It was July, 1192, a year from the coming of the crusaders, and Richard was again camped at Acre, this time on his way home. He had skillfully and safely led the retreating army from Hebron back to Ascalon, though pursued and many times attacked by great forces of Saracens. From Ascalon they had made their way to Jaffa, where the sick and wounded, who were many, had been left in care of the garrison and the Christian inhabitants of the place; then at last they had come to Acre, whence the greater part of the army had already sailed northward for Beirut. For though Richard had not conquered Jerusalem, he had taken and held all but one of the important cities along the coast; this last, Beirut, he meant to attack on his way home, for to leave these cities in possession of the Christians would be the greatest help in case of another crusade.
The king had arranged for the two queens and their ladies, who had been staying at Acre, to return on the same ship in which they had come; and having made all his plans, he was in his tent, only waiting for morning to sail off in his royal galley, the Trenchmer, whose crimson sails and hull gleamed in the moonlight as it rode at anchor in the Bay of Acre. The two pages had not yet parted, as Count William was going on one of the ships that were to sail with the Trenchmer, so the boys expected to bed together again at Beirut.
As Richard sat now within his tent, playing softly on his lute, while Hugh was busy gathering up the last of his baggage, suddenly they heard the sound of horses galloping on the hard sand of the shore. Nearer and nearer they came, till the riders drew rein in front of the royal tent and sprang to the ground as Hugh ran to let them in.
They were two messengers, breathless and spent from the haste of their long ride. Kneeling at his feet and saluting the king. "Sire," burst out one of them, "thank God you are still here! We feared we might be too late! We come straight from Jaffa to implore help, for the city is sore beset! Saladin's army, a mighty host, surrounds it, and though the garrison you left and the townspeople have defended themselves so bravely that they have drawn praise even from the enemy, they have been driven to the citadel as a last refuge. The sultan has given them five days of grace, and if no succor comes, every man, woman and child must first pay a heavy tribute of gold, and then surrender themselves and all the sick and wounded there to the mercy of the infidels."
"Living Lord!" broke in King Richard before the messenger could say more, "God willing, I will do what I can!" He thought a moment, then, "Hugh!" he called. "Quick, lad!" and he dispatched the page instantly to the tents of Count William and seven other chosen knights still in the camp, and sent a squire to go swiftly to the palaces in Acre where lived the Masters of the Knights of the Temple and of St. John. These were all to come at once to the royal tent, where they soon arrived and by midnight had made their plans. Richard, with eight knights and their men, were to sail down the coast to Jaffa, as this was the quickest way to get there. The Knights of the Temple and of St. John were to gather together, besides their own companies, as many as possible of the Christians who lived in Palestine, and march as fast as they could to help the king.
Neither Hugh nor Raymond slept much the rest of the night; their heads were too full of excitement. As it had been expected the galleys would leave early in the morning anyway, with but little more preparation they were ready, and by noon off they sailed, Count William and his men on the Trenchmer with King Richard, and the other knights and their followers filling a few more ships. They were at best only a little handful to face the great army of Saladin, but the Lion Heart was dauntless and his brave followers took fresh courage from him.
As the crimson sails of the galley puffed and filled, the two pages leaned over the rail, watching the coast with its palms and olives and the square flat-roofed houses of the towns and villages they passed as they sped along. The summer sun beat scorchingly on the sandy shore, and "My!" said Raymond, "aren't you glad we are going back to Jaffa by water instead of marching along that blistering road, looking out for scorpions and spiders and thorns all the while?"
"Yes, indeed!" replied Hugh. "This is really fine, and we're going pretty fast. If the wind holds out, it won't take us long to get there." But scarcely were the words out of his mouth when suddenly the wind failed; the bright sails flapped and hung motionless, and soon the galley lay becalmed, and of course the other ships were in the same plight. For nearly three days they could make no headway. Everyone was in despair, and King Richard paced up and down the deck of the Trenchmer like a caged lion.
But at last, late on the third day, "Puff! Puff!" the wind sprang up again. Again the sails swelled and fluttered as they hurried southward. Two more days the ships skimmed over the waves; and then, "This is the fifth day!" whispered Hugh to Raymond as they hung over the water. "If we don't get to Jaffa tonight it will be too late!" But they did! At midnight the captain of the galley told the king they were entering the harbor of Jaffa; but Richard bade him cast anchor till morning, as before landing he must find out whether the garrison in the citadel still held out or had been forced to surrender that evening.
