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, August 14, 2015

A Destrier's Tale Part XVI: Siege & Sortie

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part XVI: Siege and Sortie

I wasn’t given much time to enjoy that victory though. Just a couple days later the largest host of Horse-Haters ever seen was attacking Jerusalem. At first they just charged at the walls, but the Christians — men and mares both — fought them back. The Christian archers were on the walls all day firing at the Horse-Haters, and Lord Balian rode me around and around the city so he could tell the humans what to do.

But then the Horse-Haters found giants willing to throw boulders and flaming balls over the walls and into the city itself. Those rocks were so huge they made the earth shake when they struck they smashed anything that got in their way — masonry or flesh. Most of the horses had been taken out of the city, of course, or were protected in stables, but I didn't like those boulders roaring through the air. Worse, however, were the flaming balls. They set the shops and many a roof on fire and I saw one person go up in flames too. After a couple days of this the whole city seemed to be on fire.

That night Georgios, who had replaced Gabriel as Lord Balian’s squire, woke me up. Dawit and Mattheows were there too, tacking up their own horses, and as soon as we were ready, Lord Balian mounted me and we all rode to the Postern of Mary Magdalen. Here we three were joined first by three strangers in funny clothes, and then by a pack of about two score of those colt-knights that had panicked so badly in the last fight before the siege started. They were riding their horses, who were nickering among themselves and generally behaving badly.

Lord Balian ordered everyone to be silent, then he closed the chainmail flap over his mouth and chin and took a lance in hand before leading that pack out of the postern into the night. Just beyond the postern, Lord Balian pointed me not at the bridge but the ditch. I hesitated, but he urged me forward and so we descended into the dry ditch surrounding the city and walked along the bottom of that ditch along the north side of the city. The ground was very uneven and there were rocks littered around down there too so you had to be careful about your footing. Lord Balian trusted me and gave me a long rein so I could find my way but progress was slow.

Eventually, however, Lord Balian signaled a halt and jumped down. He flung the reins over my head and led me up the steep bank out of the ditch. We emerged just beside the Leper Pool, and here he remounted. Then we just sat there doing nothing. It was hard to see in the dark, but I was pretty sure there were Horse-Haters up to the hill to our right and they appeared to be guarding the terrible giants that flung the stones at us. But there were Horse-Haters on our left too. They were crowded around the giants that were leaning right up against the corner tower of the city.

Suddenly there was a lot of shouting from that direction, and several of the young colts behind me shied at the noise. You could hear the clang of metal and then screams of pain. Lord Balian wasn’t happy at all. His muscles tensed and although he wasn’t telling me what he wanted, I could sense that he wanted action of some sort. I stamped and slapped him with my tail. I even flung my head up to try to make him pay more attention. The next thing we knew a huge flame shot up into the air with a roar. We all jumped and some of the younger colts bolted in panic. Lord Balian seemed oddly relieved, and with a shouted “now” he tightened his calves on my sides. I didn’t need any more urging than that. We started charging up the hill toward the sleeping giant.

Unfortunately some of the Horse-Haters who had been rushing to put out the fires behind us, now turned and starting running to take us in the flank. Lord Balian saw the danger the same time I did, and he turned to face them while some of the other knights continued toward the sleeping giants. There were no mounted Horse-Haters and we ran these footmen down pretty easily.

But then somehow that sleeping giant went up in explosive flame too. When that went up, we all bolted and soon we were just racing back for the comparative safety of the barn. Along our left flank, however, the camp of the Horse-Haters was alive with shouts of alarm and anger. Soon they started charging down at us, firing their arrows blindly. Fortunately, the Christians were manning the wall to our right and returned fire. I knew we had to let the archers fight it out and just stretched out my neck to flatten my stride and make us a smaller target.

Galloping across open countryside in the dark is pretty risky. A wrong step will break a leg and as we turned the corner to get around to the eastern wall, one of the horses did just that. Even in all the noise of the stampede you could distinctly hear his leg snap. Then he crumpled up, flinging his rider off as he fell, but we just kept going. We didn't have a choice.

I could see ahead of us the bridge to the Jehosaphat Gate was down and the gates were open. Humans were lining the wall cheering us on. Some of those younger stallions were trying to get ahead of me in their panic, but I shouldered them out of the way. Lord Balian had led this sortie out, and Lord Balian would lead it back! We thundered over the bridge in a pack and into a city that was wild with jubilation: cheering men and women, singing black-robes, and children jumping up-and-down and screaming with excitement. 

The siege of Jerusalem is described (from human perspective) in Book II of my Biographical Novel of Balian d'Ibelin:

                                                                                                       or Kindle!

The three part biography begins with:

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

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

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