A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part XI: Recovery
The injuries were painful, of course, but what terrified me was that if I didn’t recover completely Lord Balian would abandon me. I don’t mean he’d throw me out. I knew from the example of Gladiator that he’d “put me out to stud” with the mares. That may sound like the “good life” to you, but I’m not that kind of horse. It was wonderful with Amira, but I wanted more out of life. Any stallion can mount a mare, but not many stallions could joust or kill Horse-Haters as well as I did. More important, Lord Balian and I were a team. No, more than a team, we were a single creature when we were together. If I were turned out to stud, I would no longer be whole; it would have been like losing the most exciting and rewarding part of me.
You can see how close Lord Balian and I were by the fact that he too was wounded in the thigh that day. I’m not sure when it happened (because just like me he kept fighting even when he was wounded), but when the sun set on that bloody field and the Horse-Haters had not dared attack again, Gabriel and Ernoul (those were Lord Balian’s squires) had to drag Lord Balian off that punk he’d be riding instead of me and carry him to the White-Cross tent for care.
He travelled by litter with me hobbling along behind in the train to a large town that the humans called “Nablus.” It had cobbled streets and tall houses, and there at the castle we were met by Lord Balian’s mare, Queen Maria. She was a queen because she’d been with the old king before becoming Lord Balian’s mare, and the whole town belonged to her, I was told. She had a filly by the old king, but two colts and two fillies by Lord Balian. She was light and agile and a very good rider. So good, in fact, that Amira behaved for her. Amira had never been ridden by any other human-mare and was at first insulted, but later she confided to me that Queen Maria rode better than some of the Horse-Haters — though not as well, Amira claimed, as her beloved Usman.
When Lord Balian was well enough to ride, he left on Rufus, leaving me in the care of Queen Maria and Dawit, who had joined her in this city while Mathewos managed the stables in Ibelin. Although I would always be grateful to Mathewos for rescuing me from the horse-trader, Dawit was actually the better horse-doctor. Just like with Amira, he was determined to make me fit again, and he took his time about it. Even when I wanted to run around and felt fit, he made me slow down. He walked me and lunged me, and even made me swim in a deep river, but he wouldn’t let me gallop or put any weight on my back for months and months.
As time passed, I started to get nervous about being separated from Lord Balian. The longer we were apart, the more he was likely to forget me. I couldn’t get the image of him riding that bay punk out of my head. I was never jealous of Rufus or Spirit, his two palfreys, because they were just transportation to him. But that bay wanted to replace me as Lord Balian’s destrier. I was determined not to let him, but what could I do if I couldn’t even remind Lord Balian I was still alive?
You can imagine my relief when we were finally reunited! One day, Lord Balian walked in and came straight over to greet me. He’d brought carrots too. When I snorted and whinnied in greeting, he patted me firmly on the neck and asked if I remembered him. What a stupid question! We went for a ride together that same morning and it felt so good to be whole again. But I noticed that punk bay was still in his entourage — clearly a “back up” in case I went lame again.
It was past the heat of the summer when we mustered again. There were more tents than ever before and I knew that meant that the Horse-Haters were out in force again too. We’d only just arrived and I’d hardly had a chance for a deep drink after the march from Queen Maria’s town of Nablus. Suddenly, Turcopoles were cutting through the camp at high speed and their horses called out to use: “Horse-Haters! Horse-Haters at the springs!”
I didn’t like the sound of that one bit because it was obvious we needed the springs or we’d all die of thirst. So I wasn’t surprised when Gabriel came running out to tack me up all agitated and over-excited. We didn’t waste time with infantry. Lord Balian’s knights and knights from the camp next to ours set out at once. We hadn’t gone very far when we heard the whinnies and shouts of horses in combat. At once the knight beside Lord Balian put his spurs to his destrier and tried to get ahead of Lord Balian.
I was having none of that! He might have been dressed in fancier armor and his horse was younger and taller than I, but no one is more important than Lord Balian except the king! I immediately sprang forward to over-take him – and I would have too, except Lord Balian checked me. I couldn’t believe it! I was only trying to defend his honor, and he stopped me so firmly that all that forward energy went upwards as I reared. When my front feet hit the ground again, a half-dozen other horses had caught up with us and now we charged in a big herd.
As we came around the bend in the road it was clear that some Christian knights that had tried to defend the springs were completely surrounded by Horse-Haters and were having a hard time. Their horses were being slaughtered under them since they had no infantry protection. The knight Lord Balian had let get ahead of us plunged bravely in and started killing Horse-Haters, and we followed in a close-knit pack that enabled us to knock down several of the slave horses and Lord Balian and his knights unseated other riders with their lances so we horses could trample them under foot. We cut all the way through the Horse-Haters and when we turned to reform, the Saracens were already broken. You could tell because the slave horses were looking for opportunities to flee and their riders weren’t resisting them.
I guess that knowledge made both Lord Balian and I a little over-confident, for the next moment this huge Horse-Hater on an exceptionally large slave-horse hurled himself at us from the left. Lord Balian lunged to the right to avoid his blow and would have fallen clear off me, if I hadn’t scrambled to get under him again. Somehow he managed to then cut off the man’s arm before he could do me or Lord Balian any serious harm, but it was a close call.
After that, we fought with renewed vigor until the enemy was in full flight. I wanted to pursue, but I wasn’t surprised when Lord Balian sat back and took up the reins again. He wasn’t the only knight doing that. One of the others actually stopped a dozen knights from pursuing by put himself and his horse between them and the tails of the retreating slave-horses. And in the end the most important thing was that I’d proved myself to Lord Balian again. I’d saved his life with that side-step — and by the way he kept clapping me on the neck he knew it. I snorted with pride and satisfaction, and he rubbed my withers in a gesture that said he was pleased. I was whole again.
The events in this episode are described (from a human perspective) in: