The Talisman, by Walter Scott

Chapter IX.

This is the prince of leeches; fever, plague,

Cold rheum, and hot podagra, do but look on him,

And quit their grasp upon the tortured sinews.

ANONYMOUS.

The Baron of Gilsland walked with slow step and an anxious countenance towards the royal pavilion. He had much diffidence of his own capacity, except in a field of battle, and conscious of no very acute intellect, was usually contented to wonder at circumstances which a man of livelier imagination would have endeavoured to investigate and understand, or at least would have made the subject of speculation. But it seemed very extraordinary, even to him, that the attention of the bishop should have been at once abstracted from all reflection on the marvellous cure which they had witnessed, and upon the probability it afforded of Richard being restored to health, by what seemed a very trivial piece of information announcing the motions of a beggardly Scottish knight, than whom Thomas of Gilsland knew nothing within the circle of gentle blood more unimportant or contemptible; and despite his usual habit of passively beholding passing events, the baron’s spirit toiled with unwonted attempts to form conjectures on the cause.

At length the idea occurred at once to him that the whole might be a conspiracy against King Richard, formed within the camp of the allies, and to which the bishop, who was by some represented as a politic and unscrupulous person, was not unlikely to have been accessory. It was true that, in his own opinion, there existed no character so perfect as that of his master; for Richard being the flower of chivalry, and the chief of Christian leaders, and obeying in all points the commands of Holy Church, De Vaux’s ideas of perfection went no further. Still, he knew that, however unworthily, it had been always his master’s fate to draw as much reproach and dislike as honour and attachment from the display of his great qualities; and that in the very camp, and amongst those princes bound by oath to the Crusade, were many who would have sacrificed all hope of victory over the Saracens to the pleasure of ruining, or at least of humbling, Richard of England.

“Wherefore,” said the baron to himself, “it is in no sense impossible that this El Hakim, with this his cure, or seeming cure, wrought on the body of the Scottish squire, may mean nothing but a trick, to which he of the Leopard may be accessory, and wherein the Bishop of Tyre, prelate as he is, may have some share.”

This hypothesis, indeed, could not be so easily reconciled with the alarm manifested by the bishop on learning that, contrary to his expectation, the Scottish knight had suddenly returned to the Crusaders’ camp. But De Vaux was influenced only by his general prejudices, which dictated to him the assured belief that a wily Italian priest, a false-hearted Scot, and an infidel physician, formed a set of ingredients from which all evil, and no good, was likely to be extracted. He resolved, however, to lay his scruples bluntly before the King, of whose judgment he had nearly as high an opinion as of his valour.

Meantime, events had taken place very contrary to the suppositions which Thomas de Vaux had entertained. Scarce had he left the royal pavilion, when, betwixt the impatience of the fever, and that which was natural to his disposition, Richard began to murmur at his delay, and express an earnest desire for his return. He had seen enough to try to reason himself out of this irritation, which greatly increased his bodily malady. He wearied his attendants by demanding from them amusements, and the breviary of the priest, the romance of the clerk, even the harp of his favourite minstrel, were had recourse to in vain. At length, some two hours before sundown, and long, therefore, ere he could expect a satisfactory account of the process of the cure which the Moor or Arabian had undertaken, he sent, as we have already heard, a messenger commanding the attendance of the Knight of the Leopard, determined to soothe his impatience by obtaining from Sir Kenneth a more particular account of the cause of his absence from the camp, and the circumstances of his meeting with this celebrated physician.

The Scottish knight, thus summoned, entered the royal presence as one who was no stranger to such scenes. He was scarcely known to the King of England, even by sight, although, tenacious of his rank, as devout in the adoration of the lady of his secret heart, he had never been absent on those occasions when the munificence and hospitality of England opened the Court of its monarch to all who held a certain rank in chivalry. The King gazed fixedly on Sir Kenneth approaching his bedside, while the knight bent his knee for a moment, then arose, and stood before him in a posture of deference, but not of subservience or humility, as became an officer in the presence of his sovereign.

