Winning His Spurs by G. A. Henty
Chapter XI. In the Holy Land.
As soon as the galley which had escaped reached the town from which it had started, it with three others at once set out in pursuit; while from a narrow creek two other galleys made their appearance.
There were a few words of question among the English whether to stop and give battle to these opponents, or to make their way with all speed. The latter counsel prevailed; the earl pointing out that their lives were now scarcely their own, and that they had no right on their way to the holy sepulchre to risk them unnecessarily.
Fortunately they had it in their hands to fight or escape, as they chose; for doubly banked as the oars now were, there was little chance of the enemy's galleys overtaking them. Gradually as they rowed to sea the pursuing vessels became smaller and smaller to view, until at last they were seen to turn about and make again for land.
After some consultation between the earl and the captain of the lost ship, it was determined to make for Rhodes. This had been settled as a halting-point for the fleet, and the earl thought it probable that the greater portion of those scattered by the storm would rendezvous there.
So it proved; after a voyage, which although not very long was tedious, owing to the number of men cramped up in so small a craft, they came within sight of the port of Rhodes, and were greatly pleased at seeing a perfect forest of masts there, showing that at least the greater portion of the fleet had survived the storm.
This was indeed the fact, and a number of other single ships dropped in during the next day or two.
There was great astonishment on the part of the fleet when the long swift galley was seen approaching, and numerous conjectures were offered as to what message the pirates could be bringing--for there was no mistaking the appearance of the long, dangerous-looking craft.
When, upon her approach, the standard of the Earl of Evesham was seen flying on the bow, a great shout of welcome arose from the fleet; and King Richard himself, who happened to be on the deck of the royal ship, shouted to the earl to come on board and tell him what masquerading he was doing there. The earl of course obeyed the order, anchoring near the royal vessel, and going on board in a small boat, taking with him his page and squire.
The king heard with great interest the tale of the adventures of the "Rose"; and when the Earl of Evesham said that it was to Cuthbert that was due the thought of the stratagem by which the galley was captured, and its crew saved from being carried away into hopeless slavery, the king patted the boy on the shoulder with such hearty force as nearly to throw Cuthbert off his feet.
"By St. George!" said the monarch, "you are fated to be a very pink of knights. You seem as thoughtful as you are brave; and whatever your age may be, I declare that the next time your name is brought before me I will call a chapter of knights, and they shall agree that exception shall be made in your favour, and that you shall at once be admitted to the honourable post. You will miss your page, Sir Walter; but I am sure you will not grudge him that."
"No, no, sire," said the earl. "The lad, as I have told your Majesty, is a connexion of mine--distant, it is true, but one of the nearest I have--and it will give me the greatest pleasure to see him rising so rapidly, and on a fair way to distinguish himself highly. I feel already as proud of him as if he were my own son."
The fleet remained some two or three weeks at Rhodes, for many of the vessels were sorely buffeted and injured, masts were carried away as well as bulwarks battered in, and the efforts of the crews and of those of the whole of the artificers of Rhodes were called into requisition. Light sailing craft were sent off in all directions, for the king was in a fever of anxiety. Among the vessels still missing was that which bore the Queen of Navarre and the fair Berengaria.
One day a solitary vessel was seen approaching.
"Another of our lost sheep," the earl said, looking out over the poop.
She proved, however, to be a merchant ship of Greece, and newly come from Cyprus.
Her captain went on board the royal ship, and delivered message to the king, to the effect that two of the vessels had been cast upon the coast of Cyprus, that they had been plundered by the people, the crews ill-treated and made prisoners by the king, and that the Queen of Navarre and the princess were in their hands.
This roused King Richard into one of his furies.
"Before I move a step towards the Holy Land," he said, "I will avenge these injuries upon this faithless and insolent king. I swear that I will make him pay dearly for having laid a hand upon these ladies."
