How Tancred Fought under the Banner of the Cross
While Peter led these wild lawless men to Byzantium, the nobles who had vowed to fight in the Holy War were preparing to lead out the armies of the first Crusade. There were many brave knights ready to fight for Jerusalem. One of the bravest was Godfrey, who came from Germany. When he was at peace with those around him, he had all the charm of winning manners and of gentle voice, but in battle he was brave and dreadful, and as strong as a raging lion. Once he had fought for the Emperor of Germany against the Pope, and ever since that time he had been very unhappy, because the only thing he feared was the power of the Church. He was delighted when he heard of the preaching of Peter. To save Jerusalem seemed to him a splendid thing, and then he thought that no harm would come to him because he had fought against the Pope, if he should be able to win the Holy City for Rome and for the Christian faith. Two of his brothers joined him, and many other lords and nobles came to set out with him for Jerusalem.
But all his followers were not men who had lived in courts. There were many workmen and peasants, and some wild men in shaggy clothes who came from the Scottish shores, and who found their way to his camp by making the sign of the cross with their fingers. Every one knew what that meant, and pointed out the way to the strangers.
Another knight gathered an army in Italy. His name was Bohemond. He was as brave and as clever as Godfrey, but he was not like him in any other thing, except perhaps that both men were tall and handsome. Bohemond wished to win land for himself. Above all, he wanted the land and the wealth of the Greek Emperor. When he heard of the Crusade, he thought that it would be easy for him to find an excuse to seize the lands of Greece if he could quarrel with the Emperor about the Crusade. But he did not tell his soldiers that. Though he cared very little about Jerusalem or about the wood of the Cross, he could speak as stirringly about them as Peter had done, and one day when he had spoken of these things to his brother's army he tore his great red banner into strips, and made crosses for all the soldiers who would take them.
With Bohemond there rode his cousin Tancred, and amongst them all there was none so faithful to him as Tancred. This was wonderful, because Tancred was "a very perfect gentle knight," and many of the things Bohemond did must have been hateful to him.
When the Greek Emperor asked for help from Rome, he wished the Pope to send men to fight under his banner and to win battles for him. He could make no use of the rabble that had come to Byzantium with Peter. But when the real armies of the Crusade poured into the fields around the city he was filled with fear. These strong gay knights with the warriors who followed them were far worse than useless to him. He knew something of the bareness of the land that lay round their castles, and of the rugged life that even the noblest of them lived in their northern homes. And he was sure that the rich plains of his country, and his cities with their marble palaces would make many of the knights wish to win them from him, and that they would never be content to fight only for the freedom of the Holy Land.
It was no wonder that he was afraid. As the Crusaders gazed up at the walls of Byzantium, it seemed to them like an enchanted city. The fields and orchards around it were richly laden with corn and fruit. The buildings within it rose amongst bright and beautiful gardens, higher and higher towards the gilded roof of the palace, above which, three domes shone in the warm sunshine. Not far off stood the Church of St. Sophia, and in it too were gold and gems. Ships lay on the sparkling waters of the Golden Horn beyond the city, and the sun shone brightly on the narrow sea that lay between Europe and Asia.
When Bohemond and Tancred came to Byzantium, they found that some of the armies that had already arrived were on one side of the narrow sea and some were on the other. Tancred was very eager to see all the armies on the side away from Byzantium and towards Jerusalem, but he found that the Emperor would not lend them ships in which to cross the water, until all the leaders had promised that they would make him the ruler over every town that they won from the Moslems.
The knights were very angry. They had always kept for themselves the cities they had fought for and won, and they could not bear the thought of winning Jerusalem only to give it up again. But the Emperor was a crafty man. When he saw that he could make them promise what he wished by fair means, he made up his mind that other ways might succeed where these had failed. He took many of the Crusaders over the narrow sea, for he was afraid of having too many of them close to Byzantium. Then when he had divided them from each other, he tried to win his will.
