Far Away, on the coast of Palestine, beyond the ancient city of Acre the slopes of Mount Carmel gleamed bright green in the June sunlight: pink and white oleanders, blue myrtle bloom, golden daises and countless other of the gay flowers that flourish in that warm country dotted the green, and here and there rose tall, feathery palm trees crowned with clusters of ripening dates. But though the mountain was bright with color, the sandy plain beside the city walls was gray with tattered tents of war from which floated banners and pennons once brilliant and glowing but now faded in the burning sun of the East; for the crusading army besieging Acre had been camped there for two years.
To be sure, along the shore there showed now beside this older camp the fresher tents of the French host and the silken one of King Philip with its standard sown with golden lilies. But though these new crusaders from France had been welcomed with such joy nearly two months before, and though they had helped batter and pound the walls of Acre almost every day since then, still the great stone towers were stout and strong, the city still untaken. And more than this, Saracen soldiers and their allies, a mixed horde of Turks, Moors, Arabs and Egyptians (though I call them all, as did many of the crusaders, simply "Saracens"), were all while gathering to help the people of Acre, and had begun to besiege the besiegers themselves, so that the latter had been obliged to dig a moat around their camp and be constantly on the watch for attacks from behind while they were trying in vain to storm the city.
(Before I go any farther, I wonder, have you children read the Preface of this story? If not you had best hurry up and do so or you will not understand things nearly so well. It is not very long, and though I am going right on with the story, if you are quick about it you can soon catch up.)
It is no wonder then that all the Christian army, especially those who had been there two whole years, were hoping and praying for the fleet of Richard to sail in sight, for they felt sure that with the coming of the lion-hearted king the city must surely be captured. For weeks they had looked anxiously to the west across the waters of the Mediterranean, but it was not till the June morning when our story begins that a soldier who had climbed up the slopes of Mount Carmel suddenly saw a tiny streak of white away off on the horizon, and flashing in front of it a gleam of red. Then more and more white rose over the sea, and with a glad cry, "King Richard is coming!" he flew down to the camp, and in a moment, as the word sped from mouth to mouth, the shore was lined with an eager throng, all breathlessly watching as nearer and nearer drew the English fleet.
On and on they came, oars flashing, sails swelling, ships and ships of every kind, almost two hundred of them. Soon rose the sound of trumpets from the foremost one, sweeping far ahead of all, flying scarlet sails and red as a poppy from stem to stern. "Look! Look!" "King Richard's ship, the Trenchmer!"^nbsp; shouted the French soldiers; for while in Sicily they had seen the royal vessel, whose name means "sea-cutter."
And very gay and splendid it looked, its scarlet sides glittering in the sun, its deck fluttering with the bright pennons of the noble knights who crowded to its rail. At either end of the ship was a high platform with castle-like turrets, and on this were the trumpeters blowing as hard as ever they could. But it was the prow of the vessel that caught the attention of all. There flew the royal standard of England with its three lions, and close beside it stood a tall, powerfully built and strikingly handsome man who bore himself with the most noble dignity. Over his hauberk of chain mail hung a purple mantle fastened with a richly jeweled clasp; his head was uncovered, and his tawny yellow hair, curling about his neck, shone in the light. As he stood motionless, with folded arms, his clear blue eyes fixed on the land seemed not to see the excited throng waiting there, but to be looking into some great dream of his own; and then, just as the ship was getting ready to anchor, with a sudden quick gesture flinging his mantle back and moving to the rail, he plunged into the sea, and wading breast-high to the shore, reverently knelt and touched his lips to the sacred soil. Thus it was that King Richard of the Lion Heart landed, first of all the fleet.
For a few moments the waiting crowd had stood speechless, watching the king, but the instant he rose to his feet such a shout of joy went up that even the Saracens in the besieged city began to mount the walls and peer over the battlements; and their hosts of allies comaped along the shore ventured nearer to glimpse this wonderful new hero who had come to fight them and whose fame had already spread across the sea.
As for the crusaders, they were simply wild with joy, and while King Philip was welcoming Richard they hurriedly formed processions, marching up and down, beating drums, blowing trumpets, and fairly shouting themselves hoarse.
