richard," answered the hermit - "I am not so happy. I know my condition, and that some portion of reason is yet permitted me, not for my own use, but that of the Church and the advancement of the Cross. I am the blind man who holds a torch to others, though it yields no light to himself. Ask me touching what concerns the weal of Christendom, and of this Crusade, and I will speak with thee as the wisest counsellor on whose tongue persuasion ever sat. Speak to me of my own wretched being, and my words shall be those of the maniac outcast which I am."
"I would not break the bands of unity asunder among the princes of the Crusade," said Richard, with a mitigated tone and manner; "but what atonement can they render me for the injustice and insult which I have sustained?"
"Even of that I am prepared and commissioned to speak by the Council, which, meeting hastily at the summons of Philip of France, have taken measures for that effect."
"Strange," replied Richard, "that others should treat of what is due to the wounded majesty of England!"
"They are willing to anticipate your demands, if it be possible," answered the hermit. "In a body, they consent that the Banner of England be replaced on Saint George's Mount; and they lay under ban and condemnation the audacious criminal, or criminals, by whom it was outraged, and will announce a princely reward to any who shall denounce the delinquent's guilt, and give his flesh to the wolves and ravens."
"And Austria," said Richard, "upon whom rest such strong presumptions that he was the author of the deed?"
"To prevent discord in the host," replied the hermit, "Austria will clear himself of the suspicion by submitting to whatsoever ordeal the Patriarch of Jerusalem shall impose."
"Will he clear himself by the trial by combat?" said King Richard.
"His oath prohibits it," said the hermit; "and, moreover, the Council of the Princes - "
"Will neither authorize battle against the Saracens," interrupted Richard, "nor against any one else. But it is enough, father - thou hast shown me the folly of proceeding as I designed in this matter. You shall sooner light your torch in a puddle of rain than bring a spark out of a cold-blooded coward. There is no honour to be gained on Austria, and so let him pass. I will have him perjure himself, however; I will insist on the ordeal. How I shall laugh to hear his clumsy fingers hiss, as he grasps the red-hot globe of iron! Ay, or his huge mouth riven, and his gullet swelling to suffocation, as he endeavours to swallow the consecrated bread!"
"Peace, Richard," said the hermit -"oh, peace, for shame, if not for charity! Who shall praise or honour princes who insult and calumniate each other? Alas! that a creature so noble as thou art - so accomplished in princely thoughts and princely daring - so fitted to honour Christendom by thy actions, and, in thy calmer mood, to rule her by thy wisdom, should yet have the brute and wild fury of the lion mingled with the dignity and courage of that king of the forest!"
He remained an instant musing with his eyes fixed on the ground, and then proceeded - "But Heaven, that knows our imperfect nature, accepts of our imperfect obedience, and hath delayed, though not averted, the bloody end of thy daring life. The destroying angel hath stood still, as of old by the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite, and the blade is drawn in his hand, by which, at no distant date, Richard, the lion-hearted, shall be as low as the meanest peasant."
"Must it, then, be so soon?" said Richard. "Yet, even so be it. May my course be bright, if it be but brief!"
"Alas! noble King," said the solitary, and it seemed as if a tear (unwonted guest) were gathering in his dry and glazened eye, "short and melancholy, marked with mortification, and calamity, and captivity, is the span that divides thee from the grave which yawns for thee - a grave in which thou shalt be laid without lineage to succeed thee - without the tears of a people, exhausted by thy ceaseless wars, to lament thee - without having extended the knowledge of thy subjects - without having done aught to enlarge their happiness."
"But not without renown, monk - not without the tears of the lady of my love! These consolations, which thou canst neither know nor estimate, await upon Richard to his grave."
"Do I not know, can I not estimate the value of minstrel's praise and of lady's love?" retorted the hermit, in a tone which for a moment seemed to emulate the enthusiasm of Richard himself. "King of England," he continued, extending his emaciated arm, "the blood which boils in thy blue veins is not more noble than that which stagnates in mine. Few and cold as the drops are, they still are of the blood of the royal Lusignan - of the heroic and sainted Godfrey. I am - that is, I was when in the world - Alberick Mortemar - "
"Whose deeds," said Richard, "have so often filled Fame's trumpet! Is it so? - can it be so? Could such a light as thine fall from the horizon of chivalry, and yet men be uncertain where its embers had alighted?"
"Seek a fallen star," said the hermit, "and thou shalt only light on some foul jelly, which, in shooting through the horizon, has assumed for a moment an appearance of splendour. Richard, if I thought that rending the bloody veil from my horrible fate could make thy proud heart stoop to the discipline of the church, I could find in my heart to tell thee a tale, which I have hitherto kept gnawing at my vitals in concealment, like the self-devoted youth of heathenesse. Listen, then, Richard, and may the grief and despair which cannot avail this wretched remnant of what was once a man be powerful as an example to so noble, yet so wild, a being as thou art! Yes - I will - I will tear open the long-hidden wounds, although in thy very presence they should bleed to death!"
King Richard, upon whom the history of Alberick of Mortemar had made a deep impression in his early years, when minstrels were regaling his father's halls with legends of the Holy Land, listened with respect to the outlines of a tale, which, darkly and imperfectly sketched, indicated sufficiently the cause of the partial insanity of this singular and most unhappy being.
"I need not," he said, "tell thee that I was noble in birth, high in fortune, strong in arms, wise in counsel. All these I was. But while the noblest ladies in Palestine strove which should wind garlands for my helmet, my love was fixed - unalterably and devotedly fixed -on a maiden of low degree. Her father, an ancient soldier of the Cross, saw our passion, and knowing the difference betwixt us, saw no other refuge for his daughter's honour than to place her within the shadow of the cloister. I returned from a distant expedition, loaded with spoils and honour, to find my happiness was destroyed for ever! I too sought the cloister; and Satan, who had marked me for his own, breathed into my heart a vapour of spiritual pride, which could only have had its source in his own infernal regions. I had risen as high in the church as before in the state. I was, forsooth, the wise, the self-sufficient, the impeccable! - I was the counsellor of councils - I was the director of prelates. How should I stumble? - wherefore should I fear temptation? Alas! I became confessor to a sisterhood, and amongst that sisterhood I found the long-loved - the long-lost. Spare me further confession! -A fallen nun, whose guilt was avenged by self- murder, sleeps soundly in the vaults of Engaddi; while, above her very grave, gibbers, moans, and roars a creature to whom but so much reason is left as may suffice to render him completely sensible to his fate!"
"Unhappy man!" said Richard, "I wonder no longer at thy misery. How didst thou escape the doom which the canons denounce against thy offence?"
"Ask one who is yet in the gall of worldly bitterness," said the hermit, "and he will speak of a life spared for personal respects, and from consideration to high birth. But, Richard, I tell thee that Providence hath preserved me to lift me on high as a light and beacon, whose ashes, when this earthly fuel is burnt out, must yet be flung into Tophet. Withered and shrunk as this poor form is, it is yet animated with two spirits - one active, shrewd, and piercing, to advocate the cause of the Church of Jerusalem; one mean, abject, and despairing, fluctuating between madness and misery, to mourn over my own wretchedness, and to guard holy relics on which it would be most sinful for me even to cast my eye. Pity me not! - it is but sin to pity the loss of such an abject; pity me not, but profit by my example. Thou standest on the highest, and, therefore, on the most dangerous pinnacle occupied by any Christian prince. Thou art proud of heart, loose of life, bloody of hand. Put from thee the sins which are to thee as daughters -though they be dear to the sinful Adam, expel these adopted furies from thy breast - thy pride, thy luxury, thy bloodthirstiness."
"He raves," said Richard, turning from the solitary to De Vaux, as one who felt some pain from a sarcasm which yet he could not resent; then turned him calmly, and somewhat scornfully, to the anchoret, as he replied, "Thou hast found a fair bevy of daughters, reverend father, to one who hath been but few months married; but since I must put them from my roof, it were but like a father to provide them with suitable matches. Therefore, I will part with my pride to the noble canons of the church -my luxury, as thou callest it, to the monks of the rule - and my bloodthirstiness to the Knights of the Temple."
"O heart of steel, and hand of iron," said the anchoret, "upon whom example, as well as advice, is alike thrown away! Yet shalt thou be spared for a season, in case it so be thou shouldst turn, and do that which is acceptable in the sight of Heaven. For me I must return to my place. Kyrie Eleison! I am he through whom the rays of heavenly grace dart like those of the sun through a burning-glass, concentrating them on other objects, until they kindle and blaze, while the glass itself remains cold and uninfluenced. Kyrie Eleison! - the poor must be called, for the rich have refused the banquet - Kyrie Eleison!"
So saying, he burst from the tent, uttering loud cries.
"A mad priest!" said Richard, from whose mind the frantic exclamations of the hermit had partly obliterated the impression produced by the detail of his personal history and misfortunes. "After him, De Vaux, and see he comes to no harm; for, Crusaders as we are, a juggler hath more reverence amongst our varlets than a priest or a saint, and they may, perchance, put some scorn upon him."
The knight obeyed, and Richard presently gave way to the thoughts which the wild prophecy of the monk had inspired. "To die early - without lineage - without lamentation! A heavy sentence, and well that it is not passed by a more competent judge. Yet the Saracens, who are accomplished in mystical knowledge, will often maintain that He, in whose eyes the wisdom of the sage is but as folly, inspires wisdom and prophecy into the seeming folly of the madman. Yonder hermit is said to read the stars, too, an art generally practised in these lands, where the heavenly host was of yore the object of idolatry. I would I had asked him touching the loss of my banner; for not the blessed Tishbite, the founder of his order, could seem more wildly rapt out of himself, or speak with a tongue more resembling that of a prophet. - How now, De Vaux, what news of the mad priest?"
"Mad priest, call you him, my lord?" answered De Vaux. "Methinks he resembles more the blessed Baptist himself, just issued from the wilderness. He has placed himself on one of the military engines, and from thence he preaches to the soldiers as never man preached since the time of Peter the Hermit. The camp, alarmed by his cries, crowd around him in thousands; and breaking off every now and then from the main thread of his discourse, he addresses the several nations, each in their own language, and presses upon each the arguments best qualified to urge them to perseverance in the delivery of Palestine."
"By this light, a noble hermit!" said King Richard. "But what else could come from the blood of Godfrey? He despair of safety, because he hath in former days lived par amours? I will have the Pope send him an ample remission, and I would not less willingly be intercessor had his belle amie been an abbess."
As he spoke, the Archbishop of Tyre craved audience, for the purpose of requesting Richard's attendance, should his health permit, on a secret conclave of the chiefs of the Crusade, and to explain to him the military and political incidents which had occurred during his illness.
Must we then sheathe our still victorious sword;
Turn back our forward step, which ever trod
O'er foemen's necks the onward path of glory;
Unclasp the mail, which with a solemn vow,
In God's own house, we hung upon our shoulders -
That vow, as unaccomplish'd as the promise
Which village nurses make to still their children,
And after think no more of?
The Crusade, a Tragedy.
The Archbishop of Tyre was an emissary well chosen to communicate to Richard tidings, which from another voice the lion-hearted King would not have brooked to hear without the most unbounded explosions of resentment. Even this sagacious and reverend prelate found difficulty in inducing him to listen to news which destroyed all his hopes of gaining back the Holy Sepulchre by force of arms, and acquiring the renown which the universal all- hail of Christendom was ready to confer upon him as the Champion of the Cross.
But, by the Archbishop's report, it appeared that Saladin was assembling all the force of his hundred tribes, and that the monarchs of Europe, already disgusted from various motives with the expedition, which had proved so hazardous, and was daily growing more so, had resolved to abandon their purpose. In this they were countenanced by the example of Philip of France, who, with many protestations of regard, and assurances that he would first see his brother of England in safety, declared his intention to return to Europe. His great vassal, the Earl of Champagne, had adopted the same resolution; and it could not excite surprise that Leopold of Austria, affronted as he had been by Richard, was glad to embrace an opportunity of deserting a cause in which his haughty opponent was to be considered as chief. Others announced the same purpose; so that it was plain that the King of England was to be left, if he chose to remain, supported only by such volunteers as might, under such depressing circumstances, join themselves to the English army, and by the doubtful aid of Conrade of Montserrat and the military orders of the Temple and of Saint John, who, though they were sworn to wage battle against the Saracens, were at least equally jealous of any European monarch achieving the conquest of Palestine, where, with shortsighted and selfish policy, they proposed to establish independent dominions of their own.
It needed not many arguments to show Richard the truth of his situation; and indeed, after his first burst of passion, he sat him calmly down, and with gloomy looks, head depressed, and arms folded on his bosom, listened to the Archbishop's reasoning on the impossibility of his carrying on the Crusade when deserted by his companions. Nay, he forbore interruption, even when the prelate ventured, in measured terms, to hint that Richard's own impetuosity had been one main cause of disgusting the princes with the expedition.
"Confiteor," answered Richard, with a dejected look, and something of a melancholy smile - "I confess, reverend father, that I ought on some accounts to sing culpa mea. But is it not hard that my frailties of temper should be visited with such a penance - that, for a burst or two of natural passion, I should be doomed to see fade before me ungathered such a rich harvest of glory to God and honour to chivalry? But it shall not fade. By the soul of the Conqueror, I will plant the Cross on the towers of Jerusalem, or it shall be planted over Richard's grave!"
"Thou mayest do it," said the prelate, "yet not another drop of Christian blood be shed in the quarrel."
"Ah, you speak of compromise, Lord Prelate; but the blood of the infidel hounds must also cease to flow," said Richard.
"There will be glory enough," replied the Archbishop, "in having extorted from Saladin, by force of arms, and by the respect inspired by your fame, such conditions as at once restore the Holy Sepulchre, open the Holy Land to pilgrims, secure their safety by strong fortresses, and, stronger than all, assure the safety of the Holy City, by conferring on Richard the title of King Guardian of Jerusalem."
"How!" said Richard, his eyes sparkling with unusual light. "I- - I - I the King Guardian of the Holy City! Victory itself, but that it is victory, could not gain more - scarce so much, when won with unwilling and disunited forces. But Saladin still proposes to retain his interest in the Holy Land?"
"As a joint sovereign, the sworn ally," replied the prelate, "of the mighty Richard - his relative, if it may be permitted, by marriage."
"By marriage!" said Richard, surprised, yet less so than the prelate had expected. "Ha! - ay - Edith Plantagenet. Did I dream this? or did some one tell me? My head is still weak from this fever, and has been agitated. Was it the Scot, or the Hakim, or yonder holy hermit, that hinted such a wild bargain?"
"The hermit of Engaddi, most likely," said the Archbishop, "for he hath toiled much in this matter; and since the discontent of the princes has became apparent, and a separation of their forces unavoidable, he hath had many consultations, both with Christian and pagan, for arranging such a pacification as may give to Christendom, at least in part, the objects of this holy warfare."
"My kinswoman to an infidel - ha!" exclaimed Richard, as his eyes began to sparkle.
The prelate hastened to avert his wrath.
"The Pope's consent must doubtless be first attained, and the holy hermit, who is well known at Rome, will treat with the holy Father."
"How? - without our consent first given?" said the King.
"Surely no," said the Bishop, in a quieting and insinuating tone of voice - "only with and under your especial sanction."
"My sanction to marry my kinswoman to an infidel!" said Richard; yet he spoke rather in a tone of doubt than as distinctly reprobating the measure proposed. "Could I have dreamed of such a composition when I leaped upon the Syrian shore from the prow of my galley, even as a lion springs on his prey! And now - But proceed - I will hear with patience."
Equally delighted and surprised to find his task so much easier than he had apprehended, the Archbishop hastened to pour forth before Richard the instances of such alliances in Spain - not without countenance from the Holy See; the incalculable advantages which all Christendom would derive from the union of Richard and Saladin by a bond so sacred; and, above all, he spoke with great vehemence and unction on the probability that Saladin would, in case of the proposed alliance, exchange his false faith for the true one.
"Hath the Soldan shown any disposition to become Christian?" said Richard. "If so, the king lives not on earth to whom I would grant the hand of a kinswoman, ay, or sister, sooner than to my noble Saladin - ay, though the one came to lay crown and sceptre at her feet, and the other had nothing to offer but his good sword and better heart!"
"Saladin hath heard our Christian teachers," said the Bishop, somewhat evasively - "my unworthy self, and others - and as he listens with patience, and replies with calmness, it can hardly be but that he be snatched as a brand from the burning. Magna est veritas, et prevalebit! moreover, the hermit of Engaddi, few of whose words have fallen fruitless to the ground, is possessed fully with the belief that there is a calling of the Saracens and the other heathen approaching, to which this marriage shall be matter of induction. He readeth the course of the stars; and dwelling, with maceration of the flesh, in those divine places which the saints have trodden of old, the spirit of Elijah the Tishbite, the founder of his blessed order, hath been with him as it was with the prophet Elisha, the son of Shaphat, when he spread his mantle over him."
King Richard listened to the Prelate's reasoning with a downcast brow and a troubled look.
"I cannot tell," he said, "How, it is with me, but methinks these cold counsels of the Princes of Christendom have infected me too with a lethargy of spirit. The time hath been that, had a layman proposed such alliance to me, I had struck him to earth - if a churchman, I had spit at him as a renegade and priest of Baal; yet now this counsel sounds not so strange in mine ear. For why should I not seek for brotherhood and alliance with a Saracen, brave, just, generous - who loves and honours a worthy foe, as if he were a friend - whilst the Princes of Christendom shrink from the side of their allies, and forsake the cause of Heaven and good knighthood? But I will possess my patience, and will not think of them. Only one attempt will I make to keep this gallant brotherhood together, if it be possible; and if I fail, Lord Archbishop, we will speak together of thy counsel, which, as now, I neither accept nor altogether reject. Wend we to the Council, my lord - the hour calls us. Thou sayest Richard is hasty and proud - thou shalt see him humble himself like the lowly broom- plant from which he derives his surname."
With the assistance of those of his privy chamber, the King then hastily robed himself in a doublet and mantle of a dark and uniform colour; and without any mark of regal dignity, excepting a ring of gold upon his head, he hastened with the Archbishop of Tyre to attend the Council, which waited but his presence to commence its sitting.
The pavilion of the Council was an ample tent, having before it the large Banner of the Cross displayed, and another, on which was portrayed a female kneeling, with dishevelled hair and disordered dress, meant to represent the desolate and distressed Church of Jerusalem, and bearing the motto, Afflictae sponsae ne obliviscaris. Warders, carefully selected, kept every one at a distance from the neighbourhood of this tent, lest the debates, which were sometimes of a loud and stormy character, should reach other ears than those they were designed for.
Here, therefore, the princes of the Crusade were assembled awaiting Richard's arrival. And even the brief delay which was thus interposed was turned to his disadvantage by his enemies, various instances being circulated of his pride and undue assumption of superiority, of which even the necessity of the present short pause was quoted as an instance. Men strove to fortify each other in their evil opinion of the King of England, and vindicated the offence which each had taken, by putting the most severe construction upon circumstances the most trifling; and all this, perhaps, because they were conscious of an instinctive reverence for the heroic monarch, which it would require more than ordinary efforts to overcome.
They had settled, accordingly, that they should receive him on his entrance with slight notice, and no more respect than was exactly necessary to keep within the bounds of cold ceremonial. But when they beheld that noble form, that princely countenance, somewhat pale from his late illness - the eye which had been called by minstrels the bright star of battle and victory - when his feats, almost surpassing human strength and valour, rushed on their recollection, the Council of Princes simultaneously arose - even the jealous King of France and the sullen and offended Duke of Austria - arose with one consent, and the assembled princes burst forth with one voice in the acclamation, "God save King Richard of England! Long life to the valiant Lion's-heart!"
With a countenance frank and open as the summer sun when it rises, Richard distributed his thanks around, and congratulated himself on being once more among his royal brethren of the Crusade.
"Some brief words he desired to say," such was his address to the assembly, "though on a subject so unworthy as himself, even at the risk of delaying for a few minutes their consultations for the weal of Christendom and the advancement of their holy enterprise."
The assembled princes resumed their seats, and there was a profound silence.
"This day," continued the King of England, "is a high festival of the church, and it well becomes Christian men, at such a tide, to reconcile themselves with their brethren, and confess their faults to each other. Noble princes and fathers of this holy expedition, Richard is a soldier - his hand is ever readier than his tongue - and his tongue is but too much used to the rough language of his trade. But do not, for Plantagenet's hasty speeches and ill-considered actions, forsake the noble cause of the redemption of Palestine - do not throw away earthly renown and eternal salvation, to be won here if ever they can be won by man, because the act of a soldier may have been hasty, and his speech as hard as the iron which he has worn from childhood. Is Richard in default to any of you, Richard will make compensation both by word and action. - Noble brother of France, have I been so unlucky as to offend you?"
"The Majesty of France has no atonement to seek from that of England," answered Philip, with kingly dignity, accepting, at the same time, the offered hand of Richard; "and whatever opinion I may adopt concerning the prosecution of this enterprise will depend on reasons arising out of the state of my own kingdom - certainly on no jealousy or disgust at my royal and most valorous brother."
"Austria," said Richard, walking up to the Archduke, with a mixture of frankness and dignity, while Leopold arose from his seat, as if involuntarily, and with the action of an automaton, whose motions depended upon some external impulse - "Austria thinks he hath reason to be offended with England; England, that he hath cause to complain of Austria. Let them exchange forgiveness, that the peace of Europe and the concord of this host may remain unbroken. We are now joint supporters of a more glorious banner than ever blazed before an earthly prince, even the Banner of Salvation. Let not, therefore, strife be betwixt us for the symbol of our more worldly dignities; but let Leopold restore the pennon of England, if he has it in his power, and Richard will say, though from no motive save his love for Holy Church, that he repents him of the hasty mood in which he did insult the standard of Austria."
The Archduke stood still, sullen and discontented, with his eyes fixed on the floor, and his countenance lowering with smothered displeasure, which awe, mingled with awkwardness, prevented his giving vent to in words.
The Patriarch of Jerusalem hastened to break the embarrassing silence, and to bear witness for the Archduke of Austria that he had exculpated himself, by a solemn oath, from all knowledge, direct or indirect, of the aggression done to the Banner of England.
"Then we have done the noble Archduke the greater wrong," said Richard; "and craving his pardon for imputing to him an outrage so cowardly, we extend our hand to him in token of renewed peace and amity. But how is this? Austria refuses our uncovered hand, as he formerly refused our mailed glove? What! are we neither to be his mate in peace nor his antagonist in war? Well, let it be so. We will take the slight esteem in which he holds us as a penance for aught which we may have done against him in heat of blood, and will therefore hold the account between us cleared."
So saying, he turned from the Archduke with an air rather of dignity than scorn, leaving the Austrian apparently as much relieved by the removal of his eye as is a sullen and truant schoolboy when the glance of his severe pedagogue is withdrawn.
"Noble Earl of Champagne - princely Marquis of Montserrat - valiant Grand Master of the Templars - I am here a penitent in the confessional. Do any of you bring a charge or claim amends from me?"
"I know not on what we could ground any," said the smooth-tongued Conrade, "unless it were that the King of England carries off from his poor brothers of the war all the fame which they might have hoped to gain in the expedition."
"My charge, if I am called on to make one," said the Master of the Templars, "is graver and deeper than that of the Marquis of Montserrat. It may be thought ill to beseem a military monk such as I to raise his voice where so many noble princes remain silent; but it concerns our whole host, and not least this noble King of England, that he should hear from some one to his face those charges which there are enow to bring against him in his absence. We laud and honour the courage and high achievements of the King of England; but we feel aggrieved that he should on all occasions seize and maintain a precedence and superiority over us, which it becomes not independent princes to submit to. Much we might yield of our free will to his bravery, his zeal, his wealth, and his power; but he who snatches all as matter of right, and leaves nothing to grant out of courtesy and favour, degrades us from allies into retainers and vassals, and sullies in the eyes of our soldiers and subjects the lustre of our authority, which is no longer independently exercised. Since the royal Richard has asked the truth from us, he must neither be surprised nor angry when he hears one, to whom worldly pomp is prohibited, and secular authority is nothing, saving so far as it advances the prosperity of God's Temple, and the prostration of the lion which goeth about seeking whom he may devour - when he hears, I say, such a one as I tell him the truth in reply to his question; which truth, even while I speak it, is, I know, confirmed by the heart of every one who hears me, however respect may stifle their voices."
Richard coloured very highly while the Grand Master was making this direct and unvarnished attack upon his conduct, and the murmur of assent which followed it showed plainly that almost all who were present acquiesced in the justice of the accusation. Incensed, and at the same time mortified, he yet foresaw that to give way to his headlong resentment would be to give the cold and wary accuser the advantage over him which it was the Templar's principal object to obtain. He therefore, with a strong effort, remained silent till he had repeated a pater noster, being the course which his confessor had enjoined him to pursue when anger was likely to obtain dominion over him. The King then spoke with composure, though not without an embittered tone, especially at the outset: -
"And is it even so? And are our brethren at such pains to note the infirmities of our natural temper, and the rough precipitance of our zeal, which may sometimes have urged us to issue commands when there was little time to hold council? I could not have thought that offences, casual and unpremeditated like mine, could find such deep root in the hearts of my allies in this most holy cause; that for my sake they should withdraw their hands from the plough when the furrow was near the end - for my sake turn aside from the direct path to Jerusalem, which their swords have opened. I vainly thought that my small services might have outweighed my rash errors - that if it were remembered that I pressed to the van in an assault, it would not be forgotten that I was ever the last in the retreat - that, if I elevated my banner upon conquered fields of battle, it was all the advantage that I sought, while others were dividing the spoil. I may have called the conquered city by my name, but it was to others that I yielded the dominion. If I have been headstrong in urging bold counsels, I have not, methinks, spared my own blood or my people's in carrying them into as bold execution; or if I have, in the hurry of march or battle, assumed a command over the soldiers of others, such have been ever treated as my own when my wealth purchased the provisions and medicines which their own sovereigns could not procure. But it shames me to remind you of what all but myself seem to have forgotten. Let us rather look forward to our future measures; and believe me, brethren," he continued, his face kindling with eagerness, "you shall not find the pride, or the wrath, or the ambition of Richard a stumbling- block of offence in the path to which religion and glory summon you as with the trumpet of an archangel. Oh, no, no! never would I survive the thought that my frailties and infirmities had been the means to sever this goodly fellowship of assembled princes. I would cut off my left hand with my right, could my doing so attest my sincerity. I will yield up, voluntarily, all right to command in the host - even mine own liege subjects. They shall be led by such sovereigns as you may nominate; and their King, ever but too apt to exchange the leader's baton for the adventurer's lance, will serve under the banner of Beau-Seant among the Templars - ay, or under that of Austria, if Austria will name a brave man to lead his forces. Or if ye are yourselves a-weary of this war, and feel your armour chafe your tender bodies, leave but with Richard some ten or fifteen thousand of your soldiers to work out the accomplishment of your vow; and when Zion is won," he exclaimed, waving his hand aloft, as if displaying the standard of the Cross over Jerusalem - "when Zion is won, we will write upon her gates, not the name of Richard Plantagenet, but of those generous princes who entrusted him with the means of conquest!"
The rough eloquence and determined expression of the military monarch at once roused the drooping spirits of the Crusaders, reanimated their devotion, and, fixing their attention on the principal object of the expedition, made most of them who were present blush for having been moved by such petty subjects of complaint as had before engrossed them. Eye caught fire from eye, voice lent courage to voice. They resumed, as with one accord, the war-cry with which the sermon of Peter the Hermit was echoed back, and shouted aloud, "Lead us on, gallant Lion's- heart; none so worthy to lead where brave men follow. Lead us on - to Jerusalem - to Jerusalem! It is the will of God - it is the will of God! Blessed is he who shall lend an arm to its fulfilment!"
The shout, so suddenly and generally raised, was heard beyond the ring of sentinels who guarded the pavilion of Council, and spread among the soldiers of the host, who, inactive and dispirited by disease and climate, had begun, like their leaders, to droop in resolution; but the reappearance of Richard in renewed vigour, and the well-known shout which echoed from the assembly of the princes, at once rekindled their enthusiasm, and thousands and tens of thousands answered with the same shout of "Zion, Zion! War, war! Instant battle with the infidels! It is the will of God - it is the will of God!"
The acclamations from without increased in their turn the enthusiasm which prevailed within the pavilion. Those who did not actually catch the flame were afraid - at least for the time - to seem colder than others. There was no more speech except of a proud advance towards Jerusalem upon the expiry of the truce, and the measures to be taken in the meantime for supplying and recruiting the army. The Council broke up, all apparently filled with the same enthusiastic purpose - which, however, soon faded in the bosom of most, and never had an existence in that of others.
Of the latter class were the Marquis Conrade and the Grand Master of the Templars, who retired together to their quarters ill at ease, and malcontent with the events of the day.
"I ever told it to thee," said the latter, with the cold, sardonic expression peculiar to him, "that Richard would burst through the flimsy wiles you spread for him, as would a lion through a spider's web. Thou seest he has but to speak, and his breath agitates these fickle fools as easily as the whirlwind catcheth scattered straws, and sweeps them together, or disperses them at its pleasure."
"When the blast has passed away," said Conrade, "the straws, which it made dance to its pipe, will settle to earth again."
