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, May 29, 2015

A Destrier's Tale: Part V -- The Ethiopian

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part V: The Ethiopian



I had landed in the hands of a horse trader. That meant we travelled from market-town to market-town, always staying at the worst inns and taverns, and anyone who wanted was allowed to ride me. I didn’t want anyone to ride me. I’d had enough. So when they tried, I reared and backed up and made a terrible fuss. Of course, the horse trader beat me for that. At first I fought back, but then he denied me food and water. I capitulated.

It was summer, and the heat was terrible during most of the day. The sun burned right through my hair and if we had to travel any distance I was soon drenched in sweat. I had lost all interest in my surroundings by now and remember nothing of what happened before he found me except I was standing in the middle of a cobbled market place with people milling about looking at us as usual. Some stupid boy was even throwing things and hooting to make me and the other horses shy. One of his missiles hit me on the haunch and I lashed out with my hind hooves, more in irritation than fear. I hated all humans!

A voice cut through the usual mutter of humans and a silence fell. The boy started to dart away, obviously frightened, and another human caught him by the arm and dragged him forward, shoving the now reluctant boy at a tall, elegant man with black skin.  There had been men with black skin among the Horse-Haters, so I tried to back away from him a bit, but he wasn’t dressed like a Horse-Hater. He wore a long, gently flowing surcoat that ended mid-calf and a leather belt, but no sash or turban. He also had a large cross made of metal hanging around his throat. After lecturing to the boy in a stern voice, he turned and approached me.

I tried to back away warily, but I was tied so when I got to the end of my rope all I could do was lean back on my haunches with my head raised as high as possible. He started muttering to me and reached out his hand. I was trembling all over for fear of a blow, but he started stroking me with the palm of his hand. Just stroking me. He didn’t pinch or poke or pull my lips apart. He just stroked me gently and talked to me in a low voice.

The horse trader came over and started to sing my praises. I was a great destrier. I’d been owned by great knight. Unfortunately, he lied, my knight had been killed at “Montgisard” — wherever that was supposed to be. Yes, yes, I’d lost a shoe in the battle, he said, and the tear wasn’t completely healed, but I wasn’t lame any more. To prove this, he took my lead and started trotting me up and down on the cobbles. The crowd was strangely still and everyone seemed to be watching.

After a bit, the black man signaled for him to bring me back, and he started stroking me again. Everything was fine, until he reached up toward my face. It’s stupid. I really knew at some level that he didn’t want to hurt me, but I was tied and those beatings by the Black Knight were still so vivid in my memory. I reacted instinctively, screaming and throwing my head back so violently that I found myself scrambling to get my feet back under me. Then one of my hind feet slipped completely out from under me and I landed on my haunches. By now the horse trader was shouting at me, and yanking on the lead to try to get me to stand up again. The black man shook his head and walked away.

That was the worst moment of my life. Worse than all the humiliations and the pain that had gone before because I had started to hope that this gentle man would buy me and take me away the hell I was in. But now, because of my own stupid reaction, he was disgusted with me and turned his back on me.

The trader saw it the same way and was furious with me. He hissed insults at me and slapped me a few times. Then he led me back to the stinking livery stable and shoved me into the stall, snarling. “No food or water for that behavior!”

I told myself I didn’t care, but it was so hot and soon I was so thirsty I was desperate. I whinnied and tried to tell the horse trader I was sorry. I begged him to give me just a drop to drink. OK, I’d go without food, but I needed the water. I was so distraught after a couple of hours, I pawing at the filthy straw and rocking back and forth, but, of course, I was tied in the standing stall so tightly I couldn’t turn my head.

I didn’t know what was happening until a hand touched my haunches and that lovely, soft voice was there beside me. I tried to turn my head, rolling my eyes as far back as possible, but I was tied too short. But it really was him, and he had a bucket full of cool, clean water. He loosened the tie, and I plunged my head down into that water and drank the bucket dry. Yet even as I was drinking he stroked my withers and talked to me in his own tongue.

When I’d finished drinking, I lifted my head and we looked at one another. He said clearly and distinctly, “I’m not going to hurt you, but you have to let me find out your age and injuries.”

I looked at him skeptically.

