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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Richard and Saladin
By Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)
 
From ‘The Talisman’

THE TWO heroic monarchs—for such they both were—threw themselves at once from horseback; and the troops halting and the music suddenly ceasing, they advanced to meet each other in profound silence, and after a courteous inclination on either side they embraced as brethren and equals. The pomp and display upon both sides attracted no further notice; no one saw aught save Richard and Saladin, and they too beheld nothing but each other. The looks with which Richard surveyed Saladin were, however, more intently curious than those which the Soldan fixed upon him; and the Soldan also was the first to break silence.  1
  “The Melech Ric is welcome to Saladin as water to this desert. I trust he hath no distrust of this numerous array. Excepting the armed slaves of my household, those who surround you with eyes of wonder and of welcome are, even the humblest of them, the privileged nobles of my thousand tribes; for who that could claim a title to be present would remain at home when such a prince was to be seen as Richard,—with the terrors of whose name, even on the sands of Yemen, the nurse stills her child, and the free Arab subdues his restive steed!”  2
  “And these are all nobles of Araby?” said Richard, looking around on wild forms with their persons covered with haicks, their countenances swart with the sunbeams, their teeth as white as ivory, their black eyes glancing with fierce and preternatural lustre from under the shade of their turbans, and their dress being in general simple even to meanness.  3
  “They claim such rank,” said Saladin; “but though numerous, they are within the conditions of the treaty, and bear no arms but the sabre—even the iron of their lances is left behind.”  4
  “I fear,” muttered De Vaux in English, “they have left them where they can be soon found.—A most flourishing house of Peers, I confess, and would find Westminster Hall something too narrow for them.”  5
  “Hush, De Vaux,” said Richard, “I command thee.—Noble Saladin,” he said, “suspicion and thou cannot exist on the same ground. Seest thou,” pointing to the litters,—“I too have brought some champions with me, though armed perhaps in breach of agreement; for bright eyes and fair features are weapons which cannot be left behind.”  6
  The Soldan, turning to the litters, made an obeisance as lowly as if looking toward Mecca, and kissed the sand in token of respect.  7
  “Nay,” said Richard, “they will not fear a closer encounter, brother: wilt thou not ride toward their litters?—and the curtains will be presently withdrawn.”  8
  “That may Allah prohibit!” said Saladin, “since not an Arab looks on who would not think it shame to the noble ladies to be seen with their faces uncovered.”  9
  “Thou shalt see them, then, in private, brother,” answered Richard.  10
  “To what purpose?” answered Saladin, mournfully. “Thy last letter was, to the hopes which I had entertained, like water to fire; and wherefore should I again light a flame which may indeed consume, but cannot cheer me?—But will not my brother pass to the tent which his servant hath prepared for him? My principal black slave hath taken order for the reception of the princesses; the officers of my household will attend your followers; and ourself will be the chamberlain of the royal Richard.”  11
  He led the way accordingly to a splendid pavilion, where was everything that royal luxury could devise. De Vaux, who was in attendance, then removed the chappe (capa), or long riding-cloak which Richard wore; and he stood before Saladin in the close dress which showed to advantage the strength and symmetry of his person, while it bore a strong contrast to the flowing robes which disguised the thin frame of the Eastern monarch. It was Richard’s two-handed sword that chiefly attracted the attention of the Saracen,—a broad, straight blade, the seemingly unwieldy length of which extended well-nigh from the shoulder to the heel of the wearer.  12
  “Had I not,” said Saladin, “seen this brand flaming in the front of battle, like that of Azrael, I had scarce believed that human arm could wield it. Might I request to see the Melech Ric strike one blow with it in peace, and in pure trial of strength?”  13
  “Willingly, noble Saladin,” answered Richard; and looking around for something whereon to exercise his strength, he saw a steel mace, held by one of the attendants, the handle being of the same metal, and about an inch and a half in diameter: this he placed on a block of wood.  14
