Friday, August 28, 2015

"It's rare to see the Templars arrive late for a battle...": An excerpt from "Defender of Jerusalem"

“It’s rare to see the Templars arrive late for a battle,” Sir Walter noted with a short laugh, pointing to a Templar galloping on to the field from their left. They all turned to watch with bemusement. The Templar pride at always being first in battle grated on their nerves to some degree. As they watched, more Templars appeared, also at a full gallop but not in any kind of formation. At almost the same instant, they collectively realized these Templars weren’t attacking: they were fleeing.

Ibelin automatically looked left to see what the Templars were fleeing from, and gasped: “Holy Cross and St. George!” A wide, deep line of Saracen horse had crested the hill with all their banners fluttering. Salah ad-Din’s banner was the largest, in the middle of the host.

Ibelin jammed his helmet on his head, pulled his shield back onto his left arm, then grabbed up his reins as he put his spurs to his stallion. Around him his knights frantically did the same without being ordered. It didn’t take a genius to recognize the danger they were in: the Christian army was scattered all over the field. Ramla was across the river; Tripoli and Lusignan had been lured fully two miles to the north in their maneuver to cut off Farrukh-Shah’s escape. And even those knights still on the battlefield were, like Ibelin and his hundred knights, dispersed and partially spent.

Fortunately, Centurion had been refreshed by the drink and the soothing coolness of the running water on his legs and belly. He responded with alacrity. Once he was out of the river and onto the firmer ground of the plain, Balian stood in the stirrups and leaned forward, urging him onwards. Soon the stallion was going flat out, leaping over the bodies of man and horse in a mad dash to rejoin the King’s forces.

On his right, Lusignan and his knights were also racing back to rejoin the King, while Tripoli took charge of the valuable prisoner and with a handful of his knights rode west for the coast.

The sound of the approaching Saracen charge became an increasing rumble. The Saracens could see their foe spread out and vulnerable before them—and could see Ibelin and Lusignan rushing to regroup. They, too, spurred their mounts forwards. Neither army had mustered infantry for what on the Muslim side had been a raid, and on the Christian side a counter-raid. Nor did Salah ad-Din appear to have the usual contingents of mounted archers; they had apparently been deployed with Farrukh-Shah. The Saracen horse thundering down toward the scattered Frankish forces were heavy cavalry armed with lance and sword. They shouted battle cries, the wind fluttered the pennants on their lance tips, and the sunlight caught on their raised swords. Centurion laid his ears flat back on his head as he raced, determined to escape the onslaught from his left.

But they weren’t going to make it. The enemy was advancing too fast.

They could not risk being run over from the side.

Ibelin flung out his left arm toward the enemy to indicate they had to turn into the attack. He could not take the time to look over his shoulder to see if his knights understood him. Instead, he reached forward and with his left hand took hold of the bridle directly behind the bit. Then he leaned with all his weight on his shield arm and pulled Centurion around—more by the strength of his will than his arm. He barely managed to sit back in the saddle before the lines of horses clashed.

Centurion was thrown on his haunches by the impact from the first lance, and Balian felt blows raining down on his shield, helmet, forearms, and thighs. As the enemy swept past him, each Saracen within range tried to kill him without actually stopping.

That was what saved his life. After their lances shattered, the slashing strokes of the Saracens’ swords as they swept by could not penetrate his chain mail. It took a direct, piercing blow to penetrate the linked steel rings, and none dared slow long enough to deliver that kind of thrust.

Ibelin huddled behind his shield, his head down to protect his face and eyes, making no attempt to fight until Centurion recovered his balance and began staggering and stamping his way forward, with a dogged determination that testified to the stallion’s own will to survive. At once Balian straightened, and screaming to reawaken his own courage, he started fighting—even if this consisted of little more than warding off the blows still directed at him, using both his shield and his sword.

Finally the wave of Saracen cavalry rolled over them, and the knights of Ibelin and Nablus emerged from the clouds of dust billowing up behind the enemy. Like islands in the swirling dust, clusters of mounted fighting men emerged. They were scattered across three hundred yards. Immediately beside and behind Balian, the knights of Ibelin still made up a coherent body of men, while the knights of Nablus formed a half-dozen distinct clumps.

But there were also a score of unhorsed men staggering out of the clouds of dust, stumbling, coughing, holding their hands to their bleeding wounds or cradling broken wrists, dislocated elbows, and wrenched shoulders. As the dust settled further, the trampled corpses of horses and a half-dozen other men emerged, while the piercing screams of a wounded stallion struggling to get to his feet despite two broken legs blotted out all other sounds.

Dawit was down before Balian could stop him. He personally put the injured horse out of his misery with a quick slash to his jugular. This action brought Balian to his senses. Behind them the Saracens had fully engulfed the King and his body of knights. This was no time to sit around staring.

“Get those men mounted!” Ibelin ordered, gesturing for the dazed squires behind him to pick up the unhorsed men. “All of them! Take them back to camp!”

“Wait!” Sir Bartholomew countermanded, laying a hand on Balian’s arm. The gesture had a calming effect, and the older man’s troubled eyes met Balian’s. “Have the wounded that still have horses take the unhorsed men. We need every unharmed fighting man we have—even the squires.”

“Yes,” Balian recognized the wisdom of the older man’s advice and smiled his thanks. “Any of you not fit to fight, take a rider behind you and return to the camp. Everyone else, form up!”