"But knowest thou not besides," said the Templar, "that it seems, if this new purpose of conquest shall be abandoned and pass away, and each mighty prince shall again be left to such guidance as his own scanty brain can supply, Richard may yet probably become King of Jerusalem by compact, and establish those terms of treaty with the Soldan which thou thyself thought'st him so likely to spurn at?"
"Now, by Mahound and Termagaunt, for Christian oaths are out of fashion," said Conrade, "sayest thou the proud King of England would unite his blood with a heathen Soldan? My policy threw in that ingredient to make the whole treaty an abomination to him. As bad for us that he become our master by an agreement, as by victory."
"Thy policy hath ill calculated Richard's digestion," answered the Templar; "I know his mind by a whisper from the Archbishop. And then thy master-stroke respecting yonder banner - it has passed off with no more respect than two cubits of embroidered silk merited. Marquis Conrade, thy wit begins to halt; I will trust thy finespun measures no longer, but will try my own. Knowest thou not the people whom the Saracens call Charegites?"
"Surely," answered the Marquis; "they are desperate and besotted enthusiasts, who devote their lives to the advancement of religion - -somewhat like Templars, only they are never known to pause in the race of their calling."
"Jest not," answered the scowling monk. "Know that one of these men has set down in his bloody vow the name of the Island Emperor yonder, to be hewn down as the chief enemy of the Moslem faith."
"A most judicious paynim," said Conrade. "May Mohammed send him his paradise for a reward!"
"He was taken in the camp by one of our squires, and in private examination frankly avowed his fixed and determined purpose to me," said the Grand Master.
"Now the heavens pardon them who prevented the purpose of this most judicious Charegite!" answered Conrade.
"He is my prisoner," added the Templar, "and secluded from speech with others, as thou mayest suppose; but prisons have been broken - "
"Chains left unlocked, and captives have escaped," answered the Marquis. "It is an ancient saying, no sure dungeon but the grave."
"When loose, he resumes his quest," continued the military priest; "for it is the nature of this sort of blood hound never to quit the slot of the prey he has once scented."
"Say no more of it," said the Marquis; "I see thy policy - it is dreadful, but the emergency is imminent."
"I only told thee of it," said the Templar, "that thou mayest keep thyself on thy guard; for the uproar will be dreadful, and there is no knowing on whom the English may vent their rage. Ay, and there is another risk. My page knows the counsels of this Charegite," he continued; "and, moreover, he is a peevish, self- willed fool, whom I would I were rid of, as he thwarts me by presuming to see with his own eyes, not mine. But our holy order gives me power to put a remedy to such inconvenience. Or stay - the Saracen may find a good dagger in his cell, and I warrant you he uses it as he breaks forth, which will be of a surety so soon as the page enters with his food."
"It will give the affair a colour," said Conrade; "and yet - "
"Yet and but," said the Templar, "are words for fools; wise men neither hesitate nor retract - they resolve and they execute."
When beauty leads the lion in her toils,
Such are her charms, he dare not raise his mane,
Far less expand the terror of his fangs.
So great Alcides made his club a distaff,
And spun to please fair Omphale.
Richard, the unsuspicious object of the dark treachery detailed in the closing part of the last chapter, having effected, for the present at least, the triumphant union of the Crusading princes in a resolution to prosecute the war with vigour, had it next at heart to establish tranquillity in his own family; and, now that he could judge more temperately, to inquire distinctly into the circumstances leading to the loss of his banner, and the nature and the extent of the connection betwixt his kinswoman Edith and the banished adventurer from Scotland.
Accordingly, the Queen and her household were startled with a visit from Sir Thomas de Vaux, requesting the present attendance of the Lady Calista of Montfaucon, the Queen's principal bower- woman, upon King Richard.
"What am I to say, madam?" said the trembling attendant to the Queen, "He will slay us all."
"Nay, fear not, madam," said De Vaux. "His Majesty hath spared the life of the Scottish knight, who was the chief offender, and bestowed him upon the Moorish physician. He will not be severe upon a lady, though faulty."
"Devise some cunning tale, wench," said Berengaria. "My husband hath too little time to make inquiry into the truth."
"Tell the tale as it really happened," said Edith, "lest I tell it for thee."
"With humble permission of her Majesty," said De Vaux, "I would say Lady Edith adviseth well; for although King Richard is pleased to believe what it pleases your Grace to tell him, yet I doubt his having the same deference for the Lady Calista, and in this especial matter."
"The Lord of Gilsland is right," said the Lady Calista, much agitated at the thoughts of the investigation which was to take place; "and besides, if I had presence of mind enough to forge a plausible story, beshrew me if I think I should have the courage to tell it."
In this candid humour, the Lady Calista was conducted by De Vaux to the King, and made, as she had proposed, a full confession of the decoy by which the unfortunate Knight of the Leopard had been induced to desert his post; exculpating the Lady Edith, who, she was aware, would not fail to exculpate herself, and laying the full burden on the Queen, her mistress, whose share of the frolic, she well knew, would appear the most venial in the eyes of Coeur de Lion. In truth, Richard was a fond, almost a uxorious husband. The first burst of his wrath had long since passed away, and he was not disposed severely to censure what could not now be amended. The wily Lady Calista, accustomed from her earliest childhood to fathom the intrigues of a court, and watch the indications of a sovereign's will, hastened back to the Queen with the speed of a lapwing, charged with the King's commands that she should expect a speedy visit from him; to which the bower-lady added a commentary founded on her own observation, tending to show that Richard meant just to preserve so much severity as might bring his royal consort to repent of her frolic, and then to extend to her and all concerned his gracious pardon.
"Sits the wind in that corner, wench?" said the Queen, much relieved by this intelligence. "Believe me that, great commander as he is, Richard will find it hard to circumvent us in this matter, and that, as the Pyrenean shepherds are wont to say in my native Navarre, Many a one comes for wool, and goes back shorn."
Having possessed herself of all the information which Calista could communicate, the royal Berengaria arrayed herself in her most becoming dress, and awaited with confidence the arrival of the heroic Richard.
He arrived, and found himself in the situation of a prince entering an offending province, in the confidence that his business will only be to inflict rebuke, and receive submission, when he unexpectedly finds it in a state of complete defiance and insurrection. Berengaria well knew the power of her charms and the extent of Richard's affection, and felt assured that she could make her own terms good, now that the first tremendous explosion of his anger had expended itself without mischief. Far from listening to the King's intended rebuke, as what the levity of her conduct had justly deserved, she extenuated, nay, defended as a harmless frolic, that which she was accused of. She denied, indeed, with many a pretty form of negation, that she had directed Nectabanus absolutely to entice the knight farther than the brink of the Mount on which he kept watch - and, indeed, this was so far true, that she had not designed Sir Kenneth to be introduced into her tent - and then, eloquent in urging her own defence, the Queen was far more so in pressing upon Richard the charge of unkindness, in refusing her so poor a boon as the life of an unfortunate knight, who, by her thoughtless prank, had been brought within the danger of martial law. She wept and sobbed while she enlarged on her husband's obduracy on this score, as a rigour which had threatened to make her unhappy for life, whenever she should reflect that she had given, unthinkingly, the remote cause for such a tragedy. The vision of the slaughtered victim would have haunted her dreams - nay, for aught she knew, since such things often happened, his actual spectre might have stood by her waking couch. To all this misery of the mind was she exposed by the severity of one who, while he pretended to dote upon her slightest glance, would not forego one act of poor revenge, though the issue was to render her miserable.
All this flow of female eloquence was accompanied with the usual arguments of tears and sighs, and uttered with such tone and action as seemed to show that the Queen's resentment arose neither from pride nor sullenness, but from feelings hurt at finding her consequence with her husband less than she had expected to possess.
The good King Richard was considerably embarrassed. He tried in vain to reason with one whose very jealousy of his affection rendered her incapable of listening to argument, nor could he bring himself to use the restraint of lawful authority to a creature so beautiful in the midst of her unreasonable displeasure. He was therefore reduced to the defensive, endeavoured gently to chide her suspicions and soothe her displeasure, and recalled to her mind that she need not look back upon the past with recollections either of remorse or supernatural fear, since Sir Kenneth was alive and well, and had been bestowed by him upon the great Arabian physician, who, doubtless, of all men, knew best how to keep him living. But this seemed the unkindest cut of all, and the Queen's sorrow was renewed at the idea of a Saracen - a mediciner - obtaining a boon for which, with bare head and on bended knee, she had petitioned her husband in vain. At this new charge Richard's patience began rather to give way, and he said, in a serious tone of voice, "Berengaria, the physician saved my life. If it is of value in your eyes, you will not grudge him a higher recompense than the only one I could prevail on him to accept."
The Queen was satisfied she had urged her coquettish displeasure to the verge of safety.
"My Richard," she said, "why brought you not that sage to me, that England's Queen might show how she esteemed him who could save from extinction the lamp of chivalry, the glory of England, and the light of poor Berengaria's life and hope?"
In a word, the matrimonial dispute was ended; but, that some penalty might be paid to justice, both King and Queen accorded in laying the whole blame on the agent Nectabanus, who (the Queen being by this time well weary of the poor dwarf's humour) was, with his royal consort Guenevra, sentenced to be banished from the Court; and the unlucky dwarf only escaped a supplementary whipping, from the Queen's assurances that he had already sustained personal chastisement. It was decreed further that, as an envoy was shortly to be dispatched to Saladin, acquainting him with the resolution of the Council to resume hostilities so soon as the truce was ended, and as Richard proposed to send a valuable present to the Soldan, in acknowledgment of the high benefit he had derived from the services of El Hakim, the two unhappy creatures should be added to it as curiosities, which, from their extremely grotesque appearance, and the shattered state of their intellect, were gifts that might well pass between sovereign and sovereign.
Richard had that day yet another female encounter to sustain; but he advanced to it with comparative indifference, for Edith, though beautiful and highly esteemed by her royal relative - nay, although she had from his unjust suspicions actually sustained the injury of which Berengaria only affected to complain - still was neither Richard's wife nor mistress, and he feared her reproaches less, although founded in reason, than those of the Queen, though unjust and fantastical. Having requested to speak with her apart, he was ushered into her apartment, adjoining that of the Queen, whose two female Coptish slaves remained on their knees in the most remote corner during the interview. A thin black veil extended its ample folds over the tall and graceful form of the high-born maiden, and she wore not upon her person any female ornament of what kind soever. She arose and made a low reverence when Richard entered, resumed her seat at his command, and, when he sat down beside her, waited, without uttering a syllable, until he should communicate his pleasure.
Richard, whose custom it was to be familiar with Edith, as their relationship authorized, felt this reception chilling, and opened the conversation with some embarrassment.
"Our fair cousin," he at length said, "is angry with us; and we own that strong circumstances have induced us, without cause, to suspect her of conduct alien to what we have ever known in her course of life. But while we walk in this misty valley of humanity, men will mistake shadows for substances. Can my fair cousin not forgive her somewhat vehement kinsman Richard?"
"Who can refuse forgiveness to Richard," answered Edith, "provided Richard can obtain pardon of the king?"
"Come, my kinswoman," replied Coeur de Lion, "this is all too solemn. By Our Lady, such a melancholy countenance, and this ample sable veil, might make men think thou wert a new-made widow, or had lost a betrothed lover, at least. Cheer up! Thou hast heard, doubtless, that there is no real cause for woe; why, then, keep up the form of mourning?"
"For the departed honour of Plantagenet - for the glory which hath left my father's house."
Richard frowned. "Departed honour! glory which hath left our house!" he repeated angrily. "But my cousin Edith is privileged. I have judged her too hastily; she has therefore a right to deem of me too harshly. But tell me at least in what I have faulted."
"Plantagenet," said Edith, "should have either pardoned an offence, or punished it. It misbecomes him to assign free men, Christians, and brave knights, to the fetters of the infidels. It becomes him not to compromise and barter, or to grunt life under the forfeiture of liberty. To have doomed the unfortunate to death might have been severity, but had a show of justice; to condemn him to slavery and exile was barefaced tyranny."
"I see, my fair cousin," said Richard, "you are of those pretty ones who think an absent lover as bad as none, or as a dead one. Be patient; half a score of light horsemen may yet follow and redeem the error, if thy gallant have in keeping any secret which might render his death more convenient than his banishment."
"Peace with thy scurrile jests!" answered Edith, colouring deeply. "Think, rather, that for the indulgence of thy mood thou hast lopped from this great enterprise one goodly limb, deprived the Cross of one of its most brave supporters, and placed a servant of the true God in the hands of the heathen; hast given, too, to minds as suspicious as thou hast shown thine own in this matter, some right to say that Richard Coeur de Lion banished the bravest soldier in his camp lest his name in battle might match his own."
"I - I!" exclaimed Richard, now indeed greatly moved - "am I one to be jealous of renown? I would he were here to profess such an equality! I would waive my rank and my crown, and meet him, manlike, in the lists, that it might appear whether Richard Plantagenet had room to fear or to envy the prowess of mortal man. Come, Edith, thou think'st not as thou sayest. Let not anger or grief for the absence of thy lover make thee unjust to thy kinsman, who, notwithstanding all thy techiness, values thy good report as high as that of any one living."
"The absence of my lover?" said the Lady Edith, "But yes, he may be well termed my lover, who hath paid so dear for the title. Unworthy as I might be of such homage, I was to him like a light, leading him forward in the noble path of chivalry; but that I forgot my rank, or that he presumed beyond his, is false, were a king to speak it."
"My fair cousin," said Richard, "do not put words in my mouth which I have not spoken. I said not you had graced this man beyond the favour which a good knight may earn, even from a princess, whatever be his native condition. But, by Our Lady, I know something of this love-gear. It begins with mute respect and distant reverence; but when opportunities occur, familiarity increases, and so - But it skills not talking with one who thinks herself wiser than all the world."
"My kinsman's counsels I willingly listen to, when they are such," said Edith, "as convey no insult to my rank and character."
"Kings, my fair cousin, do not counsel, but rather command," said Richard.
"Soldans do indeed command," said Edith, "but it is because they have slaves to govern."
"Come, you might learn to lay aside this scorn of Soldanrie, when you hold so high of a Scot," said the King. "I hold Saladin to be truer to his word than this William of Scotland, who must needs be called a Lion, forsooth; he hath foully faulted towards me in failing to send the auxiliary aid he promised. Let me tell thee, Edith, thou mayest live to prefer a true Turk to a false Scot."
"No - never!" answered Edith - "not should Richard himself embrace the false religion, which he crossed the seas to expel from Palestine."
"Thou wilt have the last word," said Richard, "and thou shalt have it. Even think of me what thou wilt, pretty Edith. I shall not forget that we are near and dear cousins."
So saying, he took his leave in fair fashion, but very little satisfied with the result of his visit.
It was the fourth day after Sir Kenneth had been dismissed from the camp, and King Richard sat in his pavilion, enjoying an evening breeze from the west, which, with unusual coolness on her wings, seemed breathed from merry England for the refreshment of her adventurous Monarch, as he was gradually recovering the full strength which was necessary to carry on his gigantic projects. There was no one with him, De Vaux having been sent to Ascalon to bring up reinforcements and supplies of military munition, and most of his other attendants being occupied in different departments, all preparing for the re-opening of hostilities, and for a grand preparatory review of the army of the Crusaders, which was to take place the next day. The King sat listening to the busy hum among the soldiery, the clatter from the forges, where horseshoes were preparing, and from the tents of the armourers, who were repairing harness. The voice of the soldiers, too, as they passed and repassed, was loud and cheerful, carrying with its very tone an assurance of high and excited courage, and an omen of approaching victory. While Richard's ear drank in these sounds with delight, and while he yielded himself to the visions of conquest and of glory which they suggested, an equerry told him that a messenger from Saladin waited without.
"Admit him instantly," said the King, "and with due honour, Josceline."
The English knight accordingly introduced a person, apparently of no higher rank than a Nubian slave, whose appearance was nevertheless highly interesting. He was of superb stature and nobly formed, and his commanding features, although almost jet- black, showed nothing of negro descent. He wore over his coal- black locks a milk-white turban, and over his shoulders a short mantle of the same colour, open in front and at the sleeves, under which appeared a doublet of dressed leopard's skin reaching within a handbreadth of the knee. The rest of his muscular limbs, both legs and arms, were bare, excepting that he had sandals on his feet, and wore a collar and bracelets of silver. A straight broadsword, with a handle of box-wood and a sheath covered with snakeskin, was suspended from his waist. In his right hand he held a short javelin, with a broad, bright steel head, of a span in length, and in his left he led by a leash of twisted silk and gold a large and noble staghound.
The messenger prostrated himself, at the same time partially uncovering his shoulders, in sign of humiliation, and having touched the earth with his forehead, arose so far as to rest on one knee, while he delivered to the King a silken napkin, enclosing another of cloth of gold, within which was a letter from Saladin in the original Arabic, with a translation into Norman-English, which may be modernized thus: -
"Saladin, King of Kings, to Melech Ric, the Lion of England. Whereas, we are informed by thy last message that thou hast chosen war rather than peace, and our enmity rather than our friendship, we account thee as one blinded in this matter, and trust shortly to convince thee of thine error, by the help of our invincible forces of the thousand tribes, when Mohammed, the Prophet of God, and Allah, the God of the Prophet, shall judge the controversy betwixt us. In what remains, we make noble account of thee, and of the gifts which thou hast sent us, and of the two dwarfs, singular in their deformity as Ysop, and mirthful as the lute of Isaack. And in requital of these tokens from the treasure-house of thy bounty, behold we have sent thee a Nubian slave, named Zohauk, of whom judge not by his complexion, according to the foolish ones of the earth, in respect the dark- rinded fruit hath the most exquisite flavour. Know that he is strong to execute the will of his master, as Rustan of Zablestan; also he is wise to give counsel when thou shalt learn to hold communication with him, for the Lord of Speech hath been stricken with silence betwixt the ivory walls of his palace. We commend him to thy care, hoping the hour may not be distant when he may render thee good service. And herewith we bid thee farewell; trusting that our most holy Prophet may yet call thee to a sight of the truth, failing which illumination, our desire is for the speedy restoration of thy royal health, that Allah may judge between thee and us in a plain field of battle."
And the missive was sanctioned by the signature and seal of the Soldan.
Richard surveyed the Nubian in silence as he stood before him, his looks bent upon the ground, his arms folded on his bosom, with the appearance of a black marble statue of the most exquisite workmanship, waiting life from the touch of a Prometheus. The King of England, who, as it was emphatically said of his successor Henry the Eighth, loved to look upon a man, was well pleased with the thews, sinews, and symmetry of him whom he now surveyed, and questioned him in the lingua franca, "Art thou a pagan?"
The slave shook his head, and raising his finger to his brow, crossed himself in token of his Christianity, then resumed his posture of motionless humility.
"A Nubian Christian, doubtless," said Richard, "and mutilated of the organ of speech by these heathen dogs?"
The mute again slowly shook his head, in token of negative, pointed with his forefinger to Heaven, and then laid it upon his own lips.
"I understand thee," said Richard; "thou dost suffer under the infliction of God, not by the cruelty of man. Canst thou clean an armour and belt, and buckle it in time of need?"
The mute nodded, and stepping towards the coat of mail, which hung with the shield and helmet of the chivalrous monarch upon the pillar of the tent, he handled it with such nicety of address as sufficiently to show that he fully understood the business of an armour-bearer.
"Thou art an apt, and wilt doubtless be a useful knave. Thou shalt wait in my chamber, and on my person," said the King, "to show how much I value the gift of the royal Soldan. If thou hast no tongue, it follows thou canst carry no tales, neither provoke me to be sudden by any unfit reply."
The Nubian again prostrated himself till his brow touched the earth, then stood erect, at some paces distant, as waiting for his new master's commands.
"Nay, thou shalt commence thy office presently," said Richard, "for I see a speck of rust darkening on that shield; and when I shake it in the face of Saladin, it should be bright and unsullied as the Soldan's honour and mine own."
A horn was winded without, and presently Sir Henry Neville entered with a packet of dispatches. "From England, my lord," he said, as he delivered it.
"From England - our own England!" repeated Richard, in a tone of melancholy enthusiasm. "Alas! they little think how hard their Sovereign has been beset by sickness and sorrow - faint friends and forward enemies." Then opening the dispatches, he said hastily, "Ha! this comes from no peaceful land - they too have their feuds. Neville, begone; I must peruse these tidings alone, and at leisure."
Neville withdrew accordingly, and Richard was soon absorbed in the melancholy details which had been conveyed to him from England, concerning the factions that were tearing to pieces his native dominions - the disunion of his brothers John and Geoffrey, and the quarrels of both with the High Justiciary Longchamp, Bishop of Ely - the oppressions practised by the nobles upon the peasantry, and rebellion of the latter against their masters, which had produced everywhere scenes of discord, and in some instances the effusion of blood. Details of incidents mortifying to his pride, and derogatory from his authority, were intermingled with the earnest advice of his wisest and most attached counsellors that he should presently return to England, as his presence offered the only hope of saving the Kingdom from all the horrors of civil discord, of which France and Scotland were likely to avail themselves. Filled with the most painful anxiety, Richard read, and again read, the ill-omened letters; compared the intelligence which some of them contained with the same facts as differently stated in others; and soon became totally insensible to whatever was passing around him, although seated, for the sake of coolness, close to the entrance of his tent, and having the curtains withdrawn, so that he could see and be seen by the guards and others who were stationed without.
Deeper in the shadow of the pavilion, and busied with the task his new master had imposed, sat the Nubian slave, with his back rather turned towards the King. He had finished adjusting and cleaning the hauberk and brigandine, and was now busily employed on a broad pavesse, or buckler, of unusual size, and covered with steel-plating, which Richard often used in reconnoitring, or actually storming fortified places, as a more effectual protection against missile weapons than the narrow triangular shield used on horseback. This pavesse bore neither the royal lions of England, nor any other device, to attract the observation of the defenders of the walls against which it was advanced; the care, therefore, of the armourer was addressed to causing its surface to shine as bright as crystal, in which he seemed to be peculiarly successful. Beyond the Nubian, and scarce visible from without, lay the large dog, which might be termed his brother slave, and which, as if he felt awed by being transferred to a royal owner, was couched close to the side of the mute, with head and ears on the ground, and his limbs and tail drawn close around and under him.
While the Monarch and his new attendant were thus occupied, another actor crept upon the scene, and mingled among the group of English yeomen, about a score of whom, respecting the unusually pensive posture and close occupation of their Sovereign, were, contrary to their wont, keeping a silent guard in front of his tent. It was not, however, more vigilant than usual. Some were playing at games of hazard with small pebbles, others spoke together in whispers of the approaching day of battle, and several lay asleep, their bulky limbs folded in their green mantles.
Amid these careless warders glided the puny form of a little old Turk, poorly dressed like a marabout or santon of the desert - a sort of enthusiasts, who sometimes ventured into the camp of the Crusaders, though treated always with contumely, and often with violence. Indeed, the luxury and profligate indulgence of the Christian leaders had occasioned a motley concourse in their tents of musicians, courtesans, Jewish merchants, Copts, Turks, and all the varied refuse of the Eastern nations; so that the caftan and turban, though to drive both from the Holy Land was the professed object of the expedition, were, nevertheless, neither an uncommon nor an alarming sight in the camp of the Crusaders. When, however, the little insignificant figure we have described approached so nigh as to receive some interruption from the warders, he dashed his dusky green turban from his head, showed that his beard and eyebrows were shaved like those of a professed buffoon, and that the expression of his fantastic and writhen features, as well as of his little black eyes, which glittered like jet, was that of a crazed imagination.
"Dance, marabout," cried the soldiers, acquainted with the manners of these wandering enthusiasts, "dance, or we will scourge thee with our bow-strings till thou spin as never top did under schoolboy's lash." Thus shouted the reckless warders, as much delighted at having a subject to tease as a child when he catches a butterfly, or a schoolboy upon discovering a bird's nest.
The marabout, as if happy to do their behests, bounded from the earth, and spun his giddy round before them with singular agility, which, when contrasted with his slight and wasted figure, and diminutive appearance, made him resemble a withered leaf twirled round and round at the pleasure of the winter's breeze. His single lock of hair streamed upwards from his bald and shaven head, as if some genie upheld him by it; and indeed it seemed as if supernatural art were necessary to the execution of the wild, whirling dance, in which scarce the tiptoe of the performer was seen to touch the ground. Amid the vagaries of his performance he flew here and there, from one spot to another, still approaching, however, though almost imperceptibly, to the entrance of the royal tent; so that, when at length he sunk exhausted on the earth, after two or three bounds still higher than those which he had yet executed, he was not above thirty yards from the King's person.
"Give him water," said one yeoman; "they always crave a drink after their merry-go-round."
"Aha, water, sayest thou, Long Allen?" exclaimed another archer, with a most scornful emphasis on the despised element; "how wouldst like such beverage thyself, after such a morrice dancing?"
"The devil a water-drop he gets here," said a third. "We will teach the light-footed old infidel to be a good Christian, and drink wine of Cyprus."
"Ay, ay," said a fourth; "and in case he be restive, fetch thou Dick Hunter's horn, that he drenches his mare withal."
A circle was instantly formed around the prostrate and exhausted dervise, and while one tall yeoman raised his feeble form from the ground, another presented to him a huge flagon of wine. Incapable of speech, the old man shook his head, and waved away from him with his hand the liquor forbidden by the Prophet. But his tormentors were not thus to be appeased.
"The horn, the horn!" exclaimed one. "Little difference between a Turk and a Turkish horse, and we will use him conforming."
"By Saint George, you will choke him!" said Long Allen; "and besides, it is a sin to throw away upon a heathen dog as much wine as would serve a good Christian for a treble night-cap."
"Thou knowest not the nature of these Turks and pagans, Long Allen," replied Henry Woodstall. "I tell thee, man, that this flagon of Cyprus will set his brains a-spinning, just in the opposite direction that they went whirling in the dancing, and so bring him, as it were, to himself again. Choke? He will no more choke on it than Ben's black bitch on the pound of butter."
"And for grudging it," said Tomalin Blacklees, "why shouldst thou grudge the poor paynim devil a drop of drink on earth, since thou knowest he is not to have a drop to cool the tip of his tongue through a long eternity?"
"That were hard laws, look ye," said Long Allen, "only for being a Turk, as his father was before him. Had he been Christian turned heathen, I grant you the hottest corner had been good winter quarters for him."
"Hold thy peace, Long Allen," said Henry Woodstall. "I tell thee that tongue of thine is not the shortest limb about thee, and I prophesy that it will bring thee into disgrace with Father Francis, as once about the black-eyed Syrian wench. But here comes the horn. Be active a bit, man, wilt thou, and just force open his teeth with the haft of thy dudgeon-dagger."
"Hold, hold - he is conformable," said Tomalin; "see, see, he signs for the goblet - give him room, boys! Oop sey es, quoth the Dutchman - down it goes like lamb's-wool! Nay, they are true topers when once they begin - your Turk never coughs in his cup, or stints in his liquoring."
In fact, the dervise, or whatever he was, drank -or at least seemed to drink - the large flagon to the very bottom at a single pull; and when he took it from his lips after the whole contents were exhausted, only uttered, with a deep sigh, the words, Allah kerim, or God is merciful. There was a laugh among the yeomen who witnessed this pottle-deep potation, so obstreperous as to rouse and disturb the King, who, raising his finger, said angrily, "How, knaves, no respect, no observance?"
All were at once hushed into silence, well acquainted with the temper of Richard, which at some times admitted of much military familiarity, and at others exacted the most precise respect, although the latter humour was of much more rare occurrence. Hastening to a more reverent distance from the royal person, they attempted to drag along with them the marabout, who, exhausted apparently by previous fatigue, or overpowered by the potent draught he had just swallowed, resisted being moved from the spot, both with struggles and groans.
"Leave him still, ye fools," whispered Long Allen to his mates; "by Saint Christopher, you will make our Dickon go beside himself, and we shall have his dagger presently fly at our costards. Leave him alone; in less than a minute he will sleep like a dormouse."
At the same moment the Monarch darted another impatient glance to the spot, and all retreated in haste, leaving the dervise on the ground, unable, as it seemed, to stir a single limb or joint of his body. In a moment afterward all was as still and quiet as it had been before the intrusion.
- and wither'd Murder,
Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace,
With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design
For the space of a quarter of an hour, or longer, after the incident related, all remained perfectly quiet in the front of the royal habitation. The King read and mused in the entrance of his pavilion; behind, and with his back turned to the same entrance, the Nubian slave still burnished the ample pavesse; in front of all, at a hundred paces distant, the yeomen of the guard stood, sat, or lay extended on the grass, attentive to their own sports, but pursuing them in silence, while on the esplanade betwixt them and the front of the tent lay, scarcely to be distinguished from a bundle of rags, the senseless form of the marabout.
But the Nubian had the advantage of a mirror from the brilliant reflection which the surface of the highly-polished shield now afforded, by means of which he beheld, to his alarm and surprise, that the marabout raised his head gently from the ground, so as to survey all around him, moving with a well-adjusted precaution which seemed entirely inconsistent with a state of ebriety. He couched his head instantly, as if satisfied he was unobserved, and began, with the slightest possible appearance of voluntary effort, to drag himself, as if by chance, ever nearer and nearer to the King, but stopping and remaining fixed at intervals, like the spider, which, moving towards her object, collapses into apparent lifelessness when she thinks she is the subject of observation. This species of movement appeared suspicious to the Ethiopian, who, on his part, prepared himself, as quietly as possible, to interfere, the instant that interference should seem to be necessary.
