THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE. “Yes, yes. Bring him in,” she said, putting the pot of soup on the fire. “If he’s got nowhere else to go, I’ll be pleased to let him stay here. But there isn’t much to eat — only this cabbage soup and some bread.” “Well, the soup certainly smells good,” laughed her husband. “It’s wonderful to come home after a long voyage – all the way to Egypt and back — and smell soup like yours!” He went back outside and spoke to the young man who was still stand nearby. “Come in, Robert, come in. You’re welcome to stay with us until you find your friends. But we are humble people, remember. And this is a humble home. You’ll find no soft bed here and no rich food. But welcome to our humble home. “I don’t need a big, rich house. A humble home is just what I want, said Robert, “I am just glad to be in France again.” An hour later, Robert and the ship’s captain were sitting by the fire, finishing their first bowls of soup. The captain was telling his wife about the voyage. This was his first voyage since he had become captain of his own ship, and his wife, and the young girl who had been helping her, listened excitedly. THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE

THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE. Suddenly, the captain’s wife noticed that Robert’s bowl was empty. “Will you have some more soup?” she asked. “Come now, your bowl is empty. Helen, fill the bowls Bowl up.” Robert watched the girl, as she filled the bowls with soup once more. Then he asked, “Is this your daughter?” “Yes,” replied the captain. “‘This is Helen. Robert started to say something, but the captain’s wife interrupted, wiping a tear from her eye. “We had a son as well, but he left us eighteen years ago, and we have never heard from him since. Sometimes we think he must be dead, but, at other times, we pray that he’ll return to us alive one day,” “It’s a long story,” said the captain, sadly. “Perhaps you’ve heard of the Children’s Crusade? He thought for a minute and did not notice the look on Robert’s face. to hear this! Quickly, Robert looked at the bowl in which his soup had been. He wanted” “Yes,” continued the captain. “If any crusade was going to be successful, that crusade should have been. You can’t imagine how many children there were — thousands and thousands of them! But I’m going too fast. “It began when our King Philip was at his palace, eighteen years ago. THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE

A young shepherd boy went there to see him. His name was Stephen and at that time he was just twelve years old. He brought a letter for the King in which there was a message. He believed that the message had come from Jesus Christ. He told the King how Christ had come to see him while he was looking after his flocks and had told him to give this message to the King and to start preaching a great new crusade. “The King didn’t believe his story and refused to give him any co-operation. But Stephen didn’t go home. Instead, he began to preach. He went to the great church in the town and started to preach outside the church. He said that he would lead a huge army of children to the Holy Land. The holy city of Jerusalem had been stolen from the Christians by the Saracen unbelievers. For more than a hundred years, Christians had been trying to rescue the city. At first, they had been successful, but then the Saracens had invaded and captured Jerusalem once more. Stephen said that an army of children would be more successful than adults. The children would rescue Jerusalem because Christ would dry up the sea between France and the Holy Land so that they could cross safely, just like Moses had crossed the Red Sea. “Stephen was a wonderful preacher, and hundreds of people listened to him preach outside the church. Even the priests from the church listened. Church “Then Stephen left the church, and started to go about the country, preaching his Crusade. He went about from town to town and village to village, and many of his friends went about, too, preaching for him. Soon, thousands of children had promised to join Stephen. He asked them to meet him at a special place at the end of June, and the Crusade would start there. “Soon the news of the Crusade had spread through all of France. THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE

