H. Rider Haggard
Part 8 out of 8
"And thereby doom eighty thousand of her fellow Christians, who
must accompany her to that death," answered Saladin sternly.
"Know, Sir Balian, I swear it before Allah and for the last time,
that if my niece Rosamund does not come, of her own free will,
unforced by any, Jerusalem shall be put to sack."
"Then the fate of the holy city and all its inhabitants hangs
upon the nobleness of a single woman?" stammered Balian.
"Ay, upon the nobleness of a single woman, as my vision told me
it should be. If her spirit is high enough, Jerusalem may yet be
saved. If it be baser than I thought, as well may chance, then
assuredly with her it is doomed. I have no more to say, but my
envoys shall ride with you bearing a letter, which with their own
hands they must present to my niece, the princess of Baalbec.
Then she can return with them to me, or she can bide where she
is, when I shall know that I saw but a Iying vision of peace and
mercy flowing from her hands, and will press on this war to its
Within an hour Balian rode to the city under safe conduct, taking
with him the envoys of Saladin and the letter, which they were
charged to deliver to Rosamund.
It was night, and in their lamp-lit chapel the Virgins of the
Holy Cross upon bended knees chanted the slow and solemn
Miserere. From their hearts they sang, to whom death and
dishonour were so near, praying their Lord and the merciful
Mother of God to have pity, and to spare them and the
inhabitants of the hallowed town where He had dwelt and suffered,
and to lead them safe through the shadow of a fate as awful as
His own. They knew that the end was near, that the walls were
tottering to their fall, that the defenders were exhausted, and
that soon the wild soldiers of Saladin would be surging through
the narrow streets.
Then would come the sack and the slaughter, either by the sword
of the Saracens, or, perchance, if these found time and they were
not forgotten, more mercifully at the hands of Christian men, who
thus would save them from the worst.
Their dirge ended, the abbess rose and addressed them. Her
bearing was still proud, but her voice quavered.
"My daughters in the Lord," she said, "the doom is almost at our
door, and we must brace our hearts to meet it. If the commanders
of the city do what they have promised, they will send some here
to behead us at the last, and so we shall pass happily to glory
and be ever with the Lord. But perchance they will forget us, who
are but a few among eighty thousand souls, of whom some fifty
thousand must thus be killed. Or their arms may grow weary, or
themselves they may fall before ever they reach this house--and
what, my daughters, shall we do then?"
Now some of the nuns clung together and sobbed in their affright,
and some were silent. Only Rosamund drew herself to her full
height, and spoke proudly.
"My Mother," she said, "I am a newcomer among you, but I have
seen the slaughter of Hattin, and I know what befalls Christian
women and children among the unbelievers. Therefore I ask your
leave to say my say."
"Speak," said the abbess.
"This is my counsel," went on Rosamund, "and it is short and
plain. When we know that the Saracens are in the city, let us set
fire to this convent and get us to our knees and so perish."
"Well spoken; it is best," muttered several. But the abbess
answered with a sad smile:
"High counsel indeed, such as might be looked for from high
blood. Yet it may not be taken, since self-slaughter is a deadly
"I see little difference between it," said Rosamund, "and the
stretching out of our necks to the swords of friends. Yet,
although for others I cannot judge, for myself I do judge who am
bound by no final vows. I tell you that rather than fall into the
hands of the Paynims, I will dare that sin and leave them nothing
but the vile mould which once held the spirit of a woman."
And she laid her hand upon the dagger hilt that was hidden in her
Then again the abbess spoke.
"To you, daughter, I cannot forbid the deed, but to those who
have fully sworn to obey me I do forbid it, and to them I show
another if a more piteous way of escape from the last shame of
womanhood. Some of us are old and withered, and have naught to
fear but death, but others are still young and fair. To these I
say, when the end is nigh, let them take steel and score face and
bosom and seat themselves here in this chapel, red with their own
blood and made loathsome to the sight of man. Then will the end
come upon them quickly, and they will pass hence unstained to be
the brides of Heaven."
Now a great groan of horror went up from those miserable women,
who already saw themselves seated in stained robes, and hideous
to behold, there in the carved chairs of their choir, awaiting
death by the swords of furious and savage men, as in a day to
come their sisters of the Faith were to await it in the doomed
convent of the Virgins of St. Clare at Acre.*
[* Those who are curious to know the story of the end of those
holy heroines, the Virgins of St. Clare, I think in the year
1291, may read it in my book, "A Winter Pilgrimage," pp. 270 and
Yet one by one, except the aged among them, they came up to the
abbess and swore that they would obey her in this as in
everything, while the abbess said that herself she would lead
them down that dreadful road of pain and mutilation. Yes, save
Rosamund, who declared that she would die undisfigured as God had
made her, and two other novices, they swore it one by one, laying
their hands upon the altar.
Then again they got them to their knees and sang the Miserere.