“I want to buy you for my lord, but he will want to know more about you.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. What if his lord was like the Black Knight? After all, the Black Knight’s squire hadn’t been so bad. Maybe things could get worse than this?

“Lord Balian is the best horseman I’ve ever seen. He taught the King to ride, even though he can’t use his hands. You have no reason to fear Lord Balian.”

I continued to look at him.

He started stroking my back, massaging it really. It felt so good I sighed unconsciously and he smiled at me. He worked his way down my spine, not pinching it like the horse trader did, just massaging it with his long, strong fingers. Eventually, he ran his fingers down the back of my legs too, and then he came back and faced me.

We looked at one another, and he slipped his hand under his surcoat and brought out a carrot. I wanted that carrot and I reached out my head a little to show him I wanted it, but then drew back afraid of him grabbing my head or hitting me. He held out the carrot to me on the palm of his hand and let me eat it unmolested. Then we looked at each other again. He brought out a second carrot. After the third one I let him touch my face and lift my lips to judge my age. He even slipped his fingers between my back and front teeth and tested now sensitive my jaw nerves were. But he did it very gently and respectfully.

When he was finished, he picked up the bucket, patted me on the withers and promised. “I’ll be back.”

That was the longest night of my life. The trader brought me no feed or water, but since I’d had that bucket and it was now cooler, I got through the night. In the morning, the trader came with water and food. Grumbling at me not to “muck up again,” he led me out to the market square. I looked everywhere for the black man. But he wasn’t there. The hours crawled by. The sun rose up the sky, getting hotter and hotter. The crowds of people came and went. My hope started to die. I let me head drop more and more.

The trader started toward me and he was smiling broadly. He had a halter in his hand and he fastened it around my neck before taking the halter holding me to the railing off. It was only when he started to lead me away in the new halter that I saw him. The black man was standing there smiling at me. He took the lead from the trader and led me away.

Lord Balian and Centurion are characters in my three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin staring 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.

Buy Now!



A divided kingdom,
                       
                         a united enemy, 

                                                  and the struggle for Jerusalem!


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

Book II

Buy Now in Paperback!  
or Kindle!



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!



Friday, May 15, 2015

A Destrier's Tale: Part III -- Slaughter House

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part III: Slaughter House


The third time the rains came after the Black Knight had taken me away from home, a catastrophe struck. In that dusty manor, I had come to rejoice at the coming of the rains. They made grass sprout between the cobbles of the enclosure and along the side of the road. I could sometimes snatch something fresh and green if I was quick about it. But this year, smoke came with the rains. We were woken up in the middle of the night by the smell of it, and we whinnied and cried out to the humans, trying to warn them. The next thing I knew, the Black Knight was shouting at everyone and I was dragged from my stall although it was the middle of the night. The Black Knight’s other horse, Red, was hauled out too and saddled, while the Black Knight’s squire took two of the other horses, one for himself and the other he loaded with the Black Knight’s equipment. By the time the sun came up the four of us were on the road.

The wind was coming out of the south and laden with smoke. You could see it smudging the horizon, and humans were fleeing before it — whole families herding their animals and carrying their children. As we rode, other knights and their squires joined us until we were a little band of twenty or so. It was invigorating to find myself among horses that were well-groomed and sleek, beside stallions who pranced and arched their necks in pride. It reminded me of what I had once been, and I lifted my head a little.

We rode to a castle. It was the first castle I had ever seen up close, and I found it very intimidating. All of us crammed together to ride up a steep, winding road and then pass through a narrow gate. I was frightened and wanted to bolt, but there were so many of us there was no place to go, and the other horses were clearly content. Inside, there was a cobbled courtyard with a well and deep troughs, where we all got a chance to drink while the squires unsaddled the riding horses. We were housed that night is enormous stone stables. Although they were dark and crowded, you could see that they would have been pleasant under normal circumstances. They had sweet, moist hay too, and some oats with molasses pellets; the best meal I’d ever had at that point in my life.