As the remaining fourscore knights and their squires formed a conroi around him, Ibelin saw Lusignan arrive from the northeast and start fighting his way through the enemy to reach the King. They would have to do the same thing. “A Ibelin!” Balian roared as he asked the now drooping Centurion for yet another charge.

Around him they answered “A Ibelin!” and “A Nablus!” even “Jerusalem!” and started forward at a lumbering, weary canter.

If they’d had lances, it would have been comparatively easy. The Saracens were focused on the King and Lusignan, not expecting cavalry to attack them from the rear. But without lances they could not cut a swath through the enemy; they had to fight their way through. The only good thing was that they were fighting cavalry; there were no Saracen foot soldiers stabbing at the bellies of their horses or trying to drag them down. Ibelin and his knights could drop their reins and urge their horses forward with their legs as they used their shields and swords to clear a path through the enemy to the compact body of knights around the King.

It seemed to take forever to kill their way forward, but they had almost made it. No more than two or three Saracens still separated Ibelin from the King when one of the Saracens, an exceptionally large man, stood in his stirrups and brought his sword down on Sir Tancred’s head so hard that it sliced open the helmet. Blood spurted like a fountain, coating and temporarily blinding his assailant, but as Sir Tancred’s heavy body fell sideways off his horse it fell upon the shoulder of the King’s stallion, causing him to rear up and spring sideways just as he had done in the last engagement.

Balian saw the King lean forward in an attempt to stay seated, but now the enemy was stabbing Lightning in the belly and the stallion flailed out with his front hooves, squealing in pain and terror. The King didn’t stand a chance; he lost his stirrups and fell backwards onto the ground.

The knights of Ibelin and Nablus burst through the enemy and turned to face the Saracens to shield their lord as he jumped down and dragged King Baldwin into his arms.
“We’re lost!” Baldwin gasped, dazed and bewildered.

“Not yet, we aren’t!” Ibelin answered stubbornly. He pulled Centurion close and urged the King to mount. Baldwin, however, could grab neither the reins, the stirrup, nor the pommel with his lifeless hands, and the blood-mad stallion danced away from the strange rider again and again.

Ibelin was aware of men around them grunting, cursing, killing, and dying. Young Sir Adrian let out a blood-curdling scream as a Saracen sword gutted him. Blood spurted and then spilled in a stinking gush over Ibelin and the King. It was only a matter of seconds before their protection would be slaughtered. Balian had to get the King off the field, but he could not hold Centurion still and lift Baldwin up at the same time.

Suddenly Daniel was beside him on the ground. “I’ll carry him off!” the squire shouted.
Ibelin didn’t have time to think, much less contradict. Daniel was pulling the King’s lifeless arms around his own neck and hooking his arms through the King’s knees. Then he jogged away in a crouch, slipping almost unnoticed between the horses as the horsemen struggled with one another.

Balian grabbed Centurion’s reins, pointed his foot in the stirrup, and hauled himself back into the saddle, but he’d lost his shield in his efforts to help the King. The next instant he looked death in the face as a turbaned horseman charged at him, pointing his sword at his unshielded chest.

Then the hand holding the sword spun through the air with the longsword still in its grasp. The bleeding stub hit Balian in the chest before the rest of the body slumped down and fell between their horses. The knight who had saved him wore Sidon’s livery.
Sidon had been left holding his castle of Sidon. If he was here now, it meant he had reinforced the Christian forces with fresh knights. Indeed, Sidon’s knights, most of whom still had lances, were pushing the Saracens back, giving the exhausted men of the King’s bodyguard―and Ibelin―a chance to escape.

Ibelin had no illusions about his ability to fight effectively any longer. He had no lance, no squires, and no shield. The best he could do was live to fight another day, and as he turned a weary Centurion away from the battle, he was followed by what remained of his troop: some threescore knights and less than half a hundred squires.

An excerpt from:

                                                                                                       or Kindle!

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Destrier's Tale, Part XVII: Surrender

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part XVII: Surrender

Incredibly, Lord Balian tried a second night sortie just a few days later. But this time the Horse-Haters were waiting for us. No sooner were we across the bridge, than they swept down on us from all sides. There was literally no way to escape them — except to get back inside the city.

The horrible thing was that the Horse-Haters seemed to be concentrating on Lord Balian rather than me — trying not so much to kill him as to drag him out of the saddle. By now, I was pretty confident that I could defend myself. I could bite and trample and kick viciously enough to make the Horse-Haters back away long enough for me to spin around and run for safety behind the walls. (In the dark there were no archers.) But I wasn’t going to leave Lord Balian to those murderers! Behind us the knight-colts were breaking and running, and only Gabriel was still with us it seemed. He pressed in to try to come between the Horse-Haters and Lord Balian. His intervention enabled me to swing on haunches and start back for the draw-bridge. Gabriel and his stallion were right behindw me.

We had just made the drawbridge when Gabriel’s stallion Gypsy gave a blood curdling scream and reared up. I don’t know how they did it, but they brought him down just yards from safety.  He tumbled right off the side of the bridge into the ditch, tossing poor Gabriel through the air. Horse-Haters pressed forward, hot on our heels. They were on both sides of us, yelling their curses and grabbing for Lord Balian. One came up so close on our left that he grabbed for my bridle, apparently intent on pulling me around and into their camp.