At once the signal was hoisted for all the vessels in a condition to sail to take on board water and provisions, and to prepare to sail for Cyprus; and the next morning at daybreak the fleet sailed out, and made their way towards that island, casting anchor off the harbour of Famagosta.
King Richard sent a messenger on shore to the king, ordering him at once to release the prisoners; to make the most ample compensation to them; to place ships at their service equal to those which had been destroyed; and to pay a handsome sum of money as indemnity.
The King of Cyprus, however, an insolent and haughty despot, sent back a message of defiance. King Richard at once ordered the anchors to be raised, and all to follow the royal ship.
The fleet entered the harbour of Famagosta; the English archers began the fight by sending a flight of arrows into the town. This was answered from the walls by a shower of stones and darts from the machines.
There was no time wasted. The vessels were headed towards the shore, and as the water was deep, many of them were able to run close alongside the rocky wharves. In an instant, regardless of the storm of weapons poured down by the defenders, the English leapt ashore.
The archers kept up so terrible a rain of missiles against the battlements that the defenders could scarcely show themselves for an instant there, and the men-at-arms, placing ladders against them, speedily mounted, and putting aside all opposition, poured into the town. The effeminate Greek soldiers of the monarch could offer no effectual resistance whatever, and he himself fled from the palace and gained the open country, followed by a few adherents. The English gained a considerable booty, for in those days a town taken by assault was always looked upon as the property of the captors. The Queen of Navarre and the princess were rescued.
King Richard, however, was not satisfied with the success he had gained, and was determined to punish this insolent little king. Accordingly the English were set in motion into the interior, and town after town speedily fell, or opened their gates to him. The king, deserted by his troops, and detested by his people for having brought so terrible a scourge upon them by his reckless conduct, now sued for peace; but King Richard would give him no terms except dethronement, and this he was forced to accept. He was deprived of his crown, and banished from the island.
The king now, to the surprise of his barons, announced his intention of at once marrying the Princess Berengaria.
Popular as he was, there was yet some quiet grumbling among his troops; as they said, with justice, they had been waiting nearly six months in the island of Sicily, and the king might well have married there, instead of a fresh delay being caused when so near their place of destination.
However, the king as usual had his own way, and the marriage was solemnized amidst great rejoicing and solemnity.
It was a brilliant scene indeed in the cathedral of Limasol. There were assembled all the principal barons of England, together with a great number of the nobles of Cyprus.
Certainly no better matched pair ever stood at the altar together, for as King Richard was one of the strongest and bravest men of his own or any other time, so Berengaria is admitted to have been one of the loveliest maidens.
The air was rent with the acclamations of the assembled English host and of the numerous inhabitants of Limasol as they emerged from the cathedral. For a fortnight the town was given up to festivity; tournaments, joustings, banquets succeeded each other day after day, and the islanders, who were fond of pleasure, and indeed very wealthy, vied with the English in the entertainments which they gave in honour of the occasion.
The festivities over, the king gave the welcome order to proceed on their voyage. They had now been joined by all the vessels left behind at Rhodes, and it was found that only a few were missing, and that the great storm, terrible as it had been, had inflicted less damage upon the fleet than was at first feared.
Two days' sail brought them within sight of the white walls of Acre, and it was on the 8th of June, 1191, that the fleet sailed into the port of that town. Tremendous acclamations greeted the arrival of the English army by the host assembled on the shores.
Acre had been besieged for two years, but in vain; and even the arrival of the French army under Phillip Augustus had failed to turn the scale. The inhabitants defended themselves with desperate bravery; every assault upon the walls had been repulsed with immense slaughter; and at no great distance off the Sultan Saladin, with a large army, was watching the progress of the siege.
The fame of King Richard and the English was so great, however, that the besiegers had little doubt that his arrival would change the position of things; and even the French, in spite of the bad feeling which had existed in Sicily, joined with the knights and army of the King of Jerusalem in acclaiming the arrival of the English.