The marabout, meanwhile, glided on gradually and imperceptibly, serpent-like, or rather snail-like, till he was about ten yards distant from Richard's person, when, starting on his feet, he sprung forward with the bound of a tiger, stood at the King's back in less than an instant, and brandished aloft the cangiar, or poniard, which he had hidden in his sleeve. Not the presence of his whole army could have saved their heroic Monarch; but the motions of the Nubian had been as well calculated as those of the enthusiast, and ere the latter could strike, the former caught his uplifted arm. Turning his fanatical wrath upon what thus unexpectedly interposed betwixt him and his object, the Charegite, for such was the seeming marabout, dealt the Nubian a blow with the dagger, which, however, only grazed his arm, while the far superior strength of the Ethiopian easily dashed him to the ground. Aware of what had passed, Richard had now arisen, and with little more of surprise, anger, or interest of any kind in his countenance than an ordinary man would show in brushing off and crushing an intrusive wasp, caught up the stool on which he had been sitting, and exclaiming only, "Ha, dog!" dashed almost to pieces the skull of the assassin, who uttered twice, once in a loud, and once in a broken tone, the words Allah ackbar! - God is victorious - and expired at the King's feet.
"Ye are careful warders," said Richard to his archers, in a tone of scornful reproach, as, aroused by the bustle of what had passed, in terror and tumult they now rushed into his tent; "watchful sentinels ye are, to leave me to do such hangman's work with my own hand. Be silent, all of you, and cease your senseless clamour! - saw ye never a dead Turk before? Here, cast that carrion out of the camp, strike the head from the trunk, and stick it on a lance, taking care to turn the face to Mecca, that he may the easier tell the foul impostor on whose inspiration he came hither how he has sped on his errand. - For thee, my swart and silent friend," he added, turning to the Ethiopian - "but how's this? Thou art wounded - and with a poisoned weapon, I warrant me, for by force of stab so weak an animal as that could scarce hope to do more than raze the lion's hide. -Suck the poison from his wound one of you - the venom is harmless on the lips, though fatal when it mingles with the blood."
The yeomen looked on each other confusedly and with hesitation, the apprehension of so strange a danger prevailing with those who feared no other.
"How now, sirrahs," continued the King, "are you dainty-lipped, or do you fear death, that you daily thus?"
"Not the death of a man," said Long Allen, to whom the King looked as he spoke; "but methinks I would not die like a poisoned rat for the sake of a black chattel there, that is bought and sold in a market like a Martlemas ox."
"His Grace speaks to men of sucking poison," muttered another yeoman, "as if he said, "Go to, swallow a gooseberry!"
"Nay," said Richard, "I never bade man do that which I would not do myself."
And without further ceremony, and in spite of the general expostulations of those around, and the respectful opposition of the Nubian himself, the King of England applied his lips to the wound of the black slave, treating with ridicule all remonstrances, and overpowering all resistance. He had no sooner intermitted his singular occupation, than the Nubian started from him, and casting a scarf over his arm, intimated by gestures, as firm in purpose as they were respectful in manner, his determination not to permit the Monarch to renew so degrading an employment. Long Allen also interposed, saying that, if it were necessary to prevent the King engaging again in a treatment of this kind, his own lips, tongue, and teeth were at the service of the negro (as he called the Ethiopian), and that he would eat him up bodily, rather than King Richard's mouth should again approach him.
Neville, who entered with other officers, added his remonstrances.
"Nay, nay, make not a needless halloo about a hart that the hounds have lost, or a danger when it is over," said the King. "The wound will be a trifle, for the blood is scarce drawn - an angry cat had dealt a deeper scratch. And for me, I have but to take a drachm of orvietan by way of precaution, though it is needless."
Thus spoke Richard, a little ashamed, perhaps, of his own condescension, though sanctioned both by humanity and gratitude. But when Neville continued to make remonstrances on the peril to his royal person, the King imposed silence on him.
"Peace, I prithee - make no more of it. I did it but to show these ignorant, prejudiced knaves how they might help each other when these cowardly caitiffs come against us with sarbacanes and poisoned shafts. But," he added, "take thee this Nubian to thy quarters, Neville - I have changed my mind touching him - let him be well cared for. But hark in thine ear; see that he escapes thee not - there is more in him than seems. Let him have all liberty, so that he leave not the camp. - And you, ye beef- devouring, wine-swilling English mastiffs, get ye to your guard again, and be sure you keep it more warily. Think not you are now in your own land of fair play, where men speak before they strike, and shake hands ere they cut throats. Danger in our land walks openly, and with his blade drawn, and defies the foe whom he means to assault; but here he challenges you with a silk glove instead of a steel gauntlet, cuts your throat with the feather of a turtle-dove, stabs you with the tongue of a priest's brooch, or throttles you with the lace of my lady's boddice, Go to - keep your eyes open and your mouths shut - drink less, and look sharper about you; or I will place your huge stomachs on such short allowance as would pinch the stomach of a patient Scottish man."
The yeomen, abashed and mortified, withdrew to their post, and Neville was beginning to remonstrate with his master upon the risk of passing over thus slightly their negligence upon their duty, and the propriety of an example in a case so peculiarly aggravated as the permitting one so suspicious as the marabout to approach within dagger's length of his person, when Richard interrupted him with, "Speak not of it, Neville -wouldst thou have me avenge a petty risk to myself more severely than the loss of England's banner? It has been stolen - stolen by a thief, or delivered up by a traitor, and no blood has been shed for it. - My sable friend, thou art an expounder of mysteries, saith the illustrious Soldan - now would I give thee thine own weight in gold, if, by raising one still blacker than thyself or by what other means thou wilt, thou couldst show me the thief who did mine honour that wrong. What sayest thou, ha?"
The mute seemed desirous to speak, but uttered only that imperfect sound proper to his melancholy condition; then folded his arms, looked on the King with an eye of intelligence, and nodded in answer to his question.
"How!" said Richard, with joyful impatience. "Wilt thou undertake to make discovery in this matter?"
The Nubian slave repeated the same motion.
"But how shall we understand each other?" said the King. "Canst thou write, good fellow?"
The slave again nodded in assent.
"Give him writing-tools," said the King. "They were readier in my father's tent than mine; but they be somewhere about, if this scorching climate have not dried up the ink. - Why, this fellow is a jewel - a black diamond, Neville."
"So please you, my liege," said Neville, "if I might speak my poor mind, it were ill dealing in this ware. This man must be a wizard, and wizards deal with the Enemy, who hath most interest to sow tares among the wheat, and bring dissension into our councils, and - "
"Peace, Neville," said Richard. "Hello to your northern hound when he is close on the haunch of the deer, and hope to recall him, but seek not to stop Plantagenet when he hath hope to retrieve his honour."
The slave, who during this discussion had been writing, in which art he seemed skilful, now arose, and pressing what he had written to his brow, prostrated himself as usual, ere he delivered it into the King's hands. The scroll was in French, although their intercourse had hitherto been conducted by Richard in the lingua franca.
"To Richard, the conquering and invincible King of England, this from the humblest of his slaves. Mysteries are the sealed caskets of Heaven, but wisdom may devise means to open the lock. Were your slave stationed where the leaders of the Christian host were made to pass before him in order, doubt nothing that if he who did the injury whereof my King complains shall be among the number, he may be made manifest in his iniquity, though it be hidden under seven veils."
"Now, by Saint George!" said King Richard, "thou hast spoken most opportunely. - Neville, thou knowest that when we muster our troops to-morrow the princes have agreed that, to expiate the affront offered to England in the theft of her banner, the leaders should pass our new standard as it floats on Saint George's Mount, and salute it with formal regard. Believe me, the secret traitor will not dare to absent himself from an expurgation so solemn, lest his very absence should be matter of suspicion. There will we place our sable man of counsel, and if his art can detect the villain, leave me to deal with him."
"My liege," said Neville, with the frankness of an English baron, "beware what work you begin. Here is the concord of our holy league unexpectedly renewed - will you, upon such suspicion as a negro slave can instil, tear open wounds so lately closed? Or will you use the solemn procession, adopted for the reparation of your honour and establishment of unanimity amongst the discording princes, as the means of again finding out new cause of offence, or reviving ancient quarrels? It were scarce too strong to say this were a breach of the declaration your Grace made to the assembled Council of the Crusade."
"Neville," said the King, sternly interrupting him, "thy zeal makes thee presumptuous and unmannerly. Never did I promise to abstain from taking whatever means were most promising to discover the infamous author of the attack on my honour. Ere I had done so, I would have renounced my kingdom, my life. All my declarations were under this necessary and absolute qualification; - only, if Austria had stepped forth and owned the injury like a man, I proffered, for the sake of Christendom, to have forgiven him."
"But," continued the baron anxiously, "what hope that this juggling slave of Saladin will not palter with your Grace?"
"Peace, Neville," said the King; "thou thinkest thyself mighty wise, and art but a fool. Mind thou my charge touching this fellow; there is more in him than thy Westmoreland wit can fathom. - And thou, smart and silent, prepare to perform the feat thou hast promised, and, by the word of a King, thou shalt choose thine own recompense. -Lo, he writes again."
The mute accordingly wrote and delivered to the King, with the same form as before, another slip of paper, containing these words, "The will of the King is the law to his slave; nor doth it become him to ask guerdon for discharge of his devoir."
"Guerdon and Devoir!" said the King, interrupting him self as he read, and speaking to Neville in the English tongue with some emphasis on the words. "These Eastern people will profit by the Crusaders - they are acquiring the language of chivalry! And see, Neville, how discomposed that fellow looks! were it not for his colour he would blush. I should not think it strange if he understood what I say - they are perilous linguists."
"The poor slave cannot endure your Grace's eye," said Neville; "it is nothing more."
"Well, but," continued the King, striking the paper with his finger as he proceeded, "this bold scroll proceeds to say that our trusty mute is charged with a message from Saladin to the Lady Edith Plantagenet, and craves means and opportunity to deliver it. What thinkest thou of a request so modest - ha, Neville?"
"I cannot say," said Neville, "how such freedom may relish with your Grace; but the lease of the messenger's neck would be a short one, who should carry such a request to the Soldan on the part of your Majesty."
"Nay, I thank Heaven that I covet none of his sunburnt beauties," said Richard; "and for punishing this fellow for discharging his master's errand, and that when he has just saved my life - methinks it were something too summary. I'll tell thee, Neville, a secret; for although our sable and mute minister be present, he cannot, thou knowest, tell it over again, even if he should chance to understand us. I tell thee that, for this fortnight past, I have been under a strange spell, and I would I were disenchanted. There has no sooner any one done me good service, but, lo you, he cancels his interest in me by some deep injury; and, on the other hand, he who hath deserved death at my hands for some treachery or some insult, is sure to be the very person of all others who confers upon me some obligation that overbalances his demerits, and renders respite of his sentence a debt due from my honour. Thus, thou seest, I am deprived of the best part of my royal function, since I can neither punish men nor reward them. Until the influence of this disqualifying planet be passed away, I will say nothing concerning the request of this our sable attendant, save that it is an unusually bold one, and that his best chance of finding grace in our eyes will be to endeavour to make the discovery which he proposes to achieve in our behalf. Meanwhile, Neville, do thou look well to him, and let him be honourably cared for. And hark thee once more," he said, in a low whisper, "seek out yonder hermit of Engaddi, and bring him to me forthwith, be he saint or savage, madman or sane. Let me see him privately."
Neville retired from the royal tent, signing to the Nubian to follow him, and much surprised at what he had seen and heard, and especially at the unusual demeanour of the King. In general, no task was so easy as to discover Richard's immediate course of sentiment and feeling, though it might, in some cases, be difficult to calculate its duration; for no weathercock obeyed the changing wind more readily than the King his gusts of passion. But on the present occasion his manner seemed unusually constrained and mysterious; nor was it easy to guess whether displeasure or kindness predominated in his conduct towards his new dependant, or in the looks with which, from time to time, he regarded him. The ready service which the King had rendered to counteract the bad effects of the Nubian's wound might seem to balance the obligation conferred on him by the slave when he intercepted the blow of the assassin; but it seemed, as a much longer account remained to be arranged between them, that the Monarch was doubtful whether the settlement might leave him, upon the whole, debtor or creditor, and that, therefore, he assumed in the meantime a neutral demeanour, which might suit with either character. As for the Nubian, by whatever means he had acquired the art of writing the European languages, the King remained convinced that the English tongue at least was unknown to him, since, having watched him closely during the last part of the interview, he conceived it impossible for any one understanding a conversation, of which he was himself the subject, to have so completely avoided the appearance of taking an interest in it.
Who's there! - Approach - 'tis kindly done -
My learned physician and a friend.
Sir Eustace Grey.
Our narrative retrogrades to a period shortly previous to the incidents last mentioned, when, as the reader must remember, the unfortunate Knight of the Leopard, bestowed upon the Arabian physician by King Richard, rather as a slave than in any other capacity, was exiled from the camp of the Crusaders, in whose ranks he had so often and so brilliantly distinguished himself. He followed his new master - for so he must now term the Hakim - to the Moorish tents which contained his retinue and his property, with the stupefied feelings of one who, fallen from the summit of a precipice, and escaping unexpectedly with life, is just able to drag himself from the fatal spot, but without the power of estimating the extent of the damage which he has sustained. Arrived at the tent, he threw himself, without speech of any kind, upon a couch of dressed buffalo's hide, which was pointed out to him by his conductor, and hiding his face betwixt his hands, groaned heavily, as if his heart were on the point of bursting. The physician heard him, as he was giving orders to his numerous domestics to prepare for their departure the next morning before daybreak, and, moved with compassion, interrupted his occupation to sit down, cross-legged, by the side of his couch, and administer comfort according to the Oriental manner.
"My friend," he said, "be of good comfort; for what saith the poet - it is better that a man should be the servant of a kind master than the slave of his own wild passions. Again, be of good courage; because, whereas Ysouf Ben Yagoube was sold to a king by his brethren, even to Pharaoh, King of Egypt, thy king hath, on the other hand, bestowed thee on one who will be to thee as a brother."
Sir Kenneth made an effort to thank the Hakim, but his heart was too full, and the indistinct sounds which accompanied his abortive attempts to reply induced the kind physician to desist from his premature endeavours at consolation. He left his new domestic, or guest, in quiet, to indulge his sorrows, and having commanded all the necessary preparations for their departure on the morning, sat down upon the carpet of the tent, and indulged himself in a moderate repast. After he had thus refreshed himself, similar viands were offered to the Scottish knight; but though the slaves let him understand that the next day would be far advanced ere they would halt for the purpose of refreshment, Sir Kenneth could not overcome the disgust which he felt against swallowing any nourishment, and could be prevailed upon to taste nothing, saving a draught of cold water.
He was awake long after his Arab host had performed his usual devotions and betaken himself to his repose; nor had sleep visited him at the hour of midnight, when a movement took place among the domestics, which, though attended with no speech, and very little noise, made him aware they were loading the camels and preparing for departure. In the course of these preparations, the last person who was disturbed, excepting the physician himself, was the knight of Scotland, whom, about three in the morning, a sort of major-domo, or master of the household, acquainted that he must arise. He did so, without further answer, and followed him into the moonlight, where stood the camels, most of which were already loaded, and one only remained kneeling until its burden should be completed.
A little apart from the camels stood a number of horses ready bridled and saddled, and the Hakim himself, coming forth, mounted on one of them with as much agility as the grave decorum of his character permitted, and directed another, which he pointed out, to be led towards Sir Kenneth. An English officer was in attendance, to escort them through the camp of the Crusaders, and to ensure their leaving it in safety; and all was ready for their departure. The pavilion which they had left was, in the meanwhile, struck with singular dispatch, and the tent-poles and coverings composed the burden of the last camel - when the physician, pronouncing solemnly the verse of the Koran, "God be our guide, and Mohammed our protector, in the desert as in the watered field," the whole cavalcade was instantly in motion.
In traversing the camp, they were challenged by the various sentinels who maintained guard there, and suffered to proceed in silence, or with a muttered curse upon their prophet, as they passed the post of some more zealous Crusader. At length the last barriers were left behind them, and the party formed themselves for the march with military precaution. Two or three horsemen advanced in front as a vanguard; one or two remained a bow-shot in the rear; and, wherever the ground admitted, others were detached to keep an outlook on the flanks. In this manner they proceeded onward; while Sir Kenneth, looking back on the moonlit camp, might now indeed seem banished, deprived at once of honour and of liberty, from the glimmering banners under which he had hoped to gain additional renown, and the tented dwellings of chivalry, of Christianity, and - of Edith Plantagenet.
The Hakim, who rode by his side, observed, in his usual tone: of sententious consolation, "It is unwise to look back when the journey lieth forward;" and as he spoke, the horse of the knight made such a perilous stumble as threatened to add a practical moral to the tale.
The knight was compelled by this hint to give more attention to the management of his steed, which more than once required the assistance and support of the check-bridle, although, in other respects, nothing could be more easy at once, and active, than the ambling pace at which the animal (which was a mare) proceeded.
"The conditions of that horse," observed the sententious physician, "are like those of human fortune - seeing that, amidst his most swift and easy pace, the rider must guard himself against a fall, and that it is when prosperity is at the highest that our prudence should be awake and vigilant to prevent misfortune."
The overloaded appetite loathes even the honeycomb, and it is scarce a wonder that the knight, mortified and harassed with misfortunes and abasement, became something impatient of hearing his misery made, at every turn, the ground of proverbs and apothegms, however just and apposite.
"Methinks," he said, rather peevishly, "I wanted no additional illustration of the instability of fortune though I would thank thee, Sir Hakim, for the choice of a steed for me, would the jade but stumble so effectually as at once to break my neck and her own."
"My brother," answered the Arab sage, with imperturbable gravity, "thou speakest as one of the foolish. Thou sayest in thy heart that the sage should have given you, as his guest, the younger and better horse, and reserved the old one for himself. But know that the defects of the older steed may be compensated by the energies of the young rider, whereas the violence of the young horse requires to be moderated by the cold temper of the older."
So spoke the sage; but neither to this observation did Sir Kenneth return any answer which could lead to a continuance of their conversation, and the physician, wearied, perhaps, of administering comfort to one who would not be comforted, signed to one of his retinue.
"Hassan," he said, "hast thou nothing wherewith to beguile the way?"
Hassan, story-teller and poet by profession, spurred up, upon this summons, to exercise his calling. "Lord of the palace of life," he said, addressing the physician, "thou, before whom the angel Azrael spreadeth his wings for flight - thou, wiser than Solimaun Ben Daoud, upon whose signet was inscribed the real name which controls the spirits of the elements - forbid it, Heaven, that while thou travellest upon the track of benevolence, bearing healing and hope wherever thou comest, thine own course should be saddened for lack of the tale and of the song. Behold, while thy servant is at thy side, he will pour forth the treasures of his memory, as the fountain sendeth her stream beside the pathway, for the refreshment or him that walketh thereon."
After this exordium, Hassan uplifted his voice, and began a tale of love and magic, intermixed with feats of warlike achievement, and ornamented with abundant quotations from the Persian poets, with whose compositions the orator seemed familiar. The retinue of the physician, such excepted as were necessarily detained in attendance on the camels, thronged up to the narrator, and pressed as close as deference for their master permitted, to enjoy the delight which the inhabitants of the East have ever derived from this species of exhibition.
At another time, notwithstanding his imperfect knowledge of the language, Sir Kenneth might have been interested in the recitation, which, though dictated by a more extravagant imagination, and expressed in more inflated and metaphorical language, bore yet a strong resemblance to the romances of chivalry then so fashionable in Europe. But as matters stood with him, he was scarcely even sensible that a man in the centre of the cavalcade recited and sung, in a low tone, for nearly two hours, modulating his voice to the various moods of passion introduced into the tale, and receiving, in return, now low murmurs of applause, now muttered expressions of wonder, now sighs and tears, and sometimes, what it was far more difficult to extract from such an audience, a tribute of smiles, and even laughter.
During the recitation, the attention of the exile, however abstracted by his own deep sorrow, was occasionally awakened by the low wail of a dog, secured in a wicker enclosure suspended on one of the camels, which, as an experienced woodsman, he had no hesitation in recognizing to be that of his own faithful hound; and from the plaintive tone of the animal, he had no doubt that he was sensible of his master's vicinity, and, in his way, invoking his assistance for liberty and rescue.
"Alas! poor Roswal," he said, "thou callest for aid and sympathy upon one in stricter bondage than thou thyself art. I will not seem to heed thee or return thy affection, since it would serve but to load our parting with yet more bitterness."
Thus passed the hours of night and the space of dim hazy dawn which forms the twilight of a Syrian morning. But when the very first line of the sun's disk began to rise above the level horizon, and when the very first level ray shot glimmering in dew along the surface of the desert, which the travellers had now attained, the sonorous voice of El Hakim himself overpowered and cut short the narrative of the tale-teller, while he caused to resound along the sands the solemn summons, which the muezzins thunder at morning from the minaret of every mosque.
"To prayer - to prayer! God is the one God. -To prayer - to prayer! Mohammed is the Prophet of God. - To prayer - to prayer! Time is flying from you. - To prayer - to prayer! Judgment is drawing nigh to you,"
In an instant each Moslem cast himself from his horse, turned his face towards Mecca, and performed with sand an imitation of those ablutions, which were elsewhere required to be made with water, while each individual, in brief but fervent ejaculations, recommended himself to the care, and his sins to the forgiveness, of God and the Prophet.
Even Sir Kenneth, whose reason at once and prejudices were offended by seeing his companions in that which he considered as an act of idolatry, could not help respecting the sincerity of their misguided zeal, and being stimulated by their fervour to apply supplications to Heaven in a purer form, wondering, meanwhile, what new-born feelings could teach him to accompany in prayer, though with varied invocation, those very Saracens, whose heathenish worship he had conceived a crime dishonourable to the land in which high miracles had been wrought, and where the day- star of redemption had arisen.
The act of devotion, however, though rendered in such strange society, burst purely from his natural feelings of religious duty, and had its usual effect in composing the spirits which had been long harassed by so rapid a succession of calamities. The sincere and earnest approach of the Christian to the throne of the Almighty teaches the best lesson of patience under affliction; since wherefore should we mock the Deity with supplications, when we insult him by murmuring under His decrees? or how, while our prayers have in every word admitted the vanity and nothingness of the things of time in comparison to those of eternity, should we hope to deceive the Searcher of Hearts, by permitting the world and worldly passions to reassume the reins even immediately after a solemn address to Heaven! But Sir Kenneth was not of these. He felt himself comforted and strengthened, and better prepared to execute or submit to whatever his destiny might call upon him to do or to suffer.
Meanwhile, the party of Saracens regained their saddles, and continued their route, and the tale-teller, Hassan, resumed the thread of his narrative; but it was no longer to the same attentive audience. A horseman, who had ascended some high ground on the right hand of the little column, had returned on a speedy gallop to El Hakim, and communicated with him. Four or five more cavaliers had then been dispatched, and the little band, which might consist of about twenty or thirty persons, began to follow them with their eyes, as men from whose gestures, and advance or retreat, they were to augur good or evil. Hassan, finding his audience inattentive, or being himself attracted by the dubious appearances on the flank, stinted in his song; and the march became silent, save when a camel-driver called out to his patient charge, or some anxious follower of the Hakim communicated with his next neighbour in a hurried and low whisper.
This suspense continued until they had rounded a ridge, composed of hillocks of sand, which concealed from their main body the object that had created this alarm among their scouts. Sir Kenneth could now see, at the distance of a mile or more, a dark object moving rapidly on the bosom of the desert, which his experienced eye recognized for a party of cavalry, much superior to their own in numbers, and, from the thick and frequent flashes which flung back the level beams of the rising sun, it was plain that these were Europeans in their complete panoply.
The anxious looks which the horsemen of El Hakim now cast upon their leader seemed to indicate deep apprehension; while he, with gravity as undisturbed as when he called his followers to prayer, detached two of his best-mounted cavaliers, with instructions to approach as closely as prudence permitted to these travellers of the desert, and observe more minutely their numbers, their character, and, if possible, their purpose. The approach of danger, or what was feared as such, was like a stimulating draught to one in apathy, and recalled Sir Kenneth to himself and his situation.
"What fear you from these Christian horsemen, for such they seem?" he said to the Hakim.
"Fear!" said El Hakim, repeating the word disdainfully. "The sage fears nothing but Heaven, but ever expects from wicked men the worst which they can do."
"They are Christians," said Sir Kenneth, "and it is the time of truce - why should you fear a breach of faith?"
"They are the priestly soldiers of the Temple," answered El Hakim, "whose vow limits them to know neither truce nor faith with the worshippers of Islam. May the Prophet blight them, both root, branch, and twig! Their peace is war, and their faith is falsehood. Other invaders of Palestine have their times and moods of courtesy. The lion Richard will spare when he has conquered, the eagle Philip will close his wing when he has stricken a prey, even the Austrian bear will sleep when he is gorged; but this horde of ever-hungry wolves know neither pause nor satiety in their rapine. Seest thou not that they are detaching a party from their main body, and that they take an eastern direction? Yon are their pages and squires, whom they train up in their accursed mysteries, and whom, as lighter mounted, they send to cut us off from our watering-place. But they will be disappointed. I know the war of the desert yet better than they."
He spoke a few words to his principal officer, and his whole demeanour and countenance was at once changed from the solemn repose of an Eastern sage accustomed more to contemplation than to action, into the prompt and proud expression of a gallant soldier whose energies are roused by the near approach of a danger which he at once foresees and despises.
To Sir Kenneth's eyes the approaching crisis had a different aspect, and when Adonbec said to him, "Thou must tarry close by my side," he answered solemnly in the negative.
"Yonder," he said, "are my comrades in arms - the men in whose society I have vowed to fight or fall. On their banner gleams the sign of our most blessed redemption - I cannot fly from the Cross in company with the Crescent."
"Fool!" said the Hakim; "their first action would be to do thee to death, were it only to conceal their breach of the truce."
"Of that I must take my chance," replied Sir Kenneth; "but I wear not the bonds of the infidels an instant longer than I can cast them from me."
"Then will I compel thee to follow me," said El Hakim.
"Compel!" answered Sir Kenneth angrily. "Wert thou not my benefactor, or one who has showed will to be such, and were it not that it is to thy confidence I owe the freedom of these hands, which thou mightst have loaded with fetters, I would show thee that, unarmed as I am, compulsion would be no easy task."
"Enough, enough," replied the Arabian physician, "we lose time even when it is becoming precious."
So saying, he threw his arm aloft, and uttered a loud and shrill cry, as a signal to his retinue, who instantly dispersed themselves on the face of the desert, in as many different directions as a chaplet of beads when the string is broken. Sir Kenneth had no time to note what ensued; for, at the same instant, the Hakim seized the rein of his steed, and putting his own to its mettle, both sprung forth at once with the suddenness of light, and at a pitch of velocity which almost deprived the Scottish knight of the power of respiration, and left him absolutely incapable, had he been desirous, to have checked the career of his guide. Practised as Sir Kenneth was in horsemanship from his earliest youth, the speediest horse he had ever mounted was a tortoise in comparison to those of the Arabian sage. They spurned the sand from behind them; they seemed to devour the desert before them; miles flew away with minutes - and yet their strength seemed unabated, and their respiration as free as when they first started upon the wonderful race. The motion, too, as easy as it was swift, seemed more like flying through the air than riding on the earth, and was attended with no unpleasant sensation, save the awe naturally felt by one who is moving at such astonishing speed, and the difficulty of breathing occasioned by their passing through the air so rapidly.
It was not until after an hour of this portentous motion, and when all human pursuit was far, far behind, that the Hakim at length relaxed his speed, and, slackening the pace of the horses into a hand-gallop, began, in a voice as composed and even as if he had been walking for the last hour, a descant upon the excellence of his coursers to the Scot, who, breathless, half blind, half deaf, and altogether giddy; from the rapidity of this singular ride, hardly comprehended the words which flowed so freely from his companion.
"These horses," he said, "are of the breed called the Winged, equal in speed to aught excepting the Borak of the Prophet. They are fed on the golden barley of Yemen, mixed with spices and with a small portion of dried sheep's flesh. Kings have given provinces to possess them, and their age is active as their youth. Thou, Nazarene, art the first, save a true believer, that ever had beneath his loins one of this noble race, a gift of the Prophet himself to the blessed Ali, his kinsman and lieutenant, well called the Lion of God. Time lays his touch so lightly on these generous steeds, that the mare on which thou now sittest has seen five times five years pass over her, yet retains her pristine speed and vigour, only that in the career the support of a bridle, managed by a hand more experienced than thine, hath now become necessary. May the Prophet be blessed, who hath bestowed on the true believers the means of advance and retreat, which causeth their iron-clothed enemies to be worn out with their own ponderous weight! How the horses of yonder dog Templars must have snorted and blown, when they had toiled fetlock-deep in the desert for one-twentieth part of the space which these brave steeds have left behind them, without one thick pant, or a drop of moisture upon their sleek and velvet coats!"
