Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the author of 24 historical fiction and non-fiction works and the winner of more than 53 literary accolades. More than 34,000 copies of her books have been sold. For a complete list of her books and awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clich├ęs and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight into 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, July 31, 2015

A Destrier's Tale Part XIV: Defeat

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:

                                                                                                       or Kindle!

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.

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Destrier's Tale Part XIII: The Horns of Hattin

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part XIII: The Horns of Hattin

They woke us up in the middle of the night. That had never happened before. And the mood among the humans was like none I’d known before. Worst of all, Lord Balian was angry. I mean boiling mad. Not that he shouted or lashed out at people like the Black Knight had done when he was angry, but you could tell he wanted to bite someone. His eyes were narrowed and his jaw set and no one wanted to cross him, even for a second.

The next strange thing that happened was that Thor and I were saddled up and laden with the long, transport waterskins like the ones the Saracens tie to camels. They were not made for horses — much less destriers. I was insulted and indignant at such a burden, but Ernoul smacked me hard when I tried to protest by nipping him from behind and told me: “Lord Balian’s orders! You’ll do as you’re told, just like the rest of us!”


We set out in three divisions. Thor and I, led by Gabriel and Ernoul respectively, were with the middle division around the wagons, carts, and supplies. Ahead of us were knights and infantry led by strangers, while Lord Balian  was behind us with the Red-Crosses. We could only progress at the speed of the slowest, of course, and the sun was hot. The horses of the first division kicked up a lot of dust on that dry road and I was looking forward to a drink long before noon. But when we reached the springs several hours later they were poisoned! I put my nose down to drink and smelt it immediately. I snorted in disgust and stepped backwards. We were all doing that, and the humans understood too. They were really in a tizzy now, running about like a bunch of headless chickens.

I kept looking over my shoulder for Lord Balian, wondering why he wasn’t here to sort things out, but he seemed to have been delayed. There was no sign of him. Ernoul gave me a drink from one of the water skins I’d been carrying myself. The water was almost too hot to drink and not very refreshing, but better than nothing. Thor, however, was still being silly. He wanted his water in a bucket, not out of a skin. I told him he better take what he could get, and he answered that he was a “stud” and didn’t drink “like an unweened foal.” “Suit yourself,” I told him with a snort and drank his share too.

Eventually we set out again, this time striking off the road which made the going very rough for the wagons and carts. They lurched over the uneven terrain, often getting a wheel stuck in a gully or stopped by a rock. The humans were cursing and sweating, smelling even worse than usual, and I could tell they were unhappy. At no earlier muster had the mood been like this, not even at that first one with the Black Knight. The humans were acting like they were scared, looking around like frightened rabbits and they kept looking at this one wagon with a tall gold cross mounted on it and surrounded by Black-Robes. I guess it was something important to them and they seemed afraid of losing it.

When darkness fell we were in the middle of nowhere with no shelter and no water. Now Thor was starting to regret his foolishness. He kept sniffing the barren, dusty ground and pawing it, as if he thought he could dig down deep enough to find the water under the earth. When Gabriel offered him water that night, he didn’t make any stupid remarks about not being a foal and drank from the goat-skin just like I did.

Water or not, however, I was really getting nervous because there was still no sign of Lord Balian. The humans were kneeling in front of the wagon with the big gold cross, and knights were scurrying this way and that in obvious agitation because in the darkness around us other humans and horses were gathering like a swarm of flies at a dung-heap. It could only be Horse-Haters and in greater numbers than ever before. As darkness fell, they howled and yowled like wolves at a full moon, and then lit fires as numerous as the stars over our heads.

Finally, Lord Balian dragged in. That was really the only word for it. Rufus was at the end of his strength and crashed to the ground beside Lord Balian as he dismounted. Ernoul rushed over to give him water, but he was finished. So were the horses of the other knights, while the knights themselves were bristling with arrows. The foot soldiers were in even worse shape — and there were half as many as had been left behind. After Rufus had revived a little, I asked him what happened. “They attacked us all day long,” he gasped out tucking his feet under him to half sit-up. “Mounted archers,” he explained.

“They’re all around us,” I noted nodding toward the surrounding hills.

