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Geoffrey de Vinsauf
Itinerary of Richard I and others to the Holy Land
page. 78

 

seemed to exceed twenty thousand. They came on with irresistible charge, on horses swifter than eagles, and urged on like lightning to attack our men; and as they advanced, they raised a cloud of dust, so that the sky was darkened. In front came certain of their admirals, as it was their duty, with clarions and trumpets; some had horns, others had pipes and timbrels, gongs, cymbals, and other instruments, producing a horrible noise and clamour. The earth vibrated from the loud and discordant sounds, so that the crash of thunder could not be heard amidst the tumultuous noise of horns and trumpets. They did this to excite their spirit and courage, for the more violent the clamour became, the more bold were they for the fray. Thus the impious Turks threatened us both on the side towards the sea and from the side of the land; and for the space of two miles, not so much earth as could be taken up in one’s hand could be seen, on account of the hostile Turks who covered it. Oh! how obstinately they pressed on, and continued their stubborn attacks, so that our men suffered severe loss of their horses, which were killed by their darts and arrows! Oh! how useful to us on that day were our arbalesters and bowmen, who closed the extremities of the lines, and did their best to repel the obstinate Turks. The enemy came rushing down, like a torrent, to the attack; and many of our arbalesters, unable to sustain the weight of their terrible and calamitous charge, threw away their arms, and fearing lest they should be shut out, took refuge, In crowds, behind the dense lines of the army; yielding, through fear of death, to sufferings which they could not support. Those whom shame forbade to yield, or the hope of an immortal crown sustained, were animated with greater boldness and courage to persevere in the contest, and fought with indefatigable valour face to face against the Turks, whilst they at the same time receded step by step, and so secured their retreat. The whole of that day, on account of the Turks pressing them closely from behind, they faced about and went on skirmishing, rather than proceeding on their march. Oh! how great was the strait they were in on that day! how great was their tribulation! when some were affected with fears, and no one had such confidence or spirit as not to wish, at that moment, he had finished his pilgrimage, and had returned home instead of standing with trembling heart the chances of a doubtful battle. In truth, our people, so few in number, were hemmed in by the multitudes of the Saracens, that they had no means of escape, if they tried; neither did they seem to have valour sufficient to withstand so many foes, - nay, they were shut in, like a flock of sheep in the jaws of wolves, with nothing but the sky above, and the enemy all around them. O Lord God! what feelings agitated that weak flock of Christ! straitened by such a perplexity; whom the enemy pressed with such unabating vigour, as if they would pass them through a sieve. What army was ever assailed by so mighty a force? There you might have seen our troopers, having lost their chargers, marching on foot with the footmen, or casting missiles from arbalests, or arrows from bows, against the enemy, and repelling their attacks in the best manner they were able. The Turks, skilled in the bow, pressed unceasingly upon them: it rained darts; the air was filled with the shower of arrows, and the brightness of the sun was obscured by the multitude of missiles, as if it had been darkened by a fall of winter’s hail or snow. Our horses were pierced by the darts and arrows, which were so numerous that the whole face of the earth around was covered with them, and if any one wished to gather them up, he might take twenty of them in his hand at a time. The Turks pressed with such boldness that they nearly crushed the Hospitallers; on which the latter sent word to King Richard that they could not sustain the violence of the enemy’s attack, unless he would allow their knights to advance at full charge against them. This the king dissuaded them from doing, but advised them to keep in a close body; they therefore persevered and kept together, though scarcely able to breathe for the pressure. By these means they were able to proceed on their way, though the heat happened to be very great on that day; so that they laboured under two disadvantages, - the hot weather and the attacks of the enemy. These approved martyrs of Christ sweated in the contest; and he who could have seen them closed up in a narrow space, so patient under the heat and toil of the day and the attacks of the enemy, who exhorted each other to destroy the Christians, could not doubt in his mind that it augured ill to our success from their straitened and perilous position, hemmed in, as they were, by so large a multitude; for the enemy thundered at their backs as if with mallets, so that having no room to use their bows, they fought hand to hand with swords, lances, and clubs; and the blows of the Turks, echoing from their metal armour, resounded as if they had been struck upon an anvil. They were now tormented with the heat, and no rest was allowed them. The battle fell heavily on the extreme line of the Hospitallers; the more so, as they were

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