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The Talisman
by Walter Scott
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes


Walter Scott (1771-1832) was a law-clerk and judge, Clerk of Session and Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire, one of the leading figures of Scottish Toryism and of the Highland Society. Scott was the first English-language author to achieve international fame, largely with novels of a romantic past.

Abridged: JH

For more works by Walter Scott, see The Index

The Talisman

I. - The Knight of the Leopard

The burning sun of Syria had not yet attained its highest point when a Knight of the Red Cross was pacing slowly along the sandy deserts in the vicinity of the Dead Sea. At noon he joyfully hailed the sight of two or three palm trees, and his good horse, too, lifted up his head as if he snuffed from afar off the living waters which marked the place of repose and refreshment. But a distant form separated itself from the trees, and advanced towards the knight at a speed which soon showed a Saracen cavalier. The Crusader, whose arms were a couchant leopard, disengaged his lance, and well acquainted with the customs of Eastern warriors, made a dead halt, confident that his own weight would give him the advantage if the enemy advanced to the actual shock; but the Saracen, wheeling his horse with inimitable dexterity, rode round the Christian, who, constantly turning, frustrated his attempts to attack him in an unguarded point, until, desirous to terminate the elusory warfare, the knight suddenly seized the mace which hung at his saddle-bow, and hurled it at the head of the Emir, who, though beaten to the ground, instantly sprang again into his seat and regained the advantage, enlarging his circles, and discharging arrows. At the seventh, the Christian knight dropped heavily to the ground, and the Saracen dismounting to examine his fallen foe, suddenly found himself in his grasp. He unloosed the sword belt in which the Knight of the Leopard had fixed his hold, mounted, and again rode off. But the loss of his sword and quiver of arrows seemed to incline the Muslim to a truce; he again approached the Christian, but no longer menacingly.

"There is truce betwixt our nations," he said. "Let there be peace betwixt us."

"I am well content," answered he of the couchant leopard, and the late foes, without an angry look or a gesture of doubt, rode side by side to the palm trees; where each relieved his horse from saddle, bit, and rein, and permitted them to drink ere they refreshed themselves. As they sat down together on the turf, and proceeded to their scanty meal, they eyed each other with curiosity, and each was compelled to acknowledge that had he fallen in the combat, it had been by a noble foe. The warriors arose from their brief rest, and courteously aided each other while they replaced the harness of their trusty steeds, and pursued their way, the Saracen performing the part of guide, to the cavern of the hermit, Theodorich of England, with whom Sir Kenneth was to pass the night in penitence and prayer.

II. - Richard Coeur-de-Lion

The scene must change to the camp of King Richard of England, who, afflicted with a slow and wasting fever, lay on his couch of sickness, loathing it as much in mind as his illness made it irksome to his body. "Hark, what trumpets are there?" he said, endeavouring to start up. "By heaven! the Turks are in the camp, I hear their lelies!" Breathless and exhausted he sank back. "Go, I pray thee, De Vaux, and bring me word what strangers are in the camp." Sir Thomas de Vaux had not made many steps from the royal pavilion when he met the Knight of the Leopard, who, accosting him with formal courtesy, desired to see the king; he had brought back with him a Moorish physician, who had undertaken to work a cure. Sir Thomas answered haughtily that no leech should approach the sick bed without his, the Baron of Gilsland's, consent, and turned loftily away; but the Scot, though not without expressing his share of pride, solemnly assured him that he desired but the safety of Richard, and Saladin himself had sent thither this Muslim physician. Sir Kenneth's squire had been suffering dangerously under the same fever, and the leech, El Hakim, had ministered to him not two hours before, and already he was in a refreshing sleep.

"May I see your sick squire, fair sir?" at length said the Englishman.

The Scottish knight hesitated and coloured, yet answered at last:

"Willingly, my lord of Gilsland, but I am poorly lodged," and led the way to his temporary abode.

"This is a strange tale, Sir Thomas," said the king, when he had heard the report. "Art thou sure that this Scottish man is a tall man and true?"

"I cannot say, my lord," replied the jealous borderer; "I have ever found the Scots fair and false, but the man's bearing is that of a true man, and I warrant you have noted the manner in which he bears himself as a knight. He hath been fully well spoken of."

"And justly, Thomas," said the king. "Yes, I have indeed marked the manner in which this knight does his devoir, and he had ere now tasted your bounty but that I have also marked his audacious presumption."

"My liege," said the Baron of Gilsland, "your majesty will pardon me to remind you that I have by mine office right to grant liberty to men of gentle blood, to keep a hound or two within the camp, and besides, it were a sin to harm a thing so noble as this gentleman's dog, the most perfect creature of heaven, of the noblest northern breed."