Phillip Augustus, the French King, was of a somewhat weak and wavering disposition. It would have been thought that after his dispute with King Richard he would have gladly done all in his power to carry Acre before the arrival of his great rival. To the great disappointment of the French, however, he declared that he would take no step in the general assault until the arrival of Richard; and although the French had given some assistance to the besiegers, the army had really remained passive for many weeks.
Now, however, that the English had arrived, little time was lost; for the moment the dissensions and jealousies between the monarchs were patched up, the two hosts naturally imitated the example of their sovereigns, and French and English worked side by side in throwing up trenches against the walls, in building movable towers for the attack, and in preparing for the great onslaught.
The French were the first to finish their preparations, and they delivered a tremendous assault upon the walls. The besieged, however, did not lose heart, and with the greatest bravery repulsed every attempt. The scaling ladders were hurled backwards, the towers were destroyed by Greek fire; boiling oil was hurled down upon the men who advanced under the shelter of machines to undermine the walls; and after desperate fighting the French fell back, baffled and beaten.
There was some quiet exultation in the English lines at the defeat of the French, for they believed that a better fortune would crown their own efforts. Such, however, to their surprise and mortification, was not the case. When their preparations were completed, they attacked with splendid bravery. They were fighting under the eyes of their king, and in sight of the French army, who had a few days before been baffled; and if bravery and devotion could have carried the walls of Acre, assuredly King Richard's army would have accomplished the task.
It was, however, too great for them, and with vast loss the army fell back to its camp, King Richard raging like a wounded lion. Many of his barons had been killed in the assault, and the pikemen and men-at-arms had suffered heavily. The Earl of Evesham had been wounded; Cuthbert had taken no part in the assault, for the earl, knowing his bravery, had forbidden his doing so, as he foresaw the struggle would be of the most desperate character; and as it was not usual for pages to accompany their lords on the battle-field, Cuthbert could not complain of his being forbidden to take part in the fight.
The earl, however, permitted him to accompany Cnut and the bowmen, who did great service by the accuracy of their aim, preventing by their storm of arrows the men on the battlements from taking steady aim and working their machines, and so saved the Earl of Evesham's troop and those fighting near him from suffering nearly as heavy loss as some of those engaged in other quarters.
But while successful in beating off all assaults, the defenders of Acre were now nearly at the end of their resources. The Emperor Saladin, although he had collected an army of 200,000 men, yet feared to advance and give battle to the crusaders in their own lines--for they had thrown up round their camp strong entrenchments, to prevent the progress of the siege being disturbed by forces from without.
The people of Acre seeing the time pass and no sign of a rescuing force, their provisions being utterly exhausted, and pestilence and fever making frightful ravages in the city, at last determined to surrender.
For over two years they had made a resistance of the most valiant description, and now, despairing of success or rescue, and seeing the hosts of their besiegers increasing day by day, they hoisted a flag upon the walls, and sent a deputation to the kings, asking for terms if they submitted. They would have done well had they submitted upon the arrival of the French and English reinforcements. For the monarchs, annoyed by the defeat of their forces and by the heavy losses they had sustained, and knowing that the besieged were now at their last crust, were not disposed to be merciful.
However, the horrors which then attended the capture of cities in a war in which so little quarter was given on either side, were avoided. The city was to be surrendered; the much-prized relic contained within its walls--said to be a piece of the true Cross which had been captured by the Saracens at the battle of Tiberias, in which they had almost annihilated the Christian armies a few years before--was to be surrendered; the Christian prisoners in their hands were to be given up unharmed; and the inhabitants undertook to pay 200,000 pieces of gold to the kings within forty days, under the condition that the fighting men now taken prisoners were to be put to death should this ransom not be paid.
The conquest of Acre was hailed throughout Christendom as a triumph of the highest importance. It opened again the gates of the Holy Land; and so tremendous was the strength of the fortress, that it was deemed that if this stronghold were unable to resist effectually the arms of the crusaders, and that if Saladin with so great an army did not dare to advance to its rescue, then the rest of the Holy Land would speedily fall under the hands of the invading army.