At the first streak of dawn everyone on the ships was straining his eyes toward land, and what they saw was enough to daunt the bravest, but not the bold hearts of the crusaders. The shore was covered with tents from which poured an innumerable host of Saracens, brandishing their weapons, beating their brazen drums, and, as usual, yelling at the tops of their voices.
As King Richard looked toward the citadel, which joined the Jaffa walls inside, trying to think quickly of some way of getting the news he wanted, suddenly, "Look! Look!" cried Hugh, pointing breathlessly to its battlements. A man was seen standing there, and in another moment making his way to the top of the city wall, he leaped down. A hillock of sand beneath it saved him from hurt, and springing to his feet, amid a shower of arrows from the Saracens he plunged into the sea, swimming with all his might and main toward the Trenchmer; for the red sails of the royal galley had been seen far off by the watchers in the citadel, and they knew the king would want to know whether they had yet surrendered.
Richard was the first to receive the bold swimmer as wet and panting he clambered up the side of the ship, and the moment he heard the garrison still helf out, though it was the very morning fixed for its surrender, turning to the captain who awaited his orders, "Steer straight for shore!" he commanded. As the red keel flew toward the land, again came a volley of arrows from the enemy, but the instant the galley reached shallower water, and before the anchor could be cast, hanging his shield around his neck and leaping into the sea, the Lion Heart rushed to shore, waving his great battle-ax before him, and followed at once by Count William and the other knights.
All the Christians fought with the greatest bravery, but Richard was like a very demon. Always reckless of danger, and now more reckless than ever, perhaps because of his disappointment in the crusade, he hewed to right and left, cleaving for himself a broad path of killed and wounded. At first the Saracens tried to fight back, but in an amazingly short while they were seized with a panic. The terror of his name and the terrific blows he was dealing struck fear to their hearts, till wildly shrieking, "The Malek Ric! The Malek Ric!" all that great host of them took to their heels and fled in every direction. Some rushed into the city, pursued by Richard, who joined by the garrison there, drove them from street to street till few were left alive; when he went outside again with his little handful of men to face those of the flying Saracens whom Saladin had managed to rally together, the moment they saw him, once more terror seized them. All, event the sultan himself, fled again, leaving their entire camp in the hands of the crusaders.
The two pages, who had watched the fight from the deck of the Trenchmer, too absorbed to say a word, now hurried excitedly to land, shouting with delight at the fiery dash and fury with which the king and his little band had won the day; and they soon were busy helping in their masters' tents as they were pitched for camping. For all was not yet over at Jaffa. Saladin, though beaten that morning, had not given up hope of taking the city; and Richard, guessing this, decided not to leave at once, but to wait and see. Besides, he was expecting the little troop which was marching down the coast; this arrived in a couple of days, and though all were much disappointed to have come too late for the fight on the shore, they need not have worried, for there was plenty more in store for them.
Meantime the sultan, who was still planning to attack Jaffa again, had heard that Count Henry of Champagne had got together some more soldiers from around Tyre and was coming to help Richard; so, leaving a small force to watch Jaffa, he hurried off to try to prevent the count from getting there. Then, as king sultan managed to keep pretty good track of each other's moves in this game of war, Richard at once sent off as many men as he could possibly spare to help Count Henry. When Saladin found that out, he changed his mind about fighting the count, and began to rush his big army back as fast as he could to try to crush Richard's little army while it was the very smallest.—There! Can you keep all that straight in your head?—And it was all very quickly done; for as the sultan was hurrying back to Jaffa, evening had fallen on only the third day after the battle on the shore.
Richard was in his tent, which he had recklessly caused to be pitched in the camp outside the city walls, instead of within them as everybody thought he ought to. He was tired, and presently he called Hugh to bring him water and comb his hair, which always seemed to soothe him, and before long he was sleeping soundly, and a little later Hugh himself lay in his narrow bed in a small part curtained from the main tent.
The little new moon rose and set; and the page, though a light sleeper, did not waken till in the dusk just before dawn, when suddenly with a startled feeling his eyes flew open. Bewildered and but half awake, he lay still for a moment, when he caught the murmur of whispered voices outside the tent; for, as it was very hot, this was but loosely fastened. At the same instant, as he was trying to listen to these, his eyes, grown used to the darkness, could make out the stooping figure of a man within the tent who seemed to be crawling on his hands and knees toward that part where the king slept.
Hugh, now wide awake and alert, lost not another moment. Jumping from his bed, he sprang clear over the man, and in one stride was at his master's side, shouting, "Wake up! Wake up, Sire!"
