Saturday, December 6, 2014

Saladin Book 8. Couer de Leons

“Fortune favors the bold.”…Alexander the Great

Richard I the Lion-hearted of England, Leader of the Third Crusade

The Second Crusade was in truth led by people doing the will of the mightiest men of Europe at the time, namely Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III of Germany and King Louis VII of France. After their disgraceful defeats at my hand, their children rose to take up the mantle of Christendom. Conrad’s grandson Frederick I Barbarossa and Louis’s son Phillip II Augustus of France jointly formed the Third Crusade, but its true leader was Richard I the Lionhearted of England, a country that had never participated in the Crusades before.

Richard loved war. He spent the early part of his life rebelling against his father, and although he was the finest knight Europe ever produced, he was not as wise as his father Henry II, who defeated him repeatedly. However, in one final battle, Henry was struck dead by a lightning. Richard gained his father’s throne, though he never gained forgiveness. To deflect his mind from these painful memories, he sought to wrest control of the Holy City from me at all cost.

In the meanwhile, things were good for me. The Seljuks now acknowledged me as their military leader. I was married to Ahmed’s sister Fatimah with his grudging approval, and the Sultan also granted me the title “Guardian of Jerusalem”. But the Third Crusade was far stronger than the Second Crusade. The number of soldiers in their army were close to my own and more heavily armed. Their first attack was on the Greek island of Cyprus.

I was not a great general like Alexander the Great, who never knew defeat. I had plenty of defeats in my lifetime, but I believe it is perseverance that sets victors apart from losers. In that war, however, I underestimated Richard and sent my deputy, Prince Nassur, to make war on him. I also wanted to reward him for many years of services and to placate Nassur after the loss of his wife.

At first, Nassur took the war in stride. He was a little seasick, but once he reached the Bay of Cyprus. He took my ill advice to be more cautious and observe the battlefield first….Big mistake! Richard attacked Nassur almost instantaneously. There was no time for “caution”, and Richard fought from the front without making any observations like the other kings or generals. But he was a huge man and superb warrior, and he butchered Nassur’s men like a wolf devours lambs.

As Nassur’s ranks thinned and broke, the French and German knights charged in and destroyed Nassur’s entire formation. Panic took place, and Nassur was unable to control the men. Richard pointed at Nassur and shouted “Kill the Saracens! Kill the Saracens! A hundred talents for any man who brings me the general’s head.”

His ally, Philip of France, shouted in support, “I’ll double it to two hundred talents.” By the end of that day, Nassur’s army was decimated, and he was in full flight. Cyprus now belonged to the Crusader.

Nassur came before me and bowed, “Sala-hu-din, Guardian of Jerusalem, I have failed thee, and Cyprus is now in the hand of the infidels. Punish me as thou wills it.”

But I lifted Nassur up for I could not bear to hurt my own brother-in-law, saying “Come now, Nassur. Do not weep, for what man can be a true soldier without knowing the trials of defeat.”

And he wept on my shoulder, and I patted his back. We would stand side by side against the invading Crusaders, against Richard.

Even then, I knew that no man was without weaknesses. Even as I learned of Richard’s success, I too heard of his failures. The young man was foolhardy and brash. He was already quarrelling with his ally Philip over who would be crowned King of Cyprus, and so no one was. For quarrels came easy between these two allies.

Eleanor of Aquintaine, a powerful duchess, had married Louis VII of France, Philip’s father, because she liked his handsome beard. When Louis returned from the Holy Land, he learned to shave like us Seljuks, and Eleanor no longer loved him, so she divorced him and married Henry II, Richard’s father. The two monarchs fought against each other for control over western France in what became known as the War of Beard. Without the blessings of the Pope, it was inconceivable that Richard and Philip would be allies. But even then, family feuds simmered beneath the surface, and quarrels were often between the kings of France and England.

And my spymaster Khalil recorded all this in great detail, as I planned how to triumph over the Crusaders in the long term. Every of Khalil’s reports were music to my ears.

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