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Richard of Devizes Chronicle

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Richard of Devizes
page 20

scarcely spared their fingers, as their hands presented to their mouths less than their usual allowance. To these and other calamities, which were severe and many, a much greater was added by the sickness of the king.

Sect. 87. The king was extremely sick, and confined to his bed; his fever continued without intermission; the physicians whispered that it was an acute semitertian. And as they despaired of his recovery even from the first terrible dismay was spread from the king's abode through the camp. There were few among the many thousands who did not meditate on flight, and the utmost confusion of dispersion or surrender would have followed, had not Hubert Walter, bishop of Salisbury, immediately assembled the council. He obtained by forcible allegations that the army should not break up until a truce was demanded of Saladin. All well armed stand in array more steadily than usual, and with a threatening look concealing the reluctance of their mind, they feign a desire for battle. No one speaks of the indisposition of the king, lest the secret of their intense sorrow should be disclosed to the enemy; for it was thoroughly understood that Saladin feared the charge of the whole army less than that of the king alone; and if he should know that he was dead, he would instantly pelt the French with cow-dung, and intoxicate the best of the English drunkard with a dose which should make them tremble.

Sect. 88. In the meantime, a certain Gentile, called Saffatin, came down to see the king, as he generally did; he was a brother of Saladin, an ancient man of war of remarkable politeness and intelligence, and one whom the king's magnanimity and munificence had charmed even to the love of his person and favour of his party. The king's servants greeting him less joyfully than they were accustomed, and not admitting him to an interview with the king, "I perceive," said he by his interpreter, "that you are greatly afflicted; nor am I ignorant of the cause. My friend, your king, is sick, and therefore you close his doors to me." And falling into tears, with his whole heart, he exclaimed, "O God of the Christians, if thou be a God, do not suffer such a man, so necessary to thy people, to fall so suddenly! " He was intrusted with their avowal, and thus spoke on: "In truth I forewarn you, that if the king should die while things stand as they are at present, all you Christians will perish, and all this region will in time to come be ours without contest. Shall we at all dread that stout king of France, who before he came into battle was defeated, - whose whole strength, which three years had contributed, the short space of three months consumed? Hither will he on no account return any more; for we always esteem this as a sure token (I am not speaking craftily, but simply), that those whom at first we think cowardly, we ever after find worse. But that king, of all the princes of the Christian name whom the round circle of the whole world encompasses, is alone worthy of the honour of a captain and the name of a king, because he commenced well, and went on better, and will be crowned by the most prosperous result, if only he shall remain with you a short time.

Sect. 89. "It is not a new thing for us to dread the English, for fame reported to us his father to be such, that had he come even unarmed to our parts, we should all have fled, though armed, nor would it have appeared inglorious to us to be put to flight by him. He our terror, a wonderful man in his day, is dead; but, like the phœnix, renewed himself, a thousand times better, in his son. It was not unknown to us how great that Richard was, even while his father lived; for all the days of his father, we had our agents in those parts, who informed us both of the king's deeds, and of the birth and death of his sons. He was justly beloved for his probity by his father above all his brothers, and preferred before them to the government of his states. It was not unknown to us that when he was made duke of Aquitaine he speedily and valiantly crushed the tyrants of the province, who had been invincible before his grandfather and great grandfather; - how terrible he was even to the king of France himself, as well as to all the governors of the regions on his borders. None took of his to himself, though he always pushed his bounds into his neighbours'. It was not unknown to us, that his two brothers, the one already crowned king, the other duke of Bretagne, had set themselves up against their dear father, and that he ceased not to persecute them with the rigour of war, till he had given them both eternal repose, vanquished as they were by the length of the prosecution. Besides, as you will the more wonder at, we know all the cities of your parts by name; nor are we ignorant that the king of your country was beaten at Le Mans through the treachery of his own people, that he died at Chinon, and was buried at Fontevraud.

Sect. 90. "It is not through ignorance that I do not relate who made himself the author of such unusual and mighty slaughter against us. O! if that Richard, whom although I love yet I fear, if he were despatched out of the way, how little should we then fear, how very little should we make account of that youngest of the sons, who sleeps at home in clover! It was not unknown to us, that Richard, who nobly succeeded his great father in the kingdom, immediately set forward against us even in the very year of his coronation. The number of his ships and troops was not unknown to us before his setting forth. We knew, even at the very time, with what speed he took Messina, the well-fortified city of Sicily, which he besieged; and although none of our people believed it, yet our fears increased, and fame added false terrors to the true.

Sect. 91. "His valour, unable to rest in one place, proceeded through a boundless region, and everywhere left trophies of his courage. We questioned among ourselves whether he made ready to subdue, for his God, the Land of Promise only, or, at the same time, to take the whole world for himself. Who shall worthily relate the capture of Cyprus? Verily had the island of Cyprus been close to Egypt, and had my brother Saladin subdued it in ten years his name would have been reckoned by the people among the names of the gods. When, however, we at last perceived that he overthrew whatever resisted his purpose, our hearts were melted as the hoar frost melts at the appearance of the approaching sun, forasmuch as it was said of him that he ate his enemies alive. And if he were not presently, on the very day of his arrival before Acre, received freely into the city with open gates, fear alone was the cause. It was not from their desire to preserve the city, but through dread of the torments promised them and their despair of life that they fought so bravely, or rather desperately, fearing this more than death, endeavouring this by all means, namely, that they should not lie unrevenged. And this was not from sheer

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