Presently, above their mournful chant, the sound of loud,
insistent knockings echoed down the vaulted roofs. They sprang up
"The Saracens are here! Give us knives! Give us knives! "
Rosamund drew the dagger from its sheath.
"Wait awhile," cried the abbess. "These may be friends, not foes.
Sister Ursula, go to the door and seek tidings."
The sister, an aged woman, obeyed with tottering steps, and,
reaching the massive portal, undid the guichet, or lattice, and
asked with a quavering voice:
"Who are you that knock?" while the nuns within held their breath
and strained their ears to catch the answer.
Presently it came, in a woman's silvery tones, that sounded
strangely still and small in the spaces of that tomb-like
"I am the Queen Sybilla, with her ladies."
"And what would you with us, O Queen? The right of sanctuary?"
"Nay; I bring with me some envoys from Saladin, who would have
speech with the lady named Rosamund D'Arcy, who is among you."
Now at these words Rosamund fled to the altar, and stood there,
still holding the naked dagger in her hand.
"Let her not fear," went on the silvery voice, "for no harm shall
come to her against her will. Admit us, holy Abbess, we beseech
you in the name of Christ."
Then the abbess said, "Let us receive the queen with such dignity
as we may." Motioning to the nuns to take their appointed seats.
in the choir she placed herself in the great chair at the head of
them, whilst behind her at the raised altar stood Rosamund, the
bare knife in her hand.
The door was opened, and through it swept a strange procession.
First came the beauteous queen wearing her insignia of royalty,
but with a black veil upon her head. Next followed ladies of her
court--twelve of them-- trembling with fright but splendidly
apparelled, and after these three stern and turbaned Saracens
clad in mail, their jewelled scimitars at their sides. Then
appeared a procession of women, most of them draped in mourning,
and leading scared children by the hand; the wives, sisters, and
widows of nobles, knights and burgesses of Jerusalem. Last of all
marched a hundred or more of captains and warriors, among them
Wulf, headed by Sir Balian and ended by the patriarch Heraclius
in his gorgeous robes, with his attendant priests and acolytes.
On swept the queen, up the length of the long church, and as she
came the abbess and her nuns rose and bowed to her, while one
offered her the chair of state that was set apart to be used by
the bishop in his visitations. But she would have none of it.
"Nay," said the queen, "mock me with no honourable seat who come
here as a humble suppliant, and will make my prayer upon my
So down she went upon the marble floor, with all her ladies and
the following women, while the solemn Saracens looked at her
wondering and the knights and nobles massed themselves behind.
"What can we give you, O Queen," asked the abbess, "who have
nothing left save our treasure, to which you are most welcome,
our honour, and our lives?"
"Alas!" answered the royal lady. "Alas, that I must say it! I
come to ask the life of one of you."
"Of whom, O Queen?"
Sybilla lifted her head, and with her outstretched arm pointed to
Rosamund, who stood above them all by the high altar.
For a moment Rosamund turned pale, then spoke in a steady voice:
"Say, what service can my poor life be to you, O Queen, and
by whom is it sought?"
Thrice Sybilla strove to answer, and at last murmured:
"I cannot. Let the envoys give her the letter, if she is able to
read their tongue."
"I am able," answered Rosamund, and a Saracen emir drew forth a
roll and laid it against his forehead, then gave it to the
abbess, who brought it to Rosamund. With her dagger blade she cut
its silk, opened it, and read aloud, always in the same quiet
voice, translating as she read:--
"In the name of Allah the One, the All-merciful, to my niece,
aforetime the princess of Baalbec, Rosamund D'Arcy by name, now a
fugitive hidden in a convent of the Franks in the city el-Kuds
Esh-sherif, the holy city of Jerusalem:
"Niece,--All my promises to you I have performed, and more, since
for your sake I spared the lives of your cousins, the twin
knights. But you have repaid me with ingratitude and trickery,
after the manner of those of your false and accursed faith, and
have fled from me. I promised you also, again and yet again, that
if you attempted this thing, death should be your portion. No
longer, therefore, are you the princess of Baalbec, but only an
escaped Christian slave, and as such doomed to die whenever my
sword reaches you.
"Of my vision concerning you, which caused me to bring you to the
East from England, you know well. Repeat it in your heart before
you answer. That vision told me that by your nobleness and
sacrifice you should save the lives of many. I demanded that you
should be brought back to me, and the request was refused--why,
it matters not. Now I understand the reason--that this was so
ordained. I demand no more that force should be used to you. I
demand that you shall come of your own free will, to suffer the
bitter and shameful reward of your sin. Or, if you so desire,
bide where you are of your own free will, and be dealt with as
God shall decree. This hangs upon your judgment. If you come and
ask it of me, I will consider the question of the sparing of
Jerusalem and its inhabitants. If you refuse to come, I will
certainly put every one of them to the sword, save such of the
women and children as may be kept for slaves. Decide, then,
Niece, and quickly, whether you will return with my envoys, or
bide where they find you.--
Rosamund finished reading, and the letter fluttered from her hand
down to the marble floor.
