A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
There were more horses in the stables than I’d ever seen. All the horses from Ibelin were there — except poor Rufus, of course, and the others who had been killed on that horrible battle on the barren hills above the lake. Amira was there and Ginger too, and they were amazed to see me. But I knew things were bad when Lord Balian sent all the mares, colts and fillies away, horse and human both. The younger colts and fillies, who hadn’t been broken to the saddle yet were laden with panniers like common pack horses, and the older horses all had riders. All that were left in the stables after they went were old Spirit, Lord Balian’s old palfrey, myself, a couple of castrates the squires used to ride along with a half dozen pack-horses. I don’t know what had become of Gladiator, but he wasn’t with us anymore.
At first I rather enjoyed having so much peace, quiet and space. Furthermore, unlike at the city-on-the sea, Lord Balian took me out every other day or so. We would leave Jerusalem by one gate or another and ride about until we found an abandoned herd of animals, then we’d chase them back to the city. Once or twice we stopped to harvest apples, pears and plums that were ripening on the untended trees of the surrounding orchards.
But the mood was bad and Jerusalem itself was overflowing with people. At least it was a bigger city with more gardens than in the city-on-the-sea, so the stink wasn’t quite so bad, but it still wasn’t normal. There were too many people, and most of them were human-mares and human-foals. Far too many of the latter. Lots of black-robes too. I’ve never figured out what use these humans have. They didn’t seem to like horses at all and usually ride mules. They certainly never carried weapons and couldn’t defend themselves let alone us, but Lord Balian was always polite to them. I don’t why.
The weather was turning a touch cooler, when we went out in a hoard of knights and horses all the way to a town about five miles south of Jerusalem. It sat white upon the yellow-brown landscape, with orchards now laden with rotting fruit, at its feet. Lord Balian was leading a troop of about 80 knights and we rode into the very heart of the little town without seeing a single living soul — unless you count stray dogs. In the large cobbled marketplace, Lord Balian jumped down, turning my reins over to Dawit, and entered the tall building flanking the square. The rest of just waited there in the hot sun swatting and stamping at flies.
Two of the knights apparently got bored and rode off on their own. Dawit told them not to, but they ignored him, saying something about water. I thought water sounded like a good idea, and was beginning to get annoyed with standing around in the heat, when those two horses came crashing back into the square at a full gallop. “Saracens! Saracens!” One of the knights was screaming in terror.
And sure enough, there were Horse-Haters right behind them. Hundreds of them. They came clattering into that square with their swords drawn and the ties of their turbans flying. They were hooting and shouting in triumph — until they saw how many of us there were. Then they sat back and tried to stop their slave-horses. That’s not so easy on pavement, and the slave-horses were soon skidding and scrambling. Half lost their footing and the others were nearly knocked over by the horses behind them running into them.
Meanwhile, Gabriel had drawn his sword and started shouting. The knights around me followed his lead and within a moment they were rushing at the Horse-Haters but not in an organized, proper charge. A bunch of amateurs! Furthermore, half the horses were screaming and trying to run away rather than putting their heads down and helping their riders fight. The slave-horses weren’t helping things, because they were screaming too, and in all that confusion, horses couldn’t find their footing on the cobbles. I flattened my ears and stamped my feet, snorting at the idiots to close ranks and fight properly, but no one was paying any attention.
Fortunately, Lord Balian came out of the building and seeing what was happening just grabbed my saddle from the off-side and hauled himself into it. The minute his seat hit the saddle, I turned toward the enemy like a bat out of hell. Ears flat and teeth bared I aimed at the nearest Horse-Hater, confident that Lord Balian would have his sword out in time to support me.
He did. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever seen him fight the way he did that day. It helped that there were no archers, of course, and no infantry either. It was just us against those Horse-Haters on their slave horses, but the other knights were a bunch of colts, really, none of them old enough to grow a beard and you could see how panicked most of them were. Their horses, sensing their fear, weren’t feeling very confident either. So it was up to me and Lord Balian to show them how it was done.
Suddenly this Saracen in a gawdy coat that glittered gold in the sunlight came charging at us on a white stallion. Now, he was no slave! He was scrambling on the cobbles in his eagerness, and he had a look of hatred in his eye as he came at me. I knew it was him or me. Lord Balian seemed to understand that. He spurred me forward for the first time in years, and even as I tore off half that stallion’s neck, the top half of that Horse-Hater fell over onto the bloody cobbles while the lower half of him bobbed away on the back of his bleeding stallion. That bastard then showed his real worth by fleeing from me abjectly.
When the other slave-horses saw their stallion run away, they turned and followed him without a thought to what their riders wanted. They were racing each other to get away from me, but I wasn’t surprised that Lord Balian sat back and signaled “no pursuit.” What was the point of chasing a bunch of terrified mares and castrates? I’d shown the stallion which if us was better!
Lord Balian re-sheathed his sword and gave orders to the other knights to collect the dead and wounded. As he turned back to the frightened black-robes crowded in the building on the side of the square, he reached down and patted me on the side of the neck. “Well done!” he told me in a low voice. “Well done.”
The siege of Jerusalem in 1187 is described (from human perspective) in:
The three part biography 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.