The only thing I could think to do was to leap up and kick out with my hind legs. I landed that kick with so much force that the attacker’s mare crumpled up and fell into the ditch with a piercing whinny — chocked out when she broke her neck as she hit the bottom. I was now through the gate, however, and although some of our pursuers came in with us, they were quickly slaughtered by the Christian infantry.

In fact, the Christians were so frantic by now that they killed the slave horses as well as the Horse-Haters. Just swarmed over them hacking, stabbing, jabbing and screaming in fury.

On my back I felt Lord Balian crumple up, falling forward on my neck. I was sure he was wounded, maybe mortally so, and was grateful when a half dozen humans rushed over to him, calling “My lord! My lord! Are you alright?”

“They were waiting for us! We rode straight into a trap!” He gasped out, righting himself again with a groan and adding in a voice laden with pain and grief. “We lost Sir Gabriel.”

“You did the best you could, my lord.”

When I got back to the stables, Georgios untacked me, checked me over for wounds, and made sure I had fresh water and hay, but I was exhausted. What was more, I could tell the situation was hopeless. In the first sortie, we’d managed to destroy those terrible giants that threw rocks and flaming balls at us, but within two days the Horse-Haters had recruited even more of them. The bombardment was worse than ever, and now we couldn’t sortie out anymore either. Our situation was absolutely hopeless.

I guess I went to sleep eventually, but so late that I was still groggy when Georgios led me out after daybreak to brush away the sweat stains of the night before. He wasn’t even finished, however, when suddenly Mathewos ran into the yard yelling for Georgios to tack me up. Again? I thought. I have to admit that for a moment I was genuinely reluctant and snapped irritably at Mathewos and Georgios.

But then Lord Balian appeared and he had fixed himself up. He was in a surcoat with gold trim and his hair was brushed, his face shaven. He was going to face the enemy! And there was no way I could let him down. I pulled myself together and arched my neck to show him I was ready too. If we were going to die, it would be together — fighting. I nickered my readiness to him.

But he didn’t call the remaining colt-knights together. Instead he took only Mathewos and he carried an all-white banner, rather than the one with the arms of Ibelin. We rode again to the Jehosaphat Gate and the streets were completely empty, apparently abandoned, but I could hear the distinct sounds of battle raging to our left. Men were screaming, shouting, cursing and the clang of metal was audible too. Those sounds, I realized with horror, couldn’t have come from outside the walls. Somehow the Horse-Haters had gotten inside the city!

Lord Balian ordered the men manning the gate to signal to the enemy. They started waving banners and blowing horns until they reported they had the enemy’s attention. Only then did Lord Balian ordered them to open the gate.

We rode straight out at a sedate walk. I wanted to charge. I feel stronger charging, but Lord Balian kept me to a walk. So I pranced and danced my way forward with my nose tucked in and my tail up. We rode like that all the way to the large church set among olive trees before the Horse-Haters swept down on us and blocked our way about 30 yards ahead of us. They didn’t attack us though. It was like back at the city-by-the-sea. Somehow the Horse-Haters knew Lord Balian had come to talk not fight.

Lord Balian ordered Mathewos to remain where he was and advanced until we were just 10 feet apart. The humans exchanged words in the language of the Horse-Haters, and the tone was harsh and threatening. Then another Horse-Hater appeared in magnificent robes with a jewel-studded turban and he rode a stallion that was almost as big as me. When he spoke the others backed away and Lord Balian and he were then alone but about 8 feet apart with my head level with his stallion’s tail and vice-versa.

They seemed to talk for a long time and the emotions were raw in both voices, though I couldn’t understand the words. First one then the other raised his voice, then they both grew more reasonable but still sharp. Until, abruptly, it was over. The Horse-Hater turned and started to ride away. Lord Balian called something after him. He paused, looked back at us with fury in his eyes, but then nodded and rode away. At last Lord Balian turned me back toward the city.

We reached Mathewos. “I have surrendered Jerusalem,” Lord Balian said. He did not sound very happy about it, although after they had talked a bit more Mathewos exclaimed “This is a miracle, my lord!”

Lord Balian clearly didn’t think so, he drew up and questioned Mathewos further, but then we continued together toward the city. We hadn’t even reached the bridge before people started streaming out and surrounded us. Some were cheering, others weeping, still others singing. They completely enveloped us just as when we’d first arrived in the city. I didn’t understand it at first, but then I realized that the giants had stopped hurling things at us, the archers had stopped shooting at us and the sound of combat had died away. Whatever it was Lord Balian had said, he’d convinced the Horse-Haters to let us live — at least for another day.

The siege of Jerusalem is described (from human perspective) in Book II of my Biographical Novel of Balian d'Ibelin:

                                                                                                       or Kindle!

The three part biography begins with:

A landless knight,
                       a leper king,                                                                                          and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Knight of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian d'Ibelin, Book I, is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Destrier's Tale Part XVI: Siege & Sortie

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part XVI: Siege and Sortie

I wasn’t given much time to enjoy that victory though. Just a couple days later the largest host of Horse-Haters ever seen was attacking Jerusalem. At first they just charged at the walls, but the Christians — men and mares both — fought them back. The Christian archers were on the walls all day firing at the Horse-Haters, and Lord Balian rode me around and around the city so he could tell the humans what to do.