He feasted the knights at his palace and made them believe that he thought them great and noble people. He really scorned them very much, because though they were brave, they did not care about learning or art. But he tried to hide from them the scorn that he and his people felt for them. He spoke to Godfrey about the grave where the body of Christ had lain, and about the wood of the true Cross, till Godfrey really thought he was a man who cared as much about Jerusalem as he himself did, and said that he would think of him as his Emperor. And that was what the crafty Greek wished, for he cared nothing at all for the Holy City. But he did not speak to Bohemond about Jerusalem! He led him through the palace, and as they walked they passed an open door. Bohemond looked in and started in surprise, for he saw that gems and gold and silver were piled in disorder, while here and there he saw the leg of a costly table or the back of an inlaid chair.
"Ah," said Bohemond, "what victories he might win who owns all this!"
"It is your own," a voice whispered to him.
Bohemond said he could not take so great a treasure, but though he said that, he was very glad indeed to get it, and at night, all that had dazzled his eyes as he glanced through the open door, lay in his own tent. He said, of course, that he would do what the Emperor wished, but though the Emperor was glad to have him say it, in order that other knights might be more willing to say so too, he knew very well that Bohemond would not keep his promise a day longer than he wished to do so.
The Emperor wished all the knights to own his rule, but there was one who would not. It was Tancred. He hated the silly round of pleasure in Byzantium. He scorned both the gold and the flattering words of the Emperor. One day a Greek nobleman spoke rudely to him, and Tancred struck him in the public street. After that his life was in danger. He took off his glittering armour, put on the dress of a common soldier, and escaped across the narrow sea to that part of the army that had already gone over. But still the Emperor would not let the others go without Tancred's promise. At last Bohemond went to Tancred and said to him that he was to blame, because he alone was keeping the army back and standing in the way of the rescue of the Holy City by refusing to serve the Emperor. Tancred still had faith in his cousin, and when he pled with him he could not say no. So he yielded; only he hoped that the Emperor would soon break his promise to help the Crusaders so that they might be free from their promise to him. Then the Emperor lent his ships and hastened the Crusaders on their way with gifts and promises, but he sent messengers to warn the Saracens that they were coming to attack them. The great army that marched into Asia knew nothing of that. There were a hundred thousand horsemen, besides many, many others. It is not possible to imagine the noise they made. The heavy armour of the horses rattled and clashed, and the clang of armour drowned the sound of trampling. Often a peal of merry laughter rang out from a group of village children, or from some gay lady who had come with father or husband to share the danger and the triumph of the Holy War. As they rode, the trumpets sounded and the deep voices of the heralds shouted, "Save the Holy Sepulchre!" The sunlight flashed from bright weapons and from gay scarfs and banners.
They marched gladly on till the city of Nicæa rose before them. Its walls were so broad and so strong that horses could dash round on the top without doing any harm. And three hundred towers guarded the city. On one side, the water of a lake washed close up to the wall: on the other, mountains rose from it. The black flag of the Turk waved every here and there on the steep slope, and the tents of Moslem soldiers clustered round each flag.
For seven weeks the Crusaders laid siege to the city. During those days there was a great deal of fighting with the Turks outside the wall. Tancred was always in the thick of the battle, and ever where he was, the army of the Holy Cross carried all before it, and the enemy fled to their tents. But the city still held out, and from its walls arrows and stones hurtled down with deadly aim. There was one huge Moslem who never seemed to miss his mark. He hurled stones and arrows and javelins, and wherever they fell they brought death. One day he grew so bold that he threw away his shield and stood on the wall and scorned his foes beneath. A hundred bows were stretched tight, a hundred arrows whizzed through the air, but when they had all fallen to earth, he still stood there unharmed. It seemed as if he bore a charmed life. But he had insulted the armies of the Cross, and Godfrey had heard him do it. A thrill went through the camp as the German leader raised his bow and arrow. No other arm was raised. Godfrey's arrow sped alone through the air. A breathless moment passed. Then the body of the giant fell forward from the wall, dead, shot through the heart, into the moat below.
The knights could not understand how it was that the people in Nicæa were not suffering from hunger. Those who shot down the stones and the arrows looked strong and well. Yet the armies had watched the gates night and day for seven weeks. At last they found out that when night fell and there was no moon, food was brought to Nicæa across the lake and pulled up into the city. At first it seemed as if nothing could be done to stop this, but at last a plan was made. The lake stretched away from Nicæa till only a strip of land lay between it and the narrow sea. The Crusaders sent messengers to the Emperor and asked him to give them ships and sledges. This he gladly did, because he wished them to think that he meant to help them in all their battles. Then in the darkness when all was ready, a band of knights spurred their horses to the narrow sea. They hoisted the ships on to the sledges and dragged them over the sandy ridge, and then launched the vessels in the lake. When the daylight came and the Moslems looked out, they saw their enemies' ships riding under the walls of their city and knew that no help could come to them by land or sea.
