Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Understanding Ourselves by Understanding the Past.


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, July 3, 2015

A Destrier's Tale Part X: The Battle of Le Forbelet

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part X: Le Forbelet




Ginger was already a gangly two-year-old when the Saracens returned. We mustered as usual and went to face them on a broad field below a powerful castle. I was never good with numbers, but I swear there were more of them than ever before. This time they had their foot soldiers with them too. Fortunately, so did we.

The Christians lined up their infantry in multiple rows ahead of us. They had their heavy shields planted in the ground ahead of them, and we stood our ground. The Saracens were throwing arrows at us so that it sounded like a rainstorm, but the Christians had their armor and their shields and Lord Balian had provided me with a thick, canvas “trapper.” It was red on my right side and yellow on the other and studded with the square crosses with flared ends that he like to wear on his clothes too. When arrows hit the skirts of canvas, the cloth just gave way and the arrows fell harmlessly to the ground — where I trounced them to make them break.

The problem was the heat. You can’t imagine it. The sun was burning down. Even standing still, I was sweating profusely, so much so the sweat dripped off my belly and sometimes oozed into my eyes. The humans were sweating too and they started to smell pretty bad.

After we’d put up with this for several hours, the Saracen foot soldiers attacked, but we had archers too, and threw them back. Then the Saracen cavalry charged, flailing their poor slave horses up the slope against us and trying to make them kill themselves on the pikes and spears of the Christian infantry. I was rather pleased to see that the slave horses weren’t so stupid or so cowed as to do that. Instead, they reared up and ran away, throwing and then trampling on the Horse-Haters. I noted that with satisfaction.

The Saracens sent black humans against us next. They were on foot, but they couldn’t get through the Christian foot-soldiers that defended us fiercely — many laying down their own lives. The carnage was terrible, though. I swear they slaughtered the entire first line of defenders, and still kept coming!

Then suddenly horns were blowing and knights started shouting. Lord Balian couched a lance. I knew this meant we were going to charge, but I didn’t fancy the idea of running straight at those murderous Horse-Haters! Then again, I had Lord Balian to protect me. At his command, I sprang forward with my head down and the Christian infantry parted to let us through. An instant latter Lord Balian’s lance had skewered one of the Horse-Haters and then he dropped the reins and started killing them with his sword while I did my best to tear their skins off with my teeth and, better still, trample them under my hooves. It was a highly satisfying feeling! I could hear their bones snap under my weight and once put my off-fore hoof right in Horse-Haters face ending his murder forever! But just when we were gaining momentum, horns started blowing again and Lord Balian made me turn around and ride back behind the Christian foot soldiers. I was really annoyed about that and let him know by shaking my head and snorting angrily. We had them on the run, after all, and we were so much stronger and faster than they were! Why stop?

Just then Saracen horsemen came crashing out of the cloud of dust. Lord Balian must have realized they were coming! The sight of them riding over and slaughtering the horses that hadn’t retreated like we had made me feel a little faint. I could so easily have been me! A lesson learned, I told myself firmly: trust Lord Balian in battle as in the joust!

However, the heat and dust were worse than ever. I was finding it increasingly hard to breathe. But when Lord Balian’s squire tried to bring us water, Lord Balian angrily sent him back. I wanted to protest, but just then more arrows rained down on us. One came in so hard and so horizontally that pierced right through my trapper and lodged itself in my thigh. The shock of it made me leap sideways, squealing in alarm, and when I looked around to see how bad it was, I saw arrows sticking out of Lord Balian’s chainmail in three places too! That didn’t half terrify me! I was sure he was injured, but he didn’t act like it. He turned and broke off the arrow in my thigh so that the shaft couldn’t get knocked and cause the head to dig deeper. Then he patted me on the neck and told me everything was going to be alright.

I wanted to believe him, but bodies were spread across the ground in front of us like manure in the worst livery stables! They were heaped on one another, bloody and still moving in some cases. They stank and whimpered, gushing slime from their bellies and bowels. The smell alone started to drive me crazy. Under the circumstances, it was a relief when the horns yowled and we formed up again for a second charge.

It took a while to corral so many horses, but finally we were ready. We trotted through our infantry lines and plunged headlong into a cloud of dust so thick it was blinding. I could see nothing except the tail of the horse ahead of me. Around me the other stallions complained in alarm, crying out “I can’t see a thing!” or “I’m blind!” or “What’s ahead of us?” Then we collided with the Saracen cavalry and everyone was just whirling around in utter confusion. Lord Balian dropped his reins so he could use both his sword and his shield and that left me free to bite anything that looked hostile — which was pretty much everything that came within my line of sight!

Abruptly, there was noise and shouting from both sides and the Saracens started to just melt away in front of us. They stopped fighting and tried to flee. Lord Balian shouted “A Ibelin!” and miraculously out of the slowly settling dust familiar knights and horses from Ibelin clustered around us. When we were a tight group again, Lord Balian led us in pursuit of the now retreating Horse-Haters. I stretched my neck out full and flattened my ears determined to run down as many of those bastards as possible, but Lord Balian checked me, letting three of the other horses pass us. I don’t know why he did that and I bucked to express my anger with him. But it was too late, the other horses were ahead of us getting all the glory of knocking the Saracens from their slave horses. At least that left them on the ground for me to trample.

But in that heat even my fury soon gave way to exhaustion. With the immediate danger gone, I started to feel the heat, my thirst and increasingly the pain in my thigh. I slowed to a halt and Lord Balian did nothing to urge me forward. I stood there swaying to the rhythm of my deep breaths as I tried to suck in air. I would have given anything for a drink of water. I looked over my shoulder toward the broad river that wasn’t very far away and got a shock: the Horse-Haters were forming up again. They hadn’t killed enough of us yet to satiate their lust for horse-blood, and we hadn’t killed enough of them yet — despite all the killing we’d done — to make them feel like they’d had enough.

The humans clearly saw the same danger and they started to shout and gesture. The Christian infantry was spread out across the whole field finishing off the Horse-Haters who had survived our charge. Now they were herded back into a line of defense, and we retreated behind them. The squires were waiting there with water, and Lord Balian dismounted and turned me over to Gabriel. He pointed to my wound and ordered Gabriel to see to it. 

I was grateful for that, of course, but I didn’t like the fact that he then mounted a young bay stallion that had joined the stables recently. I could tell that young bay was trying to take my place. He was really full of himself. A cocky little bastard, and spoiled too! He’d never gone through what I had. It was bad enough that Lord Balian had started riding him in practice jousts with his own knights, but he had no business here, in a battle. I was Lord Balian’s destrier! I tried to protest, but Gabriel had a bucket of water and when I took a step towards it my hip seemed to crumple up under me. The pain wasn’t just from the arrow; somehow I’d managed to damage the tendons in the leg as well.  

The Battle of Le Forbelet is described (from human perspective) in:


Book II of  the Balian d'Ibelin TrilogyBuy Now in Paperback!  



Centurion is also a character in Book I of the Biographical Novel:




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.

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