All Things Are Lights – Day 61 of 200

Enguerrand’s blunt lance point struck Roland’s shield off center and slid harmlessly by, but Roland’s lance hit solidly. The shock of the impact would have knocked Roland out of his saddle were it not for the high back that held him in place, and he threw all his weight forward to keep his seat. His horse gave an angry whinny.

What happened? Roland asked himself frantically as momentum carried him and Alezan farther down the length of the field. The big headpiece prevented him from looking over his shoulder.

Roland heard a metallic crash behind him. He pulled Alezan up short and turned his head toward the center of the field. He saw Enguerrand on his back in the dust as his gray charger dragged him by a foot caught in one stirrup.

My God, I did it! Roland thought triumphantly. He whooped aloud, his voice booming within the helmet. I knocked him off his horse.

De Coucy’s runaway horse broke through the lists, sending men and women flying in all directions. A dozen equerries swarmed to stop the big animal and free de Coucy. The gray reared up, and two young men were sent flying by the steel-shod hooves.

This combat is over for certain, thought Roland. He not only touched the lists, he went right through them. Inside his tilting helm and his hauberk, the seventy-pound shirt of mail that hung down to his knees, he went momentarily limp with relief. He unlaced the front of the tilting helm and pushed it back from his head to get some air.

That horse was badly trained, he thought. A good tournament horse would have stopped running the instant its rider fell.

“You would have known what to do,” Roland said to Alezan.

He walked Alezan to the center of the lists and waited while the crowd roared its approval.

He looked up at the gallery. His eyes met Nicolette’s.

He glanced over through the gap in the palisade and saw beyond it that de Coucy was on his feet now. While equerries held his horse he was beating its back with the flat of his sword. He is more of an animal than the horse, Roland thought disgustedly.

After a time the heralds declared Roland the winner, but decreed that since an accident had ended the fight they would not make the customary award of the loser’s horse and armor to the winner.

Any other day I would have been disappointed, Roland thought, slender of purse as I am. But today the only reward I want is Amalric.

At a herald’s gesture he rode to the end of the tilting barrier. As he sat there on Alezan, de Coucy came walking up to him. Now that Enguerrand had his helmet off, Roland could see his face, broad and swarthy, his chin covered with black stubble. He bore no resemblance to his brother Raoul.

“I am not finished with you, fellow. Italian knights are not worth a Frenchman’s spit.”

“I shall meet you again with pleasure,” Roland responded. “As I see it, you still owe me a destrier and a shirt of mail.”

Now it was Roland’s turn to meet challengers. He watched a knight with a red and blue shield ride into the lists and listened to the name announced by the heralds. From Salisbury? An English knight? Then Roland saw the red cross on the challenger’s surcoat. He must be one of that English troop pledged to join Louis’s crusade.

Roland had never fought an Englishman. He had heard they were doughty men and hard to beat. A fear of the unfamiliar quickened his heartbeat.

In their first clash they both splintered their lances on each other’s shields. Roland studied the jagged stump of his lance and hefted it thoughtfully.

When he rode back to his end of the barrier, Perrin was ready with another blunt-ended lance.

“God’s bones, master, you are magnificent!”

“Be silent,” said Roland with a laugh, taking the new lance. “Do you not know it is bad luck to talk so to a tourneyer?” But he wasn’t as amused as he sounded. He knew any little error could send him crashing to defeat. Saint Michel, he prayed again, do not let me fail.

The second time Roland rode at the Englishman, he feinted with his lance point at the man’s head. When his opponent lifted his lance to parry the threat, Roland spurred Alezan hard, lowered his lance, and hit the red and blue shield near the bottom. Dropping his lance, the English knight toppled out of his saddle.

Roland dismounted and dashed through a wicket in the tilting barrier to attack his opponent on foot. They went at each other with blunted one-handed swords. Blade clanged against blade, against helmet, against shield.

The Englishman was a dogged battler. I will never beat him, Roland thought, almost despairing. His right arm ached with fatigue. His arms and shoulders throbbed from the bruising blows of the Englishman’s sword.

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