Richard sat up, dazed at first, and then a streak of dawn lighting the darkness, the man quickly straightened up, and evidently determined to risk all, rushed at him and tried to plunge a dagger into his heart. But the instant he came near, the king, with a steely gleam in his eyes, reached out one hand, and seizing him by the throat, held him like a vise till the knights and squires close by, who had been roused by Hugh's shouts, came hurrying in, when with a contemptuous shake he flung him to them to be dealt with later as he deserved. Then turning to Hugh, "Lad," said the king, taking Hugh's hand between his own, "you have saved my life, it seems. Had not you wakened me, yonder coward would have stabbed me while I slept. I shall not forget what you have done, my boy."
Richard sat up, dazed at first.
Hugh flushed with pleasure as the others crowded about to hear what had happened. Then getting together a band of soldiers, the knights hurried out to scour the surrounding hills for the man's companions, though they did not find them. They were part of the force left by Saladin to watch Jaffa, and had decided to try to capture or kill King Richard while asleep in his tent. But when they came there, their boldness left them, and they had disputed so long as to who should creep in that the dawn had almost overtaken them; and those outside the tent, when they heard Hugh's shout, had leaped on their horses and ridden off like the wind. It is but fair to say, though, that what they had planned was no doubt entirely their own idea and that Saladin himself knew nothing at all about it; for he would have been far too chivalrous to attempt the life of his foyal foe in so cowardly a way.
But since, luckily, Richard escaped harm, it was just as well that the crusaders were roused early, for they had a hard day's work ahead of them. As the summer sun rose higher, it was not long before they began to see in the distance the vanguard of Saladin's army, which you know was hurrying down to try to crush the English king. When Richard saw the great hosts of turbaned Saracens coming closer, he quickly gathered together his own little force, standing with their backs to the sea, and told them no man must flinch for a single instant; for while, if defeated, the Saracens could easily retreat to the hills, for the crusaders the coming battle meant victory or death, since, if beaten, they would be driven into the sea. Hugh and Raymond, who had crowded near, felt their hearts leap as they listened to his words; they were wild to be in the fight, but were obliged as usual to obey orders and keep to one side when it began.
And it began soon enough. As the Saracens came galloping down, the crusader knights sprang on their horses, Richard on Favelle ahead of all, and rushed to meet them; and from that moment the wild battle was on. When it had lasted about an hour, the two pages, who were anxious to see it and could not well do so from the low shore where they stood, decided to try to get inside the city and climb up on its wall so they could look down on the sandy plain where the fight was going on. This they managed to do, and watched eagerly as the battle surged to and fro. It was a thrilling scene; but towering above the struggling mass of men, the Lion Heart, always in the thickest of the fight, charging furiously to right and left, often entirely surrounded by the enemy but always gallantly cleaving his way through, rescuing those of his knights who were unhorsed, smiting down the boldest of the infidels, and performing unheard-of deeds of bravery, it was his figure that held the boy's eyes above all others.
"He seems everywhere at once!" cried Hugh. "And his battle-ax flashes like a streak of lightning!"
Just then, "Oh!" exclaimed Raymond. "Look! An arrow has hit Favelle!"
Sure enough, pierced by a Saracen dart, the brave war-horse was dying; but as he sank to the ground, Richard, quickly freeing himself from the stirrups, sprang to his feet and struck out with his battle-ax, felling all who came near him.
"There, see!" cried Hugh despairingly, "The Saracens are closing around him! I don't see how even he can hold out!"
But he did, keeping a circle cleared around him.
"I wonder why some of our knights don't get him another horse?" said Raymond.
"He's so far in the enemy's lines I suppose they don't see him," replied Hugh, "and besides they are so busy fighting themselves,—but"—here both boys stared in amazement,—"will you look at that!"
They could make out a Nubian slave waving above his head a white flag of truce and swiftly forcing his way among the struggling men toward King Richard. He was followed by two others leading a pair of the finest Arabian horses, saddled and bridled, their silky coats shining as they stepped prancingly along. Pausing in front of Richard and bowing low, they seemed to be presenting them to him; for, quickly choosing, he sprang on the back of one, and in another moment was again in the thick of the fight, while the slaves led the other horse through the crusader lines and gave him in charge of a squire to keep ready in case the king needed another.
The pages drew a long breath. "Do—do you suppose Saladin sent those?" said Raymond, bewildered.
