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Heroes Every Child Should Know

 Saint Louis 
Page 3 of 3

NOT MANY DAYS after the paying of the ransom the King sent for his chief counsellors and opened his mind to them in the matter of his return to France. He said, "The Queen, my mother, begs me to come back to France, saying that my kingdom is in great peril seeing, that I have no peace, nor even a truce, with England. Tell me, then, what you think. And because it is a great matter, I give you eight days to consider it."
      After this the King went to Acre, where he tarried till what was left over of the ransom was paid.
      On the day appointed the counsellors came before the King, who said to them, "What do you advise? Shall I go, or shall I stay?" They said that they had chosen one from among them, a certain Guy Malvoisin, to speak for them. Thereupon this Guy said, "These lords have taken counsel together, and are agreed that you cannot tarry in this country without damage to yourself and your kingdom. For think how that of all the knights whom you had in Cyprus, two thousand eight hundred in number, there remain with you here in Acre scarce one hundred. Our counsel, therefore, is that you return to France, and there gather another army, with which you may come hither again and take vengeance on your enemies for their trespasses against God and against you."
      Then the King turned to a certain John, who was Count of Jaffa, and asked him for his judgment. Count John answered: "Ask me not, sire; my domain is here, and if I bid you stay, then it will be said that I did this for my own profit." But when the King was urgent for his advice he said, "If you stay for a year it will be for your honour." And one other of the counsellors gave the same judgment; but all the rest were urgent for the King's return. Then the King said, "I will tell you eight days hence what it is my pleasure to do."
      On the day appointed they all came together again, and the King said, "I thank you, my lords, for your counsel--both those who have advised my going back and those who have advised my staying. Now I hold that if I stay, my kingdom of France will be in no peril, seeing that the Queen, my mother, is well able to keep it in charge; but that if I depart, then the kingdom of Jerusalem will most certainly be lost, because no man will be bold enough to stay after I am gone. Now, it was for the sake of this same kingdom of Jerusalem that I have come hither. My purpose, therefore, is to stay." There was no little trouble among the barons when they heard these words. There were some among them who could not hold back their tears. But though the King resolved himself to stay, yet he commanded his brothers to depart. And this they did before many days.
      While the King tarried at Acre there came to him messengers from the Old Man of the Mountain. One of the messengers was the spokesman, and had his place in front; the second had in his hand three daggers, to signify what danger threatened him who should not listen to the message; the third carried a shroud of buckram for him who should be smitten with the daggers. The King said to the first envoy, "Speak on." Then the envoy said, "My master says, 'Know you me?'" The King answered, "I know him not, for I have never seen him; yet I have often heard others talk of him." "Why, then," went on the envoy, "have you not sent him such gifts as would have gained his friendship, even as the Emperor of Germany and the King of Hungary and other princes have done, yea, and do now year after year, knowing well that they cannot live save by my lord's pleasure?" The King made no answer, but bade the envoys come again in the afternoon. When they came they found the King sitting with the Master of the Templars on one side and the Master of the Hospitallers on the other. Now the Old Man is in great awe of these two, for he knows that if he slay them there will be put in their place other two as good or better. The envoys were not a little disturbed when they saw the two. And the Master of the Templars said, "Your lord is over bold to send you with such a message for the King. Now be sure that we would have drowned you in the sea, but that so doing might be a wrong to him. Go now to your lord, and come again in fourteen days with such a token and such gifts as may suffice for the making of peace."
      So the envoys departed, and came again in the time appointed, and they brought with them the shirt of the Old Man and his ring, which was of the finest gold, and with these things this message: "As man wears no garment that is nearer to him than his shirt, so the Old Man would have the King nearer to him than any other King upon earth; and as a ring is the sign of marriage by which two are made one, so the Old Man would have himself and the King to be one." Other gifts there were, an elephant of crystal, very cunningly wrought, and a monster which they call a giraffe, also of crystal, and draughts and chessmen, all finely made. The King, on his part, sent to the Old Man a great store of newels, and scarlet cloth, and dishes of gold and bridles of silver.
      While the King was at Jaffa it was told him that if he desired to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem the Sultan of Damascus would give him a safe-conduct. The King consulted his nobles on the matter, and both he and they were of one mind in the matter, to wit, that he should not go. "For," said they, "if the King should go as a pilgrim, when he has not been able to take the Holy City itself out of the hands of the infidel, then will other Kings in time to come do the same. They will be content to go as pilgrims, but will take no thought as to the city, whether it be held by Christian or infidel."
      After these things the King went to the city of Sidon and fortified it with strong walls, for he was greatly unwilling to give up his hope of winning the whole land out of the hands of the infidel. But when he had brought this work to an end, there came news to him from his own country that the Queen his mother, who was charged with the government thereof, was dead. Then he took counsel with his nobles what he should do, and it seemed to them that he must of necessity return to France. One among them put the case before the King as follows:
