The Archbishop of Tyre was an emissary well chosen to communicate to Richard tidings, which from another voice the lion-hearted King would not have brooked to hear without the most unbounded explosions of resentment. Even this sagacious and reverend prelate found difficulty in inducing him to listen to news which destroyed all his hopes of gaining back the Holy Sepulchre by force of arms, and acquiring the renown which the universal all-hail of Christendom was ready to confer upon him as the Champion of the Cross.
But, by the Archbishop's report, it appeared that Saladin was assembling all the force of his hundred tribes, and that the monarchs of Europe, already disgusted from various motives with the expedition, which had proved so hazardous, and was daily growing more so, had resolved to abandon their purpose. In this they were countenanced by the example of Philip of France, who, with many protestations of regard, and assurances that he would first see his brother of England in safety, declared his intention to return to Europe. His great vassal, the Earl of Champagne, had adopted the same resolution; and it could not excite surprise that Leopold of Austria, affronted as he had been by Richard, was glad to embrace an opportunity of deserting a cause in which his haughty opponent was to be considered as chief. Others announced the same purpose; so that it was plain that the King of England was to be left, if he chose to remain, supported only by such volunteers as might, under such depressing circumstances, join themselves to the English army, and by the doubtful aid of Conrade of Montserrat and the military orders of the Temple and of Saint John, who, though they were sworn to wage battle against the Saracens, were at least equally jealous of any European monarch achieving the conquest of Palestine, where, with shortsighted and selfish policy, they proposed to establish independent dominions of their own.
It needed not many arguments to show Richard the truth of his situation; and indeed, after his first burst of passion, he sat him calmly down, and with gloomy looks, head depressed, and arms folded on his bosom, listened to the Archbishop's reasoning on the impossibility of his carrying on the Crusade when deserted by his companions. Nay, he forbore interruption, even when the prelate ventured, in measured terms, to hint that Richard's own impetuosity had been one main cause of disgusting the princes with the expedition.
"CONFITEOR," answered Richard, with a dejected look, and something of a melancholy smile—"I confess, reverend father, that I ought on some accounts to sing CULPA MEA. But is it not hard that my frailties of temper should be visited with such a penance—that, for a burst or two of natural passion, I should be doomed to see fade before me ungathered such a rich harvest of glory to God and honour to chivalry? But it shall NOT fade. By the soul of the Conqueror, I will plant the Cross on the towers of Jerusalem, or it shall be planted over Richard's grave!"
"Thou mayest do it," said the prelate, "yet not another drop of Christian blood be shed in the quarrel."
"Ah, you speak of compromise, Lord Prelate; but the blood of the infidel hounds must also cease to flow," said Richard.
"There will be glory enough," replied the Archbishop, "in having extorted from Saladin, by force of arms, and by the respect inspired by your fame, such conditions as at once restore the Holy Sepulchre, open the Holy Land to pilgrims, secure their safety by strong fortresses, and, stronger than all, assure the safety of the Holy City, by conferring on Richard the title of King Guardian of Jerusalem."
"How!" said Richard, his eyes sparkling with unusual light. "I- -I—I the King Guardian of the Holy City! Victory itself, but that it is victory, could not gain more—scarce so much, when won with unwilling and disunited forces. But Saladin still proposes to retain his interest in the Holy Land?"
"As a joint sovereign, the sworn ally," replied the prelate, "of the mighty Richard—his relative, if it may be permitted, by marriage."
"By marriage!" said Richard, surprised, yet less so than the prelate had expected. "Ha!—ay—Edith Plantagenet. Did I dream this? or did some one tell me? My head is still weak from this fever, and has been agitated. Was it the Scot, or the Hakim, or yonder holy hermit, that hinted such a wild bargain?"
"The hermit of Engaddi, most likely," said the Archbishop, "for he hath toiled much in this matter; and since the discontent of the princes has became apparent, and a separation of their forces unavoidable, he hath had many consultations, both with Christian and pagan, for arranging such a pacification as may give to Christendom, at least in part, the objects of this holy warfare."
"My kinswoman to an infidel—ha!" exclaimed Richard, as his eyes began to sparkle.
The prelate hastened to avert his wrath.
"The Pope's consent must doubtless be first attained, and the holy hermit, who is well known at Rome, will treat with the holy Father."
"How?—without our consent first given?" said the King.
"Surely no," said the Bishop, in a quieting and insinuating tone of voice—"only with and under your especial sanction."
