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Heroes Every Child Should Know

 Saint Louis 
Page 2 of 3

BUT THEY HAD but little peace, for that very night the Saracens made an attack upon the camp. A great disturbance they made, and most unwelcome to men who had been fighting all the day. But they did not work much harm. Many valiant deeds were done by the Christians.
      But the Saracens were making ready for attacking the camp with more force than before. And their leader could be seen from the camp, taking account of the Crusaders, and strengthening his battalions where he thought that the King's camp might be most conveniently assailed.
      The first attack was made on the Count of Anjou. He held that part of the camp that was nearest to the city of Cairo. Some of the enemy were on horseback and some on foot; there were some also that threw Greek fire among the count's men. Between them they pressed the count so sorely that he was fain to send to the King for help. This the King gave without loss of time; he led the men himself, and it was not long before they chased the Saracens from this part of the field.
      When the battle was over the King called the barons to his tent, and thanked them for all that they had done, and gave them great encouragement, saying that as they had driven back the Saracens over and again, it would, beyond doubt, go well with them in the end.
      And now the army was sore distressed for want both of food and of water. In Damietta, indeed, there were yet stores of barley, rice, and other grains; but in the camp scarce anything that could be eaten. Some small fishes were caught in the river; but these were very ill savoured, and all the more so--so, at least, it seemed to such as eat them under constraint of hunger--because they fed on dead bodies, of which many were thrown into the river. For a while some portion of the stores that were in the city were carried across the river to the camp. But this the Saracens hindered, for by this time their ships had the mastery over the ships of the Christians. They kept, therefore, the river, suffering nothing to pass. If anything was carried across, it was but a trifle. Some things the country people brought into the camp, but these were not to be purchased save for large sums of money, and money was by this time scarce even among the richer sort. And when it was judged expedient that the King's army should cross the river again and return to the camp, things were worse rather than better, so far as victuals were concerned. It was well that the army should be brought together, both for attack and for defence, but with the greater multitude the famine grew worse and worse.
      After a while there was a treating for peace between the King and the Saracens; and for a while it seemed as if they might come to an agreement, and this not without advantage to the King. But the matter came to naught, because the Saracens would have the King himself as a hostage for the due performance of the treaty. The Christians would have given the King's brothers, and these were willing to go; but the King they could not give. "It would be better," said one of the bravest knights in the army, and in this matter he spake the mind of all, "that we should all be taken captive or slain, than that we should leave the King in pledge."
      The King, seeing that the condition of the army still grew from bad to worse, and that if they tarried they would all be dead men, commanded that they should make their way into the town of Damietta. And this the army began to do the very next night. Now the first thing to be cared for was the taking of the sick, of whom there was a great multitude, on board the ships. But while this was being done, the Saracens entered the camp on the other side. When the sailors who were busy in embarking the sick saw this, they loosed the cables by which they were moored to the shore, and made as if they would fly. Now the King was on the bank of the river, and there was a galley in waiting for him, whereon, if he had been so minded, he might easily have escaped. Nor could he have been blamed therefor, because he was afflicted with the dysentery that prevailed in the camp. But this he would not do; "Nay," he said, "I will stay with my people." But when there was now no hope of safety, one of his officers took him, mounted as he was on a pony, to a village hard by, defending him all the way from such as chanced to fall in with him--but none knew that he was the King. When he was come to the village they took him into a house that there was, and laid him down almost dead. A good woman of Paris that was there took his head upon her lap, and there was no one but thought that he would die before nightfall. Then one of the nobles coming in asked the King whether he should not go to the chief of the Saracens, and see whether a treaty might not yet be made on such terms as they would. The King said yes; so he went. Now there was a company of the Saracens round the house, whither by this time not a few of the Christians had assembled. And one of the King's officers cried- whether from fear or with traitorous intent cannot be said--"Sir knights, surrender yourselves! The King will have it so; if you do not, the King will perish." So the knights gave up their swords, and the Saracens took them as prisoners. When the chief of the Saracens, with whom the noble aforesaid was talking, saw them, he said, "There can be no talk of truce and agreement with these men; they are prisoners."
