Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago - Evaleen Stein

The Fall of Acre

Of the two kings whom we left in bed in the last chapter, Philip, who was least ill, crept out first and turned his attention to the building of more fighting machines, besides seeing that Bad Neighbor was kept in repair, for it was often broken to pieces by Bad Kinsman, which had the advantage of hurling stones from the high wall. Richard also, who was slowly recovering, though unable to be up, was having more machines got ready, and the two pages never tired of watching their progress. Always, too, some parts of the city walls were being battered by different sections of the army.

"I don't see how those walls stand so much pounding!" said Raymond one morning as the two boys were looking on.

"I don't either!" replied Hugh. "The Duke of Burgundy and Duke Leopold both have their machines going today, and when I came out of King Richard's camp the Knights of the Temple were dragging theirs around to the other side of that old Cursed Tower."

Here the boys passed close to a great wooden stone-throwing machine at one side of which stood a priest in black robe droning out, "God save the Holy Sepulchre! Come up and pay your pence for the Petrary of God!" For this was the name of the machine, which had been built at the common expense of the whole army; and always the priest stood there to preach and collect money to repair it when damaged by the enemy. The two lads had gone only a short distance beyond this when suddenly they sprang back with startled exclamations as an arrow whizzed past, a few paces in front, and buried its point in the earth. Though they had been warned not to go too near the city walls, they had grown rather reckless, and now they glanced up sharply to see if any more were coming; but as the sky seemed clear, Hugh ran forward and pulled up the dart still quivering in the ground.

[Illustration] from Our Little Crusader Cousin by Evaleen Stein


"See!" he cried in surprise, "it has a folded piece of parchment fastened to it, and something written on the outside of it!" He and Raymond screwed up their faces and examined it with puzzled eyes, till at last,"Pshaw!" he said, "what's the use! We can't read it! Let's take it to the priest yonder; he ought to be able to!" For there were no regular schools in those days and, aside from monks and priests, few people, even those of noble rank, could read or write.

The boys hurried over to the Petrary of God and showed the carefully folded bit of parchment to the priest, explaining to him how it had come. The priest, after making out the direction on the outside, did not venture to unfold it, but holding it tightly in his hand, said, "This is evidently a message to the king of England, for his name is written on it. It is strange who could have sent it in such a way from the city yonder."

"Well," said Hugh impatiently, "give it to me, and I will take it to him."

"Not so fast, boy," answered the priest, "such a message as this is too important to any stray lad. We must find some trustworthy soldier."

At this Hugh's face flushed, and drawing himself up proudly, "Sir priest," he said, "I would have you know I am no 'stray lad,' but one of King Richard's own pages. Here are his three leopards worked on my sleeve!"

The priest, who did not see very well, now looked Hugh over more carefully and knew from the leopards the boy spoke the truth, for no one not in the service of the king would dare display them. So, handing the parchment to him with "Well, well, boy, I meant no offense," he went on with his droning "God save the Holy Sepulchre!"

Hugh, scowling darkly, received the message and the two boys set off at a run for the English camp, where, at the royal tent, they delivered it to one of the knights attending the sick king; then they hung around, waiting for any news that might leak out, as news generally did. And before long Hugh learned from one of the squires that the parchment really was important. The squire thought it gave valuable information that would help Richard plan his attack on the city.

"Who sent it?" asked Raymond.

"Nobody knows!" answered Hugh. "King Richard was as surprised as anybody."

And it certainly seemed strange that, though every day or two fresh messages, always directed to King Richard continued to arrive in the camp in the same way, no one ever found out who was the sender. It has always been thought, however, that it was some Christian captive in Acre who in some way contrived to shoot the arrows over the wall and who dared not sign his name lest, if found out by the Saracens, he should be killed. At any rate the information thus gained was a great help to the crusaders.

By and by the continual battering of the rams began to tell. The machines of Philip broke down a small part of the wall and the Petrary of God knocked off a corner of the Cursed Tower; yet the armies were unable to enter the city. Meantime Richard, though still too weak to walk, was growing restive, and one day when Hugh went into his tent to carry a basket of fine Damascus plums from Saladin, he found the king sitting on the edge of his bed while two squires were trying to comb his tawny hair and beard, snarled from his long tossing with fever till they stood out like a lion's mane.