“We’re finished,” Rufus concluded in utter despair. “Lord Balian kept us behind the footmen, but the Red-Crosses charged them several times. All they got was dead horses! It was as if they didn’t care about their horses at all. As if they were fighting for something else than our safety. Don’t trust the Red Crosses,” he concluded and then his eyes rolled back into his head and he sank into a miserable sleep.

The morning brought the smoke of brush fires from the west and the hot air became almost unbreathable. The army stirred, but it was the stirring of turtles stranded on the beach. Neither horse nor human had any energy after the dry, sleepless night. Only the relentless approach of the fires forced us to advance toward the rising sun.

But there, spread out across two hills that loomed up like two horns on either side of an arid valley was the host of Horse-Haters. They were as numerous as the sand on the shore of the great sea, as numerous as grass in the pastures of Ibelin. We were like a herd of lost lambs surrounded by wolves.

Lord Balian took Thor. It broke my heart. I could see it on his face that he expected to die that day — and he chose to die with Thor rather than me. I protested. “I’m your destrier!” I called to him. “Me!” But he didn’t even look over at me. His face was closed. His thoughts and emotions locked inside.

So I was left with the palfreys, pack-horses and draught horses around the baggage train. It was the ultimate humiliation! The others, even Rufus, were too exhausted and thirsty to take an interest in anything, but I couldn’t ignore what was happening only half a mile away. The Saracens used arrows first, as always, and there were so many of them that they overwhelmed our armor — finding the weaknesses, breaking the links.  Men and horses were sinking down under that deadly hail. The Christians tried a charge, but they were too weak. After initial success, they lost momentum in that hoard of Horse-Haters. Meanwhile, the Christian footmen had had enough. They were no longer willing to die for us. They retreated up the slopes of those hills and left the horses almost completely exposed.

At this point, even the humans realized that there was no hope of fighting the Horse-Haters, we had to try to escape. Some Christian knights made a desperate charge that broke through the enemy, but Lord Balian wasn’t with them. When I couldn’t find him among the knights escaping, I tried to find Lord Balian in the shrinking cluster of knights left behind, but he was gone! Just gone! I was still looking, when Ernoul emerged out of nowhere.

The boy was in bad shape. He stank abominably, as only humans do when they’re scared shitless. He was shaking too, but he jumped down from his rather dazed castrate and started saddling me up. Only then did I grasp what had happened. Thor was dead and Lord Balian needed me! The younger horse had failed him!

When I was tacked up, Ernoul remounted his castrate and led me onto the battlefield right up to the corpse of Thor. He didn’t have a wound worth talking about on him; he had collapsed from thirst!  Lord Balian was pretty exhausted too. It took him two tries to mount.

By the time he had mounted, the break in the enemy lines had closed again and we were all trapped. One of the other knights still trapped on that bloody field was suddenly beside us pointing at the infantry cowering on the hill to our right around that wagon with the gold cross. He was pointing toward it and saying we had to go up there, behind the foot soldiers. I didn’t think much of that suggestion. They’d abandoned us once before; they would surely do it again. I preferred the idea of trying to break out.

So did Lord Balian. He pointed at the enemy and the other knight backed down. Lord Balian couched his last lance and all the horses still with him, even the squires on their castrates, clustered around. We got as close together as possible, seeking protection and courage from each other. Then we charged.

He killed two men with his first charge — one with the lance and the second when the first fell backwards and knocked his companion off his horse. After that we were a single killing machine — he with his sword and me with my teeth and hooves. I had no idea how far we were from escape. I certainly couldn’t see the end of the Horse-Hater’s ranks, when something smashed into us from the left. It must have been a whole herd of horses because they knocked several of my comrades down completely and I was staggered. I lost my footing and stumbled so violently that Lord Balian lost his stirrups. He started to fall off, and grabbed my mane desperately to stay on my back. I had recovered my footing and knew that we had to get away from whatever had hit us. It was pure instinct. All of us together were running in the opposite direction which was strangely open.

It was a stampede and the humans had nothing to do with it. Lord Balian was struggling to get back into the saddle and stay with me, and I was determined to get him — and me — out of there! Off that field. I hadn’t reckoned with Lord Balian’s skill, however. He somehow managed to get his seat back in the saddle, pick up the reins and start checking me.

