The Talisman, by Walter Scott

Chapter XXIV

A grain of dust

Soiling our cup, will make our sense reject

Fastidiously the draught which we did thirst for;

A rusted nail, placed near the faithful compass,

Will sway it from the truth, and wreck the argosy.

Even this small cause of anger and disgust

Will break the bonds of amity ‘mongst princes,

And wreck their noblest purposes.

THE CRUSADE.

The reader can now have little doubt who the Ethiopian slave really was, with what purpose he had sought Richard’s camp, and wherefore and with what hope he now stood close to the person of that Monarch, as, surrounded by his valiant peers of England and Normandy, Coeur de Lion stood on the summit of Saint George’s Mount, with the Banner of England by his side, borne by the most goodly person in the army, being his own natural brother, William with the Long Sword, Earl of Salisbury, the offspring of Henry the Second’s amour with the celebrated Rosamond of Woodstock.

From several expressions in the King’s conversation with Neville on the preceding day, the Nubian was left in anxious doubt whether his disguise had not been penetrated, especially as that the King seemed to be aware in what manner the agency of the dog was expected to discover the thief who stole the banner, although the circumstance of such an animal’s having been wounded on the occasion had been scarce mentioned in Richard’s presence. Nevertheless, as the King continued to treat him in no other manner than his exterior required, the Nubian remained uncertain whether he was or was not discovered, and determined not to throw his disguise aside voluntarily.

Meanwhile, the powers of the various Crusading princes, arrayed under their royal and princely leaders, swept in long order around the base of the little mound; and as those of each different country passed by, their commanders advanced a step or two up the hill, and made a signal of courtesy to Richard and to the Standard of England, “in sign of regard and amity,” as the protocol of the ceremony heedfully expressed it, “not of subjection or vassalage.” The spiritual dignitaries, who in those days veiled not their bonnets to created being, bestowed on the King and his symbol of command their blessing instead of rendering obeisance.

Thus the long files marched on, and, diminished as they were by so many causes, appeared still an iron host, to whom the conquest of Palestine might seem an easy task. The soldiers, inspired by the consciousness of united strength, sat erect in their steel saddles; while it seemed that the trumpets sounded more cheerfully shrill, and the steeds, refreshed by rest and provender, chafed on the bit, and trod the ground more proudly. On they passed, troop after troop, banners waving, spears glancing, plumes dancing, in long perspective — a host composed of different nations, complexions, languages, arms, and appearances, but all fired, for the time, with the holy yet romantic purpose of rescuing the distressed daughter of Zion from her thraldom, and redeeming the sacred earth, which more than mortal had trodden, from the yoke of the unbelieving pagan. And it must be owned that if, in other circumstances, the species of courtesy rendered to the King of England by so many warriors, from whom he claimed no natural allegiance, had in it something that might have been thought humiliating, yet the nature and cause of the war was so fitted to his pre-eminently chivalrous character and renowned feats in arms, that claims which might elsewhere have been urged were there forgotten, and the brave did willing homage to the bravest, in an expedition where the most undaunted and energetic courage was necessary to success.

The good King was seated on horseback about half way up the mount, a morion on his head, surmounted by a crown, which left his manly features exposed to public view, as, with cool and considerate eye, he perused each rank as it passed him, and returned the salutation of the leaders. His tunic was of sky-coloured velvet, covered with plates of silver, and his hose of crimson silk, slashed with cloth of gold. By his side stood the seeming Ethiopian slave, holding the noble dog in a leash, such as was used in woodcraft. It was a circumstance which attracted no notice, for many of the princes of the Crusade had introduced black slaves into their household, in imitation of the barbarous splendour of the Saracens. Over the King’s head streamed the large folds of the banner, and, as he looked to it from time to time, he seemed to regard a ceremony, indifferent to himself personally, as important, when considered as atoning an indignity offered to the kingdom which he ruled. In the background, and on the very summit of the Mount, a wooden turret, erected for the occasion, held the Queen Berengaria and the principal ladies of the Court. To this the King looked from time to time; and then ever and anon his eyes were turned on the Nubian and the dog, but only when such leaders approached, as, from circumstances of previous ill-will, he suspected of being accessory to the theft of the standard, or whom he judged capable of a crime so mean.