But then the Horse-Haters found giants willing to throw boulders and flaming balls over the walls and into the city itself. Those rocks were so huge they made the earth shake when they struck they smashed anything that got in their way — masonry or flesh. Most of the horses had been taken out of the city, of course, or were protected in stables, but I didn't like those boulders roaring through the air. Worse, however, were the flaming balls. They set the shops and many a roof on fire and I saw one person go up in flames too. After a couple days of this the whole city seemed to be on fire.

That night Georgios, who had replaced Gabriel as Lord Balian’s squire, woke me up. Dawit and Mattheows were there too, tacking up their own horses, and as soon as we were ready, Lord Balian mounted me and we all rode to the Postern of Mary Magdalen. Here we three were joined first by three strangers in funny clothes, and then by a pack of about two score of those colt-knights that had panicked so badly in the last fight before the siege started. They were riding their horses, who were nickering among themselves and generally behaving badly.

Lord Balian ordered everyone to be silent, then he closed the chainmail flap over his mouth and chin and took a lance in hand before leading that pack out of the postern into the night. Just beyond the postern, Lord Balian pointed me not at the bridge but the ditch. I hesitated, but he urged me forward and so we descended into the dry ditch surrounding the city and walked along the bottom of that ditch along the north side of the city. The ground was very uneven and there were rocks littered around down there too so you had to be careful about your footing. Lord Balian trusted me and gave me a long rein so I could find my way but progress was slow.

Eventually, however, Lord Balian signaled a halt and jumped down. He flung the reins over my head and led me up the steep bank out of the ditch. We emerged just beside the Leper Pool, and here he remounted. Then we just sat there doing nothing. It was hard to see in the dark, but I was pretty sure there were Horse-Haters up to the hill to our right and they appeared to be guarding the terrible giants that flung the stones at us. But there were Horse-Haters on our left too. They were crowded around the giants that were leaning right up against the corner tower of the city.

Suddenly there was a lot of shouting from that direction, and several of the young colts behind me shied at the noise. You could hear the clang of metal and then screams of pain. Lord Balian wasn’t happy at all. His muscles tensed and although he wasn’t telling me what he wanted, I could sense that he wanted action of some sort. I stamped and slapped him with my tail. I even flung my head up to try to make him pay more attention. The next thing we knew a huge flame shot up into the air with a roar. We all jumped and some of the younger colts bolted in panic. Lord Balian seemed oddly relieved, and with a shouted “now” he tightened his calves on my sides. I didn’t need any more urging than that. We started charging up the hill toward the sleeping giant.

Unfortunately some of the Horse-Haters who had been rushing to put out the fires behind us, now turned and starting running to take us in the flank. Lord Balian saw the danger the same time I did, and he turned to face them while some of the other knights continued toward the sleeping giants. There were no mounted Horse-Haters and we ran these footmen down pretty easily.

But then somehow that sleeping giant went up in explosive flame too. When that went up, we all bolted and soon we were just racing back for the comparative safety of the barn. Along our left flank, however, the camp of the Horse-Haters was alive with shouts of alarm and anger. Soon they started charging down at us, firing their arrows blindly. Fortunately, the Christians were manning the wall to our right and returned fire. I knew we had to let the archers fight it out and just stretched out my neck to flatten my stride and make us a smaller target.

Galloping across open countryside in the dark is pretty risky. A wrong step will break a leg and as we turned the corner to get around to the eastern wall, one of the horses did just that. Even in all the noise of the stampede you could distinctly hear his leg snap. Then he crumpled up, flinging his rider off as he fell, but we just kept going. We didn't have a choice.

I could see ahead of us the bridge to the Jehosaphat Gate was down and the gates were open. Humans were lining the wall cheering us on. Some of those younger stallions were trying to get ahead of me in their panic, but I shouldered them out of the way. Lord Balian had led this sortie out, and Lord Balian would lead it back! We thundered over the bridge in a pack and into a city that was wild with jubilation: cheering men and women, singing black-robes, and children jumping up-and-down and screaming with excitement. 

The siege of Jerusalem is described (from human perspective) in Book II of my Biographical Novel of Balian d'Ibelin:

                                                                                                       or Kindle!

The three part biography begins with:

A landless knight,
                       a leper king,                                                                                          and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Knight of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian d'Ibelin, Book I, is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction.

Friday, August 7, 2015

A Destrier's Tale Part XV: Encounter at Bethlehem

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part XV: Encounter at Bethlehem

There were more horses in the stables than I’d ever seen. All the horses from Ibelin were there — except poor Rufus, of course, and the others who had been killed on that horrible battle on the barren hills above the lake. Amira was there and Ginger too, and they were amazed to see me. But I knew things were bad when Lord Balian sent all the mares, colts and fillies away, horse and human both. The younger colts and fillies, who hadn’t been broken to the saddle yet were laden with panniers like common pack horses, and the older horses all had riders. All that were left in the stables after they went were old Spirit, Lord Balian’s old palfrey, myself, a couple of castrates the squires used to ride along with a half dozen pack-horses. I don’t know what had become of Gladiator, but he wasn’t with us anymore.

