OR ONE SHAMEFUL deed the English King must answer. Of this deed I will now tell the story. When the army had had sufficient rest--and the King knew well that no army must have more than is sufficient, suffering more from excess than from defect in this matter--and it was now time to advance, there arose a great question touching the agreement made when the town was given up. There was much going to and fro of messengers and embassies between the English King and the Caliph Saladin, much debating, and many accusations bandied to and fro. Even to this day no man can speak certainly of what was done or not done in this matter. What I write, I write according to the best of my knowledge. First, then, it is beyond all doubt that the Caliph did not send either the Holy Cross or the money which had been covenanted, or the prisoners whom he had promised to deliver up; but as to the cause wherefore he did not send them there is no agreement, the Christians affirming one thing, the followers of Mahomet another. As to the Holy Cross, let that be put out of the account. No man that I ever talked with--and I have talked with many--ever saw it. 'Tis much to be doubted whether it was in being. As to the money, that the Caliph had it, or a great portion of it, at hand, is certainly true. It was seen and counted by King Richard's own envoys. As to the prisoners, it is hard to discover the truth. For my part, I believe that the Caliph was ready to deliver up all that he had in his own hands or could find elsewhere, but that he had promised more in respect of this than he was able to perform. Many of those whom he had covenanted to restore were dead, either of disease or by violence. As for disease, it must be noted that a sick man was likely to fare worse in the hands of Turks; as for violence, there was not much diversity between the Christians and the followers of Mahomet. But this may be said, that one who invades the land of others is like to suffer worse injury should he come into their power than he would have the disposition to inflict upon them. Whatever, then, the cause, the Caliph had engaged in this matter far more than he was able to perform. But he did not fail from want of good faith. I take it that it was from the matter of the money that there came the breaking of the agreement. To put it very shortly, the Caliph said, "Restore to me the hostages and you shall receive the gold"; King Richard said, "Send on the gold and you shall receive the hostages." And neither was the Caliph willing to trust the good faith of the King, nor the King the good faith of the Caliph.
So there was delay after delay, much talk to no purpose, and the hearts of men, both on one side and on the other, growing more hot with anger from day to day. And there was also the need which increased from day to day, as, indeed, it needs must, for the Christians to be about the business on which they came. They had taken the town of Acre, but that was but the beginning of their enterprise, for they had to conquer the whole land. And how could the army march with a whole multitude of prisoners in their hands? It would need no small number of men to keep watch over them, lest they should escape, or, what was more to be feared, do an injury to the army. What could be worse in a doubtful battle than that there should be these enemies in its very midst? I set these things down because I would not do an injustice to the English King, whom I have always held as one to be greatly admired. Nevertheless I say again, that in the matter of the prisoners he did a shameful deed. For on the 20th day of August he commanded that all the prisoners that were in his hands, whether they had been taken in battle, or delivered up as hostages for the fulfilment of the covenant, should be led out of the city and slain. These were in number between two and three thousand. Some the King kept alive, for whom, as being of high nobility and great wealth, he hoped to receive a ransom; others were saved by private persons, a few for compassion's sake; and others in the hope of gain. But the greater part were slain without mercy, the soldiers falling upon them, without arms and helpless as they were.
It was soon made plain to all that the spirit of the Caliph and his Turks was not broken by the losing of Acre. Rather were they stirred up by it to more earnestness and courage; nor did they forget how their countrymen had been cruelly slaughtered. For a time they were content to watch the King's army as it went on its way, taking such occasion as offered itself of plundering or slaying. If any lagged behind, falling out of the line of march by reason of weariness, or seeking refreshment on the way, as when there was a spring of water near to the road, or a vineyard with grapes--'twas just the time of the ripening of grapes--then the Turkish horsemen would be upon him. Such loiterers escaped but seldom. And for this business the Turks had a particular fitness, so quickly did they come and depart. The Christian knights were clad in armour, a great defense, indeed, against arrows and stones, but a great hindrance if a man would move quickly; the horses also had armour on them. Why do they set men on horses but that they may go speedily to and fro as occasion may call? but these knights are like to fortresses rather than to riders. A man on foot can easily outrun them; as for the Turks who rode on horses from the desert--than which there is no creature on earth lighter and speedier--they flew from the Christian who would pursue them, as a bird flies from a child who would catch it.
All this while the Turks were close at hand, and ready to assault the King's army so soon as a convenient occasion would arise. But they did not take King Richard unaware, for indeed he was as watchful as he was brave.
I will now set forth as briefly as may be the order of the army as it was set out for battle at Arsuf. On the right hand of the army was the sea, its front being set towards the south. In the van were the Templars, and next to these the Frenchmen in two divisions, the second being led by that Guy who called himself King of Jerusalem, and after the Frenchmen King Richard with his Englishmen; last of all, holding the rear-guard, were the Hospitallers. These are ever rivals of the Templars, and it was the King's custom so to order his disposition that this rivalry should work for the common good. On one day the Templars would lead, and the Hospitallers bring up the rear; on another each would take the other's place; and there was ever a mighty contention between the two companies which would bear itself the better. These two posts, it should be said, were the most full of peril; nor was any part of the army save only these two companies suffered to hold either the one or the other. Between the divisions there was a small space, not more that sufficient to mark one from the other: otherwise the soldiers stood and marched in as close array as might be. Also they moved very slowly, travelling less than a league in the space of two hours. And even the King with some chosen knights rode up and down the lines, watching at the same time the Turks, so that whenever they might make assault the army might be ready to meet them.
Now King Richard's commandment had been that the Christians should on no account break their lines to attack the enemy, but should only defend themselves as best they could. There is nothing harder in the whole duty of a soldier than so to stand; even they who have been men of war from their youth grow greatly impatient; as for the younger sort they often fail to endure altogether. Many a man will sooner throw himself upon almost sure death than abide danger less by far standing still. And so it could be seen that day in the Christian army. The first to fail were the men that carried the cross-bows; nor, indeed, is it to be wondered at that when they had spent their store of bolts, they, having but short swords wherewith to defend themselves, should be ill content to hold their place. Many I did see throw away their bows and fly, thrusting themselves by main force into the ranks of the men-at-arms, who liked not to beat them back, nor yet to suffer them to pass. And they themselves had much ado to hold their ground, for it was a very fierce assault that they had to endure. In the first place there was such a shower of darts and stones and arrows that the very light of the sun itself was darkened, a thing which I had always before judged to be a fable, but saw that day to be possible. The greater part of them, it is true, fell without effect to the ground, for of twenty missiles scarce one served its purpose, but some were not cast in vain. As for the number, they lay so thick upon the ground that a man might gather twenty into his hand without moving from his place.
About noon the Knights Hospitallers themselves, than whom, as I have said, there were no braver men in the whole army, sent word to the King that they could bear up no longer, unless they should be suffered to charge the enemy. But they got small comfort from the King. "Close up your lines," he said to the messenger, "and be patient. Be sure that you shall not miss your reward." A second time did they send to him, the Master of the Company himself going on the errand, but he also came back with nothing done. Now the King's plan was this, that when the Turks should have spent their strength, and should also, through over-confidence and contempt of their adversaries, have fallen into disorder, then the trumpets should sound, and the whole army with one consent and moving all together, so that the whole of its strength should be put, as it were, into one blow, should fall upon the enemy. 'Twas a wisely conceived plan, save in this that there was needed for the full carrying out more than the King was like to find. He laid upon his soldiers a greater burden of patience than they could bear.