Gateway to the Classics: Stories from English History, Book I by Alfred J. Church
Stories from English History, Book I by  Alfred J. Church

King Richard's Crusade (continued)

T HE besiegers were greatly encouraged by the coming of King Richard. "This is the man," they said, "for whom we have waited so long. Now that he is come, the assault will speedily be made, for he is the best of all the warriors in Christendom." But their hopes were delayed for a time by the sickness which came upon him a few days after his coming. This sickness held him for ten days or more. The King of France also suffered from the same, as did others in the host. The Count of Flanders was so ill that he died.

As soon as the King of France was recovered of his sickness, he busied himself with setting up engines of war in such places as seemed best. There he kept them at work day and night. To one of these engines, that was of great power, he gave the name of "The Bad Neighbour." The Turks within the city had one with which they answered this, calling it "The Bad Kinsman." Often did they destroy King Philip's engine, but it was as often repaired. At last it broke down a great part of the chief wall of the city, and shattered also a certain tower which was called the "Accursed Tower." The Duke of Burgundy had also an engine, as had the Knights of the Temple, and the Knights of the Hospital of St. John, with which they did very great damage to the Turks.

Besides all these, there was a stone-sling which was called "God's Stone-sling." Near to this a certain priest preached continually, begging money for its repairing, and for paying those who gathered stones for it. King Richard himself had two stone-slings, marvellously made, with which he could hit the mark at an incredible distance. Another engine he had that was called "The Belfry," was covered with closely-fitting hides, so that it could not be burnt with Greek fire, nor destroyed by stones. 'Tis certain that a single stone discharged by one of the King's engines slew twelve men. This stone was sent for Saladin to look at.

The King of the French had also various implements and engines of war. One of these was a contrivance made of hurdles, strongly bound together, and covered with raw hides. Under this the King would sit, his cross-bow in his hand, watching if any Turk should show himself on the walls. One day the Turks threw a quantity of Greek fire on to this thing, aiming at it at the same time with a stone-sling. Between the two, it was utterly destroyed, to the great wrath of the King, who in his rage proclaimed, by the voice of a herald, a general assault for the next day.

On that same day Saladin had declared that he would cross the trenches and destroy the whole army of the Christians. He did not keep his word, but sent his lieutenant in his place. Under his leading, the Turks attacked the trenches with great fury, and were as firmly resisted by the French. The Turks, dismounting from their horses, advanced on foot. The two sides fought hand to hand, using swords, daggers, two-handed axes, and clubs furnished with iron teeth.

Meanwhile the men that had been set by the King of France to make mines had reached the foundations of the walls, and filling the space which they had made with logs, set them on fire. At last the wall—the beams on which it rested being burnt through—gave way, sloping by degrees, but not falling flat. The Christians ran up to make their way into the town by this place, and the Turks, on the other hand, ran up, resolved to drive them back.

In this fight a certain Alberic Clements did a very noble thing. Seeing that the French were labouring much but doing little, he cried out, "To-day I will either die or, with God's leave, enter Acre." Thereupon he climbed up by the ladder to the top of the wall, and there stood, slaying many of the Turks, who rushed upon him from all sides. But when others sought to follow him, the ladder broke, for it could not bear the number of those that crowded upon it. Some were crushed to death, others were grievously wounded. As for Alberic, he was left alone on the wall, and there perished, pierced by wounds without number.

King Richard was now so far recovered from his sickness that he could turn his thoughts to the taking of the city. He caused a shed made of hurdles covered with hides to be brought up to the ditch outside the city wall. In shelter of this he put some of the most skilful of his crossbow-men. He was himself carried to the place on silken cushions, and lay there using his cross-bow, with which he was very skilful. Many of the Saracens did he slay with his bolts.

After this, that his men might be encouraged the sooner to make a breach in the wall, he proclaimed that he would give two gold pieces to every one who should pull a stone from the wall near to the Accursed Tower. This bounty he increased to three and even four gold pieces. Many stones did the young knights with their followers draw out, though the Turks attacked them fiercely all the while. The Turks themselves were in their turn assailed by the machines. These hurled the stones with such force that no armour could stand against them.

At last, when the tower had in this way been brought to the ground, the King's men-at-arms attempted to take the town by storm. But the Turks came up in great numbers to resist them. At close quarters they fought with each other, hand against hand, and sword against sword. But as the English were few, and the Turks increased in number, the men-at-arms were compelled to retreat. Some were slain with the sword, and not a few perished by the Greek fire, for the Turks used this abundantly.

The next day the leaders of the Turks offered to give up the city on condition that all the garrison should be suffered to depart with their arms and their goods. The King of France was willing to accept the condition, but King Richard would not enter an empty city after so long a siege.

Not long afterwards the city was surrendered on the terms that follow. The Turks should restore the Holy Cross, should give up such Christian captives as they had, and should pay a great sum of money for their lives, they being suffered to go whither they would without arms or food, and carrying nothing but their shirts. They should also surrender, as hostages for the due performance of these terms, the noblest of their number.

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