The following day when we set off we were more than fifty knights. With destriers, squires, and pack-horses that made a good two hundred horses. The man leading wore armor so beautiful it fit him like the skin of a snake and it gleamed whenever the sun broke through the clouds. His surcoat was brightly colored and fluttered in the breeze. All the other knights were very deferential toward him, so he was clearly the leader among the humans. His palfrey was young and cocky, all swagger and nervous energy, but his destrier was going grey at the muzzle and he exuded calm confidence. I would have like to ride closer to him and learn more about his rider, but the Black Knight was relegated to the back of the long column. I got the feeling that none of the other humans took him very seriously.

In the course of the day we crossed barren countryside, good only for grazing goats, and then descended by a steep road beside a gorge onto a fertile plain. It was richer than the countryside around my home. The harvest had been taken in, of course, but the tilled fields stretched as far as the eye could see, dotted with peaceful villages, each clustered around a church and manor. Wherever there was a low hillock, there were vineyards or olive orchards.

We spent the second night at a castle nestled in a valley and surrounded by orchards. The stables were too small for all of us, so most of us were turned loose in a pasture for the night and could move freely and graze on that wonderful grass. Although it was drizzling and some of the horses complained about the lack of shelter, I couldn’t get enough of that grass. Some of the older horses warned me I could get a colic if I didn’t show more restraint, but they didn’t understand what it was like to go without fresh grass for more than two years.

The following day about noon we joined the largest host of horses I had ever seen. It was as if all the horses in the whole world were collected there. They were tethered or hobbled in a massive herd, while the humans milled about on foot or collected around cooking fires.

The Black Knight hobbled me and Red and just left us with the other horses. The mood was bad. Many of the horses were matted with sweat and dirt, and clearly hadn’t been groomed in days. Many complained of hunger too. Some horses had even lost shoes or been injured and yet no one was looking after them. Many of the horses were nervous, and the worst of it was that it was the older, experienced horses that were most unsettled. They kept lifting their heads and sniffing the air anxiously. “The Horse Haters” someone muttered in my ear. When I looked at him blankly he shook his head as if at the flies and snorted into the grass. “Stupid green horn.”

A band of men all wearing white or black surcoats with red crosses on them galloped up. One of the veterans whinnied at them: “Horse Haters?” Several horses from the returning troop confirmed. “Horse Haters! Thousands of them!” Now the alarm grew worse than ever, while the humans too were crowding together in a big knot, trying to hear what the leader of the red-crosses said. Before long, the humans started cheering — except for the red-crosses, who dismounted from their horses, knelt on the dirt and muttered together.

Meanwhile, the knights and squires came running towards us, including the Black Knight. Even before he pointed at me, I guessed what would happen. While he rode Red for travelling, he rode me for jousting, and he was carrying his helmet. With so many other knights around, all fastening their aventails and hauling their helmets on, there was clearly going to be some sort of huge joust. I was thoroughly frightened by now. First there were thousands of “Horse Haters” around, and now I was going to have to carry the Black Knight in a joust that might involve all these other horses. I was sure something would go wrong, and he would blame me for it. It didn’t help that he looked as agitated and nervous as I felt. He started jerking down on the reins to make me stand still, bruising my jaws terribly. Then he flung himself into the saddle and hauled me around like I was made of wood and felt nothing. His squire handed him a lance and the next thing I knew we were squeezed in among hundreds of other knights and horses, all jostling against one another as we trotted forward.

We trotted together for at least an hour, then halted. One of the stallions nudged me to point out that among all those stallions there was one castrate. He was a beautiful grey, rather like me, but they’d put the knife to him. I shuddered at the thought.  His rider, however, was a beautiful youth with bright yellow hair and his helmet was encircled with a gold ring adorned with crosses. His surcoat was very dusty, but you could see that it was embroidered with gold crosses as well and all the other humans bowed their heads or even went down on their knees when they approached him.

“The King,” the stallion muttered.
“On a castrate?” I couldn’t believe it.
“He’s a leper," he answered, but I didn't know what that meant.

Eventually the command came to form up into squadrons. The odd thing was we were still all facing the same direction, a rise ahead of us. The red-crosses moved in front of us, and the King was in the center of the squadron behind us. The Black Knight took up his position on the right flank of the largest squadron. There must have been 250 of us in that single block.