“Thy name,” said the King, “is Kenneth of the Leopard — from whom hadst thou degree of knighthood?”

“I took it from the sword of William the Lion, King of Scotland,” replied the Scot.

“A weapon,” said the King, “well worthy to confer honour; nor has it been laid on an undeserving shoulder. We have seen thee bear thyself knightly and valiantly in press of battle, when most need there was; and thou hadst not been yet to learn that thy deserts were known to us, but that thy presumption in other points has been such that thy services can challenge no better reward than that of pardon for thy transgression. What sayest thou — ha?”

Kenneth attempted to speak, but was unable to express himself distinctly; the consciousness of his too ambitious love, and the keen, falcon glance with which Coeur de Lion seemed to penetrate his inmost soul, combining to disconcert him.

“And yet,” said the King, “although soldiers should obey command, and vassals be respectful towards their superiors, we might forgive a brave knight greater offence than the keeping a simple hound, though it were contrary to our express public ordinance.”

Richard kept his eye fixed on the Scot’s face, beheld and beholding, smiling inwardly at the relief produced by the turn he had given to his general accusation.

“So please you, my lord,” said the Scot, “your majesty must be good to us poor gentlemen of Scotland in this matter. We are far from home, scant of revenues, and cannot support ourselves as your wealthy nobles, who have credit of the Lombards. The Saracens shall feel our blows the harder that we eat a piece of dried venison from time to time with our herbs and barley-cakes.”

“It skills not asking my leave,” said Richard, “since Thomas de Vaux, who doth, like all around me, that which is fittest in his own eyes, hath already given thee permission for hunting and hawking.”

“For hunting only, and please you,” said the Scot. “But if it please your Majesty to indulge me with the privilege of hawking also, and you list to trust me with a falcon on fist, I trust I could supply your royal mess with some choice waterfowl.”

“I dread me, if thou hadst but the falcon,” said the King, “thou wouldst scarce wait for the permission. I wot well it is said abroad that we of the line of Anjou resent offence against our forest-laws as highly as we would do treason against our crown. To brave and worthy men, however, we could pardon either misdemeanour. — But enough of this. I desire to know of you, Sir Knight, wherefore, and by whose authority, you took this recent journey to the wilderness of the Dead Sea and Engaddi?”

“By order,” replied the knight, “of the Council of Princes of the Holy Crusade.”

“And how dared any one to give such an order, when I— not the least, surely, in the league — was unacquainted with it?”

“It was not my part, please your highness,” said the Scot, “to inquire into such particulars. I am a soldier of the Cross — serving, doubtless, for the present, under your highness’s banner, and proud of the permission to do so, but still one who hath taken on him the holy symbol for the rights of Christianity and the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre, and bound, therefore, to obey without question the orders of the princes and chiefs by whom the blessed enterprise is directed. That indisposition should seclude, I trust for but a short time, your highness from their councils, in which you hold so potential a voice, I must lament with all Christendom; but, as a soldier, I must obey those on whom the lawful right of command devolves, or set but an evil example in the Christian camp.”

“Thou sayest well,” said King Richard; “and the blame rests not with thee, but with those with whom, when it shall please Heaven to raise me from this accursed bed of pain and inactivity, I hope to reckon roundly. What was the purport of thy message”

“Methinks, and please your highness,” replied Sir Kenneth, “that were best asked of those who sent me, and who can render the reasons of mine errand; whereas I can only tell its outward form and purport.”

“Palter not with me, Sir Scot — it were ill for thy safety,” said the irritable monarch.

“My safety, my lord,” replied the knight firmly, “I cast behind me as a regardless thing when I vowed myself to this enterprise, looking rather to my immortal welfare than to that which concerns my earthly body.”

“By the mass,” said King Richard, “thou art a brave fellow! Hark thee, Sir Knight, I love the Scottish people; they are hardy, though dogged and stubborn, and, I think, true men in the main, though the necessity of state has sometimes constrained them to be dissemblers. I deserve some love at their hand, for I have voluntarily done what they could not by arms have extorted from me any more than from my predecessors, I have re-established the fortresses of Roxburgh and Berwick, which lay in pledge to England; I have restored your ancient boundaries; and, finally, I have renounced a claim to homage upon the crown of England, which I thought unjustly forced on you. I have endeavoured to make honourable and independent friends, where former kings of England attempted only to compel unwilling and rebellious vassals.”