At first I rather enjoyed having so much peace, quiet and space. Furthermore, unlike at the city-on-the sea, Lord Balian took me out every other day or so. We would leave Jerusalem by one gate or another and ride about until we found an abandoned herd of animals, then we’d chase them back to the city. Once or twice we stopped to harvest apples, pears and plums that were ripening on the untended trees of the surrounding orchards.

But the mood was bad and Jerusalem itself was overflowing with people. At least it was a bigger city with more gardens than in the city-on-the-sea, so the stink wasn’t quite so bad, but it still wasn’t normal. There were too many people, and most of them were human-mares and human-foals. Far too many of the latter. Lots of black-robes too. I’ve never figured out what use these humans have. They didn’t seem to like horses at all and usually ride mules. They certainly never carried weapons and couldn’t defend themselves let alone us, but Lord Balian was always polite to them. I don’t why.

The weather was turning a touch cooler, when we went out in a hoard of knights and horses all the way to a town about five miles south of Jerusalem. It sat white upon the yellow-brown landscape, with orchards now laden with rotting fruit, at its feet. Lord Balian was leading a troop of about 80 knights and we rode into the very heart of the little town without seeing a single living soul — unless you count stray dogs.  In the large cobbled marketplace, Lord Balian jumped down, turning my reins over to Dawit, and entered the tall building flanking the square. The rest of just waited there in the hot sun swatting and stamping at flies.

Two of the knights apparently got bored and rode off on their own. Dawit told them not to, but they ignored him, saying something about water. I thought water sounded like a good idea, and was beginning to get annoyed with standing around in the heat, when those two horses came crashing back into the square at a full gallop. “Saracens! Saracens!” One of the knights was screaming in terror.

And sure enough, there were Horse-Haters right behind them. Hundreds of them. They came clattering into that square with their swords drawn and the ties of their turbans flying. They were hooting and shouting in triumph — until they saw how many of us there were. Then they sat back and tried to stop their slave-horses. That’s not so easy on pavement, and the slave-horses were soon skidding and scrambling. Half lost their footing and the others were nearly knocked over by the horses behind them running into them.

Meanwhile, Gabriel had drawn his sword and started shouting. The knights around me followed his lead and within a moment they were rushing at the Horse-Haters but not in an organized, proper charge. A bunch of amateurs! Furthermore, half the horses were screaming and trying to run away rather than putting their heads down and helping their riders fight. The slave-horses weren’t helping things, because they were screaming too, and in all that confusion, horses couldn’t find their footing on the cobbles.  I flattened my ears and stamped my feet, snorting at the idiots to close ranks and fight properly, but no one was paying any attention.

Fortunately, Lord Balian came out of the building and seeing what was happening just grabbed my saddle from the off-side and hauled himself into it. The minute his seat hit the saddle, I turned toward the enemy like a bat out of hell. Ears flat and teeth bared I aimed at the nearest Horse-Hater, confident that Lord Balian would have his sword out in time to support me.

He did. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever seen him fight the way he did that day. It helped that there were no archers, of course, and no infantry either. It was just us against those Horse-Haters on their slave horses, but the other knights were a bunch of colts, really, none of them old enough to grow a beard and you could see how panicked most of them were. Their horses, sensing their fear, weren’t feeling very confident either. So it was up to me and Lord Balian to show them how it was done.

Suddenly this Saracen in a gawdy coat that glittered gold in the sunlight came charging at us on a white stallion. Now, he was no slave! He was scrambling on the cobbles in his eagerness, and he had a look of hatred in his eye as he came at me. I knew it was him or me. Lord Balian seemed to understand that. He spurred me forward for the first time in years, and even as I tore off half that stallion’s neck, the top half of that Horse-Hater fell over onto the bloody cobbles while the lower half of him bobbed away on the back of his bleeding stallion. That bastard then showed his real worth by fleeing from me abjectly.

When the other slave-horses saw their stallion run away, they turned and followed him without a thought to what their riders wanted. They were racing each other to get away from me, but I wasn’t surprised that  Lord Balian sat back and signaled “no pursuit.” What was the point of chasing a bunch of terrified mares and castrates? I’d shown the stallion which if us was better!

Lord Balian re-sheathed his sword and gave orders to the other knights to collect the dead and wounded. As he turned back to the frightened black-robes crowded in the building on the side of the square, he reached down and patted me on the side of the neck. “Well done!” he told me in a low voice. “Well done.”

That was even more satisfying that defeating that arrogant Saracen stallion, and I snorted my thanks and pranced with pride.

The siege of Jerusalem in 1187 is described (from human perspective) in:

                                                                                                       or Kindle!

The three part biography begins with:

A landless knight,
                       a leper king,                                                                                          and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Knight of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian d'Ibelin, Book I, is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction.

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Destrier's Tale Part XIV: Defeat

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part XIV: Defeat

That hoard of Horse-Haters was still behind us, of course, but there wasn’t one of us not injured. Some of the people were in really bad shape, too, not able to walk. Lord Balian’s squire Ernoul was one of those. Lord Balian had the other humans make sleds and the many of the surviving destiers had to pull these behind them. Other wounded humans were hoisted up behind the saddle of knights in better shape, so that nearly all of us had double burdens. Then we started making our way along the shore of the lake.

I’d never been ridden that long in my whole life — and I’d never missed Rufus so much. With inner horror, I realized that Rufus was probably dead. The Horse-Haters were sure to slaughter every single horse they got into their hands. That meant everyone who wasn’t with us was doomed. It was a sobering thought.

