When the Saracens who had captured Count William brought him, a few days later, to the sultan's camp, and he was found not to be "The Malek Ric" as they supposed, they were angry and wished to behead him at once. This Saladin was quite willing they should do, and it was only the prompt arrival of the messenger, who had ridden at full speed, that saved him. For on reading Richard's letter, Saladin at once granted his request to ransom Count William.
The latter had given himself up to die, and great was his joy when, with a courteous farewell, the sultan dismissed him and even sent some of his own soldiers to escort him safely back to the crusader's camp; for when not actually fighting, both the king and the sultan and the nobles in both armies were chivalrous enough to behave most politely to one another.
Of course on his return, more than a week after his capture, Count William received a warm welcome, and Raymond was delighted to have his master to serve once more. Count William was surprised, however, to find the crusaders still resting in Jaffa, for he knew the king was anxious to go on.
The two pages also used to wonder why they delayed there. They could not know how hard Richard had tried to move the common soldiers, many of whom had grown lazy, as at Acre, with the easy life at Jaffa. Nor could they know all the jealousy and opposition he met with from the leading knights, the Dukes of Burgundy and Austria, and even the chiefs of the Knights of the Temple and of St. John. And most difficult and irritating of all was a great quarrel going on between two powerful nobles, Conrad of Montferrat and Guy of Lusignan, as to which should be called king of Jerusalem; which seemed particularly silly, as Jerusalem was yet to be taken by the crusaders and the task looked every day more impossible. Nevertheless, Conrad, who had a large number of followers, was very angry because Richard favored Guy's claims instead of his own, and it was even said that he had turned traitor to the cause and offered to join his forces with Saladin in fighting the king.
But though our pages could not know all of Richard's troubles, the camp was full of rumors of them; and everyone knew that a messenger had come from the sultan to arrange a meeting between the latter's brother Malek Adel (which means King Adel), and King Richard, and that it was to talk about possible terms of peace. For Saladin thought perhaps the English king might now be willing to listen to such.
On the day Malek Adel was to come, Hugh helped carry his master's royal tent to one of the finest gardens out side the walls of Jaffa. When all was ready and Richard, handsomely dressed and attended by a group of knights, including Count William, waited for his visitor, Hugh went out, and soon joined by Raymond, the two sat in the shade of a pomegranate bush and watched the road from the hills. Presently a party of horsemen came in sight; as they drew nearer, "Look!" said Hugh, "that one in the middle must be Malek Adel! What a splendid purple mantle all glittering with gold! And what gorgeous trappings all the horses have on!"
"And see!" cried Raymond, "there comes a string of camels, seven of them? Do you suppose they are a present?"
"I guess so," replied Hugh, as the boys sprang up and stood ready for any service. Hugh had hoped to hold the bridle-rein or stirrup of Malek Adel as he dismounted, but as he and the two nobles with him were attended by their own Nubian slaves there was nothing for the pages to do but look on as the English king, stepping to the door of his tent, received his visitors with the utmost courtesy. After this greeting Malek Adel presented to King Richard the camels he had brought, and directed a slave to unroll a package from the back of one of them. This second gift proved to be a magnificent silken tent, which King Richard at once ordered to be pitched in the garden so all might see its beauty. After it had been duly admired, and the party had entered the royal one already prepared for them, at a signal from one of the squires Hugh went in and passed around sherbet and fruit and sweetmeats on silver trays.
When he was dismissed and joined Raymond again, "Those Saracen lords certainly are good-looking," he said, "and my! such splendid robes and turbans and mantles! You know King Richard likes handsome clothes himself, and I'm glad he had on that brocaded mantle of his and one of his best embroidered tunics."
"What do you suppose he will do with all those camels?" asked Raymond.
"I don't know," said Hugh. "They might carry his baggage on the march, but they look so fine with their red harnesses and all those little silver bells and gay saddle cloths that I don't believe they're meant for anything but riding on, and of course that wouldn't suit King Richard."
Meantime, while the boys were talking, much more important affairs were discussed within the royal tent. But though, when Malek Adel left, no peace terms had been reached, nevertheless a warm friendship had sprung up between him and King Richard, and after that day it was no uncommon sight for the Saracen king to visit his English foe, with whom he found many tastes in common. And more than once, at these times, Hugh brought his lute to King Richard, who played and sang for Malek Adel; and though the latter was not himself gifted to do the same in return, he sometimes brought with him the most skilful of the Saracen poets and musicians to perform for King Richard's pleasure. Some of the crusaders did not like this friendship, but the king treated their opinions with his usual contempt, and when it came to battles neither he nor Malek Adel fought a whit less fiercely because they liked each other.
King Richard, who played and sang for Malek Adel.
Indeed, no one should have criticized the Lion Heart for finding a little pleasure where he could, for troubles were thickening around him fast enough. One day when the pages were together, "I tell you," said Hugh, "I'd hate to head this crusade! The knights are fussing about this and that, and if you hear the common soldiers talk, they will say in one breath that King Richard ought to lead them right away to Jerusalem and in the next that it's a shame to make them move till they get rested. Rested! Why, we've been here weeks now! They say King Richard has a hot temper, but I think he's been mighty patient with it all!"