We trotted forward in the dust left by the red-crosses, crested the hill and suddenly I saw what the others had been talking about: the valley beside a narrow stream was crawling with thousands and thousands of men and horses — more than anyone could ever count. These humans were dressed differently from any human I had ever seen before. They wore cloths wrapped around their heads and their surcoats had long sleeves but short skirts that revealed boots. Most of the men were dismounted, and the horses were tethered or hobbled. There were camels too, and big, bright, billowing tents flying long thin banners. They looked like they had just settled down for an evening meal as big cauldrons were steaming over fires. Everyone was peacefully going about his business as I’d seen often, either before or after jousts. I thought we would now join them and joust tomorrow.

But the men around us started shouting, and the Black Knight gouged his spurs into my ribs without any warning. I sprang forward, despite being on the downward slope, and soon we were plunging downwards so fast we couldn’t have stopped ourselves even if we tried. I still didn’t understand what was going on because the men in the valley obviously weren’t ready for a joust, but then something much worse happened: they started firing long, sharp, pointed sticks at us. I latter learned they were called arrows. The arrows came with such force that they pierced clear through skin and muscle. All around me, horses were screaming in pain. Some, struck in some vital place, collapsed completely and their bodies rolled down the slope, knocking others down and crushing their riders. Blood was gushing and spurting from the wounds of those around me. I wanted to turn and run the other way, but I was in the middle of that mass of horseflesh and the Black Knight hauled so hard on the reins to keep me from swerving that I thought my jaw would break. Then he kicked me forward, drawing blood with his spurs.

As we crashed down the hill, the Black Knight was hammering my back with each stride as he was thrown out of the saddle and fell back on it. With his hands he was jerking me this way and that making it hard for me to find my footing. We splashed through the river at the foot of the hill, the arrows still raining down on us, and broke in among the men who had been peacefully preparing to camp there but were now firing arrows at us.

When we closed with them making their arrows worthless, I thought they would run away, but instead they attacked us with swords and knives, with maces and axes and spears. They tried to trip us with their spears, and sliced at our chests with their swords as we neared them or jabbed at our bellies with daggers if we rode past them. Our humans tried to protect us. From our backs they used first their lances and then their swords to kill the Horse Haters. Even the Black Knight was doing his part. It was the first time I’d ever felt any kindness toward him.

Meanwhile, some of the Horse Haters had mounted on slave-horses and came charging toward us. At the time I was outraged that fellow horses would help humans so intent on slaughtering us, but latter I came to realize they were slaves and had no choice — any more than I had a choice of not doing what the Black Knight wanted.

I was using my front hooves to trample down the men trying to kill me with their swords when suddenly we were attacked from the side by some mounted Horse Haters. I heard the Black Knight grunt and then his weight shifted abruptly to the right. The next thing I knew, he fell sideways so far that he nearly tore the saddle off my back. He'd let go of the reins too, so I sprang forward and felt him thump against my thigh. That terrified me into a new leap forward. Suddenly his weight was completely gone. Without him to protect me, however, the only chance of survival I had was in flight. I didn’t have time to think of anything else. In sheer panic I burst through the men attacking me, trampling down anything in my way, and I galloped away from the carnage with all the strength in my heart and body.

The Battle of Montgisard (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!






Book I of the three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction.  Buy now on amazon or barnes and noble



Book II in the series

A divided kingdom,
                       
                           a united enemy,                                                                              
                                      and the struggle for Jerusalem!



Defender of JerusalemA Biographical Novel of Balian d'IbelinBook II




Buy now!







Friday, May 8, 2015

A Destrier's Tale: Part II -- The Black Knight

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part II: The Black Knight





After leaving the stables where I was born and backed, I don’t like remembering what happened next.

First, we travelled for two whole days leaving behind the fertile valley of my childhood and entering hilly country that was quite barren though not yet desert. Of course, at the time I had never seen a desert, so it was the driest place I had ever seen. When the wind blew it was hot rather than cool and laden with dust particles that settled everywhere — in my ears and nostrils and on my tongue as well. The flies were terrible to.

