Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence.
The sword, forged of shimmering Damascus steel, gilded with a delicate holy cross on the pommel, slit an Arab’s throat.
Slicing through the thin layer of his tan skin, it cut deep into the intricate tendons and arteries that climbed up his neck. The Egyptian rider’s windpipe was severed, letting blood pour into his lungs like a mountain waterfall. His bubbly, drowning scream was cut off as the blade embedded itself into his spine, finally ending his intense pain with a sudden darkness.
Estienne watched the light of life die in his brown eyes, and slid his sword free.
The Arab collapsed to the ground, his head hanging by a string. Estienne looked away from the sight, gritting his teeth.
He turned around, and the sights of the battlefield hit his eyes.
The charge had been immensely successful.
The knights had not rode horses. They were monstrosities, their hellish madness allowing them to trample, crush, and mangle anything before them. With the sharpness of their hooves and the momentum of their gargantuan bodies, they were unstoppable. Any Fatimid rider that was not bulldozed by the beasts was masterfully skewered on the knight’s lance, and lifted off his saddle. The beasts didn’t stop until they were too broken too continue, slamming into the ground as a pile of bones and flesh, their willpower gone.
The knights of King Baudouin had then dismounted, drawing their swords and starting the bloody melee that continued until now. Knights clashed with Arabs all across the field, hacking and cutting. The knights fought valiantly, shearing down hordes of Egyptians as they rode up to face them. The knight’s horses had driven deep into the heart of the Fatimid cavalry formation, and they were trapped by walls of Egyptian riders on every side.
Estienne clambered over the heaving body of a wounded horse, looking for his friends. He hadn’t seen them since the moments before impact, and had lost all direction.
Where was Conrad? Savio? Hugues?
Estienne looked around at the torn carcasses on the ground, hoping he wouldn’t see someone he knew.
His thoughts were interrupted as an Egyptian lancer galloped through the stormy melee, ripping through knights and Arabs alike.
He caught sight of Estienne, alone and out in the open, and steered his horse in his direction.
His quick Arabian gained speed quickly, accelerating towards the exposed Norman.
Estienne dropped to the ground, his mailed fingers catching hold of an object. His eyes were glued to the charging enemy, but he managed to lift the heavy pole up into his vision. It was a lance, one used by the Egyptians. Not as long or thick as a Frankish lance, but it still held immense power when used right.
Thinking quickly, he shoved the end of the lance into the sand, securing it at a forty five degree angle.
He saw the Egyptian’s eyes widen in fear through his keffiyeh as he realized he was riding right into a spear. He pulled back at the reins, frantically trying to halt his horse, but it was too late.
Estienne kneeled down, holding the lance firm as it impaled the Arabian horse. The animal drove itself deep into the lance. The rider was sent flying from the saddle, out of Estienne’s vision. He heard the rider’s screams fade off as he soared away.
Estienne dropped the lance with the dying horse still on it, picking up a shield from the arms of some dead Fatimid nearby.
It was small, round and unfamiliar, but it would have to do. His own kite shield had been ripped off in the impact of the charge.
He slipped his hand through the strap, feeling something cold and wet. It was what looked to be part of an Arab’s hand, stuck in the straps. Nearly vomiting, he shook the appendage out, letting the hacked flesh slap to the ground like a dead fish.
He reluctantly pushed his hand through the straps again, but felt nothing more.
Estienne shrugged the shield in position, and ran off across the battlefield. He dodged Egyptian riders as they stomped over mangled bodies and equipment. A frantic, riderless horse nearly took him out, but he stepped back just in time.
Estienne called out to find anyone he knew, but he produced little more than a croak, inaudible over the screams and struggles of the fighting men all around him.
“Conrad! Savio! Hugues!”
Estienne circled around, searching the melee, but could not find anyone he recognized.
Suddenly, he heard a wave of thunderous hoofbeats behind him, louder than what any of the Egyptian horses could make.
