Part 2 out of 5
your men with light weapons, and have then no fear that this gawky loon,
twenty years old though he seems to be, will bring disgrace upon me or
discredit upon my nation."
"If thou thinkest so," the earl said, "the matter can go on. But had it
been otherwise, I would have gone to the king and protested that the
advantage of age was so great that it would be murder to place you in the
"There is," Cuthbert said, "at most no greater difference between us than
between a strong man and a weak one, and these, in the ordeal of battle,
have to meet in the lists. Indeed I doubt if the difference is so great,
for if he be a foot taller than I, methinks that round the shoulders I
should have the advantage of him."
"Send hither my armourer," the earl said; "we must choose a proper suit
for you. I fear that mine would be of little use; but doubtless there are
some smaller suits among my friends."
"The simpler and lighter the better," Cuthbert said. "I'd rather have a
light coat of mail and a steel cap, than heavy armour and a helmet that
would press me down and a visor through which I could scarcely see. The
lighter the better, for after all if my sword cannot keep my head, sooner
or later the armour would fail to do so too."
The armourer speedily arrived, and the knights and followers of the earl
being called in and the case stated, there was soon found a coat of fine
linked mail, which fitted Cuthbert well. As to the steel cap, there was
no difficulty whatever.
"You must have a plume at least," the earl said, and took some feathers
from his own casque and fastened them in. "Will you want a light sword
"No," Cuthbert said, "my arms are pretty well used to those of the
men-at-arms. I could wield my father's sword, and that was a heavy one."
The lightest of the earl's weapons were chosen, and it was agreed that
all was now ready for the conflict to-morrow.
In the morning there was a slight bustle in the camp.
The news that a fight was to take place between an English and a Brabant
page, by the permission of the Kings of England and France, that their
Majesties were to be present, and that all was to be conducted on regular
rules, caused a stir of excitement and novelty in the camp.
Nowhere is life duller than among a large body of men kept together for
any time under canvas, and the thought of a combat of this novel kind
excited general interest.
In a meadow at a short distance from the camp, a body of King Richard's
men-at-arms marked off an oval space of about an acre. Upon one side of
this a tent was pitched for the kings, and a small tent was placed at
each end for the combatants. Round the enclosure the men-at-arms formed
the ring, and behind them a dense body of spectators gathered, a place
being set aside for nobles, and others of gentle blood.
At the hour fixed the Kings of England and France arrived together. King
Richard was evidently in a state of high good humour, for he preferred
the clash of arms and the sight of combat to any other pleasure.
The King of France, on the other hand, looked grave. He was a far wiser
and more politic king than Richard; and although he had consented to the
sudden proposal, yet he felt in his heart that the contest was a foolish
one, and that it might create bad feeling among the men of the two
nationalities whichever way it went. He had reserved to himself the right
of throwing down the baton when the combat was to cease, and he
determined to avail himself of this right, to put a stop to the conflict
before either party was likely to sustain any deadly injury.
When the monarchs had taken their places the trumpeters sounded their
trumpets, and the two combatants advanced on foot from their ends of the
lists. A murmur of surprise and dissatisfaction broke from the crowd.
"My Lord of Evesham," the king said angrily to the earl, who with Count
Jacquelin was standing by the royal party, "thou shouldst have said that
the difference between the two was too great to allow the combat to be
possible. The Frenchman appears to be big enough to take your page under
his arm and walk off with him."
The difference was indeed very striking. The French champion was arrayed
in a full suit of knightly armour--of course without the gold spurs which
were the distinguishing mark of that rank--and with his helmet and lofty
plume of feathers he appeared to tower above Cuthbert, who, in his
close-fitting steel cap and link armour, seemed a very dwarf by the side
of a giant.
"It is not size, sire, but muscle and pluck will win in a combat like
this. Your Majesty need not be afraid that my page will disgrace me. He
is of my blood, though the kinship is not close. He is of mixed Saxon and
Norman strain, and will, believe me, do no discredit to either."
The king's brow cleared, for in truth he was very proud of his English
nationality, and would have been sorely vexed to see the discomfiture of
an English champion, even though that champion were a boy.
"Brother Phillip," he said, turning to the king, "I will wager my gold
chain against yours on yonder stripling."
"Methinks that it were robbery to take your wager," the King of France
said. "The difference between their bulk is disproportionate. However, I
will not baulk your wish. My chain against yours."
The rule of the fight was that they were to commence with Swords, but
that either could, if he chose, use his battle-axe.
The fight need scarcely be described at length, for the advantage was all
one way. Cuthbert was fully a match in strength for his antagonist,
although standing nigh a foot shorter. Constant exercise, however, had
hardened his muscles into something like steel, while the teaching that
he had received had embraced all that was then known of the use of arms.
Science in those days there was but little of; it was a case rather of
hard, heavy hitting, than of what we now call swordsmanship.
With the sword Cuthbert gained but slight advantage over his adversary,
whose superior height enabled him to rain blows down upon the lad, which
he was with difficulty enabled to guard; but when the first paroxysm of
his adversary's attack had passed, he took to the offensive, and drove
his opponent back step by step. With his sword, however, he was unable to
cut through the armour of the Frenchman, but in the course of the
encounter, guarding a severe blow aimed at him, his sword was struck from
his hand, and he then, seizing his axe, made such play with it that his
foe dropped his own sword and took to the same weapon.
In this the superior height and weight of his opponent gave him even a
greater advantage than with the sword, and Cuthbert knowing this, used
his utmost dexterity and speed to avoid the sweeping blows showered upon
him. He himself had been enabled to strike one or two sweeping strokes,
always aiming at the same place, the juncture of the visor with the
helmet. At last the Frenchman struck him so heavy a blow that it beat
down his guard and struck his steel cap from his head, bringing him to
the knee. In an instant he was up, and before his foe could be again on
guard, he whirled his axe round with all its force, and bringing it just
at the point of the visor which he had already weakened with repeated
blows, the edge of the axe stove clean through the armour, and the page
was struck senseless to the ground.
A great shout broke from the English portion of the soldiery as Cuthbert
leant over his prostrate foe, and receiving no answer to the question "Do
you yield?" rose to his feet, and signified to the squire who had kept
near that his opponent was insensible.
King Richard ordered the pursuivant to lead Cuthbert to the royal
"Thou art a brave lad and a lusty," the king said, "and hast borne thee
in the fight as well as many a knight would have done. Wert thou older, I
would myself dub thee knight; and I doubt not that the occasion will yet
come when thou wilt do as good deeds upon the bodies of the Saracens as
thou hast upon that long-shanked opponent of thine. Here is a gold chain;
take it as a proof that the King of England holds that you have sustained
well the honour of his country; and mark me, if at any time you require a
boon, bring or send me that chain, and thou shall have it freely. Sir
Walter," he said, turning to the earl, "in this lad thou hast a worthy
champion, and I trust me that thou wilt give him every chance of
distinguishing himself. So soon as thou thinkst him fit for the knightly
rank I myself will administer the accolade."
After his interview with the king, Cuthbert was led to his tent amid the
hearty plaudits of the English troops.
His own comrades flocked round him; the men of the greenwood headed by
Cnut, were especially jubilant over his victory.
"Who would have thought," said the tall forester, "that the lad who but a
short time ago was a child, should now have sustained the honour of the
country? We feel proud of you, Cuthbert; and trust us some day or other
to follow wherever you may lead, and to do some deed which will attain
for you honour and glory, and to show that the men of Evesham are as
doughty as any under King Richard's rule."
"You must be wary, Cuthbert," the earl said to him that evening. "Believe
me that you and I have made a foe, who, although he may not have the
power, has certainly the will to injure us to the death. I marked the eye
of Count Jacquelin during the fight, and again when you were led up to
the king. There was hatred and fury in his eye. The page too, I hear, is
his own nephew, and he will be the laughing-stock of the French camp at
having been conquered by one so much younger than himself. It will be
well to keep upon your guard, and not go out at night unattended. Keep
Cnut near you; he is faithful as a watch-dog, and would give his life, I
am sure, for you. I will myself be also upon my guard, for it was after
all my quarrel, and the fury of this fierce knight will vent itself upon
both of us if the opportunity should come. I hear but a poor account of
him among his confreres. They say he is one of those disgraces to the
name of knight who are but a mixture of robber and soldier; that he
harries all the lands in his neighbourhood; and that he has now only
joined the Crusade to avoid the vengeance which the cries of the
oppressed people had invoked from his liege lord. I am told indeed that
the choice was given him to be outlawed, or to join the Crusades with
all the strength he could raise. Naturally he adopted the latter
alternative; but he has the instincts of the robber still, and will do us
an evil turn, if he have the chance."