The Scottish knight, who had now begun to recover his breath and powers of attention, could not help acknowledging in his heart the advantage possessed by these Eastern warriors in a race of animals, alike proper for advance or retreat, and so admirably adapted to the level and sandy deserts of Arabia and Syria. But he did not choose to augment the pride of the Moslem by acquiescing in his proud claim of superiority, and therefore suffered the conversation to drop, and, looking around him, could now, at the more moderate pace at which they moved, distinguish that he was in a country not unknown to him.
The blighted borders and sullen waters of the Dead Sea, the ragged and precipitous chain of mountains arising on the left, the two or three palms clustered together, forming the single green speck on the bosom of the waste wilderness - objects which, once seen, were scarcely to be forgotten - showed to Sir Kenneth that they were approaching the fountain called the Diamond of the Desert, which had been the scene of his interview on a former occasion with the Saracen Emir Sheerkohf, or Ilderim. In a few minutes they checked their horses beside the spring, and the Hakim invited Sir Kenneth to descend from horseback and repose himself as in a place of safety. They unbridled their steeds, El Hakim observing that further care of them was unnecessary, since they would be speedily joined by some of the best mounted among his slaves, who would do what further was needful.
"Meantime," he said, spreading some food on the grass, "eat and drink, and be not discouraged. Fortune may raise up or abase the ordinary mortal, but the sage and the soldier should have minds beyond her control."
The Scottish knight endeavoured to testify his thanks by showing himself docile; but though he strove to eat out of complaisance, the singular contrast between his present situation and that which he had occupied on the same spot when the envoy of princes and the victor in combat, came like a cloud over his mind, and fasting, lassitude, and fatigue oppressed his bodily powers. El Hakim examined his hurried pulse, his red and inflamed eye, his heated hand, and his shortened respiration.
"The mind," he said, "grows wise by watching, but her sister the body, of coarser materials, needs the support of repose. Thou must sleep; and that thou mayest do so to refreshment, thou must take a draught mingled with this elixir."
He drew from his bosom a small crystal vial, cased in silver filigree-work, and dropped into a little golden drinking-cup a small portion of a dark-coloured fluid.
"This," he said, "is one of those productions which Allah hath sent on earth for a blessing, though man's weakness and wickedness have sometimes converted it into a curse. It is powerful as the wine-cup of the Nazarene to drop the curtain on the sleepless eye, and to relieve the burden of the overloaded bosom; but when applied to the purposes of indulgence and debauchery, it rends the nerves, destroys the strength, weakens the intellect, and undermines life. But fear not thou to use its virtues in the time of need, for the wise man warms him by the same firebrand with which the madman burneth the tent." [Some preparation of opium seems to be intimated.]
"I have seen too much of thy skill, sage Hakim," said Sir Kenneth, "to debate thine hest;" and swallowed the narcotic, mingled as it was with some water from the spring, then wrapped him in the haik, or Arab cloak, which had been fastened to his saddle-pommel, and, according to the directions of the physician, stretched himself at ease in the shade to await the promised repose. Sleep came not at first, but in her stead a train of pleasing yet not rousing or awakening sensations. A state ensued in which, still conscious of his own identity and his own condition, the knight felt enabled to consider them not only without alarm and sorrow, but as composedly as he might have viewed the story of his misfortunes acted upon a stage -or rather as a disembodied spirit might regard the transactions of its past existence. From this state of repose, amounting almost to apathy respecting the past, his thoughts were carried forward to the future, which, in spite of all that existed to overcloud the prospect, glittered with such hues as, under much happier auspices, his unstimulated imagination had not been able to produce, even in its most exalted state. Liberty, fame, successful love, appeared to be the certain and not very distant prospect of the enslaved exile, the dishonoured knight, even of the despairing lover who had placed his hopes of happiness so far beyond the prospect of chance, in her wildest possibilities, serving to countenance his wishes. Gradually as the intellectual sight became overclouded, these gay visions became obscure, like the dying hues of sunset, until they were at last lost in total oblivion; and Sir Kenneth lay extended at the feet of El Hakim, to all appearance, but for his deep respiration, as inanimate a corpse as if life had actually departed.
'Mid these wild scenes Enchantment waves her hand,
To change the face of the mysterious land;
Till the bewildering scenes around us seem
The Vain productions of a feverish dream.
Astolpho, a Romance.
When the Knight of the Leopard awoke from his long and profound repose, he found himself in circumstances so different from those in which he had lain down to sleep, that he doubted whether he was not still dreaming, or whether the scene had not been changed by magic. Instead of the damp grass, he lap on a couch of more than Oriental luxury; and some kind hands had, during his repose, stripped him of the cassock of chamois which he wore under his armour, and substituted a night-dress of the finest linen and a loose gown of silk. He had been canopied only by the palm-trees of the desert, but now he lay beneath a silken pavilion, which blazed with the richest colours of the Chinese loom, while a slight curtain of gauze, displayed around his couch, was calculated to protect his repose from the insects, to which he had, ever since his arrival in these climates, been a constant and passive prey. He looked around, as if to convince himself that he was actually awake; and all that fell beneath his eye partook of the splendour of his dormitory. A portable bath of cedar, lined with silver, was ready for use, and steamed with the odours which had been used in preparing it. On a small stand of ebony beside the couch stood a silver vase, containing sherbet of the most exquisite quality, cold as snow, and which the thirst that followed the use of the strong narcotic rendered peculiarly delicious. Still further to dispel the dregs of intoxication which it had left behind, the knight resolved to use the bath, and experienced in doing so a delightful refreshment. Having dried himself with napkins of the Indian wool, he would willingly have resumed his own coarse garments, that he might go forth to see whether the world was as much changed without as within the place of his repose. These, however, were nowhere to be seen, but in their place he found a Saracen dress of rich materials, with sabre and poniard, and all befitting an emir of distinction. He was able to suggest no motive to himself for this exuberance of care, excepting a suspicion that these attentions were intended to shake him in his religious profession - as indeed it was well known that the high esteem of the European knowledge and courage made the Soldan unbounded in his gifts to those who, having become his prisoners, had been induced to take the turban. Sir Kenneth, therefore, crossing himself devoutly, resolved to set all such snares at defiance; and that he might do so the more firmly, conscientiously determined to avail himself as moderately as possible of the attentions and luxuries thus liberally heaped upon him. Still, however, he felt his head oppressed and sleepy; and aware, too, that his undress was not fit for appearing abroad, he reclined upon the couch, and was again locked in the arms of slumber.
But this time his rest was not unbroken, for he was awakened by the voice of the physician at the door of the tent, inquiring after his health, and whether he had rested sufficiently. "May I enter your tent?" he concluded, "for the curtain is drawn before the entrance."
"The master," replied Sir Kenneth, determined to show that he was not surprised into forgetfulness of his own condition, "need demand no permission to enter the tent of the slave."
"But if I come not as a master?" said El Hakim, still without entering.
"The physician," answered the knight, "hath free access to the bedside of his patient."
"Neither come I now as a physician," replied El Hakim; "and therefore I still request permission, ere I come under the covering of thy tent."
"Whoever comes as a friend," said Sir Kenneth, "and such thou hast hitherto shown thyself to me, the habitation of the friend is ever open to him."
"Yet once again," said the Eastern sage, after the periphrastical manner of his countrymen, "supposing that I come not as a friend?"
"Come as thou wilt," said the Scottish knight, somewhat impatient of this circumlocution; "be what thou wilt -thou knowest well it is neither in my power nor my inclination to refuse thee entrance."
"I come, then," said El Hakim, "as your ancient foe, but a fair and a generous one."
He entered as he spoke; and when he stood before the bedside of Sir Kenneth, the voice continued to be that of Adonbec, the Arabian physician, but the form, dress, and features were those of Ilderim of Kurdistan, called Sheerkohf. Sir Kenneth gazed upon him as if he expected the vision to depart, like something created by his imagination.
"Doth it so surprise thee," said Ilderim, "and thou an approved warrior, to see that a soldier knows somewhat of the art of healing? I say to thee, Nazarene, that an accomplished cavalier should know how to dress his steed, as well as how to ride him; how to forge his sword upon the stithy, as well as how to use it in battle; how to burnish his arms, as well as how to wear them; and, above all, how to cure wounds, as well as how to inflict them."
As he spoke, the Christian knight repeatedly shut his eyes, and while they remained closed, the idea of the Hakim, with his long, flowing dark robes, high Tartar cap, and grave gestures was present to his imagination; but so soon as he opened them, the graceful and richly-gemmed turban, the light hauberk of steel rings entwisted with silver, which glanced brilliantly as it obeyed every inflection of the body, the features freed from their formal expression, less swarthy, and no longer shadowed by the mass of hair (now limited to a well-trimmed beard), announced the soldier and not the sage.
"Art thou still so much surprised," said the Emir, "and hast thou walked in the world with such little observance, as to wonder that men are not always what they seem? Thou thyself - art thou what thou seemest?"
"No, by Saint Andrew!" exclaimed the knight; "for to the whole Christian camp I seem a traitor, and I know myself to be a true though an erring man."
"Even so I judged thee," said Ilderim; "and as we had eaten salt together, I deemed myself bound to rescue thee from death and contumely. But wherefore lie you still on your couch, since the sun is high in the heavens? or are the vestments which my sumpter-camels have afforded unworthy of your wearing?"
"Not unworthy, surely, but unfitting for it," replied the Scot. "Give me the dress of a slave, noble Ilderim, and I will don it with pleasure; but I cannot brook to wear the habit of the free Eastern warrior with the turban of the Moslem."
"Nazarene," answered the Emir, "thy nation so easily entertain suspicion that it may well render themselves suspected. Have I not told thee that Saladin desires no converts saving those whom the holy Prophet shall dispose to submit themselves to his law? violence and bribery are alike alien to his plan for extending the true faith. Hearken to me, my brother. When the blind man was miraculously restored to sight, the scales dropped from his eyes at the Divine pleasure. Think'st thou that any earthly leech could have removed them? No. Such mediciner might have tormented the patient with his instruments, or perhaps soothed him with his balsams and cordials, but dark as he was must the darkened man have remained; and it is even so with the blindness of the understanding. If there be those among the Franks who, for the sake of worldly lucre, have assumed the turban of the Prophet, and followed the laws of Islam, with their own consciences be the blame. Themselves sought out the bait; it was not flung to them by the Soldan. And when they shall hereafter be sentenced, as hypocrites, to the lowest gulf of hell, below Christian and Jew, magician and idolater, and condemned to eat the fruit of the tree Yacoun, which is the heads of demons, to themselves, not to the Soldan, shall their guilt and their punishment be attributed. Wherefore wear, without doubt or scruple, the vesture prepared for you, since, if you proceed to the camp of Saladin, your own native dress will expose you to troublesome observation, and perhaps to insult."
"If I go to the camp of Saladin?" said Sir Kenneth, repeating the words of the Emir; "alas! am I a free agent, and rather must I not go wherever your pleasure carries me?"
"Thine own will may guide thine own motions," said the Emir, "as freely as the wind which moveth the dust of the desert in what direction it chooseth. The noble enemy who met and well-nigh mastered my sword cannot become my slave like him who has crouched beneath it. If wealth and power would tempt thee to join our people, I could ensure thy possessing them; but the man who refused the favours of the Soldan when the axe was at his head, will not, I fear, now accept them, when I tell him he has his free choice."
"Complete your generosity, noble Emir," said Sir Kenneth, "by forbearing to show me a mode of requital which conscience forbids me to comply with. Permit me rather to express, as bound in courtesy, my gratitude for this most chivalrous bounty, this undeserved generosity."
"Say not undeserved," replied the Emir Ilderim. "Was it not through thy conversation, and thy account of the beauties which grace the court of the Melech Ric, that I ventured me thither in disguise, and thereby procured a sight the most blessed that I have ever enjoyed - that I ever shall enjoy, until the glories of Paradise beam on my eyes?"
"I understand you not," said Sir Kenneth, colouring alternately, and turning pale, as one who felt that the conversation was taking a tone of the most painful delicacy.
"Not understand me!" exclaimed the Emir. "If the sight I saw in the tent of King Richard escaped thine observation, I will account it duller than the edge of a buffoon's wooden falchion. True, thou wert under sentence of death at the time; but, in my case, had my head been dropping from the trunk, the last strained glances of my eyeballs had distinguished with delight such a vision of loveliness, and the head would have rolled itself towards the incomparable houris, to kiss with its quivering lips the hem of their vestments. Yonder royalty of England, who for her superior loveliness deserves to be Queen of the universe - what tenderness in her blue eye, what lustre in her tresses of dishevelled gold! By the tomb of the Prophet, I scarce think that the houri who shall present to me the diamond cup of immortality will deserve so warm a caress!"
"Saracen," said Sir Kenneth sternly, "thou speakest of the wife of Richard of England, of whom men think not and speak not as a woman to be won, but as a Queen to be revered."
"I cry you mercy," said the Saracen. "I had forgotten your superstitious veneration for the sex, which you consider rather fit to be wondered at and worshipped than wooed and possessed. I warrant, since thou exactest such profound respect to yonder tender piece of frailty, whose every motion, step, and look bespeaks her very woman, less than absolute adoration must not be yielded to her of the dark tresses and nobly speaking eye. She indeed, I will allow, hath in her noble port and majestic mien something at once pure and firm; yet even she, when pressed by opportunity and a forward lover, would, I warrant thee, thank him in her heart rather for treating her as a mortal than as a goddess."
"Respect the kinswoman of Coeur de Lion!" said Sir Kenneth, in a tone of unrepressed anger.
"Respect her!" answered the Emir in scorn; "by the Caaba, and if I do, it shall be rather as the bride of Saladin."
"The infidel Soldan is unworthy to salute even a spot that has been pressed by the foot of Edith Plantagenet!" exclaimed the Christian, springing from his couch.
"Ha! what said the Giaour?" exclaimed the Emir, laying his hand on his poniard hilt, while his forehead glowed like glancing copper, and the muscles of his lips and cheeks wrought till each curl of his beard seemed to twist and screw itself, as if alive with instinctive wrath. But the Scottish knight, who had stood the lion-anger of Richard, was unappalled at the tigerlike mood of the chafed Saracen.
"What I have said," continued Sir Kenneth, with folded arms and dauntless look, "I would, were my hands loose, maintain on foot or horseback against all mortals; and would hold it not the most memorable deed of my life to support it with my good broadsword against a score of these sickles and bodkins," pointing at the curved sabre and small poniard of the Emir.
The Saracen recovered his composure as the Christian spoke, so far as to withdraw his hand from his weapon, as if the motion had been without meaning, but still continued in deep ire.
"By the sword of the Prophet," he said, "which is the key both of heaven and hell, he little values his own life, brother, who uses the language thou dost! Believe me, that were thine hands loose, as thou term'st it, one single true believer would find them so much to do that thou wouldst soon wish them fettered again in manacles of iron."
"Sooner would I wish them hewn off by the shoulder-blades!" replied Sir Kenneth.
"Well. Thy hands are bound at present," said the Saracen, in a more amicable tone - "bound by thine own gentle sense of courtesy; nor have I any present purpose of setting them at liberty. We have proved each other's strength and courage ere now, and we may again meet in a fair field - and shame befall him who shall be the first to part from his foeman! But now we are friends, and I look for aid from thee rather than hard terms or defiances."
"We are friends," repeated the knight; and there was a pause, during which the fiery Saracen paced the tent, like the lion, who, after violent irritation, is said to take that method of cooling the distemperature of his blood, ere he stretches himself to repose in his den. The colder European remained unaltered in posture and aspect; yet he, doubtless, was also engaged in subduing the angry feelings which had been so unexpectedly awakened.
"Let us reason of this calmly," said the Saracen. "I am a physician, as thou knowest, and it is written that he who would have his wound cured must not shrink when the leech probes and tests it. Seest thou, I am about to lay my finger on the sore. Thou lovest this kinswoman of the Melech Ric. Unfold the veil that shrouds thy thoughts - or unfold it not if thou wilt, for mine eyes see through its coverings."
"I loved her," answered Sir Kenneth, after a pause, "as a man loves Heaven's grace, and sued for her favour like a sinner for Heaven's pardon."
"And you love her no longer?" said the Saracen.
"Alas," answered Sir Kenneth, "I am no longer worthy to love her. I pray thee cease this discourse - thy words are poniards to me.
"Pardon me but a moment," continued Ilderim. "When thou, a poor and obscure soldier, didst so boldly and so highly fix thine affection, tell me, hadst thou good hope of its issue?"
"Love exists not without hope," replied the knight; "but mine was as nearly allied to despair as that of the sailor swimming for his life, who, as he surmounts billow after billow, catches by intervals some gleam of the distant beacon, which shows him there is land in sight, though his sinking heart and wearied limbs assure him that he shall never reach it."
"And now," said Ilderim, "these hopes are sunk - that solitary light is quenched for ever?"
"For ever," answered Sir Kenneth, in the tone of an echo from the bosom of a ruined sepulchre.
"Methinks," said the Saracen, "if all thou lackest were some such distant meteoric glimpse of happiness as thou hadst formerly, thy beacon-light might be rekindled, thy hope fished up from the ocean in which it has sunk, and thou thyself, good knight, restored to the exercise and amusement of nourishing thy fantastic fashion upon a diet as unsubstantial as moonlight; for, if thou stood'st tomorrow fair in reputation as ever thou wert, she whom thou lovest will not be less the daughter of princes and the elected bride of Saladin."
"I would it so stood," said the Scot, "and if I did not - "
He stopped short, like a man who is afraid of boasting under circumstances which did not permit his being put to the test. The Saracen smiled as he concluded the sentence.
"Thou wouldst challenge the. Soldan to single combat?" said he.
"And if I did," said Sir Kenneth haughtily, "Saladin's would neither be the first nor the best turban that I have couched lance at."
"Ay, but methinks the Soldan might regard it as too unequal a mode of perilling the chance of a royal bride and the event of a great war," said the Emir.
"He may be met with in the front of battle," said the knight, his eyes gleaming with the ideas which such a thought inspired.
"He has been ever found there," said Ilderim; "nor is it his wont to turn his horse's head from any brave encounter. But it was not of the Soldan that I meant to speak. In a word, if it will content thee to be placed in such reputation as may be attained by detection of the thief who stole the Banner of England, I can put thee in a fair way of achieving this task - that is, if thou wilt be governed; for what says Lokman, 'If the child would walk, the nurse must lead him; if the ignorant would understand, the wise must instruct.'"
"And thou art wise, Ilderim," said the Scot - "wise though a Saracen, and generous though an infidel. I have witnessed that thou art both. Take, then, the guidance of this matter; and so thou ask nothing of me contrary to my loyalty and my Christian faith, I, will obey thee punctually. Do what thou hast said, and take my life when it is accomplished."
"Listen thou to me, then," said the Saracen. "Thy noble hound is now recovered, by the blessing of that divine medicine which healeth man and beast; and by his sagacity shall those who assailed him be discovered."
"Ha!" said the knight, "methinks I comprehend thee. I was dull not to think of this!"
"But tell me," added the Emir, "hast thou any followers or retainers in the camp by whom the animal may be known?"
"I dismissed," said Sir Kenneth, "my old attendant, thy patient, with a varlet that waited on him, at the time when I expected to suffer death, giving him letters for my friends in Scotland; there are none other to whom the dog is familiar. But then my own person is well known - my very speech will betray me, in a camp where I have played no mean part for many months."
"Both he and thou shalt be disguised, so as to escape even close examination. I tell thee," said the Saracen, "that not thy brother in arms - not thy brother in blood - shall discover thee, if thou be guided by my counsels. Thou hast seen me do matters more difficult - he that can call the dying from the darkness of the shadow of death can easily cast a mist before the eyes of the living. But mark me: there is still the condition annexed to this service - that thou deliver a letter of Saladin to the niece of the Melech Ric, whose name is as difficult to our Eastern tongue and lips, as her beauty is delightful to our eyes."
Sir Kenneth paused before he answered, and the Saracen observing his hesitation, demanded of him, "if he feared to undertake this message?"
"Not if there were death in the execution," said Sir Kenneth. "I do but pause to consider whether it consists with my honour to bear the letter of the Soldan, or with that of the Lady Edith to receive it from a heathen prince."
"By the head of Mohammed, and by the honour of a soldier - by the tomb at Mecca, and by the soul of my father," said the Emir, "I swear to thee that the letter is written in all honour and respect. The song of the nightingale will sooner blight the rose-bower she loves than will the words of the Soldan offend the ears of the lovely kinswoman of England."
"Then," said the knight, "I will bear the Soldan's letter faithfully, as if I were his born vassal - understanding, that beyond this simple act of service, which I will render with fidelity, from me of all men he can least expect mediation or advice in this his strange love-suit."
"Saladin is noble," answered the Emir, "and will not spur a generous horse to a leap which he cannot achieve. Come with me to my tent," he added, "and thou shalt be presently equipped with a disguise as unsearchable as midnight, so thou mayest walk the camp of the Nazarenes as if thou hadst on thy finger the signet of Giaougi." [Perhaps the same with Gyges.]
A grain of dust
Soiling our cup, will make our sense reject
Fastidiously the draught which we did thirst for;
A rusted nail, placed near the faithful compass,
Will sway it from the truth, and wreck the argosy.
Even this small cause of anger and disgust
Will break the bonds of amity 'mongst princes,
And wreck their noblest purposes.
The reader can now have little doubt who the Ethiopian slave really was, with what purpose he had sought Richard's camp, and wherefore and with what hope he now stood close to the person of that Monarch, as, surrounded by his valiant peers of England and Normandy, Coeur de Lion stood on the summit of Saint George's Mount, with the Banner of England by his side, borne by the most goodly person in the army, being his own natural brother, William with the Long Sword, Earl of Salisbury, the offspring of Henry the Second's amour with the celebrated Rosamond of Woodstock.
From several expressions in the King's conversation with Neville on the preceding day, the Nubian was left in anxious doubt whether his disguise had not been penetrated, especially as that the King seemed to be aware in what manner the agency of the dog was expected to discover the thief who stole the banner, although the circumstance of such an animal's having been wounded on the occasion had been scarce mentioned in Richard's presence. Nevertheless, as the King continued to treat him in no other manner than his exterior required, the Nubian remained uncertain whether he was or was not discovered, and determined not to throw his disguise aside voluntarily.
Meanwhile, the powers of the various Crusading princes, arrayed under their royal and princely leaders, swept in long order around the base of the little mound; and as those of each different country passed by, their commanders advanced a step or two up the hill, and made a signal of courtesy to Richard and to the Standard of England, "in sign of regard and amity," as the protocol of the ceremony heedfully expressed it, "not of subjection or vassalage." The spiritual dignitaries, who in those days veiled not their bonnets to created being, bestowed on the King and his symbol of command their blessing instead of rendering obeisance.
Thus the long files marched on, and, diminished as they were by so many causes, appeared still an iron host, to whom the conquest of Palestine might seem an easy task. The soldiers, inspired by the consciousness of united strength, sat erect in their steel saddles; while it seemed that the trumpets sounded more cheerfully shrill, and the steeds, refreshed by rest and provender, chafed on the bit, and trod the ground more proudly. On they passed, troop after troop, banners waving, spears glancing, plumes dancing, in long perspective - a host composed of different nations, complexions, languages, arms, and appearances, but all fired, for the time, with the holy yet romantic purpose of rescuing the distressed daughter of Zion from her thraldom, and redeeming the sacred earth, which more than mortal had trodden, from the yoke of the unbelieving pagan. And it must be owned that if, in other circumstances, the species of courtesy rendered to the King of England by so many warriors, from whom he claimed no natural allegiance, had in it something that might have been thought humiliating, yet the nature and cause of the war was so fitted to his pre-eminently chivalrous character and renowned feats in arms, that claims which might elsewhere have been urged were there forgotten, and the brave did willing homage to the bravest, in an expedition where the most undaunted and energetic courage was necessary to success.
The good King was seated on horseback about half way up the mount, a morion on his head, surmounted by a crown, which left his manly features exposed to public view, as, with cool and considerate eye, he perused each rank as it passed him, and returned the salutation of the leaders. His tunic was of sky- coloured velvet, covered with plates of silver, and his hose of crimson silk, slashed with cloth of gold. By his side stood the seeming Ethiopian slave, holding the noble dog in a leash, such as was used in woodcraft. It was a circumstance which attracted no notice, for many of the princes of the Crusade had introduced black slaves into their household, in imitation of the barbarous splendour of the Saracens. Over the King's head streamed the large folds of the banner, and, as he looked to it from time to time, he seemed to regard a ceremony, indifferent to himself personally, as important, when considered as atoning an indignity offered to the kingdom which he ruled. In the background, and on the very summit of the Mount, a wooden turret, erected for the occasion, held the Queen Berengaria and the principal ladies of the Court. To this the King looked from time to time; and then ever and anon his eyes were turned on the Nubian and the dog, but only when such leaders approached, as, from circumstances of previous ill-will, he suspected of being accessory to the theft of the standard, or whom he judged capable of a crime so mean.
Thus, he did not look in that direction when Philip Augustus of France approached at the head of his splendid troops of Gallic chivalry - -nay, he anticipated the motions of the French King, by descending the Mount as the latter came up the ascent, so that they met in the middle space, and blended their greetings so gracefully that it appeared they met in fraternal equality. The sight of the two greatest princes in Europe, in rank at once and power, thus publicly avowing their concord, called forth bursts of thundering acclaim from the Crusading host at many miles distance, and made the roving Arab scouts of the desert alarm the camp of Saladin with intelligence that the army of the Christians was in motion. Yet who but the King of kings can read the hearts of monarchs? Under this smooth show of courtesy, Richard nourished displeasure and suspicion against Philip, and Philip meditated withdrawing himself and his host from the army of the Cross, and leaving Richard to accomplish or fail in the enterprise with his own unassisted forces.
Richard's demeanour was different when the dark-armed knights and squires of the Temple chivalry approached - men with countenances bronzed to Asiatic blackness by the suns of Palestine, and the admirable state of whose horses and appointments far surpassed even that of the choicest troops of France and England. The King cast a hasty glance aside; but the Nubian stood quiet, and his trusty dog sat at his feet, watching, with a sagacious yet pleased look, the ranks which now passed before them. The King's look turned again on the chivalrous Templars, as the Grand Master, availing himself of his mingled character, bestowed his benediction on Richard as a priest, instead of doing him reverence as a military leader.
"The misproud and amphibious caitiff puts the monk upon me," said Richard to the Earl of Salisbury. "But, Longsword, we will let it pass. A punctilio must not lose Christendom the services of these experienced lances, because their victories have rendered them overweening. Lo you, here comes our valiant adversary, the Duke of Austria. Mark his manner and bearing, Longsword - and thou, Nubian, let the hound have full view of him. By Heaven, he brings his buffoons along with him!"
In fact, whether from habit, or, which is more likely, to intimate contempt of the ceremonial he was about to comply with, Leopold was attended by his spruch-sprecher and his jester; and as he advanced towards Richard, he whistled in what he wished to be considered as an indifferent manner, though his heavy features evinced the sullenness, mixed with the fear, with which a truant schoolboy may be seen to approach his master. As the reluctant dignitary made, with discomposed and sulky look, the obeisance required, the spruch-sprecher shook his baton, and proclaimed, like a herald, that, in what he was now doing, the Archduke of Austria was not to be held derogating from the rank and privileges of a sovereign prince; to which the jester answered with a sonorous Amen, which provoked much laughter among the bystanders.
King Richard looked more than once at the Nubian and his dog; but the former moved not, nor did the latter strain at the leash, so that Richard said to the slave with some scorn, "Thy success in this enterprise, my sable friend, even though thou hast brought thy hound's sagacity to back thine own, will not, I fear, place thee high in the rank of wizards, or much augment thy merits towards our person."
The Nubian answered, as usual, only by a lowly obeisance.
Meantime the troops of the Marquis of Montserrat next passed in order before the King of England. That powerful and wily baron, to make the greater display of his forces, had divided them into two bodies. At the head of the first, consisting of his vassals and followers, and levied from his Syrian possessions, came his brother Enguerrand; and he himself followed, leading on a gallant band of twelve hundred Stradiots, a kind of light cavalry raised by the Venetians in their Dalmatian possessions, and of which they had entrusted the command to the Marquis, with whom the republic had many bonds of connection. These Stradiots were clothed in a fashion partly European, but partaking chiefly of the Eastern fashion. They wore, indeed, short hauberks, but had over them party-coloured tunics of rich stuffs, with large wide pantaloons and half-boots. On their heads were straight upright caps, similar to those of the Greeks; and they carried small round targets, bows and arrows, scimitars, and poniards. They were mounted on horses carefully selected, and well maintained at the expense of the State of Venice; their saddles and appointments resembled those of the Turks, and they rode in the same manner, with short stirrups and upon a high seat. These troops were of great use in skirmishing with the Arabs, though unable to engage in close combat, like the iron-sheathed men-at- arms of Western and Northern Europe.
Before this goodly band came Conrade, in the same garb with the Stradiots, but of such rich stuff that he seemed to blaze with gold and silver, and the milk-white plume fastened in his cap by a clasp of diamonds seemed tall enough to sweep the clouds. The noble steed which he reined bounded and caracoled, and displayed his spirit and agility in a manner which might have troubled a less admirable horseman than the Marquis, who gracefully ruled him with the one hand, while the other displayed the baton, whose predominancy over the ranks which he led seemed equally absolute. Yet his authority over the Stradiots was more in show than in substance; for there paced beside him, on an ambling palfrey of soberest mood, a little old man, dressed entirely in black, without beard or moustaches, and having an appearance altogether mean and insignificant when compared with the blaze of splendour around him. But this mean-looking old man was one of those deputies whom the Venetian government sent into camps to overlook the conduct of the generals to whom the leading was consigned, and to maintain that jealous system of espial and control which had long distinguished the policy of the republic.