Estienne whipped around instantly, his battle instincts at their height.
It was King Baudouin, still on his horse. Somehow his massive steed had survived. It was smeared with blood and entrails, but they were not its own.
The King’s crown was partially chipped off, and he bore a long cut across his jaw, bleeding profusely. He rode towards Estienne, swinging his sword in long arcs to his left and right. Two Fatimid lancers went down, their skulls gashed open.
Finally the King pulled to a stop, looking down at Estienne. The King was in a frenzy, his jaw shaking with excitement as he spoke.
“Norman...You are alive!” The King shook with laughter, his eyes tinted red.
“Grab a horse, you fool! Tell the knights we’ll gather in Ramla’s courtyard!”
King Baudouin galloped off, jabbing his sword into a distracted Egyptian lancer, lacerating his shoulder. He rode into the bloody mass of struggling men, and was lost to Estienne’s vision.
Not wanting to hesitate, Estienne ran off into the chaos, looking for a horse.
He saw a white Arabian horse run by, half of its shoulder hacked off. It stamped in circles, insane from the loss of blood. Estienne grabbed the reins and slit its throat, putting it out of its misery. Its legs shook and it collapsed to the ground.
Estienne gave it one last look before pushing off through the melee again. He passed four separate knights each battling against hordes of Egyptians, helping where he could.
Finally he came across a mostly unscathed stallion. He managed to calm the beast down, reassuring it with a soft voice. The steed stopped its nervous stamping, and Estienne eagerly climbed into the saddle. Grabbing the reins, he whipped his spurs into its sides, sending it galloping off in the direction of Ramla in the distance.
His voice seemed to gain strength, the horse under him calmed his soul. He saw many knights fighting around him, their swords rising and falling in the mess of dying men.
“Knights! Fall back to Ramla, gather in the courtyard! The King awaits!”
Estienne repeated the command, waving his sword in the air as his horse reared up.
The knights nearby, fighting desperately, turned to his voice. They gathered together in a circle, pushing their way out towards Ramla on the horizon. They formed a shield wall, their longswords darting in and out, mangling Egyptians who hurled themselves against the palisade of men.
Estienne prepared to ride off, but saw a torn glove grasp his reins.
It was Savio, his mop of hair soaked in matted blood. His helm was gone, and most of his chainmail hood hacked off.
“Estienne! Let me get on, quick!”
Estienne shifted forward, letting the Sicilian mount.
“Savio, I’m glad you’re still alive!”
“Oh, I’m not completely useless you know. I can handle myself.”
Savio gave a bloody smile, three of his teeth knocked out from a powerful blow.
“Have you seen Conrad? Hugues?” Estienne turned back behind him.
“Not yet!” Savio kicked out, shoving an Arab back from the horse.
“Go, Estienne! Ride!”
Estienne sped off, the horse strong enough to carry them both over the countless piles of dead and dying scattered across the battlefield. It cleared a path through the enemy.
Savio looked behind them, seeing the circle of knights growing as more joined them in the formation.
Finally, Estienne rode free of the melee, his horse gaining speed upon the open ground. Swerving to avoid the thousands of Fatimid infantry advancing to help in the melee, he sped off towards the honey-colored walls of Ramla.
Far ahead, he saw King Baudouin surrounded by a few knights who had kept their horses as well. They funneled into the open gate of Ramla.
Estienne let his horse gallop over the plains before stealing a quick look behind him.
Fifty knights broke free of the melee, their circle formation dissolving as they pushed into a mad sprint over the plains, following Estienne.
Savio grabbed Estienne’s shoulder.
“Watch out! There’s archers after us! Stay low!”
Estienne had to keep the horse in the right direction, but stole another quick look behind them.
A hundred of the Arab cavalry rode out from the melee, switching to the composite bows stowed away in their saddles. They rode in and around the sprinting knights, dropping them with their arrows. Estienne watched ten knights fall to the ground, arrows in their chests.