Two days later the great army broke up its camp and marched south. After
a week's journeying they encamped near a town, and halted there two or
three days in order to collect provisions for the next advance; for the
supplies which they could obtain in the country districts were wholly
insufficient for so great a host of men. Here the armies were to
separate, the French marching to Genoa, the English to Marseilles, the
town at which they were to take ship.
One evening the earl sent Cuthbert with a message for another English
lord, staying in the town at the palace of the bishop, who was a friend
Cnut accompanied Cuthbert, for he now made a point of seldom letting him
out of his sight. It was light when they reached the bishop's palace, but
here they were delayed for some time, and night had fallen when they
The town was quiet, for the inhabitants cared not to show themselves in
the streets now that such a large army of fierce men were in the
The others indeed of the monarchs were stringent, but discipline there
was but little of, and the soldiery in those days regarded peaceful
citizens as fair game; hence, when they came from the palace the streets
of the city were already hushed and quiet, for the orders of the king had
been preemptory that no men-at-arms, or others except those on duty, were
to be away from their camp after nightfall.
This order had been absolutely necessary, so many were the complaints
brought in by country peasants and farmers, of the doings of bands of
Cnut and Cuthbert proceeded along the streets unmolested for some
distance. Occasionally a solitary passer-by, with hooded cape, hurried
past. The moon was half full, and her light was welcome indeed, for in
those days the streets were unlighted, and the pavement so bad that
passage through the streets after dark was a matter of difficulty, and
even of danger.
Here and there before some roadside shrine a lamp dimly burned; before
these they paused, and, as good Catholics, Cnut and Cuthbert crossed
themselves. Just as they had passed one of these wayside shrines, a
sudden shout was heard, and a party of eight or ten men sprang out from a
side street and fell upon them.
Cnut and Cuthbert drew their swords and laid about them heartily, but
their assailants were too strong. Cnut was stricken to the ground, and
Cuthbert, seeing that defence was hopeless, took to his heels and ran for
his life. He was already wounded, but happily not so severely as in any
way to disable him.
Seeing that it was speed, and speed alone, which now could save him, he
flung aside his belt scabbard and as he ran, and with rapid steps flew
along the streets, not knowing whither he went, and striving only to keep
ahead of his pursuers. They, more encumbered by arms and armour, were
unable to keep up with the flying footsteps of a lad clothed in the light
attire of a page; but Cuthbert felt that the blood running from his wound
was weakening him fast, and that unless he could gain some refuge his
course must speedily come to an end. Happily he saw at some little
distance ahead of him a man standing by a door. Just as he arrived the
door opened, and a glow of light from within fell on the road, showing
that the person entering was a monk.
Without a moment's hesitation Cuthbert rushed through the door, shouting
"Sanctuary!" and sank almost fainting on the ground.
The monks, accustomed to wild pursuits and scenes of outrage in those
warlike days, hastily closed the door, barring it securely. In a moment
there was a rush of men against it from without.
One of the monks opened a lattice above the door.
"What mean you," he said, "by this outrage? Know ye not that this is the
Monastery of St. John, and that it is sacrilege to lay a hand of violence
even against its postern? Begone," he said, "or we'll lodge a complaint
before the king."
The assailants, nothing daunted, continued to batter at the door; but at
this moment the monks, aroused from their beds, hastened to the spot, and
seizing bill and sword--for in those days even monks were obliged at
times to depend upon carnal weapons--they opened the door, and flung
themselves upon the assailants with such force that the latter, surprised
and discomfited, were forced to make a hasty retreat.
The doors were then again barred, and Cuthbert was carried up to a cell
in the building, where the leech of the monastery speedily examined his
wound, and pronounced, that although his life was not in danger by it, he
was greatly weakened by the loss of blood, that the wound was a serious
one, and that it would be some time before the patient would recover.
It was two days before Cuthbert was sufficiently restored to be able to
speak. His first question to the monk was as to his whereabouts, and how
long he had been there. Upon being answered, he entreated that a
messenger might be despatched to the camp of the Earl of Evesham, to beg
that a litter might be sent for him, and to inquire what had become of
Cnut, whom he had last seen stricken down.
The monk replied, "My son, I grieve to tell you that your request cannot
be complied with. The army moved away yesternoon, and is now some
five-and-twenty miles distant. There is nothing for you but patience, and
when restored you can follow the army, and rejoin your master before he
embarks at Marseilles. But how is it that a lad so young as you can have
incurred the enmity of those who sought your life? For it is clear from
the pertinacity with which they urged their attack that their object was
not plunder, of which indeed they would get but little from you, but to
take your life."
Cuthbert recounted the circumstances which had led to the feud of the
Count of Brabant against him, for he doubted not that this truculent
knight was at the bottom of the attack.
"After what has happened," the monk said, "you will need have caution
when you leave here. The place where you have taken refuge is known to
them, and should this wild noble persist in his desire for vengeance
against you, he will doubtless leave some of his ruffians to watch the
monastery. We will keep a look-out, and note if any strangers are to be
seen near the gates; if we find that it is so, we shall consider what is
best to be done. We could of course appeal to the mayor for protection
against them, and could even have the strangers ejected from the town or
cast into prison; but it is not likely that we should succeed in
capturing more than the fellow who may be placed on the look-out, and the
danger would be in no wise lessened to yourself. But there is time to
talk over this matter before you leave. It will be another fortnight at
least before you will be able to pursue your journey."
Cuthbert gained strength more rapidly than the monk had expected. He was
generously fed, and this and his good constitution soon enabled him to
recover from the loss of blood; and at the end of five days he expressed
his hope that he could on the following day pursue his journey. The monk
who attended him shook his head.
"Thou mightst, under ordinary circumstances, quit us to-morrow, for thou
art well enough to take part in the ordinary pursuits of a page; but to
journey is a different thing. You may have all sorts of hardships to
endure; you may have even to trust for your life to your speed and
endurance; and it would be madness for you to go until your strength is
fully established. I regret to tell you that we have ascertained beyond a
doubt that the monastery is closely watched. We have sent some of the
acolytes out, dressed in the garbs of monks, and attended by one of our
elder brethren; and in each case, a monk who followed at a distance of
fifty yards was able to perceive that they were watched. The town is full
of rough men, the hangers-on of the army; some, indeed, are followers of
laggard knights, but the greater portion are men who merely pursue the
army with a view to gain by its necessities, to buy plunder from the
soldiers, and to rob, and, if necessary, to murder should there be a hope
of obtaining gold. Among these men your enemies would have little
difficulty in recruiting any number, and no appeal that we could make to
the mayor would protect you from them when you have left the walls. We
must trust to our ingenuity in smuggling you out. After that, it is upon
your own strength and shrewdness that you must rely for an escape from
any snares that may be laid for you. You will see, then, that at least
another three or four days are needed before you can set forth. Your
countrymen are so far away that a matter of a few days will make but
little difference. They will in any case be delayed for a long time at
Marseilles before they embark; and whether you leave now or a month
hence, you would be equally in time to join them before their
embarkation--that is, supposing that you make your way through the snares
which beset you."
Cuthbert saw the justice of the reasoning, and it was another week
before he announced himself as feeling absolutely restored to strength
again, and capable of bearing as much exertion as he could have done
before his attack.
A long consultation was held with the prior and a monk who had acted as
his leech, as to the best plan of getting Cuthbert beyond the walls of
the city. Many schemes were proposed and rejected. Every monk who
ventured beyond the walls had been closely scrutinized, and one or two of
short stature had even been jostled in the streets, so as to throw back
their hoods and expose a sight of their faces. It was clear, then, that
it would be dangerous to trust to a disguise. Cuthbert proposed that he
should leave at night, trusting solely to their directions as to the
turnings he should take to bring him to the city walls, and that, taking
a rope, he should there let himself down, and make the best of his way
forward. This, however, the monks would not consent to, assuring him that
the watch was so strictly kept round the monastery that he would
inevitably be seen.
"No," the prior said, "the method, whatever it is, must be as open as
possible; and though I cannot at this moment hit upon a plan, I will
think it over to-night, and putting my ideas with those of Father Jerome
here, and the sacristan, who has a shrewd head, it will be hard if we
cannot between us contrive some plan to evade the watch of those robber
villains who beset the convent."
The next morning when the prior came in to see Cuthbert, the latter said,
"Good father, I have determined not to endeavour to make off in disguise.