Eventually, we came to a small, dusty and rather shabby village. There was a well in the village and all the children and women gathered around it and watched as I was led into the enclosure beside the biggest and only stone building in village.  It was a two-storied, rectangular structure with a flat roof that abutted a single story building which by the smells coming from it housed the kitchens and bake-oven. The building had only very narrow windows on the second story facing the street, but larger windows and doors opening onto the enclosure. Soon people flooded out to greet the man who had taken me away from home. There was an old man and several women and the old man came over and walked around me very critically, but then he nodded and clapped the man who’d brought me on his back approvingly. It seemed that he was the father of the man who had taken me from home and he was always addressed as “Sir Robert.” He called the man who had brought me there “my boy” or “Tom” but the others called him “Sir Thomas,” so I gathered that Sir Robert was Sir Thomas' father.

I guess I should say something about Sir Thomas. He was not very old, hardly more than a colt, and he had dark hair and a black mustache. He had long limbs and a long neck, for a human, too. There was nothing about the look of him that warned me he was a bad human, but I soon learned differently. In my mind, I never thought of him as “Sir Thomas,” just as the Black Knight.

That first night I was taken into the stables of the manor and discovered just how lucky I had been up to then. This place was cramped, dark and dirty. They tied each horse in place — literally tied the lead to the feed box, so you couldn’t turn around or lie down at night. Not that the stalls were wide enough to lie down anyway. There were high wooden walls between the stalls so we could not see much less nuzzle our neighbors. You just had to stand there day in and day out in your own shit, hoping they wouldn’t forget to feed and water you.

The grooms were lazy and unfriendly too. They tried to get away with doing as little work as possible, which is why our stalls were always so dirty. They treated us like we were all idiots, who had to be slapped about to be made to do anything. To be fair, of the six of us there, three were so old and broken they didn’t have the energy to respond to anything less than prodding. It was terrible to see them, actually, their legs were deformed with bone and bog spavins and one had two bowed tendons. The only mare was so old that all she could do was doze, while the only half-way young and healthy horse was the one that Sir Thomas had been riding when he came and took me away. We’d become friendly on the journey, of course, and he’d warned me things weren’t good where we were going, only I hadn’t been able to imagine anything like this because I’d never seen anything like it before. But bad as things were in that cramped, dark, filthy stable, I came to long for it because the alternative was being ridden by Sir Thomas.

I don’t understand why, but the Black Knight never mastered the art of keeping his seat in the saddle at a canter. Whenever I cantered he would be thrown up out of the saddle and then come bashing back down again -- every single stride. That’s not comfortable, and if it goes on long enough, it becomes downright painful. I can’t tell you how many times I came home with bruises on my back and then I had to stand all night in that terrible stall with no way to lie down or get comfortable so that my muscles sometimes cramped terribly and the pain was even worse the next morning. Worse, his inability to sit properly made him unsteady in the saddle. That was bad enough for normal riding, but it meant he was terrible at jousting.

The jousting started only weeks after I arrived and I’d never done it before so my first reaction when I saw another horse charging straight at me with this long sharp object aimed at my eye was to jump sideways out of the way. Unfortunately, the Black Knight landed in the sand as a result and I got beaten. I mean really beaten. He captured me and tied me up in the corner of the enclosure then laid into me with his belt until his father came out and stopped him. By then I was covered with welts and was bleeding from scraping my hocks and knees against the stone wall as I tried to get away from the lashes.

After that I didn’t dare side-step but half the time he still fell off, and half the time he blamed me even if it hadn’t been my fault. When he was particularly angry, he tied my lead so short I couldn’t move my head at all and the whipped me in the face. I swear I would have been blinded if his father hadn’t caught him doing that once, and lit into him so badly that he stalked away and did not come near me for a week or so. His father untied me and washed the blood from my face, shaking his head in disapproval, but he still let his son ride me when he wanted to again.

That was my life for almost two years — living in filth alternated with terror of being ridden badly and then beaten for my rider’s incompetence. I soon lost all interest in life and just drifted from meal to meal and day to day, knowing I was going to end up like the other broken horses in that stables. I had no idea that things could get still worse.

The hero of "A Destrier's Tale" is a character in my biographical novel about Balian d'Ibelin (who is NOT "the Black Knight" of the above episode!)



A landless knight,

                     a leper king,

                                 and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Book I of the three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction.  Buy now on amazon or barnes and noble



Book II in the series:


A divided kingdom,

                       a united enemy,  

                                       and the struggle for Jerusalem!