"My sanction to marry my kinswoman to an infidel!" said Richard; yet he spoke rather in a tone of doubt than as distinctly reprobating the measure proposed. "Could I have dreamed of such a composition when I leaped upon the Syrian shore from the prow of my galley, even as a lion springs on his prey! And now—But proceed—I will hear with patience."
Equally delighted and surprised to find his task so much easier than he had apprehended, the Archbishop hastened to pour forth before Richard the instances of such alliances in Spain—not without countenance from the Holy See; the incalculable advantages which all Christendom would derive from the union of Richard and Saladin by a bond so sacred; and, above all, he spoke with great vehemence and unction on the probability that Saladin would, in case of the proposed alliance, exchange his false faith for the true one.
"Hath the Soldan shown any disposition to become Christian?" said Richard. "If so, the king lives not on earth to whom I would grant the hand of a kinswoman, ay, or sister, sooner than to my noble Saladin—ay, though the one came to lay crown and sceptre at her feet, and the other had nothing to offer but his good sword and better heart!"
"Saladin hath heard our Christian teachers," said the Bishop, somewhat evasively—"my unworthy self, and others—and as he listens with patience, and replies with calmness, it can hardly be but that he be snatched as a brand from the burning. MAGNA EST VERITAS, ET PREVALEBIT! moreover, the hermit of Engaddi, few of whose words have fallen fruitless to the ground, is possessed fully with the belief that there is a calling of the Saracens and the other heathen approaching, to which this marriage shall be matter of induction. He readeth the course of the stars; and dwelling, with maceration of the flesh, in those divine places which the saints have trodden of old, the spirit of Elijah the Tishbite, the founder of his blessed order, hath been with him as it was with the prophet Elisha, the son of Shaphat, when he spread his mantle over him."
King Richard listened to the Prelate's reasoning with a downcast brow and a troubled look.
"I cannot tell," he said, "How, it is with me, but methinks these cold counsels of the Princes of Christendom have infected me too with a lethargy of spirit. The time hath been that, had a layman proposed such alliance to me, I had struck him to earth—if a churchman, I had spit at him as a renegade and priest of Baal; yet now this counsel sounds not so strange in mine ear. For why should I not seek for brotherhood and alliance with a Saracen, brave, just, generous—who loves and honours a worthy foe, as if he were a friend—whilst the Princes of Christendom shrink from the side of their allies, and forsake the cause of Heaven and good knighthood? But I will possess my patience, and will not think of them. Only one attempt will I make to keep this gallant brotherhood together, if it be possible; and if I fail, Lord Archbishop, we will speak together of thy counsel, which, as now, I neither accept nor altogether reject. Wend we to the Council, my lord—the hour calls us. Thou sayest Richard is hasty and proud—thou shalt see him humble himself like the lowly broom-plant from which he derives his surname."
With the assistance of those of his privy chamber, the King then hastily robed himself in a doublet and mantle of a dark and uniform colour; and without any mark of regal dignity, excepting a ring of gold upon his head, he hastened with the Archbishop of Tyre to attend the Council, which waited but his presence to commence its sitting.
The pavilion of the Council was an ample tent, having before it the large Banner of the Cross displayed, and another, on which was portrayed a female kneeling, with dishevelled hair and disordered dress, meant to represent the desolate and distressed Church of Jerusalem, and bearing the motto, AFFLICTAE SPONSAE NE OBLIVISCARIS. Warders, carefully selected, kept every one at a distance from the neighbourhood of this tent, lest the debates, which were sometimes of a loud and stormy character, should reach other ears than those they were designed for.
Here, therefore, the princes of the Crusade were assembled awaiting Richard's arrival. And even the brief delay which was thus interposed was turned to his disadvantage by his enemies, various instances being circulated of his pride and undue assumption of superiority, of which even the necessity of the present short pause was quoted as an instance. Men strove to fortify each other in their evil opinion of the King of England, and vindicated the offence which each had taken, by putting the most severe construction upon circumstances the most trifling; and all this, perhaps, because they were conscious of an instinctive reverence for the heroic monarch, which it would require more than ordinary efforts to overcome.