The king laughed.

"Well, thou hast given him leave to keep the hound, so there is an end of it. But to this piece of learned heathenness - say'st thou the Scot met him in the desert?"

"No, my liege, the Scot's tale runs thus: He was dispatched to the old hermit of Engaddi - "

"'Sdeath and hell!" said Richard, starting up, "by whom dispatched, and for what? Who would send anyone thither when our queen was in the convent of Engaddi?"

"The Council of the Crusade sent him, my lord," the baron answered, "but for what purpose he declined to account to me."

"Well, it shall be looked into," said Richard. "So this envoy met with a wandering physician at Engaddi, ha!"

"Not so, my liege, but he met a Saracen Emir, who understood that Saladin should send his own leech to you. He is attended as if he were a prince, and brings with him letters of credence from Saladin."

Richard took the scroll and read.

"Hold, hold," he said. "I will have no more of this dog of a prophet. Yes, I will put myself in charge of this Hakim - I will repay the noble Soldan his generosity - I will meet him in the field as he proposes. Haste, De Vaux, fetch the Hakim hither."

Scarcely had De Vaux left the royal pavilion when the king, to soothe his impatience, sent a messenger to command the attendance of the Knight of the Leopard, that he might obtain an account of the cause of his absence from the camp.

"Hark thee, Sir Knight," said the king, "I require you to remember that, as a principal member of the Christian League, I have a right to know the negotiations of my confederates. Do me, therefore, the justice to tell me the purport of thine errand."

"My lord," replied the Scot, "I will speak the truth. Be pleased, therefore, to know my charge was to propose through the medium of the hermit - a holy man, respected and protected by Saladin himself - the establishment of a lasting peace, and the withdrawing of our armies from Palestine."

"Saint George!" said Richard. "Ill as I have thought of them, I could not have dreamed of such dishonour. On what conditions was this hopeful peace to be contracted?"

"They were not entrusted to me, my lord," said Sir Kenneth. "I delivered them sealed to the hermit. Might I so far presume, my lord king, this discourse but heats your disease, the enemy from which Christendom dreads more evil than from armed hosts of infidels."

"You can flatter, Sir Knight," said the king, "but you escape me not. Saw you my royal consort at Engaddi?"

"To my knowledge, no, my lord," said Sir Kenneth in some perturbation. "I beheld a choir of ladies do homage to a relic of the highest sanctity, but I saw not their faces."

"I ask you," said Richard, raising himself on his elbow, "as a knight and a gentleman, did you or did you not, know any lady amongst that band of worshippers?"

"My lord," said Kenneth, not without much hesitation, "I might guess."

"And I also might guess," said the king, frowning sternly. "But it is enough. Leopard as you are, Sir Knight, beware o' tempting the lion's paw. Enough - begone! - speed to De Vaux and send him hither with the Arabian physician."

Richard, when the physician, accompanied by the Grand Master of the Templars, Montserrat, with De Vaux and the Knight of the Leopard, entered his apartment, immediately exclaimed:

"So, ho, a goodly fellowship come to see Richard take his leap in the dark. My noble allies, I greet you as the representatives of our assembled league - De Vaux, lives he or dies he, thou hast the thanks of thy prince - There is yet another - What, the bold Scot, who would climb heaven without a ladder? He is welcome, too. Come, Sir Hakim, to the work, to the work."

The physician now felt the king's pulse for a long time, then filled a cup with water, and dipt in it a small red purse, which he took from his bosom. He was about to offer it to the king, but he prevented him, saying:

"Hold an instant, let me lay my finger on thy pulse."

The Arabian yielded his hand without hesitation.

"His blood beats calm as an infant's; so throbs not theirs who poison princes," said the king, "De Vaux, whether we live or die, dismiss this Hakim with honour. Commend us, friend, to the noble Saladin."

He then took the cup, and turning to the Marquis of Montserrat and the grand master: "Mark what I say. To the immortal honour of the first Crusader who shall strike lance or sword on the gate of Jerusalem and to the eternal infamy of whomsoever shall turn back from the plough on which he hath laid his hand." He drained the cup and sank back as if exhausted.

The hour had arrived when the royal patient might be awakened with safety. The fever had entirely left him, and King Richard sitting up and rubbing his eyes demanded what present store of money was in the royal coffers.

"Be it greater or smaller," he said, "bestow it all on the learned leech who hath given me back to the service of the Crusade."

"I sell not the wisdom with which Allah has endowed me," said the Arab. "It is reward enough for me that so great a king as Melech Ric should thus speak to his servant. But now let me pray you to compose yourself again on the couch."

