Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago - Evaleen Stein

In the Camp Before Acre

It was more than a week after the landing of the English fleet and their new camp was in fairly good order, but none of the leaders of the crusade were in a particularly good humor and many of the foot-soldiers were growing every day more impatient because no progress had been made toward the taking of Acre. Everybody had hoped for so much with the coming of King Richard, but for days he had been stretched on his bed tossing and burning with the terrible fever that had attacked so many of the crusaders, and which of course was the reason he was not in a good humor. King Phillip was irritable and cross because he himself was still not entirely over the same kind of fever, though he had not been nearly so sick as Richard; and then he did not like the delay, and moreover he and Richard were not really very good friends anyway, and only tried to keep at peace with one another on account of the crusade. Then there was the Austrian Duke Leopold, who was out of sorts because he was a stupid man with a high opinion of himself and he thought King Richard had snubbed him, which likely he had as he had a great contempt for Duke Leopold.

As for the people of Acre, no doubt they were all the while getting hungrier and crosser; and the Sultan Saladin with his army of Saracens camped on the hills behind Acre and his allies beyond the moat of the crusaders were becoming tired with their constant watching.

But if affairs were not going in a way to please the grown folks on either side, our two boys found no end of things to interest them. Everything was so strange and different from their own homes, and until starting on the crusade neither had ever traveled anywhere. And this reminds me that I have not yet told you where their homes were nor how it happened that, though one came from England and the other from France, they had no trouble in talking to each other. That was because many of the English nobles, or who Hugh's father was one, and especially King Richard himself, though born in England, seemed really to belong much more to France and spoke French almost altogether. And as the reason for this Frenchiness had to do with the history of Richard. I must tell you a little about him before going on with the boys.

One hundred and thirty years before, Richard's great-grandfather, William, Duke of Normandy (which was part of France), had got together an army and sailed over and conquered England, to which he claimed a right, and had made himself king. The Saxons who lived there had fought hard, but had to submit; and King William and the Norman knights who had come with him, though they settled down to live in England, for a long while still spoke their own French language and did things as they had done in Normandy. When William died his children and grand-children grew up and married into noble French families, dukes and counts of large domains, so that by the time that Richard became king of England he had inherited also at least half of France. And though he was not called king of these French possessions but, as was the custom of the time, had to render. "homage" for them to King Philip, nevertheless the latter knew that the homage was scarely more than a form; and as Richard grew more and more powerful, Philip became more and more uneasy lest he gain possession of still more of France. At the same time Richard on his part more than suspected that Philip, who was crafty as he himself was open, was trying to get from him his French inheritance.

So it was that though they had once been good friends they had come to distrust one another, and odd as it may seem, that was one reason why they had gone together on the crusade. Neither wanted to go away and leave the other behind for fear his kingdom would be gone when he came back. Yet while they disliked and suspected each other, for the sake of the success of the crusade they tried to work together and of course always behaved most politely.

And now that we understand more about the kings, let us go back for a minute to the history of our boys. Hugh's father, Sir Kenneth of Alnwyck, was of Norman descent and had been a friend of King Richard in his youth; his mother was a Saxon lady, and though from her he had learned the language of England, French was usually spoken in the home which was a beautiful castle on the banks of the river Wye. But Hugh had not lived there since he was seven years old, for, as was the Norman custom, boys of that age were always sent away to the home of some other noble knight to be brought up and trained. They spent the first seven years in their new home as pages, then at fourteen they became squires, and finally, at twenty-one, if considered worthy, they received knighthood. So Hugh had been sent to the castle of an English knight, also of Norman blood, where he had lived happily for five years, learning many things not in books, of which there were but few then.

Meantime the boy's father had suffered a long illness which had left him quite helpless; and when he heard of the crusade King Richard was planning he was broken-hearted at being unable to take the cross himself and go along, for he was a brave knight. But remembering his friendship for Richard, whom he had seen much of in Normandy long before he was king, he had sent word to him begging that he would take Hugh with him as page. Sir Kenneth felt it would comfort him to know at least that his young son was going, if only as a page, and that he might do some service in the army of the cross. For the wish to be a crusader was taking everybody by storm. King Richard, to the joy of both Hugh and his father, had readily granted the latter's request; and the lad had shown himself so bright and mannerly that he had already become a favorite with his master.

Raymond's history was, in part, not unlike that of Hugh. His father, a baron of Languedoc, had sent him to be trained in the chateau of his friend Count William de Pratelles; when Count William joined the crusaders, as of course no knight could take with him all the pages and squires he had at home, he had chosen Raymond because of his faithfulness and obedience.