Then the queen said:
"Lady, we ask this sacrifice of you in the name of these and all
their fellows," and she pointed to the women and the children
"And my life?" mused Rosamund aloud. "It is all I have. When I
have paid it away I shall be beggared," and her eyes wandered to
where the tall shape of Wulf stood by a pillar of the church.
"Perchance Saladin will be merciful," hazarded the queen.
"Why should he be merciful," answered Rosamund, "who has always
warned me that if I escaped from him and was recaptured,
certainly I must die? Nay, he will offer me Islam, or death,
which means--death by the rope-- or in some worse fashion."
"But if you stay here you must die," pleaded the queen, "or at
best fall into the hands of the soldiers. Oh! lady, your life is
but one life, and with it you can buy those of eighty thousand
"Is that so sure?" asked Rosamund. "The Sultan has made no
promise; he says only that, if I pray it of him, he will consider
the question of the sparing of Jerusalem."
"But--but," went on the queen, "he says also that if you do not
come he will surely put Jerusalem to the sword, and to Sir Balian
he said that if you gave yourself up he thought he might grant
terms which we should be glad to take. Therefore we dare to ask
of you to give your life in payment for such a hope. Think think
what otherwise must be the lot of these"--and again she pointed
to the women and children--"ay, and your own sisterhood and of
all of us. Whereas, if you die, it will be with much honour, and
your name shall be worshipped as a saint and martyr in every
church in Christendom.
"Oh! refuse not our prayer, but show that you indeed are great
enough to step forward to meet the death which comes to every one
of us, and thereby earn the blessings of half the world and make
sure your place in heaven, nigh to Him Who also died for men.
Plead with her, my sisters--plead with her! "
Then the women and the children threw themselves down before her,
and with tears and sobbing prayed her that she would give up her
life for theirs. Rosamund looked at them and smiled, then said in
a clear voice:
"What say you, my cousin and betrothed, Sir Wulf D'Arcy? Come
hither, and, as is fitting in this strait, give me your counsel."
So the grey-eyed, war-worn Wulf strode up the aisle, and,
standing by the altar rails, saluted her.
"You have heard," said Rosamund. "Your counsel. Would you have me
"Alas!" he answered in a hoarse voice. "It is hard to speak. Yet,
they are many--you are but one."
Now there was a murmur of applause. For it was known that this
knight loved his lady dearly, and that but the other day he had
stood there to defend her to the death against those who would
give her up to Saladin.
Now Rosamund laughed out, and the sweet sound of her laughter was
strange in that solemn place and hour.
"Ah, Wulf!" she said. "Wulf, who must ever speak the truth, even
when it costs him dear. Well, I would not have it otherwise.
Queen, and all you foolish people, I did but try your tempers.
Could you, then, think me so base that I would spare to spend
this poor life of mine, and to forego such few joys as God might
have in store for me on earth, when those of tens of thousands
may hang upon the issue? Nay, nay; it is far otherwise."
Then Rosamund sheathed the dagger that all this while she had
held in her hand, and, lifting the letter from the floor, touched
her brow with it in signal of obedience, saying in Arabic to the
"I am the slave of Salah-ed-din, Commander of the Faithful. I am
the small dust beneath his feet. Take notice, Emirs, that in
presence of all here gathered, of my own free will I, Rosamund
D'Arcy, aforetime princess and sovereign lady of Baalbec,
determine to accompany you to the Sultan's camp, there to make
prayer for the sparing of the lives of the citizens of Jerusalem,
and afterwards to suffer the punishment of death in payment of my
flight, according to my royal uncle's high decree. One request I
make only, if he be pleased to grant it--that my body be brought
back to Jerusalem for burial before this altar, where of my own
act I lay down my life. Emirs, I am ready."
Now the envoys bowed before her in grave admiration, and the air
grew thick with blessings. As Rosamund stepped down from the
altar the queen threw her arms about her neck and kissed her,
while lords and knights, women and children, pressed their lips
upon her hands, upon the hem of her white robe, and even on her
feet, calling her "Saint" and "Deliverer."
"Alas!" she answered, waving them back. "As yet I am neither of
these things, though the latter of them I hope to be. Come; let
us be going."
"Ay," echoed Wulf, stepping to her side, "let us be going."
Rosamund started at the words, and all there stared. "Listen,
Queen, Emirs, and People," he went on. "I am this lady's kinsman
and her betrothed knight, sworn to serve her to the end. If she
be guilty of a crime against the Sultan, I am more guilty, and on
me also shall fall his vengeance. Let us be going."
"Wulf, Wulf," she said, "it shall not be. One life is asked--not
"Yet, lady, both shall be given that the measure of atonement may
run over, and Saladin moved to mercy. Nay, forbid me not. I have
lived for you, and for you I die. Yes, if they hold me by force,
still I die, if need be, on my own sword. When I counselled you
just now, I counselled myself also. Surely you never dreamed that
I would suffer you to go alone, when by sharing it I could make
your doom easier."
