Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the winner of more than 20 literary accolades. For a complete list of her awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Destrier's Tale: Part VII -- Lord Balian

Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part VII: Lord Balian

I recognized him at once. I mean, he walked in and the grooms and even the squires stopped to bob their heads to him. The horses nickered. The big bay stallion in the stall next to me, who had nearly been killed by the Horse-Haters and was now lame, immediately went to hang his head over the stall door. And he stopped to clap Gladiator on the neck and tousle his forelock. Then he looked straight at me.

It was terrifying. First of all, he was tall and dark — which reminded me of the Black Knight. He had golden spurs — just like the Black Knight. Although he wasn’t in armor, he had an enormous sword in a fancy sheath at his hip. He was a knight alright. Lord Balian.

He started toward my stall door and I retreated into the corner. I tried to get as far away as possible, and just waited for what would happen next. Nothing did. So I looked over my shoulder to see if he’d gone away. He hadn’t. He was still staring at me — and so was Gladiator in the next tall.

He slid the bolt back to let himself into the stall, and I tried to make myself smaller. He stopped. By now I was trembling from head to foot out of sheer nervous anticipation. I knew that I was only going to be allowed to stay in this beautiful place if I pleased Lord Balian, but he reminded me so much of the Black Knight I was terrified. I’d tried to please the Black Knight too, but he had still beaten me. I had never intentionally thrown the Black Knight, not like later with the horse trader, but he still fell off and blamed me for it. What if Lord Balian was the same?

For the moment, he proved himself more patient. He retreated, left my stall, and just leaned on the stall door considering me. I started to relax. He held out his hand palm up. I considered it. There was something on it. I stretched out my neck to try to see what it was and sniffed. It smelt like sugar, but it looked different, small and granular.

“Come on! “ He coaxed. “Come and try it.”

I looked to make sure the stall door was still bolted, then took a step and reached out my neck as far as possible. I was still too far away. I had to take another step. Finally I could lick it up. It was sugar and it melted in my mouth! It was better than any cane. He laughed at my expression of surprise and left his hand out like that until I’d licked the last trace of it off his hand.

After that he came every day. Step by step, he stroked me, put a halter on, led me around the courtyard and out to the paddock. He lunged me as if I were still a colt, and he took me on the lead when he rode his big red palfrey Rufus.

I was beginning to think he was never going to ride me, but then one day he took me out into the ward, tied me there and brought a heavy saddle. I started to tremble again. This was the moment of truth. Because no matter how nice he seemed to be, I knew that if he didn’t like the way I performed under saddle, I would not be allowed to stay.

Mathewos and Dawit appeared out of nowhere and together they tacked me up while Lord Balian watched them. Then Dawit held the off stirrup and Lord Balian pointed his foot in the near-stirrup and swung himself up to land in the saddle so gently I wasn’t entirely sure he was there for a moment. Dawit and Mathewos stepped back warily as if they thought I might go wild or do something stupid when Lord Balian took up the reins. Well, partially took up the reins. He held them, but not tightly, then he nudged me with his calves. No one had ridden me like that since I’d left home.

We walked around the ward, then he turned in the saddle and I followed him. We were pointed for the gate and the draw-bridge. I started sweating. It was all very well at a walk, but what was going to happen when he wanted me to trot or canter? We walked to the edge of town and then out into the surrounding countryside. By now I knew this quite well from being on the lead. There were beautiful pomegranate and orange orchards all around Ibelin, and beyond that rich fields of wheat and barley.

Still on a long rein, he turned me away from the cultivated fields and toward the sand dunes. We rode past a hard-packed area where a dozen men in armor were jousting with each other. The squires turned to watch us ride past, bobbing their heads respectfully at Lord Balian. There was a trail of sorts between the dunes and Lord Balian asked me for a trot. I picked it up immediately, anxious to please, and by all the Horse Gods, his seat didn’t leave the saddle! It was as comfortable under him at a trot as at a walk. I started to relax, shaking my head and snorting to tell him what a pleasure it was not to have someone pounding on my back. He reached down and stroked my neck, and then clicked and tightened his legs. No kicking, no gouging. He didn’t even turn his heels inward to prick me with his spurs. Just tightened his legs. I picked up the canter and tensed for the horrid thumping on my back. It didn’t come! It was as if he were glued to my saddle.

