Read THE BOOK OF NAY - CHAPTER III of The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay, free online book, by Maurice Hewlett, on ReadCentral.com.

WHO FOUGHT AT ACRE

After they had lost the harbour of Limasol, from that hasty dark hour of setting out, the fleet sailed (it seemed) under new stars and encountered a new strange air.  All night they toiled at the oars; and in the morning, very early, every eye was turned to the fired East, where, in the sea-haze, lay the sacred places clothed (like the Sacrament) in that gauzy veil.  First of them Trenchemer steered, the King’s red galley, in whose prow, stiff and hieratic as a figurehead, was the King himself, watching for a sign.  The great ships rolled and plunged, the tide came racing by them, blue-green water lipped with foam, carrying upon it unknown weeds, golden fruit floating, wreckage unfamiliar, a dead fish scarlet-rayed, a basket strangely wrought — drifting heralds of a country of dreams.  About noon, when mass had been said upon his galley, King Richard was seen to throw up his arms and stretch them wide; the shout followed the sign — ’Terra Sancta!  Terra Sancta!’ they heard him cry.  Voice after voice, tongue after tongue, took up the word and lifted it from ship to ship.  All fell upon their knees, save the rowers.  A dim coast, veiled in violet, lifted before their eyes — mountain ranges, great hollows, clouded places, so far and silent, so mysteriously wrapt, full of awe, no one could speak, no one had thought to speak, but must look and search and wonder.  A quick flight of shore birds, flashing creatures that twittered as they swept by, broke the spell.  This then was a land where living things abode; it was not only of the sacred dead.  They drew nearer, their hearts comforted.

They saw Margat, a lonely tower high on a split rock; they saw Tortosa, with a haven in the sea; Tripolis, a very white city; Neplyn.  Botron they saw, with a great terraced castle; afterwards Beyrout, cedars about its skirt.  Mountains rose up nearer to the sound of the surf; they saw Lebanon capped with cloud-wreaths, then snowy Hermon gleaming in the sun.  They saw Mount Tabor with a grey head, and two mountains like spires which stood separate and apart.  Tyre they passed, and Sidon, rich cities set in the sand, then Scandalion; at length after a long night of watching a soft hill showed, covered with verdure and glossy dark woods, Carmel, shaped like a woman’s breast.  Making this hallowed mount, in the plain beyond they saw Acre, many-towered; and all about it the tents of the Christian hosts, and before it in the blue waters of the bay ships riding at anchor, more numerous than the sea-birds that haunt Monte Gibello or swim sentinel about its base.  Trumpets from the shore answered to their trumpets; they heard a wild tattoo of drums within the walls.  On even keels in the motionless tide the ships took up their moorings; and King Richard, throwing the end of his cloak over his shoulder, jumped off the gunwale of Trenchemer, and waded breast-deep to shore.  He was the first of his realm to touch this storied Syrian earth.

Now for affairs.  The meeting of the Kings was cordial, or seemed so.  King Philip came out of his pavilion to meet his royal brother, and Richard, kissing him, asked him how he did.  ‘Very vilely, Richard,’ said the young man.  ’I think there is a sword in my head.  The glaring sun flattens me by day, and all night I shiver.’

‘Fever, my poor coz,’ said Richard, with a kind hand upon his shoulder.  Philip burst out with his symptoms, wailing like a child:  ’The devil bites me.  I vomit black.  My skin is as dry as a snake’s.  Yesterday they bled me three ounces.’  Richard walked back with him among the tents, conversing cheerfully, and for a few days held his old ascendancy over Philip; but only for a few.  Other of the leaders he saw:  some gave him no welcome.  The Marquess of Montferrat kept his quarters, the Duke of Burgundy was in bed.  The Archduke of Austria, Luitpold, a hairy man with light red eyelashes, professed great civility; but Richard had a bad way with strangers.  Not being receptive, he took no pains to pretend that he was.  The Archduke made long speeches, Richard short replies; the Archduke made longer speeches, Richard no replies.  Then the Archduke grew very red, and Richard nearly yawned.  This was at the English King’s formal reception by the leaders of the Crusade.  With the Grand Master of the Temple he got on better, liking the looks of the man.  He did not observe Saint-Pol on King Philip’s left hand; but there he was, flushed, excited, and tensely observant of his enemy.  That same night, when they held a council of war, there was seen a smoulder of that fire which you might have decently supposed put out.  King Philip came down in a mighty hurry, and sat himself in the throne; Montferrat, Burgundy, and others of that faction serried round about him.  The English and Angevin chiefs were furious, and the Archduke halted between two opinions.  By the time (lateish) when King Richard was announced Gaston of Béarn and young Saint-Pol had their swords half out.  But Richard came and stood in the doorway, a magnificent leisurely figure.  All his party rose up.  Richard waited, watching.  The Archduke (who really had not seen him before) rose with apologies; then the French followed suit, singly, one here and one there.  There only remained seated King Philip and the Marquess of Montferrat.  Still Richard waited by the door; presently, in a quiet voice, he said to the usher, ’Take your wand, usher, to that paralytic over there.  Tell him that he shall use it, or I will.’  The message was delivered:  at an angry nod from King Philip the Marquess got darkly up, and Richard came into the hall with King Guy of Jerusalem.  These two sat down one on each side of France; and so the council began.