Thus, he did not look in that direction when Philip Augustus of France approached at the head of his splendid troops of Gallic chivalry —— nay, he anticipated the motions of the French King, by descending the Mount as the latter came up the ascent, so that they met in the middle space, and blended their greetings so gracefully that it appeared they met in fraternal equality. The sight of the two greatest princes in Europe, in rank at once and power, thus publicly avowing their concord, called forth bursts of thundering acclaim from the Crusading host at many miles distance, and made the roving Arab scouts of the desert alarm the camp of Saladin with intelligence that the army of the Christians was in motion. Yet who but the King of kings can read the hearts of monarchs? Under this smooth show of courtesy, Richard nourished displeasure and suspicion against Philip, and Philip meditated withdrawing himself and his host from the army of the Cross, and leaving Richard to accomplish or fail in the enterprise with his own unassisted forces.

Richard’s demeanour was different when the dark-armed knights and squires of the Temple chivalry approached — men with countenances bronzed to Asiatic blackness by the suns of Palestine, and the admirable state of whose horses and appointments far surpassed even that of the choicest troops of France and England. The King cast a hasty glance aside; but the Nubian stood quiet, and his trusty dog sat at his feet, watching, with a sagacious yet pleased look, the ranks which now passed before them. The King’s look turned again on the chivalrous Templars, as the Grand Master, availing himself of his mingled character, bestowed his benediction on Richard as a priest, instead of doing him reverence as a military leader.

“The misproud and amphibious caitiff puts the monk upon me,” said Richard to the Earl of Salisbury. “But, Longsword, we will let it pass. A punctilio must not lose Christendom the services of these experienced lances, because their victories have rendered them overweening. Lo you, here comes our valiant adversary, the Duke of Austria. Mark his manner and bearing, Longsword — and thou, Nubian, let the hound have full view of him. By Heaven, he brings his buffoons along with him!”

In fact, whether from habit, or, which is more likely, to intimate contempt of the ceremonial he was about to comply with, Leopold was attended by his SPRUCH-SPRECHER and his jester; and as he advanced towards Richard, he whistled in what he wished to be considered as an indifferent manner, though his heavy features evinced the sullenness, mixed with the fear, with which a truant schoolboy may be seen to approach his master. As the reluctant dignitary made, with discomposed and sulky look, the obeisance required, the SPRUCH-SPRECHER shook his baton, and proclaimed, like a herald, that, in what he was now doing, the Archduke of Austria was not to be held derogating from the rank and privileges of a sovereign prince; to which the jester answered with a sonorous AMEN, which provoked much laughter among the bystanders.

King Richard looked more than once at the Nubian and his dog; but the former moved not, nor did the latter strain at the leash, so that Richard said to the slave with some scorn, “Thy success in this enterprise, my sable friend, even though thou hast brought thy hound’s sagacity to back thine own, will not, I fear, place thee high in the rank of wizards, or much augment thy merits towards our person.”

The Nubian answered, as usual, only by a lowly obeisance.

Meantime the troops of the Marquis of Montserrat next passed in order before the King of England. That powerful and wily baron, to make the greater display of his forces, had divided them into two bodies. At the head of the first, consisting of his vassals and followers, and levied from his Syrian possessions, came his brother Enguerrand; and he himself followed, leading on a gallant band of twelve hundred Stradiots, a kind of light cavalry raised by the Venetians in their Dalmatian possessions, and of which they had entrusted the command to the Marquis, with whom the republic had many bonds of connection. These Stradiots were clothed in a fashion partly European, but partaking chiefly of the Eastern fashion. They wore, indeed, short hauberks, but had over them party-coloured tunics of rich stuffs, with large wide pantaloons and half-boots. On their heads were straight upright caps, similar to those of the Greeks; and they carried small round targets, bows and arrows, scimitars, and poniards. They were mounted on horses carefully selected, and well maintained at the expense of the State of Venice; their saddles and appointments resembled those of the Turks, and they rode in the same manner, with short stirrups and upon a high seat. These troops were of great use in skirmishing with the Arabs, though unable to engage in close combat, like the iron-sheathed men-at-arms of Western and Northern Europe.

