The Talisman

by Sir Walter Scott

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Chapter XIV

All my long arrear of honour lost,
     Heap’d up in youth, and hoarded up for age.
     Hath Honour’s fountain then suck’d up the stream?
     He hath—and hooting boys may barefoot pass,
     And gather pebbles from the naked ford!
          DON SEBASTIAN.

After a torrent of afflicting sensations, by which he was at first almost stunned and confounded, Sir Kenneth’s first thought was to look for the authors of this violation of the English banner; but in no direction could he see traces of them. His next, which to some persons, but scarce to any who have made intimate acquaintances among the canine race, may appear strange, was to examine the condition of his faithful Roswal, mortally wounded, as it seemed, in discharging the duty which his master had been seduced to abandon. He caressed the dying animal, who, faithful to the last, seemed to forget his own pain in the satisfaction he received from his master’s presence, and continued wagging his tail and licking his hand, even while by low moanings he expressed that his agony was increased by the attempts which Sir Kenneth made to withdraw from the wound the fragment of the lance or javelin with which it had been inflicted; then redoubled his feeble endearments, as if fearing he had offended his master by showing a sense of the pain to which his interference had subjected him. There was something in the display of the dying creature’s attachment which mixed as a bitter ingredient with the sense of disgrace and desolation by which Sir Kenneth was oppressed. His only friend seemed removed from him, just when he had incurred the contempt and hatred of all besides. The knight’s strength of mind gave way to a burst of agonized distress, and he groaned and wept aloud.

While he thus indulged his grief, a clear and solemn voice, close beside him, pronounced these words in the sonorous tone of the readers of the mosque, and in the lingua franca mutually understood by Christians and Saracens:—

“Adversity is like the period of the former and of the latter rain—cold, comfortless, unfriendly to man and to animal; yet from that season have their birth the flower and the fruit, the date, the rose, and the pomegranate.”

Sir Kenneth of the Leopard turned towards the speaker, and beheld the Arabian physician, who, approaching unheard, had seated himself a little behind him cross-legged, and uttered with gravity, yet not without a tone of sympathy, the moral sentences of consolation with which the Koran and its commentators supplied him; for, in the East, wisdom is held to consist less in a display of the sage’s own inventive talents, than in his ready memory and happy application of and reference to “that which is written.”

Ashamed at being surprised in a womanlike expression of sorrow, Sir Kenneth dashed his tears indignantly aside, and again busied himself with his dying favourite.

“The poet hath said,” continued the Arab, without noticing the knight’s averted looks and sullen deportment, “the ox for the field, and the camel for the desert. Were not the hand of the leech fitter than that of the soldier to cure wounds, though less able to inflict them?”

“This patient, Hakim, is beyond thy help,” said Sir Kenneth; “and, besides, he is, by thy law, an unclean animal.”

“Where Allah hath deigned to bestow life, and a sense of pain and pleasure,” said the physician, “it were sinful pride should the sage, whom He has enlightened, refuse to prolong existence or assuage agony. To the sage, the cure of a miserable groom, of a poor dog and of a conquering monarch, are events of little distinction. Let me examine this wounded animal.”

Sir Kenneth acceded in silence, and the physician inspected and handled Roswal’s wound with as much care and attention as if he had been a human being. He then took forth a case of instruments, and, by the judicious and skilful application of pincers, withdrew from the wounded shoulder the fragment of the weapon, and stopped with styptics and bandages the effusion of blood which followed; the creature all the while suffering him patiently to perform these kind offices, as if he had been aware of his kind intentions.

“The animal may be cured,” said El Hakim, addressing himself to Sir Kenneth, “if you will permit me to carry him to my tent, and treat him with the care which the nobleness of his nature deserves. For know, that thy servant Adonbec is no less skilful in the race and pedigree and distinctions of good dogs and of noble steeds than in the diseases which afflict the human race.”

“Take him with you,” said the knight. “I bestow him on you freely, if he recovers. I owe thee a reward for attendance on my squire, and have nothing else to pay it with. For myself, I will never again wind bugle or halloo to hound!”