It was hopeless from the outset — a posse of hornets droned into fury by the Archduke.  While he talked the rest maddened, longing for each other’s blood, failing that of Luitpold.  Richard, who as yet had no plans of his own, took no interest whatever in plans.  He acted throughout as if the Marquess was not there, and as if he wished with all his heart that the Archduke was not there.  On his part, the Marquess would have given nearly all he owned to have behaved so to Guy of Lusignan set over him; but the Marquess had not that art of lazy scorn which belongs to the royal among beasts:  he glowered, he was sulky.  Meantime the Archduke buzzed his age-long periods, and Richard (clasping his knee) looked at the ceiling.  At last he sighed profoundly, and ’God of heaven and earth!’ escaped him.  King Philip burst into a guffaw — his first for many a day — and broke up the assembly.  Richard had himself rowed out to Jehane in her ship.

He had no business there, though his business was innocent enough; but she could not tell him so now.  The girl was dejected, ill, and very nervous about herself.  Moreover, she had suffered from sea-sickness.  She could not hide her comfort to have him; so he took her up and kissed her as of old, and ended by settling her on his knee.  There she cried, quietly but freely.  He stayed with her till she slept; then went back to the shore and walked about the trenches, thinking out the business before him.  The dawn light found him at it.  In a day or two, having got his tackle ashore, he began the assault upon a plan of his own, without reference to any other principality or power at all.  By this time King Philip lay heaped in his bed, and had had his distempered brain wrought upon by Montferrat and his kind, Saint-Pol, Des Barres, and their kind.

Richard had with him Poictevins and Angevins, men of Provence and Languedoc, Normans and English, Scots and Welshry, black Genoese, Sicilians, Pisans, and Grifons from Cyprus.  The Count of Champagne had his Flemings to hand; the Templars and the Hospitallers served him gladly.  It was an agglomerate, a horde, not an army, and nobody but he could have wielded it.  He, by the virtue in him, had them all at his nod.  The English, who love to be commanded, hauled stones for him all day, though he had not a word of their language.  The swart, praying Italians raved themselves hoarse whenever he came into their lines; even the Cypriotes, sullen and timorous creatures, whom no power among themselves could have driven to the walls, fixed the great petraries and mangonels, and ran grinning into the trap of death for this tawny-haired hero who stood singing, bareheaded, within bow-shot of the Turks, and laughed like a boy when some fellow slipped on to his back upon the dry grass.  He was everywhere, day after day — in the trenches, on the towers, teaching the bowmen their business, crying ‘Mort de Dieu!’ when a mangonel did its work, and some flung rock made the wall to fly; he crouched under the tortoise-screens with the miners, took a mattock himself as indifferently as an arbalest or a cross-bow.  He could do everything, and have (if not a word) a cheerful grin for every man who did his duty.  As it was evident that he knew what such duty should be, and could have done it better himself, men sweated to win his praise.  He was nearly killed on a scaling-ladder, too early put up, or too long left so.  Three arrows struck him, and the defenders, calling on Allah, rolled an enormous boulder to the edge of the wall, which must have crushed him out of recognition on the Last Day.  ‘Garde, sire!’ ’Dornna del Ciel!’ came the cries from below; but ‘Lady Virgin!’ growled a shockhead from Bocton-under-Bleane, and pulled his King bodily off the ladder.  The poor fellow was shot in the throat at the next moment; the stone fell harmless.  King Richard took up his dead Englishman in his arms and carried him to the trenches.  He did no more fighting until he had seen him buried, and ordained a mass for him.  Things of those sort tempted men to love him.