Because he wasn’t pounding down on my back, jarring and hurting me, I felt free — liberated and alive for the first time since I’d left home. I risked going faster and faster. Soon we were racing over the sand, the bushes rushing past. It was wonderful! The wind was blowing back my mane and tail. The sand was flying back from my hooves. Lord Balian leaned forward, putting his weight on his knees and the stirrups and it was as if I didn’t have a rider at all. I felt as if I could fly.

And the next thing I knew there was this huge, gleaming, writhing monster in front of us. At the sight of us, it reared up and snarled viciously, slobbering foam and growling deep in its throat!

I’d never turned around so fast in my whole life! I just spun around on my haunches and tried to run in the opposite direction. In that moment, I was much more afraid of the monster than of Lord Balian or any human on earth. After five or six seconds, I realized that Lord Balian was somehow still on my back and he was hauling on the reins (none too gently under the circumstances) to get me to slow down.  I was relieved that he hadn’t fallen off, but I was not about to stop until I’d put more distance between us and the monster. Eventually, however, he did convince me to slow down to a walk, and I snorted at him in agitation. That monster was huge and who knew how fast it might be? I thought we should get back to the safety of the castle.

Lord Balian had other ideas. He wanted me to go and face the monster again. I kept shaking my head and when he turned me toward it, I backed up as fast as I could. I couldn’t understand why he was so determined to face that monster. It couldn’t possibly bring us any advantage, and it might very well kill us! The sensible thing was to get to the safety of Ibelin Castle.  But Lord Balian was not being sensible. He jumped down, took the bridle behind the bit, and started walking toward the monster.

At first I followed him, thinking maybe he knew something I didn’t know. Maybe the monster was already gone. But then we came over the last dune and it was still there! It was still seething with hostility and snarling at us, licking its lips ready to swallow us. I was not going any nearer! I reared up and spun about again on my haunches, lifting Lord Balian clear off the ground and starting to drag him with me before he let go of the reins.

After that, I just kept going at full speed, anxious to get to safety as soon as possible.

By the time I trotted across the drawbridge, I knew I was going to be in trouble for leaving Lord Balian behind, but had decided I was just going to have to weather it. He shouldn’t have tried to make me face a monster like that!

At the stables, everyone was so astonished that I returned alone that they didn’t immediately get mad at me. That’s when I realized how unusual it must be for Lord Balian to come back on foot (in contrast to the Black Knight, who’d done it rather a lot). Then I realized that most of the agitation was because they thought Lord Balian must be hurt. They were going crazy about that, calling for stretchers to be brought while Dawit rushed out on one of the fleetest mares. But I knew he hadn’t been hurt so I wasn’t too upset. Still, I knew he was going to be furious at me for leaving him behind, and I started to feel a little guilty.

When I heard the commotion at the door indicating he was back, I put my head down in the corner of the stall and waited for the storm. From the door I heard Lord Balian’s voice: “Is he ok?”

Is he ok? That was his first question: whether I was OK.

Dawit assured him I looked okay and they came over in a group. He stood leaning on the stall door and I looked over my shoulder at him.

“Silly boy,” he opened. “The sea can’t hurt you. It’s just water.” Then he held out his hand, palm up.

I wasn’t falling for that trick! If I’d gone over, he might have snatched hold of the bridle and then hit me. I stayed out of range.

He dropped his hand and remarked. “I don’t know. I thought of naming you ‘Centurion,’ but Roman officers were very brave, and you’re just a big coward.”

Coward? Me? After all I’d been through? But, of course, he didn’t know about the Black Knight or the Slaughter House. And I liked the sound of ‘Centurion.’ Anyone can be “Grey” or “Foggy” but Centurion was noble. I stood up straighter and lifted my head.

But he was gone. Fortunately, I caught the words, “We’ll try again tomorrow” as he left the stables.

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!

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