“All this you have done, my Lord King,” said Sir Kenneth, bowing —“all this you have done, by your royal treaty with our sovereign at Canterbury. Therefore have you me, and many better Scottish men, making war against the infidels, under your banners, who would else have been ravaging your frontiers in England. If their numbers are now few, it is because their lives have been freely waged and wasted.”

“I grant it true,” said the King; “and for the good offices I have done your land I require you to remember that, as a principal member of the Christian league, I have a right to know the negotiations of my confederates. Do me, therefore, the justice to tell me what I have a title to be acquainted with, and which I am certain to know more truly from you than from others.”

“My lord,” said the Scot, “thus conjured, I will speak the truth; for I well believe that your purposes towards the principal object of our expedition are single-hearted and honest, and it is more than I dare warrant for others of the Holy League. Be pleased, therefore, to know my charge was to propose, through the medium of the hermit of Engaddi — a holy man, respected and protected by Saladin himself —”

“A continuation of the truce, I doubt not,” said Richard, hastily interrupting him.

“No, by Saint Andrew, my liege,” said the Scottish knight; “but the establishment of a lasting peace, and the withdrawing our armies from Palestine.”

“Saint George!” said Richard, in astonishment. “Ill as I have justly thought of them, I could not have dreamed they would have humbled themselves to such dishonour. Speak, Sir Kenneth, with what will did you carry such a message?”

“With right good will, my lord,” said Kenneth; “because, when we had lost our noble leader, under whose guidance alone I hoped for victory, I saw none who could succeed him likely to lead us to conquest, and I accounted it well in such circumstances to avoid defeat.”

“And on what conditions was this hopeful peace to be contracted?” said King Richard, painfully suppressing the passion with which his heart was almost bursting.

“These were not entrusted to me, my lord,” answered the Knight of the Couchant Leopard. “I delivered them sealed to the hermit.”

“And for what hold you this reverend hermit — for fool, madman, traitor, or saint?” said Richard.

“His folly, sire,” replied the shrewd Scottish man, “I hold to be assumed to win favour and reverence from the Paynimrie, who regard madmen as the inspired of Heaven — at least it seemed to me as exhibited only occasionally, and not as mixing, like natural folly, with the general tenor of his mind.”

“Shrewdly replied,” said the monarch, throwing himself back on his couch, from which he had half-raised himself. “Now of his penitence?”

“His penitence,” continued Kenneth, “appears to me sincere, and the fruits of remorse for some dreadful crime, for which he seems, in his own opinion, condemned to reprobation.”

“And for his policy?” said King Richard.

“Methinks, my lord,” said the Scottish knight, “he despairs of the security of Palestine, as of his own salvation, by any means short of a miracle — at least, since the arm of Richard of England hath ceased to strike for it.”

“And, therefore, the coward policy of this hermit is like that of these miserable princes, who, forgetful of their knighthood and their faith, are only resolved and determined when the question is retreat, and rather than go forward against an armed Saracen, would trample in their flight over a dying ally!”

“Might I so far presume, my Lord King,” said the Scottish knight, “this discourse but heats your disease, the enemy from which Christendom dreads more evil than from armed hosts of infidels.”

The countenance of King Richard was, indeed, more flushed, and his action became more feverishly vehement, as, with clenched hand, extended arm, and flashing eyes, he seemed at once to suffer under bodily pain, and at the same time under vexation of mind, while his high spirit led him to speak on, as if in contempt of both.

“You can flatter, Sir Knight,” he said, “but you escape me not. I must know more from you than you have yet told me. Saw you my royal consort when at Engaddi?”

“To my knowledge — no, my lord,” replied Sir Kenneth, with considerable perturbation, for he remembered the midnight procession in the chapel of the rocks.