Meantime the knights and their followers were flocking off the Trenchmer, and among them came a boy in the dress of a page, a tunic of Lincoln green, long black hose, a short scarlet cape and small velvet cap with a pheasant's feather; on one sleeve of his tunic was embroidered a red cross, on the other three leopards. His fair hair and dark eyes spoke his mixed Saxon and Norman blood; and as he eagerly scanned the people on shore suddenly his face lighted as a dark-haired boy of about his own age sprang toward him, and with a glad "Hugh!" and "Raymond!" they tumbled into each other's arms. The two lads, both pages, Hugh, as the leopards on his sleeve showed, serving King Richard, and Raymond attending Count William de Pratelles of France, had met during the winter the armies had spent in Sicily and had become warm friends; though of course they had been separated when King Philip sailed first for Palestine.
As Hugh now gazed wonderingly around, "Why!" he said, "it looks as if people were here from every country in the world!"
"Yes," answered Raymond, "I believe they are. Ever so many hace come since we've been here; that group of newer tents yonder are Austrians who got here in a short time ago with their Duke Leopold, and the older crusaders say that for two or three years little parties of soldiers have been landing from nearly everywhere. Did you ever in your life see so many different banners and so many queer-looking people and queer clothes?"
"No indeed!" said Hugh, continuing to gaze around. And Raymond was certainly right; the people were of many races, and their clothes of innumerable kinds, yet none in the least like we are used to seeing soldiers wear. What kind were they, then? Well, the Saracens had loose robes girdled in various ways, and turbans of many folds of silk or linen wrapped around their heads to protect them from the hot sun. The crusader's dress was usually some kind of long tunic of linen or wool, and cross-gartered hose; and when the knights put on their armor they wore over it another loose, sleeveless tunic, called a surcoat, often richly embroidered, and meant, like the turbans of their enemies, to protect them from the heat. For most of them had come from cooler countries and had found that the sun of Palestine could make their metal armor as hot as an oven.
But while Hugh was still staring, "Look!" cried Raymond, "the other biggest ships have anchored, and there are ladies on one! See! King Philip is lifting one of them ashore in his arms! Who is she? I didn't see her in Sicily."
"That is the Princess Berengaria of Navarre," answered Hugh. "No, I mean Queen Barengaria. King Richard married her in Cyprus only a week ago. I will tell you about it when we get time to talk. Isn't she a beauty? And that other handsome lady is Queen Joan, King Richard's sister,—she used to be queen of Sicily. They have a lot of noble ladies with them and they are all going along with the army."
"Well," said Raymond, "there are a good many ladies in camp now, wives of the different knights who live here, so I guess they won't be lonesome. But look at the big chests they are taking off the third ship! I suppose that is King Richard's treasure ship. King Philip had one; it's over there in the harbor now."
"Yes," said Hugh, "and I don't wonder they have to have big chests of gold. It must take an enormous amount of money to pay so many soldiers and buy things for them to eat."
"I should think so!" echoed Raymond. "You know all our ships carried a year's supply of stuff to eat, but when we came, things were getting so scarce with the army that had been here so long that we had to let them have some of our food. The crusaders, though, haven't suffered anything like the folks shut up in the city there. They say they are nearly starved, for of course the armies camped here won't let anything get inside the gates. They think the Saracens outside do manage to sneak in a few things for the Acre people, but it can't be much, and they must be mighty hungry."
"Well," said Hugh, "King Richard started with a year's supply, too, and he has brought besides a lot of grain and fruit and wine and I don't know what all from Cyprus, so I guess there will be enough to last our armies for a while.
Meantime the new-comers were being shown the place allotted to them for their camp and the soldiers were beginning to pitch the tents; so the two pages scampered off to see if they were needed for any service.
All day long the crusaders swarmed about, unloading ships and arranging the new camp, and though much was still to be done, by nightfall the quarters were ready for the more important people. The gay silken pavilions for the two queens and their ladies were pitched at a safe distance from any possible fighting and were piled with cushions spread with rich coverings; and before the handsome tent of King Richard in the midst of the camp was planted the English standard and his own banner with its three leopards.
When it grew dark great bonfires were lighted, and all the soldiers feasted and shouted and sang and spent nearly the whole night rejoicing. Hugh and Raymond were so excited they could hardly sleep at all when, near dawn, they threw themselves on their beds, each in a tent adjoining that of his master. The two kings however were not with the rejoicing throng. In Richard's tent for hours they talked over the crusade and tried to plan what would be their next move against Acre; and when they parted, both looked tired and worn. For Philip was barely recovered from the fever which had attacked him in Palestine and which had carried off so many of the crusaders who were unused to the climate; and Richard, who had been sailing down the coast for several days, was beginning also to feel the seeds of this same sickness.