Saturday, December 6, 2014

Saladin Book 9. Silk and Steel

“Even the continuous dewdrop can break the hardest stone.”….Thai saying

Philip II Augustus of France, another leader of the Third Crusade

Now, if Khalil told me only of the rift between the English and French monarchs, then surely he was not worthy of being my spymaster, but he also found out that the Crusaders were landing in Acre instead of coming directly to me in Jerusalem. I saw that Nassur was already disheartened by the setbacks, so I told him to guard Jerusalem, whilst I marched forward to face the Crusaders in Acre.

Surely, the Crusaders did not simply bluntly attack Acre. No, for they had Philip II Augustus of France on their side, and he was as bright as Richard was brave. A small force of French skirmishers and German cavalry led by Duke Leopold of Austria did attack Jerusalem, but it was a mere diversionary tactic. Nassur followed my advice and refused to meet Leopold in battle despite repeated attempts to jeer and provoke him into doing so.

Instead, Nassur’s larger force remained within the city fortress and threw furies of boiling ash on the enemies, showering them with a stream of arrows. Finally, the enemy attacks broke, and the diversionary force retreated to join their peers at Acre.

At Acre, the main force of the Crusaders marched out against us. I didn’t fall for the trap. Richard was a much better warrior than me. He killed my men in the hundreds, but was he as good a general as Philip? So I decided to parley with him.

Richard came before me, the brave knight Ivanhoe by his side. Then, he took out an English broadsword and cut solid steel into half. I took my kris (a curved sword) out and dropped fine silk over it. Upon contact, the silk tore itself into half.

In admiration, Richard said, “Your sword is as delicate than the autumn wind.”

To which I replied in equal measure of admiration, “As your sword is stronger than the best of steel.”

After this parley, we left each other, and several days later, the attacks continued. Richard and Ivanhoe were probably the greatest warriors of the West, for even though our forces slightly outnumbered them, we could not crush the English. After losing more than 5,000 men, I decided to retreat. To lose more men would be to endanger Jerusalem itself. Besides, Philip himself had swept behind us and cut our supply lines. We could not fight for long.

And so, in this manner, Acre fell to Richard and his allies. But I was much more reserved and calculative then. I took my defeat in strides and looked for ways to turn it yet into a victory against the Crusaders. Even in Richard’s victory, I saw areas of weakness. Instead of pressing ahead in his position of strength, Richard decided to spend too much time celebrating his success. He would joust with his Norman and Saxon knights like Ivanhoe, but this waste of time cost them much gold that England could ill-afford.

And conflicts continued in Acre over whether France or England was predominant as well. The Templar Knights were divided across national lines. A Frenchman was installed as Visitor of Acre, because Philip claimed it was his plan to cut supply lines not Richard’s valor in combat that won the day. In truth, it was probably because Philip made greater donations to the Church in Rome. But even then, Khalil disguised himself as a lowly servant in the fortress of Acre, where he continued to send reports to me. And this was music to my ears, for the Crusaders were foreigners and the Holy Land was my home. Time was on my side.

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