"It looks like it!" replied Hugh, "Let's go find out!" And they both hurried down and ran to where the beautiful Arab charger was arching his neck and pawing the ground. And sure enough, as the boys had guessed, the horses had been sent, in the true spirit of chivalry, from Richard's Saracen foes. It seems the sultan and his brother, Malek Adel, were not in the battle themselves, as was the English king, but watching and directing it from a little hillock near by. When Favelle fell to the ground someone pointed out Richard to Saladin. "What!" cried the sultan, "the English king fighting on foot like a common soldier? That is not right!" and turning to his attendants, he at once ordered two of his choicest horses to be taken instantly to Richard with the compliments of himself and Malek Adel. And the Lion Heart, most chivalrous of kings, had accepted them in the same spirit in which they were sent.
Meantime the battle was going on furiously; arrows flying, lances and spears, battle-axes, swords and scimitars all dealing deadly blows; yet still the brave little band of crusaders stood their ground, and of the heaps of slain that strewed the sands by far the greater number were Saracens.
Toward noon there was a lull in the fighting, both sides feeling the need of rest and food; so the two armies drew apart for awhile, facing each other with a narrow space between. Presently a murmur of surprise ran along the lines and our two pages, crowding up as near as they could, saw King Richard riding slowly along in front of the Saracens; he was waving his battle-ax and daring any champion among them to come out and fight him. On he rode, down the whole long line of turbaned enemies, but not one of them stirred from the ranks. There were many brave warriors among them, but all drew back at the thought of fighting single-handed with "The Malek Ric."
Hugh's eyes glowed with pride in his master as the latter, with a contemptuous shrug, rode slowly back to the middle of the space dividing the armies. And then both pages stared again, for what do you suppose he did? Deliberately getting off his horse, he sat down on the ground and called for something to eat! When the word was passed along, some of Richard's squires hurried to the army cooks, and one of them was coming bearing a tray, when Hugh, seeing him, sprang out and demanded it. "It's my right to carry food to the king and wait on him while he eats!" he exclaimed.
"What, boy?" said the squire in surprise, "But you're not old enough to be a soldier, and those infidels yonder may let their arrows fly any minute. Though they are afraid to fight him singly, "The Malek Ric" is a pretty tempting mark as he sits boldly there on the ground!"
"Well," said Hugh, drawing himself up very straight, "I guess I am no coward, if I am only a page! It's your right to cut his meat for him, but I'm going to take it to him!" And seizing the tray, he hurried off as fast as he could toward his royal master, a couple of squires following to do the carving.
As panting and breathless Hugh set the tray down in front of King Richard, the latter smiled his approval. "You are a brave lad," he said, "and will make a good knight when you win your spurs." Hugh looked his delight as he stood by the king's side ready to give him any service. And he soon saw something to do. "Shall I pull some of the arrows from your armor, Sire?" he ventured to ask. "I think they will be in your way while you eat."
"Why, yes," said Richard, carelessly looking down at his hauberk bristling with arrows whose tips had stuck in the steel rings they could not pierce through, "I am as full of Saracen darts as a hedgehog of spines. But be quick about it! We have not much time to lose!"
Hugh tugged and pulled and got out the arrows that were most in the way; and then the moment the king had finished eating, off he flew with the tray, and quickly returning with a ewer and basin, poured water over his master's hands, drying them as usual on a napkin he had brought. When this was done, "Now scamper off lad!" said Richard as, rising to his feet, he sprang on his horse.
The Saracens, who while "The Malek Ric" had been eating, had looked on in silent astonishment, now took this as a signal to renew the battle; and through all the long hot afternoon it raged unceasingly. Again and again the forces of Saladin swept down upon them in furious charges, but nothing could daunt the courage of the crusaders who fought with their backs to the sea. At last, toward evening, baffled and discouraged, the fierce shouts of the Saracens died away, their brazen drums sounded a retreat, and they fled to the hills, leaving hundreds of their bravest warriors dead upon the field.
The final battle of Jaffa was over and the crusaders were the victors. It had been won by sheer bravery, a small band fighting against enormous odds. Of Richard's part in it, those who knew him best declared that for deeds of heroic daring and boldness no one had ever equaled him. The battle of Assur had been a fierce and courageous struggle, but the battle of Jaffa was longer and harder fought and the victory more amazing; and it was Richard's bravery and heroism that all day long kept up the courage of the rest. Indeed, it is no wonder that the name of the Lion Heart struck such terror to the Saracens that for years and years—perhaps they do so yet, for all I know—they made of him a bogie to frighten their children into obedience. If their little ones were naughty, "Come," they would say, "you had better mind quickly, or The Malek Ric will catch you!"