All Things Are Lights – Day 110 of 200

He crushed her in his arms.

Not long ago, all I wanted was a quick and decent death in battle. Now she has given me a reason for living again. Yet I must turn my back on her.

He pulled Nicolette closer and pressed his lips against hers till they hurt, knowing this kiss might be their last.


Roland tensed his arms and legs against the jolt he knew would be coming. Still, he was thrown forward, almost off his feet, as the keel of the longboat ground against the sand. His body was rigid with fear. Egypt. This is the land of Egypt.

“For God and the Sepulcher!” a knight shouted, and Roland heard men behind him scrambling over the side. He, too, clambered over the gunwale and splashed into the muddy water. It was cold and waist-deep, soaking under his mail shirt, and he gritted his teeth against the discomfort.

He tried to catch sight of the enemy. Anxiety made him wish for eyes on all sides of his head. Holding his lance high in one hand, long shield on his right arm, he waded ashore with the others. Will my right arm hold up today, he wondered, or will it fail me?

Farther down the beach he saw a circle of knights, and he ran toward them. Out of the center of the group rose a gold banner, the Oriflamme — the golden flame — the sacred war banner of France. It bore a red cross, and its bottom edge was cut in points and fringed with red.

A flash of gold under the Oriflamme caught Roland’s eye. He recognized Louis’s helmet, topped with a crown. The King would be among the first to land, Roland thought, and fear for Louis made him run faster to join the circle.

He jostled his way into a place among the knights. Gripping the round top of his shield with both hands, he drove the pointed bottom into the sand until it stood upright by itself. Around him he heard knights talking about the long, wild ride in the small boats from the Genoese ships to the shore.

How long would it take the Egyptians to ride out to meet them?

Fear possessed him again, and he gripped his lance hard.

He had been friendly with the Saracens who served the Emperor in Sicily, had even learned their language, but that would be no help in meeting these Egyptians in war.

He scanned the beach. No sign of the enemy yet. He saw a long stretch of reddish sand stretching to east and west, bordered by a line of green shrubbery about twice the height of a man. From the brush rose the tall, snakelike trunks of palm trees, crowned with spiky leaves. Beyond was nothing but sky. The land seemed to be utterly flat — not a mountain, not a hill, not even a sand dune.

Looking to the east he could make out the grayish walls and towers of a city. Damietta, their objective. His heart sank. It seemed leagues away. They would have to cross the Nile to get to it.

But he understood Louis’s plan. By landing on the bank of the Nile opposite Damietta, where there were no Egyptian defenses, the King hoped to get most of his army ashore before the Saracens attacked.

Something whistled past his head. He ducked, then looked behind and saw an arrow half buried in the sand. Another hiss. Nearby, a man screamed and fell, holding his hand to his head and thrashing his legs in pain, as an equerry rushed to his aid. More hissings. Roland felt about to burst with tension. The attack was on.

Louis’s voice rose above the shouts of crusaders and the whine of arrows. “Commend your souls to our Seigneur Jesus, Messires.”

The Egyptians burst out of the green brush a hundred yards away, a long line of horsemen in red silk cloaks. They screamed war cries in high voices. Black and green banners inscribed with verses from the Koran fluttered above the sand cloud raised by their horses. Roland read the Arabic script: “There is no God but Allah.”

The helmets of the enemy were covered by yellow turbans, their faces hidden by embroidered scarves, their bodies swathed in long-sleeved mantles and cloaks, well designed to keep out the heat and dust.

The sun struck white fire on polished scimitars, blinding him. The Saracen horses were not as big as Christian knights’ war-horses but in their own way were magnificent animals, with proudly arching necks and slender legs, built for speed and agility. The riders looked formidable, invincible. And the crusaders horses had not yet been landed. They will kill us all, he thought.

He watched tensely as the Egyptian host thundered at them, hooves a blur on the sand.

A turbaned giant with bulging white eyes in a brown face, a red scarf over his nose and mouth, rode straight at Roland. The Saracen leaned out of the saddle, scimitar lifted to strike.

Roland thrust his lance at the chest of the Egyptian, who rode right onto it, hitting the lance head with such force that the needle-sharp point punctured the chain mail under his green robe. The Egyptian flew out of the saddle like a rag doll.

Roland felt a surge of elation. It is like a tournament, he thought. He crouched behind his shield to protect himself from the hooves of the now riderless horse, and jerked his lance out of the body.

Dust stung his nostrils, and he wished he had a cloth to pull over his face as the Egyptians did. From all around him came shouts and screams. The sand beneath him trembled to the drumming of the horses’ hooves.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)