I doubt not that your wit could contrive some means by which I should get
clear of the walls without observation from the scouts of this villain
noble. But once in the country, I should have neither horse nor armour,
and should have hard work indeed to make my way down through France, even
though none of my enemies were on my track. I will therefore, if it
please you, go down boldly to the Mayor, and claim a protection and
escort. If he will but grant me a few men-at-arms for one day's ride from
the town, I can choose my own route, and riding out in mail can then take
my chance of finding my way down to Marseilles."
"I will go down with you, my son," the prior said, "to the mayor. Two of
my monks shall accompany us; and assuredly no insult will be offered to
you in the street thus accompanied." Shortly afterwards, Cuthbert
started as arranged, and soon arrived at the house of the mayor, Sir
John de Cahors.
Upon the prior making known to this knight whom he had brought with him,
the mayor exclaimed,--
"Pest! young gentleman; you have caused us no small trouble and concern.
We have had ridings to and fro concerning you, and furious messages from
your fiery king. When in the morning a tall, stalwart knave dressed in
green was found, slashed about in various places, lying on the pavement,
the townsmen, not knowing who he was, but finding that he still
breathed, carried him to the English camp, and he was claimed as a
follower of the Earl of Evesham. There was great wrath and anger over
this; and an hour later the earl himself came down and stated that his
page was missing, and that there was reason to believe that he had been
foully murdered, as he had accompanied the man found wounded.
Fortunately the bulk of the armies had marched away at early dawn, and
the earl had only remained behind in consequence of the absence of his
followers. I assured the angry Englishman that I would have a thorough
search made in the town; and although in no way satisfied, he rode off
after his king with all his force, carrying with him the long-limbed
man whom we had picked up. Two days after, a message came back from King
Richard himself, saying that unless this missing page were discovered,
or if, he being killed, his murderers were not brought to justice and
punished, he would assuredly on his return from the Holy Land burn the
town over our ears. Your king is not a man who minces matters. However,
threatened men live long, especially when the person who threatens is
starting for a journey, from which, as like or not, he may never return.
However, I have had diligent search made for you. All the houses of bad
repute have been examined, and their inhabitants questioned. But there
are so many camp-followers and other rabble at present in the town that
a hundred men might disappear without our being able to obtain a clue. I
doubted not indeed that your body had been thrown in the river, and that
we should never hear more of you. I am right glad that you have been
restored; not indeed from any fear of the threats of the king your
master, but because, from what the Earl of Evesham said, you were a lad
likely to come to great fame and honour. The earl left in my charge your
horse, and the armour which he said you wore at a tournament lately, in
case we should hear aught of you."
Cuthbert gave an exclamation of pleasure. His purse contained but a few
pieces of silver, and being without arms except for his short dagger, or
means of locomotion, the difficulties of the journey down to Marseilles
had sorely puzzled him. But with his good horse between his knees, and
his suit of Milan armour on his back, he thought that he might make his
way through any dangers which threatened him.
The prior now told the knight that circumstances had occurred, which
showed that it was known to the assailants of Cuthbert that he had taken
refuge in the convent, over which a strict watch had been kept by
"If I could find the varlets, I would hang them over the gates of the
town," the knight said wrathfully. "But as at the present moment there
are nearly as many rogues as honest men in the place, it would be a
wholesale hanging indeed to ensure getting hold of the right people.
Moreover, it is not probable that another attempt upon his life will be
made inside our walls; and doubtless the main body of this gang are
somewhere without, intending to assault him when he continues his
journey, and they have left but a spy or two here to inform them as to
his movements. I will give you any aid in my power, young sir. The army
is by this time nigh Marseilles, and, sooth to say, I have no body of
men-at-arms whom I could send as your escort for so long a distance. I
have but a small body here, and they are needed, and sorely too, to keep
order within the walls."
"I thought, sir," Cuthbert said, "that if you could lend me a party of
say four men-at-arms to ride with me for the first day, I could then
trust to myself, especially if you could procure me one honest man to act
as guide and companion. Doubtless they suppose that I should travel by
the main road south; but by going the first day's journey either east or
west, and then striking some southward road, I should get a fair start of
them, throw all their plans out, and perchance reach Marseilles without
The knight willingly agreed to furnish four men-at-arms, and a
trustworthy guide who would at least take him as far south as Avignon.
"I will," he said, "tell the men-at-arms off to-night. They shall be
at the western gate at daybreak with the pass permitting them to ride
through. The guide shall be at the convent door half an hour earlier.
I will send up to-night your armour and horse. Here is a purse which
the Earl of Evesham also left for your use. Is there aught else I can
do for you?"
"Nothing, sir," Cuthbert said; "and if I regain the army in safety, I
shall have pleasure in reporting to King Richard how kindly and
courteously you have treated me."
The arrangements were carried out.
An hour before daybreak Cuthbert was aroused, donned his armour and steel
casque, drank a flask of wine, and ate a manchet of bread which the
prior himself brought him; and then, with a cordial adieu to the kind
monks, issued forth.
The guide had just reached the gate, and together they trotted down the
narrow streets to the west gate of the city, where four men-at-arms were
The gates were at once opened, and Cuthbert and his little troop
All day they rode with their faces west, and before nightfall had made a
journey of over forty miles. Then bestowing a largess upon the
men-at-arms, Cuthbert dismissed them, and took up his abode at a
hostelry, his guide looking to the two horses.
Cuthbert was pleased with the appearance of the man who had been placed
at his disposal. He was a young fellow of two-or-three-and-twenty, with
an honest face. He was, he told Cuthbert, the son of a small farmer near
Avignon; but having a fancy for trade, he had been apprenticed to a
master smith. Having served his apprenticeship, he found that he had
mistaken his vocation, and intended to return to the paternal vineyards.
Cuthbert calculated that he would make at least four days' journey to the
south before he could meet with any dangers. Doubtless his exit from the
convent had been discovered, and the moment the gates of the city were
opened the spy would have proceeded south to warn his comrades, and these
would doubtless have taken a road which at a distance would again take
them on to that by which Cuthbert would be now travelling. As, however,
he rode fast, and made long marches each day, he hoped that he might
succeed in distancing them. Unfortunately, upon the third day his horse
cast his shoe, and no smith could be met with until the end of the day's
journey. Consequently, but a short distance could be done, and this at a
slow pace. Upon the fifth day after their first start they arrived at a
The next morning, Cuthbert on rising found that his guide did not present
himself as usual. Making inquiries, he found that the young man had gone
out the evening before, and had not returned. Extremely uneasy at the
circumstance, Cuthbert went to the city guard, thinking that perhaps his
guide might have got drunk, and been shut up in the cells. No news,
however, was to be obtained there, and after waiting some hours, feeling
sure that some harm had befallen him, he gave notice to the authorities
of his loss, and then, mounting his horse, and leaving some money with
the landlord of the hostelry to give to his guide in case the latter
should return, he started at mid-day by the southern road.
He felt sure now that he was overtaken, and determined to keep his eyes
and faculties thoroughly on watch.
The roads in those days were mere tracks. Here and there a little
village was to be met with; but the country was sparsely cultivated, and
travelling lonely work. Cuthbert rode fast, carefully avoiding all copses
and small woods through which the road ran, by making a circuit round
them and coming on to it again on the other side.
His horse was an excellent one, the gift of the earl, and he had little
fear, with his light weight, of being overtaken, if he could once leave
his enemies behind him.
At length he approached an extensive forest, which stretched for miles on
Half a mile before he reached it the track divided.
He had for some little time eased his horse down to a walk, as he felt
that the wood would be the spot where he would in all probability be
attacked, and he needed that his steed should be possessed of its
At the spot where the track branched, a man in the guise of a mendicant
was sitting. He begged for alms, and Cuthbert threw him a small coin.
A sudden thought struck him as he heard a rustling in the bushes near.
"Which is the nearest and best road to Avignon?" he said.
"The right-hand road is the best and shortest," the beggar said. "The
other makes a long circuit, and leads through several marshes, which your
honour will find it hard to pass."
Cuthbert thanked him, and moved forward, still at a walk, along the
When he had gone about 200 yards, and was hidden from the sight of the
man he had left--the country being rough, and scattered with clumps of
bushes--he halted, and, as he expected, heard the sound of horses' hoofs
coming on at full gallop along the other road.
"Your master must have thought me young indeed," he said, "to try and
catch me with such a transparent trick as that. I do not suppose that
accursed page has more than ten men with him, and doubtless has placed
five on each road. This fellow was placed here to see which track I would
follow, and has now gone to give the party on the left hand the news that
I have taken this way. Had it not been for him I should have had to run
the gauntlet with four or five of my enemies. As it is, the path will
doubtless be clear."
So saying, he turned his horse, galloped back to the spot where the
tracks separated, and then followed the left-hand route.
As he had hoped, he passed through the wood without incident or
interruption, and arrived safely that night at a small town, having seen
no signs of his enemies.