They had settled, accordingly, that they should receive him on his entrance with slight notice, and no more respect than was exactly necessary to keep within the bounds of cold ceremonial. But when they beheld that noble form, that princely countenance, somewhat pale from his late illness— the eye which had been called by minstrels the bright star of battle and victory—when his feats, almost surpassing human strength and valour, rushed on their recollection, the Council of Princes simultaneously arose —even the jealous King of France and the sullen and offended Duke of Austria—arose with one consent, and the assembled princes burst forth with one voice in the acclamation, "God save King Richard of England! Long life to the valiant Lion's-heart!"
With a countenance frank and open as the summer sun when it rises, Richard distributed his thanks around, and congratulated himself on being once more among his royal brethren of the Crusade.
"Some brief words he desired to say," such was his address to the assembly, "though on a subject so unworthy as himself, even at the risk of delaying for a few minutes their consultations for the weal of Christendom and the advancement of their holy enterprise."
The assembled princes resumed their seats, and there was a profound silence.
"This day," continued the King of England, "is a high festival of the church, and it well becomes Christian men, at such a tide, to reconcile themselves with their brethren, and confess their faults to each other. Noble princes and fathers of this holy expedition, Richard is a soldier—his hand is ever readier than his tongue—and his tongue is but too much used to the rough language of his trade. But do not, for Plantagenet's hasty speeches and ill-considered actions, forsake the noble cause of the redemption of Palestine—do not throw away earthly renown and eternal salvation, to be won here if ever they can be won by man, because the act of a soldier may have been hasty, and his speech as hard as the iron which he has worn from childhood. Is Richard in default to any of you, Richard will make compensation both by word and action.—Noble brother of France, have I been so unlucky as to offend you?"
"The Majesty of France has no atonement to seek from that of England," answered Philip, with kingly dignity, accepting, at the same time, the offered hand of Richard; "and whatever opinion I may adopt concerning the prosecution of this enterprise will depend on reasons arising out of the state of my own kingdom— certainly on no jealousy or disgust at my royal and most valorous brother."
"Austria," said Richard, walking up to the Archduke, with a mixture of frankness and dignity, while Leopold arose from his seat, as if involuntarily, and with the action of an automaton, whose motions depended upon some external impulse—"Austria thinks he hath reason to be offended with England; England, that he hath cause to complain of Austria. Let them exchange forgiveness, that the peace of Europe and the concord of this host may remain unbroken. We are now joint supporters of a more glorious banner than ever blazed before an earthly prince, even the Banner of Salvation. Let not, therefore, strife be betwixt us for the symbol of our more worldly dignities; but let Leopold restore the pennon of England, if he has it in his power, and Richard will say, though from no motive save his love for Holy Church, that he repents him of the hasty mood in which he did insult the standard of Austria."
The Archduke stood still, sullen and discontented, with his eyes fixed on the floor, and his countenance lowering with smothered displeasure, which awe, mingled with awkwardness, prevented his giving vent to in words.
The Patriarch of Jerusalem hastened to break the embarrassing silence, and to bear witness for the Archduke of Austria that he had exculpated himself, by a solemn oath, from all knowledge, direct or indirect, of the aggression done to the Banner of England.
"Then we have done the noble Archduke the greater wrong," said Richard; "and craving his pardon for imputing to him an outrage so cowardly, we extend our hand to him in token of renewed peace and amity. But how is this? Austria refuses our uncovered hand, as he formerly refused our mailed glove? What! are we neither to be his mate in peace nor his antagonist in war? Well, let it be so. We will take the slight esteem in which he holds us as a penance for aught which we may have done against him in heat of blood, and will therefore hold the account between us cleared."
So saying, he turned from the Archduke with an air rather of dignity than scorn, leaving the Austrian apparently as much relieved by the removal of his eye as is a sullen and truant schoolboy when the glance of his severe pedagogue is withdrawn.
"Noble Earl of Champagne—princely Marquis of Montserrat —valiant Grand Master of the Templars—I am here a penitent in the confessional. Do any of you bring a charge or claim amends from me?"
"I know not on what we could ground any," said the smooth-tongued Conrade, "unless it were that the King of England carries off from his poor brothers of the war all the fame which they might have hoped to gain in the expedition."