Before this goodly band came Conrade, in the same garb with the Stradiots, but of such rich stuff that he seemed to blaze with gold and silver, and the milk-white plume fastened in his cap by a clasp of diamonds seemed tall enough to sweep the clouds. The noble steed which he reined bounded and caracoled, and displayed his spirit and agility in a manner which might have troubled a less admirable horseman than the Marquis, who gracefully ruled him with the one hand, while the other displayed the baton, whose predominancy over the ranks which he led seemed equally absolute. Yet his authority over the Stradiots was more in show than in substance; for there paced beside him, on an ambling palfrey of soberest mood, a little old man, dressed entirely in black, without beard or moustaches, and having an appearance altogether mean and insignificant when compared with the blaze of splendour around him. But this mean-looking old man was one of those deputies whom the Venetian government sent into camps to overlook the conduct of the generals to whom the leading was consigned, and to maintain that jealous system of espial and control which had long distinguished the policy of the republic.

Conrade, who, by cultivating Richard’s humour, had attained a certain degree of favour with him, no sooner was come within his ken than the King of England descended a step or two to meet him, exclaiming, at the same time, “Ha, Lord Marquis, thou at the head of the fleet Stradiots, and thy black shadow attending thee as usual, whether the sun shines or not! May not one ask thee whether the rule of the troops remains with the shadow or the substance?”

Conrade was commencing his reply with a smile, when Roswal, the noble hound, uttering a furious and savage yell, sprung forward. The Nubian, at the same time, slipped the leash, and the hound, rushing on, leapt upon Conrade’s noble charger, and, seizing the Marquis by the throat, pulled him down from the saddle. The plumed rider lay rolling on the sand, and the frightened horse fled in wild career through the camp.

“Thy hound hath pulled down the right quarry, I warrant him,” said the King to the Nubian, “and I vow to Saint George he is a stag of ten tynes! Pluck the dog off; lest he throttle him.”

The Ethiopian, accordingly, though not without difficulty, disengaged the dog from Conrade, and fastened him up, still highly excited, and struggling in the leash. Meanwhile many crowded to the spot, especially followers of Conrade and officers of the Stradiots, who, as they saw their leader lie gazing wildly on the sky, raised him up amid a tumultuary cry of “Cut the slave and his hound to pieces!”

But the voice of Richard, loud and sonorous, was heard clear above all other exclamations. “He dies the death who injures the hound! He hath but done his duty, after the sagacity with which God and nature have endowed the brave animal. — Stand forward for a false traitor, thou Conrade, Marquis of Montserrat! I impeach thee of treason.”

Several of the Syrian leaders had now come up, and Conrade — vexation, and shame, and confusion struggling with passion in his manner and voice — exclaimed, “What means this? With what am I charged? Why this base usage and these reproachful terms? Is this the league of concord which England renewed but so lately?”

“Are the Princes of the Crusade turned hares or deers in the eyes of King Richard that he should slip hounds on them?” said the sepulchral voice of the Grand Master of the Templars.

“It must be some singular accident — some fatal mistake,” said Philip of France, who rode up at the same moment.

“Some deceit of the Enemy,” said the Archbishop of Tyre.

“A stratagem of the Saracens,” cried Henry of Champagne. “It were well to hang up the dog, and put the slave to the torture.”

“Let no man lay hand upon them,” said Richard, “as he loves his own life! Conrade, stand forth, if thou darest, and deny the accusation which this mute animal hath in his noble instinct brought against thee, of injury done to him, and foul scorn to England!”

“I never touched the banner,” said Conrade hastily.

“Thy words betray thee, Conrade!” said Richard, “for how didst thou know, save from conscious guilt, that the question is concerning the banner?”

“Hast thou then not kept the camp in turmoil on that and no other score?” answered Conrade; “and dost thou impute to a prince and an ally a crime which, after all, was probably committed by some paltry felon for the sake of the gold thread? Or wouldst thou now impeach a confederate on the credit of a dog?”