"Oh, Wulf!" she cried. "You will but make it harder."
"No, no; faced hand in hand, death loses half its terrors.
Moreover, Saladin is my friend, and I also would plead with him
for the people of Jerusalem."
Then he whispered in her ear, "Sweet Rosamund, deny me not, lest
you should drive me to madness and self-murder, who will have no
more of earth without you."
Now, her eyes full of tears and shining with love, Rosamund
"You are too strong for me. Let it befall as God wills."
Nor did the others attempt to stay him any more.
Going to the abbess, Rosamund would have knelt before her, but it
was the abbess who knelt and called her blessed, and kissed her.
The sisters also kissed her one by one in farewell. Then a priest
was brought--not the patriarch, of whom she would have none, but
another, a holy man.
To him apart at the altar, first Rosamund and then Wulf made
confession of their sins, receiving absolution and the sacrament
in that form in which it was given to the dying; while, save the
emirs, all in the church knelt and prayed as for souls that pass.
The solemn ritual was ended. They rose, and, followed by two of
the envoys--for already the third had departed under escort to
the court of Saladin to give him warning--the queen, her ladies
and all the company, walked from the church and through the
convent halls out into the narrow Street of Woe. Here Wulf, as
her kinsman, took Rosamund by the hand, leading her as a man
leads his sister to her bridal. Without it was bright moonlight,
moonlight clear as day, and by now tidings of this strange story
had spread through all Jerusalem, so that its narrow streets were
crowded with spectators, who stood also upon every roof and at
"The lady Rosamund!" they shouted. "The blessed Rosamund, who
goes t o a martyr's death to save us. The pure Saint Rosamund and
her brave knight Wulf!" And they tore flowers and green leaves
from the gardens and threw them in their path.
Down the long, winding streets, with bent heads and humble mien,
companioned ever by the multitude, through which soldiers
cleared the way, they walked thus, while women held up their
children to touch the robe of Rosamund or to look upon her face.
At length the gate was reached, and while it was unbarred they
halted. Then came forward Sir Balian of Ibelin, bareheaded, and
"Lady, on behalf of the people of Jerusalem and of the whole of
Christendom, I give you honour and thanks, and to you also, Sir
Wulf D'Arcy, the bravest and most faithful of all knights."
A company of priests also, headed by a bishop, advanced chanting
and swinging censers, and blessed them solemnly in the name of
the Church and of Christ its Master.
"Give us not praise and thanks, but prayers," answered Rosamund;
"prayers that we may succeed in our mission, to which we gladly
offer up our lives, and afterwards, when we are dead, prayers for
the welfare of our sinful souls. But should we fail, as it may
chance, then remember of us only that we did our best. Oh! good
people, great sorrows have come upon this land, and the Cross of
Christ is veiled with shame. Yet it shall shine forth once more,
and to it through the ages shall all men bow the knee. Oh! may
you live! May no more death come among you! It is our last
petition, and with it, this--that when at length you die we may
meet again in heaven! Now fare you well."
Then they passed through the gate, and as the envoys declared
that none might accompany them further, walked forward followed
by the sound of the weeping of the multitude towards the camp of
Saladin, two strange and lonesome figures in the moonlight.
At last these lamentations could be heard no more, and there, on
the outskirts of the Moslem lines, an escort met them, and
bearers with a litter.
But into this Rosamund would not enter, so they walked onwards up
the hill, till they came to the great square in the centre of the
camp upon the Mount of Olives, beyond the grey trees of the
Garden of Gethsemane. There, awaiting them at the head of the
square, sat Saladin in state, while all about, rank upon rank, in
thousands and tens of thousands, was gathered his vast army, who
watched them pass in silence.
Thus they came into the presence of the Sultan and knelt before
him, Rosamund in her novice's white robe, and Wulf in his
Chapter Twenty Four: The Dregs of the Cup
Saladin looked at them, but gave them no greeting. Then he
"Woman, you have had my message. You know that your rank is taken
from you, and that with it my promises are at an end; you know
also that you come hither to suffer the death of faithless women.
Is it so?"
"I know all these things, great Salah-ed-din," answered Rosamund.
"Tell me, then, do you come of your own free will, unforced by
any, and why does the knight Sir Wulf, whose life I spared and do
not seek, kneel at your side?"
"I come of my own free will, Salah-ed-din, as your emirs can tell
you; ask them. For the rest, my kinsman must answer for himself."
"Sultan," said Wulf, "I counselled the lady Rosamund that she
should come--not that she needed such counsel--and, having given
it, I accompanied her by right of blood and of Justice, since her
offence against you is mine also. Her fate is my fate."
"I have no quarrel against you whom I forgave, therefore you must
take your own way to follow the path she goes."
"Doubtless," answered Wulf, "being a Christian among many sons of
the Prophet, it will not be hard to find a friendly scimitar to
help me on that road. I ask of your goodness that her fate may be
"What!" said Saladin. "You are ready to die with her, although
you are young and strong, and there are so many other women in
Wulf smiled and nodded his head.