The next day he started again early, and rode on until mid-day, when he
halted at a large village, at which was the only inn between the place
from which he started and his destination. He declined the offer of the
servant of the inn to take his horse round to the stable, telling the
man to hold him outside the door and give him from a sieve a few
handfuls of grain.
Then he entered the inn and ate a hearty meal. As he appeared at the
door, he saw several men gathered near. With a single spring he threw
himself into the saddle, just as a rush forward was made by those
standing round. The man next to him sprang upon him, and endeavoured to
drag him from the saddle. Cuthbert drew the little dagger called a
Mis,ricorde from his belt, and plunged it into his throat. Then seizing
the short mace which hung at the saddle bow, he hurled it with all his
force full in the face of his enemy, the page of Sir Philip, who was
rushing upon him sword in hand. The heavy weapon struck him fairly
between the eyes, and with a cry he fell back, his face completely
smashed in by the blow, the sword which he held uplifted to strike flying
far through the air.
Cuthbert struck his spurs into his horse, and the animal dashed forward
with a bound, Cuthbert striking with his long sword at one or two men who
made a snatch at the reins. In another minute he was cantering out of
the village, convinced that he had killed the leader of his foes, and
that he was safe now to pursue the rest of his journey on to Marseilles.
So it turned out.
Without further incident, he travelled through the south of France, and
arrived at the great seaport. He speedily discovered the quarters in
which the Earl of Evesham's contingent were encamped, and made towards
this without delay. As he entered a wild shout of joy was heard, and Cnut
ran forward with many gestures of delight.
"My dear Cuthbert, my dear Cuthbert!" he exclaimed. "Can it be true that
you have escaped? We all gave you up; and although I did my best, yet had
you not survived it I should never have forgiven myself, believing that I
might have somehow done better, and have saved you from the cut-throats
who attacked us."
"Thanks, thanks, my good Cnut," Cuthbert cried. "I have been through a
time of peril, no doubt; but as you see, I am hale and well--better,
methinks than you are, for you look pale and ill; and I doubt not that
the wound which I received was a mere scratch to that which bore you
down. It sounded indeed like the blow of a smith's hammer upon an anvil."
"Fortunately, my steel cap saved my head somewhat," Cnut said, "and the
head itself is none of the thinnest; but it tried it sorely, I confess.
However, now that you are back I shall, doubt not, soon be as strong as
ever I was. I think that fretting for your absence has kept me back more
than the inflammation from the wound itself--but there is the Earl at the
door of his tent."
Through the foresters and retainers who had at Cnut's shout of joy
crowded up, Cuthbert made his way, shaking hands right and left with the
men, among whom he was greatly loved, for they regarded him as being in a
great degree the cause of their having been freed from outlawry, and
restored to civil life again. The earl was really affected. As Cuthbert
rode up he held out both arms, and as his page alighted he embraced him
as a father.
"My dear Cuthbert!" he exclaimed. "What anxiety have we not suffered. Had
you been my own son, I could not have felt more your loss. We did not
doubt for an instant that you had fallen into the hands of some of the
retainers of that villain Count; and from all we could learn, and from
the absence of any dead body by the side of that of Cnut, I imagined that
you must have been carried off. It was clear that your chance of life, if
you fell into the hands of that evil page, or his equally vile master,
was small indeed. The very day that Cnut was brought in, I visited the
French camp, and accused him of having been the cause of your
disappearance and Cnut's wounds. He affected the greatest astonishment at
the charge. He had not, as he said, been out of the camp for two days. My
accusation was unfounded and malicious, and I should answer this as well
as the previous outrage, when the vow of the Crusaders to keep peace
among themselves was at an end. Of course I had no means of proving what
I said, or I would have gone direct to the king and charged him with the
outrage. As it was I gained nothing by my pains. He has accompanied this
French division to Genoa; but when we meet at Sicily, where the two
armies are to rendezvous, I will bring the matter before the king, as the
fact that his page was certainly concerned in it must be taken as showing
that he was the instigator."
"It would, my lord earl, be perhaps better," Cuthbert said, "if I
might venture to advise, to leave the matter alone. No doubt the count
would say that he had discharged his page after the tournament, and
that the latter was only carrying out his private feud with me. We
should not be able to disprove the story, and should gain no
satisfaction by the matter."
The earl admitted the justice of Cuthbert's reasoning, but reserved to
himself the task of punishing the author of the outrage upon the first
There was a weary delay at Marseilles before the expedition set sail.
This was caused by the fact of the English fleet, which had been ordered
to be there upon their arrival, failing to keep the agreement.
The words English fleet badly describe the vessels which were to carry
the English contingent to their destination. They were ships belonging to
the maritime nations of Italy--the Venetians, Genoese, Pisans, etc.; for
England at that time had but few of her own, and these scarcely fitted
for the stormy navigation of the Bay of Biscay.
King Richard, impatient as ever of delay, at last lost his temper, and
embarked on board a ship with a few of his chosen knights, and set sail
by himself for Sicily, the point at which the two armies of the
expedition were to re-unite. A few days after his departure, the
long-looked-for fleet arrived, and a portion of the English host embarked
at once, and set sail for Sicily, where they were to be landed, and the
ships were to return to fetch the remaining contingent.
A sea voyage of this kind in those days was a serious matter. Long
voyages were rare, and troops were carried very much upon the principle
of herrings; that is, were packed as close as they could be, without any
reference to their comfort. As the voyages seldom lasted more than
twenty-four hours, this did not much matter, but during long voyages the
discomforts, or as may be said sufferings, of the troops were
considerable. So tightly packed were the galleys in which the English set
sail from Marseilles, that there was no walking about. Every man slept
where he sat, and considered himself lucky indeed if he could obtain room
sufficient to stretch himself at full length. Most slept sitting against
bulwarks or other supports. In the cabins, where the knights, their pages
and squires, were placed, the crowding was of course less excessive, but
even here the amount of space, which a subaltern travelling to India for
the first time now-a-days would grumble at, was considered amply
sufficient for half-a-dozen knights of distinction. It was a week after
sailing, when Cnut touched Cuthbert's arm as he came on deck one morning,
"Look, look, Cuthbert! that mountain standing up in the water has caught
fire on the top. Did you ever see such a thing?"
The soldiers crowded to the side of the vessel, in intense astonishment
and no little awe. From the top of a lofty and rugged hill, rising almost
straight from the sea, flames were roaring up, smoke hung over the
island, and stones were thrown into the air and rattled down the side of
the hill, or fell into the sea with a splash.
"That is a fearsome sight," Cnut said, crossing himself.
"It looks as if it was the mouth of purgatory," exclaimed another,
Cuthbert himself was amazed, for the instruction he had received from
Father Francis was of too slight a nature to include the story of
volcanoes. A priest, however, who accompanied the ship in the character
of leech and confessor, explained the nature of the phenomenon to his
astonished listeners, and told them that over on the mainland was a
mountain which at times vomited forth such masses of stones and of
liquid rock that it had swallowed up and covered many great cities. There
was also, he told them, another mountain of the same sort, even more
vast, on the island of Sicily itself; but that this had seldom, as far
back as man could remember, done any great harm.
Sailing on, in another day they arrived off the coast of Sicily itself,
and sailing up the straits between it and the mainland, they landed at
Messina. Here a considerable portion of the French army had already
arrived, having been brought down from Genoa.
There was no news of the King of England; and, as often happens, the
saying "the more haste the less speed," had been verified here.
It was some days later before King Richard arrived, having been driven
from his course by tempests, well-nigh cast ashore, and having besides
gone through many adventures. Three weeks later, the whole of the army of
the Crusaders were gathered around Messina, where it was intended to
remain some little time before starting. It was a gay time; and the
kings vied with each other in entertainments, joustings, and tournaments.
The Italian knights also made a brave show, and it might have been
thought that this huge army of men were gathered there simply for
amusement and feasting. In the tournaments every effort was made to
prevent any feeling of national rivalry, and although parties of knights
held their own against all comers, these were most carefully selected to
represent several nationalities, and therefore victory, on whichsoever
side it fell, excited no feelings of bitterness.
Alone, King Richard was undoubtedly the strongest cavalier of the two
armies. Against his ponderous strength no knight could keep his seat; and
this was so palpable, that after many victories, King Richard was forced
to retire from the lists from want of competitors, and to take his place
on the dais with the more peace-loving King of France.
The gaiety of the camp was heightened by the arrival of many nobles and
dames from Italy. Here, too, came the Queen of Navarre, bringing with her
the beautiful Princess Berengaria.