The Arabian made no reply, but gave a signal with a clapping of his hands, which was instantly answered by the appearance of two black slaves. He gave them his orders in Arabic, received the answer that “to hear was to obey,” when, taking the animal in their arms, they removed him, without much resistance on his part; for though his eyes turned to his master, he was too weak to struggle.

“Fare thee well, Roswal, then,” said Sir Kenneth—“fare thee well, my last and only friend—thou art too noble a possession to be retained by one such as I must in future call myself!—I would,” he said, as the slaves retired, “that, dying as he is, I could exchange conditions with that noble animal!”

“It is written,” answered the Arabian, although the exclamation had not been addressed to him, “that all creatures are fashioned for the service of man; and the master of the earth speaketh folly when he would exchange, in his impatience, his hopes here and to come for the servile condition of an inferior being.”

“A dog who dies in discharging his duty,” said the knight sternly, “is better than a man who survives the desertion of it. Leave me, Hakim; thou hast, on this side of miracle, the most wonderful science which man ever possessed, but the wounds of the spirit are beyond thy power.”

“Not if the patient will explain his calamity, and be guided by the physician,” said Adonbec el Hakim.

“Know, then,” said Sir Kenneth, “since thou art so importunate, that last night the Banner of England was displayed from this mound—I was its appointed guardian—morning is now breaking—there lies the broken banner-spear, the standard itself is lost, and here sit I a living man!”

“How!” said El Hakim, examining him; “thy armour is whole—there is no blood on thy weapons, and report speaks thee one unlikely to return thus from fight. Thou hast been trained from thy post—ay, trained by the rosy cheek and black eye of one of those houris, to whom you Nazarenes vow rather such service as is due to Allah, than such love as may lawfully be rendered to forms of clay like our own. It has been thus assuredly; for so hath man ever fallen, even since the days of Sultan Adam.”

“And if it were so, physician,” said Sir Kenneth sullenly, “what remedy?”

“Knowledge is the parent of power,” said El Hakim, “as valour supplies strength. Listen to me. Man is not as a tree, bound to one spot of earth; nor is he framed to cling to one bare rock, like the scarce animated shell-fish. Thine own Christian writings command thee, when persecuted in one city, to flee to another; and we Moslem also know that Mohammed, the Prophet of Allah, driven forth from the holy city of Mecca, found his refuge and his helpmates at Medina.”

“And what does this concern me?” said the Scot.

“Much,” answered the physician. “Even the sage flies the tempest which he cannot control. Use thy speed, therefore, and fly from the vengeance of Richard to the shadow of Saladin’s victorious banner.”

“I might indeed hide my dishonour,” said Sir Kenneth ironically, “in a camp of infidel heathens, where the very phrase is unknown. But had I not better partake more fully in their reproach? Does not thy advice stretch so far as to recommend me to take the turban? Methinks I want but apostasy to consummate my infamy.”

“Blaspheme not, Nazarene,” said the physician sternly. “Saladin makes no converts to the law of the Prophet, save those on whom its precepts shall work conviction. Open thine eyes to the light, and the great Soldan, whose liberality is as boundless as his power, may bestow on thee a kingdom; remain blinded if thou will, and, being one whose second life is doomed to misery, Saladin will yet, for this span of present time, make thee rich and happy. But fear not that thy brows shall be bound with the turban, save at thine own free choice.”

“My choice were rather,” said the knight, “that my writhen features should blacken, as they are like to do, in this evening’s setting sun.”

“Yet thou art not wise, Nazarene,” said El Hakim, “to reject this fair offer; for I have power with Saladin, and can raise thee high in his grace. Look you, my son—this Crusade, as you call your wild enterprise, is like a large dromond [The largest sort of vessels then known were termed dromond’s, or dromedaries.] parting asunder in the waves. Thou thyself hast borne terms of truce from the kings and princes, whose force is here assembled, to the mighty Soldan, and knewest not, perchance, the full tenor of thine own errand.”

