Barbarossa - George Upton




The Brothers' Ordeal

Evening had hardly fallen when the Sultan again suddenly appeared in the brothers' room. He entered noiselessly and regarded the two with a malicious expression, as they stood arm in arm at the window gazing at the glorious sunset, which seemed to them a reflection of the infinite father-love of God and awakened filial devotion for Him in their hearts.

Their fearlessness surprised the Sultan. He had hoped to find them downcast, and expected they would tremble before him and prostrate themselves at his feet. But nothing of this kind occurred. They merely glanced at the intruder, then turned their heads away and resumed their contemplation of the sunset, as if he were some insignificant person.

"Look at the brilliant red which illuminates half the sky," said Raymond, gently.

"We see this every day and yet every day it gives us the same delight," replied his brother. "How many times we have seen it with father and mother from the windows of our castle! And it was just as beautiful there as here."

"That is because it is the work of the almighty and all-gracious God, who has the same love for all His earthly children. He overlooks none of them. He cares alike for all, and although the needs of His creatures are so different, yet He knows what each one wants, and from His endless bounty He can satisfy all."

"And does He also think of us?" asked Conrad.

"How canst thou ask such a question? Certainly He does, foolish boy! He is everywhere, and of course He is here. As He watches over all He of course sees our condition and will help us in His own good time."

"Why, Raymond, you do not actually believe I doubt what you say! I was only eager that this imprisonment might soon end, so that thy wounded arm might heal more quickly under the care of our Christian brethren."

"Your liberty is in your own hands," interposed the Sultan. "Like two young fools, you have rejected my proposal. Now I will renew it—write to the Emperor."

"Not one word," replied Raymond. "We have given you our answer, and we do not change our minds like smooth-tongued Greeks and Turks."

The Sultan restrained his anger at the reproach hurled at him, and addressed Conrad:

Be more reasonable than your insolent brother. You are young yet, but you know it is a sin against God to shorten life. The Emperor will be forced to free you. Write to him yourself."

"I well know it is a crime to take one's own life, but it is also a crime to preserve that life by a shameful deed. It would be the grossest offence to induce the Emperor to abandon his high purposes by my appeals for liberty. I refuse your request, as my brother has done."

Wild rage flamed in the Sultan's eye, and his face was distorted with unrestrained anger.

"Well," he roared, "be it so! You shall now feel my power. I have foolishly been considerate of your youth, but shall be so no longer. You must die,—that is a matter of course. But death will be too mild a punishment for you. You have dared to defy me, me whom millions obey! You shall now suffer all that your brethren, the Christian dogs, have suffered. I will inflict hunger, thirst, punishments of every kind. I will devise tortures more painful than any one before has ever imagined. While you are enduring them your cries of agony will sound like heavenly music in my ears. When you supplicate for mercy there shall be no respite. The time will have passed then for securing what I offer now."

With trembling voice but not from fear—Conrad replied: "We have hitherto considered you an honorable enemy. We do not complain because you securely imprison us, but to treat us as you have threatened to do lowers you to the level of the savage beast."

The Sultan somewhat regained his composure, and left the room speechless from amazement at their boldness.

The brothers again embraced, unmoved by his horrible threat, and determined with God's help to remain steadfast and not to deviate a finger's breadth from the path of right and duty.

Their conversation was now disturbed by a swarthy visaged person looking in at the door and grimacing. He was a gigantic Turk, who signified by gesture rather than by speech that they were to follow him. They were a little alarmed at first, but a glance at each other and a mutual grasp of the hand reassured them, and they courageously followed him. Their apprehensions, however, were not realized. They were simply changing the place of their confinement. A low, dark room with small iron-grated windows and bare walls, and destitute of the customary furniture it was, where they were now to spend their time. The slave left some wretched food, and so slight an allowance of it that it barely sufficed to relieve the pangs of hunger. They realized by his conduct that he was their new keeper.