He hoped Conrad and Hugues weren’t one of them.
Estienne rode closer to Ramla, and looked up to the battlements. He saw Christian soldiers manning the walls, but not many. The city was undermanned, but it had not fallen into Fatimid hands. Estienne swerved his horse into the open gates, entering the city.
The courtyard was fifty yards ahead, and he cantered down the street, giving his exhausted a horse a much needed rest.
“Estienne, find Conrad and Hugues! I’m going to organize the defenses. We might be able to hold these walls until we can call support.”
Savio hopped off, running towards the militia on the walls.
Estienne prepared to gallop off and search Ramla for King Baudouin, but saw someone through the open gate.
It was Conrad, with a horse archer on his tail.
Spurring his horse into a gallop, he rode back through the gate.
Estienne caught a Arab by surprise, slashing through his thin armor. The man dropped his bow, slumping in the saddle.
Conrad, heaving after the long sprint, called out to Estienne.
Estienne looked up. Multiple arrows arced towards him, fired from the large group of Arab horse archers just forty yards away. He ducked, dogding two arrows. The third slammed into his leg, biting deep in his boot.
Estienne grunted, steering his horse away into the city.
The two made it into the city. A few more knights streamed in behind them, some of the only survivors from the mad dash across the plains.
Hugues followed, grabbing Conrad’s shoulder, breathing heavily.
Conrad whipped around, sensing an enemy.
“Ah...Hugues! I thought you’d make it. I saw you in the shield wall, you held firm, boy. Although I would sugge-”
Estienne interrupted, grabbing his bleeding foot and grimacing.
“This is no time for a lesson, you German sot! Close the gates before they can storm the city!”
Conrad and Hugues rushed off to each side of the gate, grabbing the winding mechanisms that lowered the portcullis. Each struggled to operate the heavy mechanism, straining with all their might. After a moment of tension, it finally budged. The rusted portcullis slowly creeped downwards, creaking and groaning.
But they were too slow.
The group of Arab horse archers swarmed through the open gate, galloping down the main street. The wave of horses trampled a few of the knights who had just barely streamed in, and they fired up at the walls where the militia was gathering under Savio’s command.
Conrad and Hugues barely managed to step back, saving themselves from being trampled by the wave of fast Arabian horses.
Estienne watched as the well-aimed arrows of the Arabs dropped men from the battlements.
He turned to where the Sicilian was gathered with the militia, organizing a defense that was now useless. The enemy was already inside.
“Damn it, Savio! Get down here!” He only hoped he had heard him.
Estienne forced his steed forward, wedging it into the constant flow of Egyptian horsemen.
He swung his sword in wide sweeps, easily slicing through the lightly armored archers.
He cleared a path through the horsemen, the pain in his foot feeling better as he cut down those who had caused it.
Conrad watched his friend delve deep into the enemy, and his heart filled with excitement.
A heated battle in a closely packed area? This is where he excelled.
“Stirb, Muslimische hunde!”
Conrad slammed the pommel of his sword into the legs of a horse, crushing its kneecaps. It toppled to the ground, pinning its screaming rider. Conrad finished the Arab off, grabbing his sword with two hands and shoving it deep into the man’s open mouth, quieting his screams with a blade. Yelling curses in the language of his people, Conrad charged into the wave of Fatimid horse archers.
Hugues watched from the winding mechanism, amused. Why were they fighting in the streets? Had they not seen the immense structure rising up to the skies?
Hugues avoided the fighting, keeping to the edge of the street. He was going to the Tower of Ramla, the one place the horde of Arabs couldn’t break through.
The Tower was once a mosque, reaching up to the heavens. Since the Crusade it had been repurposed into a citadel of sorts, the center of defense in the city. It was a safe haven, with multiple gates at different levels and a long staircase that could be easily defended.
