Barbarossa - George Upton




Conrad's Death

The intention of Frederick's faithless allies to destroy his army by hunger rather than by the sword was frustrated by the indefatigable exertions of the Germans. Though greatly reduced in numbers, they had thwarted every device of cunning and hatred, and though menaced by continually increasing numbers, had reached the region they had hoped for—a region where no German foot had ever trodden before. They found everything there which they needed, and even more, for the enemy had not been able to carry it away or destroy it.

Frederick, who had accurately divined the plans of the enemy, only allowed his army to take so much rest as was absolutely needed, for his foes behind the mountains were increasing their strength every day. All the princes approved of the Emperor's policy to advance at the earliest moment and overcome the enemy, and not to take a long rest until it became indispensable.

Conrad again led the advance, and this time the Emperor's son, Frederick of Swabia, like his noble father, a true type of German chivalry, accompanied him. The army followed on foot. The advance approached the open country on the other side of the grandly swelling hills unmolested, and there the knights made their first stand against the Turks, who confronted them in dense masses. It was then the German knights showed their prowess. With levelled lances they charged into the close ranks of the enemy, dashed them to the earth in heaps, then with lightning-like swiftness exchanged lance for sword and battle-axe, with which they fought so furiously that all who could make their escape fled shrieking and howling. The onset made room for those in the rear, and the base of the hills soon swarmed with Christians, who fiercely attacked the Turks at a swift gallop and drove them back with broken heads.

The battle, which lasted nearly all day, showed that the Turks had been surprised by the Christians before all their preparations were completed; for as evening came on, the Christians beheld large dark masses of troops coming from the distance to strengthen the enemy. Every one realized that a great battle was impending on the following day, and all eagerly awaited it. The Christians gradually and steadily advanced, in accordance with the Emperor's orders, while the enemy's force fell back to support their approaching reinforcements and gain more room for their cavalry.

Frederick and the princes realized that they must meet a formidable foe. His orders for the disposition of his forces showed great skill and experience. The superior numbers of the enemy, which were continually increasing, and the fact that the ground was specially favorable to the latter, particularly to their cavalry, called for the highest skill and most persistent courage on the part of the Christians. On the other side, in the rear of the enemy, lay a rich fertile region, for the protection of which they would exhaust their resources in order not to crowd upon their neighbor, the Sultan Saladin, who might be willing enough to help them, but who would not, under any circumstances, be disposed to share the country with them if they were defeated. The only alternatives for the Christians were victory or death; for behind them was a malignant, perfidious people, who had harassed and plundered them when they were victorious. What, then, might they expect, if they were defeated, disarmed, and exhausted? Battle was inevitable, and all were certain it must be a life-and-death struggle.

On the evening of May thirteen, the Emperor held another council of war; preparations for the struggle were thoroughly discussed. Nothing was over looked, and every one was asked for his opinion. As soon as the plans had been settled upon and it was decided to attack in the morning, all betook themselves to rest.

Morning dawned after a short, cool May night. The first faint streaks of light were barely visible when the outposts noticed a great bustle in the enemy's camp. As soon as Conrad was informed of it he ordered Raymond to carry the news to the Emperor's tent. Raymond found the Emperor already busily making his preparations. After a hurried observation of the enemy he ordered that attack should be made as quickly as possible. The camp was at once astir. Noiselessly, but with astonishing rapidity, the eagerly expected commands were executed, the various divisions led by the princes and the nobles were massed, and messengers hurried in all directions conveying the orders of the Emperor, who meanwhile mounted his battle-horse in full armor and rode to the front with Raymond. Cheers greeted the grizzled old hero faring forth to battle as fresh and vigorous as in the days of his youthful strength. Victory shone in his eyes and declared itself in his general bearing. The faintest-hearted must have been emboldened by his look. The enemy in the meantime were busily engaged with their own preparations.

