The King of Jerusalem, Baldwin V, was not quite nine years old when he died at Acre. It was a fate unkind to the Christians. The Regent Raymond and the Seneschal Joscelin were present at the death-bed. Needing to impress Raymond, the Seneschal anxiously persuaded him to go to Tiberias and invite the barons of the realm to meet him there for assurance of security from plots and to encourage adherence to the agreements made by Baldwin IV. He convinced the Regent that he himself would take the little royal coffin to Jerusalem for burial. Raymond unwittingly fell into the trap, riding off in good faith. Meanwhile, Joscelin dispatched the royal body to Jerusalem in charge of the Knights Templar. Too late, Raymond discovered he had been tricked.
The death of the young king made the truce between the Christians and the Moslems harder to maintain. It was hoped that the agreement with the Saracens would be successful until some great crusade would arrive from the West providing a securer future for the kingdom. Against the high court, Joscelin and the Constable Amalric placed Sibylla and his brother Guy on the Jerusalem throne. The country became polarized with those that pledged their allegiance and those that announced they could not swear fealty. The Templars closed the gates of Jerusalem and posted guards to prevent any attack from the barons who refused to pledge their support, then made arrangements for the coronation. Soon the country was divided into warring factions. It was not long before a renegade baron broke the truce by attacking a rich caravan from Egypt. News immediately reached Saladin of the outrage. When compensation for the offending action was ignored, the broken truce made war inevitable; a war which the divided country could ill afford.
Surprisingly and without warning, a Templar Knight came riding hard down the dusty road. He was disheveled and bleeding, shouting that Saladin’s young son, al-Afdal, had sent a reconnaissance of seven thousand Mamelukes into Palestine with permission from one of the rebellious barons. They had returned with the fixed heads of Templar Knights on their lances. The massacre united the Christian kingdom once more. A timely unification because Saladin was known to be gathering a great army across the frontier in the Hauran. The Orders of the Hospital and the Temple were eager to avenge the massacre and brought all of the available knights together, leaving only small garrisons to defend the castles under their care. The Templars gave further aid in handing to the king their share of the money sent recently to the Orders by King Henry II in expiation of the murder of Thomas Becket. They had been told to save it for the Crusade which Henry had sworn to undertake, but the present need was too urgent.
Saladin was reviewing his troops at Ashtera in the Hauran. He personally commanded the center, his nephew Taki ed-Din the right wing and Kukburi the left. The Moslem army marched out in battle formation to Khisfín and on to the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee. Saladin waited there while he sent his scouts out to collect information about the Christian forces. Next he crossed the Jordan and encamped his army at Kafir Sebt, while his other troops attacked Tiberias. The town fell into their hands after an hour of fighting.
It was the middle of summer and the heat was intense. The Christian army believed the Moslems would have to retire. Saladin would not be able to maintain his forces for long in the parched country. In the meantime, it was hoped that reinforcements from Antioch would arrive. On a hot afternoon, the Christians encamped at Sephoria, an excellent site for the camp. There was ample water and good pasturage for the horses. Their army was nearly as large as Saladin’s forces and they had the military advantage of the terrain.
That evening a messenger from the Countess of Tripoli arrived who was desperately holding out by the lake. With tears in their eyes, the sons begged that their mother should be rescued. Others followed in support. Quite suddenly Raymond rose dramatically in the midst of the crowd. Standing strongly before the knights, he tried to exhibit the folly of leaving their present advantageous position to make a hazardous march in the summer heat over the barren hillside. Tiberias was his City and the countess was his wife. But, he stated passionately, he would rather Tiberias and all inside the City were lost than that the kingdom should be destroyed. The council broke up at midnight, resolving to stay at Sephoria. But when the barons retired, the Grand Master of the Temple crept back into the royal tent and convinced Guy that it was shameful to let a city be lost that was only six leagues away. Feeling persuaded, Guy sent his heralds through the camp to announce that the army must march at dawn for Tiberias.
The morning was hot and airless. In the treeless terrain, it wasn’t long before the troops and horses were suffering bitterly from thirst. The pace of the march began to slow. Moslem skirmishers continuously attacked both the vanguard and the rear. Arrows flew into their midst as the riders disappeared before any counter-attack could be arranged. When they reached the Horn of Hattin, the Templars sent word to the king that they could go no further. Exhausted, they stopped for the night, but the well around which they all gathered was dry. Upon hearing this news, Saladin could not restrain his joy. At last the right moment was at hand for him. He waited patiently with all his men in the verdant valley below.