  The anxiety of De Vaux for his master’s honor led him to whisper in English, “For the Blessed Virgin’s sake, beware what you attempt, my liege! Your full strength is not as yet returned: give no triumph to the infidel.”  15
  “Peace, fool!” said Richard, standing firm on his ground, and casting a fierce glance around: “thinkest thou that I can fail in his presence?”  16
  The glittering broadsword, wielded by both his hands, rose aloft to the King’s left shoulder, circled round his head, descended with the sway of some terrific engine, and the bar of iron rolled on the ground in two pieces, as a woodsman would sever a sapling with a hedging-bill.  17
  “By the head of the Prophet, a most wonderful blow!” said the Soldan, critically and accurately examining the iron bar which had been cut asunder; and the blade of the sword was so well tempered as to exhibit not the least token of having suffered by the feat it had performed. He then took the King’s hand, and looking on the size and muscular strength which it exhibited, laughed as he placed it beside his own, so lank and thin, so inferior in brawn and sinew.  18
  “Ay, look well,” said De Vaux in English: “it will be long ere your long jackanapes fingers do such a feat with your fine gilded reaping-hook there.”  19
  “Silence, De Vaux,” said Richard: “by our Lady, he understands or guesses thy meaning; be not so broad, I pray thee.”  20
  The Soldan indeed presently said, “Something I would fain attempt—though wherefore should the weak show their inferiority in presence of the strong? Yet each land hath its own exercises, and this may be new to the Melech Ric.” So saying, he took from the floor a cushion of silk and down, and placed it upright on one end. “Can thy weapon, my brother, sever that cushion?” he said to King Richard.  21
  “No, surely,” replied the King: “no sword on earth, were it the Excalibar of King Arthur, can cut that which opposes no steady resistance to the blow.”  22
  “Mark, then,” said Saladin; and tucking up the sleeve of his gown, showed his arm, thin indeed and spare, but which constant exercise had hardened into a mass consisting of naught but bone, brawn, and sinew. He unsheathed his scimitar; a curved and narrow blade, which glittered not like the swords of the Franks, but was on the contrary of a dull-blue color, marked with ten millions of meandering lines which showed how anxiously the metal had been welded by the armorer. Wielding this weapon, apparently so inefficient when compared to that of Richard, the Soldan stood resting his weight upon his left foot, which was slightly advanced; he balanced himself a little as if to steady his aim; then stepping at once forward, drew the scimitar across the cushion, applying the edge so dexterously and with so little apparent effort that the cushion seemed rather to fall asunder than to be divided by violence.  23
  “It is a juggler’s trick,” said De Vaux, darting forward and snatching up the portion of the cushion which had been cut off, as if to assure himself of the reality of the feat,—“there is gramarye in this.”  24
  The Soldan seemed to comprehend him; for he undid the sort of veil which he had hitherto worn, laid it double along the edge of his sabre, extended the weapon edgeways in the air, and drawing it suddenly through the veil, although it hung on the blade entirely loose, severed that also into two parts, which floated to different sides of the tent,—equally displaying the extreme temper and sharpness of the weapon, and the exquisite dexterity of him who used it.  25
  “Now, in good faith, my brother,” said Richard, “thou art even matchless at the trick of the sword, and right perilous were it to meet thee! Still, however, I put some faith in a downright English blow; and what we cannot do by sleight, we eke out by strength. Nevertheless, in truth thou art as expert in inflicting wounds as my sage Hakim in curing them. I trust I shall see the learned leech: I have much to thank him for, and had brought some small present.”  26
  As he spoke, Saladin exchanged his turban for a Tartar cap. He had no sooner done so, than De Vaux opened at once his extended mouth and his large round eyes, and Richard gazed with scarce less astonishment, while the Soldan spoke in a grave and altered voice: “The sick man, sayeth the poet, while he is yet infirm knoweth the physician by his step; but when he is recovered he knoweth not even his face when he looks upon him.”  27
  “A miracle! a miracle!” exclaimed Richard.  28