But at last the army was got together, and leaving a force to guard Jaffa, they set out for Jerusalem, though they little guessed the many hardships in store for them. It was now November, and a season of heavy storms was beginning. As our two pages trudged day after day along the muddy roads, they were often glad to climb up on the baggage wagons to shield themselves from the driving rain that drenched them to the skin. When the camp was made at night, tents were blown over and everything soaked, or the tired soldiers tormented into wakefulness by the enemy. For the Saracens, moving as before behind the hills, had a way of sending a small force galloping toward the crusaders' camp at night and yelling at the top of their lungs; then, when the crusaders rousing up, would spring to arms, off they would gallop again. And no matter how often this happened, King Richard's army never dared not to get up and arm, as in the darkness they could never be sure how many were attacking them. And this was just what Saladin wanted, for in this way most of his soldiers could sleep peacefully in their tents while King Richard's were kept worried and fagged and quite worn out when daylight came.
Soon, too, their food began to fail. The provision ships, which had followed them down the coast, could not land because of the storms; Saladin had caused the country through which they passed to be laid waste, and the rains spoiled the food they carried with them. Hugh and Raymond, though for the first time in their lives they suffered real hunger, were proving good soldiers and said nothing as they munched their mouldy bread and drank the muddy water from the scanty streams they passed; for most of the wells had been poisoned. No wonder that many of the crusaders fell sick and died, and many more could scarcely bear the weight of their armor, which every day the rains rusted more and more. And the poor horses suffered as much as the men, for in the desolate fields it was almost impossible to find fodder for them; many fell exhausted by the way, and the famished crusaders did not disdain their flesh for food. Thus, hungry and thirsty and footsore, the army toiled painfully on till at last they camped at a place called Ramlah.
Every day, as Hugh had waited upon his master, he had found him more silent and troubled, even his lute seeming scarcely to comfort him. Indeed, as the tents were pitched at Ramlah, though hardly more than fifteen miles from Jerusalem, King Richard knew in his heart that never had the holy city seemed farther away. That evening, after Hugh had carried his scanty supper to him, the king bade him bring a map he had lately caused to be made of Jerusalem and the country round about. Hugh placed the roll of parchment on a table and by it a lighted candle, and left King Richard poring over it, as he continued to do half the night. When at last he laid it aside, a deep sigh broke from the Lion Heart as with sad shake of his head he threw himself down for a few hours' rest.
The next morning, when Hugh went in to wait upon him, "Lad," he said, "you need not help pack the tent things today. We are going no further now."
Hugh gasped, but as King Richard turned around with an air of dismissal, he went outside and sat disconsolately on a rock, wondering what the king meant; and thinking miserably, too, of the good breakfast they would be having in his far-away home castle and how empty his own stomach was, how damp and uncomfortable his clothes were, and how tired he was most of the time now. Soon he pricked up his ears, as a herald rode through the camp calling out that the army would not go to Jerusalem then, but after resting two days at Ramlah would march to the city of Ascalon to wait for reinforcements.
When the herald ceased, at first there was a blank silence, and then from the foot-soldiers rose a great murmur of discontent. As Hugh got up and walked among them he heard them talk. "What!" said one, "Retreat now, after all we have suffered? For shame!" "Yes," cried another, leave the Holy Sepulchre now, and have to endure hunger and cold and misery marching to Ascalon instead of Jerusalem? And who knows when reinforcements will come?" "No," went on another, "I don't believe there will be any!"
By the next day the discontent grew worse, and many began to desert. In the afternoon Raymond came over to where Hugh sat huddled from the rain under a flap of the royal tent. "What do you think?" he said. "A lot of the French are going off with the Duke of Burgundy! Some have already started. But Count William is loyal to King Richard and says he doesn't see how he could lead the army further now, it's so worn out. And on the way here I heard some other knights say that spies the king sent ahead brought back word that Saladin had made the walls of Jerusalem so strong it will be mighty hard to take."
"Yes," replied Hugh, "I know King Richard has a new map of the city. He was looking at it nearly all night, and I guess that decided him to give up the march now. But I don't believe anybody feels worse about it than he does. He looks dreadfully sad and worried."
It was in truth a terrible wrench for the Lion Heart to give up, if only for a time, the object for which he had sacrificed and toiled and suffered so much. But he was too great a general not to realize that the odds were against him; he had done his best, but now he must have help. Deserted by King Philip, his army torn by quarreling and worn by hunger, thirst and sickness, he could not hope to conquer the strong city of their dreams. He would not give up altogether, though, so he had planned to march to Ascalon and there wait for the reinforcements he had sent for long before and which he still hoped would come. Besides, Ascalon was one of the last of the important places on the coast, which the crusaders had not taken, and holding it, they could land ships with men or food almost anywhere needed.
The march thither was full of all the hardships they had endured before, only worse; for now came snow and hail, too, and Hugh and Raymond had to wrap their little woolen capes closely about them to try to warm their numb fingers. All were thankful when at last, early in January, Ascalon came in sight, though they saw that, as at Jaffa, Saladin had caused the city walls to be broken down and many of its houses destroyed; but enough were found still unharmed to shelter the king and chief knights, and as usual the two pages made themselves useful helping arrange things for their noble masters.