So now we are ready to go on with our story again. As I said before, the boys found much to interest them, and whenever they had a spare moment they spent it together poking around the great camp. One morning when thus looking about, "The big fighting machines are all put together," said Hugh, "and do you see that roof of fresh hides on the tall wooden tower? A soldier told me that it was soaked in vinegar and that the Greek fire couldn't burn it!"

"Is that so?" said Raymond, looking with interest at the great tower-like structure built in several stories and mounted on wheels so that it might be loaded with archers and drawn up close to the walls of the besieged city. For King Richard, in spite of his sickness, had ordered the machines he had brought with him to be set up, a fort to be bult and preparations made so far a fort to be built and preparations made so far as possible for the attack on Acre which he hoped to make as soon as he was able. "Just see how far along the new fort is," went on Raymond. "I wonder how the Acre people like the looks of it," and he glanced toward the battered city walls where the Saracen flag still flew with its crescent and single star.

As the boys strolled along it was like going through a great tented town. Everywhere were flying the banners and pennons of innumerable knights, and here and there were war-horses being groomed or hounds blinking in the sun. Armorers were busy looking over the long tunics of metal, or "hauberks," as they were called, some made of hundreds of rings of steel sewn on thick leather, some of small metal rings linked together like a chain purse, and some of scales of steel lapping over each other. Then there were curious helmets of all kinds being rubbed up. Some of these were of chain mail like the hauberks; but most were round with flat tops, looking much like kitchen saucepans turned upside down. Lances and spears and bows and arrows were everywhere to be seen. And everywhere, too, were crosses. Each man wore his cross of red cloth on the breast or sleeve of his tunic, unless he belonged to one of the military orders, in which case it was fastened on the shoulder of a large black or white mantle, and he wore a red cap with a white one under it and carried a staff tipped by a small white shield bearing a white cross.

There were two of these military orders, or societies, one called the Knights of the Temple and the other the Knights of St. John; both having been started in Jerusalem a long while before and their object being to try to protect pilgrims from the Saracens. They had begun simply as brotherhoods of monks, though all were of noble birth. The Knights of the Temple, so named because their house was near the temple in the holy city, would go to the coast whenever pilgrims landed and do their best to fight off the Saracens, who would often attack them; the Knights of St. John, or Hospitallers, as they were often called, took care of those who fell sick or were wounded in these fights. The two orders had been small and poor at first, but had grown so rich and powerful that when the crusades began both took an important part in the fighting, and in the camp at Acre their tents and banners covered a large space.

Beyond these were three small churches built of wood, for as many of the crusaders had been there so long they had tried to supply some of the things they had had at home. And as they were not fighting or praying all the while, they found ways to amuse themselves between times. They had laid out lists and sometimes tournaments were held, where the noble knights fought in sham battles (as if they did not have enough real ones!) while the ladies looked on; for there were a number of the latter in the camp. There were troubadours who sang songs, and storytellers and even jugglers to entertain when there was a lull in the fighting. Often, too, some of the knights would make bold to mount their war-horses and gallop off with their falcons on their wrists to chase hawks or other birds. For this kind of hunting was a sport all delighted in, and many had brought with them their finest falcons, which were natural birds of prey and had been carefully trained to chase and capture other birds. Indeed, as the boys reached the edge of the French camp, a horseman attended by two squires dashed past with a smile of greeting for both lads. "There goes Count William hunting!" cried Raymond. "Did you see his falcon? It's a beauty. I feed and tend it. Did King Richard bring his?"

"Bring his?" echoed High. "Well, I should think so! He's brought his favorite, named Arrow, and a dozen besides. I believe he'd as soon think of leaving his head behind, for he likes hawking better than almost anything else in the world except for fighting and playing on his lute and making up poetry; you know he's great at that. He keeps the lute near his bed where it's always handy, and the falcons are in the tent just beyond his, and I help take care of them."

Here the boys fell to discussing the training of falcons, till presently they found themselves at the moat which I told you the crusaders had been obliged to dig around their camp to help protect them from the Saracens camped beyond and ready to attack them from behind and so distract their attention whenever they tried to assault the city. As not they boys looked across the deep ditch filled with sea water, the Saracen camp, like that of the crusaders, seemed a town of tents. There were fewer fluttering banners and pennons than those of the Christians, but many of the tents were striped with gay colors and gorgeously furnished within. Indeed, if our two pages could have peeped into that belonging to the Sultan Saladin, camped with his hosts on the hills beyond the city, they would have fairly gasped at the magnificence of it, for the people of the far East have always loved color and gold and gems, and Saladin's tent was much m ore splendid than even the handsome ones of the crusading kings.

But though Hugh and Raymond could not see all these things, they could watch the strange people moving about the their gay robes. Darkeyed Egyptians in brightly striped mantles and turbans; tall, swarthy Nubians from the desert, in white robes and with heads swathed in many folds of white linen; brown Arabs sitting by their tents polishing long spears, or else rubbing down the silky coats of their swift-footed horses; all these were a never ending wonder to the boys.