OK. I know I said I’d learned to trust him, but flight was the only thing that made sense in this situation and I wasn’t inclined to listen to him. I guess I did slow down a little, however, out of respect and habit. It was a good thing I did because the next thing I knew we were crashing over the edge of that valley between the horn-like hills and the slope on the far side was so steep we began all slipping and sliding and scrambling.

I sat on my haunches and tore the skin off my hocks as we skidded down that slope, dirt, stones and rocks rolling with us. We crashed through the underbrush and tore up the thorns and bramble as we descended. Lord Balian flung himself off my back and tried to steady me, but he lost his own footing in that rock-and-flesh slide and we only stayed together as we slid down hill because he didn’t let go of my bridle.

Gradually we slowed down and were able to walk side-by-side down a gravel gully. Around us were the other knights and squires of Ibelin and Nablus, and even some of the foot soldiers. With each step we were farther from the battle that still raged, the sounds of it grew ever fainter behind us.

Ahead was a great lake. You could smell the sweet water on the warm, afternoon air. We walked straight into it until the water lapped around my belly, then I put my head down and drank and drank and drank.

There were no more than a couple hundred horses and ten-times that many foot soldiers, but Lord Balian and I were safe. Or so I thought.

The Battle of Hattin is described from the human perspective in:

A divided Kingdom,
                          a united enemy,

                                        and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Buy Now in Paperback!  

or Kindle!

The first book in the series, Knight of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian d'Ibelin, is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction.

A landless knight,

                           a leper king,

                                                and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Destrier's Tale Part XII: The Rival

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

Over the next two years, the army mustered twice more, and both times we went to the desert near the dead sea that was close to the home of the Black Knight. That awoke horrible memories, of course, and made me nervous. I kept looking for the Black Knight, afraid he would recognize me and try to claim me back. I was fairly confident that Lord Balian wouldn’t let me go, but you can never be sure about humans. They have different laws and customs than we horses do.

Although we mustered, the Horse-Haters didn’t dare face us in battle. Both times they slipped away in the night rather than risk open conflict. The second time they did that, however, they withdrew by way of Nablus, and Lord Balian was frantic about Queen Maria. We saw the flames and smoke from miles away, and Lord Balian drove us through the night without rest. When we finally got there the whole place was a wreck. Some fires were still burning and most of the houses had been broken into. I expected to see horse-corpses all over the place, but the castle had held out. Queen Maria had saved every single horse in the whole town!

Unfortunately, that long march had left me pretty exhausted and I was stiff in the morning. No more than Lord Balian, really, as he admitted to me candidly. “Neither of us are as young as we used to be,” he remarked, patting me on the shoulder as I was led stiffly out to the trough. I agreed with him with a snort, and he laughed and patted me again. And then he said the horrible words: “I guess I better think about finding a replacement.”

After successfully beating off the ambitious of that punk bay (who’d died of colic in the meantime), Lord Balian himself was talking about a replacement! I lifted my head and arched my neck and stamped furiously to try to express my indignation, but humans can be incredibly dense sometimes. They expect us to understand their language, but never really bother to try to learn ours! Lord Balian was better than most. He understood me a lot of the time. I think he even understood me then, but it didn’t stop him.

Three months later a black stallion called “Thor” was brought to the stable at Ibelin and lodged directly next to me — until I’d almost broken through the side of the stall with my kicks in his direction. Then they separated us, putting Rufus between us.

Rufus tried to get me to calm down. “Look, you’re almost completely white these days,” he told me. Adding, “just how old are you, any way?”

I tried to work it out, but I’m bad with numbers. Rufus answered for me. “Look, you were seven when you came here, right? And you’ve been with us seven winters. That makes you fourteen. Destriers rarely last that long — not like we palfreys.” (He made it sound like it was more honorable to be a palfrey, the idiot!)

“I’m different!” I told him indignantly and the next time Thor was led past my box, I made a rush at the door with my ears flat back and almost tore a chunk out of his sassy ass!

Thor was still a colt, really. Well, he was four but he hadn’t been backed very long and he needed a lot of training. He was still skittish and jumpy. He’d take fright at a sparrow! I told myself he was too silly to make a good destrier and decided to bide my time and wait for him to fail.

The problem was that Lord Balian seemed determined to make him a destrier and spent more and more time with him. Not that he stopped riding me altogether. He valued our relationship and spent at least an hour with me every day, but I could see the way he took an interest in Thor’s training and was doing everything he could to make Thor my replacement, jousting with him almost daily although he didn’t win with Thor as often as he won with me. 

