Barbarossa - George Upton

Barbarossa's Victory and Death

The Emperor thoroughly understood the friendly solicitude of his host. He had had large experience with Greek treachery in little as well as in great affairs. He was well aware that their greed and their hatred of the Western Christians would lead them to work against him at every opportunity. It was easy enough to protect himself against the fisherman's hostile designs by killing him or by putting him in safe custody until his work was accomplished, but he regarded such action as ungrateful, cowardly, and vile. He knew also that he could purchase the man's faithfulness, but he would not debase himself so far as to redeem his pledge by the use of gold. He must rely, therefore, upon his own resources. He decided to make no further concealment of his purpose, but at the same time to be cautious about revealing his identity. He would defeat any treacherous act the fisherman might he contemplating, by prompt action, and at the same time astonish his enemy by the boldness of his exploit, whether he succeeded or perished in the attempt. He quickly made his plan and lost no time in putting it into execution, for the moment was favorable.

Quickly donning his armor, helmet, and cloak, he stepped out of the hut. A little boat was dancing on the gentle waves, and a light wind was blowing toward the castle. "Everything is propitious," he said to himself, delightedly; "now to my work with God's help." He sprang into the boat, seized the oar, and rowed as deftly as if he were an oarsman by occupation.

The sun was already high and beat down upon our seaman scorchingly. Great drops of perspiration ran down his face, for he was unused to the work, and his armor made it all the more laborious; but he did not lessen his efforts. Now and then he would let the boat glide along of its own motion, and then, resuming the oar, send it ahead with still more vigorous strokes.

Gradually he neared the castle, which seemed to emerge from the waves of the sea in all its hugeness of outline. Looking up, he surveyed the imposing and colossal work of human industry. With practised eye he estimated the strength and height of towers and walls, as well as the size of the enclosure, and tried to ascertain the exact locality of the door leading from it. The sight before him and the magnitude of the task, which seemed to transcend human ability, might well have induced him to abandon his attempt; but a voice within him said: "Thy pledged word is sacred. Duty calls thee. It is no time for fear or doubt. Courage and presence of mind alone will aid thee." He studied the situation and planned out his method of attack with the same coolness and composure that characterized him when laying out his movements on the battlefield. His hand had not trembled, his heart had not wavered in a hundred battles. It beat undauntedly when all seemed lost at Legnano, and in many a desperate battle with the Turks. Why, then, should it beat less resolutely in a contest which must decide in a moment whether victory or death was to be his fate?

It was a little past midday when our hero reached the castle. The beasts at that time should have been in deep sleep, but to his astonishment they were restlessly moving about. From time to time they ran growling toward the centre of the enclosure as if pursued by some stronger animal. Then they would go back to their resting-places, but without showing any disposition to sleep. Then, yawning frightfully and eagerly licking their lips, they would spring up and rush about again with wildly gleaming eyes.



The Emperor had not expected such conduct from the beasts, and the thought occurred to him, Is it due to something besides mere chance? Has the fisherman actually carried out his treacherous design? It seemed likely to him. He had to admit to himself that the danger arising from such a consideration might prove fatal; but even were it so, he decided to carry out the plan which he had fixed upon, as the best under the circumstances.

He approached the sea-washed wall as noiselessly as he could, so as not to attract the attention of the beasts. Bending low, he drove the boat ahead with short, quick strokes until he reached it; then, laying down his oar, he examined his sword and dagger, fastened his cloak loosely about his broad shoulders, clutched the rail running along the wall: a step, a spring, and he was up.

Not an instant elapsed before he was in the enclosure, confronting the savage beasts. He realized at the first glance the full extent of his danger, and decided what to do. He discerned the trap-door at once and with drawn sword in his right hand rushed to it. At the same instant the beasts noticed him. The lithe, bloodthirsty monsters emerged from their lairs at once and advanced upon him in swift leaps. A large panther outstripped them all. He reached the Emperor from the left side in two bounds, followed closely by a huge lion from the right. Being still three paces away from the trap-door, a fearful struggle was unavoidable, for either of those terrible animals would have been a formidable foe for one man.