“I knew not, and I care not,” said the knight impatiently. “What avails it to me that I have been of late the envoy of princes, when, ere night, I shall be a gibbeted and dishonoured corpse?”

“Nay, I speak that it may not be so with thee,” said the physician. “Saladin is courted on all sides. The combined princes of this league formed against him have made such proposals of composition and peace, as, in other circumstances, it might have become his honour to have granted to them. Others have made private offers, on their own separate account, to disjoin their forces from the camp of the Kings of Frangistan, and even to lend their arms to the defence of the standard of the Prophet. But Saladin will not be served by such treacherous and interested defection. The king of kings will treat only with the Lion King. Saladin will hold treaty with none but the Melech Ric, and with him he will treat like a prince, or fight like a champion. To Richard he will yield such conditions of his free liberality as the swords of all Europe could never compel from him by force or terror. He will permit a free pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and all the places where the Nazarenes list to worship; nay, he will so far share even his empire with his brother Richard, that he will allow Christian garrisons in the six strongest cities of Palestine, and one in Jerusalem itself, and suffer them to be under the immediate command of the officers of Richard, who, he consents, shall bear the name of King Guardian of Jerusalem. Yet further, strange and incredible as you may think it, know, Sir Knight—for to your honour I can commit even that almost incredible secret—know that Saladin will put a sacred seal on this happy union betwixt the bravest and noblest of Frangistan and Asia, by raising to the rank of his royal spouse a Christian damsel, allied in blood to King Richard, and known by the name of the Lady Edith of Plantagenet.” [This may appear so extraordinary and improbable a proposition that it is necessary to say such a one was actually made. The historians, however, substitute the widowed Queen of Naples, sister of Richard, for the bride, and Saladin’s brother for the bridegroom. They appear to have been ignorant of the existence of Edith of Plantagenet.—See MILL’S History of the Crusades, vol. ii., p. 61.]

“Ha!—sayest thou?” exclaimed Sir Kenneth, who, listening with indifference and apathy to the preceding part of El Hakim’s speech, was touched by this last communication, as the thrill of a nerve, unexpectedly jarred, will awaken the sensation of agony, even in the torpor of palsy. Then, moderating his tone, by dint of much effort he restrained his indignation, and, veiling it under the appearance of contemptuous doubt, he prosecuted the conversation, in order to get as much knowledge as possible of the plot, as he deemed it, against the honour and happiness of her whom he loved not the less that his passion had ruined, apparently, his fortunes, at once, and his honour.—“And what Christian,” he said, With tolerable calmness, “would sanction a union so unnatural as that of a Christian maiden with an unbelieving Saracen?”

“Thou art but an ignorant, bigoted Nazarene,” said the Hakim. “Seest thou not how the Mohammedan princes daily intermarry with the noble Nazarene maidens in Spain, without scandal either to Moor or Christian? And the noble Soldan will, in his full confidence in the blood of Richard, permit the English maid the freedom which your Frankish manners have assigned to women. He will allow her the free exercise of her religion, seeing that, in very truth, it signifies but little to which faith females are addicted; and he will assign her such place and rank over all the women of his zenana, that she shall be in every respect his sole and absolute queen.”

“What!” said Sir Kenneth, “darest thou think, Moslem, that Richard would give his kinswoman—a high-born and virtuous princess—to be, at best, the foremost concubine in the haram of a misbeliever? Know, Hakim, the meanest free Christian noble would scorn, on his child’s behalf, such splendid ignominy.”