"Methinks," the Earl of Evesham said to Cuthbert, a fortnight after the
arrival of the queen, "that unless my eyes deceive me, the princess is
likely to be a cause of trouble."
"In what way?" asked Cuthbert with surprise, for he had been struck with
her marvellous beauty, and wondered greatly what mischief so fair a
being could do.
"By the way in which our good lord, the king, gazes upon her, methinks
that it were like enough that he broke off his engagement with the
Princess of France, for the sake of the fair eyes of this damsel."
"That were indeed a misfortune," Cuthbert said gravely, for he saw at
once the anger which such a course would excite in the minds of the
French king and his knights, who would naturally be indignant in the
extreme at the slight put upon their princess. As day after day passed,
it became evident to all that the King of England was infatuated by the
princess. Again he entered the lists himself, and as some fresh Italian
knights and others had arrived, he found fresh opponents, and
conspicuously laid the spoils of victory at the feet of the princess,
whom he selected as the Queen of Beauty.
All sorts of rumours now became current in camp; violent quarrels between
the kings, and bad feeling between the French and English knights, broke
out again in consequence, and this more violently than before.
THE PRINCESS BERENGARIA.
One night it chanced that Cuthbert was late in his return to camp, and
his road took him through a portion of the French encampment; the night
was dark, and Cuthbert presently completely lost all idea as to his
bearings. Presently he nearly ran against a tent; he made his way to the
entrance in order to crave directions as to his way--for it was a wet
night; the rain was pouring in torrents, and few were about of whom he
could demand the way--and, as he was about to draw aside the hangings, he
heard words said in a passionate voice which caused him to withdraw his
"I tell you," said a voice, "I would rather drive a dagger myself into
her heart, than allow our own princess to be insulted by this hot-headed
"It is sad indeed," said another, but in a calmer and smoother tone,
"that the success of a great expedition like this, which has for its
object the recovery of the holy sepulchre from the infidels, should be
wrecked by the headstrong fancies of one man. It is even, as is told by
the old Grecian poet, as when Helen caused a great war between peoples of
"I know nothing," another voice said, "either of Helen or the Greeks, or
of their poets. They are a shifty race, and I can believe aught that is
bad of them. But touching this princess of Navarre, I agree with our
friend, it would be a righteous deed to poniard her, and so to remove the
cause of dispute between the two kings, and, indeed, the two nations.
This insult laid upon our princess is more than we, as French knights and
gentlemen, can brook; and if the king says the word, there is not a
gentleman in the army but will be ready to turn his sword against the
Then the smooth voice spoke again.
"It would, my brethren, be wrong and useless to shed blood; but methinks,
that if this apple of discord could be removed, a good work would be
done; not, as our friend the count has suggested, by a stab of the
dagger; that indeed would be worse than useless. But surely there are
scores of religious houses, where this bird might be placed in a cage
without a soul knowing where she was, and where she might pass her life
in prayer that she may be pardoned for having caused grave hazards of the
failure of an enterprise in which all the Christian world is concerned."
The voices of the speakers now fell, and Cuthbert was straining his ear
to listen, when he heard footsteps approaching the tent, and he glided
away into the darkness.
With great difficulty he recovered the road to the camp, and when he
reached his tent he confided to the Earl of Evesham what he had heard.
"This is serious indeed," the earl said, "and bodes no little trouble
and danger. It is true that the passion which King Richard has conceived
for Berengaria bids fair to wreck the Crusade, by the anger which it has
excited in the French king and his nobles; but the disappearance of the
princess would no less fatally interfere with it, for the king would be
like a raging lion deprived of his whelps, and would certainly move no
foot eastward until he had exhausted all the means in his power of
tracing his lost lady love. You could not, I suppose, Cuthbert, point out
the tent where this conversation took place?"
"I could not," Cuthbert answered; "in the darkness one tent is like
another. I think I should recognize the voices of the speakers did I hear
them again; indeed, one voice I did recognize, it was that of the Count
of Brabant, with whom we had trouble before."
"That is good," the earl said, "because we have at least an object to
watch. It would never do to tell the king what you have heard. In the
first place, his anger would be so great that it would burst all
bounds, and would cause, likely enough, a battle at once between the
two armies; nor would it have any good effect, for he of Brabant would
of course deny the truth of your assertions, and would declare it was
merely a got-up story to discredit him with the king, and so to wipe
out the old score now standing between us. No, if we are to succeed,
alike in preventing harm happening to the princess, and an open break
between the two monarchs, it must be done by keeping a guard over the
princess, unsuspected by all, and ourselves frustrating any attempt
which may be made."
Cuthbert expressed his willingness to carry out the instructions which
the earl might give him; and, much disturbed by the events of the day,
both earl and page retired to rest, to think over what plan had best
The princess was staying at the palace of the bishop of the town; this
he, having another residence a short distance outside the walls, had
placed at the disposal of the Queen of Navarre and her suite; and the
first step of Cuthbert in the morning was to go into the town, to
reconnoitre the position and appearance of the building. It was a large
and irregular pile, and communicated with the two monasteries lying
alongside of it. It would therefore clearly be a most difficult thing to
keep up a complete watch on the exterior of so large a building. There
were so many ways in which the princess might be captured and carried off
by unscrupulous men, that Cuthbert in vain thought over every plan by
which it could be possible to safeguard her. She might be seized upon
returning from a tournament or entertainment; but this was improbable, as
the queen would always have an escort of knights with her, and no attempt
could be successful except at the cost of a public fracas and much loss
of blood. Cuthbert regarded as out of the question that an outrage of
this kind would be attempted.
The fact that one of the speakers in the tent had used the words "my
sons," showed that one priest or monk, at least, was connected with the
plot. It was possible that this man might have power in one of the
monasteries, or he might be an agent of the bishop himself; and
Cuthbert saw that it would be easy enough in the night for a party from
one or other of the monasteries to enter by the door of communication
with the palace, and carry off the princess without the slightest alarm
being given. Once within the walls of the convent, she could be either
hidden in the dungeons or secret places, which buildings of that kind
were sure to possess, or could be at once carried out by some quiet
entrance, and taken into the country, or transferred to some other
building in the town.
When Cuthbert joined the earl he told him the observations that he had
made, and Sir Walter praised the judgment which he had shown in his
conclusions. The earl was of opinion that it would be absolutely
necessary to get some clue as to the course which the abductors purposed
to take; indeed it was possible that on after-consideration they might
drop their plan altogether, for the words which Cuthbert had overheard
scarcely betokened a plan completely formed and finally decided upon.
The great point he considered, therefore, was that the tent of his old
enemy should be carefully watched, and that an endeavour should be made
to hear something of what passed within, which might give a clue to the
plan fixed upon. They did not, of course, know whether the tent in
which the conversation had been heard by Cuthbert was that of Sir de
Jacquelin Barras, or of one of the other persons who had spoken; and
Cuthbert suggested that the first thing would be to find out whether
the count, after nightfall, was in the habit of going to some other
tent, or whether, on the other hand, he remained within, and was
visited by others.
It was easy, of course, to discover which was his tent; and Cuthbert soon
got its position, and then took Cnut into his counsels.
"The matter is difficult," Cnut said, "and I see no way by which a watch
can be kept up by day; but after dark--I have several men in my band who
can track a deer, and surely could manage to follow the steps of this
baron without being observed. There is little Jack, who is no bigger than
a boy of twelve, although he can shoot, and run, and play with the
quarter-staff, or, if need be, with the bill, against the best man in the
troop. I warrant me that if you show him the tent, he will keep such
sharp watch that no one shall enter or depart without his knowing where
they go to. On a dark night he will be able to slip among the tents, and
to move here and there without being seen. He can creep on his stomach
without moving a leaf, and trust me the eyes of these French men-at-arms
will look in vain for a glimpse of him."
"You understand, Cnut, all that I want to know is whether the
other conspirators in this matter visit his tent, or whether he
goes to theirs."
"I understand," Cnut said. "That is the first point to be arrived at."
Three days later Cnut brought news that each night after dark a party of
five men met in the tent that was watched; that one of the five always
came out when all had assembled, and took his station before the entrance
of the tent, so as to be sure that no eavesdropper was near.
"It is a case of locking the door after the horse has gone."
"What is to be done now?" Cnut asked.
"I will talk with the earl before I tell you, Cnut. This matter is too
serious for me to take a step without consulting Sir Walter."
That night there was a long talk between the earl and his page as to the
best course to be pursued. It was clear that their old enemy was the
leading person in the plot, and that the only plan to baffle it with any
fair chances of success was to keep a constant eye upon his movements,
and also to have three or four of the sturdiest men of the band told off
to watch, without being perceived, each time that the princess was in
The Earl of Evesham left the arrangements entirely in the hands of his
page, of whose good sense and sagacity he had a very high opinion.