With the quickness of lightning the Emperor plunged his sword into the lion's breast, at the same time tearing his cloak from his shoulders with his left hand and throwing it over the panther's head. The hope of victory shone in the Emperor's face; his most cruel enemy was harmless for the moment. Unopposed by him he advanced to the trap-door in the midst of numerous smaller but hardly less dangerous beasts seeking to pounce upon him, each in his own way. As the Emperor stooped to raise the trap-door, a leopard sprang over him and another was thrown back by the lifting of the trap-door, the panther still being enveloped in the cloak. All this took but an instant, but in that instant the Emperor sprang into a dark passage and the door closed down behind him.

Our hero waited only long enough to make sure that he had securely fastened the door on the inside, for overhead there was a bedlam of roars and growls as if all the beasts of Asia and Africa were loose there. The shrieks and snarls of the smaller mingled with the heavy roars of the larger beasts. Sharp claws scratched on the door, and the animals tore at it and hurled themselves against it so furiously that it seemed as if they would burst it open, and the whole cruel pack fall upon the bold hero.

Victor over the wild animals, he must now prove himself victor over human ones. The Emperor proceeded steadily but cautiously. With sword in hand he tested the floor of the passage lest he should stumble into some pitfall. He also carefully felt the walls to see if there were any side passages from which he might be attacked in the rear. He found none, and at last came to a door. There were several cracks in this door, but not a gleam of daylight penetrated through them. The passage also grew wider. Fearing it might lead under the castle and thence out into the open air again, he calculated the distance from the door in the enclosure to the castle. He was now sure that the second door must open directly into the castle, and the masonry on the right and left confirmed his judgment. With the help of his sword he forced the door open. He advanced a few steps and, to his infinite astonishment, saw the Sultan sitting immediately before him with a numerous and brilliant suite, and the two boys, Raymond and Conrad, on either side of him. Amazement and defiance were visible on every face. The Emperor was overcome with surprise. The silence grew so intense and painful that every one could hear his own heart beat.

The Sultan at last broke the silence: "I bid thee welcome to my castle, thou great hero."

A heavy burden was lifted from every heart. Anxiety gave way to pleasant anticipation as the Sultan continued:

"Have no fear that I shall abuse the power which thy boldness has given me. I am disarmed, not by terror of thy name, which has made my bravest tremble, but by thine indomitable courage of arm and lofty magnanimity of soul. I will henceforth be thine ally; and as a pledge of my faith I give thee thy dear ones. They are worthy of thee."

Frederick was deeply moved. His beloved boys fervently embraced him. They called him their rescuer and second father, and then turned and warmly expressed their gratitude to the Sultan. Frederick cordially extended his hand to the generous Turk and the alliance was made.

Thereupon the Sultan joyfully conducted his noble guest to magnificent apartments on the upper floor of the castle, where everything conducive to his comfort was provided. The servants were ordered to bring the best of food and drink at once. The great rooms of the castle, which had been so empty and desolate, were now full of good cheer. Frederick listened with lively satisfaction to the story of the chivalrous action of the boys; and the Sultan in telling it did not omit to mention his threats and promises and cruel tests. The Emperor closely embraced the boys, and when the Sultan had finished his story, said to them:

"With God's help you have accomplished one of the hardest of tasks. You have secured more respect for the Christian name than I have done with the sword. Henceforth Turks will have a different opinion of us, and this is due to your noble achievement with the simple weapons of Christianity—love of virtue, love of your enemy. God's blessing will rest upon such Christian warriors."

The details of the alliance were soon settled. The Emperor willingly gave up the spoils he had captured, and the Sultan promised to be a faithful ally in the future, to assist the Emperor with troops against Saladin, and to furnish plenty of subsistence. Rustan was ordered to take his swiftest horse, ride to Iconium and carry the joyful news to the army and the citizens. He accomplished his errand with an alacrity which proved how overjoyed he was himself at the happy outcome of the situation.

After a few days the Emperor took leave of his friendly host. Before he left he went to look at the animal enclosure. Holding his boys by the hand, he looked down upon the spot of the terrible encounter, where his first assailant, the huge panther, was now king of the savage pack, for the Emperor had disposed of his predecessor, the lion. The boys looked down apprehensively from their secure position, but the Emperor was exultant over the memories of victory. They repeatedly expressed their gratitude to him, but he only pointed upward, saying that their thanks were due to Him who controls all human destinies.

The three now left the castle upon the fleetest horses in the Sultan's stables, gifts from him to his new friends. Their steeds flew over the long, narrow causeway toward the spot where the army awaited them. Escorted by a strong guard, they took a shorter route, known to the natives, and were at their journey's end in an incredibly short time.

