Henry III.— The Story of the Poisoned Dagger
IN far-off Palestine the army of the crusaders lay encamped before the town of Acre. The air was hot and stifling, the sun seemed a ball of fire hung in the still blue sky. Having put off his heavy armour for the sake of coolness Prince Edward lay within his tent, wearing only a long, loose robe of linen. He lay idle, thinking perhaps of the mighty deeds which his great-uncle, Richard Cœur de Lion, had done in this same place, eighty years before; wondering, too, if he would be able to do as great things.
Presently the curtains of the doorway parted. "My lord prince," said a soldier, bowing low, "the Emir of Jaffa hath sent his servant yet again. He craves to be admitted to your presence."
"I will receive him," replied the prince, and the soldier once more left the tent.
Edward had been fighting with the Emir of Jaffa, but now, pretending that he wished to become a Christian, this Emir sent daily messages and presents to the prince. And the prince, noble and honest himself, believed the Emir to be honest too.
In a few minutes the curtains of the doorway parted once more and the Emir's dark slave crept in. He bowed himself to the ground, then, kneeling humbly before the prince, drew out a letter.
Edward took the letter and, as the prince read, the slave crouched on the ground watching him with his bright dark eyes. Then slowly, slowly his brown hand crept to the belt of his white dress. So slowly it crept that it seemed hardly to move.
Suddenly, as quick as lightning, a keen bright blade flashed in the air and fell. But Edward, too, was quick and strong. He threw up his hand and caught upon it the blow which had been aimed at his heart. Then, springing from the couch, he overthrew the slave, and placing his foot upon the man's neck, wrenched the dagger from his grasp. In another moment the slave lay still and dead upon the sand. At the noise of the struggle, several frightened servants came running into the tent, and one of them, seeing the slave upon the sand, seized a stool, and dashed his brains out.
"Foolish man," said Prince Edward, "see you not that the slave is already dead? What you do is neither brave nor honourable, but the action of a coward."
Prince Edward's wound was slight, but the dagger had been a poisoned one. When his wife, the beautiful Princess Eleanor, heard of it, she hurried to her husband's tent. Before those about her knew what she meant to do, she knelt down and, putting her lips to the wound, sucked it. It was said that if the blood from a poisoned wound was sucked at once after the wound was made, the wounded person would not die. It was a brave thing for Princess Eleanor to do, for she might herself have died. But she loved Edward so much that she was willing to risk her own life. Yet the wound grew worse, and it seemed likely that Edward would die.
He was very calm and brave, and did not fear death, but tried to comfort his friends and servants, for they were all very sorrowful.
But the princess sat beside him weeping, and would not be comforted. Then, calling for parchment and ink, Prince Edward wrote down all that he wished to be done with his money and lands, after he was dead. This was called making his will.
Now a clever doctor came to the prince and said, "I think I can cure you, only you will have to suffer a great deal of pain."
"Do what you think best," said the prince, "and cure me if you can."
Then the princess threw herself upon him, crying bitterly, and would not let any one touch him. "I know you only want to hurt him more," she sobbed, "I cannot bear it."
But Edward gently put her away, "Hush, hush," he said, and gave her into his brother Edmund's arms.
"Do you love your lord and brother?" asked the doctor, turning to Edmund.
"Ay, that I do," replied he.
"Then take this lady away, and do not let her lord see her again until I tell you."
So Princess Eleanor was led away weeping.
"Ah, weep, lady," said Edmund gently. "It is better that you should weep than that all England should mourn."
But England did not mourn, for the doctor was clever, and in less than a fortnight Prince Edward was again quite well.
The false Emir sent messengers to Edward to say that he was sorry that the prince had been wounded, and was glad that he was better. But Edward no longer trusted the Emir. He looked gravely at the messengers. "You bow before me," he said, "but you do not love me, therefore go."
And they were allowed to go in peace. Although Edward's soldiers longed to be revenged upon them and kill them, the prince would not allow it.
After this Edward did not stay long in Palestine. He heard that his father was ill, so he made a ten years' peace with the Sultan, as the king of the Turks is called, and sailed back to England. On his way home he heard of his father's death. He knew that that meant he was now King of England, but he was very sad, for Edward had loved his father, although he could not help knowing that in many things he was foolish and untrustworthy.