Buy Now in Paperback!  

or Kindle!




Friday, May 1, 2015

A Destrier's Tale: Part I -- The Grey Colt

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part I: The Grey Colt



When I was little, I was just called “the grey colt.” That was because there weren’t any other grey colts at the stables. And, of course, being the only grey it was obvious who my father was. He was the tall, dark grey stallion that frightened half the grooms. They kept him in a special, reinforced stall and when he was let out, it was to go alone to a paddock with double fences. He took an interest in me though. Whenever he saw me following my mother out to the mare’s pasture, he would whinny and make a big fuss. He would run back and forth along the fence closest to us, shaking his head high and low, his tail raised. But my mother ignored him, of course. She had me to feed and look after. She was a lovely black mare with large, gentle eyes and I’m sure I was her favorite, although I had two older sisters and an older brother. She was very proud and protective of me, and wouldn’t let the other mares near me unless she was standing ready to bite them if they weren’t friendly. But they were always friendly and admiring, except for the snobby white mare who thought she was better than everyone anyway and always kept apart. The other mares all thought she got what she deserved when her foal was born brown and ugly.

There were lots of other colts and fillies to play with as I grew up. When we were weaned, we had a pasture to ourselves and we had a terrific time racing each other or just stampeding from one end of the pasture to the other. The pasture lay along the banks of a river, so we always had enough to drink, and on one side the pasture backed up against a sugar plantation. We tried all sorts of tricks to get at the sugar cane as it got ripe. One of my friends actually jumped the fence and got loose in the field, but he was chased out by the hoard of humans who looked after the sugar and was badly beaten when he was caught. I decided not to imitate him — though I’m sure I could have jumped the fence if I’d tried. After all, they brought us the left-over stocks after harvesting and as they harvested the fields successively, we had sugar cane half the year.

After the rains and cold had come three times, I was finally big and strong enough to be taken away from the stud and moved to the other side of the stables that was for the riding horses. There was one groom who took me in hand; the other humans called him Andronicus or “Andy” for short. He was small and slight with dark skin, black eyes and long, strong fingers. He cleaned me up, currying away the dirt and mud of the pasture, and combing out my tangled mane and tail very patiently. I loved it when he used the curry comb on my shoulders and thighs, it made the muscles fell good for hours afterwards, but it tickled when he cleaned my belly and I used to stamp at him irritably to let him know I didn’t like it. When the days got hot, he would lead me down to the river and let me walk all the way up to my belly in the brown waters. That was wonderfully cooling.

Later Andy stood by while I was fitted with my first set of shoes. I would have been frightened if Andy hadn’t been with me, patting my neck to re-assure me everything was going to be alright. It was hard to stand still for so long, especially on three legs, but the farrier was an elderly man, who knew his craft. He didn’t hurt me once, though I heard from some of the other horses that his son wasn’t as good and sometimes drove the nail too deep or at the wrong angle. But I was lucky and it was the master who did my shoes.

It took me a while to get used to the extra weight on my feet, but it was wonderful for walking on the stony path between the pastures. The shoes elevated me just enough so that almost none of the stones reached my frog and I could even gallop without getting any bruises. They were great in the mud too. We had one of those freak, early rains shortly after I was shod, and I remember stepping out cautiously only to discover I could trot and canter without any risk in my new shoes. They give you so much traction!

By then, of course, I had been lunged regularly, learning the commands for “halt, walk, trot, and canter,” so one day Andy went to the head groom and told him I was ready for backing. I knew this was coming because the other colts and fillies of my age cohort were all going through the same training and there were a handful, who were ahead of me. Still I was nervous, but Andy was with me and gentle as always. He started with a quilted saddle pad, which he laid across my back, and then he leaned over my back and bent his knees so his whole weight was on my back. I was surprised by how light he was. After that he added a saddle and made it fast under my belly. That was uncomfortable at first and I let him know it by flattening my ears and stamping. He wrapped a sheep-skin around the girth and then it didn’t feel so bad. After about a week of lunging with the saddle on, Andy called the head groom over and had him hold the off-stirrup while Andy mounted me. It didn’t like the wrenching feeling as the saddle was pulled to the left, but once Andy was in the saddle it was OK. The head groom led me around with Andy on my back and it was hardly any different from not having someone on my back.