Just then, as one of them struggled with a hard tangle, the king made a wry face, and "Hugh," he said, "come here and be my barber. These varlets are pulling me unmercifully!" and his eyes snapped dangerously. The squires, glad to be released, handed the ivory combs to the page, who, though rather frightened at the task, was deft-handed and managed successfully to smooth out the tangled locks. Then he brought a copper basin and ewer of water and helped his master wash, and the knights and squires attending him dressed him in his linen tunic, cross-gartered his hose from knee to ankle, and put on his soft leather shoes. When Hugh saw them bringing out his hauberk of chain mail and helmet, "Why, he is not going to try to fight, is he?" he whispered in surprise to one of the squires.

"Not exactly," answered the squire, "but he's given orders to attack the city today. Our sappers are to try to undermine the wall, and if they can make a big enough break in it, there will be a general assault, and King Richard is to be carried on his bed to the new tower so he can direct the men. Run over to the pile of cushions yonder and bring an armful."

Hugh quickly obeyed and brought the cushions, which he helped arrange so the king could partly sit up; then, all being ready, four knights took up the corners of the silken-covered bed and carried their royal master out of the tent and up the steps of the new fighting tower he had had built. His bed was placed on the topmost of its four platforms, the roof of which was spread with raw-hides steeped in vinegar to protect it from fire. The tower was then filled with the best English archers and rolled near the city wall. As Hugh watched he could see that under it crept men dragging huge logs and all kinds of shovels and mining tools; and as soon as they were near enough they began digging as hard as they could under a part of the wall by the Cursed Tower. As the hole grew bigger they propped up the earth over their heads with the great logs.

Meantime, the Saracens, not dreaming that Richard himself was in the tower or that their wall was being undermined, merely supposed that the attack of the archers was part of the day's work to which they had grown used. To be sure, their archers sent down showers of arrows in return, but if one showed himself an instant from behind the parapet, down he tumbled, the mark of some English bowman. Presently, when one appeared on the wall wearing the armor of a knight whom he had killed the day before, Richard's eyes flashed, and seizing a cross-bow near his bed, he sent an arrow straight into the Saracen's heart. The king was an expert with the cross-bow, and one after another a dozen or more of his shafts flew, never one missing its mark.

While this was going on the petraries and rams had not been idle, and were banging the Cursed Tower as the sappers, having set fire to the logs in their hole under the wall, crept hurriedly out. In a little while, when the logs had burned through, there was a great crash as down fell the Cursed Tower, and the walls settled into the hole, leaving a wide breach. At this there was a loud shout from the crusaders, and the English knights and foot-solders who had been waiting rushed to the assault.

But the Saracens, too, rushed to defend themselves, and fierce and terrible was the battle. Hand to hand they fought, the swords and battle-axes of the crusaders dealing deadly blows, the archers sending their arrows in clouds, and all the while the petraries and catapults hurling their great stones into the city.

But though the crusaders fought bravely, so did the Saracens, and they had one weapon which nothing could withstand, the terrible Greek fire. They had prepared a fresh supply of this, and poured it down mercilessly on the besieging army till at last the crusaders were forced to fall back.

Hugh and Raymond, who had been anxiously watching the battle, drew long faces as they heard the trumpeters give the signal for retreat. "Oh!" said Hugh, "I thought surely they would get in this time!"

"So did I!" answered Raymond. "I believe they could if our army had helped. I don't see why they don't work together more!"

Here four knights came bringing King Richard on his bed, and Hugh ran to the tent. He was surprised, though, to see that as the king was carried in he did not look down-hearted, as he had expected, but that he seemed much brighter. The fact was, Richard knew that the day's work had destroyed enough of the wall so that the crusaders could not long be kept out, and that the Saracens themselves must realize by this time how determined a foe they had and that they might as well surrender.

And this was just about what happened. The Saracens, though they had once more forced the enemy to retreat, knew their own strength was spent; they knew also that the crusaders, while not entirely united, might any day make up their disputes and attack in a body, when they could not hope to withstand them; and worst of all, their scanty supply of food was now entirely gone, and Richard's ships and army kept such close watch that no more could be brought to them by sea or smuggled in by land. So, worn out by their two years' siege, they sent messengers to Saladin begging him to allow them to surrender, and at last he reluctantly gave his consent.

It was a gaunt and sorrowful procession that marched out of Acre, carrying nothing with them save the clothes they wore. And it was a battered and wretched city they left behind, though it was not entirely empty, as it still held over two thousand Christians whom the Saracens had kept captive through all the long siege. The crusaders made it their first work to care for these, and then they strove so far as possible to clean and purify the city before the entrance of the army, which was to take place a week or more later.