The change in their situation made little impression upon them. The slave had hardly left the room before they fell upon their knees, thanked God that so far He had kept them from yielding, and fervently prayed that He would continue to aid them and save them from any severer trials.

Several days passed without affording them a sight of their enemies. The miserable food did not allay the cravings of hunger. The moisture trickling down the walls, the damp, sticky atmosphere, and the lack of refreshing rest nearly made them ill. The slave's face manifested not a sign of pity. On the contrary, the brothers thought they noticed an expression of malicious satisfaction whenever their eyes met his; but they made no complaint.

One day, to their great astonishment, their keeper, who seemed to have forgotten them, entered the room bringing dainty food instead of the usual prison fare. A hot rice soup steamed from a clean dish, regaling the senses and tempting the appetite. The slave's conduct was also different. A look of sympathy had taken the place of his scornful smile. He invited them to partake of the food, and placed it before them himself, in the most friendly manner, for they were afraid to take it, suspecting that it was only offered to them in malicious mockery. But when he went out and returned with a pair of roasted fowls, they no longer distrusted him or hesitated to accept his repeated invitations.

The slave waited upon the table with as much ceremony as if he were serving distinguished company, now helping one, then the other, and urging both to take more. They ate with gratitude to God for making such a change in their master's heart, but made no conversation with the servant, though he evidently was expecting them to do so. Indeed, the meal closed without a word from them, though the Turk coughed and hemmed and made every sort of hint to them, hoping they would speak. At last he withdrew, but speedily returned with a tankard. "Here is something to warm Christian hearts," he said with a smile, as if confident they would at last break their silence.

"Wine?" said Conrad. "I thought the Turks did not drink wine. What does the Sultan mean?"

Though Conrad was only speaking to his brother, the servant answered: "The Sultan? This wine is not from him. It is from Rustan, your servant, young gentlemen."

"Do you mean you have done this without the Sultan's knowledge?"

"As sure as I am Rustan. But, by Allah, the Sultan does not and must not know a word of it."

The boys looked at each other in amazement.

"Do not be alarmed, dear young gentlemen," said Rustan. "You shall know all. Look you! old Rustan loves the Christians though he is a Mussulman. When I was a young man I bravely fought them, for I was incited by the dervishes, the bloodthirsty enemies of your faith. I was wounded, taken prisoner, and nursed by a Christian in his home. I have never forgotten it. I have never fought against them since. Fate brought me to this castle and made me your keeper. The Sultan forced me to treat you harshly. It broke my heart to see you suffering, and I have improved the first opportunity to make you some amends."

Both the brothers were greatly moved by his story, and believed they were doing right to accept his proffer.

"Now, drink," said the Turk. "It is pure Cyprus, which, as I have heard, is much esteemed by the Franks."

Barbarossa

THE TEST.


After considerable persuasion the prisoners drank, and the excellent, strong wine refreshed them. Rustan urged them to take some more, but they declined. They restrained their desires as usual, for they well knew that much wine was not wholesome for those so young. They were satisfied with what was reasonable, and this had always been the habit of their lives.

Rustan improved his opportunity, and while repeatedly lamenting their hard lot, he informed them they must attempt to free themselves, for they could expect no mercy from the Sultan, who had sworn by the beard of the Prophet to punish their insolence. "No Mussulman, least of all Kilidj Arslan, ever breaks this oath," said he; "therefore, fly!"

"That is easier said than done," replied Raymond, "and you, Rustan, know even better than we do how impossible it is to escape from here."

"I will find the way for you. Like you, I suffered greatly before you came. Then, as your keeper, I was forced to be cruel to you. My old head cannot invent cruelties, and my back has to suffer for it. I have had enough of cruelty; I will escape with you. Come and see."

Rustan took the boys by the hands and led them quietly down a long corridor. They followed him involuntarily, but without a tremor. At last they came to a door opening upon a handsome apartment with a gorgeous tapestry dividing it in the centre. Behind it the Sultan was soundly sleeping upon silken cushions with curtains undrawn.