Conrade, who, by cultivating Richard's humour, had attained a certain degree of favour with him, no sooner was come within his ken than the King of England descended a step or two to meet him, exclaiming, at the same time, "Ha, Lord Marquis, thou at the head of the fleet Stradiots, and thy black shadow attending thee as usual, whether the sun shines or not! May not one ask thee whether the rule of the troops remains with the shadow or the substance?"
Conrade was commencing his reply with a smile, when Roswal, the noble hound, uttering a furious and savage yell, sprung forward. The Nubian, at the same time, slipped the leash, and the hound, rushing on, leapt upon Conrade's noble charger, and, seizing the Marquis by the throat, pulled him down from the saddle. The plumed rider lay rolling on the sand, and the frightened horse fled in wild career through the camp.
"Thy hound hath pulled down the right quarry, I warrant him," said the King to the Nubian, "and I vow to Saint George he is a stag of ten tynes! Pluck the dog off; lest he throttle him."
The Ethiopian, accordingly, though not without difficulty, disengaged the dog from Conrade, and fastened him up, still highly excited, and struggling in the leash. Meanwhile many crowded to the spot, especially followers of Conrade and officers of the Stradiots, who, as they saw their leader lie gazing wildly on the sky, raised him up amid a tumultuary cry of "Cut the slave and his hound to pieces!"
But the voice of Richard, loud and sonorous, was heard clear above all other exclamations. "He dies the death who injures the hound! He hath but done his duty, after the sagacity with which God and nature have endowed the brave animal. - Stand forward for a false traitor, thou Conrade, Marquis of Montserrat! I impeach thee of treason."
Several of the Syrian leaders had now come up, and Conrade - vexation, and shame, and confusion struggling with passion in his manner and voice - exclaimed, "What means this? With what am I charged? Why this base usage and these reproachful terms? Is this the league of concord which England renewed but so lately?"
"Are the Princes of the Crusade turned hares or deers in the eyes of King Richard that he should slip hounds on them?" said the sepulchral voice of the Grand Master of the Templars.
"It must be some singular accident - some fatal mistake," said Philip of France, who rode up at the same moment.
"Some deceit of the Enemy," said the Archbishop of Tyre.
"A stratagem of the Saracens," cried Henry of Champagne. "It were well to hang up the dog, and put the slave to the torture."
"Let no man lay hand upon them," said Richard, "as he loves his own life! Conrade, stand forth, if thou darest, and deny the accusation which this mute animal hath in his noble instinct brought against thee, of injury done to him, and foul scorn to England!"
"I never touched the banner," said Conrade hastily.
"Thy words betray thee, Conrade!" said Richard, "for how didst thou know, save from conscious guilt, that the question is concerning the banner?"
"Hast thou then not kept the camp in turmoil on that and no other score?" answered Conrade; "and dost thou impute to a prince and an ally a crime which, after all, was probably committed by some paltry felon for the sake of the gold thread? Or wouldst thou now impeach a confederate on the credit of a dog?"
By this time the alarm was becoming general, so that Philip of France interposed.
"Princes and nobles," he said, "you speak in presence of those whose swords will soon be at the throats of each other if they hear their leaders at such terms together. In the name of Heaven, let us draw off each his own troops into their separate quarters, and ourselves meet an hour hence in the Pavilion of Council to take some order in this new state of confusion."
"Content," said King Richard, "though I should have liked to have interrogated that caitiff while his gay doublet was yet besmirched with sand. But the pleasure of France shall be ours in this matter."
The leaders separated as was proposed, each prince placing himself at the head of his own forces; and then was heard on all sides the crying of war-cries and the sounding of gathering-notes upon bugles and trumpets, by which the different stragglers were summoned to their prince's banner, and the troops were shortly seen in motion, each taking different routes through the camp to their own quarters. But although any immediate act of violence was thus prevented, yet the accident which had taken place dwelt on every mind; and those foreigners who had that morning hailed Richard as the worthiest to lead their army, now resumed their prejudices against his pride and intolerance, while the English, conceiving the honour of their country connected with the quarrel, of which various reports had gone about, considered the natives of other countries jealous of the fame of England and her King, and disposed to undermine it by the meanest arts of intrigue. Many and various were the rumours spread upon the occasion, and there was one which averred that the Queen and her ladies had been much alarmed by the tumult, and that one of them had swooned.
The Council assembled at the appointed hour. Conrade had in the meanwhile laid aside his dishonoured dress, and with it the shame and confusion which, in spite of his talents and promptitude, had at first overwhelmed him, owing to the strangeness of the accident and suddenness of the accusation. He was now robed like a prince; and entered the council-chamber attended by the Archduke of Austria, the Grand Masters both of the Temple and of the Order of Saint John, and several other potentates, who made a show of supporting him and defending his cause, chiefly perhaps from political motives, or because they themselves nourished a personal enmity against Richard.
This appearance of union in favour of Conrade was far from influencing the King of England. He entered the Council with his usual indifference of manner, and in the same dress in which he had just alighted from horseback. He cast a careless and somewhat scornful glance on the leaders, who had with studied affectation arranged themselves around Conrade as if owning his cause, and in the most direct terms charged Conrade of Montserrat with having stolen the Banner of England, and wounded the faithful animal who stood in its defence.
Conrade arose boldly to answer, and in despite, as he expressed himself, of man and brute, king or dog, avouched his innocence of the crime charged.
"Brother of England," said Philip, who willingly assumed the character of moderator of the assembly, "this is an unusual impeachment. We do not hear you avouch your own knowledge of this matter, further than your belief resting upon the demeanour of this hound towards the Marquis of Montserrat. Surely the word of a knight and a prince should bear him out against the barking of a cur?"
"Royal brother," returned Richard, "recollect that the Almighty, who gave the dog to be companion of our pleasures and our toils, hath invested him with a nature noble and incapable of deceit. He forgets neither friend nor foe - remembers, and with accuracy, both benefit and injury. He hath a share of man's intelligence, but no share of man's falsehood. You may bribe a soldier to slay a man with his sword, or a witness to take life by false accusation; but you cannot make a hound tear his benefactor. He is the friend of man, save when man justly incurs his enmity. Dress yonder marquis in what peacock-robes you will, disguise his appearance, alter his complexion with drugs and washes, hide him amidst a hundred men, - I will yet pawn my sceptre that the hound detects him, and expresses his resentment, as you have this day beheld. This is no new incident, although a strange one. Murderers and robbers have been ere now convicted, and suffered death under such evidence, and men have said that the finger of God was in it. In thine own land, royal brother, and upon such an occasion, the matter was tried by a solemn duel betwixt the man and the dog, as appellant and defendant in a challenge of murder. The dog was victorious, the man was punished, and the crime was confessed. Credit me, royal brother, that hidden crimes have often been brought to light by the testimony even of inanimate substances, not to mention animals far inferior in instinctive sagacity to the dog, who is the friend and companion of our race."
"Such a duel there hath indeed been, royal brother," answered Philip, "and that in the reign of one of our predecessors, to whom God be gracious. But it was in the olden time, nor can we hold it a precedent fitting for this occasion. The defendant in that case was a private gentleman of small rank or respect; his offensive weapons were only a club, his defensive a leathern jerkin. But we cannot degrade a prince to the disgrace of using such rude arms, or to the ignominy of such a combat."
"I never meant that you should," said King Richard; "it were foul play to hazard the good hound's life against that of such a double-faced traitor as this Conrade hath proved himself. But there lies our own glove; we appeal him to the combat in respect of the evidence we brought forth against him. A king, at least, is more than the mate of a marquis."
Conrade made no hasty effort to seize on the pledge which Richard cast into the middle of the assembly, and King Philip had time to reply ere the marquis made a motion to lift the glove.
"A king," said he of France, "is as much more than a match for the Marquis Conrade as a dog would be less. Royal Richard, this cannot be permitted. You are the leader of our expedition - the sword and buckler of Christendom."
"I protest against such a combat," said the Venetian proveditore, "until the King of England shall have repaid the fifty thousand byzants which he is indebted to the republic. It is enough to be threatened with loss of our debt, should our debtor fall by the hands of the pagans, without the additional risk of his being slain in brawls amongst Christians concerning dogs and banners."
"And I," said William with the Long Sword, Earl of Salisbury, "protest in my turn against my royal brother perilling his life, which is the property of the people of England, in such a cause. Here, noble brother, receive back your glove, and think only as if the wind had blown it from your hand. Mine shall lie in its stead. A king's son, though with the bar sinister on his shield, is at least a match for this marmoset of a marquis."
"Princes and nobles," said Conrade, "I will not accept of King Richard's defiance. He hath been chosen our leader against the Saracens, and if his conscience can answer the accusation of provoking an ally to the field on a quarrel so frivolous, mine, at least, cannot endure the reproach of accepting it. But touching his bastard brother, William of Woodstock, or against any other who shall adopt or shall dare to stand godfather to this most false charge, I will defend my honour in the lists, and prove whosoever impeaches it a false liar."
"The Marquis of Montserrat," said the Archbishop of Tyre, "hath spoken like a wise and moderate gentleman; and methinks this controversy might, without dishonour to any party, end at this point."
"Methinks it might so terminate," said the King of France, "provided King Richard will recall his accusation as made upon over-slight grounds."
"Philip of France," answered Coeur de Lion, "my words shall never do my thoughts so much injury. I have charged yonder Conrade as a thief, who, under cloud of night, stole from its place the emblem of England's dignity. I still believe and charge him to be such; and when a day is appointed for the combat, doubt not that, since Conrade declines to meet us in person, I will find a champion to appear in support of my challenge - for thou, William, must not thrust thy long sword into this quarrel without our special license."
"Since my rank makes me arbiter in this most unhappy matter," said Philip of France, "I appoint the fifth day from hence for the decision thereof, by way of combat, according to knightly usage -Richard, King of England, to appear by his champion as appellant, and Conrade, Marquis of Montserrat, in his own person, as defendant. Yet I own I know not where to find neutral ground where such a quarrel may be fought out; for it must not be in the neighbourhood of this camp, where the soldiers would make faction on the different sides."
"It were well," said Richard, "to apply to the generosity of the royal Saladin, since, heathen as he is, I have never known knight more fulfilled of nobleness, or to whose good faith we may so peremptorily entrust ourselves. I speak thus for those who may be doubtful of mishap; for myself, wherever I see my foe, I make that spot my battle-ground."
"Be it so," said Philip; "we will make this matter known to Saladin, although it be showing to an enemy the unhappy spirit of discord which we would willingly hide from even ourselves, were it possible. Meanwhile, I dismiss this assembly, and charge you all, as Christian men and noble knights, that ye let this unhappy feud breed no further brawling in the camp, but regard it as a thing solemnly referred to the judgment of God, to whom each of you should pray that He will dispose of victory in the combat according to the truth of the quarrel; and therewith may His will be done!"
"Amen, amen!" was answered on all sides; while the Templar whispered the Marquis, "Conrade, wilt thou not add a petition to be delivered from the power of the dog, as the Psalmist hath it?"
"Peace, thou - !" replied the Marquis; "there is a revealing demon abroad which may report, amongst other tidings, how far thou dost carry the motto of thy order - "Feriatur Leo."
"Thou wilt stand the brunt of challenge?" said the Templar.
"Doubt me not," said Conrade. "I would not, indeed, have willingly met the iron arm of Richard himself, and I shame not to confess that I rejoice to be free of his encounter; but, from his bastard brother downward, the man breathes not in his ranks whom I fear to meet."
"It is well you are so confident," continued the Templar; "and, in that case, the fangs of yonder hound have done more to dissolve this league of princes than either thy devices or the dagger of the Charegite. Seest thou how, under a brow studiously overclouded, Philip cannot conceal the satisfaction which he feels at the prospect of release from the alliance which sat so heavy on him? Mark how Henry of Champagne smiles to himself, like a sparkling goblet of his own wine; and see the chuckling delight of Austria, who thinks his quarrel is about to be avenged without risk or trouble of his own. Hush! he approaches. - A most grievous chance, most royal Austria, that these breaches in the walls of our Zion -"
"If thou meanest this Crusade," replied the Duke, "I would it were crumbled to pieces, and each were safe at home! I speak this in confidence."
"But," said the Marquis of Montserrat, "to think this disunion should be made by the hands of King Richard, for whose pleasure we have been contented to endure so much, and to whom we have been as submissive as slaves to a master, in hopes that he would use his valour against our enemies, instead of exercising it upon our friends!"
"I see not that he is so much more valorous than others," said the Archduke. "I believe, had the noble Marquis met him in the lists, he would have had the better; for though the islander deals heavy blows with the pole-axe, he is not so very dexterous with the lance. I should have cared little to have met him myself on our old quarrel, had the weal of Christendom permitted to sovereign princes to breathe themselves in the lists; and if thou desirest it, noble Marquis, I will myself be your godfather in this combat."
"And I also," said the Grand Master.
"Come, then, and take your nooning in our tent, noble sirs," said the Duke, "and we'll speak of this business over some right Nierenstein."
They entered together accordingly.
"What said our patron and these great folks together?" said Jonas Schwanker to his companion, the spruch-sprecher, who had used the freedom to press nigh to his master when the Council was dismissed, while the jester waited at a more respectful distance.
"Servant of Folly," said the spruch-sprecher, "moderate thy curiosity; it beseems not that I should tell to thee the counsels of our master."
"Man of wisdom, you mistake," answered Jonas. "We are both the constant attendants on our patron, and it concerns us alike to know whether thou or I - Wisdom or Folly - have the deeper interest in him."
"He told to the Marquis," answered the spruch-sprecher, "and to the Grand Master, that he was aweary of these wars, and would be glad he was safe at home."
"That is a drawn cast, and counts for nothing in the game," said the jester; "it was most wise to think thus, but great folly to tell it to others - proceed."
"Ha, hem!" said the spruch-sprecher; "he next said to them that Richard was not more valorous than others, or over-dexterous in the tilt-yard."
"Woodcock of my side," said Schwanker, "this was egregious folly. What next?"
"Nay, I am something oblivious," replied the man of wisdom - " he invited them to a goblet of Nierenstein."
"That hath a show of wisdom in it," said Jonas. "Thou mayest mark it to thy credit in the meantime; but an he drink too much, as is most likely, I will have it pass to mine. Anything more?"
"Nothing worth memory," answered the orator; "only he wished he had taken the occasion to meet Richard in the lists."
"Out upon it - out upon it!" said Jonas; "this is such dotage of folly that I am well-nigh ashamed of winning the game by it. Ne'ertheless, fool as he is, we will follow him, most sage spruch-sprecher, and have our share of the wine of Nierenstein."
Yet this inconstancy is such,
As thou, too, shalt adore;
I could not love thee, love so much,
Loved I not honour more.
When King Richard returned to his tent, he commanded the Nubian to be brought before him. He entered with his usual ceremonial reverence, and having prostrated himself, remained standing before the King in the attitude of a slave awaiting the orders of his master. It was perhaps well for him that the preservation of his character required his eyes to be fixed on the ground, since the keen glance with which Richard for some time surveyed him in silence would, if fully encountered, have been difficult to sustain.
"Thou canst well of woodcraft," said the King, after a pause, "and hast started thy game and brought him to bay as ably as if Tristrem himself had taught thee. [A universal tradition ascribed to Sir Tristrem, famous for his lore of the fair Queen Yseult, the laws concerning the practice of woodcraft, or venerie, as it was called, being those that related to the rules of the chase, which were deemed of much consequence during the Middle Ages.] But this is not all - he must be brought down at force. I myself would have liked to have levelled my hunting- spear at him. There are, it seems, respects which prevent this. Thou art about to return to the camp of the Soldan, bearing a letter, requiring of his courtesy to appoint neutral ground for the deed of chivalry, and should it consist with his pleasure, to concur with us in witnessing it. Now, speaking conjecturally, we think thou mightst find in that camp some cavalier who, for the love of truth and his own augmentation of honour, will do battle with this same traitor of Montserrat."
The Nubian raised his eyes and fixed them on the King with a look of eager ardour; then raised them to Heaven with such solemn gratitude that the water soon glistened in them; then bent his head, as affirming what Richard desired, and resumed his usual posture of submissive attention.
"It is well," said the King; "and I see thy desire to oblige me in this matter. And herein, I must needs say, lies the excellence of such a servant as thou, who hast not speech either to debate our purpose or to require explanation of what we have determined. An English serving man in thy place had given me his dogged advice to trust the combat with some good lance of my household, who, from my brother Longsword downwards, are all on fire to do battle in my cause; and a chattering Frenchman had made a thousand attempts to discover wherefore I look for a champion from the camp of the infidels. But thou, my silent agent, canst do mine errand without questioning or comprehending it; with thee to hear is to obey."
A bend of the body and a genuflection were the appropriate answer of the Ethiopian to these observations.
"And now to another point," said the King, and speaking suddenly and rapidly - "have you yet seen Edith Plantagenet?"
The mute looked up as in the act of being about to speak - nay, his lips had begun to utter a distinct negative - when the abortive attempt died away in the imperfect murmurs of the dumb.
"Why, lo you there!" said the King, "the very sound of the name of a royal maiden of beauty so surpassing as that of our lovely cousin seems to have power enough well-nigh to make the dumb speak. What miracles then might her eye work upon such a subject! I will make the experiment, friend slave. Thou shalt see this choice beauty of our Court, and do the errand of the princely Soldan."
Again a joyful glance - again a genuflection - but, as he arose, the King laid his hand heavily on his shoulder, and proceeded with stern gravity thus: "Let me in one thing warn you, my sable envoy. Even if thou shouldst feel that the kindly influence of her whom thou art soon to behold should loosen the bonds of thy tongue, presently imprisoned, as the good Soldan expresses it, within the ivory walls of its castle, beware how thou changest thy taciturn character, or speakest a word in her presence, even if thy powers of utterance were to be miraculously restored. Believe me that I should have thy tongue extracted by the roots, and its ivory palace - that is, I presume, its range of teeth - drawn out one by one. Wherefore, be wise and silent still."
The Nubian, so soon as the King had removed his heavy grasp from his shoulder, bent his head, and laid his hand on his lips, in token of silent obedience.
But Richard again laid his hand on him more gently, and added, "This behest we lay on thee as on a slave. Wert thou knight and gentleman, we would require thine honour in pledge of thy silence, which is one especial condition of our present trust."
The Ethiopian raised his body proudly, looked full at the King, and laid his right hand on his heart.
Richard then summoned his chamberlain.
"Go, Neville," he said, "with this slave to the tent of our royal consort, and say it is our pleasure that he have an audience - a private audience - of our cousin Edith. He is charged with a commission to her. Thou canst show him the way also, in case he requires thy guidance, though thou mayst have observed it is wonderful how familiar he already seems to be with the purlieus of our camp. - And thou, too, friend Ethiop," the King continued, "what thou dost do quickly, and return hither within the half- hour."
"I stand discovered," thought the seeming Nubian, as, with downcast looks and folded arms, he followed the hasty stride of Neville towards the tent of Queen Berengaria - "I stand undoubtedly discovered and unfolded to King Richard; yet I cannot perceive that his resentment is hot against me. If I understand his words - and surely it is impossible to misinterpret them - he gives me a noble chance of redeeming my honour upon the crest of this false Marquis, whose guilt I read in his craven eye and quivering lip when the charge was made against him. - Roswal, faithfully hast thou served thy master, and most dearly shall thy wrong be avenged! - But what is the meaning of my present permission to look upon her whom I had despaired ever to see again? And why, or how, can the royal Plantagenet consent that I should see his divine kinswoman, either as the messenger of the heathen Saladin, or as the guilty exile whom he so lately expelled from his camp - his audacious avowal of the affection which is his pride being the greatest enhancement of his guilt? That Richard should consent to her receiving a letter from an infidel lover by the hands of one of such disproportioned rank are either of them circumstances equally incredible, and, at the same time, inconsistent with each other. But Richard, when unmoved by his heady passions, is liberal, generous, and truly noble; and as such I will deal with him, and act according to his instructions, direct or implied, seeking to know no more than may gradually unfold itself without my officious inquiry. To him who has given me so brave an opportunity to vindicate my tarnished honour, I owe acquiescence and obedience; and painful as it may be, the debt shall be paid. And yet" -thus the proud swelling of his heart further suggested - "Coeur de Lion, as he is called, might have measured the feelings of others by his own. I urge an address to his kinswoman! I, who never spoke word to her when I took a royal prize from her hand - when I was accounted not the lowest in feats of chivalry among the defenders of the Cross! I approach her when in a base disguise, and in a servile habit - and, alas! when my actual condition is that of a slave, with a spot of dishonour on that which was once my shield! I do this! He little knows me. Yet I thank him for the opportunity which may make us all better acquainted with each other."
As he arrived at this conclusion, they paused before the entrance of the Queen's pavilion.
They were of course admitted by the guards, and Neville, leaving the Nubian in a small apartment, or antechamber, which was but too well remembered by him, passed into that which was used as the Queen's presence-chamber. He communicated his royal master's pleasure in a low and respectful tone of voice, very different from the bluntness of Thomas de Vaux, to whom Richard was everything and the rest of the Court, including Berengaria herself, was nothing. A burst of laughter followed the communication of his errand.
"And what like is the Nubian slave who comes ambassador on such an errand from the Soldan? - a negro, De Neville, is he not?" said a female voice, easily recognized for that of Berengaria. "A negro, is he not, De Neville, with black skin, a head curled like a ram's, a flat nose, and blubber lips - ha, worthy Sir Henry?"
"Let not your Grace forget the shin-bones," said another voice, "bent outwards like the edge of a Saracen scimitar."
"Rather like the bow of a Cupid, since he comes upon a lover's errand," said the Queen. - "Gentle Neville, thou art ever prompt to pleasure us poor women, who have so little to pass away our idle moments. We must see this messenger of love. Turks and Moors have I seen many, but negro never."
"I am created to obey your Grace's commands, so you will bear me out with my Sovereign for doing so," answered the debonair knight. "Yet, let me assure your Grace you will see something different from what you expect."
"So much the better - uglier yet than our imaginations can fancy, yet the chosen love-messenger of this gallant Soldan!"
"Gracious madam," said the Lady Calista, "may I implore you would permit the good knight to carry this messenger straight to the Lady Edith, to whom his credentials are addressed? We have already escaped hardly for such a frolic."
"Escaped?" repeated the Queen scornfully. "Yet thou mayest be right, Calista, in thy caution. Let this Nubian, as thou callest him, first do his errand to our cousin - besides, he is mute too, is he not?"
"He is, gracious madam," answered the knight.
"Royal sport have these Eastern ladies," said Berengaria, "attended by those before whom they may say anything, yet who can report nothing. Whereas in our camp, as the Prelate of Saint Jude's is wont to say, a bird of the air will carry the matter."
"Because," said De Neville, "your Grace forgets that you speak within canvas walls."
The voices sunk on this observation, and after a little whispering, the English knight again returned to the Ethiopian, and made him a sign to follow. He did so, and Neville conducted him to a pavilion, pitched somewhat apart from that of the Queen, for the accommodation, it seemed, of the Lady Edith and her attendants. One of her Coptic maidens received the message communicated by Sir Henry Neville, and in the space of a very few minutes the Nubian was ushered into Edith's presence, while Neville was left on the outside of the tent. The slave who introduced him withdrew on a signal from her mistress, and it was with humiliation, not of the posture only but of the very inmost soul, that the unfortunate knight, thus strangely disguised, threw himself on one knee, with looks bent on the ground and arms folded on his bosom, like a criminal who expects his doom. Edith was clad in the same manner as when she received King Richard, her long, transparent dark veil hanging around her like the shade of a summer night on a beautiful landscape, disguising and rendering obscure the beauties which it could not hide. She held in her hand a silver lamp, fed with some aromatic spirit, which burned with unusual brightness.
When Edith came within a step of the kneeling and motionless slave, she held the light towards his face, as if to peruse his features more attentively, then turned from him, and placed her lamp so as to throw the shadow of his face in profile upon the curtain which hung beside. She at length spoke in a voice composed, yet deeply sorrowful,
"Is it you? It is indeed you, brave Knight of the Leopard - gallant Sir Kenneth of Scotland; is it indeed you? - thus servilely disguised - thus surrounded by a hundred dangers."
At hearing the tones of his lady's voice thus unexpectedly addressed to him, and in a tone of compassion approaching to tenderness, a corresponding reply rushed to the knight's lips, and scarce could Richard's commands and his own promised silence prevent his answering that the sight he saw, the sounds he just heard, were sufficient to recompense the slavery of a life, and dangers which threatened that life every hour. He did recollect himself, however, and a deep and impassioned sigh was his only reply to the high-born Edith's question.
"I see - I know I have guessed right," continued Edith. "I marked you from your first appearance near the platform on which I stood with the Queen. I knew, too, your valiant hound. She is no true lady, and is unworthy of the service of such a knight as thou art, from whom disguises of dress or hue could conceal a faithful servant. Speak, then, without fear to Edith Plantagenet. She knows how to grace in adversity the good knight who served, honoured, and did deeds of arms in her name, when fortune befriended him. - Still silent! Is it fear or shame that keeps thee so! Fear should be unknown to thee; and for shame, let it remain with those who have wronged thee."
The knight, in despair at being obliged to play the mute in an interview so interesting, could only express his mortification by sighing deeply, and laying his finger upon his lips. Edith stepped back, as if somewhat displeased.
What!" she said, "the Asiatic mute in very deed, as well as in attire? This I looked not for. Or thou mayest scorn me, perhaps, for thus boldly acknowledging that I have heedfully observed the homage thou hast paid me? Hold no unworthy thoughts of Edith on that account. She knows well the bounds which reserve and modesty prescribe to high-born maidens, and she knows when and how far they should give place to gratitude - to a sincere desire that it were in her power to repay services and repair injuries arising from the devotion which a good knight bore towards her. Why fold thy hands together, and wring them with so much passion? Can it be," she added, shrinking back at the idea, "that their cruelty has actually deprived thee of speech? Thou shakest thy head. Be it a spell - be it obstinacy, I question thee no further, but leave thee to do thine errand after thine own fashion. I also can be mute."
The disguised knight made an action as if at once lamenting his own condition and deprecating her displeasure, while at the same time he presented to her, wrapped, as usual, in fine silk and cloth of gold, the letter of the Soldan. She took it, surveyed it carelessly, then laid it aside, and bending her eyes once more on the knight, she said in a low tone, "Not even a word to do thine errand to me?"
He pressed both his hands to his brow, as if to intimate the pain which he felt at being unable to obey her; but she turned from him in anger.
"Begone!" she said. "I have spoken enough - too much - to one who will not waste on me a word in reply. Begone! - and say, if I have wronged thee, I have done penance; for if I have been the unhappy means of dragging thee down from a station of honour, I have, in this interview, forgotten my own worth, and lowered myself in thy eyes and in my own."
She covered her eyes with her hands, and seemed deeply agitated. Sir Kenneth would have approached, but she waved him back.
"Stand off! thou whose soul Heaven hath suited to its new station! Aught less dull and fearful than a slavish mute had spoken a word of gratitude, were it but to reconcile me to my own degradation. Why pause you? - begone!"
The disguised knight almost involuntarily looked towards the letter as an apology for protracting his stay. She snatched it up, saying in a tone of irony and contempt, "I had forgotten - the dutiful slave waits an answer to his message. How's this - from the Soldan!"
She hastily ran over the contents, which were expressed both in Arabic and French, and when she had done, she laughed in bitter anger.
"Now this passes imagination!" she said; "no jongleur can show so deft a transmutation! His legerdemain can transform zechins and byzants into doits and maravedis; but can his art convert a Christian knight, ever esteemed among the bravest of the Holy Crusade, into the dust-kissing slave of a heathen Soldan - the bearer of a paynim's insolent proposals to a Christian maiden - nay, forgetting the laws of honourable chivalry, as well as of religion? But it avails not talking to the willing slave of a heathen hound. Tell your master, when his scourge shall have found thee a tongue, that which thou hast seen me do" - so saying, she threw the Soldan's letter on the ground, and placed her foot upon it - "and say to him, that Edith Plantagenet scorns the homage of an unchristened pagan."
With these words she was about to shoot from the knight, when, kneeling at her feet in bitter agony, he ventured to lay his hand upon her robe and oppose her departure.
"Heard'st thou not what I said, dull slave?" she said, turning short round on him, and speaking with emphasis. "Tell the heathen Soldan, thy master, that I scorn his suit as much as I despise the prostration of a worthless renegade to religion and chivalry - to God and to his lady!"
So saying, she burst from him, tore her garment from his grasp, and left the tent.
The voice of Neville, at the same time, summoned him from without. Exhausted and stupefied by the distress he had undergone during this interview, from which he could only have extricated himself by breach of the engagement which he had formed with King Richard, the unfortunate knight staggered rather than walked after the English baron, till they reached the royal pavilion, before which a party of horsemen had just dismounted. There were light and motion within the tent, and when Neville entered with his disguised attendant, they found the King, with several of his nobility, engaged in welcoming those who were newly arrived.