Hugues walked towards the tower, calm as the battle raged around him.
“Damn it, Savio! Get down here!”
The words entered Savio’s mind, but he couldn’t tell where they were from. Turning towards the voice, he saw the Fatimids storming the street unchecked. They fired arrows up at him, and Savio ducked down just in time, a black shafting arrow soaring above him.
He turned towards the fifty militia members on the walls, pointing down at the street.
“They’re already in the city! Follow me, men!”
Savio stepped forward, but heard nothing behind him. Turning around, he watched the town militia hesitate, unwilling to charge down the battlements against the flood of Fatimid horsemen.
The fifty men shifted awkwardly, looking down at their feet or gawking at the immense Fatimid army behind them in the fields.
Savio was confused. How could these men let the enemy in their homes, unchecked? How could they stand for this? Savio smacked his sword against his shield, the clattering noise attracting the attention of all the men.
“Look at me! Listen to my words!”
The men turned around, their attention caught and their focus ensured.
“Where is your anger? Where is the red hot madness that should be flowing through your veins? The enemy is in your home! They run rampant in your streets, they clatter down your roads, unchecked, as you stand here upon this wall, sulking and idling. Satan’s legions prepare to loot your city! Down in Hell, he laughs at your cowardice! I urge you, show your devotion to Christ himself. He watches, even now, as your grip on your spears slackens and your demeanor flags. His angels record every action you take. Undoubtedly they are saddened by your cowardice, and ashamed. They do not believe you have any drive in your hearts, and they wet their pens to record it so.
Prove them wrong, soldiers of Christendom! Show the Lord your undying commitment! Charge down these battlements with me, men!”
Savio rose his sword to the heavens, seemingly attracting the gazes of all who watched from above.
“Take your steel to a Moslem throat!”
The militia gained confidence, their faces tightening and their shields held firm. The men chattered to eachother, reassuring any of those within them that remained doubtful.
Savio smiled, his bloody grin bolstering the growing fire within their hearts.
“Ah, I can see it! I can feel it. Your hearts are pumping, your jaws clenching with that indescribable feeling of excitement before battle! There is the anger you have missed for so long. Revenge is at hand, men. Together we will ensure a painful demise to many of these heathens. Mohammed himself, watching from the depths of Hell, will weep for every one of his followers that falls to your endless strength.”
Savio walked up closer to his men, clattering his shield against each of theirs. He walked down the line, looking into the eyes of each man.
“You have nothing to lose here men, nothing but your mortal lives. Fight, fight until your sword arm is hacked from your torso, until your head is sliced from your neck. Fight till the last gasp. Fight until you see the glowing, radiant gates of Heaven opening up to you. Fight until your ancestors welcome you with open arms, congratulating you on your bravery! Fight until you can bow to the Lord in his perfect palace above!”
The men raised their spears in the air, various cheers ringing out above the chaos below the battlements. Savio continued.
“He who had died for you now requests you to die for Him. Let us charge down from the battlements! Destroy all those who come near your spear! Do me this final honor men!
Die with me, soldiers of Christ!”
Savio arched his back upwards, belting out a cry into the heavens, and his men joined him.
They circled around Savio, their hands eagerly clenching their spears and their faces flushed with excitement.
“Hold the city as long as you can! Stay with me! We will advance together. If you find yourself alone, don’t be afraid. You have died! Kneel down, and dip your hand into the healthy, cooling waters of Heaven, for that is where you are. Find me among the pillars of the expansive mansions prepared for us!”
Savio turned, running down the stairs that led down the battlement. This time, with his men behind him.
Savio sprinted down his steps, surrounded by fifty of the finest militia to ever walk the sands of the Holy Land. They dashed across the street, slamming into the column of Fatimid horse archers. The fine white horses squealed as the men’s spears struck home. Savio hacked deep into the Fatimid lines, aiming for the horse’s heads. He chopped into their thick skulls, soon losing his sword inside the head of a spotted mare. He turned to his shield, and smashed it against the riders, knocking them from the saddle with the impact. An arrow thudded into his back, shot from far behind in the formation.
