All Things Are Lights – Day 111 of 200

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.

Three Egyptians converged on him, warbling their battle cries. One threw a spear, and he crouched to duck it, lifting his lance. The lance point caught the center man’s horse in the belly, and it fell screaming, throwing its rider and falling so that it tripped one of the horses behind it. The third Egyptian, as Roland still crouched, jumped his horse over Roland’s shield.

The enemy was real now, no longer an imagined terror, and in the thick of action Roland had no time for fear. He knew that the horseman who had gotten by him could reach the King.

He unsheathed his saber with his left hand. He could not go to the aid of the King because two Egyptians were coming at him on foot — the two he had just unhorsed.

Putting his full, armored weight behind his shield, Roland threw himself at one of them. As the man fell beneath him, Roland, also falling, drove the point of his saber into the enemy’s throat.

Roland jumped to his feet, feeling an ache in his right shoulder as he hoisted his shield. The clang of metal on metal all about him was deafening, and the crowd of struggling figures confused him. He looked wildly about for the other Egyptian.

Just in time. Fierce black eyes looked into Roland’s, and a scimitar whistled at his legs. Roland danced back and then rushed in, thrusting his saber point into his opponent’s chest. The saber struck mail, bending, and the Saracen fell back with a grunt, unhurt.

The man began to move forward again, one deliberate step at a time, eyes fixed on Roland, the huge, curving scimitar lifted. Which of them would still be alive a moment from now?

The scimitar came down to block Roland’s thrust, and Roland slashed across the Egyptian’s face. The Egyptian apparently was not used to a left-handed opponent, nor to Christians who fenced with sabers. Where there had been bright eyes in a brown face, there was a mask of blood, and the Egyptian fell back, screaming.

From behind him, Roland heard a shout of “Saint Denis!” and a loud clang. He swung to see the King standing tall and triumphant, holding his bloody two-handed sword over the cloven body of the Muslim whose horse had leaped the shield wall moments ago.

“He was about to strike at you,” Louis panted. “Always remember your back, Messire.” He turned to rush to where mounted Egyptians were trying to break through the circle of knights.

And I was going to protect him, Roland thought with a rueful smile as he ran back into the protective ring of knights. He has saved my life a second time.

He glanced around. Everywhere crusaders and Saracens were in man-to-man combat. The shield wall had expanded as more and more had landed from the longboats, and the crusaders now held a larger part of the beach. In the center of the circle lay dead and wounded crusaders, about two dozen of them. Gray-robed priests tended them and gave last rites.

Roland had tasted blood, and his comrades were holding their own. When they land our horses, he thought, then we shall really start to fight.

He turned to look out to sea at the haven he had left only a short time ago. A line of ships fenced the horizon, square white sails painted with red crosses. Nicolette, he thought, is out there watching. She was on the galleass Montjoie, he knew, the flagship of the fleet.

The water just beyond the breakers, stained russet by Nile mud, was now crowded with barges, each carrying six or more war-horses. The barges were anchoring close to shore, where the horses could wade in. The Genoese let ramps down into the waves. Equerries jumped into the water and led the horses ashore, where knights dashed to meet them.

“Make way!” a voice roared, and Roland felt himself shoved aside. He looked up to see a destrier draped in red and silver trotting past him. The horse passed so close to him its flank seemed as big as the side of a ship, and the plumed helmet of the man mounted on it appeared to brush the sky. Another horse and rider followed, and another. Pointed gonfalons fluttered from the tips of the lances the equerries had brought along with the horses.

Roland turned again to face the enemy and found that they were falling back. Banners aflutter, still shrieking defiance, they formed a line across the beach, blocking the way to the towers and walls of Damietta. Sunlight flashed on their scimitars.

The heat was almost unbearable. It was high noon, and the sun, directly overhead, was turning his helmet into an oven that baked his scalp. And this is only June, he thought, dismayed. Even if we can beat the Egyptians, the heat here may beat us.

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.)