The siege lasted ten days or more with varying successes.  Day and night in the city they heard the drums beat to arms, the cries of the Sheiks, and more piercing, drawn-out cries than theirs.  To the nightly shrilled pronouncement of the greatness of God came as answer the Christian’s wailing prayer, ‘Save us, Holy Sepulchre!’ The King of France had an engine which he called The Bad Neighbour, and did well with it until the Turks provided a Bad Kinsman, much bigger, which put the Neighbour to shame, and finally burned him.  King Richard had a belfry, and the Count of Flanders could throw stones with his sling from the trenches into the market-place; at any rate he said he could, and they all believed him.  The Christians caused the Accursed Tower to totter; they made a breach below the Tower of Flies, in a most horrible part of the haven.  Mine and countermine, Richard on the north side worked night and day, denying himself rest, food, reasonable care, for a week forgetful of Jehane and her hope.  The weather grew stiflingly hot, night and day there was no breath of wind; the whole country reeked of death and abomination.  Once, indeed, a gate was set fire to and rushed.  The Christians saw before them for the first time the ghostly winding way of a street, where blind pale houses heeled to each other, six feet apart.  There was a breathless fight in that pent way, a strangling, throttled business; Richard with his peers of Normandy, swaying banners, the crashing sound of steel on steel, the splash of split polls:  but it could not be carried.  The Turks, surging down on them, a wall of men, bodily forced them out.  There was no room to swing an axe, no space for a horse to fall, least of all for draught of the bow.  Richard cried the retreat; they could not turn, so walked backwards fighting, and the Turks repaired the gate.  Acre did not fall by the sword, but by starvation rather, and the diligent negotiations of Saladin with our King.  Richard’s terms were, Restore the True Cross, empty us Acre of men-at-arms, leave two thousand hostages.  This was accepted at last.  The Kings rode into Acre on the twelfth of July with their hosts, and the hollow-eyed courtesans watched them furtively from upper windows.  They knew their harvest was to reap.

Harvest with them was seed-time with others.  It was seed-time with the Archduke.  King Richard set up his household in the Castle (with a good lodging for Jehane in the Street of the Camel); King Philip, miserably ill, went to the house of the Templars; with him, sedulously his friend, the Marquess of Montferrat.  But Luitpold of Austria proposed himself for the Castle, and Richard endured him as well as he could.  But then Luitpold went further.  He set up his banner on the tower, side by side with Richard’s Dragon, meaning no offence at all.  Now King Richard’s way was a short way.  He had found the Archduke a burdensome ass, but no more.  The world was full of such; one must take them as part of the general economy of Providence.  But he knew his own worth perfectly well, and his own standing in the host; so when they told him where the Austrian’s flag flew, he said, ‘Take it down.’  They took it down.  Luitpold grew red, made a long speech in German at which Richard frowned, and another (shorter) in Latin, at which he laughed.  Luitpold put up his flag again; again Richard said, ‘Take it down.’  Luitpold was so angry that he made no speeches at all; he ran up his flag a third time.  When King Richard was told, he laughed, and on this occasion said, ‘Throw it away.’  Gaston of Béarn, more vivacious than discreet, did so with ignominious detail.  That day there was a council of the great estates, at which King Philip presided in a furred gown; for though the weather was suffocating his fever kept him chill to the bones.  To the Marquess, pale with his old grudge, was now added the Archduke, flaming with his new one.  The mottled Duke of Burgundy blinked approval of all grudges, and young Saint-Pol poured fire into the fire.  Richard was not present, nor any of his faction; they, because they had not been advertised, he, because he was in the Street of the Camel at the knees of Jehane the Fair.

The Archduke began on the instant.  ‘By God, my lords,’ he said, ’is there in the world a beast more flagrant than the King of England not killed already?’ The Marquess showed the white rims of his eyes — ’ Injurious, desperate, bloody villain,’ was his commentary; and Saint-Pol lifted up his hand to his master for leave to speak mischief.  But King Philip said fretfully, ’Well, well, we can all speak of something, I suppose.  He scorns me, he has always scorned me.  He refuses me homage, he shamed my sister; and now he takes the lead of me.’

The Marquess kept muttering to the table, ’Hopeless villain, hopeless villain!’ and the Archduke, after staring about him for sympathy, claimed attention, if not that; for he brought his fist down with a thump.