His own first impulse had been to go before the king and denounce the
Count of Brabant. But the ill-will between them was already well known;
for not only was there the original dispute at the banquet, but when the
two armies had joined at Sicily, King Richard, who had heard from the
earl of the attempt at the assassination of Cuthbert, had laid a
complaint before King Phillip of the conduct of his subject.
Sir de Jacquelin Barras, however, had denied that he had any finger in
"He had," he said, "discharged his page after the encounter with
Cuthbert, and knew nothing further whatever of his movements."
Although it was morally certain that the page could not have purchased
the services of the men who assisted him, from his own purse, or gain
them by any means of persuasion, but that they were either the followers
of the Count of Brabant, or ruffians hired with his money, as no proof
could be obtained, the matter was allowed to drop.
The earl felt, however, that an accusation against the count by him of an
intention to commit a high crime, and this merely on the evidence of his
page, would appear like an attempt to injure the fair fame of his rival.
Feeling, therefore, that nothing could be done save to watch, he left
the matter entirely in the hands of his page, telling him that he
could take as many men-at-arms or archers as he might choose and use
them in his name.
Cnut entered warmly into Cuthbert's plans; and finally it was arranged
between them that six of the archers should nightly keep watch opposite
the various entrances of the bishop's palace and of the two monasteries
joining. Of course they could not patrol up and down without attracting
attention, but they were to take up posts where they could closely
observe the entrances, and were either to lie down and feign drunken
sleep, or to conceal themselves within the shadow of an arch or other
Down on the sea-shore, Cuthbert made an arrangement with one of the
owners of small craft lying there that ten of his men should sleep on
board every night, together with some fishermen accustomed to the use
of the oar.
Cuthbert himself determined to be always with this party.
Night after night passed, and so long a time went by that Cuthbert began
to think the design must have been given up.
However, he resolved to relax none of his watchfulness during the
remaining time that the expedition might stop in Sicily.
It was in January, three weeks after the first watch had been set, when
one of the men who had been placed to watch the entrance to one of the
monasteries, leapt on board the craft and shook Cuthbert by the shoulder.
"A party of some five men," he said, "have just issued out from the
monastery. They are bearing a burden--what, I cannot see. They were
making in the direction of the water. I whistled to Dick, who was
next to me in the lane. He is following them, and I came on to tell
you to prepare."
The night was pitch dark, and it was difficult in the extreme to see any
one moving at a short distance off.
There were two or three streets that led from the monastery, which stood
at the top of the town, towards the sea; and a party coming down might
take any of these, according to the position in which the boat they were
seeking was placed.
Cuthbert now instantly sent five or six of his men, with instructions to
avoid all noise, along the line of the port, with orders to bring in
word should any one come down and take boat, or should they hear any
noise in the town.
He himself with the sailors loosed the ropes which fastened the boat to
shore, got out the oars, and prepared to put off at a moment's notice.
He was of course ignorant whether the abductors would try to carry the
princess off by water, or would hide her in one of the convents of the
town; but he was inclined to think that the former would be the course
adopted; for the king in his wrath would be ready to lay the town in
flames, and to search every convent from top to bottom for the princess.
Besides, there would be too many aware of the secret.
Cuthbert was not wrong in his supposition.
Soon the man he had sent to the extreme right came running up with the
news that a boat had embarked at the farther end, with a party of some
ten men on board. As he came along he had warned the others, and in five
minutes the whole party were collected in the craft, numbering in all
twelve of Cuthbert's men and six sailors. They instantly put out, and
rowed in the direction in which the boat would have gone, the boatmen
expressing their opinion that probably the party would make for a vessel
which was lying anchored at some little distance from shore. The bearings
of the position of this ship was known to the boatmen, but the night was
so dark that they were quite unable to find it. Orders had been given
that no sound or whisper was to be heard on board the boat; and after
rowing as far as they could, the boatmen said they were in the direction
of the ship.
The boatmen all lay on their oars, and all listened intently.
Presently the creaking of a pulley was heard in the still night, at a
distance of a few hundred yards. This was enough. It was clear that
the vessel was getting up sail. The boat's head was turned in that
direction; the crew rowed steadily but noiselessly, and in a few
minutes the tall mast of a vessel could be seen faintly against the
sky. Just as they perceived the situation, a hail from on board showed
that their approach was now observed.
"Stretch to your oars," Cuthbert said, "we must make a dash for it now."
The rowers bent to their work and in a minute the boat ran alongside
As Cuthbert and his followers scrambled upon the deck, they were attacked
by those of the crew and passengers who were standing near; but it was
evident at once that the chiefs of the expedition had not heard the hail,
and that there was no general plan of defence against them.
It was not until the last of them had gained a footing, and were
beginning to fight their way along the vessel, that from below three or
four men-at-arms ran up, and one in a tone of authority demanded what was
the matter. When he heard the clash of swords and the shouts of the
combatants, he put himself at once at the head of the party, and a fierce
and obstinate fight now took place.
The assailants had, however, the advantage.
Cuthbert and his men were all lightly clad, and this on the deck of a
ship lumbered with ropes and gear, and in the dark, was a great
advantage, for the mailed men-at-arms frequently stumbled and fell. The
fight lasted for several minutes. Cnut who was armed with a heavy mace,
did great service, for with each of his sweeping blows he broke down the
guard of an opponent, and generally levelled him to the deck.
The numbers at the beginning of the fight were not unequal, but the men
to whom the vessel belonged made but a faint resistance when they
perceived that the day was going against them. The men-at-arms, however,
consisting of three, who appeared to be the leaders, and of eight
pikemen, fought stubbornly and well.
Cuthbert was not long in detecting in the tones of the man who was
clearly at the head of affairs the voice of Sir de Jacquelin Barras. To
do him justice he fought with extreme bravery, and when almost all his
followers were cut down or beaten overboard, he resisted staunchly and
well. With a heavy two-handed sword he cleaved a space at the end of the
boat, and kept the whole of Cuthbert's party at bay.
At last Cnut, who had been engaged elsewhere, came to the front, and a
tough fight ensued between them.
It might have ended badly for the brave forester, for his lack of armour
gave an enormous advantage to his opponent. Soon, however, the count's
foot slipped on the boards of the deck, and before he could recover
himself the mace of Cnut descended with tremendous force upon his head,
which was unprotected, as he had taken off his casque on arriving at the
ship. Without a word or a cry the count fell forward on the deck, killed
as a bullock by a blow of a pole-axe.
While this conflict had been going on, occasionally the loud screams of a
woman had been heard below.
Cuthbert, attended by Cnut and two of his followers, now descended.
At the bottom of the steps they found a man-at-arms placed at the
door of a cabin. He challenged them as they approached, but being
speedily convinced that the vessel was in their hands, and that his
employer and party were all conquered, he made a virtue of necessity,
and laid down his arms.
"You had better go in alone," Cnut said, "Master Cuthbert. The lady is
less likely to be frightened by your appearance than by us, for she must
wonder indeed what is going on."
On entering the cabin, which had evidently been fitted up for the use of
a lady, Cuthbert saw standing at the other end the princess whom of
course he knew well by sight. A lamp was burning in the cabin, and by its
light he could see that her face was deadly pale. Her robes were torn and
disarranged, and she wore a look at once of grave alarm and surprise upon
seeing a handsomely dressed page enter with a deep reverence.
"What means this outrage, young sir? Whoever you be, I warn you that the
King of England will revenge this indignity."
"Your Highness," Cuthbert said, "you have no further reason for alarm;
the knaves who carried you off from the bishop's palace and conveyed you
to this ship are all either killed or in our power. I am the page of the
Earl of Evesham, a devoted follower of King Richard. Some of the designs
of the bold men came to the ears of my lord, and he ordered me and a band
of his followers to keep good guard over the palace and buildings
adjoining. We were unable to gather our strength in time to prevent your
being taken on board, but we lost no time in putting forth when we found
that your abductors had taken boat, and by good fortune arrived here in
time; a few minutes later, and the knaves would have succeeded in their
object, for the sails were already being hoisted, and the vessel making
way, when we arrived. Your abductors are all either killed or thrown
overboard, and the vessel's head is now turned towards the shore, and I
hope in a few minutes to have the honour of escorting you to the palace."
The princess, with a sigh of much satisfaction and relief, sank on
to a couch.
"I am indeed indebted to you, young sir," she said. "Believe me, the
Princess Berengaria is not ungrateful, and should it be ever in her power
to do aught for your lord, or for yourself, or for those who have
accompanied you to rescue her, believe me that she will do it."