"The tears I shed must ever fall.
I weep not for an absent swain;
For time may happier hours recall,
And parted lovers meet again.
"I weep not for the silent dead.
Their pains are past, their sorrows o'er;
And those that loved their steps must tread,
When death shall join to part no more."
But worse than absence, worse than death,
She wept her lover's sullied fame,
And, fired with all the pride of birth,
She wept a soldier's injured name.
The frank and bold voice of Richard was heard in joyous gratulation.
"Thomas de Vaux! stout Tom of the Gills! by the head of King Henry, thou art welcome to me as ever was flask of wine to a jolly toper! I should scarce have known how to order my battle- array, unless I had thy bulky form in mine eye as a landmark to form my ranks upon. We shall have blows anon, Thomas, if the saints be gracious to us; and had we fought in thine absence, I would have looked to hear of thy being found hanging upon an elder-tree."
"I should have borne my disappointment with more Christian patience, I trust," said Thomas de Vaux, "than to have died the death of an apostate. But I thank your Grace for my welcome, which is the more generous, as it respects a banquet of blows, of which, saving your pleasure, you are ever too apt to engross the larger share. But here have I brought one to whom your Grace will, I know, give a yet warmer welcome."
The person who now stepped forward to make obeisance to Richard was a young man of low stature and slight form. His dress was as modest as his figure was unimpressive; but he bore on his bonnet a gold buckle, with a gem, the lustre of which could only be rivalled by the brilliancy of the eye which the bonnet shaded. It was the only striking feature in his countenance; but when once noticed, it ever made a strong impression on the spectator. About his neck there hung in a scarf of sky-blue silk a wrest as it was called - that is, the key with which a harp is tuned, and which was of solid gold.
This personage would have kneeled reverently to Richard, but the Monarch raised him in joyful haste, pressed him to his bosom warmly, and kissed him on either side of the face.
"Blondel de Nesle!" he exclaimed joyfully - "welcome from Cyprus, my king of minstrels! - welcome to the King of England, who rates not his own dignity more highly than he does thine. I have been sick, man, and, by my soul, I believe it was for lack of thee; for, were I half way to the gate of heaven, methinks thy strains could call me back. And what news, my gentle master, from the land of the lyre? Anything fresh from the trouveurs of Provence? Anything from the minstrels of merry Normandy? Above all, hast thou thyself been busy? But I need not ask thee - thou canst not be idle if thou wouldst; thy noble qualities are like a fire burning within, and compel thee to pour thyself out in music and song."
"Something I have learned, and something I have done, noble King," answered the celebrated Blondel, with a retiring modesty which all Richard's enthusiastic admiration of his skill had been unable to banish.
"We will hear thee, man - we will hear thee instantly," said the King. Then, touching Blondel's shoulder kindly, he added, "That is, if thou art not fatigued with thy journey; for I would sooner ride my best horse to death than injure a note of thy voice."
"My voice is, as ever, at the service of my royal patron," said Blondel; "but your Majesty," he added, looking at some papers on the table, "seems more importantly engaged, and the hour waxes late."
"Not a whit, man, not a whit, my dearest Blondel. I did but sketch an array of battle against the Saracens, a thing of a moment, almost as soon done as the routing of them."
"Methinks, however," said Thomas de Vaux, "it were not unfit to inquire what soldiers your Grace hath to array. I bring reports on that subject from Ascalon."
"Thou art a mule, Thomas," said the King -"a very mule for dullness and obstinacy! Come, nobles - a hall - a hall -range ye around him! Give Blondel the tabouret. Where is his harp- bearer? -or, soft, lend him my harp, his own may be damaged by the journey."
"I would your Grace would take my report," said Thomas de Vaux. "I have ridden far, and have more list to my bed than to have my ears tickled."
"Thy ears tickled!" said the King; "that must be with a woodcock's feather, and not with sweet sounds. Hark thee, Thomas, do thine ears know the singing of Blondel from the braying of an ass?"
"In faith, my liege," replied Thomas, "I cannot well say; but setting Blondel out of the question, who is a born gentleman, and doubtless of high acquirements, I shall never, for the sake of your Grace's question, look on a minstrel but I shall think upon an ass."
"And might not your manners," said Richard, "have excepted me, who am a gentleman born as well as Blondel, and, like him, a guild-brother of the joyeuse science?"
"Your Grace should remember," said De Vaux, smiling, "that 'tis useless asking for manners from a mule."
"Most truly spoken," said the King; "and an ill-conditioned animal thou art. But come hither, master mule, and be unloaded, that thou mayest get thee to thy litter, without any music being wasted on thee. Meantime do thou, good brother of Salisbury, go to our consort's tent, and tell her that Blondel has arrived, with his budget fraught with the newest minstrelsy. Bid her come hither instantly, and do thou escort her, and see that our cousin, Edith Plantagenet, remain not behind."
His eye then rested for a moment on the Nubian, with that expression of doubtful meaning which his countenance usually displayed when he looked at him.
"Ha, our silent and secret messenger returned? - Stand up, slave, behind the back of De Neville, and thou shalt hear presently sounds which will make thee bless God that He afflicted thee rather with dumbness than deafness."
So saying, he turned from the rest of the company towards De Vaux, and plunged instantly into the military details which that baron laid before him.
About the time that the Lord of Gilsland had finished his audience, a messenger announced that the Queen and her attendants were approaching the royal tent. - "A flask of wine, ho!" said the King; "of old King Isaac's long-saved Cyprus, which we won when we stormed Famagosta. Fill to the stout Lord of Gilsland, gentles - a more careful and faithful servant never had any prince."
"I am glad," said Thomas de Vaux, "that your Grace finds the mule a useful slave, though his voice be less musical than horse-hair or wire."
"What, thou canst not yet digest that quip of the mule?" said Richard. "Wash it down with a brimming flagon, man, or thou wilt choke upon it. Why, so - well pulled! - and now I will tell thee, thou art a soldier as well as I, and we must brook each other's jests in the hall as each other's blows in the tourney, and love each other the harder we hit. By my faith, if thou didst not hit me as hard as I did thee in our late encounter! thou gavest all thy wit to the thrust. But here lies the difference betwixt thee and Blondel. Thou art but my comrade - I might say my pupil - in the art of war; Blondel is my master in the science of minstrelsy and music. To thee I permit the freedom of intimacy; to him I must do reverence, as to my superior in his art. Come, man, be not peevish, but remain and hear our glee."
"To see your Majesty in such cheerful mood," said the Lord of Gilsland, "by my faith, I could remain till Blondel had achieved the great romance of King Arthur, which lasts for three days."
"We will not tax your patience so deeply," said the King. "But see, yonder glare of torches without shows that our consort approaches. Away to receive her, man, and win thyself grace in the brightest eyes of Christendom. Nay, never stop to adjust thy cloak. See, thou hast let Neville come between the wind and the sails of thy galley."
"He was never before me in the field of battle," said De Vaux, not greatly pleased to see himself anticipated by the more active service of the chamberlain.
"No, neither he nor any one went before thee there, my good Tom of the Gills," said the King, "unless it was ourself, now and then."
"Ay, my liege," said De Vaux, "and let us do justice to the unfortunate. The unhappy Knight of the Leopard hath been before me too, at a season; for, look you, he weighs less on horseback, and so - "
"Hush!" said the King, interrupting him in a peremptory tone, "not a word of him," and instantly stepped forward to greet his royal consort; and when he had done so, he presented to her Blondel, as king of minstrelsy and his master in the gay science. Berengaria, who well knew that her royal husband's passion for poetry and music almost equalled his appetite for warlike fame, and that Blondel was his especial favourite, took anxious care to receive him with all the flattering distinctions due to one whom the King delighted to honour. Yet it was evident that, though Blondel made suitable returns to the compliments showered on him something too abundantly by the royal beauty, he owned with deeper reverence and more humble gratitude the simple and graceful welcome of Edith, whose kindly greeting appeared to him, perhaps, sincere in proportion to its brevity and simplicity.
Both the Queen and her royal husband were aware of this distinction, and Richard, seeing his consort somewhat piqued at the preference assigned to his cousin, by which perhaps he himself did not feel much gratified, said in the hearing of both, "We minstrels, Berengaria, as thou mayest see by the bearing of our master Blondel, pay more reverence to a severe judge like our kinswoman than to a kindly, partial friend like thyself, who is willing to take our worth upon trust."
Edith was moved by this sarcasm of her royal kinsman, and hesitated not to reply that, "To be a harsh and severe judge was not an attribute proper to her alone of all the Plantagenets."
She had perhaps said more, having some touch of the temper of that house, which, deriving their name and cognizance from the lowly broom (planta genista), assumed as an emblem of humility, were perhaps one of the proudest families that ever ruled in England; but her eye, when kindling in her reply, suddenly caught those of the Nubian, although he endeavoured to conceal himself behind the nobles who were present, and she sunk upon a seat, turning so pale that Queen Berengaria deemed herself obliged to call for water and essences, and to go through the other ceremonies appropriate to a lady's swoon. Richard, who better estimated Edith's strength of mind, called to Blondel to assume his seat and commence his lay, declaring that minstrelsy was worth every other recipe to recall a Plantagenet to life. "Sing us," he said, "that song of the Bloody Vest, of which thou didst formerly give me the argument ere I left Cyprus. Thou must be perfect in it by this time, or, as our yeomen say, thy bow is broken."
The anxious eye of the minstrel, however, dwelt on Edith, and it was not till he observed her returning colour that he obeyed the repeated commands of the King. Then, accompanying his voice with the harp, so as to grace, but yet not drown, the sense of what he sung, he chanted in a sort of recitative one of those ancient adventures of love and knighthood which were wont of yore to win the public attention. So soon as he began to prelude, the insignificance of his personal appearance seemed to disappear, and his countenance glowed with energy and inspiration. His full, manly, mellow voice, so absolutely under command of the purest taste, thrilled on every ear and to every heart. Richard, rejoiced as after victory, called out the appropriate summons for silence,
"Listen, lords, in bower and hall;"
while, with the zeal of a patron at once and a pupil, he arranged the circle around, and hushed them into silence; and he himself sat down with an air of expectation and interest, not altogether unmixed with the gravity of the professed critic. The courtiers turned their eyes on the King, that they might be ready to trace and imitate the emotions his features should express, and Thomas de Vaux yawned tremendously, as one who submitted unwillingly to a wearisome penance. The song of Blondel was of course in the Norman language, but the verses which follow express its meaning and its manner.
THE BLOODY VEST.
'Twas near the fair city of Benevent,
When the sun was setting on bough and bent,
And knights were preparing in bower and tent,
On the eve of the Baptist's tournament;
Far hath he far'd, and farther must fare,
Till he finds his pavilion nor stately nor rare, -
Little save iron and steel was there;
And, as lacking the coin to pay armourer's care,
With his sinewy arms to the shoulders bare,
The good knight with hammer and file did repair
The mail that to-morrow must see him wear,
For the honour of Saint John and his lady fair.
"Thus speaks my lady," the page said he,
And the knight bent lowly both head and knee,
"She is Benevent's Princess so high in degree,
And thou art as lowly as knight may well be -
He that would climb so lofty a tree,
Or spring such a gulf as divides her from thee,
Must dare some high deed, by which all men may see
His ambition is back'd by his hie chivalrie.
"Therefore thus speaks my lady," the
fair page he said,
And the knight lowly louted with hand and with head,
"Fling aside the good armour in which thou art clad,
And don thou this weed of her night-gear instead,
For a hauberk of steel, a kirtle of thread;
And charge, thus attir'd, in the tournament dread,
And fight as thy wont is where most blood is shed,
And bring honour away, or remain with the dead."
Untroubled in his look, and untroubled in his
The knight the weed hath taken, and reverently hath kiss'd.
"Now blessed be the moment, the messenger be blest!
Much honour'd do I hold me in my lady's high behest;
And say unto my lady, in this dear night-weed dress'd,
To the best armed champion I will not veil my crest;
But if I live and bear me well 'tis her turn to take the test."
Here, gentles, ends the foremost fytte of the Lay of the Bloody Vest.
"Thou hast changed the measure upon us unawares in that last couplet, my Blondel," said the King.
"Most true, my lord," said Blondel. "I rendered the verses from the Italian of an old harper whom I met in Cyprus, and not having had time either to translate it accurately or commit it to memory, I am fain to supply gaps in the music and the verse as I can upon the spur of the moment, as you see boors mend a quickset fence with a fagot."
"Nay, on my faith," said the King, "I like these rattling, rolling Alexandrines. Methinks they come more twangingly off to the music than that briefer measure."
"Both are licensed, as is well known to your Grace," answered Blondel.
"They are so, Blondel," said Richard, "yet methinks the scene where there is like to be fighting will go best on in these same thundering Alexandrines, which sound like the charge of cavalry, while the other measure is but like the sidelong amble of a lady's palfrey."
"It shall be as your Grace pleases," replied Blondel, and began again to prelude.
"Nay, first cherish thy fancy with a cup of fiery Chios wine," said the King. "And hark thee, I would have thee fling away that new-fangled restriction of thine, of terminating in accurate and similar rhymes. They are a constraint on thy flow of fancy, and make thee resemble a man dancing in fetters."
"The fetters are easily flung off, at least," said Blondel, again sweeping his fingers over the strings, as one who would rather have played than listened to criticism.
"But why put them on, man?" continued the King. "Wherefore thrust thy genius into iron bracelets? I marvel how you got forward at all. I am sure I should not have been able to compose a stanza in yonder hampered measure."
Blondel looked down, and busied himself with the strings of his harp, to hide an involuntary smile which crept over his features; but it escaped not Richard's observation.
"By my faith, thou laughest at me, Blondel," he said; "and, in good truth, every man deserves it who presumes to play the master when he should be the pupil. But we kings get bad habits of self-opinion. Come, on with thy lay, dearest Blondel - on after thine own fashion, better than aught that we can suggest, though we must needs be talking."
Blondel resumed the lay; but as extemporaneous composition was familiar to him, he failed not to comply with the King's hints, and was perhaps not displeased to show with how much ease he could new-model a poem, even while in the act of recitation.
THE BLOODY VEST.
The Baptist's fair morrow beheld gallant feats -
There was winning of honour and losing of seats;
There was hewing with falchions and splintering of
The victors won glory, the vanquish'd won graves.
Oh, many a knight there fought bravely and well,
Yet one was accounted his peers to excel,
And 'twas he whose sole armour on body and breast
Seem'd the weed of a damsel when bouned for her rest.
There were some dealt him wounds that were bloody
But others respected his plight, and forbore.
"It is some oath of honour," they said,
"and I trow,
'Twere unknightly to slay him achieving his
Then the Prince, for his sake, bade the tournament
He flung down his warder, the trumpets sung peace;
And the judges declare, and competitors yield,
That the Knight of the Night-gear was first in the field.
The feast it was nigh, and the mass it was nigher,
When before the fair Princess low looted a squire,
And deliver'd a garment unseemly to view,
With sword-cut and spear-thrust, all hack'd and
All rent and all tatter'd, all clotted with blood,
With foam of the horses, with dust, and with mud;
Not the point of that lady's small finger, I ween,
Could have rested on spot was unsullied and clean.
"This token my master, Sir Thomas a Kent,
Restores to the Princess of fair Benevent;
He that climbs the tall tree has won right to the
He that leaps the wide gulf should prevail in his
Through life's utmost peril the prize I have won,
And now must the faith of my mistress be shown:
For she who prompts knights on such danger to run
Must avouch his true service in front of the sun.
"'I restore,' says my master, 'the garment
And I claim of the Princess to don it in turn;
For its stains and its rents she should prize it
Since by shame 'tis unsullied, though crimson'd
Then deep blush'd the Princess - yet kiss'd she and
The blood-spotted robes to her lips and her
"Go tell my true knight, church and chamber
If I value the blood on this garment or no."
And when it was time for the nobles to pass,
In solemn procession to minster and mass,
The first walk'd the Princess in purple and pall,
But the blood-besmear'd night-robe she wore over
And eke, in the hall, where they all sat at dine,
When she knelt to her father and proffer'd the
Over all her rich robes and state jewels she wore
That wimple unseemly bedabbled with gore.
Then lords whisper'd ladies, as well you may
And ladies replied with nod, titter, and wink;
And the Prince, who in anger and shame had look'd
Turn'd at length to his daughter, and spoke with a
"Now since thou hast publish'd thy folly and
E'en atone with thy hand for the blood thou hast
Yet sore for your boldness you both will repent,
When you wander as exiles from fair Benevent'"
Then out spoke stout Thomas, in hall where he
Exhausted and feeble, but dauntless of mood:
"The blood that I lost for this daughter of
I pour'd forth as freely as flask gives its wine;
And if for my sake she brooks penance and blame,
Do not doubt I will save her from suffering and
And light will she reck of thy princedom and rent,
When I hail her, in England, the Countess of Kent."
A murmur of applause ran through the assembly, following the example of Richard himself, who loaded with praises his favourite minstrel, and ended by presenting him with a ring of considerable value. The Queen hastened to distinguish the favourite by a rich bracelet, and many of the nobles who were present followed the royal example.
"Is our cousin Edith," said the King, "become insensible to the sound of the harp she once loved?"
"She thanks Blondel for his lay," replied Edith, "but doubly the kindness of the kinsman who suggested it."
"Thou art angry, cousin," said the King; "angry because thou hast heard of a woman more wayward than thyself. But you escape me not. I will walk a space homeward with you towards the Queen's pavilion. We must have conference together ere the night has waned into morning."
The Queen and her attendants were now on foot, and the other guests withdrew from the royal tent. A train with blazing torches, and an escort of archers, awaited Berengaria without the pavilion, and she was soon on her way homeward. Richard, as he had proposed, walked beside his kinswoman, and compelled her to accept of his arm as her support, so that they could speak to each other without being overheard.
What answer, then, am I to return to the noble Soldan?" said Richard. "The kings and princes are falling from me, Edith; this new quarrel hath alienated them once more. I would do something for the Holy Sepulchre by composition, if not by victory; and the chance of my doing this depends, alas, on the caprice of a woman. I would lay my single spear in the rest against ten of the best lances in Christendom, rather than argue with a wilful wench who knows not what is for her own good. What answer, coz, am I to return to the Soldan? It must be decisive."
"Tell him," said Edith, "that the poorest of the Plantagenets will rather wed with misery than with misbelief."
"Shall I say with slavery, Edith?" said the King. "Methinks that is nearer thy thoughts."
"There is no room," said Edith, "for the suspicion you so grossly insinuate. Slavery of the body might have been pitied, but that of the soul is only to be despised. Shame to thee, King of merry England. Thou hast enthralled both the limbs and the spirit of a knight, one scarce less famed than thyself."
"Should I not prevent my kinswoman from drinking poison, by sullying the vessel which contained it, if I saw no other means of disgusting her with the fatal liquor?" replied the King.
"It is thyself," answered Edith, "that would press me to drink poison, because it is proffered in a golden chalice."
"Edith," said Richard, "I cannot force thy resolution; but beware you shut not the door which Heaven opens. The hermit of Engaddi - he whom Popes and Councils have regarded as a prophet - hath read in the stars that thy marriage shall reconcile me with a powerful enemy, and that thy husband shall be Christian, leaving thus the fairest ground to hope that the conversion of the Soldan, and the bringing in of the sons of Ishmael to the pale of the church, will be the consequence of thy wedding with Saladin. Come, thou must make some sacrifice rather than mar such happy prospects."
"Men may sacrifice rams and goats," said Edith, "but not honour and conscience. I have heard that it was the dishonour of a Christian maiden which brought the Saracens into Spain; the shame of another is no likely mode of expelling them from Palestine."
"Dost thou call it shame to become an empress?" said the King.
"I call it shame and dishonour to profane a Christian sacrament by entering into it with an infidel whom it cannot bind; and I call it foul dishonour that I, the descendant of a Christian princess, should become of free will the head of a haram of heathen concubines."
"Well, kinswoman," said the King, after a pause, "I must not quarrel with thee, though I think thy dependent condition might have dictated more compliance."
"My liege," replied Edith, "your Grace hath worthily succeeded to all the wealth, dignity, and dominion of the House of Plantagenet - do not, therefore, begrudge your poor kinswoman some small share of their pride."
"By my faith, wench," said the King, "thou hast unhorsed me with that very word, so we will kiss and be friends. I will presently dispatch thy answer to Saladin. But after all, coz, were it not better to suspend your answer till you have seen him? Men say he is pre-eminently handsome."
"There is no chance of our meeting, my lord," said Edith.
"By Saint George, but there is next to a certainty of it," said the King; "for Saladin will doubtless afford us a free field for the doing of this new battle of the Standard, and will witness it himself. Berengaria is wild to behold it also; and I dare be sworn not a feather of you, her companions and attendants, will remain behind - least of all thou thyself, fair coz. But come, we have reached the pavilion, and must part; not in unkindness thou, oh - nay, thou must seal it with thy lip as well as thy hand, sweet Edith - it is my right as a sovereign to kiss my pretty vassals."
He embraced her respectfully and affectionately, and returned through the moonlit camp, humming to himself such snatches of Blondel's lay as he could recollect.
On his arrival he lost no time in making up his dispatches for Saladin, and delivered them to the Nubian, with a charge to set out by peep of day on his return to the Soldan.
We heard the Tecbir - so these Arabs call
Their shout of onset, when, with loud acclaim,
They challenge Heaven to give them victory.
Siege of Damascus.
On the subsequent morning Richard was invited to a conference by Philip of France, in which the latter, with many expressions of his high esteem for his brother of England, communicated to him in terms extremely courteous, but too explicit to be misunderstood, his positive intention to return to Europe, and to the cares of his kingdom, as entirely despairing of future success in their undertaking, with their diminished forces and civil discords. Richard remonstrated, but in vain; and when the conference ended he received without surprise a manifesto from the Duke of Austria, and several other princes, announcing a resolution similar to that of Philip, and in no modified terms, assigning, for their defection from the cause of the Cross, the inordinate ambition and arbitrary domination of Richard of England. All hopes of continuing the war with any prospect of ultimate success were now abandoned; and Richard, while he shed bitter tears over his disappointed hopes of glory, was little consoled by the recollection that the failure was in some degree to be imputed to the advantages which he had given his enemies by his own hasty and imprudent temper.
"They had not dared to have deserted my father thus," he said to De Vaux, in the bitterness of his resentment. "No slanders they could have uttered against so wise a king would have been believed in Christendom; whereas - fool that I am! - I have not only afforded them a pretext for deserting me, but even a colour for casting all the blame of the rupture upon my unhappy foibles."
These thoughts were so deeply galling to the King, that De Vaux was rejoiced when the arrival of an ambassador from Saladin turned his reflections into a different channel.
This new envoy was an Emir much respected by the Soldan, whose name was Abdallah el Hadgi. He derived his descent from the family of the Prophet, and the race or tribe of Hashem, in witness of which genealogy he wore a green turban of large dimensions. He had also three times performed the journey to Mecca, from which he derived his epithet of El Hadgi, or the Pilgrim. Notwithstanding these various pretensions to sanctity, Abdallah was (for an Arab) a boon companion, who enjoyed a merry tale, and laid aside his gravity so far as to quaff a blithe flagon when secrecy ensured him against scandal. He was likewise a statesman, whose abilities had been used by Saladin in various negotiations with the Christian princes, and particularly with Richard, to whom El Hadgi was personally known and acceptable. Animated by the cheerful acquiescence with which the envoy of Saladin afforded a fair field for the combat, a safe conduct for all who might choose to witness it, and offered his own person as a guarantee of his fidelity, Richard soon forgot his disappointed hopes, and the approaching dissolution of the Christian league, in the interesting discussions preceding a combat in the lists.
The station called the Diamond of the Desert was assigned for the place of conflict, as being nearly at an equal distance betwixt the Christian and Saracen camps. It was agreed that Conrade of Montserrat, the defendant, with his godfathers, the Archduke of Austria and the Grand Master of the Templars, should appear there on the day fixed for the combat, with a hundred armed followers, and no more; that Richard of England and his brother Salisbury, who supported the accusation, should attend with the same number, to protect his champion; and that the Soldan should bring with him a guard of five hundred chosen followers, a band considered as not more than equal to the two hundred Christian lances. Such persons of consideration as either party chose to invite to witness the contest were to wear no other weapons than their swords, and to come without defensive armour. The Soldan undertook the preparation of the lists, and to provide accommodations and refreshments of every kind for all who were to assist at the solemnity; and his letters expressed with much courtesy the pleasure which he anticipated in the prospect of a personal and peaceful meeting with the Melech Ric, and his anxious desire to render his reception as agreeable as possible.
All preliminaries being arranged and communicated to the defendant and his godfathers, Abdullah the Hadgi was admitted to a more private interview, where he heard with delight the strains of Blondel. Having first carefully put his green turban out of sight, and assumed a Greek cap in its stead, he requited the Norman minstrel's music with a drinking song from the Persian, and quaffed a hearty flagon of Cyprus wine, to show that his practice matched his principles. On the next day, grave and sober as the water-drinker Mirglip, he bent his brow to the ground before Saladin's footstool, and rendered to the Soldan an account of his embassy.
On the day before that appointed for the combat Conrade and his friends set off by daybreak to repair to the place assigned, and Richard left the camp at the same hour and for the same purpose; but, as had been agreed upon, he took his journey by a different route - a precaution which had been judged necessary, to prevent the possibility of a quarrel betwixt their armed attendants.
The good King himself was in no humour for quarrelling with any one. Nothing could have added to his pleasurable anticipations of a desperate and bloody combat in the lists, except his being in his own royal person one of the combatants; and he was half in charity again even with Conrade of Montserrat. Lightly armed, richly dressed, and gay as a bridegroom on the eve of his nuptials, Richard caracoled along by the side of Queen Berengaria's litter, Pointing out to her the various scenes through which they passed, and cheering with tale and song the bosom of the inhospitable wilderness. The former route of the Queen's pilgrimage to Engaddi had been on the other side of the chain of mountains, so that the ladies were strangers to the scenery of the desert; and though Berengaria knew her husband's disposition too well not to endeavour to seem interested in what he was pleased either to say or to sing, she could not help indulging some female fears when she found herself in the howling wilderness with so small an escort, which seemed almost like a moving speck on the bosom of the plain, and knew at the same time they were not so distant from the camp of Saladin, but what they might be in a moment surprised and swept off by an overpowering host of his fiery-footed cavalry, should the pagan be faithless enough to embrace an opportunity thus tempting. But when she hinted these suspicions to Richard he repelled them with displeasure and disdain. "It were worse than ingratitude," he said, "to doubt the good faith of the generous Soldan."
Yet the same doubts and fears recurred more than once, not to the timid mind of the Queen alone, but to the firmer and more candid soul of Edith Plantagenet, who had no such confidence in the faith of the Moslem as to render her perfectly at ease when so much in their power; and her surprise had been far less than her terror, if the desert around had suddenly resounded with the shout of Allah hu! and a band of Arab cavalry had pounced on them like vultures on their prey. Nor were these suspicions lessened when, as evening approached, they were aware of a single Arab horseman, distinguished by his turban and long lance, hovering on the edge of a small eminence like a hawk poised in the air, and who instantly, on the appearance of the royal retinue, darted off with the speed of the same bird when it shoots down the wind and disappears from the horizon.
"We must be near the station," said King Richard; "and yonder cavalier is one of Saladin's outposts - methinks I hear the noise of the Moorish horns and cymbals. Get you into order, my hearts, and form yourselves around the ladies soldierlike and firmly."
As he spoke, each knight, squire, and archer hastily closed in upon his appointed ground, and they proceeded in the most compact order, which made their numbers appear still smaller. And to say the truth, though there might be no fear, there was anxiety as well as curiosity in the attention with which they listened to the wild bursts of Moorish music, which came ever and anon more distinctly from the quarter in which the Arab horseman had been seen to disappear.
De Vaux spoke in a whisper to the King. "Were it not well, my liege, to send a page to the top of that sand-bank? Or would it stand with your pleasure that I prick forward? Methinks, by all yonder clash and clang, if there be no more than five hundred men beyond the sand-hills, half of the Soldan's retinue must be drummers and cymbal-tossers. Shall I spur on?"
The baron had checked his horse with the bit, and was just about to strike him with the spurs when the King exclaimed, "Not for the world. Such a caution would express suspicion, and could do little to prevent surprise, which, however, I apprehend not."
They advanced accordingly in close and firm order till they surmounted the line of low sand-hills, and came in sight of the appointed station, when a splendid, but at the same time a startling, spectacle awaited them.
The Diamond of the Desert, so lately a solitary fountain, distinguished only amid the waste by solitary groups of palm- trees, was now the centre of an encampment, the embroidered flags and gilded ornaments of which glittered far and wide, and reflected a thousand rich tints against the setting sun. The coverings of the large pavilions were of the gayest colours - scarlet, bright yellow, pale blue, and other gaudy and gleaming hues -and the tops of their pillars, or tent-poles, were decorated with golden pomegranates and small silken flags. But besides these distinguished pavilions, there were what Thomas de Vaux considered as a portentous number of the ordinary black tents of the Arabs, being sufficient, as he conceived, to accommodate, according to the Eastern fashion, a host of five thousand men. A number of Arabs and Kurds, fully corresponding to the extent of the encampment, were hastily assembling, each leading his horse in his hand, and their muster was accompanied by an astonishing clamour of their noisy instruments of martial music, by which, in all ages, the warfare of the Arabs has been animated.