      "Sire, we see that it will not profit the kingdom of Jerusalem that you tarry longer here. You have done what was in your power. You have fortified the city of Sidon, and Cassarea, and Jaffa, and you have made the city of Acre much stronger than it was. And now for your own kingdom's sake, you must needs depart." And to this the King gave his consent, though with an unwilling heart. So he departed, and this, as it chanced, on his birthday. As the ship went forth from the harbour he said to the Lord of Joinville, who stood by him, "On this day I was born." And the Lord of Joinville said to him, "Truly, sire, I should say that you are beginning another life, now that you are safely quit of this land of death."
      Some seventeen years after the things last recorded, I took a journey to the Island of Sardinia, and made my abode at a town on the west coast, called Neapolis. When I had sojourned there two months there came in sight on a certain day a great fleet of ships, which those who were acquainted with such things declared to be from the land of France. As for the crowd that came ashore that day, it were best to say little. It is more to the purpose to say that I met with one whom I knew, having consorted with him in time past, and this the more constantly because he followed the same occupation as I. I asked him, "How came you hither? If you are bound for Palestine, this is but a short stage in your journey." He answered me with something of a smile in his eye, though his mouth was set, "Where could we more conveniently halt than here, for we are bound for Tunis?" "For Tunis?" said I; "but how shall this help you for the taking of Jerusalem?" "That," said he, "you must ask of some one that has more wisdom than I. But this I know that the King was told, by whom I know not, that the Bey of Tunis desired to be baptised. This, then, is cause sufficient for him. Are you minded to come with me? If so, I can find you a place in the King's ship, for it is in it that I sail."
      When I heard that, I consented without delay. So that night I gave my friend the shelter of my lodging; and the next day he took me with him, and commended me to one of the chief officers of the ship, bearing witness to my skill as a physician. On the fourth day we sailed, and came in two days, the wind blowing from the north, to the harbour of Tunis. As for the King, I saw him but once. His valets carried him up on the deck; and, to tell the truth, he looked as little fit for doing feats of arms as man could look. But I thought that the sickness which takes many men upon the sea might be the cause.
      Scarce had the army landed than there began a most grievous sickness. In truth the place for the camp had been ill chosen, for there was a little stream into which much of the filth of the city was wont to run. From this there came a most evil smell. Many also, for want of good water, would drink of the stream, than which there could be no more deadly thing.
      On the very day after he landed from his ship the King fell sick. His physician being disabled by the same malady, I was called in to the King's help; and from the first I saw that, save by a miracle, he could not live. On the fourth day he died, making as good and devout an end as any that I have ever seen. He would know the truth, for he was not one of those who buoy themselves up with false hopes. And when he knew it, then first with the help of the priests that attended him he prepared his soul, and afterward he gave what time remained to teaching the son who should be King after him how he should best do his duty to God and man.
      I heard much from him who had put it in my mind to come from the island of Sardinia concerning King Louis. Never, he told me, was a King more bent on doing justice and judgment. These he maintained with his whole heart and strength, not having any respect of persons, or having regard to his own profit. Though he held bishops and priests in great reverence, being most careful of all the offices of religion, yet he would withstand even these when they seemed to seek that which was not fair and just. He was a lover of peace far beyond the wont of Kings, who indeed, for the most part, care but little for it, so that men say in a proverb, "War is the game of Kings." Of the poor he was a great and constant favourer. Every day he had a multitude of them fed at his cost in his palace, and sometimes he would serve himself, and it was his custom on a certain day to wash the feet of poor men. In his eating and drinking he was as temperate as man could be, drinking, for example, but one cup of wine, and that largely mingled with water. In all things wherein great men ofttimes offend he was wholly blameless and beyond reproach. Of all men that I had any knowledge of, whether by sight or by hearing, in this business of the Crusades there was not one who could be so much as named in comparison with King Louis. To King Louis religion was as life itself. It filled, as it were, his whole soul; he judged of all things by it; he hungered and thirsted after it. And yet of all who bore the cross this man, being, as he was, so much the most faithful to his vow, by far the truest cross-bearer of all, yet failed the most utterly. Of such things I have not the wit to judge; yet this, methinks, is manifest, that the Kingdom of God is not set forward by the power of armies. I do believe that if King Louis, being what he was, a man after God's own heart, had come, not with the sword, but preaching the truth by his life, he had done more for the cause that he had at heart. As it was, he furthered it not at all, so far as I can discern, but rather set it back. That he did not gain for Christendom so much as a single foot of earth is not so much to be lamented, as that he made wider the breach between Christian men and the followers of Mahomet. And this he did, though he was in very truth the most Christlike of all the men that I have ever seen.
      (Adapted from "The Crusaders," by A. J. Church)

      THE END.

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