Eventually, we dragged ourselves up a mountain on a winding road to a castle. The Red Crosses there took us in. They provided us with feed and water and some care for our many wounds. But we were clearly too many for them. After resting for four or five days, we continued. I was very stiff and my hocks hurt, but I knew Lord Balian didn’t have any alternative but to ride me. I was proud that despite my age I could do that — all day long — for several days until we came to a city on the sea.

The city had high, stone walls with fluttering banners on all the towers, and there were long-snouted fish that floated on the surface and let people and even horses ride on their backs. Not that I would have trusted one of them for the life of me! Fortunately, Lord Balian didn’t try to make me. Instead, he put me up in a rather cramped and dingy stall, and Gabriel looked after me there.

At first I was happy to just be able to rest, but after a while, it became really boring to just stand there day and night with no exercise at all! It was rather like being in prison. I wanted to get out into the fresh air and stretch my legs and I told Gabriel that. He seemed to understand and not long afterwards, Lord Balian came to visit me too. He patted me and inspected my injuries, and thanked me for saving his life. Then he went away again, and I was still locked in that dingy stall.

I must have stood there for almost a month with no more exercise than Gabriel could give me walking up and down the aisle of the stables, when at last Lord Balian came for me. He had fixed himself up somewhat, his chainmail gleamed and his surcoat was so clean it smelled. His hair was combed too, and he made Gabriel wash the stable-stains off my hocks and knees with warm water, while he combed out my mane and tail himself. I gathered from that that Ernoul had died.

Lord Balian mounted up in the courtyard and we rode through the streets of the city for the first time since we’d arrived. I was appalled by the stink and the crowds. There were too many people there, and the rubbish was piling up in the gutters. The stench of human shit was everywhere. Lord Balian rode me to the massive gate complex, and we rode alone through the three walls out onto the narrow causeway that led back to the mainland.

It was then that I saw them: Horse-Haters! A whole host of Horse-Haters in endless tents lay spread out across the plane in front of the city as far as the eye could see. And there was no one else but Lord Balian and me! I whinnied and tried to turn back for the safety of the city, but Lord Balian stopped me. I balked, trembling from my ears to my fetlocks. It was suicide to ride into that host alone.

“It’s alright,” Lord Balian told me, leaning forward to stroke my neck with his naked hand. “We’re going to parlay.” Whatever that means. I tried to turn around twice more, but Lord Balian was not having any of it, and so I gave in. I had to trust him.

As we approached, Horse-Haters came out to challenge us, and Lord Balian drew up. I was ready to bolt, just waiting the slightest opportunity, but Lord Balian was very firm. He shouted to the Horse-Haters in their own tongue, and after a bit a troop of them came out on slave-horses and surrounded us. I didn’t like that, but they didn’t have their swords drawn and they clearly weren’t intent on killing us just yet.

We were taken to a large yellow tent with long flowing banners floating from the tallest, central pole. There Lord Balian dismounted and left me in the hands of some of the Saracens. Curiously, they collected around me and chattered in their incomprehensible tongue. They pointed and even came forward to touch me, but they didn’t try to hurt me. After a while they dispersed except for one man who let me graze on a long rein while I waited. Eventually, Lord Balian emerged from the tent and was led away. I didn’t like that one bit and I called after him, but he gestured at me to be calm.  Sure enough he returned unharmed and we returned to the city.

Two days later, however, he had me tacked up again and this time Gabriel came too on his castrate and we loaded a donkey with some supplies as well. Then we went back out into that hoard of Horse-Haters and a troop of about 20 surrounded us, and we started south. It was very strange being surrounded by the Horse-Haters and not fighting them. I could sense how tense Lord Balian was too, although he tried to disguise it. When we camped at night, all the horses were hobbled and I grazed with the slave-horses. They were bunch of idiots, who were content being slaves. “There’s nothing wrong with our lives,” one of them tried to tell me, claiming that his master was good to him. Sure, he was! As long as he helped kill those of us who were still free. There were a couple of mares among them too, and they flirted with me a bit, clearly excited by my size and strength. I arched my neck and lifted my tail for them, but there wasn’t much I could do hobbled as I was.

We travelled for several ays until we came within sight of the city of Jerusalem. I’d been to Jerusalem many times before and recognized it at once because Lord Balian had a palace there.  I preferred the castle at Ibelin to that palace because the stables in Jerusalem was smaller and didn’t get as much fresh air or light, but at least it was a familiar place. It was funny, though, the way all the countryside around Jerusalem were empty. Usually there was lots of traffic on the roads and herds of cattle, sheep and goats getting fattened for the slaughter on those hills, as well as people working in the orchards. But except for the lepers at the big building beyond the walls, there was not a living creature in sight.

The Horse-Haters pulled up, Lord Balian saluted them, and then we rode on alone, Lord Balian, me, Gabriel, his castrate and our donkey. It was really strange being alone in so much emptiness. As we approached the gate of Jerusalem, it swung open before us and at once noise spilled out. I flicked my ears forward to try to make out what it was. It was a roar, like a rushing river. Or was it people? The gate was a double dog-leg. You entered into a dark, covered space as if you were going to a gate, but instead there was nothing but a blank wall ahead of you. You had to turn, walk parallel to the wall, then turn again at right angles to go into the real gate. By the time we emerged into the city I was sure the sound was people talking all at once. As I turned that last bend and saw them crowding together in the street ahead of us, I tried to stop because there was no place to go.