They soon formed a deep and confused mass of dismounted cavalry in front of their encampment, when, at the signal of a shrill cry, which arose high over the clangour of the music, each cavalier sprung to his saddle. A cloud of dust arising at the moment of this manoeuvre hid from Richard and his attendants the camp, the palm-trees, and the distant ridge of mountains, as well as the troops whose sudden movement had raised the cloud, and, ascending high over their heads, formed itself into the fantastic forms of writhed pillars, domes, and minarets. Another shrill yell was heard from the bosom of this cloudy tabernacle. It was the signal for the cavalry to advance, which they did at full gallop, disposing themselves as they came forward so as to come in at once on the front, flanks, and rear of Richard's little bodyguard, who were thus surrounded, and almost choked by the dense clouds of dust enveloping them on each side, through which were seen alternately, and lost, the grim forms and wild faces of the Saracens, brandishing and tossing their lances in every possible direction with the wildest cries and halloos, and frequently only reining up their horses when within a spear's length of the Christians, while those in the rear discharged over the heads of both parties thick volleys of arrows. One of these struck the litter in which the Queen was seated, who loudly screamed, and the red spot was on Richard's brow in an instant.
"Ha! Saint George," he exclaimed, "we must take some order with this infidel scum!"
But Edith, whose litter was near, thrust her head out, and with her hand holding one of the shafts, exclaimed, "Royal Richard, beware what you do! see, these arrows are headless!"
"Noble, sensible wench!" exclaimed Richard; "by Heaven, thou shamest us all by thy readiness of thought and eye. - Be not moved, my English hearts," he exclaimed to his followers; "their arrows have no heads - and their spears, too, lack the steel points. It is but a wild welcome, after their savage fashion, though doubtless they would rejoice to see us daunted or disturbed. Move onward, slow and steady."
The little phalanx moved forward accordingly, accompanied on all sides by the Arabs, with the shrillest and most piercing cries, the bowmen, meanwhile, displaying their agility by shooting as near the crests of the Christians as was possible, without actually hitting them, while the lancers charged each other with such rude blows of their blunt weapons that more than one of them lost his saddle, and well-nigh his life, in this rough sport. All this, though designed to express welcome, had rather a doubtful appearance in the eyes of the Europeans.
As they had advanced nearly half way towards the camp, King Richard and his suite forming, as it were, the nucleus round which this tumultuary body of horsemen howled, whooped, skirmished, and galloped, creating a scene of indescribable confusion, another shrill cry was heard, on which all these irregulars, who were on the front and upon the flanks of the little body of Europeans, wheeled off; and forming themselves into a long and deep column, followed with comparative order and silence in the rear of Richard's troops. The dust began now to dissipate in their front, when there advanced to meet them through that cloudy veil a body of cavalry of a different and more regular description, completely armed with offensive and defensive weapons, and who might well have served as a bodyguard to the proudest of Eastern monarchs. This splendid troop consisted of five hundred men and each horse which it contained was worth an earl's ransom. The riders were Georgian and Circassian slaves in the very prime of life. Their helmets and hauberks were formed of steel rings, so bright that they shone like silver; their vestures were of the gayest colours, and some of cloth of gold or silver; the sashes were twisted with silk and gold, their rich turbans were plumed and jewelled, and their sabres and poniards, of Damascene steel, were adorned with gold and gems on hilt and scabbard.
This splendid array advanced to the sound of military music, and when they met the Christian body they opened their files to the right and left, and let them enter between their ranks. Richard now assumed the foremost place in his troop, aware that Saladin himself was approaching. Nor was it long when, in the centre of his bodyguard, surrounded by his domestic officers and those hideous negroes who guard the Eastern haram, and whose misshapen forms were rendered yet more frightful by the richness of their attire, came the Soldan, with the look and manners of one on whose brow Nature had written, This is a King! In his snow-white turban, vest, and wide Eastern trousers, wearing a sash of scarlet silk, without any other ornament, Saladin might have seemed the plainest-dressed man in his own guard. But closer inspection discerned in his turban that inestimable gem which was called by the poets the Sea of Light; the diamond on which his signet was engraved, and which he wore in a ring, was probably worth all the jewels of the English crown; and a sapphire which terminated the hilt of his cangiar was not of much inferior value. It should be added that, to Protect himself from the dust, which in the vicinity of the Dead Sea resembles the finest ashes, or, perhaps, out of Oriental pride, the Soldan wore a sort of veil attached to his turban, which partly obscured the view of his noble features. He rode a milk-white Arabian, which bore him as if conscious and proud of his noble burden.
There was no need of further introduction. The two heroic monarchs - for such they both were - threw them selves at once from horseback, and the troops halting and the music suddenly ceasing, they advanced to meet each other in profound silence, and after a courteous inclination on either side they embraced as brethren and equals. The pomp and display upon both sides attracted no further notice - no one saw aught save Richard and Saladin, and they too beheld nothing but each other. The looks with which Richard surveyed Saladin were, however, more intently curious than those which the Soldan fixed upon him; and the Soldan also was the first to break silence.
"The Melech Ric is welcome to Saladin as water to this desert. I trust he hath no distrust of this numerous array. Excepting the armed slaves of my household, those who surround you with eyes of wonder and of welcome are - even the humblest of them - the privileged nobles of my thousand tribes; for who that could claim a title to be present would remain at home when such a Prince was to be seen as Richard, with the terrors of whose name, even on the sands of Yemen, the nurse stills her child, and the free Arab subdues his restive steed!"
"And these are all nobles of Araby?" said Richard, looking around on wild forms with their persons covered with haiks, their countenance swart with the sunbeams, their teeth as white as ivory, their black eyes glancing with fierce and preternatural lustre from under the shade of their turbans, and their dress being in general simple even to meanness.
"They claim such rank," said Saladin; "but though numerous, they are within the conditions of the treaty, and bear no arms but the sabre - even the iron of their lances is left behind."
"I fear," muttered De Vaux in English, "they have left them where they can be soon found a most flourishing House of Peers, I confess, and would find Westminster Hall something too narrow for them."
"Hush, De Vaux," said Richard, "I command thee. - Noble Saladin," he said, "suspicion and thou cannot exist on the same ground. Seest thou," pointing to the litters, "I too have brought some champions with me, though armed, perhaps, in breach of agreement; for bright eyes and fair features are weapons which cannot be left behind."
The Soldan, turning to the litters, made an obeisance as lowly as if looking towards Mecca, and kissed the sand in token of respect.
"Nay," said Richard, "they will not fear a closer encounter, brother; wilt thou not ride towards their litters, and the curtains will be presently withdrawn?" "That may Allah prohibit!" said Saladin, "since not an Arab looks on who would not think it shame to the noble ladies to be seen with their faces uncovered."
"Thou shalt see them, then, in private, brother," answered Richard.
"To what purpose?" answered Saladin mournfully. "Thy last letter was, to the hopes which I had entertained, like water to fire; and wherefore should I again light a flame which may indeed consume, but cannot cheer me? But will not my brother pass to the tent which his servant hath prepared for him? My principal black slave hath taken order for the reception of the Princesses, the officers of my household will attend your followers, and ourself will be the chamberlain of the royal Richard."
He led the way accordingly to a splendid pavilion, where was everything that royal luxury could devise. De Vaux, who was in attendance, then removed the chappe (capa), or long riding-cloak, which Richard wore, and he stood before Saladin in the close dress which showed to advantage the strength and symmetry of his person, while it bore a strong contrast to the flowing robes which disguised the thin frame. of the Eastern monarch. It was Richard's two-handed sword that chiefly attracted the attention of the Saracen -a broad, straight blade, the seemingly unwieldy length of which extended well-nigh from the shoulder to the heel of the wearer.
"Had I not," said Saladin, "seen this brand flaming in the front of battle, like that of Azrael, I had scarce believed that human arm could wield it. Might I request to see the Melech Ric strike one blow with it in peace, and in pure trial of strength?"
"Willingly, noble Saladin," answered Richard; and looking around for something whereon to exercise his strength, he saw a steel mace held by one of the attendants, the handle being of the same metal, and about an inch and a half in diameter. This he placed on a block of wood.
The anxiety of De Vaux for his master's honour led him to whisper in English, "For the blessed Virgin's sake, beware what you attempt, my liege! Your full strength is not as yet returned - give no triumph to the infidel."
"Peace, fool!" said Richard, standing firm on his ground, and casting a fierce glance around; "thinkest thou that I can fail in his presence?"
The glittering broadsword, wielded by both his hands, rose aloft to the King's left shoulder, circled round his head, descended with the sway of some terrific engine, and the bar of iron rolled on the ground in two pieces, as a woodsman would sever a sapling with a hedging-bill.
"By the head of the Prophet, a most wonderful blow!" said the Soldan, critically and accurately examining the iron bar which had been cut asunder; and the blade of the sword was so well tempered as to exhibit not the least token of having suffered by the feat it had performed. He then took the King's hand, and looking on the size and muscular strength which it exhibited, laughed as he placed it beside his own, so lank and thin, so inferior in brawn and sinew.
"Ay, look well," said De Vaux in English, "it will be long ere your long jackanape's fingers do such a feat with your fine gilded reaping-hook there."
"Silence, De Vaux," said Richard;"by Our Lady, he understands or guesses thy meaning - be not so broad, I pray thee."
The Soldan, indeed, presently said, "Something I would fain attempt - though wherefore should the weak show their inferiority in presence of the strong? Yet each land hath its own exercises, and this may be new to the Melech Ric." So saying, he took from the floor a cushion of silk and down, and placed it upright on one end. "Can thy weapon, my brother, sever that cushion?" he said to King Richard.
"No, surely," replied the King; "no sword on earth, were it the Excalibur of King Arthur, can cut that which opposes no steady resistance to the blow."
"Mark, then," said Saladin; and tucking up the sleeve of his gown, showed his arm, thin indeed and spare, but which constant exercise had hardened into a mass consisting of nought but bone, brawn, and sinew. He unsheathed his scimitar, a curved and narrow blade, which glittered not like the swords of the Franks, but was, on the contrary, of a dull blue colour, marked with ten millions of meandering lines, which showed how anxiously the metal had been welded by the armourer. Wielding this weapon, apparently so inefficient when compared to that of Richard, the Soldan stood resting his weight upon his left foot, which was slightly advanced; he balanced himself a little, as if to steady his aim; then stepping at once forward, drew the scimitar across the cushion, applying the edge so dexterously, and with so little apparent effort, that the cushion seemed rather to fall asunder than to be divided by violence.
"It is a juggler's trick," said De Vaux, darting forward and snatching up the portion of the cushion which had been cut off, as if to assure himself of the reality of the feat; "there is gramarye in this."
The Soldan seemed to comprehend him, for he undid the sort of veil which he had hitherto morn, laid it double along the edge of his sabre, extended the weapon edgeways in the air, and drawing it suddenly through the veil, although it hung on the blade entirely loose, severed that also into two parts, which floated to different sides of the tent, equally displaying the extreme temper and sharpness of the weapon, and the exquisite dexterity of him who used it.
"Now, in good faith, my brother," said Richard, "thou art even matchless at the trick of the sword, and right perilous were it to meet thee! Still, however, I put some faith in a downright English blow, and what we cannot do by sleight we eke out by strength. Nevertheless, in truth thou art as expert in inflicting wounds as my sage Hakim in curing them. I trust I shall see the learned leech. I have much to thank; him for, and had brought some small present."
As he spoke, Saladin exchanged his turban for a Tartar cap. He had no sooner done so, than De Vaux opened at once his extended mouth and his large, round eyes, and Richard gazed with scarce less astonishment, while the Soldan spoke in a grave and altered voice: "The sick man, saith the poet, while he is yet infirm, knoweth the physician by his step; but when he is recovered, he knoweth not even his face when he looks upon him."
"A miracle! - a miracle!" exclaimed Richard.
"Of Mahound's working, doubtless," said Thomas de Vaux.
"That I should lose my learned Hakim," said Richard, "merely by absence of his cap and robe, and that I should find him again in my royal brother Saladin!"
"Such is oft the fashion of the world," answered the Soldan; "the tattered robe makes not always the dervise."
"And it was through thy intercession," said Richard, "that yonder Knight of the Leopard was saved from death, and by thy artifice that he revisited my camp in disguise?"
"Even so," replied Saladin. "I was physician enough to know that, unless the wounds of his bleeding honour were stanched, the days of his life must be few. His disguise was more easily penetrated than I had expected from the success of my own."
"An accident," said King Richard (probably alluding to the circumstance of his applying his lips to the wound of the supposed Nubian), "let me first know that his skin was artificially discoloured; and that hint once taken, detection became easy, for his form and person are not to be forgotten. I confidently expect that he will do battle on the morrow."
"He is full in preparation, and high in hope," said the Soldan. "I have furnished him with weapons and horse, thinking nobly of him from what I have seen under various disguises."
"Knows he now," said Richard, "to whom he lies under obligation?"
"He doth," replied the Saracen. "I was obliged to confess my person when I unfolded my purpose."
"And confessed he aught to you?" said the King of England.
"Nothing explicit," replied the Soldan; "but from much that passed between us, I conceive his love is too highly placed to be happy in its issue."
"And thou knowest that his daring and insolent passion crossed thine own wishes?" said Richard.
"I might guess so much," said Saladin; "but his passion had existed ere my wishes had been formed - and, I must now add, is likely to survive them. I cannot, in honour, revenge me for my disappointment on him who had no hand in it. Or, if this high- born dame loved him better than myself, who can say that she did not justice to a knight of her own religion, who is full of nobleness?"
"Yet of too mean lineage to mix with the blood of Plantagenet," said Richard haughtily.
"Such may be your maxims in Frangistan," replied the Soldan. "Our poets of the Eastern countries say that a valiant camel- driver is worthy to kiss the lip of a fair Queen, when a cowardly prince is not worthy to salute the hem of her garment. But with your permission, noble brother, I must take leave of thee for the present, to receive the Duke of Austria and yonder Nazarene knight, much less worthy of hospitality, but who must yet be suitably entreated, not for their sakes, but for mine own honour -for what saith the sage Lokman? 'Say not that the food is lost unto thee which is given to the stranger; for if his body be strengthened and fattened therewithal, not less is thine own worship and good name cherished and augmented.'"
The Saracen Monarch departed from King Richard's tent, and having indicated to him, rather with signs than with speech, where the pavilion of the Queen and her attendants was pitched, he went to receive the Marquis of Montserrat and his attendants, for whom, with less goodwill, but with equal splendour, the magnificent Soldan had provided accommodations. The most ample refreshments, both in the Oriental and after the European fashion, were spread before the royal and princely guests of Saladin, each in their own separate pavilion; and so attentive was the Soldan to the habits and taste of his visitors, that Grecian slaves were stationed to present them with the goblet, which is the abomination of the sect of Mohammed. Ere Richard had finished his meal, the ancient Omrah, who had brought the Soldan's letter to the Christian camp, entered with a plan of the ceremonial to be observed on the succeeding day of combat. Richard, who knew the taste of his old acquaintance, invited him to pledge him in a flagon of wine of Shiraz; but Abdallah gave him to understand, with a rueful aspect, that self-denial in the present circumstances was a matter in which his life was concerned, for that Saladin, tolerant in many respects, both observed and enforced by high penalties the laws of the Prophet.
"Nay, then," said Richard, "if he loves not wine, that lightener of the human heart, his conversion is not to be hoped for, and the prediction of the mad priest of Engaddi goes like chaff down the wind."
The King then addressed himself to settle the articles of combat, which cost a considerable time, as it was necessary on some points to consult with the opposite parties, as well as with the Soldan.
They were at length finally agreed upon, and adjusted by a protocol in French and in Arabian, which was subscribed by Saladin as umpire of the field, and by Richard and Leopold as guarantees for the two combatants. As the Omrah took his final leave of King Richard for the evening, De Vaux entered.
"The good knight," he said, "who is to do battle tomorrow requests to know whether he may not to-night pay duty to his royal godfather!"
"Hast thou seen him, De Vaux?" said the King, smiling; "and didst thou know an ancient acquaintance?"
"By our Lady of Lanercost," answered De Vaux, "there are so many surprises and changes in this land that my poor brain turns. I scarce knew Sir Kenneth of Scotland, till his good hound, that had been for a short while under my care, came and fawned on me; and even then I only knew the tyke by the depth of his chest, the roundness of his foot, and his manner of baying, for the poor gazehound was painted like any Venetian courtesan."
"Thou art better skilled in brutes than men, De Vaux," said the King.
"I will not deny," said De Vaux, "I have found them ofttimes the honester animals. Also, your Grace is pleased to term me sometimes a brute myself; besides that, I serve the Lion, whom all men acknowledge the king of brutes."
"By Saint George, there thou brokest thy lance fairly on my brow," said the King. "I have ever said thou hast a sort of wit, De Vaux; marry, one must strike thee with a sledge-hammer ere it can be made to sparkle. But to the present gear - is the good knight well armed and equipped?"
"Fully, my liege, and nobly," answered De Vaux. "I know the armour well; it is that which the Venetian commissary offered your highness, just ere you became ill, for five hundred byzants."
"And he hath sold it to the infidel Soldan, I warrant me, for a few ducats more, and present payment. These Venetians would sell the Sepulchre itself!"
"The armour will never be borne in a nobler cause," said De Vaux.
"Thanks to the nobleness of the Saracen," said the King, "not to the avarice of the Venetians."
"I would to God your Grace would be more cautious," said the anxious De Vaux. "Here are we deserted by all our allies, for points of offence given to one or another; we cannot hope to prosper upon the land; and we have only to quarrel with the amphibious republic, to lose the means of retreat by sea!"
"I will take care," said Richard impatiently; "but school me no more. Tell me rather, for it is of interest, hath the knight a confessor?"
"He hath," answered De Vaux; "the hermit of Engaddi. who erst did him that office when preparing for death, attends him on the present occasion, the fame of the duel having brought him hither."
"'Tis well," said Richard; "and now for the knight's request. Say to him, Richard will receive him when the discharge of his devoir beside the Diamond of the Desert shall have atoned for his fault beside the Mount of Saint George; and as thou passest through the camp, let the Queen know I will visit her pavilion - and tell Blondel to meet me there."
De Vaux departed, and in about an hour afterwards, Richard, wrapping his mantle around him, and taking his ghittern in his hand, walked in the direction of the Queen's pavilion. Several Arabs passed him, but always with averted heads and looks fixed upon the earth, though he could observe that all gazed earnestly after him when he was past. This led him justly to conjecture that his person was known to them; but that either the Soldan's commands, or their own Oriental politeness, forbade them to seem to notice a sovereign who desired to remain incognito.
When the King reached the pavilion of his Queen he found it guarded by those unhappy officials whom Eastern jealousy places around the zenana. Blondel was walking before the door, and touched his rote from time to time in a manner which made the Africans show their ivory teeth, and bear burden with their strange gestures and shrill, unnatural voices.
"What art thou after with this herd of black cattle, Blondel?" said the King; "wherefore goest thou not into the tent?"
"Because my trade can neither spare the head nor the fingers," said Blondel, "and these honest blackamoors threatened to cut me joint from joint if I pressed forward."
"Well, enter with me," said the King, "and I will be thy safeguard."
The blacks accordingly lowered pikes and swords to King Richard, and bent their eyes on the ground, as if unworthy to look upon him. In the interior of the pavilion they found Thomas de Vaux in attendance on the Queen. While Berengaria welcomed Blondel, King Richard spoke for some time secretly and apart with his fair kinswoman.
At length, "Are we still foes, my fair Edith?" he said, in a whisper.
"No, my liege," said Edith, in a voice just so low as not to interrupt the music; "none can bear enmity against King Richard when he deigns to show himself, as he really is, generous and noble, as well as valiant and honourable."
So saying, she extended her hand to him. The King kissed it in token of reconciliation, and then proceeded.
"You think, my sweet cousin, that my anger in this matter was feigned; but you are deceived. The punishment I inflicted upon this knight was just; for he had betrayed - no matter for how tempting a bribe, fair cousin - the trust committed to him. But I rejoice, perchance as much as you, that to-morrow gives him a chance to win the field, and throw back the stain which for a time clung to him upon the actual thief and traitor. No! -future times may blame Richard for impetuous folly, but they shall say that in rendering judgment he was just when he should and merciful when he could."
"Laud not thyself, cousin King," said Edith. "They may call thy justice cruelty, thy mercy caprice."
"And do not thou pride thyself," said the King, "as if thy knight, who hath not yet buckled on his armour, were unbelting it in triumph - Conrade of Montserrat is held a good lance. What if the Scot should lose the day?"
"It is impossible!" said Edith firmly. "My own eyes saw yonder Conrade tremble and change colour like a base thief; he is guilty, and the trial by combat is an appeal to the justice of God. I myself, in such a cause, would encounter him without fear."
"By the mass, I think thou wouldst, wench," said the King, "and beat him to boot, for there never breathed a truer Plantagenet than thou."
He paused, and added in a very serious tone, "See that thou continue to remember what is due to thy birth."
"What means that advice, so seriously given at this moment?" said Edith. "Am I of such light nature as to forget my name - my condition?"
"I will speak plainly, Edith," answered the King, "and as to a friend. What will this knight be to you, should he come off victor from yonder lists?"
"To me?" said Edith, blushing deep with shame and displeasure. "What can he be to me more than an honoured knight, worthy of such grace as Queen Berengaria might confer on him, had he selected her for his lady, instead of a more unworthy choice? The meanest knight may devote himself to the service of an empress, but the glory of his choice," she said proudly, "must be his reward."
"Yet he hath served and suffered much for you," said the King.
"I have paid his services with honour and applause, and his sufferings with tears," answered Edith. "Had he desired other reward, he would have done wisely to have bestowed his affections within his own degree."
"You would not, then, wear the bloody night-gear for his sake?" said King Richard.
"No more," answered Edith, "than I would have required him to expose his life by an action in which there was more madness than honour."
"Maidens talk ever thus," said the King; "but when the favoured lover presses his suit, she says, with a sigh, her stars had decreed otherwise."
"Your Grace has now, for the second time, threatened me with the influence of my horoscope," Edith replied, with dignity. "Trust me, my liege, whatever be the power of the stars, your poor kinswoman will never wed either infidel or obscure adventurer, Permit me that I listen to the music of Blondel, for the tone of your royal admonitions is scarce so grateful to the ear."
The conclusion of the evening offered nothing worthy of notice.
Heard ye the din of battle bray,
Lance to lance, and horse to horse?
It had been agreed, on account of the heat of the climate, that the judicial combat which was the cause of the present assemblage of various nations at the Diamond of the Desert should take place at one hour after sunrise. The wide lists, which had been constructed under the inspection of the Knight of the Leopard, enclosed a space of hard sand, which was one hundred and twenty yards long by forty in width. They extended in length from north to south, so as to give both parties the equal advantage of the rising sun. Saladin's royal seat was erected on the western side of the enclosure, just in the centre, where the combatants were expected to meet in mid encounter. Opposed to this was a gallery with closed casements, so contrived that the ladies, for whose accommodation it was erected, might see the fight without being themselves exposed to view. At either extremity of the lists was a barrier, which could be opened or shut at pleasure. Thrones had been also erected, but the Archduke, perceiving that his was lower than King Richard's, refused to occupy it; and Coeur de Lion, who would have submitted to much ere any formality should have interfered with the combat, readily agreed that the sponsors, as they were called, should remain on horseback during the fight. At one extremity of the lists were placed the followers of Richard, and opposed to them were those who accompanied the defender Conrade. Around the throne destined for the Soldan were ranged his splendid Georgian Guards, and the rest of the enclosure was occupied by Christian and Mohammedan spectators.
Long before daybreak the lists were surrounded by even a larger number of Saracens than Richard had seen on the preceding evening. When the first ray of the sun's glorious orb arose above the desert, the sonorous call, "To prayer - to prayer!" was poured forth by the Soldan himself, and answered by others, whose rank and zeal entitled them to act as muezzins. It was a striking spectacle to see them all sink to earth, for the purpose of repeating their devotions, with their faces turned to Mecca. But when they arose from the ground, the sun's rays, now strengthening fast, seemed to confirm the Lord of Gilsland's conjecture of the night before. They were flashed back from many a spearhead, for the pointless lances of the preceding day were certainly no longer such. De Vaux pointed it out to his master, who answered with impatience that he had perfect confidence in the good faith of the Soldan; but if De Vaux was afraid of his bulky body, he might retire.
Soon after this the noise of timbrels was heard, at the sound of which the whole Saracen cavaliers threw themselves from their horses, and prostrated themselves, as if for a second morning prayer. This was to give an opportunity to the Queen, with Edith and her attendants, to pass from the pavilion to the gallery intended for them. Fifty guards of Saladin's seraglio escorted them with naked sabres, whose orders were to cut to pieces whomsoever, were he prince or peasant, should venture to gaze on the ladies as they passed, or even presume to raise his head until the cessation of the music should make all men aware that they were lodged in their gallery, not to be gazed on by the curious eye.
This superstitious observance of Oriental reverence to the fair sex called forth from Queen Berengaria some criticisms very unfavourable to Saladin and his country. But their den, as the royal fair called it, being securely closed and guarded by their sable attendants, she was under the necessity of contenting herself with seeing, and laying aside for the present the still more exquisite pleasure of being seen.
Meantime the sponsors of both champions went, as was their duty, to see that they were duly armed and prepared for combat. The Archduke of Austria was in no hurry to perform this part of the ceremony, having had rather an unusually severe debauch upon wine of Shiraz the preceding evening. But the Grand Master of the Temple, more deeply concerned in the event of the combat, was early before the tent of Conrade of Montserrat. To his great surprise, the attendants refused him admittance.
"Do you not know me, ye knaves?" said the Grand Master, in great anger.
"We do, most valiant and reverend," answered Conrade's squire; "but even you may not at present enter - the Marquis is about to confess himself."
"Confess himself!" exclaimed the Templar, in a tone where alarm mingled with surprise and scorn - "and to whom, I pray thee?"
"My master bid me be secret," said the squire; on which the Grand Master pushed past him, and entered the tent almost by force.
The Marquis of Montserrat was kneeling at the feet of the hermit of Engaddi, and in the act of beginning his confession.
"What means this, Marquis?" said the Grand Master; "up, for shame - or, if you must needs confess, am not I here?"
"I have confessed to you too often already," replied Conrade, with a pale cheek and a faltering voice. "For God's sake, Grand Master, begone, and let me unfold my conscience to this holy man."
"In what is he holier than I am?" said the Grand Master. - "Hermit, prophet, madman - say, if thou darest, in what thou excellest me?"
"Bold and bad man," replied the hermit, "know that I am like the latticed window, and the divine light passes through to avail others, though, alas! it helpeth not me. Thou art like the iron stanchions, which neither receive light themselves, nor communicate it to any one."
"Prate not to me, but depart from this tent," said the Grand Master; "the Marquis shall not confess this morning, unless it be to me, for I part not from his side."
"Is this your pleasure?" said the hermit to Conrade; "for think not I will obey that proud man, if you continue to desire my assistance."
"Alas," said Conrade irresolutely, "what would you have me say? Farewell for a while - -we will speak anon."
"O procrastination!" exclaimed the hermit, "thou art a soul- murderer! - Unhappy man, farewell - not for a while, but until we shall both meet no matter where. And for thee," he added, turning to the Grand Master, "tremble!"
"Tremble!" replied the Templar contemptuously, "I cannot if I would."
The hermit heard not his answer, having left the tent.
"Come! to this gear hastily," said the Grand Master, "since thou wilt needs go through the foolery. Hark thee - I think I know most of thy frailties by heart, so we may omit the detail, which may be somewhat a long one, and begin with the absolution. What signifies counting the spots of dirt that we are about to wash from our hands?"
"Knowing what thou art thyself," said Conrade, "it is blasphemous to speak of pardoning another."
"That is not according to the canon, Lord Marquis," said the Templar; "thou art more scrupulous than orthodox. The absolution of the wicked priest is as effectual as if he were himself a saint - otherwise, God help the poor penitent! What wounded man inquires whether the surgeon that tends his gashes has clean hands or no? Come, shall we to this toy?"
"No," said Conrade, "I will rather die unconfessed than mock the sacrament."
"Come, noble Marquis," said the Templar, "rouse up your courage, and speak not thus. In an hour's time thou shalt stand victorious in the lists, or confess thee in thy helmet, like a valiant knight."
"Alas, Grand Master," answered Conrade, "all augurs ill for this affair, The strange discovery by the instinct of a dog - the revival of this Scottish knight, who comes into the lists like a spectre - all betokens evil."
"Pshaw," said the Templar, "I have seen thee bend thy lance boldly against him in sport, and with equal chance of success. Think thou art but in a tournament, and who bears him better in the tilt-yard than thou? - Come, squires and armourers, your master must be accoutred for the field."
The attendants entered accordingly, and began to arm the Marquis.
"What morning is without?" said Conrade.
"The sun rises dimly," answered a squire.
"Thou seest, Grand Master," said Conrade, "nought smiles on us."