“I ask you,” said the King, in a sterner voice,” whether you were not in the chapel of the Carmelite nuns at Engaddi, and there saw Berengaria, Queen of England, and the ladies of her Court, who went thither on pilgrimage?”

“My lord,” said Sir Kenneth, “I will speak the truth as in the confessional. In a subterranean chapel, to which the anchorite conducted me, I beheld a choir of ladies do homage to a relic of the highest sanctity; but as I saw not their faces, nor heard their voices, unless in the hymns which they chanted, I cannot tell whether the Queen of England was of the bevy.”

“And was there no one of these ladies known to you?”

Sir Kenneth stood silent.

“I ask you,” said Richard, raising himself on his elbow, “as a knight and a gentleman — and I shall know by your answer how you value either character — did you, or did you not, know any lady amongst that band of worshippers?”

“My lord,” said Kenneth, not without much hesitation, “I might guess.”

“And I also may guess,” said the King, frowning sternly; “but it is enough. Leopard as you are, Sir Knight, beware tempting the lion’s paw. Hark ye — to become enamoured of the moon would be but an act of folly; but to leap from the battlements of a lofty tower, in the wild hope of coming within her sphere, were self-destructive madness.”

At this moment some bustling was heard in the outer apartment, and the King, hastily changing to his more natural manner, said, “Enough — begone — speed to De Vaux, and send him hither with the Arabian physician. My life for the faith of the Soldan! Would he but abjure his false law, I would aid him with my sword to drive this scum of French and Austrians from his dominions, and think Palestine as well ruled by him as when her kings were anointed by the decree of Heaven itself.”

The Knight of the Leopard retired, and presently afterwards the chamberlain announced a deputation from the Council, who had come to wait on the Majesty of England.

“It is well they allow that I am living yet,” was his reply. “Who are the reverend ambassadors?”

“The Grand Master of the Templars and the Marquis of Montserrat.”

“Our brother of France loves not sick-beds,” said Richard; “yet, had Philip been ill, I had stood by his couch long since. — Jocelyn, lay me the couch more fairly — it is tumbled like a stormy sea. Reach me yonder steel mirror — pass a comb through my hair and beard. They look, indeed, liker a lion’s mane than a Christian man’s locks. Bring water.”

“My lord,” said the trembling chamberlain, “the leeches say that cold water may be fatal.”

“To the foul fiend with the leeches!” replied the monarch; “if they cannot cure me, think you I will allow them to torment me? — There, then,” he said, after having made his ablutions, “admit the worshipful envoys; they will now, I think, scarcely see that disease has made Richard negligent of his person.”

The celebrated Master of the Templars was a tall, thin, war-worn man, with a slow yet penetrating eye, and a brow on which a thousand dark intrigues had stamped a portion of their obscurity. At the head of that singular body, to whom their order was everything, and their individuality nothing — seeking the advancement of its power, even at the hazard of that very religion which the fraternity were originally associated to protect — accused of heresy and witchcraft, although by their character Christian priests — suspected of secret league with the Soldan, though by oath devoted to the protection of the Holy Temple, or its recovery — the whole order, and the whole personal character of its commander, or Grand Master, was a riddle, at the exposition of which most men shuddered. The Grand Master was dressed in his white robes of solemnity, and he bore the ABACUS, a mystic staff of office, the peculiar form of which has given rise to such singular conjectures and commentaries, leading to suspicions that this celebrated fraternity of Christian knights were embodied under the foulest symbols of paganism.

Conrade of Montserrat had a much more pleasing exterior than the dark and mysterious priest-soldier by whom he was accompanied. He was a handsome man, of middle age, or something past that term, bold in the field, sagacious in council, gay and gallant in times of festivity; but, on the other hand, he was generally accused of versatility, of a narrow and selfish ambition, of a desire to extend his own principality, without regard to the weal of the Latin kingdom of Palestine, and of seeking his own interest, by private negotiations with Saladin, to the prejudice of the Christian leaguers.