"You see escape is possible. The tyrant who tortures you and me is fast asleep. He will not be awakened, for woe to him who disturbs his rest. The castle garrison is an insignificant one. I know all the passages and have the keys of the gate leading to the causeway. Put on Turkish costumes, and in a trice you will be out, and we will fly to the Emperor's camp."

The temptation to escape came so suddenly that the boys were inclined to yield to it.

"And yet," said Rustan, "we are not absolutely safe even when the tyrant sleeps. When he wakes, his first question will be about you, for even in sleep he dreams of you and is busy devising new tortures. So, if you would be absolutely safe, take this dagger and thrust it into the heart of your torturer."

With these words he placed a sharp, polished dagger into the hand of each of the boys in spite of their resistance. All at once they felt these glittering but fearful weapons in their hands. To secure their liberty they must make no noise, scarce venture a word of reply, to say nothing of dropping the daggers. Their dangerous situation alarmed them. They would rather have remained in their gloomy prison. Rustan, however, was both deaf and blind to their evident signs of abhorrence of such a shameful deed. They attempted to leave the apartment but he prevented them.

"You shall not leave here until you have disposed of that tyrant's accursed life. I supposed you were brave sons of a brave father," he craftily whispered, "but you are cowards, and incapable of bold deeds. As I will not return to the yoke of the slave or die a miserable death with you, when we are discovered, I will risk it alone." Drawing a dagger, he advanced upon the sleeping Sultan with the intention of stabbing him, but Raymond rushed between them and said:

"It is not the custom of knights to kill a sleeping, defenceless enemy. We will fight for our liberty with the same weapons, man to man. You shall reach him only over our dead bodies."

"Awake!" cried Conrad, vigorously shaking the Sultan. "Awake! your life is in danger. An assassin threatens you. Take this dagger and protect yourself."

The Sultan roused up. Raymond was still holding Rustan's dagger arm and with his wounded arm holding his own dagger at his heart, while Conrad was standing in a threatening attitude by the side of the Sultan and looking at the assassin with blazing eyes.

"Keep these daggers as souvenirs from me," said the awakened Sultan. "I shall not forget this hour. I have heard and seen all. You are brave and honest boys, and have well stood the test I arranged. From now on you will be released from prison; but I cannot give you your liberty, because I must avail myself of every agency to make a lasting peace with your Emperor. But I will treat you as my sons."

The Sultan then left the apartment, which was next to his own, so that it might be put in order for them, and that they should be near him. Rustan, who had played his role so masterfully, was again the Sultan's old faithful servant, and as such was doubly dear to the boys.

Life was now far different. Many would have highly enjoyed it, and felt happy amid such good living, handsome surroundings, and abundance of everything, and have soon forgotten their old conditions. But it was not so with the brothers. They could hardly forget the Emperor for a moment, and they nearly always spoke of him when they were alone. Their desire for liberty was still strong, and though they scorned to secure it by such a horrible deed as murder, yet they would have followed Rustan's lead if he could have freed them in any way but that. They were convinced that their steadfastness in the right course would result in greater advantage to them, as well as to the Christian army, than an act of murder when they were still too young and inexperienced to unravel the web of the cunning Turk and see through his plans. They had earned his respect—the respect of an enemy second to none in the world. Since he respected them, he certainly would respect the knights and, above all, the Emperor, for he was the ideal of all knightly virtues.

What might have been their fate if, urged on by the unchristian thirst for revenge, and forgetful of their duty, they had attempted to use the murderous steel? Both Rustan and the Sultan would have confronted them, and against two such foes two weak boys would have been powerless. Even if they had overcome them and secured their liberty, the deed would not have been approved in the camp, and they would have been held in contempt all their lives. Though their noble course was unknown to the Emperor and Christendom, though it dissipated their hope of rescue, and they might have to pass their young lives in a lonesome castle, there was One who had seen their act and had tested their hearts. God would not let it pass unrequited.