The Crusaders were delighted. "Only a few more hours," they thought, "and Nicæa must be in our hands."
In a few more hours Nicæa had fallen, but the flag that floated from its towers was the flag of Greece. Every one was full of anger and surprise. The soldiers gathered round the knights.
"What does it mean?" they asked.
But the knights could not tell them. By some means two Greek generals had entered Nicæa and had made the people there believe that it would be much better for them to yield to the Emperor than to the armies from the North.
But though the Crusaders were very angry, they did not stay to grieve that Nicæa was not their own. They were glad, because they had subdued so strong a city. They hastened on and broke into two bands that they might more easily find food. But Turks on swift horses watched them and rode back to tell their chief how carelessly the Crusaders marched. The land was beautiful and rich, and Bohemond gave the command to halt by a river that flowed through a grassy plain amongst clumps of trees. Everything seemed quiet and peaceful. Tancred listened to the heralds as they shouted three times over, "Save the Holy Sepulchre!" and thought with joy that soon there might be no need for the heralds' shout. But another cry ran through the tents! "The enemy is on us!" Ere men had time to arm, the clouds of dust beyond the river and the white turbans and green vests that flashed through the dust, proved to every man that the cry was true.
Arrows fell thick as rain. They glanced from the chain-mail of the knights, but they entered the joints of the horses' armour and made them frantic with pain. The horns and drums and terrible yells of the Turks maddened the horses still more. The Arab horses were lighter and swifter than those of the knights. They could dart away when the Crusaders attacked them and rush in again to attack in return.
Tancred was nearly killed. He had seen his brother fall. It may have made him reckless. Bohemond's sharp eyes saw that he was in the midst of foemen and that his lance was broken. He dashed across the river, swooped down on the Turks with a terrific yell, and bore Tancred safely away.
But while the Crusaders were fighting, another band of Turks fell on the camp and took it. The knights could not retake the camp and keep the foe at bay at the same time. They had no thought of yielding, but they saw that many of their followers were losing courage. Suddenly they heard a shout of joy. Godfrey and his warriors were in sight. The voices of the priests led the battle cry, "It is the will of God! It is the will of God!"
The Turks were tired with the long fight. They could not resist this new force. They were overcome, chased, and slain. Their camp fell into the Crusaders' hands. The knights found strange new weapons there, and many camels and horses. They handled the curious Eastern arms in wonder, and led the camels about in delight.
But a great danger was before them. A band of Turks had escaped. They had not been able to conquer their foes, but they could injure them still. They rode swiftly forward and burned the towns and trampled the corn in the fields along the roads by which the Crusaders would have to go. They rode forward for five hundred miles, and behind them they left empty houses and barren lands.
It was the hottest part of the year, and as the armies marched through this wasted land, men and horses dropped out of the ranks to die of thirst. So many horses died, that the stores had to be carried by dogs and by goats.
One day during this terrible time, some one noticed wet sand on the paws of a dog. Then another was found with wet sand on his coat. The excitement was terrible. Every one searched for the footprints of the dogs that they might find the water the dogs had found. At last the tracks were seen, and thousands of weak and thirst-stricken soldiers tottered up to the mountain stream in which the dogs had bathed. But they drank so wildly that three hundred of them died by the bank of the torrent.
As the Crusaders rode south towards Jerusalem, they overtook bands of Turks. Some of these Moslem warriors went into the towns for shelter, and the knights often followed them there and took away their weapons.
One day Tancred led his followers into the town of Tarsus and raised his flag to show that it belonged to him, but just after he had done this, Baldwin, one of Godfrey's brothers, rode up to Tancred and said that he and his men must have half of the spoil of the city. But the people of Tarsus were Christians, and Tancred would not let his own knights take any of their wealth from them, so he could not allow Baldwin to rob them either. But Baldwin would not listen to him. He forced his way into the town, tore down Tancred's banner and flung it into a ditch.