"May I be so bold as to ask a boon?" Cuthbert said, dropping on one knee
"It is granted at once, whatever it be, if in my power."
"My boon is, lady," he said, "that you will do your best to assuage the
natural anger which the King of England will feel at this bold and most
violent attempt. That he should be told, is of course necessary; but,
lady, much depends upon the telling, and I am sure that at your request
the king would restrain his anger. Were it not for that, I fear that such
quarrels and disputes might arise as would bring the two armies to blows,
and destroy for ever all hope of the successful termination of our joint
"You are a wise and good youth," the princess said, holding out her hand
to Cuthbert, which, as in duty bound, he placed to his lips. "Your
request is wise and most thoughtful. I will use any poor influence which
I may possess"--and Cuthbert could see that the blood came back now to
the white face--"to induce King Richard to allow this matter to pass
over. There is no reason why he should take up the case. I am no more
under his protection than under that of the King of France, and it is to
the latter I should appeal, for as I believe the men who abducted me were
"The leader of them, madam, was a certain Sir de Jacquelin Barras, a
Count of Brabant, with whom my master has had an old feud, and who has
been just killed by the leader of our men-at-arms. The others, who have
had the most active hand in the matter, have also perished; and it would,
I think, be doubtful whether any clue could be obtained to those who were
in league with them. The only man in the party who is alive, was placed
as a sentry at your door, and as he is but a man-at-arms, we may be sure
that he knows nought of the enterprise, but has merely carried out the
orders of his master."
The vessel had by this time brought up close to the port. The princess
determined to wait on board until the first dawn was seen in the skies,
and then under the escort of her deliverers to go back to the palace,
before the town was moving. This plan was carried out, and soon after
dawn the princess was safe in the palace from which she had been carried
a few hours previously.
It was not possible that a matter of this sort could be entirely hushed
up. Not many hours passed before rumours were current of events which had
taken place, though none knew what those events were.
There were reports that the tire-woman of the Princess Berengaria had in
the night discovered that her mistress's couch was unoccupied, that she
had found signs of a struggle, and had picked up a dagger on the floor,
where it had evidently fallen from the sheath; also it was said, that the
princess had returned at daylight escorted by an armed party, and that
she was unable to obtain entrance to the palace until one of the ladies
of the queen had been fetched down to order the sentries at the gate to
allow her to enter.
This was the news which rumour carried through the camp. Few, however,
believed it, and none who could have enlightened them opened their lips
upon the subject.
It was known, however, that a messenger had come to King Richard early,
and that he had at once mounted, and ridden off to the bishop's palace.
What had happened there none could say, but there were rumours that his
voice had been heard in furious outbursts of passion. He remained there
until the afternoon, when he sent for a number of his principal nobles.
When these arrived, they found him standing on a da
hall of the palace, and he there formally introduced to them the Princess
Berengaria as his affianced wife. The ceremony of the marriage, he told
them, would shortly take place.
This announcement caused a tremendous stir in both armies. The English,
who had never been favourable to the alliance with the French princess,
were glad to hear that this was broken off, and were well content that
the Princess Berengaria should be their future queen, for her beauty,
high spirit, and kindness had won all hearts.
On the part of the French, on the other hand, there was great
indignation, and for some time it was feared that the armies would come
to open blows.
King Phillip, however, although much angered, was politic enough to
deprecate any open outbreak. He knew that a dispute now began, would not
only at once put a stop to the Crusade, but that it might lead to more
serious consequences at home. The fiery bravery of the English king,
backed as it would be by the whole strength of his subjects, might render
him a very formidable opponent; and the king felt that private grievances
must be laid aside where the good of France was concerned.
Still the coldness between the armies increased, their camps were moved
further apart, and during the time that they remained in Sicily, there
was but little commerce between the two forces.
As soon as the winter had broken, the French monarch broke up his camp,
and in March sailed for the Holy Land.
The English had expected that the marriage ceremony of the king and
Princess Berengaria would be celebrated before they left Sicily, but this
was not the case. There were high joustings and fetes in honour of the
princess, but the marriage was delayed. A fortnight after the French had
sailed, the English embarked in the 200 ships, which had been prepared,
and sailed also on their way to Acre.
It must not be supposed that the attempted abduction of the Princess
Berengaria was unimportant in its results to Cuthbert.
After returning from the palace the king, who had heard from her the
details of what had taken place, and the names of her rescuers, sent for
the Earl of Evesham. The latter had of course learned from Cuthbert all
that had happened, and had expressed his high approval of his conduct,
and his gratification at the result.
"I learn, Sir Earl," said King Richard, "that it is to you that I am
indebted for the rescue of the princess. She tells me, that suspecting
some plot, you placed a guard around the bishop's palace, with a strong
body on the shore ready to rescue her from the hands of any who might
attempt to take her to sea."
"It is as you say, sire," replied the earl; "but the whole merit of the
affair rests upon my page, the lad whom you may remember as having fought
with and conquered the French page, and of whose conduct you then
approved highly. You may also remember that he escaped by some display of
bravery and shrewdness the further attempts to assassinate him, and your
Majesty was good enough to make a complaint to King Phillip of the
conduct of one of his nobles on that head. It seems that some two months
since, the lad in coming through the French camp at night missed his way,
and accidentally overheard a few words spoken in a voice which he
recognized as that of his enemy. The name of your Majesty being
mentioned, he deemed it his duty to listen, and thus discovered that a
plot was on foot for carrying off the princess. After consultation with
me, we agreed upon the course to be adopted, namely, to place sentries
round the bishop's palace and the buildings adjoining, who should follow
and bring word should she be taken to another place in town, while a band
was placed on the shore in readiness to interfere at once to prevent her
being carried away by sea. He undertook the management of all details,
having with him a trusty squire who commands my Saxon bowmen."
"For your own part I thank you, my lord," the king said, "and, believe
me, you shall not find Richard ungrateful. As to your page, he appears
brave and wise beyond his years. Were it not that I think that it would
not be good for him, and might attract some envy upon the part of
others, I would at once make him a knight. He already has my promise
that I will do so on the first occasion when he can show his prowess
upon the infidels. Bring him to me to-morrow, when the princess will be
here with the Queen of Navarre at a banquet. I would fain thank him
before her; and, although I have agreed--at the princess's earnest
solicitation--to take no further notice of the matter, and to allow it
to pass as if it had not been, yet I cannot forgive the treachery which
has been used, and, without letting all know exactly what has occurred,
would fain by my reception of your page, let men see that something of
great import has happened, of the nature of which I doubt not that
rumour will give some notion."
Upon the following day, therefore, Cuthbert to his confusion found
himself the centre of the royal circle. The king expressed himself to him
in the most gracious manner, patting him on the shoulder, and said that
he would be one day one of the best and bravest of his knights. The
princess and the Queen of Navarre gave him their hands to kiss; and
somewhat overwhelmed, he withdrew from the royal presence, the centre of
attention, and, in some minds, of envy.
Cnut too did not pass unrewarded.
His Majesty, finding that Cnut was of gentle Saxon blood, gave him a gold
chain in token of his favour, and distributed a heavy purse among the men
who had followed him.
When the British fleet, numbering 200 ships, set sail from Sicily, it was
a grand and martial sight. From the masts were the colours of England and
those of the nobles who commanded; while the pennons of the knights, the
bright plumes and mantles, the flash of armour and arms, made the decks
alive with light and colour.
The king's ship advanced in the van, and round him were the vessels
containing his principal followers. The Queen of Navarre and the
Princess Berengaria were with the fleet. Strains of music rose from the
waters, and never were the circumstances of war exhibited in a more
For two days the expedition sailed on, and then a change of a sudden and
disastrous kind took place.
"What is all this bustle about?" Cuthbert said to Cnut. "The sailors are
running up the ladders, and all seems confusion."
"Methinks," said Cnut, "that we are about to have a storm. A few minutes
ago scarce a cloud was to be seen; now that bank over there has risen
half-way up the sky. The sailors are accustomed to these treacherous
seas, and the warnings which we have not noticed have no doubt been clear
enough to them." With great rapidity the sails of the fleet came down,
and in five minutes its whole aspect was changed; but quickly as the
sailors had done their work, the storm was even more rapid in its
progress. Some of the ships whose crews were slower or less skilful than
the others, were caught by the gale before they could get their sails
snug, and the great sheets of white canvas were blown from the bolt ropes
as if made of paper, and a blackness which could almost be felt, covered
the sea, the only light being that given by the frothing waters. There
was no longer any thought of order. Each ship had to shift for herself;
and each captain to do his best to save those under his charge, without
thought of what might befall the others.
