One morning as Hugh was moving quietly about, putting his master's tent in order, the sick king, lying on his bed with closed eyes, slightly roused and asked the two faithful knights watching by him, "Does Philip attack the city soon? I thought I heard my squires whispering about it."
"Yes, Sire," answered one of the knights, "the French army will assault Acre at mid-day."
Richard only shrugged his shoulders and again closed his eyes. But when Hugh, having finished his work, stepped outside, he heard other knights talking. "It's too bad King Richard can't do anything!" said one. "Yes," replied the other, "you know he is still desperately sick, but King Philip doesn't want to wait, and some of the English troops will help guard the moat."
And this reply of the knight showed one of the reasons why the crusaders did not get along so well as they might. There was more or less jealousy between the armies of the different nations, and they did not always work together to the best advantage. When the French made an attack, part of the English would often hold back, and the French would do the same way when the English king led. And Duke Leopold of Austria was often sulky and wouldn't fight with the others. The crusaders might have won much more than they did, if they had all rallied round one leader, as did the Saracens, who obeyed every command of their great Sultan Saladin.
So now a part of the English waited for Richard to get well and lead them, though quite a number of others made ready to help guard the moat. Hugh, who was not then needed in the royal tent, ran after these as they rode toward the edge of the camp. Meantime in the French section Raymond was hurrying about as fast as he could, waiting on the squires of Count William as they armed him.
Of course while all these preparations were being made to attack the city, the people shut up there had been watching from the walls and had not missed anything. Suddenly a deafening noise arose, and Hugh, running toward the moat, turned around and rushed nearer the Acre walls, where the din was growing louder and louder. "What's that noise for?" he asked breathlessly of a French soldier who had stopped to fasten his helmet.
"Oh," said the soldier, "that's the signal the Saracens make to tell Saladin's troops and all those Egyptians and Arabians yonder that we are going to assault Acre. Then they will try to cross the moat and attack us from behind, and of course that always takes a lot of our men from fighting to get into the city. Just hear those infidels beating their drums and banging and pounding on anything that will make a noise! Some of them even pound on brass and copper cooking pots and platters!"
Sure enough, as the soldier had said, Saladin's troops heard the signal and rushing down from their camp on the hills joined their allies beyond the moat, and soon the din of battle drowned the noise in the besieged city, for at the same moment the French army began a furious assault. Dragging up their huge battering-rams, they thumped and pounded the great walls; from the petraries and mangonels heavy stones were hurled against and over them, and from archers on the ground and others stationed in tall wooden towers wheeled up close to the city flew an incessant shower of arrows.
Hugh, who had found a group of pages busy carrying fresh arrows to these archers, at once began to help too and almost ran into Raymond eagerly hurrying to bring a shield to one who had dropped his. Then the boys scampered to a sheltered nook behind one of the petraries, for they had no armor and showers of arrows and stones and Greek fire were pouring down from the walls, which the Saracens were defending with a desperate bravery. Hugh noticed that the rams were battering hardest of all against one tall tower in an angle of the wall, and "Look!" he heard one of the men shout as he helped work the huge wooden beam, "The old Cursed Tower shook that time!" For this was what the crusaders had named it, and they all especially hated it and wanted to knock it down, because it was said to have been built with the thirty pieces of silver which Judas received for betraying our Lord Jesus.
But though it shook, the Cursed Tower did not fall; and though the French knights fought valiantly it was in vain they tried to scale the massive walls they could not batter down; for so deadly was the Greek fire poured upon them and so fiercely did the Saracens resist, that at last they were forced to retreat, having lost many of their number. Moreover, the fighting at the moat had been so violent that a large number of the crusaders had been obliged to leave the city walls and go there. All were bitterly mortified, especially as the Saracens, seeing them retreating, began to jeer from the walls and to taunt them with cowardice; which was not true, for the bravest fighters in Christendom were in the crusading army. But to take a strongly walled city in those days was not an easy task. Fever had weakened many of the crusaders, their heavy armor was a burden under the burning sun of Palestine, but worst of all, the quarrels and disagreements of their leaders made it hard for the army to make headway.
