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God Wills It! by William Stearns Davis

When the news came that Kerbogha was approaching


For

the famine was the last stroke of the wrath of God upon His unworthy people. Thousands had died when the first hordes, led by Peter the Hermit and Walter Lackpenny, had been cut off by Kilidge Arslan; thousands more at Dorylaeum; tens of thousands when they tracked the desert and besieged Antioch. But this was the crowning agony. When the news came that Kerbogha was approaching, the princes had indeed done what they could. Messengers had rushed down to the coast to bring up provisions landed by the friendly Italian merchants; foraging parties had been sent to sweep the country. But nine months long Syria had been harried by the armies. In a few days all the Christians were face to face with starvation. Pleasanter far to spend their last strength in the daily battles with Kerbogha, who ever pressed nearer, than to endure the slow agony in the city. Yet the infidels won success upon success. The Moslem garrison of the castle made continual sorties; the outlying forts of the Christians were defended gallantly, but in vain. Each day drifted into the starving city some tale of the pride and confidence of Kerbogha--how when squalid Frankish prisoners were haled before him, his _atabegs_ had roared at his jest, "Are these shrunken-limbed creatures the men who chatter of taking Jerusalem?" and how he had written to the arch-sultan: "Eat, drink, be merry! The Franks are in my clutch. The wolf is less terrible than he boasted!"

In the city the cry again

was, "God wills it!" But the meaning was, "God wills we should all perish or become slaves;" and on every hand was dumb lethargy or mad blasphemy.

New misfortunes trod upon old. In a sortie Bohemond the crafty and brave was wounded; Tancred's and Godfrey's valor ended in repulse. The foe pressed closer, damming the last tiny stream of provisions that trickled into the doomed city. Boiled grass, roots, leaves, leathern shields, and shoes; the corpses of slain Saracens--the Franks had come even to this! Richard feasted with Duke Godfrey on a morsel from a starved camel. The good Duke sacrificed his last war-horse except Marchegai, and then the lord of Lorraine was more pinched for food than the meanest villain on his distant lands. As day passed into day despair became deeper. Many, once among the bravest, strove to flee in the darkness down to the port of St. Simeon and escape by sea. Many went boldly to the Moslem camp, and confessed Islam in return for a bit of bread. "Rope-dancers," howled the survivors, of those who by night lowered themselves from the walls. And Bishop Adhemar talked of the fate of Judas Iscariot. But still desertions continued, from the great counts of Blois and of Melun down to the humblest.

One day Richard was cut to the quick by having Prince Tancred, who kept the walls, send him under guard one of his own St. Julien men, who had been caught while trying to desert. Richard had prided himself on the loyalty of his band, and his fury was unbounded.


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