In the ship which carried the Earl of Evesham's contingent, order and
discipline prevailed. The earl's voice had been heard at the first puff
of wind, shouting to the men to go below, save a few who might be of use
to haul at ropes. His standard was lowered, the bright flags removed from
the sides of the ship, the shields which were hanging over the bulwarks
were hurriedly taken below, and when the gale smote them, the ship was
trim, and in readiness to receive it. A few square yards of sail alone
were all that the captain had thought it prudent to keep spread, and in a
minute from the time she was struck the lofty hulk was tearing along
through the waters at a tremendous speed. Four of the best hands were
placed at the helm; and here the captain took his post.
The danger was now that in the darkness they might run against one of
their consorts. Even in the war of the elements they could hear from time
to time crashes as of vessels striking against each other, with shouts
and cries. Once or twice from the darkness ships emerged, close on one
hand or the other; but the steadiness of the captain in each case saved
the ship from collision.
As the storm continued, these glimpses of other vessels became more and
more rare, and the ship being a very fast sailer, the captain indulged
the hope that he was now clear of the rest of the fleet.
He now attempted to lie-to to the storm, but the wind was too strong.
The ships in those days too, were so high out of the water, and offered
in themselves such a target to the wind, that it was useless to adopt any
other maneuver than to run before it.
For two days and nights the tempest raged.
"What think you," the earl said to the captain, "of our position? Where
are we, and where will the course upon which we are running take us?"
"I cannot say with certainty," the captain said, "for the wind has
shifted several times. I had hoped to gain the shelter of Rhodes, but a
shift of wind bore us away from there, and I much fear that from the
direction in which we have been running we must be very nigh on the coast
"Pest!" the earl said. "That would indeed be a speedy end to our Crusade.
These Moors are pirates and cut-throats to a man; and even should we
avoid the risk of being dashed to pieces, we should end our lives as
slaves to one of these black infidels."
Three hours later, the captain's prophecies turned out right. Breakers
were seen in various points in front, and with the greatest difficulty
the vessel was steered through an opening between them; but in another
few minutes she struck heavily, one of her masts went over the side,
and she lay fast and immovable. Fortunately, the outside bank of sand
acted as a sort of breakwater; had she struck upon this, the good ship
would have gone to pieces instantly; but although the waves still
struck her with considerable force, the captain had good hope that she
would not break up. Darkness came on; the tempest seemed to lull. As
there was no immediate danger, and all were exhausted by the tossing
which they had received during the last forty-eight hours, the crew of
the "Rose" slept soundly.
In the morning the sun rose brilliantly, and there was no sign of the
great storm which had scattered the fleet of England. The shore was to be
seen at a distance of some four miles, It was low and sandy, with lofty
mountains in the distance. Far inland a white town with minaret and dome
could be seen.
"Know you where we are?" the earl asked.
"As far as I can tell," the captain said, "we have been driven up the bay
called the Little Syrtis--a place full of shoals and shallows, and
abounding with pirates of the worst kind."
"Think you that the ship has suffered injury?"
"Whether she has done so or not," the captain said, "I fear greatly that
she is fast in the sand, and even the lightening of all her cargo will
scarce get her off; but we must try at least."
"It is little time that we shall have to try, Master Captain," Cuthbert,
who was standing close, said. "Methinks those two long ships which are
putting out from that town will have something to say to that."
"It is too true," the captain said. "Those are the galleys of the Moorish
corsairs. They are thirty or forty oars, draw but little water, and will
be here like the wind."
"What do you advise?" asked the earl. "The balistas which you have upon
the poop can make but a poor resistance to boats that can row around us,
and are no doubt furnished with heavy machines. They will quickly
perceive that we are aground and defenceless, and will be able to plump
their bolts into us until they have knocked the good ship to pieces.
However, we will fight to the last. It shall not be said that the Earl of
Evesham was taken by infidel dogs and sold as a slave, without striking a
blow in his defence."
Cuthbert stood watching the corsairs, which were now rowing towards them
at all speed.
"Methinks, my lord," he said, presently, "if I might venture to give an
opinion, that we might yet trick the infidel."
"As how, Cuthbert?" the earl said. "Speak out; you know that I have great
faith in your sagacity."
"I think, sir," the page said, "that did we send all your men below,
leaving only the crew of the vessel on deck, they would take us for a
merchant ship which has been wrecked here, and exercise but little care
how they approach us. The men on deck might make a show of shooting once
or twice with the balistas. The pirates, disdaining such a foe, would row
alongside. Once there, we might fasten one or both to our side with
grapnels, and then, methinks, that English bill and bow will render us
more than a match for Moorish pirates, and one of these craft can
scarcely carry more men than we have. I should propose to take one of
them by force, and drive the pirates overboard; take possession of, if
possible, or beat off, her consort; and then take the most valuable
stores from the ship, and make our way as best we can to the north."
"Well thought of!" exclaimed the earl, cordially. "You have indeed
imagined a plan which promises well. What think you, captain?"
"I think, my lord," the Genoese said, "that the plan is an excellent one,
and promises every success. If your men will all go below, holding their
arms in readiness for the signal, mine shall prepare grapnels and ropes,
and the first of these craft which comes alongside they will lash so
securely to the "Rose" that I warrant me she gets not away."
These preparations were soon made.
The soldiers, who at first had been filled with apprehension at the
thought of slavery among the infidels, were now delighted at the prospect
of a struggle ending in escape.
The archers prepared their bows and arrows, and stood behind the
port-holes in readiness to pour a volley into the enemy; the men-at-arms
grasped their pikes and swords; while above, the sailors moved hither and
thither as if making preparations for defence, but in reality preparing
the grapnels and ropes.
One of the pirates was faster than the other, and soon coming within
reach, poured flights of javelins and stones upon the "Rose" from
powerful machines, which she carried in her bow.
The crew of the "Rose" replied with their crossbows and arrows
from the poop.
The corsair at first did not keep her course direct for the ship, but
rowed round her, shooting arrows and casting javelins. Then, apparently
satisfied that no great precaution need be observed with a feebly-manned
ship in so great a strait as the "Rose," they set up a wild cry of
"Allah!" and rowed towards her.
In two minutes the corsair was alongside of the "Rose," and the fierce
crew were climbing up her sides. As she came alongside the sailors cast
grapnels into her rigging, and fastened her to the "Rose;" and then aloud
shout of "Hurrah for England!" was heard; the ports opened, and a volley
of arrows was poured upon the astonished corsair; and from the deck above
the assailants were thrown back into the galley, and a swarm of heavily
armed men leapt down from the ship upon them.
Taken by surprise, and indeed outnumbered, the resistance of the corsairs
was but slight. In a close fierce m^l,e like this the light-armed Moors
had but little chance with the mail-clad English, whose heavy swords and
axes clove their defences at a blow. The fight lasted but three minutes,
and then the last of the corsairs was overboard.
The men who rowed the galley had uttered the most piercing cries while
this conflict had been raging. They were unable to take any part in
it, had they been disposed to do so, for they were all slaves chained
to the oars.
Scarcely had the conflict ended when the other galley arrived upon the
scene; but seeing what had happened, and that her consort had fallen into
the hands of the English, she at once turned her head, and rowed back
rapidly to the town from which she had come.
Among the slaves who rowed the galley were many white men, and their
cries of joy at their liberation greatly affected those who had thus
unexpectedly rescued them. Hammers were soon brought into requisition,
the shackles struck off them, and a scene of affecting joy took place.
The slaves were of all nationalities, but Italians and Spaniards, French
and Greeks, formed the principal part. There was no time, however, to be
lost; the arms and munitions of war were hastily removed from the "Rose,"
together with the most valuable of the stores.
The galley-slaves again took their places, and this time willingly, at
the oars, the places of the weakest being supplied by the English, whose
want of skill was made up by the alacrity with which they threw their
strength into the work; and in an hour from the time that the galley had
arrived alongside of the "Rose," her head was turned north, and with
sixty oars she was rowing at all speed for the mouth of the bay.
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
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
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
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.
It was now a year since they had left England, and Cuthbert had much
grown and widened out in the interval, and had never neglected an
opportunity of practising with arms; and the earl was well aware that he
should obtain as efficient assistance from him in time of need as he
This was the first time that Cuthbert, and indeed the great proportion of
those present in the Christian host, had seen the enemy in force, and
they eagerly watched the vast array. It was picturesque in the extreme,
with a variety and brightness of colour rivalling that of the Christian
host. In banners and pennons the latter made a braver show; but the
floating robes of the infidel showed a far brighter mass of colour than
the steel armour of the Christians.
Here were people drawn from widely separated parts of Saladin's