Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Destrier's Tale: Part IV -- The Price of Freedom

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part IV: The Price of Freedom



First I ran away from the Horse Haters. Then I ran from the sights, sound and smell of that slaughter house. Then I ran from my guilty conscience because I had left the Black Knight behind amidst all those evil men. Part of me said I ought to go back and find him, but I was afraid to go back. I knew he’d be so angry with him for “throwing him” (although I hadn’t; he’d fallen off) that he would beat me. He would tie me up and beat me with his belt again, but this time his father wouldn’t be there to stop him. I convinced myself that if I went back, he might beat me around the face until I went blind.  I just couldn’t face that. So I kept wandering, grazing on grass, bushes and leaves — trying everything and reveling in the variety.

Then the sun went down and the rain started, so I took shelter in a copse of trees. I was feeling pretty bad by now. All the bruises inflicted by the Black Knight were hurting, as were the cuts in my side caused by his spurs. Added to those injuries were scrapes on my fetlocks and hocks from going down the hill so fast, and I had bleeding nicks on my shoulders and thighs and even my belly. Nothing life threatening, but they stung nevertheless. Worst, of course, was that I still had the bridle and saddle on and no one to remove them. I tried to rub the bridle off on a branch of the tree and eventually succeeded, but I just couldn’t get rid of that saddle. I finally had to lie down with it still on and snatch a few hours’ sleep.

I woke terribly stiff in the morning. Everything ached, and I was thirsty too. I left the grove of trees and drank water collecting in puddles in a fallow field. A human came out of his cottage and shouted at me, however, so I ran away again. 

That pattern repeated itself for another day or two. I just kept moving, grazing and drinking wherever I was, but kept well away from humans. At some point the saddle slipped clean around so that it was hanging under my belly, and try as I might I couldn’t kick it free. I started to fantasize about finding my way back home to Andy, but I didn’t even know which direction to go. I was completely lost.

One evening I was attacked by dogs. It wouldn’t have been so bad if that saddle hadn’t been hanging under my belly, but as it was it was hard to buck or run away. I did eventually get away from them, but it shook me up. Next time, I thought, the dogs might be more vicious. I’ve seen dogs tear wild pigs apart. With their teeth, they would make mince-meat of me too.

And then one of my shoes came loose. It was terrible because it didn’t come clean off, just loose so the nails were working against the side of my hoof. I finally tore it off, but that hurt terribly and split my hoof too. After that, I could only limp.

By then rain was getting to me too. It was cold and I was completely covered with mud. In fact, things were so bad, I was beginning to remember the Black Knight’s horrible stables with affection. At least I had been dry there, and the Black Knight’s squire would have curried away the caked mud and then brushed off the dried dirt. He would have combed out my tail and mane too, both of which were now full of burrs and thorns. The Black Knight, even if he was mad at me, would have called a farrier to file my hoof down so it could start to heal.

When the first sleet storm came, I gave up and turned myself in. I walked to a farmhouse and just stood in the stinking farmyard until some humans came out. They didn’t seem to know what to do with me, at first. They walked around me, looking and pointing, and talking among themselves. Eventually, however, one of them went and got an old rope halter, and came toward me slowly holding it in front of him. I nickered at him to say “get it over with,” but he seemed afraid of me for some reason. Eventually, however, he put it over my head, and one of his fellows finally cut the girth to free me of the broken saddle. They led me to a shed where there were no horses, just an old mule (who made rude remarks about the way I looked) and left me there with a flake of hay.

These humans were obviously not used to horses. They brushed off the worst of the dirt and mud, but they didn’t even pick up my hooves, much less put oil on them to help my hoof heal. The hay was terrible too. I told myself I was lucky to be out of the sleet, but that shed was so shabby that the wind blew through the cracks and it was bitterly cold. The mule kept muttering about “think you’re something special don’t you!” Or “well, now you see how work animals live!”

Eventually, the humans brought a stranger who did know a thing or two about horses. He walked around me, pulled my lips apart to inspect my teeth, ran his hand down the back of my legs, inspected my hooves, pressing his thumb to my frog and made clucking noises as he saw the tear. He squeezed his strong fingers along my spine, scratched away the scabs left by the Black Knight’s spurs, and then stood back and stood with his hands on his hips considering me critically. I felt ashamed knowing how terrible I must look and remembering that once I had been the pride of a fine stud. The man talked to the humans who had taken me, then slipped a good, leather halter over my head and led me away.

He took me to a town and a stables crammed in a back courtyard; the kind of place even the Black Knight scorned. It stank and the stalls were narrow, and the other horses were all broken down nags. I can’t tell you why exactly, but I knew I had landed somewhere truly evil. Just when you think things can’t get worse, they do.


The Battle of Montgisard and its aftermath (described above by the grey destrier) is a major episode in Book I of my three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin. Buy now!



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.

Buy Now!



Defender of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian d'Ibelin

Book II


A divided kingdom,
                       
                         a united enemy, 

                                                  and the struggle for Jerusalem!



Buy Now in Paperback!  

or Kindle!



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