I had hoped to find an easier path to our prey but, will I or nill I, I had given my horse free rein and it chose the simplest path.
My gauntlet had slipped, I had dropped both reins to save my lance. My charger, tallest stallion in our stables, my father’s final gift to me when I rode to war, shook his head at the suddenly free rein. We had not ridden without bridle since he was a colt.
He stopped suddenly, bracing all four hooves, nostrils quivering. Then he reared, coming down facing across the road seething with horsemen. There, up the opposite slope rode my foe! The hated knight still sporting the blue and green livery looted from my father’s castle; still riding the massive black charger that had nearly run me down from ambush the day before.
For all the road and slope between us, my enemy rode not an arrows flight away!
As the Saints bear witness, my horse saw them and neighed, nay, screamed his challenge at the heavy black stallion and its armored rider. I leaned and kneed it away, intending to ride to the end of this ridge, hoping to find an easier path to our prey but will I or nill I, I had given my horse free rein and it chose the simplest path, charging down the slope and splashing thru the muddy fields that flanked the road.
Men quit their ordered files before our charge. They ran. As we drove towards them, lesser horses, and perforce their riders, bolted out of our way. A glance to either side showed the Eastern King’s forces in disarray as we clove a straight path towards the black stallion.
Behind us, the enemy host roiled in confusion. The head of their column had marched on, as the officers ignored the confusion to their rear. Far back, the road blocked ahead, companies halted in uncertainty. They had hurried, now they waited. No doubt soldiers fell out for a wet or a leak.
Here, where the valley closed to just the road pinched between two ridges, whistles rent the summer air, banners whipped furiously, and shouts to “Rally!” sought to recall the eastern soldiers to proper formation. Too late! From the high ground, bugles proclaimed our attack, My Lord’s cavalry already charging in full stride.
My horse pounded forwards, claiming a lane between hundreds of foot soldiers. Next, he forced his way thru a train of tented carriages whose be-ribboned mules wheeled and overturned the wagons. A bevy of courtiers and their women tumbled into the road.
I swear! When I tell this tale tonight, I shall insist that I saw the Eastern King, himself, attempt to fly like a swan, diving from his coach into a pigsty rather than be run down!
Now the black horse cantered into the valley. My horse never broke stride. Just as my lance should have taken the knight behind his shield, my steed smashed into the other horse, shoulder to shoulder, driving it down. I flicked my lance aside. It was almost an accident the tip found the reeve riding behind his knight. Blasted fickle luck! The shaft spitted him and as he reeled and fell, trapped my lance and tore me from the saddle.
Above me, biting and raging, striking out with its hooves, my horse, on free rein, attacked. The other stallion bucked and fought its rider for its head as it tried to both fight back and be ridden. It reared, only to crash backwards across its saddle before rolling and wheeling and bolting.
My horse chased several steps but, with his enemy routed, stopped. He stood, flanks heaving as he trumpeted his victory until he gasped and wheezed and shivered his sweat into fog.
The unhorsed knight lay crooked where he should have lain straight: his neck was broken and his head looked awkwardly at the battlefield over his shoulder. To the harsh music of men screaming in victory or squealing fear and above a refrain of agony, I stripped the man of my family livery and folded it carefully. I would burn it with reverence on my father’s grave so that he could lie in peace, our family honor no longer befouled as a trophy but cleansed in flame.
I claimed the knight’s chain mail kirtle and weapons, – bad cess to them, Eastern troops had no doubt captured his horse. But I also took the reeve’s horse and the jenny ass he had led. Lashed to her packsaddle she carried a heavy leather-bound chest.
Within, the true treasure was an Attestment of Barony by the hand of the Eastern King. The deed had been amended to include our family manor and listed the necessary fiefs that conjoined the whole demesne. I noted that the bearer of the attestment became the baron, no man was named. The bags of gold coin were just a by-blow.