It didn’t matter to Savio, the pain was worth it.
His men, the wave of soldiers he had cultivated with his words, followed up behind. After heaving against the Arab lines, their spears broke, and they turned to the handaxes on their sides. Many of the valiant fell, trampled by the hooves of the wounded horses around them.
Their screams of pain were only a moment of discomfort, incomparable to the eternity of peace before them.
Savio’s shield had finally broke against one Arab’s sword. He stabbed the splinters of his shield into a horse’s eyes, the beast rearing up. His men fell around him, many sliced by the Fatimids who were now organizing a defense against this incredible wave that had decimated so many of their comrades. Savio jumped onto a horse, all his weapons broken or lost. The few remaining militia around him did the same, tackling the horse. It soon fell, dragged down by the weight of the men.
Savio was trapped under the beast, the horse frantically kicking its legs out as the militia punched and bit into its face, blood spurting everywhere.
The Arabs around fired their bows down at them, horrified to witness their ferocity.
Savio watched from the blood-drowned cobblestones as his men were stuck with arrows, each taking multiple volleys before finally collapsing over the body of the horse.
With their life fading away, they crawled towards their trapped leader, covering him with their bodies. Savio saw a smile on a man’s face as his arms wrapped around him, protecting his beloved leader from the whistling black arrows that tore into his flesh.
Savio tried to push the horse off of him, it was too heavy. He saw, through the mangled bodies that covered him, Estienne and Conrad finishing off the Arabs his men had attacked.
Savio let himself relax, the pain all around his body fading, his vision going with it.
I’m coming, my brothers.
Savio’s dying mind pictured the beautiful mansions waiting for him, with their golden fences and marble fountains. He saw the brave men he had the pleasure of dying with, gathered together with laughter and smiles.
We’ll meet among the pillars…
The charge of Savio’s militia had taken the Arab horse archers by surprise. Estienne and Conrad watched as the men overcame seventy of the riders before they finally were shot down by the survivors. Estienne had lost sight of Savio, and he was fighting towards where he was last seen.
“Conrad! Help me...Argh!”
Estienne called out to his friend as he fought an intense swordfight against one of the surviving riders, blocking his blows with the round Arab shield he carried.
Conrad sprung up from behind, dragging the Egyptian from his saddle. The man screamed as his sword came down through his chest, Conrad’s immense strength driving the blade home.
“Where’s Savio? I lost sight of him in the charge.” said Conrad, wiping the blood off his sword.
Estienne urged his horse over the groaning mass of Arab bodies, impaled by the spears of the brave miltiamen. He made sure to swerve around the remains of the courageous men under Savio’s command.
Conrad searched as well, lifting up the tattered remains of the bodies.
Suddenly, the eerie calm after the melee was interrupted by a command from King Baudouin.
“Norman! German! Their infantry are advancing, come, we’ll fall back to the Tower!”
The King was soaked in blood, obviously he had been fighting Fatimids elsewhere. His neck now bore a deep gash, and blood was flowing freely from the cut.
Estienne hesitated, unwilling to abandon the search for Savio. Conrad looked under another pile of dead, grimacing at the sights.
“What are you doing? Get to the tower!” King Baudouin spurred his horse off in the direction of the tower.
Estienne looked back through the gate, and saw the thousands of Fatimid infantry advancing into the city.
“Come on Conrad, let's regroup with the King. Hugues is there, I saw him go in that direction. Maybe...Savio made it there too.”
Estienne doubted it, nobody survives a charge that heroic. It was evident in the mangled bodies of the courageous militia all around them. Conrad, leaning on his sword, wearily mounted Estienne’s horse.
The two sped off towards the Tower, the thousands of Fatimid infantry marching in after them.