Friday, May 8, 2015

A Destrier's Tale: Part II -- The Black Knight

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part II: The Black Knight





After leaving the stables where I was born and backed, I don’t like remembering what happened next.

First, we travelled for two whole days leaving behind the fertile valley of my childhood and entering hilly country that was quite barren though not yet desert. Of course, at the time I had never seen a desert, so it was the driest place I had ever seen. When the wind blew it was hot rather than cool and laden with dust particles that settled everywhere — in my ears and nostrils and on my tongue as well. The flies were terrible to.

Eventually, we came to a small, dusty and rather shabby village. There was a well in the village and all the children and women gathered around it and watched as I was led into the enclosure beside the biggest and only stone building in village.  It was a two-storied, rectangular structure with a flat roof that abutted a single story building which by the smells coming from it housed the kitchens and bake-oven. The building had only very narrow windows on the second story facing the street, but larger windows and doors opening onto the enclosure. Soon people flooded out to greet the man who had taken me away from home. There was an old man and several women and the old man came over and walked around me very critically, but then he nodded and clapped the man who’d brought me on his back approvingly. It seemed that he was the father of the man who had taken me from home and he was always addressed as “Sir Robert.” He called the man who had brought me there “my boy” or “Tom” but the others called him “Sir Thomas,” so I gathered that Sir Robert was Sir Thomas' father.

I guess I should say something about Sir Thomas. He was not very old, hardly more than a colt, and he had dark hair and a black mustache. He had long limbs and a long neck, for a human, too. There was nothing about the look of him that warned me he was a bad human, but I soon learned differently. In my mind, I never thought of him as “Sir Thomas,” just as the Black Knight.

That first night I was taken into the stables of the manor and discovered just how lucky I had been up to then. This place was cramped, dark and dirty. They tied each horse in place — literally tied the lead to the feed box, so you couldn’t turn around or lie down at night. Not that the stalls were wide enough to lie down anyway. There were high wooden walls between the stalls so we could not see much less nuzzle our neighbors. You just had to stand there day in and day out in your own shit, hoping they wouldn’t forget to feed and water you.

The grooms were lazy and unfriendly too. They tried to get away with doing as little work as possible, which is why our stalls were always so dirty. They treated us like we were all idiots, who had to be slapped about to be made to do anything. To be fair, of the six of us there, three were so old and broken they didn’t have the energy to respond to anything less than prodding. It was terrible to see them, actually, their legs were deformed with bone and bog spavins and one had two bowed tendons. The only mare was so old that all she could do was doze, while the only half-way young and healthy horse was the one that Sir Thomas had been riding when he came and took me away. We’d become friendly on the journey, of course, and he’d warned me things weren’t good where we were going, only I hadn’t been able to imagine anything like this because I’d never seen anything like it before. But bad as things were in that cramped, dark, filthy stable, I came to long for it because the alternative was being ridden by Sir Thomas.

I don’t understand why, but the Black Knight never mastered the art of keeping his seat in the saddle at a canter. Whenever I cantered he would be thrown up out of the saddle and then come bashing back down again -- every single stride. That’s not comfortable, and if it goes on long enough, it becomes downright painful. I can’t tell you how many times I came home with bruises on my back and then I had to stand all night in that terrible stall with no way to lie down or get comfortable so that my muscles sometimes cramped terribly and the pain was even worse the next morning. Worse, his inability to sit properly made him unsteady in the saddle. That was bad enough for normal riding, but it meant he was terrible at jousting.

The jousting started only weeks after I arrived and I’d never done it before so my first reaction when I saw another horse charging straight at me with this long sharp object aimed at my eye was to jump sideways out of the way. Unfortunately, the Black Knight landed in the sand as a result and I got beaten. I mean really beaten. He captured me and tied me up in the corner of the enclosure then laid into me with his belt until his father came out and stopped him. By then I was covered with welts and was bleeding from scraping my hocks and knees against the stone wall as I tried to get away from the lashes.

After that I didn’t dare side-step but half the time he still fell off, and half the time he blamed me even if it hadn’t been my fault. When he was particularly angry, he tied my lead so short I couldn’t move my head at all and the whipped me in the face. I swear I would have been blinded if his father hadn’t caught him doing that once, and lit into him so badly that he stalked away and did not come near me for a week or so. His father untied me and washed the blood from my face, shaking his head in disapproval, but he still let his son ride me when he wanted to again.

That was my life for almost two years — living in filth alternated with terror of being ridden badly and then beaten for my rider’s incompetence. I soon lost all interest in life and just drifted from meal to meal and day to day, knowing I was going to end up like the other broken horses in that stables. I had no idea that things could get still worse.

The hero of "A Destrier's Tale" is a character in my biographical novel about Balian d'Ibelin (who is NOT "the Black Knight" of the above episode!)



A landless knight,

                     a leper king,

                                 and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Book I of the three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction.  Buy now on amazon or barnes and noble



Book II in the series:


A divided kingdom,

                       a united enemy,  

                                       and the struggle for Jerusalem!


Buy Now in Paperback!  

or Kindle!




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