"I must obey thee, Hakim," said the king. "But what mean these shouts and distant music in the camp?"

The Marquis of Montserrat at that moment entered.

"Honoured prince," he said, "I delight to see your majesty so far recovered, and that is a long speech for me to make who has partaken of the Duke of Austria's hospitality."

"What, you have been dining with the Teutonic wine skin!" said the monarch. "And what frolic hath he found to cause all this disturbance? Truly, Sir Conrade, I wonder at your quitting the revel."

"What the Archduke does," said Conrade de Montserrat, not heeding De Vaux's sign, "is of little consequence to anyone; yet to say truth, this is a gambol I should not like to share in, since he is pulling down the banner of England, and displaying his own in its stead."

"What say'st thou?" exclaimed Richard, springing from his couch and casting on his clothes with marvellous speed. "Speak not to me - I command thee, speak not a word to me - Hakim, be silent I charge thee!" And with the last word he snatched his sword and rushed out. Conrade held up his hands as if in astonishment. De Vaux pushed rudely past him calling orders in haste to the equerries, which, imperfectly heard, spread an alarm as general as the cause seemed vague, through the whole British forces.

Without regarding the tumult, Richard pursued his way, followed only by De Vaux and a few servants; but the Knight of the Leopard, as they passed him, aware that danger must be afoot, snatched his sword and shield, and hastened to share it. Richard burst his way through a crowd of the Archduke's friends and retinue, pulled up the standard-spear, threw the Austrian banner on the ground, and placed his foot upon it.

"Thus," said he, "I trample on the banner of Austria!"

A Hungarian nobleman struck at the king a blow that might have proved fatal had not the Scot intercepted it, while Richard glanced round him with an eye from which the angry nobles shrank appalled, until the King of France, whose sagacity Richard much respected, came and remonstrated. The duke at last said he would refer his quarrel to the General Council of the Crusade.

Richard listened to Philip until his oratory seemed exhausted, then said aloud:

"I am drowsy - this fever hangs upon me still. Brother of France, know, at once, I will submit a matter touching the honour of England neither to prince, pope, nor council. Here stands my banner - whatever pennon shall be reared within three butts' length of it - shall be treated as that dishonoured rag."

Philip answered calmly he would have no other strife between the Lions of England and the Lilies of France than which should be carried deepest into the ranks of the infidels. Richard stretched out his hand, with all the frankness of his rash but generous disposition, and replied:

"It is a bargain, my royal brother! Here, Thomas of Gilsland, I give thee charge of this standard - watch over the honour of England."

"Her safety is yet more dear to me," said De Vaux, "and the life of Richard is the safety of England. I must have your highness back to your tent without further tarriance."

"Thou art a rough and peremptory nurse, De Vaux," said the king, and then addressing Sir Kenneth: "Valiant Scot, I owe thee a boon; and I will repay it richly. There stands the banner of England! Watch it as a novice doth his armour. Stir not from it three spears' lengths, and defend it with thy body against injury or insult - Dost thou undertake the charge?"

"Willingly," said Kenneth, "and will discharge it upon penalty of my head. I will but arm me and return thither instantly."

Those whom the disturbance had assembled now drew off in various directions, and the Marquis of Montserrat said to the Grand Master of the Templars:

"Thou seest that subtle courses are more effective than violence. I have unloosed the bonds which held together this bunch of sceptres and lances - thou wilt see them shortly fall asunder."

III. - Richard and Sir Kenneth

It was about sunrise when a slow armed tread was heard approaching the king's pavilion and De Vaux had time to do no more than arise when the Knight of the Leopard entered, with deep gloom on his manly features. Richard, awaking on the instant, exclaimed:

"Speak, Sir Scot, thou comest to tell me of a vigilant watch?"

"My watch hath been neither safe, vigilant, nor honourable," said Sir Kenneth. "The banner of England has been carried off."

"And thou alive to tell it?" said Richard. "Away, it cannot be. There is not even a scratch on thy face. It is ill jesting with a King - yet I will forgive thee if thou hast lied."

"Lied, Sir King!" returned the knight with fierce emphasis. "But this also must be endured. I have spoken the truth."

"By God and St. George!" said the king with fury. "De Vaux, go view the spot. This cannot be. The man's courage is proof - it cannot be! Go speedily - or send, if - "

The King was interrupted by Sir Henry Neville, who came, breathless, to say the banner was gone, and there was a pool of blood where the banner-spear lay.

"But whom do I see here?" said Neville, his eyes suddenly resting upon Sir Kenneth.

"A traitor," said the king, seizing his curtal-axe, "whom thou shalt see die a traitor's death." And he drew back the weapon as in act to strike.