Those were quiet years, when the Horse-Haters left us in peace, and Thor was six the first time he joined a muster. Lord Balian took both of us with him, and we mustered at the Springs of Sephorie, where we had several times before.

It was high-summer again and terribly hot — though not as hot as it had been at the battle where I was wounded. After a day long march, I was thankful to be able to drink deeply, even if the other horses had already churned up the edges so I sank right down to my fetlocks in the muck as we approached. I drank more than usual, but Thor was so excited by the sight of so many strange stallions that he wouldn’t drink at all. Every time Ernoul tried to lead him to the springs, he started fighting with the other stallions. Nothing but a stupid show-off!

I told him he was acting like a baby, but he just sneered back that I was a “broken down nag” who didn’t have any nerves left.

It was beneath my dignity to answer that. I just put my nose down and drank more water to show my contempt for him. Little did I know where his stupidity would lead.

Centurion is a character in: Defender of Jerusalem, the second book in a three part biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin.

A divided Kingdom,
                          a united enemy,

                                        and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Buy Now in Paperback!  

or Kindle!

The first book in the series Knight of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian d'Ibelin, Book I, is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and won "First in Category" for Historical Fiction set in the High Middle Ages of the 2014 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction.

A landless knight,

                           a leper king,

                                                and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Friday, July 10, 2015

A Destrier's Tale Part XI: Recovery

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:

                                                                                   or Kindle!

The first book in this three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin, Knight of Jerusalemis a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction:

A landless knight,
                       a leper king,                                                                                          and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Destrier's Tale Part X: The Battle of Le Forbelet

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part X: Le Forbelet

Ginger was already a gangly two-year-old when the Saracens returned. We mustered as usual and went to face them on a broad field below a powerful castle. I was never good with numbers, but I swear there were more of them than ever before. This time they had their foot soldiers with them too. Fortunately, so did we.

The Christians lined up their infantry in multiple rows ahead of us. They had their heavy shields planted in the ground ahead of them, and we stood our ground. The Saracens were throwing arrows at us so that it sounded like a rainstorm, but the Christians had their armor and their shields and Lord Balian had provided me with a thick, canvas “trapper.” It was red on my right side and yellow on the other and studded with the square crosses with flared ends that he like to wear on his clothes too. When arrows hit the skirts of canvas, the cloth just gave way and the arrows fell harmlessly to the ground — where I trounced them to make them break.

The problem was the heat. You can’t imagine it. The sun was burning down. Even standing still, I was sweating profusely, so much so the sweat dripped off my belly and sometimes oozed into my eyes. The humans were sweating too and they started to smell pretty bad.

After we’d put up with this for several hours, the Saracen foot soldiers attacked, but we had archers too, and threw them back. Then the Saracen cavalry charged, flailing their poor slave horses up the slope against us and trying to make them kill themselves on the pikes and spears of the Christian infantry. I was rather pleased to see that the slave horses weren’t so stupid or so cowed as to do that. Instead, they reared up and ran away, throwing and then trampling on the Horse-Haters. I noted that with satisfaction.

The Saracens sent black humans against us next. They were on foot, but they couldn’t get through the Christian foot-soldiers that defended us fiercely — many laying down their own lives. The carnage was terrible, though. I swear they slaughtered the entire first line of defenders, and still kept coming!

Then suddenly horns were blowing and knights started shouting. Lord Balian couched a lance. I knew this meant we were going to charge, but I didn’t fancy the idea of running straight at those murderous Horse-Haters! Then again, I had Lord Balian to protect me. At his command, I sprang forward with my head down and the Christian infantry parted to let us through. An instant latter Lord Balian’s lance had skewered one of the Horse-Haters and then he dropped the reins and started killing them with his sword while I did my best to tear their skins off with my teeth and, better still, trample them under my hooves. It was a highly satisfying feeling! I could hear their bones snap under my weight and once put my off-fore hoof right in Horse-Haters face ending his murder forever! But just when we were gaining momentum, horns started blowing again and Lord Balian made me turn around and ride back behind the Christian foot soldiers. I was really annoyed about that and let him know by shaking my head and snorting angrily. We had them on the run, after all, and we were so much stronger and faster than they were! Why stop?