      And now the question was not of a treaty but a ransom. About this there was no little debate between the Sultan and the King. First the Sultan required that the King should surrender to him the castles of the Knights Templars and of the Hospitallers of St. John. "Nay," said the King, "that I cannot do, for they are not mine to give." This answer greatly provoked the Sultan, and he threatened to put the King to the torture, to which the King answered this only, that he was a prisoner in their hands, and that they could do with him as they would.
      When they saw that they could not turn him from his purpose by threats or by fear, they asked him how much money he was willing to pay to the Sultan for his ransom, such money being over and above the rendering up of the town of Damietta. Then the King made answer: "If the Sultan will take a reasonable sum in money for ransom, I will recommend it to the Queen that she should pay the same." "Nay," said the envoy of the Sultan, "why do you not say outright that you will have it so?" "Because," answered the King, "in this matter it is for the Queen to say yea or nay. I am a prisoner, and my royal power is gone from me." So it was agreed that if the Queen would pay a thousand thousand gold pieces by way of ransom, the King should go free. Said the King, "Will the Sultan swear to this bargain?" They said that he would. So it was agreed that the King should pay for the ransom of his army a thousand thousand gold pieces, and for his own ransom the town of Damietta, "for," said he, "a King cannot be bought and sold for money." When the Sultan heard this, he said, "On my word, this is a noble thing of the Frenchman that he makes no bargaining concerning so great a thing. Tell him that I give him as a free gift the fifth part of the sum which he has covenanted to pay."
      All things were now settled, and there were but four days before the fulfilling of the treaty, when the King should give up Damietta to the Sultan, and the Sultan, on his part, should suffer the King and his people to go free. But lo! there came to pass that which was like to bring the whole matter to nothing. The emirs of the Sultan made a conspiracy against him. "Know this," they said one to another, "that so soon as he shall find himself master of Damietta, he will slay us. Let us therefore be beforehand with him." And it was agreed that this should be done. First, when the Sultan was going to his chamber after a banquet which he had given to the emirs, one, who was, indeed, his sword-bearer, dealt him a blow and struck off his hand. But the Sultan, being young and nimble, escaped into a strong tower that was hard by his chamber, and three of his priests were with him. The emirs called upon him to give himself up. "That," said he, "I will do, if you will give me a promise of my life." "Nay," they answered, "we will give you no promises. If you surrender not of your own free will, then will we compel you." Then they threw Greek fire at the tower, and the tower, which was built of pine-wood, caught fire on the instant. When the Sultan saw this he ran down with all the speed that he could, seeking to reach the river, if so be he could find a ship. But the emirs and their men were ranged along the way, nor was it long before they slew him. And he that dealt him the last blow came to the King, his hand yet dripping with blood, and said, "What will you give me? I have slain your enemy, who would assuredly have done you to death had he lived." But the King answered him not a word.
      Now the covenant between the King and the Saracen chiefs was renewed, nor was any change made in the conditions; only the payment was differently ordered; that is to say, one-half of the ransom was to be paid before the King left the place where he was, and the other half in the town of Acre.
      Then the emirs on the one part and the King on the other took the oaths that were held to be the most binding on them. The King indeed held staunchly by his faith, and when the emirs would have had him swear in a way that he thought to be unseemly to him as a Christian man he would not. And the emirs paid him the more honour and reverence for this very cause. It was said, indeed, that they would have made him Sultan of Cairo, if he had been minded to receive that dignity at their hands; furthermore, some that knew the King affirmed that he was not altogether set against it. But none knew for certain the truth in the matter. Yet it was well said by one of the emirs, "There surely never was better or more steadfast Christian than this King Louis. Verily if he had been made our sultan he would never have been content till he had either made us all Christians, or, failing this, had put us all to the sword."
      And now there came a time of great peril to the prisoners. First the town of Damietta was given up to the Saracens, the gates being opened and their flag hoisted On the towers.
      On the next day the paying of the ransom was begun. When the money was counted it was found to be short by some thirty thousand pieces. These were taken from the treasury of the Templars much against their will, but the necessities of the prisoners prevailed.
      As for the King, there could not have been a man more loyal in the fulfilling of his promise. When one of those that counted the money said that the Saracens had received less than their due by some ten thousand pieces, the King would not suffer but that the whole matter should be looked into, lest the Saracens should have wrong. The counter, indeed, averred that this thing was said in jest; but the King answered that such a jest was out of season, and that above all things it was necessary that a Christian should show good faith.

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