With the fall of Acre, however, the dissensions between the two kings, which had for a while been allowed to rest while the common work was to be done, broke out again with renewed intensity. The jealousy of Phillip Augustus was raised to the highest point by the general enthusiasm of the combined armies for the valiant King of England, and by the authority which that monarch exercised in the councils. He therefore suddenly announced his intention of returning to France.
This decision at first occasioned the greatest consternation in the ranks of the crusaders; but this feeling was lessened when the king announced that he should leave a large portion of the French army behind, under the command of the Duke of Burgundy. The wiser councillors were satisfied with the change. Although there was a reduction of the total fighting force, yet the fact that it was now centred under one head, and that King Richard would now be in supreme command, was deemed to more than counterbalance the loss of a portion of the French army.
Before starting on the march for Jerusalem, King Richard sullied his reputation by causing all the defenders of Acre to be put to death, their ransom not having arrived at the stipulated time.
Then the allied army set out upon their journey. The fleet cruised along near them, and from it they obtained all that was requisite for their wants, and yet, notwithstanding these advantages, the toil and fatigue were terrible. Roads scarcely existed, and the army marched across the rough and broken country. There was no straggling, but each kept his place; and if unable to do so, fell and died. The blazing sun poured down upon them with an appalling force; the dust which rose when they left the rocks and came upon flat sandy ground, almost smothered them. Water was only obtainable at the halts, and then was frequently altogether insufficient for the wants of the army; while in front, on flank, and in rear hovered clouds of the cavalry of Saladin.
At times King Richard would allow parties of his knights to detach themselves from the force to drive off these enemies. But it was the chase of a lion after a hare. The knights in their heavy armour and powerful steeds were left behind as if standing still, by the fleet Bedouins on their desert coursers; and the pursuers, exhausted and worn out, were always glad to regain the ranks of the army.
These clouds of cavalry belonging to the enemy did not content themselves with merely menacing and cutting off stragglers. At times, when they thought they saw an opening, they would dash in and attack the column desperately, sometimes gaining temporary advantages, killing and wounding many, then fleeing away again into the desert.
Finding that it was impossible to catch these wary horsemen, King Richard ordered his bowmen to march outside his cavalry, so that when the enemy's horse approached within bowshot they should open upon them with arrows; then, should the horsemen persist in charging, the archers were at once to take refuge behind the lines of the knights.
Day after day passed in harassing conflicts. The distance passed over each day was very small, and the sufferings of the men from thirst, heat, and fatigue enormous. Cuthbert could well understand now what he had heard of great armies melting away, for already men began to succumb in large numbers to the terrible heat, and the path traversed by the army was scattered with corpses of those who had fallen victims to sunstroke. Not even at night did the attacks of the enemy cease, and a portion of the harassed force was obliged to keep under arms to repel assaults.
So passed the time until the army arrived at Azotus, and there, to the delight of the crusaders, who only longed to get at their foes, they beheld the whole force of Saladin, 200,000 strong, barring their way. Had it not been for the stern discipline enforced by King Richard, the knights of England and France would have repeated the mistake which had caused the extermination of the Christian force at Tiberias, and would have levelled their lances and charged recklessly into the mass of their enemies. But the king, riding round the flanks and front of the force, gave his orders in the sternest way, with the threat that any man who moved from the ranks should die by his hand.
The army was halted, the leaders gathered round the king, and a hasty consultation was held. Richard insisted upon the fight being conducted upon the same principles as the march--that the line of archers should stand outside the knights, and should gall the advancing force with arrows till the last moment, and then retire among the cavalry, only to sally out again as the Bedouins fell back from the steel wall of horsemen.
Cuthbert had now for the first time donned full armour, and rode behind the Earl of Evesham as his esquire, for the former esquire had been left behind, ill with fever, at Acre.