The Christians passed the night in misery. Prayers and songs from the Moslem tents wafted up through the air. A few soldiers broke out of the camp to search desperately for water only to be killed by the enemy. In fiendish delight, the Moslems set fire to the dry brush on the hill. Hot smoke and ash poured over the camp, choking already parched throats and blinding the men’s eyes. In the cover of darkness, Saladin stealthily moved his men up the slope. As the dawn light broke through, the royal army realized it was completely encircled. A chronicler would later pen that not even a cat could have slipped through Saladin’ s net.
Soon after daybreak, the Moslem attack began. The Christian military had only one thought, water. Surging down the hill, they tried to break through enemy lines to reach the glistening lake below. Driven back up a hillock, they found themselves hemmed in by the flames and the enemy. At once most were killed while others were taken prisoner. The sight of them as they lay wounded and swollen-mouthed was so painful that five of Raymond’s knights went to the Moslem leaders to beg that they might all be slain. Meanwhile, the mounted cavalry on the hill fought with superb skill, and desperate courage, driving charge-after-charge of Moslems back with losses. However, their own number was sadly dwindling. Their strength had begun to fail them.
At the king’s request, and before it was too late, Raymond led his knights in an attempt to break through the Moslem lines. He charged boldly down the hill with all of his men to attack Taki ed-Din’s regiment. Taki simply opened up his ranks to let the men through and closed up again behind them. Miserably, they could not make their way back to their comrades and so they left the battlefield to head for Tripoli. There was no hope left for the Christians, but they still fought on, retreating up the hill to the Horns. The king’s red tent was hastily moved to the summit; his knights gathering protectively around him.
Time-after-time Saladin’s young son, al-Afdal, witnessing his first major battle at his father’s side, was certain they had defeated the Franks. He could not help but respect the Christian knights as they drove the Moslems back upon his father. Over-and-over he would cry out in excitement, “We have routed them.” Only to see his men falling back again. Finally his father warned him that the Franks would not be beaten as long as the Christian king’s red tent remained mounted upon the hill. Strangely, at that very moment it was overturned. Then he watched his proud father dismount and bow down to the ground, giving thanks with tears of joy.
The Bishop of Acres had been killed. The Holy Cross which he had carried into battle was in the hands of an infidel. The dead horses of the Christian warriors were strewn over the hillside, some with their masters close by. When the victorious Moslems reached the hilltop, the knights and the king amongst them were lying on the ground, too weary to fight and no strength to hand their swords over in surrender. The Christian leaders were taken to a tent set up for the sultan on the battlefield.
Saladin received King Guy and his noblemen graciously. Seating the king next to him, he handed him a goblet of rose-water, iced with the snows of Hermon. Guy drank from it and handed the glass to the rebel baron who had raided the Egyptian caravan. By Arab laws of hospitality, to give food or drink to a prisoner meant that life would be spared. Saladin quickly told his interpreter to warn the king that he personally had not given that man drink. He then turned on the impious brigand and reminded him of his crimes, his treachery, his blasphemy, and his greed. When the man answered back arrogantly, Saladin took his sword and struck off his head.
Trembling, Guy thought his turn would come next. Saladin reassured him that a king does not kill a king; adding with fierceness that the man’s perfidy and insolence had gone too far. He then gave orders that none of the lay barons were to be harmed, but he would not spare the knights of the Temple. To a band of fanatical Moslem sufìs he gave the task of slaying his Templar captives, leaving their bodies to the jackals and hyenas in the hot desert sun.
Christians of the East had suffered tremendous losses before–on the Horns of Hattin the greatest army that the kingdom had ever assembled was annihilated. Worst of all, the Holy Cross was now lost to them. The victor was lord of the whole Moslem world. With his enemies destroyed, it only remained for Saladin to take over the fortresses of the Holy Land. One-by-one he especially sought and wiped out the Templar castles. For the Moslems, he had at last avenged the humiliation of the First Christian Crusade.
But further south would be one city Saladin would not take. This omission would prove to be his greatest mistake. Refugee Christian barons would crowd into Tyre, the strongest city of the coast joined to the mainland only by a narrow sandy peninsula across which an extensive wall had been built. Had he continued with his siege, the wall would have easily crumbled.
Into the port of Tyre against a soft pink and gold sunset sailed the black silhouette of a single European ship containing a beautiful noblewoman. She was seeking a particular Knight Templar. Constantly informed that it was highly unlikely he would still be alive, her heart refused to give in.
And so the progression of the family history had read, leaving more to mystery and imagination throughout the centuries for those to come after, for it was not the Knight Templar that had been lost.
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