"Good. Who am I that I should stand between a fool and his folly
I grant the boon. Your fate shall be her fate; Wulf D'Arcy, you
shall drink of the cup of my slave Rosamund to its last
"I desire no less," said Wulf coolly.
Now Saladin looked at Rosamund and asked,
"Woman, why have you come here to brave my vengeance? Speak on if
you have aught to ask. "
Then Rosamund rose from her knees, and, standing before him,
"I am come, O my mighty lord, to plead for the people of
Jerusalem, because it was told me that you would listen to no
other voice than that of this your slave. See, many moons ago,
you had a vision concerning me. Thrice you dreamed in the night
that I, the niece whom you had never seen, by some act of mine
should be the means of saving much life and a way of peace.
Therefore you tore me from my home and brought my father to a
bloody death, as you are about to bring his daughter; and after
much suffering and danger I fell into your power, and was treated
with great honour. Still I, who am a Christian, and who grew
sick with the sight of the daily slaughter and outrage of my kin,
strove to escape from you, although you had warned me that the
price of this crime was death; and in the end, through the wit
and sacrifice of another woman, I did escape.
"Now I return to pay that price, and behold! your vision is
fulfilled--or, at the least, you can fulfil it if God should
touch your heart with grace, seeing that of my own will I am come
to pray you, Salah-ed-din, to spare the city, and for its blood
to accept mine as a token and an offering.
Oh, my lord! as you are great, be merciful. What will it avail
you in the day of your own judgment that you have added another
eighty thousand to the tally of your slain, and with them many
more thousands of your own folk, since the warriors of Jerusalem
will not die unavenged? Give them their lives and let them go
free, and win thereby the gratitude of mankind and the
forgiveness of God above."
So Rosamund spoke, and stretching out her arms towards him, was
"These things I offered to them, and they were refused," answered
Saladin. "Why should I grant them now that they are conquered?"
"My lord, Strong-to-Aid," said Rosamund, "do you, who are so
brave, blame yonder knights and soldiers because they fought on
against desperate odds? Would you not have called them cowards if
they had yielded up the city where their Saviour died and struck
no blow to save it? Oh! I am outworn! I can say no more; but once
again, most humbly and on my knees, I beseech you speak the word
of mercy, and let not your triumph be dyed red with the blood of
women and of little children."
Then casting herself upon her face, Rosamund clasped the hem of
his royal robe with her hands, and pressed it to her forehead.
So for a while she lay there in the shimmering moonlight, while
utter silence fell upon all that vast multitude of armed men as
they waited for the decree of fate to be uttered by the
conqueror's lips. But Saladin sat still as a statue, gazing at
the domes and towers of Jerusalem outlined against the deep blue
"Rise," he said at length, "and know, niece, that you have played
your part in a fashion worthy of my race, and that I,
Salah-ed-din, am proud of you. Know also that I will weigh your
prayer as I have weighed that of none other who breathes upon the
earth. Now I must take counsel with my own heart, and to-morrow
it shall be granted--or refused. To you, who are doomed to die,
and to the knight who chooses to die with you, according to the
ancient law and custom, I offer the choice of Islam, and with it
life and honour."
"We refuse," answered Rosamund and Wulf with one voice. The
Sultan bowed his head as though he expected no other answer, and
glanced round, as all thought to order the executioners to do
their office. But he said only to a captain of his Mameluks:
"Take them; keep them under guard and separate them, till my word
of death comes to you. Your life shall answer for their safety.
Give them food and drink, and let no harm touch them until I bid
The Mameluk bowed and advanced with his company of soldiers. As
they prepared to go with them, Rosamund asked:
"Tell me of your grace, what of Masouda, my friend?"
"She died for you; seek her beyond the grave," answered Saladin,
whereat Rosamund hid her face with her hands and sighed.
"And what of Godwin, my brother?" cried Wulf; but no answer was
Now Rosamund turned; stretching out her arms towards Wulf, she
fell upon his breast. There, then, in the presence of that
countless army, they kissed their kiss of betrothal and farewell.
They spoke no word, only ere she went Rosamund lifted her hand
and pointed upwards to the sky.
Then a murmur rose from the multitude, and the sound of it seemed
to shape itself into one word: "Mercy!"
Still Saladin made no sign, and they were led away to their
Among the thousands who watched this strange and most thrilling
scene were two men wrapped in long cloaks, Godwin and the bishop
Egbert. Thrice did Godwin strive to approach the throne. But it
seemed that the soldiers about him had their commands, for they
would not suffer him to stir or speak; and when, as Rosamund
passed, he strove to break a way to her, they seized and held
him. Yet as she went by he cried:
"The blessing of Heaven be upon you, pure saint of God--on you
and your true knight."
Catching the tones of that voice above the tumult, Rosamund
stopped and looked around her, but saw no one, for the guard
hemmed her in. So she went on, wondering if perchance it was
Godwin's voice which she had heard, or whether an angel, or only
some Frankish prisoner had spoken.
