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Geoffrey de Vinsauf
Itinerary of Richard I and others to the Holy Land
page. 61

 

their former answer, they replied that they were Genoese, bound for Tyre, our men began to doubt the truth at this change of reply; one of our galleymen persisted that they were Saracens, and on the king’s questioning him, he said, "I give you leave to cut off my head, or hang me on a tree, if I do not prove these men to be Saracens. Now let a galley be sent quickly after them, for they are making away, and let no kind of salute be given them by us, and in this way we shall have certain proof what their intention is, and how far they are to be believed." At the king’s command, therefore, a galley was sent at full speed after them. and on reaching their ship, and rowing by its side without giving a salute, they began to throw darts and arrows at our men. On seeing this, the king ordered the ship to be attacked forthwith, and after casting a shower of darts against each other, the ship relaxed in its speed, for the wind carried it but slowly along. Though our galleymen rowed repeatedly round the ship, to scrutinize the vessel, they could find no point of attack: it appeared so solid and so compact, and of such strong materials; and it was defended by a guard of warriors, who kept throwing darts at them. Our men, therefore, relished not the darts, nor the great height of the ship, for it was enough to strive against a foe on equal ground, whereas a dart thrown from above always tells upon those below, since its iron point falls downwards. Hence, their ardour relaxed, but the spirit of the king increased, and he exclaimed aloud, "Will you allow the ship to get away untouched and uninjured? Shame upon you! are you grown cowards from sloth, after so many triumphs? The whole world knows that you engaged in the service of the Cross, and you will have to undergo the severest punishment, if you permit an enemy to escape while he lives, and is thrown in your way." Our men, therefore, making a virtue of necessity, plunged eagerly into the water under the ship’s side, and bound the rudder with ropes to turn and retard its progress, and some, catching hold of the cables, leapt on board the ship. The Turks receiving them manfully, cut them to pieces as they came on board, and lopping off the head of this one, and the hands of that, and the arms of another, cast their bodies into the sea. Our men seeing this, and glowing with anger, gained fresh courage from the thirst for vengeance, and crossing over the bulwarks of the vessel, attacked the Turks in a body with great fierceness,who, though giving way a little,made an obstinate resistance. The Turks gathering boldness from despair, used all their efforts to repel those who threatened them, cutting off the arms, hands, and even heads of our men; but they, after a mighty struggle, drove the Turks back as far as the prow of the ship, while from the interior others rushed upon our men in a body, preparing to die bravely or repel the foe; they were the choice youth of the Turks, fitted for war, and suitably armed. The battle lasted a long time, and many fell on both sides; but at last, the Turks, pressing boldly on our men, drove them back, though they resisted with all their might, and forced them from the ship. Upon which our men retired to their galleys, and surrounding the vessel on all sides, tried to find a more easy mode of attacking it. The king seeing the danger his men were in, and that while the ship was uninjured it would not be easy to take the Turks with the arms and provisions therein, commanded that each of the galleys should attack the ship with its spur, i.e. its iron beak. Then the galleys drawing back, were borne by rapid strokes of the oar against the ship’s sides to pierce them, and thus the vessel was instantly broken, and becoming pervious to the waves, began to sink. When the Turks saw it, they leapt into the sea to die, and our men killed some of them and drowned the rest. The king kept thirty-five alive, namely, the admirals and men who were skilled in making machines, but the rest perished, the arms were abandoned, and the serpents sunk and scattered about by the waves of the sea. If that ship had arrived safely at the siege of Acre, the Christians would never have taken the city; but by the care of God it was converted into the destruction of the infidels, and the aid of the Christians, who hoped in Him, by means of King Richard, who by His help prospered in war. The Saracens saw from a distance on the heights what had happened, and sorrowfully carried the news to Saladin, who, on hearing it, seized and plucked out his beard in anger and fury, and afterwards broke out into these words with a sigh, "O God! have I lost Acre, and my dear and chosen soldiers, in whom I had so much confidence? I am overwhelmed by so bitter a loss." When they who saw it told the tidings to the Saracenic army, there arose long and loud wailings, and bitter lamentations for their misfortune, and they cut off the tresses of their hair, and rent their garments, and cursed the hour and the fate of the stars, by which they had come to Syria. For in the above-mentioned ship they had lost all their choice youth, in whom they trusted.

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