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:
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.