Godwin stood wringing his hands while the bishop strove to
comfort him, saying that he should not grieve, since such deaths
as those of Rosamund and Wulf were most glorious, and more to be
desired than a hundred lives.
"Ay, ay," answered Godwin, "would that I could go with them!"
"Their work is done, but not yours," said the bishop gently.
"Come to our tent and let us to our knees. God is more powerful
than the Sultan, and mayhap He will yet find a way to save them.
If they are still alive tomorrow at the dawn we will seek
audience of Saladin to plead with him."
So they entered the tent and prayed there, as the inhabitants of
Jerusalem prayed behind their shattered walls, that the heart of
Saladin might be moved to spare them all. While they knelt thus
the curtain of the tent was drawn aside, and an emir stood before
"Rise," he said, "both of you, and follow me. The Sultan commands
Egbert and Godwin went, wondering, and were led through the
pavilion to the royal sleeping place, which guards closed behind
them. On a silken couch reclined Saladin, the light from the lamp
falling on his bronzed and thoughtful face.
"I have sent for you two Franks," he said, "that you may bear a
message from me to Sir Balian of Ibelin and the inhabitants of
Jerusalem. This is the message:--Let the holy city surrender
to-morrow and all its population acknowledge themselves my
prisoners. Then for forty days I will hold them to ransom, during
which time none shall be harmed. Every man who pays ten pieces of
gold shall go free, and two women or ten children shall be
counted as one man at a like price. Of the poor, seven thousand
shall be set free also, on payment of thirty thousand bezants.
Such who remain or have no money for their ransom--and there is
still much gold in Jerusalem-- shall become my slaves. These are
my terms, which I grant at the dying prayer of my niece, the lady
Rosamund, and to her prayer alone. Deliver them to Sir Balian,
and bid him wait on me at the dawn with his chief notables, and
answer whether he is willing to accept them on behalf of the
people. If not, the assault goes on until the city is a heap of
ruins covering the bones of its children."
"We bless you for this mercy," said the bishop Egbert, "and we
hasten to obey. But tell us, Sultan, what shall we do? Return to
the camp with Sir Balian?"
"If he accepts my terms, nay, for in Jerusalem you will be safe,
and I give you your freedom without ransom."
"Sire," said Godwin, "ere I go, grant me leave to bid farewell to
my brother and my cousin Rosamund."
"That for the third time you may plot their escape from my
vengeance?" said Saladin. "Nay, bide in Jerusalem and await my
word; you shall meet them at the last, no more."
"Sire," pleaded Godwin, "of your mercy spare them, for they have
played a noble part. It is hard that they should die who love
each other and are so young and fair and brave."
"Ay," answered Saladin, "a noble part; never have I seen one more
noble. Well, it fits them the better for heaven, if
Cross-worshippers enter there. Have done; their doom is written
and my purpose cannot be turned, nor shall you see them till the
last, as I have said. But if it pleases you to write them a
letter of farewell and to send it back by the embassy, it shall
be delivered to them. Now go, for greater matters are afoot than
this punishment of a pair of lovers. A guard awaits you."
So they went, and within an hour stood before Sir Balian and gave
him the message of Saladin, whereat he rose and blessed the name
of Rosamund. While he called his counsellors from their sleep and
bade his servants saddle horses, Godwin found pen and parchment,
and wrote hurriedly:
"To Wulf, my brother, and Rosamund, my cousin and his
betrothed,-- I live, though well-nigh I died by dead
Masouda--Jesus rest her gallant and most beloved soul! Saladin
will not suffer me to see you, though he has promised that I
shall be with you at the last, so watch for me then. I still dare
to hope that it may please God to change the Sultan's heart and
spare you. If so, this is my prayer and desire--that you two
should wed as soon as may be, and get home to England, where, if
I live, I hope to visit you in years to come. Till then seek me
not, who would be lonely a while. But if it should be fated
otherwise, then when my sins are purged I will seek you among the
saints, you who by your noble deed have earned the sure grace of
"The embassy rides. I have no time for more, though there is much
to say. Farewell.--Godwin."
The terms of Saladin had been accepted. With rejoicing because
their lives were spared, but with woe and lamentation because the
holy city had fallen again into the hands of the Moslem, the
people of Jerusalem made ready to leave the streets and seek new
homes elsewhere. The great golden cross was torn from the mosque
el-Aksa, and on every tower and wall floated the yellow banners
of Saladin. All who had money paid their ransoms, and those who
had none begged and borrowed it as they could, and if they could
not, gave themselves over to despair and slavery. Only the
patriarch Heraclius, forgetting the misery of these wretched
ones, carried off his own great wealth and the gold plate of the
Then Saladin showed his mercy, for he freed all the aged without
charge, and from his own treasure paid the ransom of hundreds of
ladies whose husbands and fathers had fallen in battle, or lay in
prison in other cities.
