ING RICHARD, WITH his chief nobles, disembarked at Acre an hour before noon on the 8th day of June, 1191. I had the good fortune to see him without difficulty, by the favour of one who has a charge in the ordering of the harbour. Nor was this a small thing, for there was such a press and crowding of men.
The King was as noble a warrior as ever I have seen. Some that I have known were taller of stature, but never one that bore himself more bravely and showed more likelihood of strength and courage. They that are learned in such things said that his arms were over- long for the height of his body; but this is scarce a fault in a swordsman, another inch of length adding I know not how much of strength to a blow. He was of a ruddy complexion, his eyes blue, with a most uncommon fire in them, such as few could dare to look into if his wrath was kindled, his countenance, such as befitted a ruler of men, being of an aspect both generous and commanding.
Some ten days after his coming to the camp King Richard was taken with sickness. This was never altogether absent, but it grew worse, as might indeed be looked for, in the heats of summer. The King sickened on the day which the Christians celebrate as the Feast of St. Barnabas. [Footnote: The longest day according to the old calendar. So the old adage has it: "Barnaby bright, Barnaby bright; Longest day and shortest night."] I was called to see him, having, as I have said, no small fame as a healer. Never have I seen a sick man more intractable. My medicine he swallowed readily, I may say, even greedily. Had I suffered it, he would have taken it at intervals shorter by far than I ordered. Doubtless he thought that the more a man has of a good thing, the better it is for him. (So indeed many believe, and of other things besides medicine, but wholly without reason). But in this I hindered him, leaving with those who ministered to him sufficient for one dose only.
He was troubled about many things, about the siege, which, as he justly thought, had already been too much drawn out, about King Philip of France, whom he loved not nor trusted, about his engines of war, of which the greater part had not yet reached the camp; the ships that bore them having been outsailed by the rest of the fleet. His fever was of the intermittent sort, coming upon him on alternate days. On the days when he was whole, or as nearly whole as a man sick of this ague may ever be, he was busy in the field, causing such engines as he had to be set in convenient places for the assault of the town, and in other cares such as fall to a general. When he was perforce shut in his pavilion by access of the fever, he suffered himself to take no rest. Messengers were coming and going from morning to night with news of the siege--he could never hear enough of the doings of the French King--and there were always near him men skilful in the working and making of engines. One would show him some new thing pictured upon paper; another would bring a little image, so to speak, of an engine, made in wood or iron. Never was a child more occupied with a toy than was King Richard with these things. I am myself no judge of such matters, but I have heard it said by men well acquainted with them, that the King had a marvellous understanding of such contrivances. But these cares were a great hindrance to recovery. So at least I judged, and doubtless it had been thus in the case of most men. But the King was not as others, and, as it seemed to me, he drove away his disease by sheer force of will.
On a certain evening when King Richard was mending apace of his fever one carne to his tent--an English knight, Hugh Brown by name-- who brought the news that the King of the French had commanded that a general assault should be made on the town the very next day. The King would fain know the cause of this sudden resolve. "Well," said the English knight, "it came about, as I understand, in this fashion. The Turks have this day destroyed two engines of King Philip on which he had spent much time and gold." "Aye!" said King Richard, "I know the two; the cat and the mantlet. They are pretty contrivings the both of them, but I set not such store on them as does my brother of France." And here I should say that the cat was like to a tent made of hides long and narrow and low upon the ground, with a pointed end as it might be a ploughshare, which could be brought up to the walls by men moving it from within, and so sheltered from the stones and darts of the enemy. As for the mantlet, it was made in somewhat the same fashion, only it was less in size, nor was it to be brought near to the wall. King Philip loved dearly to sit in it, cross-bow in hand--the French, I noted, like rather the cross-bow, the English the long-bow--and would shoot his bolts at any Turk that might show himself upon the walls.
But to come back to the knight's story. "An hour or so after noon, when the cat had been brought close to the wall, and the mantlet was in its accustomed place, some fifty yards distant, the Turks made an attack on both at the same moment of time. On to the cat they dropped a heavy beam; and when this with its weight had broken in the roof, or I should rather say the back of the cat, a great quantity of brushwood, and after the brushwood a whole pailful of Greek fire [Footnote: A composition, supposedly of asphalt, nitre and sulphur. It burnt under water.]--the machine was over near to the wall, so that these things could be dropped on it from above. At the mantlet they aimed bolts from a strong engine which they had newly put in place, and by ill luck broke it through. And verily before the nimblest-tongued priest in the whole realm of England could say a hunting-mass, both were in a blaze."
What the man might mean by the priest and the hunting-mass I knew not then, but heard after, that when a noble will go forth hunting, the service which they call the mass is shortened to the utmost, and the priest that can say it more speedily than his brethren is best esteemed.
"And my brother of France," cried the King, "how fared he?" "He had as narrow an escape with his life," answered the knight, "as ever had Christian king. His mantle, nay his very hair was singed, and as for his cross-bow, he was constrained to leave it behind." "And he gave commands for the assault in his anger?" said the King. "'Tis even so," answered Sir Hugh.
"My brother of France is, methinks, too greedy of gain and glory; if he had been willing to ask our help, he had done better." But King Richard sorrowed for the brave men, fellow-soldiers of the Cross with him, who had fallen to no purpose. Nevertheless, in his secret heart, he was not ill-pleased that the French King had not taken the town of Acre.
On the second day after the failure of the French assault upon the town, King Richard would make his own essay. He was not yet wholly recovered of his sickness; but it would have passed the wit of man to devise means by which he could be kept within his pavilion; nor must it be forgotten that such restraint might have done him more of harm than of good. So his physicians, for he had those who regularly waited on him (though I make bold to say that he trusted in me rather than in them), gave him the permission which he had taken. He had caused a mantlet to be built for him which was brought up to the edge of the ditch with which the town was surrounded. In this he sat, with a cross-bow in hand, and shot not a few of the enemy, being skilful beyond the common in the use of this weapon. But towns are not taken by the shooting of bolts, howsoever well aimed they may be. This may not be done save by coming to close quarters.
It was on the thirty-fourth day after the coming of King Richard that the town was given up. Proclamation was made throughout the camp that no one should trespass by deed or word against the departing Turks. And, indeed, he who would insult men so brave would be of a poor and churlish spirit. To the last they bore themselves with great courage and dignity. On the morning of the day of their departure they dressed themselves in their richest apparel, and being so drest showed themselves on the walls. This done, they laid aside their garments, piling them in a great heap in the market- place, and so marched forth from the town, each clad in his shirt only, but with a most cheerful contenance.
When the last of the Turks had left the town the Christian army entered. Half of it was given to the French king, who had for his own abode the House of the Templars, and half to King Richard, to whom was assigned the palace of the Caliph. In like manner the prisoners and all the treasure were equally divided.