Colourless, but firm as a marble statue, the Scot stood before him, his head uncovered, his eyes cast down. The king stood for a moment prompt to strike, then lowering the weapon, exclaimed:

"But there was blood, Neville - Hark thee, Sir Scot, brave thou wert once, for I have seen thee fight. Say thou hast struck but one blow in our behalf, and get thee out of the camp with thy life and thy infamy."

"There was no blood shed, my lord king," replied Kenneth, "save that of a poor hound, which, more faithful than his master, defended the charge he deserted."

"Now, by St. George," said Richard, again heaving up his arm, but De Vaux threw himself between him and the object of his vengeance. There was a pause.

"My lord," said Kenneth.

"Ha! hast thou found thy speech?" said Richard. "Ask grace from heaven, but none from me. Wert thou my own and only brother, there is no pardon for thy fault."

"I speak not to demand grace of mortal man," replied the Scot. "I beseech your grace for one moment's opportunity to speak that which highly concerns your fame as a Christian king. There is treason around you."

"Treason that will injure thee more deeply than the loss of a hundred banners. The - the - the Lady Edith - "

"Ha!" said the king, "what was she to do with this matter?"

"My lord," said the Scot, "there is a scheme on foot to disgrace your royal lineage, by bestowing the hand of the Lady Edith on the Saracen Soldan, and thereby to purchase a peace most dishonourable to Christendom."

The mention of his relative's name renewed the King's recollection of what he had considered extreme presumption in the Knight of the Leopard, even while he stood high on the rolls of chivalry, and now appeared to drive the fiery monarch into a frenzy of passion.

"Silence," he said, "infamous and audacious. By heaven, I will have thy tongue torn out with hot pincers for mentioning the very name of a noble damsel! With lips blistered with the confession of thine own dishonour - that thou shouldest now dare - name her not - for an instant think not of her."

"Not name - not think of her?" answered Sir Kenneth. "Now by the cross on which I place my hope, her name shall be the last word in my mouth. Try thy boasted strength on this bare brow, and see if thou canst prevent my purpose."

"He will drive me mad," said Richard, once more staggered by the dauntless determination of the criminal.

A bustle was heard and the arrival of the queen was announced.

"Detain her, Neville," cried the king. "Away with him, De Vaux; let him have a ghostly father - and, hark thee, we will not have him dishonoured; he shall die knight-like in his belt and spurs."

The entrance of Queen Berengaria was withstood by the chamberlain, and she could hear the stern commands of the king from within to the executioner. Edith could no longer remain silent:

"I will make entrance for your grace," she said, putting aside the chamberlain.

On their sudden entrance Richard flung himself hastily aside, turning his back to them as if displeased.

"Thou seest, Edith," whispered the queen, "we shall but incense him."

"Be it so," said Edith, stepping forward. "I - your poor kinswoman, crave you for justice rather than mercy, and to that cry the ear of a monarch should be ever open."

"Ha! our cousin Edith!" said Richard, rising. "She speaks ever king-like, and king-like I will answer her."

"My lord," she said, "this good knight whose blood you are about to spill hath fallen from his duty through a snare set for him in idleness and folly. A message sent to him in the name of one - why should I not speak it? - it was in my own - induced him to leave his post."

"And you saw him then, cousin?" said the king, biting his lips to keep down his passion. "Where?"

"In the tent of her majesty, the queen."

"Of your royal consort! Now, by my father's soul, Edith, thou shalt rue this thy life long in a monastery."

"My liege," said Edith, "your greatness licences tyranny. My honour is as little touched as yours, and my lady, the queen, can prove it if she thinks fit. But I have not come here to excuse myself or inculpate others - "

The king was about to answer with much anger, when a Carmelite monk entered hastily, and flinging himself on his knees before the king, conjured him to stop the execution. It was the hermit of Engaddi, and to the king's fierce refusal to listen, he said with irritation:

"Thou art setting that mischief on foot thou wilt afterwards wish thou hadst stopped, though it had cost thee a limb. Rash, blinded man, forbear!"

"Away, away," cried the king, stamping. "The sun has risen on the dishonour of England, and it is not yet avenged. Ladies and priests withdraw, for by St. George, I swear - "

"Swear not!" said the voice of one who now entered- "Ho! my learned Hakim," said the king, "come, I hope, to tax our generosity."

"I come to request instant speech with you - instant."

"Retire then, Berengaria," said the monarch. "Nay, renew not thy importunities - nay, this I give to thee - the execution shall not be till high noon. Edith, go - if you are wise."