Hundreds and thousands of people were going about telling each other about Stephen and talking over the Crusade. “I remember how we talked it over here, night after night. Our son Michael, who at that time was also only twelve, wanted to join Stephen at once. On the one hand we were very proud of him for wanting to go, but on the other hand we knew that it would be very dangerous. He was so young! But as we talked it over, it became clear that Michael would go. And he did. “Michael wanted to go at once to the special meeting place, but when we talked this over with him, he agreed to wait until Stephen’s army arrived here in Marseilles. And we were glad he had waited. Many of the children became ill and died on that first half of their journey. Apart from Stephen himself, who rode in a wagon, and apart from the few rich boys who had horses to ride, most of the children were on foot. And there was a famine in France that year. People had hardly any spare food for the exhausted children. So, apart from the many children who died because of the long hard walk, many starved to death, too. “But despite this, it seemed to us that an enormous army had arrived in Marseilles. We all wanted to help, and we filled our homes with children. But we could only help a small number of them in this way, apart from these few, the children’s army had to camp in the fields around the town. Our home was, of course, one in which many children were able to find food and rest, and our Michael was among his friends at last. “The morning after they arrived there was a huge parade and the children all walked down to the sea. Michael was among them. There, they waited excitedly. They expected the sea to dry up at once, just as Stephen had promised. They waited and waited and waited all day. But nothing happened. The children were very disappointed and many among the big crowd were angry as well. Their belief had been so strong – their belief in Stephen and in his promise. And now it seemed as if this belief had been useless. About a quarter of the children turned away and went back to their homes once more. But Stephen went about among his army, telling them that his own belief was still strong, and that he was sure Christ would dry up the sea before long, “Michael was one among the many children whose belief in Stephen never weakened. And he was right. The sea didn’t dry up, but after a few days, two merchants came to the children’s aid. William and Hugh seemed like an answer to the children’s prayer. They said that they would come to the children’s aid by buying some ships and taking them to the Holy Land. THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE

THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE. Stephen thanked them for their offer of aid, and the merchants bought seven ships for the children, “There was great happiness among the children on the day they at last set sail from France. And we were happy for them. While on the one hand we hated to see our son leave, on the other hand we were so proud of him and all the other brave children. We watched the ships set sail that day with tears in our eyes. And that was the last that was ever seen of the children. No one knows what happened to them after they set sail. All we know is that they have never returned. The captain stopped speaking, and for a minute there was silence except for the quiet crying of the women. Then Robert spoke. “I can tell you what happened to them,” he said slowly. “I was one of those children. I was there. The captain, his wife and daughter gazed at Robert. They were completely astonished. Then they all started talking at once, asking him questions, laughing and crying with excitement. Robert held up his hands. “Now, wait a minute, then you can ask all the questions you want. “I remember how happy we all were that day when at last we set he smiled. “Let me tell you my story first. sail from France. And we were so grateful to Hugh and William for coming to our aid. We didn’t realize then what horrible cheats they were. “For the first few days, everything went well. But then we sailed into bad weather. There was a terrible storm, and by the end of it we had lost two of our seven ships. They had crashed on to the rocks of an island, and everyone in them was drowned. We were all fighting for our lives, so none of the other ships could go to their aid “Those of us who survived the storm were all in a very exhausted state, and the state of the ships was even worse. But on the morning after the storm, we discovered that we were in a very much worse state than we’d thought. During the night, a fleet of Saracen ships had advanced and surrounded us, and we discovered that this was all part of a terrible plan. Will and Hugh had made an agreement to sell us all as slaves to the Saracens. They had never meant to take us to the Holy Land.  “We couldn’t defend ourselves, of course, and we couldn’t retreat we had to give in. In our exhausted state, we couldn’t have fought one ship. and there were eight in the Saracen fleet. Yes, we gave in without a fight and they made us prisoners. It was terrible to have to give in after having set sail with such strong beliefs, but what else could we do? “They took us to the North African coast and many of us were sold as slaves immediately and stayed there. The rest of us were taken to Egypt. and some were sold to the Governor of the city of Alexandria.

THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE. This Governor was building a huge new palace at that time and needed lots of slaves. But I didn’t stay there. I was among a small group of boys who could read and write, and we were taken to the city of Cairo. The Governor of Cairo wanted clerks and secretaries and teachers to work in his palace, and we were sold to him. We were the lucky ones, because the Governor was a kind man. Although we were completely under his control, he always felt sorry for us, and, after all these years, he at last agreed to allow one of us to return to France once more. I was chosen, and the Governor found a ship in which I could set sail for France. But he forbade me to tell my story until I reached France. He was afraid there would be trouble.” Robert stopped and looked at the three faces in front of him. He understood what they wanted to know “Yes,” he said. “There is a man called Michael working for the Governor of Cairo Could your Michael read and write?” The captain nodded slowly and painfully. He could hardly understand what was happening. THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE

THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE. Well,” said Robert, “your Michael is alive. Alive and well!” Tears of unbelievable happiness rolled down the woman’s face. “My son is alive!” she whispered. “My son is alive!” The captain smiled “I will search for him in Cairo!” he said slowly. “Our son has been found at last. THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE

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