“Thou errest,” said the Hakim. “Philip of France, and Henry of Champagne, and others of Richard’s principal allies, have heard the proposal without starting, and have promised, as far as they may, to forward an alliance that may end these wasteful wars; and the wise arch-priest of Tyre hath undertaken to break the proposal to Richard, not doubting that he shall be able to bring the plan to good issue. The Soldan’s wisdom hath as yet kept his proposition secret from others, such as he of Montserrat, and the Master of the Templars, because he knows they seek to thrive by Richard’s death or disgrace, not by his life or honour. Up, therefore, Sir Knight, and to horse. I will give thee a scroll which shall advance thee highly with the Soldan; and deem not that you are leaving your country, or her cause, or her religion, since the interest of the two monarchs will speedily be the same. To Saladin thy counsel will be most acceptable, since thou canst make him aware of much concerning the marriages of the Christians, the treatment of their wives, and other points of their laws and usages, which, in the course of such treaty, it much concerns him that he should know. The right hand of the Soldan grasps the treasures of the East, and it is the fountain or generosity. Or, if thou desirest it, Saladin, when allied with England, can have but little difficulty to obtain from Richard, not only thy pardon and restoration to favour, but an honourable command in the troops which may be left of the King of England’s host, to maintain their joint government in Palestine. Up, then, and mount—there lies a plain path before thee.”

“Hakim,” said the Scottish knight, “thou art a man of peace; also thou hast saved the life of Richard of England—and, moreover, of my own poor esquire, Strauchan. I have, therefore, heard to an end a matter which, being propounded by another Moslem than thyself, I would have cut short with a blow of my dagger! Hakim, in return for thy kindness, I advise thee to see that the Saracen who shall propose to Richard a union betwixt the blood of Plantagenet and that of his accursed race do put on a helmet which is capable to endure such a blow of a battle-axe as that which struck down the gate of Acre. Certes, he will be otherwise placed beyond the reach even of thy skill.”

“Thou art, then, wilfully determined not to fly to the Saracen host?” said the physician. “Yet, remember, thou stayest to certain destruction; and the writings of thy law, as well as ours, prohibit man from breaking into the tabernacle of his own life.”

“God forbid!” replied the Scot, crossing himself; “but we are also forbidden to avoid the punishment which our crimes have deserved. And since so poor are thy thoughts of fidelity, Hakim, it grudges me that I have bestowed my good hound on thee, for, should he live, he will have a master ignorant of his value.”

“A gift that is begrudged is already recalled,” said El Hakim; “only we physicians are sworn not to send away a patient uncured. If the dog recover, he is once more yours.”

“Go to, Hakim,” answered Sir Kenneth; “men speak not of hawk and hound when there is but an hour of day-breaking betwixt them and death. Leave me to recollect my sins, and reconcile myself to Heaven.”

“I leave thee in thine obstinacy,” said the physician; “the mist hides the precipice from those who are doomed to fall over it.”

He withdrew slowly, turning from time to time his head, as if to observe whether the devoted knight might not recall him either by word or signal. At last his turbaned figure was lost among the labyrinth of tents which lay extended beneath, whitening in the pale light of the dawning, before which the moonbeam had now faded away.

But although the physician Adonbec’s words had not made that impression upon Kenneth which the sage desired, they had inspired the Scot with a motive for desiring life, which, dishonoured as he conceived himself to be, he was before willing to part from as from a sullied vestment no longer becoming his wear. Much that had passed betwixt himself and the hermit, besides what he had observed between the anchorite and Sheerkohf (or Ilderim), he now recalled to recollection, and tended to confirm what the Hakim had told him of the secret article of the treaty.

“The reverend impostor!” he exclaimed to himself; “the hoary hypocrite! He spoke of the unbelieving husband converted by the believing wife; and what do I know but that the traitor exhibited to the Saracen, accursed of God, the beauties of Edith Plantagenet, that the hound might judge if the princely Christian lady were fit to be admitted into the haram of a misbeliever? If I had yonder infidel Ilderim, or whatsoever he is called, again in the gripe with which I once held him fast as ever hound held hare, never again should HE at least come on errand disgraceful to the honour of Christian king or noble and virtuous maiden. But I—my hours are fast dwindling into minutes—yet, while I have life and breath, something must be done, and speedily.”

He paused for a few minutes, threw from him his helmet, then strode down the hill, and took the road to King Richard’s pavilion.


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