The females hurried from the tent, and El Hakim made his humble prayer for the knight about to die. The king hardening himself as the leech assumed a more lofty tone:

"Know, then," he said, "that through every court of Europe and Asia will I denounce thee as thankless and ungenerous."

Richard turned fiercely from him.

"Hakim, thou hast chosen thy boon, and I may not, king-like, refuse thee. Take this Scot, therefore, use him as thy bond-slave if thou wilt, only let him beware how he comes before the eyes of Richard. Is there aught else in which I may do thee pleasure?"

"Let me touch that victorious hand," said the sage, "in token that should Adonbec El Hakim hereafter demand a boon of Richard of England, he may do so."

"Thou hast hand and glove upon it, man," replied Richard.

"May thy days be multiplied," answered the Hakim.

"Strange pertinacity," said the King, gazing after him as he departed, "in this Hakim to interfere between this Scot and the chastisement he has merited so richly. Yet, let him live! there is one brave man the more in the world."

IV. - The Victory of Sir Kenneth

Surrounded by his valiant knights, Coeur de Lion stood beside the banner of England while the powers of the various Crusading Princes swept round before him; their commanders, as they passed, making a signal of courtesy "in sign of regard and amity," as the protocol of the ceremony heedfully expressed it, "not of vassalage." By the king's side stood an Ethiopian slave, recently sent to Richard by Saladin, holding a noble dog in a leash, who watched the ranks with a sagacious look as they passed. King Richard looked more than once at the Nubian and his dog, and at last said:

"Thy success, my sable friend, will not place thee high in the list of wizards."

But Conrade of Montserrat no sooner came within his ken than the noble hound, uttering a furious yell (the Nubian at the same time slipping his leash), leapt upon the noble charger, and seizing the marquis by the throat, pulled him from the saddle.

The Ethiopian, though not without difficulty, disengaged the dog; while the voice of Richard, loud and sonorous, was heard clear above all others:

"He dies the death who injures the hound. Stand forward for a false traitor, Conrade of Montserrat. I impeach thee of treason!"

When King Richard returned to his tent some hours later, he commanded the Nubian to be brought before him, and his keen glance surveyed him for some time in silence.

"Thou art about to return to the camp of the Soldan, bearing a letter requiring of his country to appoint neutral ground for the deed of chivalry, and should it consort with his pleasure to concur with us in witnessing it. Now, we think thou might'st find in that camp some cavalier, who, for the love of truth, will do battle with this same traitor of Montserrat?"

The Nubian turned his eyes to the king with eager ardour, then to heaven with solemn gratitude, then bent his head as affirming what Richard desired.

"It is well," said the king; "I see thy desire to oblige me in this matter; with thee to hear is to obey."

* * * * *

The two heroic monarchs embraced as brothers and equals, the pomp and display on both sides attracted no further notice. No one saw aught but Richard and Saladin. The looks with which Richard surveyed Saladin were more curious than those which the Soldan fastened on him, and when later Saladin exchanged his turban for a Tartar cap Richard gazed with astonishment and exclaimed:

"A miracle - a miracle! That I should lose my learned Hakim and find him again in my royal brother? It was by thy artifice the Knight of the Leopard visited my camp in disguise? He will do battle on the morrow?"

"He is full of preparation and high in hope," said Saladin. "I have furnished him with weapons and horse, thinking nobly of him from what I have seen under various disguises."

* * * * *

Drum, clarion, trumpet and cymbal rung forth at once in honour of England's champion!

"Brave Knight of the Leopard," said Coeur de Lion, "thou hast shown the Ethiopian may change his skin, and the leopard his spots. I have more to say to you when I have conducted you to the presence of the ladies. And thou, princely Saladin, will also attend them."

Saladin bent his head gracefully, but declined.

"I must attend the wounded man," said he, "and further, Royal Richard, he saith the sage who hath forfeited a treasure doth not wisely to turn back to gaze on it."

"Come," said Richard, "we will to the pavilion, and lead our conqueror thither in triumph."

The victor entered and knelt gracefully down before the queen, though more than half the homage was silently rendered to Edith.

"Unarm him, my mistresses," said the king. "Let Beauty honour Chivalry. Undo his spurs, Berengaria. Unlace his helmet, Edith - by this hand, thou shalt. Here terminate his various disguises. The adventurous Knight Kenneth, arises David, Earl of Huntington, Prince Royal of Scotland."

The next day saw Richard return to his own camp, and in a short space afterwards the young Earl of Huntington was espoused by Edith Plantagenet.

The Soldan sent, as a nuptial present on this occasion, the celebrated talisman; but, though many cures were wrought with it in Europe, none equalled in success and celebrity those which the Soldan achieved.

* * * * *

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