Lord Balian urged me forward into that sea of people and they pressed in around us, trying to touch me and Lord Balian. They grabbed onto my trapper, and clung to the stirrups. They even reached for my bridle, although I kept jerking my head up to keep them off me. I was so annoyed that it took several minutes before I realized they were shouting “Ibe-lin! Ibe-lin!” in a kind of chant.

We waded through that frantically happy crowd as slowly as walking through knee-deep mud, until we reached the Ibelin Palace. And there, when they flung the gates open, were Queen Maria and Lord Balian’s fillies and colts. Then I knew why we’d come.

The Battle of Hattin and its aftermath is described (from a human perspective) in:

                                                                                                       or Kindle!

The three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin begins with:

A landless knight,
                       a leper king,                                                                                          and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Knight of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian d'Ibelin, Book I, is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction.

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Destrier's Tale Part XIII: The Horns of Hattin

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part XIII: The Horns of Hattin

They woke us up in the middle of the night. That had never happened before. And the mood among the humans was like none I’d known before. Worst of all, Lord Balian was angry. I mean boiling mad. Not that he shouted or lashed out at people like the Black Knight had done when he was angry, but you could tell he wanted to bite someone. His eyes were narrowed and his jaw set and no one wanted to cross him, even for a second.

The next strange thing that happened was that Thor and I were saddled up and laden with the long, transport waterskins like the ones the Saracens tie to camels. They were not made for horses — much less destriers. I was insulted and indignant at such a burden, but Ernoul smacked me hard when I tried to protest by nipping him from behind and told me: “Lord Balian’s orders! You’ll do as you’re told, just like the rest of us!”


We set out in three divisions. Thor and I, led by Gabriel and Ernoul respectively, were with the middle division around the wagons, carts, and supplies. Ahead of us were knights and infantry led by strangers, while Lord Balian  was behind us with the Red-Crosses. We could only progress at the speed of the slowest, of course, and the sun was hot. The horses of the first division kicked up a lot of dust on that dry road and I was looking forward to a drink long before noon. But when we reached the springs several hours later they were poisoned! I put my nose down to drink and smelt it immediately. I snorted in disgust and stepped backwards. We were all doing that, and the humans understood too. They were really in a tizzy now, running about like a bunch of headless chickens.

I kept looking over my shoulder for Lord Balian, wondering why he wasn’t here to sort things out, but he seemed to have been delayed. There was no sign of him. Ernoul gave me a drink from one of the water skins I’d been carrying myself. The water was almost too hot to drink and not very refreshing, but better than nothing. Thor, however, was still being silly. He wanted his water in a bucket, not out of a skin. I told him he better take what he could get, and he answered that he was a “stud” and didn’t drink “like an unweened foal.” “Suit yourself,” I told him with a snort and drank his share too.

Eventually we set out again, this time striking off the road which made the going very rough for the wagons and carts. They lurched over the uneven terrain, often getting a wheel stuck in a gully or stopped by a rock. The humans were cursing and sweating, smelling even worse than usual, and I could tell they were unhappy. At no earlier muster had the mood been like this, not even at that first one with the Black Knight. The humans were acting like they were scared, looking around like frightened rabbits and they kept looking at this one wagon with a tall gold cross mounted on it and surrounded by Black-Robes. I guess it was something important to them and they seemed afraid of losing it.

When darkness fell we were in the middle of nowhere with no shelter and no water. Now Thor was starting to regret his foolishness. He kept sniffing the barren, dusty ground and pawing it, as if he thought he could dig down deep enough to find the water under the earth. When Gabriel offered him water that night, he didn’t make any stupid remarks about not being a foal and drank from the goat-skin just like I did.

Water or not, however, I was really getting nervous because there was still no sign of Lord Balian. The humans were kneeling in front of the wagon with the big gold cross, and knights were scurrying this way and that in obvious agitation because in the darkness around us other humans and horses were gathering like a swarm of flies at a dung-heap. It could only be Horse-Haters and in greater numbers than ever before. As darkness fell, they howled and yowled like wolves at a full moon, and then lit fires as numerous as the stars over our heads.

Finally, Lord Balian dragged in. That was really the only word for it. Rufus was at the end of his strength and crashed to the ground beside Lord Balian as he dismounted. Ernoul rushed over to give him water, but he was finished. So were the horses of the other knights, while the knights themselves were bristling with arrows. The foot soldiers were in even worse shape — and there were half as many as had been left behind. After Rufus had revived a little, I asked him what happened. “They attacked us all day long,” he gasped out tucking his feet under him to half sit-up. “Mounted archers,” he explained.

“They’re all around us,” I noted nodding toward the surrounding hills.

“We’re finished,” Rufus concluded in utter despair. “Lord Balian kept us behind the footmen, but the Red-Crosses charged them several times. All they got was dead horses! It was as if they didn’t care about their horses at all. As if they were fighting for something else than our safety. Don’t trust the Red Crosses,” he concluded and then his eyes rolled back into his head and he sank into a miserable sleep.