Then from where the camp stretched far out they could hear the cries of the many people who came daily to sell their wares. There were donkeys laden with fagots, water-carriers with goat-, some even with ox-skins full of water, for any fit to drink was scarce in Palestine, and so were bottles and barrels, so this was the way it was carried about and sold; there were sweetmeat and fruit venders, all shouting at the top of their voices, dogs barking,—but all at once Hugh, who had been eagerly watching as much as he could, caught sight of something he had never seen before. "What's that queer beast over yonder?" he cried, "See! it has humps  on its back!"

"Oh," said Raymmond, smiling, "that's a camel. You'll see lots of them here; they carry things on their backs, and people ride on them."

"I can't imagine how!" said Hugh, still gazing; for there were no circuses then so folks could know about the animals of far countries.

If the boys could only hvae walked through the camp they would have found many more things to interest them. They would have seen bakers, always a pair of them, sitting cross-legged by the queerest ovens, just square holes in the ground, a couple of feet wide and deep, and lined with smooth, hard plaster. One of the men would be throwing in bundles of dry thorn-bush, which, blazing up quickly, would make the plaster very hot. Then the other baker, who had been patting out large round loaves of dough, scarcely thicker than pasteboard, would clap them one by one on the sides of the over where they would bake in a minute or two. Beyond these perhaps would be a barber sitting on his heels while his customer, whose head he was shaving, knelt on a rug before him.

Then there were fortune-tellers, and letter-writers, in flowing robes and with long ebony cases for their reed pens stuck in their girdles, writing letters for soldiers, beginning each at the back of a folded sheet of parchment and writing in slanting lines toward the upper lefthand corner, so filling every page to the front of the sheet, where the letter ended. Why did they write backward like that? Dear me! I do not know, except that their ancestors had always done so, just as, when reading their books, they began at the back and read toward the front, instead of the way we do. If our boys could have looked into some of the finer tents they likely would have seen men seated on cushions, their slippers with curled-up toes on a rug beside them. If meal-time, they would have in front of them little tabourettes, tiny round tables not more than two feet high, with large brass trays on them set out with bowls of food and baskets of fruit. What kind of food? Well, except the fruit, mostly things you would not like: mutton or kid cut up in chunks and boiled with all sorts of queer flavors; curdles milk, lentils and rice, maybe, all of which they ate with their fingers. Where were their plates and knives and forks and spoons? They did not have any! Instead, each man had beside him a pile of the thin round loaves the bakers had made; taking one of these he would double it over and use it to scoop up the meat and gravy, everybody eating from the same bowl. Did not their fingers get frightfully sticky? Of course, but then, when they finished, a servant would bring a handsome copper ewer and basin and pour water over their hands and dry them on a napkin. But that would not have been a strange sight to our pages, who were used to serving their masters the same way; for nobody used forks then and the crusaders' fingers got as sticky as anybody's.

Nevertheless there were so many odd things going on it was a pity the two boys could not get a closer glimpse of them. They did see a good deal though, and a crusader soldier who was standing near, guarding the moat, noticing their interest, pointed out some more. "Do you see that long, low roof over yonder?" he asked; and as the boys looked, "That's a big bazaar where they have all kinds of queer things to sell. And over that way," pointing in another direction, "they have a regular market, and they are always trying to get things across the moat here and through our camp into the city. Only last night our archers shot down a boat-load of them, and I guess their stuff is pretty salty by this time!" and he smiled grimly as he glanced down into the water beneath.

"They've got a regular bath place, too," he went on, " and a mosque over yonder for their heathen worship. I can hear those outlandish-looking priests of theirs every day when they call out 'La Allah! La Allah!' or something like that, and then you ought to see all those folks drop down on their knees as quick as lightning and begin mumbling prayers to some of their heathenish gods! Pah! the dogs of infidels!" and the soldier spat on the ground to show his contempt for the whole Saracen race.

And no doubt at the same time, over in the enemy camp, there were Saracens who looked across the moat and spoke of "the dogs of Christians " with their little wooden churches. No doubt, too, the Saracens understood the Christian worship as little as the soldier did theirs, and were just as contemptuous when every evening crusaders bowed their heads in prayer as a loud-voiced herald went through the, camp shouting out "God save the Holy Sepulchre!" Later on both Christians and Saracens came to know each other better and to look with more respect on the efforts of each to seek God;—but it took a long time.

Meanwhile our two boys had turned away from the moat, and "Let's go over where Queen Berengaria's tent is," said Hugh. "Maybe there will be a puppet show to see."

"All right," answered Raymond, and they scampered off toward the ladies' quarters, for there was generally amusement of some kind going on there.