The German army steadily advanced upon the Turks, who at first fell back without striking a blow. Nevertheless, there were real encounters, for here and there small groups of the enemy would come within arrow shot, kill some Christians, and then swiftly retreat, and avoid pursuit. Many believed the Turks were repeating their old game, and that either they did not intend to make a stand or they were luring them on to some favorable spot where they could make an attack from every side.

The leaders watched these movements very carefully, giving especial attention to the enemy's wings to prevent themselves from being surrounded. These tactics lasted for some hours, and during that time the two armies were often so near to each other that battle seemed inevitable. The Christians were eager for it, but found no opportunity to attack, for whenever they made anything resembling an offensive move, the Turks scattered like chaff. The Emperor, who kept in the front, repeatedly ordered an attack, but before a sword could be drawn the enemy would fly in every direction and render it useless.

This style of fighting was repugnant to the Germans and the German nature. They were accustomed to look an enemy in the eye, meet him valiantly, and not retreat. This useless expenditure of strength, this wearisome effort to force the Turks into an engagement enraged them, and they determined to make an end of it. As a large body of Turks came near, the Emperor loudly cried, "Why delay longer to purchase the heavenly kingdom with our blood? Christ commands! Christ triumphs!" With these words he dashed into the densest of the enemy's ranks, taking them by surprise. They waved their scymitars, with loud cries of "Allah!" The battle had begun, Frederick fighting like a lion in the midst of the constantly increasing enemy. The mailed giants hurled themselves upon the Turks with all their force, and the fight soon raged all along the line. Here the Turks swarmed around a troop of German knights, and there single knights fought against superior numbers, who strove in vain to break through their steel mail. Arrows whizzed through the air; battle-axes and clubs crashed down. The fight was furious on both sides; where the German foot-soldiers were engaged, the Turks were most successful, for being unprotected by armor, the former were slain by arrows. But when the full-armed knights, the flower of the army, were encountered, their assailants fell, never to rise again.

The noonday sun flamed down so fiercely upon the knights that their armor glowed with heat and their faces were bathed in perspiration. Some were hardly able to raise their weapons. They no longer sought the enemy, being satisfied to repel him when attacked. The German ranks were already thinned, but their losses were not so great as the enemy's.

The Germans, after almost endless exertions, succeeded in forcing the enemy back, and looked upon a field covered with slain. They also heard loud wailings and lamentations for the dead, which inspired them with fresh courage. The Turks fiercely disputed every foot of ground, and every step gained was dearly paid for. It was apparent that the enemy either were unwearied or else that they were frequently reinforced, for each fresh attack was stoutly resisted. Seemingly it would have been an endless battle had not night stopped the slaughter. As the sun went down, its intense heat lessened, but heated passions did not cool. The whole field resounded with shouts of "Allah!" and "Christ!" The Germans succeeded in driving the enemy before them. As the latter fell back they defended themselves step by step, but as the darkness fell they suddenly abandoned the struggle and disappeared.

The Emperor wisely and emphatically forbade pursuit. The knights stood by their panting horses and wiped the sweat from their brows, while the foot-soldiers gathered about their leaders. They distrusted the enemy for a long time and held themselves in readiness to repulse one of those subtle attacks which were so characteristic of the Turks. When the spies, however, reported that they could find no trace of them, Frederick gave orders to pitch the tents. Every one sought food and drink, the first requisites after a hard battle. As soon as all were satisfied, they searched for the wounded, of whom there were not many thus far; partly because almost every scymitar blow had been fatal, and partly because the heat hastened the death of the severely wounded. Those who could rest by the side of their own friends and comrades-in-arms were fortunate. Among these was Conrad of Feuchtwangen, who held both his sons in his arms, while they in turn embraced him and murmured prayers of thankfulness to God for protecting him. Then the weary ones slumbered, gathering fresh strength for new victories, of which their souls dreamed while their bodies rested from their strenuous exertions.