So for forty days, headed by Queen Sybilla and her ladies, that
sad procession of the vanquished marched through the gates, and
there were many of them who, as they passed the conqueror seated
in state, halted to make a prayer to him for those who were left
behind. A few also who remembered Rosamund, and that it was
because of her sacrifice that they continued to look upon the
sun, implored him that if they were not already dead, he would
spare her and her brave knight.
At length it was over, and Saladin took possession of the city.
Having purged the Great Mosque, washing it with rose-water, he
worshipped in it after his own fashion, and distributed the
remnant of the people who could pay no ransom as slaves among his
emirs and followers. Thus did the Crescent triumph aver the Cross
in Jerusalem, not in a sea of blood, as ninety years before the
Cross had triumphed over the Crescent within its walls, but with
what in those days passed for gentleness, peace, and mercy.
For it was left to the Saracens to teach something of their own
doctrines to the followers of Christ.
During all those forty days Rosamund and Wulf lay in their
separate prisons, awaiting their doom of death. The letter of
Godwin was brought to Wulf, who read it and rejoiced to learn
that his brother lived. Then it was taken from him to Rosamund,
who, although she rejoiced also, wept over it, and wondered a
little what it might mean. Of one thing she was sure from its
wording--that they had no hope of life.
They knew that Jerusalem had fallen, for they heard the shouts of
triumph of the Moslems, and from far away, through their prison
bars could see the endless multitude of fugitives passing the
ancient gates laden with baggage, and leading their children by
the hand, to seek refuge in the cities of the coast. At this
sight, although it was so sad, Rosamund was happy, knowing also
that now she would not suffer in vain.
At length the camp broke up, Saladin and many of the soldiers
entering Jerusalem; but still the pair were left languishing in
their dismal cells, which were fashioned from old tombs. One
evening, while Rosamund was kneeling; at prayer before she sought
her bed, the door of the place was opened, and there appeared a
glittering captain and a guard of soldiers, who saluted her and
bade her follow him.
"Is it the end?" she asked.
"Lady," he answered, "it is the end." So she bowed her head
meekly and followed. Without a litter was ready, in which they
placed her and bore her through the bright moonlight into the
city of Jerusalem and along the Way of Sorrow, till they halted
at a great door, which she knew again, for by it stood the
"They have brought me back to the Convent of the Holy Cross to
kill me where I asked that I might be buried," she murmured to
herself as she descended from the litter.
Then the doors were thrown open, and she entered the great
courtyard of the convent, and saw that it was decorated as though
for a festival, for about it and in the cloisters round hung many
lamps. More; these cloisters and the space in front of them were
crowded with Saracen lords, wearing their robes of state, while
yonder sat Saladin and his court.
"They would make a brave show of my death," thought Rosamund
again. Then a little cry broke from her lips, for there, in front
of the throne of Saladin, the moonlight and the lamp-blaze
shining on his armour, stood a tall Christian knight. At that cry
he turned his head, and she grew sure that it was Wulf, wasted
somewhat and grown pale, but still Wulf.
"So we are to die together," she whispered to herself, then
walked forward with a proud step amidst the deep silence, and,
having bowed to Saladin, took the hand of Wulf and held it.
The Sultan looked at them and said:
"However long it may be delayed, the day of fate must break at
last. Say, Franks, are you prepared to drink the dregs of that
cup I promised you?"
"We are prepared," they answered with one voice.
"Do you grieve now that you laid down your lives to save those of
all Jerusalem?" he asked again.
"Nay," Rosamund answered, glancing at Wulf's face; we rejoice
exceedingly that God has been so good to us."
"I too rejoice," said Saladin; "and I too thank Allah Who in
bygone days sent me that vision which has given me back the holy
city of Jerusalem without bloodshed. Now all is accomplished as
it was fated. Lead them away."
For a moment they clung together, then emirs took Wulf to the
right and Rosamund to the left, and she went with a pale face and
high head to meet her executioner, wondering if she would see
Godwin ere she died. They led her to a chamber where women waited
but no swordsman that she could see, and shut the door upon her.
"Perchance I am to be strangled by these women," thought
Rosamund, as they came towards her, "so that the blood royal may
not be shed."
Yet it was not so, for with gentle hands, but in silence, they
unrobed her, and washed her with scented waters and braided her
hair, twisting it up with pearls and gems. Then they clad her in
fine linen, and put over it gorgeous, broidered garments, and a
royal mantle of purple, and her own jewels which she had worn in
bygone days, and with them others still more splendid, and threw
about her head a gauzy veil worked with golden stars. It was just
such a veil as Wulf's gift which she had worn on the night when
Hassan dragged her from her home at Steeple She noted it and
smiled at the sad omen, then said:
"Ladies, why should I mock my doom with these bright garments?''
"It is the Sultan's will," they answered; "nor shall you rest
to-night less happily because of them."