By this time the alarm was becoming general, so that Philip of France interposed.

“Princes and nobles,” he said, “you speak in presence of those whose swords will soon be at the throats of each other if they hear their leaders at such terms together. In the name of Heaven, let us draw off each his own troops into their separate quarters, and ourselves meet an hour hence in the Pavilion of Council to take some order in this new state of confusion.”

“Content,” said King Richard, “though I should have liked to have interrogated that caitiff while his gay doublet was yet besmirched with sand. But the pleasure of France shall be ours in this matter.”

The leaders separated as was proposed, each prince placing himself at the head of his own forces; and then was heard on all sides the crying of war-cries and the sounding of gathering-notes upon bugles and trumpets, by which the different stragglers were summoned to their prince’s banner, and the troops were shortly seen in motion, each taking different routes through the camp to their own quarters. But although any immediate act of violence was thus prevented, yet the accident which had taken place dwelt on every mind; and those foreigners who had that morning hailed Richard as the worthiest to lead their army, now resumed their prejudices against his pride and intolerance, while the English, conceiving the honour of their country connected with the quarrel, of which various reports had gone about, considered the natives of other countries jealous of the fame of England and her King, and disposed to undermine it by the meanest arts of intrigue. Many and various were the rumours spread upon the occasion, and there was one which averred that the Queen and her ladies had been much alarmed by the tumult, and that one of them had swooned.

The Council assembled at the appointed hour. Conrade had in the meanwhile laid aside his dishonoured dress, and with it the shame and confusion which, in spite of his talents and promptitude, had at first overwhelmed him, owing to the strangeness of the accident and suddenness of the accusation. He was now robed like a prince; and entered the council-chamber attended by the Archduke of Austria, the Grand Masters both of the Temple and of the Order of Saint John, and several other potentates, who made a show of supporting him and defending his cause, chiefly perhaps from political motives, or because they themselves nourished a personal enmity against Richard.

This appearance of union in favour of Conrade was far from influencing the King of England. He entered the Council with his usual indifference of manner, and in the same dress in which he had just alighted from horseback. He cast a careless and somewhat scornful glance on the leaders, who had with studied affectation arranged themselves around Conrade as if owning his cause, and in the most direct terms charged Conrade of Montserrat with having stolen the Banner of England, and wounded the faithful animal who stood in its defence.

Conrade arose boldly to answer, and in despite, as he expressed himself, of man and brute, king or dog, avouched his innocence of the crime charged.

“Brother of England,” said Philip, who willingly assumed the character of moderator of the assembly, “this is an unusual impeachment. We do not hear you avouch your own knowledge of this matter, further than your belief resting upon the demeanour of this hound towards the Marquis of Montserrat. Surely the word of a knight and a prince should bear him out against the barking of a cur?”

“Royal brother,” returned Richard, “recollect that the Almighty, who gave the dog to be companion of our pleasures and our toils, hath invested him with a nature noble and incapable of deceit. He forgets neither friend nor foe — remembers, and with accuracy, both benefit and injury. He hath a share of man’s intelligence, but no share of man’s falsehood. You may bribe a soldier to slay a man with his sword, or a witness to take life by false accusation; but you cannot make a hound tear his benefactor. He is the friend of man, save when man justly incurs his enmity. Dress yonder marquis in what peacock-robes you will, disguise his appearance, alter his complexion with drugs and washes, hide him amidst a hundred men — I will yet pawn my sceptre that the hound detects him, and expresses his resentment, as you have this day beheld. This is no new incident, although a strange one. Murderers and robbers have been ere now convicted, and suffered death under such evidence, and men have said that the finger of God was in it. In thine own land, royal brother, and upon such an occasion, the matter was tried by a solemn duel betwixt the man and the dog, as appellant and defendant in a challenge of murder. The dog was victorious, the man was punished, and the crime was confessed. Credit me, royal brother, that hidden crimes have often been brought to light by the testimony even of inanimate substances, not to mention animals far inferior in instinctive sagacity to the dog, who is the friend and companion of our race.”