Just then Saracen horsemen came crashing out of the cloud of dust. Lord Balian must have realized they were coming! The sight of them riding over and slaughtering the horses that hadn’t retreated like we had made me feel a little faint. I could so easily have been me! A lesson learned, I told myself firmly: trust Lord Balian in battle as in the joust!

However, the heat and dust were worse than ever. I was finding it increasingly hard to breathe. But when Lord Balian’s squire tried to bring us water, Lord Balian angrily sent him back. I wanted to protest, but just then more arrows rained down on us. One came in so hard and so horizontally that pierced right through my trapper and lodged itself in my thigh. The shock of it made me leap sideways, squealing in alarm, and when I looked around to see how bad it was, I saw arrows sticking out of Lord Balian’s chainmail in three places too! That didn’t half terrify me! I was sure he was injured, but he didn’t act like it. He turned and broke off the arrow in my thigh so that the shaft couldn’t get knocked and cause the head to dig deeper. Then he patted me on the neck and told me everything was going to be alright.

I wanted to believe him, but bodies were spread across the ground in front of us like manure in the worst livery stables! They were heaped on one another, bloody and still moving in some cases. They stank and whimpered, gushing slime from their bellies and bowels. The smell alone started to drive me crazy. Under the circumstances, it was a relief when the horns yowled and we formed up again for a second charge.

It took a while to corral so many horses, but finally we were ready. We trotted through our infantry lines and plunged headlong into a cloud of dust so thick it was blinding. I could see nothing except the tail of the horse ahead of me. Around me the other stallions complained in alarm, crying out “I can’t see a thing!” or “I’m blind!” or “What’s ahead of us?” Then we collided with the Saracen cavalry and everyone was just whirling around in utter confusion. Lord Balian dropped his reins so he could use both his sword and his shield and that left me free to bite anything that looked hostile — which was pretty much everything that came within my line of sight!

Abruptly, there was noise and shouting from both sides and the Saracens started to just melt away in front of us. They stopped fighting and tried to flee. Lord Balian shouted “A Ibelin!” and miraculously out of the slowly settling dust familiar knights and horses from Ibelin clustered around us. When we were a tight group again, Lord Balian led us in pursuit of the now retreating Horse-Haters. I stretched my neck out full and flattened my ears determined to run down as many of those bastards as possible, but Lord Balian checked me, letting three of the other horses pass us. I don’t know why he did that and I bucked to express my anger with him. But it was too late, the other horses were ahead of us getting all the glory of knocking the Saracens from their slave horses. At least that left them on the ground for me to trample.

But in that heat even my fury soon gave way to exhaustion. With the immediate danger gone, I started to feel the heat, my thirst and increasingly the pain in my thigh. I slowed to a halt and Lord Balian did nothing to urge me forward. I stood there swaying to the rhythm of my deep breaths as I tried to suck in air. I would have given anything for a drink of water. I looked over my shoulder toward the broad river that wasn’t very far away and got a shock: the Horse-Haters were forming up again. They hadn’t killed enough of us yet to satiate their lust for horse-blood, and we hadn’t killed enough of them yet — despite all the killing we’d done — to make them feel like they’d had enough.

The humans clearly saw the same danger and they started to shout and gesture. The Christian infantry was spread out across the whole field finishing off the Horse-Haters who had survived our charge. Now they were herded back into a line of defense, and we retreated behind them. The squires were waiting there with water, and Lord Balian dismounted and turned me over to Gabriel. He pointed to my wound and ordered Gabriel to see to it. 

I was grateful for that, of course, but I didn’t like the fact that he then mounted a young bay stallion that had joined the stables recently. I could tell that young bay was trying to take my place. He was really full of himself. A cocky little bastard, and spoiled too! He’d never gone through what I had. It was bad enough that Lord Balian had started riding him in practice jousts with his own knights, but he had no business here, in a battle. I was Lord Balian’s destrier! I tried to protest, but Gabriel had a bucket of water and when I took a step towards it my hip seemed to crumple up under me. The pain wasn’t just from the arrow; somehow I’d managed to damage the tendons in the leg as well.  

The Battle of Le Forbelet is described (from human perspective) in:

Book II of  the Balian d'Ibelin TrilogyBuy Now in Paperback!  

Centurion is also a character in Book I of the Biographical Novel:

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.