Tancred was very angry, and so were his men. They loved him and boasted of his brave deeds, and they were enraged that any one should treat him so. They wished to fight Baldwin at once and chase him from Tarsus. But Tancred pled with them not to attack another Crusader. He spoke of the Holy War and of Jerusalem, and led them out from the town they had won and on to Malmistra. But Baldwin did not find as much as he wished in Tarsus, and before long, Tancred's soldiers saw the banners of the man they hated beneath the walls of Malmistra. This time Tancred yielded to his soldiers, and marched out against Baldwin, but he had no heart to fight against one with whom he had set out to save the Holy City, and next morning the two knights met in friendship before their men and vowed to forget the past.
Tancred had no more trouble from the greed and meanness of Baldwin, for Godfrey's brother stole away in the dead of night with a band of picked fighting men, left the crusading army, and marched off to win an empire for himself.
At last, after months of weary marching, the Crusaders stood on a spur of the rocky hills over which the last part of their track had lain, and looked down on the rich valley of the Orontes River. They saw vineyards and cornfields on either side of the river, and shut in between it and the mountains, they saw the town of Antioch. It was a beautiful town and a very strong one, with a great citadel that rose high above its walls. It was called "The Queen of the East." Soon the Crusaders had made their camp in the fair green valley. The sun shone on white tents and flashing weapons, on bucklers of gold and green and crimson, and on the gay banners of the knights.
The men were weary with the long march and with the hunger and thirst they had so often suffered. Instead of closing round the city, they spread over the valley and feasted. They dreamed of all that they meant to do instead of doing anything.
It was autumn, and the weather was warm and sunny. The vines were heavy with clusters of grapes. Cattle fed in the pasture lands and corn grew in the fields. Sometimes bands of Moslems from the city fell on the Crusaders as they feasted. Then the knights mounted and fought, and won great glory for themselves, but the town was as safe as ever.
But when winter came and the camp was a marsh, they saw how foolish it was to kill all the cattle and feast on corn and wine, and waste it, when, if they had been careful, they might have had more than enough for the wet days of winter, and might even have been within Antioch.
Tancred and his men rode far and near to find food for the army, and then he stood by in wrath when he saw that the stores he had fought so hard to win were wasted, as the fruit of the valley had been. Many men grew hopeless, and tried to steal away from the army by night. Tancred was always ready either to fight or to help. One night as he watched by the camp, he saw two figures clambering up the hillside. He thought he knew one of them. He spurred his horse up the steep road and caught them. One was a knight and the other was Peter the Hermit! He had thought it would be so simple to win the Holy City, and now the long waiting and the carelessness of those around him had sapped all his courage, and Peter had fled. But when Tancred brought him back, he vowed on the Gospels that he would never leave the army again till Jerusalem was won.
At last the Crusaders did enter Antioch, but it was not by the strength of their arms. Tancred's cousin, Bohemond, made a plot with one of the tower-keepers of the city. But when he told the knights of it, he said that he would not lead them into Antioch unless they would give it to him to be his own. At first they would not agree to this. They did not like his stealthy plans, and they did not wish him to be Lord of Antioch. But soon they heard that a Moslem army was coming to fight with them and to help Antioch, so they yielded.
The night on which they chose to enter was wild and stormy. The knights and soldiers heard the wind rush down the valleys. They saw tents and walls and towers gleam out in the sudden lightning flashes and then sink into utter darkness again. The tower-keeper lowered a ladder, but every one shrank back from it. The Crusaders were warriors, not robbers, and the storm made it seem as if uncanny powers of air were fighting against their unsoldierly deed. Bohemond, however, was not afraid to be mean. When he saw that no one else would go, he led the way himself. Sixty knights followed him. They opened the city gates, and soon the crusading army rushed through the streets of Antioch. But the citadel was so strong and so well defended that the armies of the knights could not take it.
The foolish soldiers feasted on the food they found in the city. They did not know that the Moslem armies were at their gates till they saw the horses dashing through the camp that they had left. In a few days the food was done. The enemy was in the citadel and in the valley. Many Crusaders tried to flee. The others called them rope-dancers because they slipped from the city wall on ropes. They were less afraid of the Turkish army than of famine!