When the usual salutations had been made by these dignitaries, and courteously returned by King Richard, the Marquis of Montserrat commenced an explanation of the motives of their visit, sent, as he said they were, by the anxious kings and princes who composed the Council of the Crusaders, “to inquire into the health of their magnanimous ally, the valiant King of England.”

“We know the importance in which the princes of the Council hold our health,” replied the English King; “and are well aware how much they must have suffered by suppressing all curiosity concerning it for fourteen days, for fear, doubtless, of aggravating our disorder, by showing their anxiety regarding the event.”

The flow of the Marquis’s eloquence being checked, and he himself thrown into some confusion by this reply, his more austere companion took up the thread of the conversation, and with as much dry and brief gravity as was consistent with the presence which he addressed, informed the King that they came from the Council, to pray, in the name of Christendom, “that he would not suffer his health to be tampered with by an infidel physician, said to be dispatched by Saladin, until the Council had taken measures to remove or confirm the suspicion which they at present conceived did attach itself to the mission of such a person.”

“Grand Master of the Holy and Valiant Order of Knights Templars, and you, most noble Marquis of Montserrat,” replied Richard, “if it please you to retire into the adjoining pavilion, you shall presently see what account we make of the tender remonstrances of our royal and princely colleagues in this religious warfare.”

The Marquis and Grand Master retired accordingly; nor had they been many minutes in the outward pavilion when the Eastern physician arrived, accompanied by the Baron of Gilsland and Kenneth of Scotland. The baron, however, was a little later of entering the tent than the other two, stopping, perchance, to issue some orders to the warders without.

As the Arabian physician entered, he made his obeisance, after the Oriental fashion, to the Marquis and Grand Master, whose dignity was apparent, both from their appearance and their bearing. The Grand Master returned the salutation with an expression of disdainful coldness, the Marquis with the popular courtesy which he habitually practised to men of every rank and nation. There was a pause, for the Scottish knight, waiting for the arrival of De Vaux, presumed not, of his own authority, to enter the tent of the King of England; and during this interval the Grand Master sternly demanded of the Moslem, “Infidel, hast thou the courage to practise thine art upon the person of an anointed sovereign of the Christian host?”

“The sun of Allah,” answered the sage, “shines on the Nazarene as well as on the true believer, and His servant dare make no distinction betwixt them when called on to exercise the art of healing.”

“Misbelieving Hakim,” said the Grand Master, “or whatsoever they call thee for an unbaptized slave of darkness, dost thou well know that thou shalt be torn asunder by wild horses should King Richard die under thy charge?”

“That were hard justice,” answered the physician, “seeing that I can but use human means, and that the issue is written in the book of light.”

“Nay, reverend and valiant Grand Master,” said the Marquis of Montserrat, “consider that this learned man is not acquainted with our Christian order, adopted in the fear of God, and for the safety of His anointed. — Be it known to thee, grave physician, whose skill we doubt not, that your wisest course is to repair to the presence of the illustrious Council of our Holy League, and there to give account and reckoning to such wise and learned leeches as they shall nominate, concerning your means of process and cure of this illustrious patient; so shall you escape all the danger which, rashly taking such a high matter upon your sole answer, you may else most likely incur.”

“My lords,” said El Hakim, “I understand you well. But knowledge hath its champions as well as your military art — nay, hath sometimes had its martyrs as well as religion. I have the command of my sovereign, the Soldan Saladin, to heal this Nazarene King, and, with the blessing of the Prophet, I will obey his commands. If I fail, ye wear swords thirsting for the blood of the faithful, and I proffer my body to your weapons. But I will not reason with one uncircumcised upon the virtue of the medicines of which I have obtained knowledge through the grace of the Prophet, and I pray you interpose no delay between me and my office.”

“Who talks of delay?” said the Baron de Vaux, hastily entering the tent; “we have had but too much already. I salute you, my Lord of Montserrat, and you, valiant Grand Master. But I must presently pass with this learned physician to the bedside of my master.”