Now all was ready, and the door opened and she stepped through
it, a radiant thing, glittering in the lamplight. Then trumpets
blew and a herald cried: 'Way! Way there! Way for the high
sovereign lady and princess of Baalbec!"
Thus followed by the train of honourable women who attended her,
Rosamund glided forward to the courtyard, and once more bent the
knee to Saladin, then stood still, lost in wonder.
Again the trumpets blew, and on the right a herald cried, "Way!
Way there! Way for the brave and noble Frankish knight, Sir Wulf
Lo! attended by emirs and notables, Wulf came forth, clad in
splendid armour inlaid with gold, wearing on his shoulder a
mantel set with gems and on his breast the gleaming Star of the
Luck of Hassan. To Rosamund he strode and stood by her, his hands
resting on the hilt of his long sword.
"Princess," said Saladin, "I give you back your rank and titles,
because you have shown a noble heart; and you, Sir Wulf, I honour
also as best I may, but to my decree I hold. Let them go together
to the drinking of the cup of their destiny as to a bridal bed."
Again the trumpets blew and the heralds called, and they led them
to the doors of the chapel, which at their knocking were thrown
wide. From within came the sound of women's voices singing, but
it was no sad song they sang.
"The sisters of the Order are still there," said Rosamund to
Wulf, "and would cheer us on our road to heaven."
"Perchance," he answered. "I know not. I am amazed."
At the door the company of Moslems left them, but they crowded
round the entrance as though to watch what passed. Now down the
long aisle walked a single whiterobed figure. It was the abbess.
"What shall we do, Mother?" said Rosamund to her.
"Follow me, both of you," she said, and they followed her through
the nave to the altar rails, and at a sign from her knelt down.
Now they saw that on either side of the altar stood a Christian
priest. The priest to the right--it was the bishop Egbert--came
forward and began to read over them the marriage service of their
"They'd wed us ere we die," whispered Rosamund to Wulf.
"So be it," he answered; "I am glad."
"And I also, beloved," she whispered back.
The service went on--as in a dream, the service went on, while
the white-robed sisters sat in their carven chairs and watched.
The rings that were handed to them had been interchanged; Wulf
had taken Rosamund to wife, Rosamund had taken Wulf to husband,
till death did them part.
Then the old bishop withdrew to the altar, and another hooded
monk came forward and uttered over them the benediction in a deep
and sonorous voice, which stirred their hearts most strangely, as
though some echo reached them from beyond the grave. He held his
hands above them in blessing and looked upwards, so that his hood
fell back, and the light of the altar lamp fell upon his face.
It was the face of Godwin, and on his head was the tonsure of a
Once more they stood before Saladin, and now their train was
swelled by the abbess and sisters of the Holy Cross.
"Sir Wulf D'Arcy," said the Sultan, "and you, Rosamund, my niece,
princess of Baalbec, the dregs of your cup, sweet or bitter, or
bitter-sweet, are drunk; the doom which I decreed for you is
accomplished, and, according to your own rites, you are man and
wife till Allah sends upon you that death which I withhold.
Because you showed mercy upon those doomed to die and were the
means of mercy, I also give you mercy, and with it my love and
honour. Now bide here if you will in my freedom, and enjoy your
rank and wealth, or go hence you will, and live out your lives
across the sea. The blessing of Allah be upon you, and turn your
souls light. This is the decree of Yusuf Salah-ed-din, Commander
of the Faithful, Conqueror and Caliph of the East."
Trembling, full of joy and wonder, they knelt before him and
kissed his hand. Then, after a few swift words between them,
"Sire, that God whom you have invoked, the God of Christian and
of Moslem, the God of all the world, though the world worship Him
in many ways and shapes, bless and reward you for this royal
deed. Yet listen to our petition. It may be that many of our
faith still lie unransomed in Jerusalem. Take my lands and gems,
and let them be valued, and their price given to pay for the
liberty of some poor slaves. It is our marriage offering. As for
us, we will get us to our own country."
"So be it," answered Saladin. "The lands I will take and devote
the sum of them as you desire--yes, to the last bezant. The
jewels also shall be valued, but I give them back to you as my
wedding dower. To these nuns further I grant permission to bide
here in Jerusalem to nurse the Christian sick, unharmed and
unmolested, if so they will, and this because they sheltered you.
Ho! minstrels and heralds lead this new-wed pair to the place
that has been prepared for them."
Still trembling and bewildered, they turned to go, when lo!
Godwin stood before them smiling, and kissed them both upon the
cheek, calling them "Beloved brother and sister."
"And you, Godwin?" stammered Rosamund.
"I, Rosamund, have also found my bride, and she is named the
Church of Christ."
"Do you, then, return to England, brother?" asked Wulf.
"Nay," Godwin answered, in a fierce whisper and with flashing
eyes, "the Cross is down, but not forever. That Cross has Richard
of England and many another servant beyond the seas, and they
will come at the Church's call. Here, brother, before all is
done, we may meet again in war. Till then, farewell."
So spoke Godwin and then was gone.
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