"My charge, if I am called on to make one," said the Master of the Templars, "is graver and deeper than that of the Marquis of Montserrat. It may be thought ill to beseem a military monk such as I to raise his voice where so many noble princes remain silent; but it concerns our whole host, and not least this noble King of England, that he should hear from some one to his face those charges which there are enow to bring against him in his absence. We laud and honour the courage and high achievements of the King of England; but we feel aggrieved that he should on all occasions seize and maintain a precedence and superiority over us, which it becomes not independent princes to submit to. Much we might yield of our free will to his bravery, his zeal, his wealth, and his power; but he who snatches all as matter of right, and leaves nothing to grant out of courtesy and favour, degrades us from allies into retainers and vassals, and sullies in the eyes of our soldiers and subjects the lustre of our authority, which is no longer independently exercised. Since the royal Richard has asked the truth from us, he must neither be surprised nor angry when he hears one, to whom worldly pomp is prohibited, and secular authority is nothing, saving so far as it advances the prosperity of God's Temple, and the prostration of the lion which goeth about seeking whom he may devour—when he hears, I say, such a one as I tell him the truth in reply to his question; which truth, even while I speak it, is, I know, confirmed by the heart of every one who hears me, however respect may stifle their voices."
Richard coloured very highly while the Grand Master was making this direct and unvarnished attack upon his conduct, and the murmur of assent which followed it showed plainly that almost all who were present acquiesced in the justice of the accusation. Incensed, and at the same time mortified, he yet foresaw that to give way to his headlong resentment would be to give the cold and wary accuser the advantage over him which it was the Templar's principal object to obtain. He therefore, with a strong effort, remained silent till he had repeated a pater noster, being the course which his confessor had enjoined him to pursue when anger was likely to obtain dominion over him. The King then spoke with composure, though not without an embittered tone, especially at the outset:—
"And is it even so? And are our brethren at such pains to note the infirmities of our natural temper, and the rough precipitance of our zeal, which may sometimes have urged us to issue commands when there was little time to hold council? I could not have thought that offences, casual and unpremeditated like mine, could find such deep root in the hearts of my allies in this most holy cause; that for my sake they should withdraw their hands from the plough when the furrow was near the end—for my sake turn aside from the direct path to Jerusalem, which their swords have opened. I vainly thought that my small services might have outweighed my rash errors—that if it were remembered that I pressed to the van in an assault, it would not be forgotten that I was ever the last in the retreat—that, if I elevated my banner upon conquered fields of battle, it was all the advantage that I sought, while others were dividing the spoil. I may have called the conquered city by my name, but it was to others that I yielded the dominion. If I have been headstrong in urging bold counsels, I have not, methinks, spared my own blood or my people's in carrying them into as bold execution; or if I have, in the hurry of march or battle, assumed a command over the soldiers of others, such have been ever treated as my own when my wealth purchased the provisions and medicines which their own sovereigns could not procure. But it shames me to remind you of what all but myself seem to have forgotten. Let us rather look forward to our future measures; and believe me, brethren," he continued, his face kindling with eagerness, "you shall not find the pride, or the wrath, or the ambition of Richard a stumbling-block of offence in the path to which religion and glory summon you as with the trumpet of an archangel. Oh, no, no! never would I survive the thought that my frailties and infirmities had been the means to sever this goodly fellowship of assembled princes. I would cut off my left hand with my right, could my doing so attest my sincerity. I will yield up, voluntarily, all right to command in the host—even mine own liege subjects. They shall be led by such sovereigns as you may nominate; and their King, ever but too apt to exchange the leader's baton for the adventurer's lance, will serve under the banner of Beau-Seant among the Templars—ay, or under that of Austria, if Austria will name a brave man to lead his forces. Or if ye are yourselves a-weary of this war, and feel your armour chafe your tender bodies, leave but with Richard some ten or fifteen thousand of your soldiers to work out the accomplishment of your vow; and when Zion is won," he exclaimed, waving his hand aloft, as if displaying the standard of the Cross over Jerusalem—"when Zion is won, we will write upon her gates, NOT the name of Richard Plantagenet, but of those generous princes who entrusted him with the means of conquest!"
The rough eloquence and determined expression of the military monarch at once roused the drooping spirits of the Crusaders, reanimated their devotion, and, fixing their attention on the principal object of the expedition, made most of them who were present blush for having been moved by such petty subjects of complaint as had before engrossed them. Eye caught fire from eye, voice lent courage to voice. They resumed, as with one accord, the war-cry with which the sermon of Peter the Hermit was echoed back, and shouted aloud, "Lead us on, gallant Lion's-heart; none so worthy to lead where brave men follow. Lead us on—to Jerusalem—to Jerusalem! It is the will of God—it is the will of God! Blessed is he who shall lend an arm to its fulfilment!"