“Such a duel there hath indeed been, royal brother,” answered Philip, “and that in the reign of one of our predecessors, to whom God be gracious. But it was in the olden time, nor can we hold it a precedent fitting for this occasion. The defendant in that case was a private gentleman of small rank or respect; his offensive weapons were only a club, his defensive a leathern jerkin. But we cannot degrade a prince to the disgrace of using such rude arms, or to the ignominy of such a combat.”

“I never meant that you should,” said King Richard; “it were foul play to hazard the good hound’s life against that of such a double-faced traitor as this Conrade hath proved himself. But there lies our own glove; we appeal him to the combat in respect of the evidence we brought forth against him. A king, at least, is more than the mate of a marquis.”

Conrade made no hasty effort to seize on the pledge which Richard cast into the middle of the assembly, and King Philip had time to reply ere the marquis made a motion to lift the glove.

“A king,” said he of France, “is as much more than a match for the Marquis Conrade as a dog would be less. Royal Richard, this cannot be permitted. You are the leader of our expedition — the sword and buckler of Christendom.”

“I protest against such a combat,” said the Venetian proveditore, “until the King of England shall have repaid the fifty thousand byzants which he is indebted to the republic. It is enough to be threatened with loss of our debt, should our debtor fall by the hands of the pagans, without the additional risk of his being slain in brawls amongst Christians concerning dogs and banners.”

“And I,” said William with the Long Sword, Earl of Salisbury, “protest in my turn against my royal brother perilling his life, which is the property of the people of England, in such a cause. Here, noble brother, receive back your glove, and think only as if the wind had blown it from your hand. Mine shall lie in its stead. A king’s son, though with the bar sinister on his shield, is at least a match for this marmoset of a marquis.”

“Princes and nobles,” said Conrade, “I will not accept of King Richard’s defiance. He hath been chosen our leader against the Saracens, and if his conscience can answer the accusation of provoking an ally to the field on a quarrel so frivolous, mine, at least, cannot endure the reproach of accepting it. But touching his bastard brother, William of Woodstock, or against any other who shall adopt or shall dare to stand godfather to this most false charge, I will defend my honour in the lists, and prove whosoever impeaches it a false liar.”

“The Marquis of Montserrat,” said the Archbishop of Tyre, “hath spoken like a wise and moderate gentleman; and methinks this controversy might, without dishonour to any party, end at this point.”

“Methinks it might so terminate,” said the King of France, “provided King Richard will recall his accusation as made upon over-slight grounds.”

“Philip of France,” answered Coeur de Lion, “my words shall never do my thoughts so much injury. I have charged yonder Conrade as a thief, who, under cloud of night, stole from its place the emblem of England’s dignity. I still believe and charge him to be such; and when a day is appointed for the combat, doubt not that, since Conrade declines to meet us in person, I will find a champion to appear in support of my challenge — for thou, William, must not thrust thy long sword into this quarrel without our special license.”

“Since my rank makes me arbiter in this most unhappy matter,” said Philip of France, “I appoint the fifth day from hence for the decision thereof, by way of combat, according to knightly usage — Richard, King of England, to appear by his champion as appellant, and Conrade, Marquis of Montserrat, in his own person, as defendant. Yet I own I know not where to find neutral ground where such a quarrel may be fought out; for it must not be in the neighbourhood of this camp, where the soldiers would make faction on the different sides.”

“It were well,” said Richard, “to apply to the generosity of the royal Saladin, since, heathen as he is, I have never known knight more fulfilled of nobleness, or to whose good faith we may so peremptorily entrust ourselves. I speak thus for those who may be doubtful of mishap; for myself, wherever I see my foe, I make that spot my battle-ground.”

“Be it so,” said Philip; “we will make this matter known to Saladin, although it be showing to an enemy the unhappy spirit of discord which we would willingly hide from even ourselves, were it possible. Meanwhile, I dismiss this assembly, and charge you all, as Christian men and noble knights, that ye let this unhappy feud breed no further brawling in the camp, but regard it as a thing solemnly referred to the judgment of God, to whom each of you should pray that He will dispose of victory in the combat according to the truth of the quarrel; and therewith may His will be done!”