The towers of Iconium were hardly in sight before the roads were crowded with those who could not wait to welcome the Emperor and tender him their joyful congratulations. The nearer they came to the city the greater was the rejoicing. Shouts and cries of welcome from Christians and Turks alike followed him to his quarters in the city; and when in sight of the army and the whole city he conferred the honor of knighthood upon the two boys, it seemed as if the enthusiastic shouts would never cease, for every one had heard their story from the lips of Rustan.

The Emperor at once resumed his duties. Astonishment mingled with admiration was everywhere aroused as the news of his heroic achievement and the new alliance spread through the country. It also made a deep impression upon Saladin and his army. Frederick decided to secure victory or peace before the enthusiasm of his army and the astonishment of the enemy had subsided. He hoped to win over Saladin also, for he knew he was a nobler enemy than Kilidj Arslan had been. But he was deceived in the expectation that he could accomplish it without a battle. Saladin, perhaps the noblest sovereign in the East since Mohammed's time, besides being high-minded, noble-hearted, and a lover of justice and humanity, was also a very brave and warlike ruler and a devoted follower of the Prophets. He was called the Eastern Barbarossa. Thus far he had fought only against Christians, whom he despised because of their conduct and their faithlessness with each other. He had openly expressed his contempt for the weak Guido of Lusignan, King of Jerusalem, and especially for the Templars and Knights of St. John, who had been treacherous to each other in violation of their vows.

The struggle began as soon as the Christian army entered Syria. They were in position on one side of the insignificant Kalykadnos or Saleph River; on the other side the enemy was awaiting attack. The Christians at once began building a bridge. They were continually harassed by the arrows and javelins of the enemy, but they did not desist. On the contrary they worked persistently hours at a time.

The old Emperor, however, became impatient. As boldly as if the blood of youth were still coursing in his veins, he plunged into the river and tried to swim to the other shore. But he who had overcome so many dangers, many of them far greater than this, now met his doom. A stroke of apoplexy ended that life so rich in glorious deeds. He had escaped the sharp Lombard dagger, the poisoned Saracen arrow, and the tiger's cruel tooth, to lose his life in the sluggish waters of the river Saleph, the name of which was hardly known beyond its banks.

Words cannot describe the sorrow of the Christian host. With Frederick, an army perished. The world had trembled at his name and the Orient had been terrified by it. Now he who bore this name was a corpse. His once strong arm was powerless. His once bold heart was still. They took him from the water, stark and cold. He would no longer terrify those enemies, who exulted as if they and not the cold waves of the river had killed their great adversary.

After the first shock of sorrow the Christians attacked the enemy with all their power. Frederick of Swabia, the Emperor's son, led them, but after some minor successes, the greater part of them succumbed to the superior numbers of this foe, and the effects of the climate. Of that well-equipped army of ninety-five thousand men only about five thousand were left. Starvation swept away many of those who escaped the Turkish scymitars, and those who escaped both fell victims to strange malignant diseases and lack of care. The Templars and the Knights of St. John had many hospitals, which they had built and which were maintained by contributions from all over Europe; but they never asked the sick if they were Christians, but if they were Englishmen or Frenchmen. The Germans were not received. Many a German heart at home was touched with pity at the unspeakable suffering of so many of their people, and was filled with indignation, at such unchristian conduct; others busily engaged themselves in plans for relief. The merchants of Bremen gave the sails of their vessels to be made into tents for the sick Germans. Knights who had been in life-long struggle with the Saracens closed their glorious careers by imitating the example of the merciful Samaritan. They organized an order for the care of the sick, similar to those of the Templars and the Knights of St. John. Only Germans were permitted to become members, but its charitable ministrations were offered to all nationalities. Frederick of Swabia gladly gave his assent to the pious work and did his utmost to secure its recognition by the Pope, as well as by his brother, King Henry of Germany; but he did not live to see the work completed. He was a victim of that deadly pestilence which swept away so many thousands.

Our young friends, who survived all the perils of that unfortunate crusade and had wept at the grave of the heroic Emperor, now mourned for his great-hearted son. They deemed it their highest honor to enter the Teutonic order and in its service to perform the two great Christian duties:

To strive for the doctrines of Christ; and

To obey his highest command, "Love one another."