After that, the training became more intense. After lunging me with Andy on my back for about a week, they fitted me with my first bridle. Except for the bit, it’s not that different from a halter, and the bit they used was thick and linked so it didn’t press down on my tongue. It wasn’t uncomfortable unless it was left in for too long, which Andy never did. Andy rarely rode more than an hour or two because he had three other colts he was looking after. As the weather worsened, however, the riding became more difficult. He made me ride in circles at both trot and canter, and then in serpentines. I had to learn my leads and to change them on command from the rider. I to learn lateral movements as well, crossing my legs as I moved in one direction or another and to move backwards too.

When I was really good in the ménage, Andy took me out of the stables for the first time in my life. I was so excited! And for good reason! We encountered so many strange things! Houses on wheels pulled by four or even six horses, and little boxes that people carried too! Then I had my first experience on paved streets and learned how shoes, that give traction on dirt, mud and gravel, slip and slide on polished stone. Oh, and I saw my first town with two storied buildings! People kept popping out of the windows frightening me to death. Not to mention that pack of dogs that came chasing out of a side street yapping like the devil was after them! Poor Andy had a hard time staying on my back as I jumped sideways to get away from first this and then that. When we returned home, I was drenched in sweat not from running hard but from being so scared, and Andy fell off my back in relief to have made it home without a broken bone.

The next time the head groom rode me. He was bigger and heavier than Andy and whenever I hesitated for any reason he urged me forward firmly. Even so, a loud noise suddenly erupted on my left, and I bolted to get away from whatever had caused it because obviously anything that made that kind of noise had to be dangerous and hostile! The head groom crashed down onto the street and that frightened me more, so I ran home as fast as I could. Andy wasn’t happy about that. He mounted and made me go back to town. We met the head groom on foot half-way there, and I had to carry both of them. People don’t like getting thrown!

Over the months that followed, however, I started to learn that most things aren’t threatening to horses. Even in the busy towns with lots of shops and houses, dogs, cats and children, we horses are bigger and stronger than most creatures and smarter than cattle and camels. The people in the houses might seem bigger at first because they are above you, but actually they have climbed up inside the houses (like cats climbing trees, I guess), and they’re really just as small as if they were on the ground. I learned that on the whole you can trust your rider to know if something is dangerous or not; if they stay calm, there’s probably no cause for alarm.

When the dry hot season started again, they started letting other people ride me. I don’t mean the other grooms. I wouldn’t have minded that so much, but these men were strangers. When they came, several of us from my age cohort would be taken out and trotted up and down. The strangers would point at one or another of us and then they got to ride us. They weren’t like the grooms. They would get on and then immediately want to canter or gallop, hauling us this way and that, jerking at our necks and mouths, and kicking us with their heels. Some of them even wore spurs and cut open our sides with their vicious kicks. And then they would go away again. It was horrible really. When one of my friends got angry and bucked one of these stupid riders off, he was cornered and lashed with whips. It took him weeks to recover. Another of my friends tried not moving at all when one rider had wrenched him around too much, but they beat him for that too.


I always tried to be good, no matter how bad these riders were, and that resulted in one of these riders deciding to keep me. I don’t know what he said to the head groom, but after a terrible ride with him pounding horribly on back as he threw me this way and that around the ring, he had them take the saddle and bridle off but attached a lead to my halter. He tied the lead to the back of the saddle of the horse he’d arrived on, and then turned and rode out of the stables. I had no choice but to follow, though I protested loudly, whinnying to Andy to come free me. I balked at the gate too, but Andy didn’t hear me or he didn’t care what was happening. Another groom whacked me on the buttocks to make me move forward and so I left the only home I had even known and entered hell.


The story of Centurion's master can be found here:

A landless knight,

                     a leper king,

                                 and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Knight of Jerusalem is the first book of the three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin. It is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction.

Buy now on amazon or barnes and noble



Book II in the series covers the final decade of the Kingdom of Jerusalem to the fall of the Holy City to Saladin in October 1187:

A divided kingdom,

                       a united enemy,  

                                       and the struggle for Jerusalem!


Buy Now in Paperback!  
or Kindle!