With the first beams of the rising sun, the Turks renewed their operations by approaching the Christians and daring them to battle. The latter advanced more quickly than on the previous day so as not again to waste their strength, and also to force the enemy back more speedily. The entire plain was covered with the combatants. It seemed like some great thoroughfare upon which one crowd was advancing and the other retiring. Only here and there did they come together. Except in such spots, the two movements were continuous and in a southerly direction. The Christians imagined that the enemy made this move so as to reach the extreme frontier of the kingdom of Iconium and meet the approaching Egyptian troops, and then jointly attack. The Emperor himself at last came to this opinion. He regarded it as possible, although he failed to understand why the enemy on the day before had made such sacrifices when there was no prospect of victory. Nevertheless, he completed his preparations to attack the united forces, and, if God so willed, to crush them at a blow, and thus all the more quickly accomplish the object of the expedition.

The Turks, indeed, made little resistance all that day, and many were so credulous as to believe they would disappear again as they did on the preceding day; but toward evening they again rallied in force, apparently to make a vigorous attack. The Christians were at once in readiness to meet them. The princes headed the knights, with levelled lances. Conrad, with his large retinue, did the same, and like a terrible thunder storm in a dark night they hurled themselves upon the enemy. The latter's dense mass was riven in twain as if by a lightning stroke, and a fearful hand-to-hand encounter ensued. Lances were soon exchanged for battle-axes and war-clubs, and these in turn for swords. The Christians strove to overcome the superior numbers of the enemy by separating them so as to attack them in detached groups, and the plan succeeded. Every knight was engaged with three or four or more of the enemy, handjars and sabres flashed in the air, and many a one, who up to this time had escaped fatal assault, fell lifeless in sight of his comrades, and his blood mingled with that of his foe. Conrad and his sons, who as yet were safe, fought like lions against overpowering numbers, but Raymond was suddenly wounded in the arm by a blow from a scymitar. In his anxiety for him, Conrad for a moment neglected his own safety, and as he turned to help his son, he received a terrible cut in the neck. At the same instant Raymond's sword descended with all the strength of his wounded arm upon the head of the Turk, who fell dead from his horse. Raymond's sword, however, dropped from his hand, and he found himself unable to protect his father or himself amid a swarm of bloodthirsty Turks. But help was at hand, for the Emperor had led his forces to a glorious victory. Those of the enemy who were not disabled fled before the lions, who shook their manes in furious rage and looked about them for more victims.

With tears in their eyes the two youths stood by the side of their dying father. They had laid their dear one under a great oak tree, which extended its branches over him like protecting arms, and sought to stanch his wound. The sight bitterly grieved the Emperor as he approached. He had found the steed and shield of his old comrade-in-arms, and well knew what he had lost; but the spot showed clearly what his life had cost the enemy, for the shield was covered with blood and a wall of slain lay beside it. He at once ordered that his brave friend should be taken to his own tent and cared for as such a friend deserved.

"Were it possible to purchase thy life, thou faithful one, I would give this day's honor," said the Emperor, with great emotion.

"Thanks, my noble sovereign, for thy true friendship, which accompanies me even to the grave," said Conrad; "but I feel I shall not long enjoy it. Death steadily approaches, and my life swiftly nears its close. But it would be a great consolation in my dying hour to know that my sons will be cared for. I brought them here in the morning of their life that they might see how brave knights can die for God and their Emperor. I think I myself have set them the best example—I can do no more. Take them when I am gone."

"I will care for them," said the Emperor, "as if they were my own sons, and they shall always be near me. I pledge my life for them as freely and as courageously as thou hast pledged thine for me."

The dying Conrad cast a look of gratitude upon the Emperor, then turned to his sons, pressed their hands to his heart with all his remaining strength, and said:

"Be worthy of your ancestors your whole life long—turn not a step from the path—of virtue—true to your Emperor to—the last breath—to innocence a—protector—to evil-doers and blasphemers—an avenging judge—and—I die willingly."

Thus Conrad of Feuchtwangen passed away. All were in tears. Even the Emperor's eyes were moist. At last he ordered that the body should be buried with the highest honors, and that Raymond and Conrad should follow him to his tent and stay with him in future.