The morning brought the smoke of brush fires from the west and the hot air became almost unbreathable. The army stirred, but it was the stirring of turtles stranded on the beach. Neither horse nor human had any energy after the dry, sleepless night. Only the relentless approach of the fires forced us to advance toward the rising sun.

But there, spread out across two hills that loomed up like two horns on either side of an arid valley was the host of Horse-Haters. They were as numerous as the sand on the shore of the great sea, as numerous as grass in the pastures of Ibelin. We were like a herd of lost lambs surrounded by wolves.

Lord Balian took Thor. It broke my heart. I could see it on his face that he expected to die that day — and he chose to die with Thor rather than me. I protested. “I’m your destrier!” I called to him. “Me!” But he didn’t even look over at me. His face was closed. His thoughts and emotions locked inside.

So I was left with the palfreys, pack-horses and draught horses around the baggage train. It was the ultimate humiliation! The others, even Rufus, were too exhausted and thirsty to take an interest in anything, but I couldn’t ignore what was happening only half a mile away. The Saracens used arrows first, as always, and there were so many of them that they overwhelmed our armor — finding the weaknesses, breaking the links.  Men and horses were sinking down under that deadly hail. The Christians tried a charge, but they were too weak. After initial success, they lost momentum in that hoard of Horse-Haters. Meanwhile, the Christian footmen had had enough. They were no longer willing to die for us. They retreated up the slopes of those hills and left the horses almost completely exposed.

At this point, even the humans realized that there was no hope of fighting the Horse-Haters, we had to try to escape. Some Christian knights made a desperate charge that broke through the enemy, but Lord Balian wasn’t with them. When I couldn’t find him among the knights escaping, I tried to find Lord Balian in the shrinking cluster of knights left behind, but he was gone! Just gone! I was still looking, when Ernoul emerged out of nowhere.

The boy was in bad shape. He stank abominably, as only humans do when they’re scared shitless. He was shaking too, but he jumped down from his rather dazed castrate and started saddling me up. Only then did I grasp what had happened. Thor was dead and Lord Balian needed me! The younger horse had failed him!

When I was tacked up, Ernoul remounted his castrate and led me onto the battlefield right up to the corpse of Thor. He didn’t have a wound worth talking about on him; he had collapsed from thirst!  Lord Balian was pretty exhausted too. It took him two tries to mount.

By the time he had mounted, the break in the enemy lines had closed again and we were all trapped. One of the other knights still trapped on that bloody field was suddenly beside us pointing at the infantry cowering on the hill to our right around that wagon with the gold cross. He was pointing toward it and saying we had to go up there, behind the foot soldiers. I didn’t think much of that suggestion. They’d abandoned us once before; they would surely do it again. I preferred the idea of trying to break out.

So did Lord Balian. He pointed at the enemy and the other knight backed down. Lord Balian couched his last lance and all the horses still with him, even the squires on their castrates, clustered around. We got as close together as possible, seeking protection and courage from each other. Then we charged.

He killed two men with his first charge — one with the lance and the second when the first fell backwards and knocked his companion off his horse. After that we were a single killing machine — he with his sword and me with my teeth and hooves. I had no idea how far we were from escape. I certainly couldn’t see the end of the Horse-Hater’s ranks, when something smashed into us from the left. It must have been a whole herd of horses because they knocked several of my comrades down completely and I was staggered. I lost my footing and stumbled so violently that Lord Balian lost his stirrups. He started to fall off, and grabbed my mane desperately to stay on my back. I had recovered my footing and knew that we had to get away from whatever had hit us. It was pure instinct. All of us together were running in the opposite direction which was strangely open.

It was a stampede and the humans had nothing to do with it. Lord Balian was struggling to get back into the saddle and stay with me, and I was determined to get him — and me — out of there! Off that field. I hadn’t reckoned with Lord Balian’s skill, however. He somehow managed to get his seat back in the saddle, pick up the reins and start checking me.

OK. I know I said I’d learned to trust him, but flight was the only thing that made sense in this situation and I wasn’t inclined to listen to him. I guess I did slow down a little, however, out of respect and habit. It was a good thing I did because the next thing I knew we were crashing over the edge of that valley between the horn-like hills and the slope on the far side was so steep we began all slipping and sliding and scrambling.

I sat on my haunches and tore the skin off my hocks as we skidded down that slope, dirt, stones and rocks rolling with us. We crashed through the underbrush and tore up the thorns and bramble as we descended. Lord Balian flung himself off my back and tried to steady me, but he lost his own footing in that rock-and-flesh slide and we only stayed together as we slid down hill because he didn’t let go of my bridle.

Gradually we slowed down and were able to walk side-by-side down a gravel gully. Around us were the other knights and squires of Ibelin and Nablus, and even some of the foot soldiers. With each step we were farther from the battle that still raged, the sounds of it grew ever fainter behind us.

Ahead was a great lake. You could smell the sweet water on the warm, afternoon air. We walked straight into it until the water lapped around my belly, then I put my head down and drank and drank and drank.

There were no more than a couple hundred horses and ten-times that many foot soldiers, but Lord Balian and I were safe. Or so I thought.

The Battle of Hattin is described from the human perspective in:

A divided Kingdom,
                          a united enemy,

                                        and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Buy Now in Paperback!  

or Kindle!

The first book in the series, Knight of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian d'Ibelin, is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction.

A landless knight,

                           a leper king,

                                                and the struggle for Jerusalem!