“Amen, amen!” was answered on all sides; while the Templar whispered the Marquis, “Conrade, wilt thou not add a petition to be delivered from the power of the dog, as the Psalmist hath it?”

“Peace, thou —!” replied the Marquis; “there is a revealing demon abroad which may report, amongst other tidings, how far thou dost carry the motto of thy order —“FERIATUR LEO.”

“Thou wilt stand the brunt of challenge?” said the Templar.

“Doubt me not,” said Conrade. “I would not, indeed, have willingly met the iron arm of Richard himself, and I shame not to confess that I rejoice to be free of his encounter; but, from his bastard brother downward, the man breathes not in his ranks whom I fear to meet.”

“It is well you are so confident,” continued the Templar; “and, in that case, the fangs of yonder hound have done more to dissolve this league of princes than either thy devices or the dagger of the Charegite. Seest thou how, under a brow studiously overclouded, Philip cannot conceal the satisfaction which he feels at the prospect of release from the alliance which sat so heavy on him? Mark how Henry of Champagne smiles to himself, like a sparkling goblet of his own wine; and see the chuckling delight of Austria, who thinks his quarrel is about to be avenged without risk or trouble of his own. Hush! he approaches. — A most grievous chance, most royal Austria, that these breaches in the walls of our Zion —”

“If thou meanest this Crusade,” replied the Duke, “I would it were crumbled to pieces, and each were safe at home! I speak this in confidence.”

“But,” said the Marquis of Montserrat, “to think this disunion should be made by the hands of King Richard, for whose pleasure we have been contented to endure so much, and to whom we have been as submissive as slaves to a master, in hopes that he would use his valour against our enemies, instead of exercising it upon our friends!”

“I see not that he is so much more valorous than others,” said the Archduke. “I believe, had the noble Marquis met him in the lists, he would have had the better; for though the islander deals heavy blows with the pole-axe, he is not so very dexterous with the lance. I should have cared little to have met him myself on our old quarrel, had the weal of Christendom permitted to sovereign princes to breathe themselves in the lists; and if thou desirest it, noble Marquis, I will myself be your godfather in this combat.”

“And I also,” said the Grand Master.

“Come, then, and take your nooning in our tent, noble sirs,” said the Duke, “and we’ll speak of this business over some right NIERENSTEIN.”

They entered together accordingly.

“What said our patron and these great folks together?” said Jonas Schwanker to his companion, the SPRUCH-SPRECHER, who had used the freedom to press nigh to his master when the Council was dismissed, while the jester waited at a more respectful distance.

“Servant of Folly,” said the SPRUCH-SPRECHER, “moderate thy curiosity; it beseems not that I should tell to thee the counsels of our master.”

“Man of wisdom, you mistake,” answered Jonas. “We are both the constant attendants on our patron, and it concerns us alike to know whether thou or I— Wisdom or Folly — have the deeper interest in him.”

“He told to the Marquis,” answered the SPRUCH-SPRECHER, “and to the Grand Master, that he was aweary of these wars, and would be glad he was safe at home.”

“That is a drawn cast, and counts for nothing in the game,” said the jester; “it was most wise to think thus, but great folly to tell it to others — proceed.”

“Ha, hem!” said the SPRUCH-SPRECHER; “he next said to them that Richard was not more valorous than others, or over-dexterous in the tilt-yard.”

“Woodcock of my side,” said Schwanker, “this was egregious folly. What next?”

“Nay, I am something oblivious,” replied the man of wisdom — “he invited them to a goblet of NIERENSTEIN.”

“That hath a show of wisdom in it,” said Jonas. “Thou mayest mark it to thy credit in the meantime; but an he drink too much, as is most likely, I will have it pass to mine. Anything more?”

“Nothing worth memory,” answered the orator; “only he wished he had taken the occasion to meet Richard in the lists.”

“Out upon it — out upon it!” said Jonas; “this is such dotage of folly that I am well-nigh ashamed of winning the game by it. Ne’ertheless, fool as he is, we will follow him, most sage SPRUCH-SPRECHER, and have our share of the wine of NIERENSTEIN.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29