The soldiers lost all hope. They hid in churches and houses. Bohemond burned down the buildings to force them out. But though the fire drove them to their posts it could not give them courage.
The knights were in despair. Tancred had promised never to leave the army while he had sixty men to follow him, but few were so brave as he was. The leaders gathered to speak of what could be done to save Antioch and the army from the Moslems. As they sat and talked, a monk named Peter Bartholemy stood before them. He had come so noiselessly that he startled them. He asked if he might speak. Then he told them that he had three times seen a vision of the apostle Andrew, and that he had said to him:
"At Antioch, in the Church of my brother St. Peter, the head of the lance that pierced the side of the Redeemer is hid near the high altar. In three days it will be shown to those who follow Him. Search, and ye shall find. Bear it high in battle, and the sacred weapon shall pierce the souls of the enemy."
For two days every one fasted. It was not difficult to fast in Antioch then. It was harder almost to eat the tasteless fragments that were all that could be found. On the third day men began to dig beside the altar in St. Peter's Church.
The diggers were weary, and those who watched them grew faithless or scornful, for though the hole grew deeper—six feet, nine feet, twelve feet—still no one had heard the clink of the lance-head against the spades. As evening fell, the monk Peter leapt barefoot into the hole. His spade sounded with a dull thud against the earth, but what was that? The digging ceased. Every one started and leant forward awe-struck. Peter clambered up and held a lance-head high in the air. They wrapt it in cloth of gold and purple, and all was stir in the army. The news of what had happened passed like flame from place to place. Men who had wished to die were eager and full of hope. The Crusaders were so sure that they would win, that they sent Peter the Hermit to the leader of the Moslems to offer to make peace with him. But he drove Peter the Hermit from him, and said that they had only to choose between slavery and death. He did not know how the thought of the sacred lance had roused the knights and their followers. When the trumpets sounded the call to arms he would scarcely leave the game of chess he was playing. It was no wonder that he scorned the army that came out to meet him. Most of the horses had died in Antioch. Knights rode from the city gates on camels and on asses. The foot soldiers were in rags, and some of them were lame. The Moslems had set fire to great heaps of hay round the city walls, and the famished army had to make its way through these. Hour passed after hour. It seemed as if even the courage of faith could not withstand the numbers of the Turks. But just then three wondrous knights in white and shining armour appeared. "The saints are coming to your aid." "St. George!" "St. George!" The shouts rang through the camp. The Crusaders rushed wildly on. The Saracens broke and fled. They were followed by Tancred and other brave knights until sunset.
The armies feasted again and lingered at Antioch, while the bolder knights longed and fretted to march for Jerusalem.
After many delays the Crusaders at length saw the Holy City rise in the distance. The sight of it brought out all that was best in them. Quarrels were forgotten. The Crusaders were not warriors now, they were pilgrims. Horsemen and foot-soldiers threw down their weapons and knelt on the rocky track. Many strong men wept as they rose and went towards the city in joy and awe.
A band of Christians from Bethlehem came to meet them and to plead with them not to forget the need of the village where Christ was born in their eagerness to rescue the town where He died. Tancred went with them, and a band of brave men followed him. He surprised the village at night, and the banner of the Cross waved over it in the morning sunshine. Then he rode back to join the army that marched towards Jerusalem. Before night fell again the Crusaders were encamped before the Holy City. The soldiers were as eager to attack the city as the boldest of the knights. Although they had no engines that were strong enough and high enough to throw stones into the city, they tried to take it at once. They were driven back. But they were not hopeless, as they had often been before. They planned how they could best attack it again. To the south and east of Jerusalem the walls of the city rise from deep gorges. The Crusaders could not hope to build engines that would have power to shoot weapons and stones across these chasms. So they pitched their tents only to the north and to the west of the city, and laid siege to the walls from St. Stephen's gate at the north-east corner to the Tower of David at the south-west.
Then the knights looked for wood to make engines and platforms. They broke through the bands of Saracens who guarded the roads, and brought tools and food from ships that had come to Joppa, but still they looked in vain for trees large enough to make into battering rams and engines. One day Tancred and his men saw some trees in the distance. They looked large and strong, but he had so often hoped in vain to find what he wished, that he would scarcely let himself believe what his eyes saw. This time his hope was not in vain. When he reached the trees, he found that they were truly great forest trees, and though they were thirty miles from Jerusalem, he and his men soon cut down as many as were needed and dragged them to the camp.