‘By thunder, but I kill him!’ he said deep in his throat.  Saint-Pol came running and kissed his knee, to Luitpold’s great surprise.

Philip shivered in his furs.  ‘I must go home,’ he fretted; ’I am smitten to death.  I must die in France.’

‘Where is the King of England?’ asked the, Marquess, knowing perfectly well.

‘Evil light upon him,’ cried Saint-Pol, ’he is in my sister’s house.  Between them they give me a nephew.’

‘Oho!’ Montferrat said.  ’Is that it?  Why, then, we know where to strike him quickest.  We should make Navarre of our party.’

’He has done that himself, by all accounts:  said the Duke of Burgundy, wide-awake.

The Archduke, returning to his new lodgings in the Bishop’s house, sent for his astrologers and asked them, Could he kill the King of England?

‘My lord,’ said they, ‘you cannot.’

‘How is that?’ he asked.

‘Lord,’ they told him, ’by our arts we discover that he will live for a hundred years.’

‘It is very remarkable,’ said the Archduke.  ’What sort of years will they be?’

‘Lord,’ said the astrologers, ’they are divers in complexion; but many of them are red.’

‘I will provide that they be,’ said the Archduke.  ‘Go away.’

The Marquess sought no astrologers, but instead the Street of the Camel and Jehane’s house.  He observed this with great care, watching from an entry to see how King Richard would come out, whether attended or not.  He observed more than the house, for much more was forced upon him.  Human garbage filled the close ways of Acre, men and women marred by themselves or a hideous begetting, hairless persons and snug little chamberers, botch-faces, scald-heads, minions of many sorts, silent-footed Arabians as shameless as dogs, Greeks, pimps and panders, abominable women.  Murder was swiftly and secretly done.  Montferrat from his entry saw the manner of it.  A Norman knight called Hamon Rotrou came out of an infamous house in the dusk, and stepped into the Street of the Camel with his cloak delicately round him.  Fine as he was, he was insanely a lover of the vile thing he had left; for he knelt down in the street to kiss her well-worn doorstep.  He knelt under the light of a small lamp, and out of the shadow behind him stepped catfoot a tall thin man, white from head to foot, who, saying ‘All hail, master,’ stabbed Hamon deep in the side.  Hamon jerked up his head, tottered, fell without more than a tired man’s sigh sideways into the arms of his killer.  This one eased his fall as tenderly as if he was upholding a girl, let him down into the kennel, drew him thence by the shoulders into the dark, and himself vanished.  Montferrat swore softly to himself, ‘That was neatly done.  I must find out who this expert may be.’  He went away full of it, having forgotten his housed enemy.

There was a Sheik Moffadin in the jail, one of the Soldan’s hostages for the return of the True Cross.  The Marquess went to see him.

‘Who of your people,’ he asked, ’is very tall and light-footed, robes him from head to foot in white linen, and kills quietly, as if he loved the dead, with an “All hail, master"?’

‘We call him an Assassin in our language,’ the Sheik replied; ’but he is not of our people by any means.  He is a servant of the Old Man who dwells on Lebanon.’

‘What old man is this, Moffadin?’

‘I can tell you no more of him,’ said the Sheik, ’save that he is master of many such men, who serve him faithfully and in silence.  But he hates the Soldan, and the Soldan him.’

‘How do they serve him, by killing?’

’Yes.  They kill whomsoever he points out, and so receive (or think to receive) a crown in Paradise.’

‘Is this old man’s name Death, by our Saviour?’ cried the Marquess.

The Sheik answered, ’His name is Sinan.  But the name of Death would suit him very well.’

‘Where should I get speech with some of his servants?’ the Marquess inquired; adding, ’For my life is in danger.  I have enemies who are irksome to me.’

‘By the Tower of Flies you will find them,’ said the Sheik, ’and late at night.  There are always some of his people walking there.  Seek out such a man as you have seen, and without fear accost him after his fashion, kissing him and saying, “Ah, Ali.  Ah, Abdallah, servant of Ali.”

‘I am very much obliged to you, Moffadin,’ said the Marquess.

That same night Jehane was in pain, and King Richard dared not leave her, nor the physicians either.  And in the morning early she was delivered of a child, a strong boy, and then lay back and slept profoundly.  Richard set two black women to fan the flies off her without stopping once under pain of death; and having seen to the proper care of the child and other things, returned alone through the blanching streets, glorifying and praising God.