"Thou wilt fight the more coolly, my son," answered the Templar; "thank Heaven, that hath tempered the sun of Palestine to suit thine occasion."
Thus jested the Grand Master. But his jests had lost their influence on the harassed mind of the Marquis, and notwithstanding his attempts to seem gay, his gloom communicated itself to the Templar.
"This craven," he thought, "will lose the day in pure faintness and cowardice of heart, which he calls tender conscience. I, whom visions and auguries shake not - -who am firm in my purpose as the living rock - I should have fought the combat myself. Would to God the Scot may strike him dead on the spot; it were next best to his winning the victory. But come what will, he must have no other confessor than myself - our sins are too much in common, and he might confess my share with his own."
While these thoughts passed through his mind, he continued to assist the Marquis in arming, but it was in silence.
The hour at length arrived; the trumpets sounded; the knights rode into the lists armed at all points, and mounted like men who were to do battle for a kingdom's honour. They wore their visors up, and riding around the lists three times, showed themselves to the spectators. Both were goodly persons, and both had noble countenances. But there was an air of manly confidence on the brow of the Scot - a radiancy of hope, which amounted even to cheerfulness; while, although pride and effort had recalled much of Conrade's natural courage, there lowered still on his brow a cloud of ominous despondence. Even his steed seemed to tread less lightly and blithely to the trumpet-sound than the noble Arab which was bestrode by Sir Kenneth; and the spruch-sprecher shook his head while he observed that, while the challenger rode around the lists in the course of the sun - that is, from right to left - the defender made the same circuit widdersins - that is, from left to right - which is in most countries held ominous.
A temporary altar was erected just beneath the gallery occupied by the Queen, and beside it stood the hermit in the dress of his order as a Carmelite friar. Other churchmen were also present. To this altar the challenger and defender were successively brought forward, conducted by their respective sponsors. Dismounting before it, each knight avouched the justice of his cause by a solemn oath on the Evangelists, and prayed that his success might be according to the truth or falsehood of what he then swore. They also made oath that they came to do battle in knightly guise, and with the usual weapons, disclaiming the use of spells, charms, or magical devices to incline victory to their side. The challenger pronounced his vow with a firm and manly voice, and a bold and cheerful countenance. When the ceremony was finished, the Scottish Knight looked at the gallery, and bent his head to the earth, as if in honour of those invisible beauties which were enclosed within; then, loaded with armour as he was, sprung to the saddle without the use of the stirrup, and made his courser carry him in a succession of caracoles to his station at the eastern extremity of the lists. Conrade also presented himself before the altar with boldness enough; but his voice as he took the oath sounded hollow, as if drowned in his helmet. The lips with which he appealed to Heaven to adjudge victory to the just quarrel grew white as they uttered the impious mockery. As he turned to remount his horse, the Grand Master approached him closer, as if to rectify something about the sitting of his gorget, and whispered, "Coward and fool! recall thy senses, and do me this battle bravely, else, by Heaven, shouldst thou escape him, thou escapest not me!"
The savage tone in which this was whispered perhaps completed the confusion of the Marquis's nerves, for he stumbled as he made to horse; and though he recovered his feet, sprung to the saddle with his usual agility, and displayed his address in horsemanship as he assumed his position opposite to the challenger's, yet the accident did not escape those who were on the watch for omens which might predict the fate of the day.
The priests, after a solemn prayer that God would show the rightful quarrel, departed from the lists. The trumpets of the challenger then rung a flourish, and a herald-at-arms proclaimed at the eastern end of the lists - "Here stands a good knight, Sir Kenneth of Scotland, champion for the royal King Richard of England, who accuseth Conrade, Marquis of Montserrat, of foul treason and dishonour done to the said King."
When the words Kenneth of Scotland announced the name and character of the champion, hitherto scarce generally known, a loud and cheerful acclaim burst from the followers of King Richard, and hardly, notwithstanding repeated commands of silence, suffered the reply of the defendant to he heard. He, of course, avouched his innocence, and offered his body for battle. The esquires of the combatants now approached, and delivered to each his shield and lance, assisting to hang the former around his neck, that his two hands might remain free, one for the management of the bridle, the other to direct the lance.
The shield of the Scot displayed his old bearing, the leopard, but with the addition of a collar and broken chain, in allusion to his late captivity. The shield of the Marquis bore, in reference to his title, a serrated and rocky mountain. Each shook his lance aloft, as if to ascertain the weight and toughness of the unwieldy weapon, and then laid it in the rest. The sponsors, heralds, and squires now retired to the barriers, and the combatants sat opposite to each other, face to face, with couched lance and closed visor, the human form so completely enclosed, that they looked more like statues of molten iron than beings of flesh and blood. The silence of suspense was now general. Men breathed thicker, and their very souls seemed seated in their eyes; while not a sound was to be heard save the snorting and pawing of the good steeds, who, sensible of what was about to happen, were impatient to dash into career. They stood thus for perhaps three minutes, when, at a signal given by the Soldan, a hundred instruments rent the air with their brazen clamours, and each champion striking his horse with the spurs, and slacking the rein, the horses started into full gallop, and the knights met in mid space with a shock like a thunderbolt. The victory was not in doubt - no, not one moment. Conrade, indeed, showed himself a practised warrior; for he struck his antagonist knightly in the midst of his shield, bearing his lance so straight and true that it shivered into splinters from the steel spear-head up to the very gauntlet. The horse of Sir Kenneth recoiled two or three yards and fell on his haunches; but the rider easily raised him with hand and rein. But for Conrade there was no recovery. Sir Kenneth's lance had pierced through the shield, through a plated corselet of Milan steel, through a secret, or coat of linked mail, worn beneath the corselet, had wounded him deep in the bosom, and borne him from his saddle, leaving the truncheon of the lance fixed in his wound. The sponsors, heralds, and Saladin himself, descending from his throne, crowded around the wounded man; while Sir Kenneth, who had drawn his sword ere yet he discovered his antagonist was totally helpless, now commanded him to avow his guilt. The helmet was hastily unclosed, and the wounded man, gazing wildly on the skies, replied, "What would you more? God hath decided justly - I am guilty; but there are worse traitors in the camp than I. In pity to my soul, let me have a confessor!"
He revived as he uttered these words.
"The talisman - the powerful remedy, royal brother!" said King Richard to Saladin.
"The traitor," answered the Soldan, "is more fit to be dragged from the lists to the gallows by the heels, than to profit by its virtues. And some such fate is in his look," he added, after gazing fixedly upon the wounded man; "for though his wound may be cured, yet Azrael's seal is on the wretch's brow."
"Nevertheless," said Richard, "I pray you do for him what you may, that he may at least have time for confession. Slay not soul and body! To him one half hour of time may be worth more, by ten thousandfold, than the life of the oldest patriarch."
"My royal brother's wish shall be obeyed," said Saladin. - "Slaves, bear this wounded man to our tent."
"Do not so," said the Templar, who had hitherto stood gloomily looking on in silence. "The royal Duke of Austria and myself will not permit this unhappy Christian prince to be delivered over to the Saracens, that they may try their spells upon him. We are his sponsors, and demand that he be assigned to our care."
"That is, you refuse the certain means offered to recover him?" said Richard.
"Not so," said the Grand Master, recollecting himself. "If the Soldan useth lawful medicines, he may attend the patient in my tent."
"Do so, I pray thee, good brother," said Richard to Saladin, "though the permission be ungraciously yielded. - But now to a more glorious work. Sound, trumpets - shout, England - in honour of England's champion!"
Drum, clarion, trumpet, and cymbal rung forth at once, and the deep and regular shout, which for ages has been the English acclamation, sounded amidst the shrill and irregular yells of the Arabs, like the diapason of the organ amid the howling of a storm. There was silence at length.
"Brave Knight of the Leopard," resumed Coeur de Lion, "thou hast shown that the Ethiopian may change his skin, and the leopard his spots, though clerks quote Scripture for the impossibility. Yet I have more to say to you when I have conducted you to the presence of the ladies, the best judges and best rewarders of deeds of chivalry."
The Knight of the Leopard bowed assent.
"And thou, princely Saladin, wilt also attend them. I promise thee our Queen will not think herself welcome, if she lacks the opportunity to thank her royal host for her most princely reception."
Saladin bent his head gracefully, but declined the invitation.
"I must attend the wounded man," he said. "The leech leaves not his patient more than the champion the lists, even if he be summoned to a bower like those of Paradise. And further, royal Richard, know that the blood of the East flows not so temperately in the presence of beauty as that of your land. What saith the Book itself? - Her eye is as the edge of the sword of the Prophet, who shall look upon it? He that would not be burnt avoideth to tread on hot embers - wise men spread not the flax before a bickering torch. He, saith the sage, who hath forfeited a treasure, doth not wisely to turn back his head to gaze at it."
Richard, it may be believed, respected the motives of delicacy which flowed from manners so different from his own, and urged his request no further.
"At noon," said the Soldan, as he departed, "I trust ye will all accept a collation under the black camel-skin tent of a chief of Kurdistan."
The same invitation was circulated among the Christians, comprehending all those of sufficient importance to be admitted to sit at a feast made for princes.
"Hark!" said Richard, "the timbrels announce that our Queen and her attendants are leaving their gallery - and see, the turbans sink on the ground, as if struck down by a destroying angel. All lie prostrate, as if the glance of an Arab's eye could sully the lustre of a lady's cheek! Come, we will to the pavilion, and lead our conqueror thither in triumph. How I pity that noble Soldan, who knows but of love as it is known to those of inferior nature!"
Blondel tuned his harp to his boldest measure, to welcome the introduction of the victor into the pavilion of Queen Berengaria. He entered, supported on either side by his sponsors, Richard and Thomas Longsword, and knelt gracefully down before the Queen, though more than half the homage was silently rendered to Edith, who sat on her right hand.
"Unarm him, my mistresses," said the King, whose delight was in the execution of such chivalrous usages; "let Beauty honour Chivalry! Undo his spurs, Berengaria; Queen though thou be, thou owest him what marks of favour thou canst give. - Unlace his helmet, Edith; - by this hand thou shalt, wert thou the proudest Plantagenet of the line, and he the poorest knight on earth!"
Both ladies obeyed the royal commands - Berengaria with bustling assiduity, as anxious to gratify her husband's humour, and Edith blushing and growing pale alternately, as, slowly and awkwardly, she undid, with Longsword's assistance, the fastenings which secured the helmet to the gorget.
"And what expect you from beneath this iron shell?" said Richard, as the removal of the casque gave to view the noble countenance of Sir Kenneth, his face glowing with recent exertion, and not less so with present emotion. "What think ye of him, gallants and beauties?" said Richard. "Doth he resemble an Ethiopian slave, or doth he present the face of an obscure and nameless adventurer? No, by my good sword! Here terminate his various disguises. He hath knelt down before you unknown, save by his worth; he arises equally distinguished by birth and by fortune. The adventurous knight, Kenneth, arises David, Earl of Huntingdon, Prince Royal of Scotland!"
There was a general exclamation of surprise, and Edith dropped from her hand the helmet which she had just received.
"Yes, my masters," said the King, "it is even so. Ye know how Scotland deceived us when she proposed to send this valiant Earl, with a bold company of her best and noblest, to aid our arms in this conquest of Palestine, but failed to comply with her engagements. This noble youth, under whom the Scottish Crusaders were to have been arrayed, thought foul scorn that his arm should he withheld from the holy warfare, and joined us at Sicily with a small train of devoted and faithful attendants, which was augmented by many of his countrymen to whom the rank of their leader was unknown. The confidants of the Royal Prince had all, save one old follower, fallen by death, when his secret, but too well kept, had nearly occasioned my cutting off, in a Scottish adventurer, one of the noblest hopes of Europe. - Why did you not mention your rank, noble Huntingdon, when endangered by my hasty and passionate sentence? Was it that you thought Richard capable of abusing the advantage I possessed over the heir of a King whom I have so often found hostile?"
"I did you not that injustice, royal Richard," answered the Earl of Huntingdon; "but my pride brooked not that I should avow myself Prince of Scotland in order to save my life, endangered for default of loyalty. And, moreover, I had made my vow to preserve my rank unknown till the Crusade should be accomplished; nor did I mention it save in articulo mortis, and under the seal of confession, to yonder reverend hermit."
"It was the knowledge of that secret, then, which made the good man so urgent with me to recall my severe sentence?" said Richard. "Well did he say that, had this good knight fallen by my mandate, I should have wished the deed undone though it had cost me a limb. A limb! I should have wished it undone had it cost me my life - -since the world would have said that Richard had abused the condition in which the heir of Scotland had placed himself by his confidence in his generosity."
"Yet, may we know of your Grace by what strange and happy chance this riddle was at length read?" said the Queen Berengaria.
"Letters were brought to us from England," said the King, "in which we learned, among other unpleasant news, that the King of Scotland had seized upon three of our nobles, when on a pilgrimage to Saint Ninian, and alleged, as a cause, that his heir, being supposed to be fighting in the ranks of the Teutonic Knights against the heathen of Borussia, was, in fact, in our camp, and in our power; and, therefore, William proposed to hold these nobles as hostages for his safety. This gave me the first light on the real rank of the Knight of the Leopard; and my suspicions were confirmed by De Vaux, who, on his return from Ascalon, brought back with him the Earl of Huntingdon's sole attendant, a thick-skulled slave, who had gone thirty miles to unfold to De Vaux a secret he should have told to me."
"Old Strauchan must be excused," said the Lord of Gilsland. "He knew from experience that my heart is somewhat softer than if I wrote myself Plantagenet."
"Thy heart soft? thou commodity of old iron and Cumberland flint, that thou art!" exclaimed the King. - "It is we Plantagenets who boast soft and feeling hearts, Edith," turning to his cousin with an expression which called the blood into her cheek, "give me thy hand, my fair cousin, and, Prince of Scotland, thine."
"Forbear, my lord," said Edith, hanging back, and endeavouring to hide her confusion under an attempt to rally her royal kinsman's credulity. "Remember you not that my hand was to be the signal of converting to the Christian faith the Saracen and Arab, Saladin and all his turbaned host?"
"Ay, but the wind of prophecy hath chopped about, and sits now in another corner," replied Richard.
"Mock not, lest your bonds be made strong," said the hermit stepping forward. "The heavenly host write nothing but truth in their brilliant records it is man's eyes which are too weak to read their characters aright. Know, that when Saladin and Kenneth of Scotland slept in my grotto, I read in the stars that there rested under my roof a prince, the natural foe of Richard, with whom the fate of Edith Plantagenet was to be united. Could I doubt that this must be the Soldan, whose rank was well known to me, as he often visited my cell to converse on the revolutions of the heavenly bodies? Again, the lights of the firmament proclaimed that this prince, the husband of Edith Plantagenet, should be a Christian; and I - weak and wild interpreter! - argued thence the conversion of the noble Saladin, whose good qualities seemed often to incline him towards the better faith. The sense of my weakness hath humbled me to the dust; but in the dust I have found comfort! I have not read aright the fate of others - who can assure me but that I may have miscalculated mine own? God will not have us break into His council-house, or spy out His hidden mysteries. We must wait His time with watching and prayer - with fear and with hope. I came hither the stern seer - the proud prophet - skilled, as I thought, to instruct princes, and gifted even with supernatural powers, but burdened with a weight which I deemed no shoulders but mine could have borne. But my bands have been broken! I go hence humble in mine ignorance, penitent - and not hopeless."
With these words he withdrew from the assembly; and it is recorded that from that period his frenzy fits seldom occurred, and his penances were of a milder character, and accompanied with better hopes of the future. So much is there of self-opinion, even in insanity, that the conviction of his having entertained and expressed an unfounded prediction with so much vehemence seemed to operate like loss of blood on the human frame, to modify and lower the fever of the brain.
It is needless to follow into further particulars the conferences at the royal tent, or to inquire whether David, Earl of Huntingdon, was as mute in the presence of Edith Plantagenet as when he was bound to act under the character of an obscure and nameless adventurer. It may be well believed that he there expressed with suitable earnestness the passion to which he had so often before found it difficult to give words.
The hour of noon now approached, and Saladin waited to receive the Princes of Christendom in a tent, which, but for its large size, differed little from that of the ordinary shelter of the common Kurdman, or Arab; yet beneath its ample and sable covering was prepared a banquet after the most gorgeous fashion of the East, extended upon carpets of the richest stuffs, with cushions laid for the guests. But we cannot stop to describe the cloth of gold and silver - the superb embroidery in arabesque - the shawls of Kashmere and the muslins of India, which were here unfolded in all their splendour; far less to tell the different sweetmeats, ragouts edged with rice coloured in various manners, with all the other niceties of Eastern cookery, Lambs roasted whole, and game and poultry dressed in pilaus, were piled in vessels of gold, and silver, and porcelain, and intermixed with large mazers of sherbet, cooled in snow and ice from the caverns of Mount Lebanon. A magnificent pile of cushions at the head of the banquet seemed prepared for the master of the feast, and such dignitaries as he might call to share that place of distinction; while from the roof of the tent in all quarters, but over this seat of eminence in particular, waved many a banner and pennon, the trophies of battles won and kingdoms overthrown. But amongst and above them all, a long lance displayed a shroud, the banner of Death, with this impressive inscription -"Saladin, King of kings - Saladin, Victor of victors - Saladin must die." Amid these preparations, the slaves who had arranged the refreshments stood with drooped heads and folded arms, mute and motionless as monumental statuary, or as automata, which waited the touch of the artist to put them in motion.
Expecting the approach of his princely guests, the Soldan, imbued, as most were, with the superstitions of his time, paused over a horoscope and corresponding scroll, which had been sent to him by the hermit of Engaddi when he departed from the camp.
"Strange and mysterious science," he muttered to himself, which, pretending to draw the curtain of futurity, misleads those whom it seems to guide, and darkens the scene which it pretends to illuminate! who would not have said that I was that enemy most dangerous to Richard, whose enmity was to be ended by marriage with his kinswoman? Yet it now appears that a union betwixt this gallant Earl and the lady will bring about friendship betwixt Richard and Scotland, an enemy more dangerous than I, as a wild- cat in a chamber is more to be dreaded than a lion in a distant desert. But then" he continued to mutter to himself, "the combination intimates that this husband was to be Christian. - Christian!" he repeated, after a pause. "That gave the insane fanatic star-gazer hopes that I might renounce my faith! But me, the faithful follower of our Prophet - me it should have undeceived. Lie there, mysterious scroll," he added, thrusting it under the pile of cushions; "strange are thy bodements and fatal, since, even when true in themselves, they work upon those who attempt to decipher their meaning all the effects of falsehood. - How now! what means this intrusion?"
He spoke to the dwarf Nectabanus, who rushed into the tent fearfully agitated, with each strange and disproportioned feature wrenched by horror into still more extravagant ugliness - his mouth open, his eyes staring, his hands, with their shrivelled and deformed fingers, wildly expanded.
"What now?" said the Soldan sternly.
"Accipe hoc!" groaned out the dwarf.
"Ha! sayest thou?" answered Saladin.
"Accipe hoc!" replied the panicstruck creature, unconscious, perhaps, that he repeated the same words as before.
"Hence, I am in no vein for foolery," said the Emperor.
"Nor am I further fool," said the dwarf, "than to make my folly help out my wits to earn my bread, poor, helpless wretch! Hear, hear me, great Soldan!"
"Nay, if thou hast actual wrong to complain of," said Saladin, "fool or wise, thou art entitled to the ear of a King. Retire hither with me;" and he led him into the inner tent.
Whatever their conference related to, it was soon broken off by the fanfare of the trumpets announcing the arrival of the various Christian princes, whom Saladin welcomed to his tent with a royal courtesy well becoming their rank and his own; but chiefly he saluted the young Earl of Huntingdon, and generously congratulated him upon prospects which seemed to have interfered with and overclouded those which he had himself entertained.
"But think not," said the Soldan, "thou noble youth, that the Prince of Scotland is more welcome to Saladin than was Kenneth to the solitary Ilderim when they met in the desert, or the distressed Ethiop to the Hakim Adonbec. A brave and generous disposition like thine hath a value independent of condition and birth, as the cool draught, which I here proffer thee, is as delicious from an earthen vessel as from a goblet of gold."
The Earl of Huntingdon made a suitable reply, gratefully acknowledging the various important services he had received from the generous Soldan; but when he had pledged Saladin in the bowl of sherbet which the Soldan had proffered to him, he could not help remarking with a smile, "The brave cavalier Ilderim knew not of the formation of ice, but the munificent Soldan cools his sherbet with snow."
"Wouldst thou have an Arab or a Kurdman as wise as a Hakim?" said the Soldan. "He who does on a disguise must make the sentiments of his heart and the learning of his head accord with the dress which he assumes. I desired to see how a brave and single-hearted cavalier of Frangistan would conduct himself in debate with such a chief as I then seemed; and I questioned the truth of a well-known fact, to know by what arguments thou wouldst support thy assertion."
While they were speaking, the Archduke of Austria, who stood a little apart, was struck with the mention of iced sherbet, and took with pleasure and some bluntness the deep goblet, as the Earl of Huntingdon was about to replace it.
"Most delicious!" he exclaimed, after a deep draught, which the heat of the weather, and the feverishness following the debauch of the preceding day, had rendered doubly acceptable. He sighed as he handed the cup to the Grand Master of the Templars. Saladin made a sign to the dwarf, who advanced and pronounced, with a harsh voice, the words, accipe hoc! The Templar started, like a steed who sees a lion under a bush beside the pathway; yet instantly recovered, and to hide, perhaps, his confusion, raised the goblet to his lips. But those lips never touched that goblet's rim. The sabre of Saladin left its sheath as lightning leaves the cloud. It was waved in the air, and the head of the Grand Master rolled to the extremity of the tent, while the trunk remained for a second standing, with the goblet still clenched in its grasp, then fell, the liquor mingling with the blood that spurted from the veins."
There was a general exclamation of treason, and Austria, nearest to whom Saladin stood with the bloody sabre in his hand, started back as if apprehensive that his turn was to come next. Richard and others laid hand on their swords.
"Fear nothing, noble Austria," said Saladin, as composedly as if nothing had happened, - "nor you, royal England, be wroth at what you have seen. Not for his manifold treasons - not for the attempt which, as may be vouched by his own squire, he instigated against King Richard's life - not that he pursued the Prince of Scotland and myself in the desert, reducing us to save our lives by the speed of our horses - not that he had stirred up the Maronites to attack us upon this very occasion, had I not brought up unexpectedly so many Arabs as rendered the scheme abortive - not for any or all of these crimes does he now lie there, although each were deserving such a doom - but because, scarce half an hour ere he polluted our presence, as the simoom empoisons the atmosphere, he poniarded his comrade and accomplice, Conrade of Montserrat, lest he should confess the infamous plots in which they had both been engaged."
"How! Conrade murdered? - And by the Grand Master, his sponsor and most intimate friend!" exclaimed Richard. "Noble Soldan, I would not doubt thee; yet this must be proved, otherwise -"
"There stands the evidence," said Saladin, pointing to the terrified dwarf. "Allah, who sends the fire-fly to illuminate the night season, can discover secret crimes by the most contemptible means."
The Soldan proceeded to tell the dwarf's story, which amounted to this. In his foolish curiosity, or, as he partly confessed, with some thoughts of pilfering, Nectabanus had strayed into the tent of Conrade, which had been deserted by his attendants, some of whom had left the encampment to carry the news of his defeat to his brother, and others were availing themselves of the means which Saladin had supplied for revelling. The wounded man slept under the influence of Saladin's wonderful talisman, so that the dwarf had opportunity to pry about at pleasure until he was frightened into concealment by the sound of a heavy step. He skulked behind a curtain, yet could see the motions, and hear the words, of the Grand Master, who entered, and carefully secured the covering of the pavilion behind him. His victim started from sleep, and it would appear that he instantly suspected the purpose of his old associate, for it was in a tone of alarm that he demanded wherefore he disturbed him.
"I come to confess and to absolve thee," answered the Grand Master.
Of their further speech the terrified dwarf remembered little, save that Conrade implored the Grand Master not to break a wounded reed, and that the Templar struck him to the heart with a Turkish dagger, with the words accipe hoc! - words which long afterwards haunted the terrified imagination of the concealed witness.
"I verified the tale," said Saladin, "by causing the body to be examined; and I made this unhappy being, whom Allah hath made the discoverer of the crime, repeat in your own presence the words which the murderer spoke; and you yourselves saw the effect which they produced upon his conscience!"
The Soldan paused, and the King of England broke silence.
"If this be true, as I doubt not, we have witnessed a great act of justice, though it bore a different aspect. But wherefore in this presence? wherefore with thine own hand?"
"I had designed otherwise," said Saladin. "But had I not hastened his doom, it had been altogether averted, since, if I had permitted him to taste of my cup, as he was about to do, how could I, without incurring the brand of inhospitality, have done him to death as he deserved? Had he murdered my father, and afterwards partaken of my food and my bowl, not a hair of his head could have been injured by me. But enough of him - let his carcass and his memory be removed from amongst us."
The body was carried away, and the marks of the slaughter obliterated or concealed with such ready dexterity, as showed that the case was not altogether so uncommon as to paralyze the assistants and officers of Saladin's household.
But the Christian princes felt that the scene which they had beheld weighed heavily on their spirits, and although, at the courteous invitation of the Soldan, they assumed their seats at the banquet, yet it was with the silence of doubt and amazement. The spirits of Richard alone surmounted all cause for suspicion or embarrassment. Yet he too seemed to ruminate on some proposition, as if he were desirous of making it in the most insinuating and acceptable manner which was possible. At length he drank off a large bowl of wine, and addressing the Soldan, desired to know whether it was not true that he had honoured the Earl of Huntingdon with a personal encounter.
Saladin answered with a smile that he had proved his horse and his weapons with the heir of Scotland, as cavaliers are wont to do with each other when they meet in the desert; and modestly added that, though the combat was not entirely decisive, he had not on his part much reason to pride himself on the event. The Scot, on the other hand, disclaimed the attributed superiority, and wished to assign it to the Soldan.
"Enough of honour thou hast had in the encounter," said Richard, "and I envy thee more for that than for the smiles of Edith Plantagenet, though one of them might reward a bloody day's work. - But what say you, noble princes? Is it fitting that such a royal ring of chivalry should break up without something being done for future times to speak of? What is the overthrow and death of a traitor to such a fair garland of honour as is here assembled, and which ought not to part without witnessing something more worthy of their regard? - How say you, princely Soldan? What if we two should now, and before this fair company, decide the long-contended question for this land of Palestine, and end at once these tedious wars? Yonder are the lists ready, nor can Paynimrie ever hope a better champion than thou. I, unless worthier offers, will lay down my gauntlet in behalf of Christendom, and in all love and honour we will do mortal battle for the possession of Jerusalem."
There was a deep pause for the Soldan's answer. His cheek and brow coloured highly, and it was the opinion of many present that he hesitated whether he should accept the challenge. At length he said, "Fighting for the Holy City against those whom we regard as idolaters and worshippers of stocks and stones and graven images, I might confide that Allah would strengthen my arm; or if I fell beneath the sword of the Melech Ric, I could not pass to Paradise by a more glorious death. But Allah has already given Jerusalem to the true believers, and it were a tempting the God of the Prophet to peril, upon my own personal strength and skill, that which I hold securely by the superiority of my forces."
"If not for Jerusalem, then," said Richard, in the tone of one who would entreat a favour of an intimate friend, "yet, for the love of honour, let us run at least three courses with grinded lances?"
"Even this," said Saladin, half smiling at Coeur de Lion's affectionate earnestness for the combat - "even this I may not lawfully do. The master places the shepherd over the flock not for the shepherd's own sake, but for the sake of the sheep. Had I a son to hold the sceptre when I fell, I might have had the liberty, as I have the will, to brave this bold encounter; but your own Scripture saith that when the herdsman is smitten, the sheep are scattered."
"Thou hast had all the fortune," said Richard, turning to the Earl of Huntingdon with a sigh. "I would have given the best year in my life for that one half hour beside the Diamond of the Desert!"
The chivalrous extravagance of Richard awakened the spirits of the assembly, and when at length they arose to depart Saladin advanced and took Coeur de Lion by the hand.
"Noble King of England," he said, "we now part, never to meet again. That your league is dissolved, no more to be reunited, and that your native forces are far too few to enable you to prosecute your enterprise, is as well known to me as to yourself. I may not yield you up that Jerusalem which you so much desire to hold - it is to us, as to you, a Holy City. But whatever other terms Richard demands of Saladin shall be as willingly yielded as yonder fountain yields its waters. Ay and the same should be as frankly afforded by Saladin if Richard stood in the desert with but two archers in his train!"
The next day saw Richard's return to his own camp, and in a short space afterwards the young Earl of Huntingdon was espoused by Edith Plantagenet. The Soldan sent, as a nuptial present on this occasion, the celebrated Talisman. But though many cures were wrought by means of it in Europe, none equalled in success and celebrity those which the Soldan achieved. It is still in existence, having been bequeathed by the Earl of Huntingdon to a brave knight of Scotland, Sir Simon of the Lee, in whose ancient and highly honoured family it is still preserved; and although charmed stones have been dismissed from the modern Pharmacopoeia, its virtues are still applied to for stopping blood, and in cases of canine madness.
Our Story closes here, as the terms on which Richard relinquished his conquests are to be found in every history of the period.
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