  “Of Mahound’s working, doubtless,” said Thomas de Vaux.  29
  “That I should lose my learned Hakim,” said Richard, “merely by absence of his cap and robe, and that I should find him again in my royal brother Saladin!”  30
  “Such is oft the fashion of the world,” answered the Soldan: “the tattered robe makes not always the dervish.”  31
  “And it was through thy intercession,” said Richard, “that yonder Knight of the Leopard was saved from death, and by thy artifice that he revisited my camp in disguise!”  32
  “Even so,” replied Saladin: “I was physician enough to know that unless the wounds of his bleeding honor were stanched, the days of his life must be few. His disguise was more easily penetrated than I had expected from the success of my own.”  33
  “An accident,” said King Richard (probably alluding to the circumstance of his applying his lips to the wound of the supposed Nubian), “let me first know that his skin was artificially discolored; and that hint once taken, detection became easy, for his form and person are not to be forgotten. I confidently expect that he will do battle on the morrow.”  34
  “He is full in preparation and high in hope,” said the Soldan. “I have furnished him with weapons and horse, thinking nobly of him from what I have seen under various disguises.”  35
  “Knows he now,” said Richard, “to whom he lies under obligation?”  36
  “He doth,” replied the Saracen; “I was obliged to confess my person when I unfolded my purpose.”  37
  “And confessed he aught to you?” said the King of England.  38
  “Nothing explicit,” replied the Soldan; “but from much that passed between us, I conceive his love is too highly placed to be happy in its issue.”  39
  “And thou knowest that his daring and insolent passion crossed thine own wishes?” said Richard.  40
  “I might guess so much,” said Saladin; “but his passion had existed ere my wishes had been formed—and, I must now add, is likely to survive them. I cannot, in honor, revenge me for my disappointment on him who had no hand in it. Or if this high-born dame loved him better than myself, who can say that she did not justice to a knight of her own religion, who is full of nobleness?”  41
  “Yet of too mean lineage to mix with the blood of Plantagenet,” said Richard haughtily.  42
  “Such may be your maxims in Frangistan,” replied the Soldan. “Our poets of the Eastern countries say that a valiant camel-driver is worthy to kiss the lip of a fair Queen, when a cowardly prince is not worthy to salute the hem of her garment. But with your permission, noble brother, I must take leave of thee for the present, to receive the Duke of Austria and yonder Nazarene knight,—much less worthy of hospitality, but who must yet be suitably entreated, not for their sakes, but for mine own honor;—for what saith the sage Lokman? ‘Say not that the food is lost unto thee which is given to the stranger; for if his body be strengthened and fattened therewithal, not less is thine own worship and good name cherished and augmented.’”  43
  The Saracen monarch departed from King Richard’s tent; and having indicated to him, rather with signs than with speech, where the pavilion of the Queen and her attendants was pitched, he went to receive the Marquis of Montserrat and his attendants, for whom, with less good-will but with equal splendor, the magnificent Soldan had provided accommodations. The most ample refreshments, both in the Oriental and after the European fashion, were spread before the royal and princely guests of Saladin, each in their own separate pavilion; and so attentive was the Soldan to the habits and taste of his visitors, that Grecian slaves were stationed to present them with the goblet, which is the abomination of the sect of Mohammed. Ere Richard had finished his meal, the ancient Omrah, who had brought the Soldan’s letter to the Christian camp, entered with a plan of the ceremonial to be observed on the succeeding day of the combat. Richard, who knew the taste of his old acquaintance, invited him to pledge him in a flagon of wine of Schiraz: but Abdallah gave him to understand, with a rueful aspect, that self-denial, in the present circumstances, was a matter in which his life was concerned; for that Saladin, tolerant in many respects, both observed, and enforced by high penalties, the laws of the Prophet.  44
  “Nay, then,” said Richard, “if he loves not wine, that lightener of the human heart, his conversion is not to be hoped for, and the prediction of the mad priest of Engaddi goes like chaff down the wind.”  45
 
 
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