OR SOME LITTLE time, King Richard and his army dwelt in peace in the city of Ascalon. Nor can it be denied that they gathered strength; the sick, being duly handled by their physicians, were restored to a sound body, and they that were wearied with the labours of long-continued warfare had rest and refreshment. Nevertheless it may be doubted whether the King was able to advance the cause at all which he had in hand, namely, the taking of the Holy City. And the chief cause was this, that the Christians, not having for the present a common foe with whom to contend, began to quarrel among themselves more grievously than ever. So the King and the French, among whom, now that the French King had departed to his own land, a certain Duke of Burgundy was chief, fell out, and this with such heat, that the duke departed from Ascalon to Acre in great haste, and all the Frenchmen followed him.
Now about this same time there came a messenger to King Richard bearing a letter from one that he had set to rule in England in his stead while he should be absent from his kingdom. In this letter there were written many things about the doings of Prince John the King's brother: how he had commerce with the French to the King's damage, and was troubling all loyal men, and had taken all the money that was in the treasury. When the King heard these things he was sore distraught. And indeed he was in a great strait. On the one hand there was the purpose for which he had come on his present journey, the taking again of the Holy City; and, on the other, there was the loss of his own kingdom at home. For in the letter it was plainly written that if he was not speedy in returning, all the realm of England would be lost to him.
At the first he made no doubt of departing with but as little delay as might be. "I must be gone," he said, "or my kingdom will not be worth a silver penny." But before many days his purpose was changed. 'Twas said that a holy man, a priest of the land of France, took courage to speak to him and set before him his duty in this matter. He said that the hearts of all were sorely troubled by the King's purpose to depart--and this was most certainly true, seeing that they who were most jealous of the King and chafed most at his command were not less dismayed by the news of his departure than were his best friends. "Think too," he is reported to have spoken, "how that you will greatly dim your kingly renown. You have done well, O King, and God has manifestly bestowed His blessings on you. Will you then be ungrateful, and, if your royal grace will suffer me to say so much, unfaithful to Him? Verily there is a great reward laid up for him that recovers the Holy City out of the hands of the heathen, and will you give this up on the bare rumour of mischief that may befall your estate in this world?" So the holy man is reported to have spoken. Such words may have had weight with the King, who was ever greatly moved by eloquent words. But I also believe that when he came to himself he judged that there was no great need of haste in the matter; that the Prince John his brother was not greatly loved, nor was ever like to be; that when the people of England had had a year's trial of his rule, if such should come to pass, they would be the less likely to stand by him; and, moreover, that if Richard should go back to his country in high esteem among all men, as having set up yet again a Christian Kingdom in the Holy City, his enemies would be brought nought by the mere rumour of his coming. Certain it is that, let the cause be what it might, he caused it to be made known throughout the army that they would set out for the Holy City in three days' time.
Again there was great joy in the army; again the sick rose from their beds, and the lame threw away there crutches, that they might go without hindrance on this great journey. Again did the army come almost in sight of the Holy City; again were all things ready for the assault. And then once more the more skilful and prudent of the leaders hindered the matter. It was not well, they said to run into such danger. It might well be that if they should assail the city they would not take it; it was well-nigh certain that even if they should take it, they could not hold it to any good purpose. And so it came to pass that King Richard and the army having once more come to Beitenoble, once more departed, leaving their task unaccomplished.
When the leaders had taken this resolve that they would turn back and the army was now about to depart, there came to King Richard a certain man-at-arms, who was well acquainted with the country, for indeed, he had travelled on foot as a pilgrim from the coast to Jerusalem, and this not once only but twice or thrice. This man said, "My lord King, if you are minded to see the Holy City, you can do so at little pains. If you will ride a mile or so you will come to a hill from whence you can see the walls, and the hill on which the temple was built and other of the Holy places." But the King answered, "I thank you much, nor, indeed, is there any sight in the whole world on which I would more gladly look with my eyes, but I am not worthy of so great a favour. If it had been the will of God that I should see His city, I do not doubt that I had done so, not as one who looks upon some spectacle from far, but as the conqueror in some great battle looks upon the thing that he has won. But of this grace I, by reason I doubt not of my sins, have been judged unworthy." And when he had so spoken he turned his horse's head to the west, as being minded to return yet again to the sea-coast. And this he did.
I have spoken of the King's courage and skill in arms and wisdom in leadership, nor need I say these things again. But one thing I will add, namely, that of all the men that came to this land from the West none left behind him so great a fame as did King Richard. So if a mother was minded to make a crying child hold his peace, she would say, "Hush, child, or King Richard shall have thee"; or if a horse started unaware, his rider would say, "Dost see King Richard in the bush?"
On the 9th day of October, 1192, did King Richard set sail to return to his own country. But it fared ill with him on his journey. For it fell out that he was separated from all his friends, and that when he was in this case a certain duke, with whom he had had a strife, laid hands upon him, and laid him in prison. There he remained for the space of a year and more, fretting much, I doubt not, against his condition, for never surely was a man more impatient of bonds. But he could not escape, nor did his friends so much as know where he was. And when this was discovered by some strange chance, there was yet much delay, nor indeed was he set free till there had been paid for him a ransom of many thousands of gold pieces. Not many years after he was slain by a chance arrow shot from the walls of a certain castle which he was besieging, being then in the forty- second year of his age.
(Adapted from "The Crusaders," by A. J. Church)