“My lord,” said the Marquis, in Norman-French, or the language of Ouie, as it was then called, “are you well advised that we came to expostulate, on the part of the Council of the Monarchs and Princes of the Crusade, against the risk of permitting an infidel and Eastern physician to tamper with a health so valuable as that of your master, King Richard?”

“Noble Lord Marquis,” replied the Englishman bluntly, “I can neither use many words, nor do I delight in listening to them; moreover, I am much more ready to believe what my eyes have seen than what my ears have heard. I am satisfied that this heathen can cure the sickness of King Richard, and I believe and trust he will labour to do so. Time is precious. If Mohammed — may God’s curse be on him! stood at the door of the tent, with such fair purpose as this Adonbec el Hakim entertains, I would hold it sin to delay him for a minute. So, give ye God’en, my lords.”

“Nay, but,” said Conrade of Montserrat, “the King himself said we should be present when this same physician dealt upon him.”

The baron whispered the chamberlain, probably to know whether the Marquis spoke truly, and then replied, “My lords, if you will hold your patience, you are welcome to enter with us; but if you interrupt, by action or threat, this accomplished physician in his duty, be it known that, without respect to your high quality, I will enforce your absence from Richard’s tent; for know, I am so well satisfied of the virtue of this man’s medicines, that were Richard himself to refuse them, by our Lady of Lanercost, I think I could find in my heart to force him to take the means of his cure whether he would or no. — Move onward, El Hakim.”

The last word was spoken in the lingua franca, and instantly obeyed by the physician. The Grand Master looked grimly on the unceremonious old soldier, but, on exchanging a glance with the Marquis, smoothed his frowning brow as well as he could, and both followed De Vaux and the Arabian into the inner tent, where Richard lay expecting them, with that impatience with which the sick man watches the step of his physician. Sir Kenneth, whose attendance seemed neither asked nor prohibited, felt himself, by the circumstances in which he stood, entitled to follow these high dignitaries; but, conscious of his inferior power and rank, remained aloof during the scene which took place.

Richard, when they entered his apartment, immediately exclaimed, “So ho! a goodly fellowship come to see Richard take his leap in the dark. My noble allies, I greet you as the representatives of our assembled league; Richard will again be amongst you in his former fashion, or ye shall bear to the grave what is left of him. — De Vaux, lives he or dies he, thou hast the thanks of thy prince. There is yet another — but this fever hath wasted my eyesight. What, the bold Scot, who would climb heaven without a ladder! He is welcome too. — Come, Sir Hakim, to the work, to the work!”

The physician, who had already informed himself of the various symptoms of the King’s illness, now felt his pulse for a long time, and with deep attention, while all around stood silent, and in breathless expectation. The sage next filled a cup with spring water, and dipped into it the small red purse, which, as formerly, he took from his bosom. When he seemed to think it sufficiently medicated, he was about to offer it to the sovereign, who prevented him by saying, “Hold an instant. Thou hast felt my pulse — let me lay my finger on thine. I too, as becomes a good knight, know something of thine art.”

The Arabian yielded his hand without hesitation, and his long, slender dark fingers were for an instant enclosed, and almost buried, in the large enfoldment of King Richard’s hand.

“His blood beats calm as an infant’s,” said the King; “so throbs not theirs who poison princes. De Vaux, whether we live or die, dismiss this Hakim with honour and safety. — Commend us, friend, to the noble Saladin. Should I die, it is without doubt of his faith; should I live, it will be to thank him as a warrior would desire to be thanked.”

He then raised himself in bed, took the cup in his hand, and turning to the Marquis and the Grand Master —“Mark what I say, and let my royal brethren pledge me in Cyprus wine, ‘To the immortal honour of the first Crusader who shall strike lance or sword on the gate of Jerusalem; and to the shame and eternal infamy of whomsoever shall turn back from the plough on which he hath laid his hand!’”

He drained the cup to the bottom, resigned it to the Arabian, and sunk back, as if exhausted, upon the cushions which were arranged to receive him. The physician then, with silent but expressive signs, directed that all should leave the tent excepting himself and De Vaux, whom no remonstrance could induce to withdraw. The apartment was cleared accordingly.

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