All this time the sun had blazed down on the crusading army. In the heat and drought they dared not drink because the Moslems had poisoned the wells. But nothing could daunt their courage now, for the walls of the Holy City rose before them. The whole army fasted for three days. Then they marched round Jerusalem. Tancred and some other knights lingered on Mount Olivet, and thought of what had happened there hundreds of years ago. On the mountain there they were standing at about the same height as the walls of the city on the other side of the valley, and as they stood, they saw the Moslems mock them, by fixing crosses on the ramparts, and flinging mud at them to show how much they scorned the Christians and their worship.
As the knights came back to their camp the sun set and the Moslem call for prayer rang out from the minarets of the city. It was answered by the chant of the Crusaders, "So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun."
During the night the great engines were drawn close to the city wall. In the dim light of the morning, huge stones were shot into the city and showers of arrows fell within the walls.
The Saracens used dreadful weapons. They poured boiling oil on the Crusaders and set fire to their engines. The knights poured vinegar on the blazing towers of their engines to put out the flames, but soon they had emptied out every drop they had. Then they had to watch the platforms they had built with so much care fall in blazing ruins and crush the men on whom they fell. The battle raged all day. It opened again next morning, and again the fire of the Saracens burned the towers of the besiegers. It seemed as if the Crusaders must fail once more. But Godfrey saw the glistening armour of a knight on the mount of Olives. He shouted,
"It is St. George who has come again to help us."
The soldiers dashed once more to their engines. The wind changed and blew the flames into the city. That afternoon, Godfrey stood on the wall of Jerusalem. He and the knights who were with him hastened to St. Stephen's Gate and flung it open.
"It is the will of God! It is the will of God," rang through the streets as the Moslems fled hither and thither for shelter.
Tancred rushed into the city. He saw before him the Mosque of Omar, and marked it for his own. When he entered it he found three hundred Moslems who had taken shelter there amongst the marble pillars. He promised to spare their lives and gave them a banner to prove that he meant to keep his word. But other Crusaders thought it very wrong of Tancred not to kill every Moslem, and, in spite of the banner, they slew all the men whom he had promised to save. The joy of the taking of Jerusalem was spoiled for Tancred. His honour had been set at nought. Still he did not cease to serve the cause he loved. He shared the treasure of the Mosque with Godfrey and with many of the soldiers who had fought with him. Then he gave what was over to build the Christian churches that lay in ruins.
The cross which had been thrown down and hidden was found. The knights set it up again in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and other thoughts than war and bloodshed filled the minds of the Crusaders. Godfrey flung aside his bloody sword and armour, clad himself in a robe of pure white linen, and with bare head and feet entered the ruined Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He knelt on the pavement and kissed the stone of the grave. One after another the knights followed him. Then the crowd turned to Peter the Hermit. They forgot that he had fled from Antioch. He was the hero of the day again as he had been in the market-places of the north.
The knights wished to choose a king. The choice lay between Tancred and Godfrey. But Tancred was a warrior; he did not wish to rule. Godfrey stood alone. The only thing that his servants could say against him was that he lingered too long in church, and cared not though they waited for him nor though his dinner grew cold.
Godfrey was chosen king, but when the crown was brought he refused to wear it. He said that he would never be crowned with gold where the Saviour of the world had worn the crown of thorns. Nor would he take the title of king. "Baron and Defender of the Holy Sepulchre," he called himself. But others called him Godfrey I., King of Jerusalem.
After this the Crusaders left him. Many of them went home to Europe; others scattered over the Holy Land.
Tancred, with three hundred knights and two thousand foot soldiers, stayed to defend the new kingdom. Godfrey reigned for less than a year. His death was a great sorrow to those who loved Jerusalem. Tancred lived for twelve years to fight the battles of the Holy City. He ruled Antioch while Bohemond was in prison, for he still was faithful to his cousin, though Bohemond's aims were low, his hopes selfish, and his heart cruel.
Tancred died in the strength of his manhood from a battle wound. In that rough time he was one