The shout, so suddenly and generally raised, was heard beyond the ring of sentinels who guarded the pavilion of Council, and spread among the soldiers of the host, who, inactive and dispirited by disease and climate, had begun, like their leaders, to droop in resolution; but the reappearance of Richard in renewed vigour, and the well-known shout which echoed from the assembly of the princes, at once rekindled their enthusiasm, and thousands and tens of thousands answered with the same shout of "Zion, Zion! War, war! Instant battle with the infidels! It is the will of God—it is the will of God!"
The acclamations from without increased in their turn the enthusiasm which prevailed within the pavilion. Those who did not actually catch the flame were afraid—at least for the time —to seem colder than others. There was no more speech except of a proud advance towards Jerusalem upon the expiry of the truce, and the measures to be taken in the meantime for supplying and recruiting the army. The Council broke up, all apparently filled with the same enthusiastic purpose—which, however, soon faded in the bosom of most, and never had an existence in that of others.
Of the latter class were the Marquis Conrade and the Grand Master of the Templars, who retired together to their quarters ill at ease, and malcontent with the events of the day.
"I ever told it to thee," said the latter, with the cold, sardonic expression peculiar to him, "that Richard would burst through the flimsy wiles you spread for him, as would a lion through a spider's web. Thou seest he has but to speak, and his breath agitates these fickle fools as easily as the whirlwind catcheth scattered straws, and sweeps them together, or disperses them at its pleasure."
"When the blast has passed away," said Conrade, "the straws, which it made dance to its pipe, will settle to earth again."
"But knowest thou not besides," said the Templar, "that it seems, if this new purpose of conquest shall be abandoned and pass away, and each mighty prince shall again be left to such guidance as his own scanty brain can supply, Richard may yet probably become King of Jerusalem by compact, and establish those terms of treaty with the Soldan which thou thyself thought'st him so likely to spurn at?"
"Now, by Mahound and Termagaunt, for Christian oaths are out of fashion," said Conrade, "sayest thou the proud King of England would unite his blood with a heathen Soldan? My policy threw in that ingredient to make the whole treaty an abomination to him. As bad for us that he become our master by an agreement, as by victory."
"Thy policy hath ill calculated Richard's digestion," answered the Templar; "I know his mind by a whisper from the Archbishop. And then thy master-stroke respecting yonder banner—it has passed off with no more respect than two cubits of embroidered silk merited. Marquis Conrade, thy wit begins to halt; I will trust thy finespun measures no longer, but will try my own. Knowest thou not the people whom the Saracens call Charegites?"
"Surely," answered the Marquis; "they are desperate and besotted enthusiasts, who devote their lives to the advancement of religion—-somewhat like Templars, only they are never known to pause in the race of their calling."
"Jest not," answered the scowling monk. "Know that one of these men has set down in his bloody vow the name of the Island Emperor yonder, to be hewn down as the chief enemy of the Moslem faith."
"A most judicious paynim," said Conrade. "May Mohammed send him his paradise for a reward!"
"He was taken in the camp by one of our squires, and in private examination frankly avowed his fixed and determined purpose to me," said the Grand Master.
"Now the heavens pardon them who prevented the purpose of this most judicious Charegite!" answered Conrade.
"He is my prisoner," added the Templar, "and secluded from speech with others, as thou mayest suppose; but prisons have been broken—"
"Chains left unlocked, and captives have escaped," answered the Marquis. "It is an ancient saying, no sure dungeon but the grave."
"When loose, he resumes his quest," continued the military priest; "for it is the nature of this sort of blood hound never to quit the suit of the prey he has once scented."
"Say no more of it," said the Marquis; "I see thy policy—it is dreadful, but the emergency is imminent."
"I only told thee of it," said the Templar, "that thou mayest keep thyself on thy guard; for the uproar will be dreadful, and there is no knowing on whom the English may vent their rage. Ay, and there is another risk. My page knows the counsels of this Charegite," he continued; "and, moreover, he is a peevish, self-willed fool, whom I would I were rid of, as he thwarts me by presuming to see with his own eyes, not mine. But our holy order gives me power to put a remedy to such inconvenience. Or stay— the Saracen may find a good dagger in his cell, and I warrant you he uses it as he breaks forth, which will be of a surety so soon as the page enters with his food."
"It will give the affair a colour," said Conrade; "and yet—"
"YET and BUT," said the Templar, "are words for fools; wise men neither hesitate nor retract—they resolve and they execute."