King Philip was so disappointed over the defeat of his effort that his fever came back for a while, so with both kings sick in their tents, the besieging army settled down to comparative quiet. That is, they delayed making another assault, but at intervals, every day and night, the big battering-rams pounded away, and now and then a shower of stones would be hurled over the walls by the other machines. Hugh and Raymond were much interested in these, especially one that belonged to the French army and that Philip had named "Bad Neighbor."
"Do you see," said Hugh one day as they were watching this send a huge stone into the city, "the Acre people have set up a petrary on top of the wall almost as big as Bad Neighbor?"
"Yes," said a crusader coming with his arms full of stones, "and do you know what the heathen call theirs?—'Bad Kinsman!' "
Here, "Hark!" cried Raymond, "that's a herald! Hear his trumpet?"
Everybody stopped working the fighting machines and stared at a queer little procession coming through the camp. "Well, what's that?" exclaimed Hugh in bewilderment; but as nobody could tell, both boys hurried off to find out.
"It's an English herald!" said Raymond as they ran along.
"Yes," said Hugh, "and there's a big Saracen behind him carrying a white flag, and then come six black men with white turbans, some bringing baskets, and some goatskins like the water carriers do in this country."
The tall, dark figures, looking neither to right nor left, followed the herald who cleared a path for them, announcing that they came on a peaceful errand from the Sultan Saladin. Straight on they went toward the quarters of King Richard, seeing which, Hugh sprang after them and flew as fast as his legs would carry him to his master's tent, reaching it just as the strangers disappeared within one close by.
Raymond, who had hurried after him and was waiting near by, hoping Hugh would come out and tell him the news, soon began to hear the soldiers talking, for nothing was long kept secret from the camp. "Well! if that don't beat everything!" said one. "They say that heathen Saladin has sent cold sherbets and the finest fruit to 'The Malek Ric!' "
"Who's that?" asked a soldier who had not been long with the army.
"Why, that what those Saracens call King Richard, 'Malek' is their heathenish name for king, and I suppose 'Ric' is as near as they can come to Richard. It's got to be a sort of nickname for him here."
"That Saladin can't be such a bad fellow," replied the other. "I heard my master say the other day that if he would turn Christian, he would make a fine honorable knight."
Here Hugh came out of the tent, and Raymond, knowing nothing had escaped him, ran to him, asking, "Did Saladin really send things to King Richard?"
"Yes, indeed!" answered Hugh. "They wouldn't let anybody in the king's tent, but took them to the one near it and I got right by the door and saw it all. Those goatskins were full of sherbet packed in snow from the top of the mountains, and the baskets heaped with the finest fruit you ever saw! The black men were slaves from Nubia, and their leader brought a message from the sultan saying he was sorry 'The Malek Ric' was sick and that he didn't want him to die like a slave in his tent, but to get well so he could fight him in the open field. And he said he'd send him dainties every day till he was all right. The herald interpreted for them; you know he can speak their language."
"Whew!" exclaimed Raymond, "wasn't that fine of Saladin!" as Hugh paused, enjoying his importance as news-dealer, for others had gathered around to listen.
"Yes," he went on, "King Richard was mightily pleased when one of his knights went in and told him, and he sent a message of thanks to the sultan and ordered presents given to all the slaves. And then I heard that he drank a cup of the sherbet right away to show his contempt for the opinion of some of the knights who thought the things might be poisoned. He said Saladin might be an infidel, but he was as honorable as any knight in our army."
And this was quite true. Both Saladin and Richard were brave fighters and generous foes and greatly admired one another, though they had never met; and it really seemed a pity that fate had made them enemies when in many ways they might have enjoyed each other's friendship.