The Books and Writings of
Kurt R.A. Giambastiani

  "Destrier's Will"
by Kurt R.A. Giambastiani

Reynald refused to rest.  There was battle in the air; he could hear it in the nervous shiverings of his stablemates, and smell it in the oil that rubbed into the tack and armor that had been laid out for them.  He kicked at his door in frustration, whickering his desire to be out of this confinement.  He wanted to make ready, to prepare.  Battle was on the wind.  The westering moonlight faded too slowly as dawn came onward.  He whinnied, calling for Benedict, but the groom was nowhere to be seen.

He reared and lashed out again, harder this time, snapping the wooden hasp.  The door banged open and without a thought Reynald ran out onto the mud of the yard, scattering dogs and trampling chickens.  He turned toward the great house and was up the wide stone steps, shouldering aside the sleepy guard that stood by the door.  With a crack, the door opened.  Reynald ducked his head and trotted inside, up the corridor, and through a doorway that opened onto the grand hall.  Tapestries and torch flames wavered at his entrance, but it was an empty place, filled only with the echo of his hooves on the straw-strewn flags.  He whinnied in frustration and drew sparks on the stone floor.  He heard voices—the drone of priests—and smelled the lemon smoke of incense.  He turned that way and followed his ears and nose down a hallway, surprising laundresses and servants.  They fled, but others came behind, chasing him until at last he came to a pair of silver-trimmed doors that stank of priests.  His strong hooves bashed open the doors and he ran inside, feet slipping on the polished stone, eyes wild at the shrieks of women and shouts of men. 

The grandeur of the place infected him—the gold, the robes, the acrid incense, the somber dance of candlelight.  A man reached for him and he reared up in defiance, bellowing a challenge and shaking his mane.  His hoofbeats clanged through the dark space as he headed down the aisle, seeking his lord.  Another man reached for him, and Reynald gave him a sorrowful bite on his arm.  Up ahead, one man stepped forward from a group of armored knights: Reynald's king.

"You willful thing," his lord said, chuckling.  "I would have come for you anon, but you have less patience even than I."  He turned to the censer-bearing priest.  "Thank you, Father, but as you can see, it is time for me to prepare."  Reynald nodded his assent and moved forward, calmly placing his nose under his lord's outstretched hand.

Good, he thought.  Let us be at this thing, and quickly.

He allowed Benedict to take him back to the stable.  Other grooms and stableboys had returned, bringing warm light beneath the wooden beams.  As they crossed the rain-soaked yard, Reynald looked up.  The stars were paling with the growing dawn.  "No clouds," Benedict said, to Reynald or to no one.  "That's a welcome change." 

Reynald snorted.  He did not care if there came clouds or rain or hail.  War was war, and no matter how grand and all-encompassing men thought it, it was in reality a small and private thing for those who fought, mind to mind, muscle to muscle.  War was not glorious, only victory was; and Reynald had long ago learned the difference between the two.

Back in the stable, Benedict gave Reynald something to breakfast upon—a few handfuls of grain and a winter apple—and Reynald crunched while he was combed and saddled.  Anton and Robert came up with his barding and he stopped eating while they fitted it to him, hind and fore, heavy chain and padded metal.  Behind, he felt Benedict begin to braid his tail and Reynald turned to inspect.  He saw the ribbons the groom was threading in and he thrashed his tail wildly.  Benedict stepped back and let the braid fall out.  The ribbon fell to the churned straw and mud of the stable floor.  Reynald shifted his weight and placed one foot on the bit of colored satin.  Benedict stepped up and began to braid Reynald's tail again.

No ribbons, Reynald thought; today we see battle.

The yard was charged with the sounds of metal and leather, the smells of sweat and manure, and the thoughts of men and horses, young and old.  Reynald tried to shut out the distractions and concentrate his will on the day, the tasks, and the battle before them.  At the outer gate were the footmen, the poles of their hook-bladed gisarmes and scythe-head glaives standing like a wheat field ready to be harvested.  Archers stood in clustered ranks behind them, and along the stable wall were the horses and their knights.  Reynald stood at the side nearest the steps to the inner keep, awaiting his king. 

Is this all we are today? he wondered, looking at the tired and besmirched assortment of ill-armored men.  We do not even fill the yard.

The house doors opened and a great shout went up, ushering in Reynald's lord, his buffed plate and chain limned by the low-angled light of morning.  Reynald could not keep his feet from dancing in anticipation as the king descended the stairs.  He came to Reynald's left side and spoke to him in his gravelly voice.

"You have carried me through many battles, my friend, and this one, today is the day for which you were born."  Reynald turned his head, seeking his master.  The king's face had thinned during the long months of winter siege, and his beard was shot with gray.  Still, there was a ruddiness in his cheeks though, and his eyes were clear and strong.  He was still king.

Reynald felt the tug and weight as his lord mounted.  Turning heavily once, Reynald shook everything into place: armor, rider, and weapons.  He turned again as his king addressed the forces in the yard.

"Stay to your lines, men.  We fight for the last time, though not without hope.  We few can end this today, if we but do our utmost.  Stay strong, and Heaven be on our side."

Another shout rose above the muddied court, and a heartbeat began as weapons were put to shield in martial rhythm.  Louder they pounded until, when the gates opened, they ceased.  The vale lay before them.

Smoke from the enemy's fires shrouded the valley.  None of the soldiers spoke as they filed out of the gates, heading down the hill, slowly and without order, until one of the captains called them to a halt.  In front of them was the assembled enemy force, a long line of pikemen behind which stood the infantry and the mounted nobles.  Had he looked, Reynald might have recognized some of the men, but he did not care.  They were the enemy, and that was recognition enough.

The captains deployed the defenders in a line of polearms to match the aggressors, and Reynald was pleased to see that his king's line was deeper than the enemy's, though not by much.  The archers took the high ground on either side, and the knights took the center behind the footmen.  Noblemen rode along the lines, inspiring men by their presence and their calm, but when a trumpet sounded from across the vale, all stopped.  The enemy's line of pikes parted and a trio of horses issued through the gap, one rider bearing the banner of the green and gold that Reynald had come to know well through parley and sortie.  Spurs touched Reynald flanks and he leapt forward, along with two others.  With a stablemate on each flank and the red and gold of their own banner snapping in the wind of their passage, they headed for a parley.  Men knelt as their king passed, filling Reynald with a sense of purpose and power.  He whinnied once, and rolled his eyes, breathing deep of the clear morning air and exhaling it in a double font of gray mist.

The six riders converged in the center of the field.  Reynald came up strongly on the lead horse of the enemy trio, head high, chest out.  He raised one hoof and pulled at the turf beneath him, marking the ground as his domain.  With a closer step he blew a heavy breath upon the other and saw fear in the enemy's mount.

"You wish a parley," asked the king.

"Yes, Brother," said the enemy rider.  "I come to request your surrender." 

The king checked Reynald with the reins before he could bite the enemy for his insolence.  He ran Reynald a few quick paces along the length of the emplaced battle lines and then back between his stablemates.  "Your army deserts you, my brother.  Your numbers decline.  The winter has hurt you."

"As it has aged you," said the enemy. 

Reynald heard the hatred in that voice and bristled at it.  This man was a danger, best dealt with in battle.  With a firm hand along his neck, the king calmed his steed.  "Age brings wisdom, Brother.  We shall not surrender this morning."  Reynald was forced to turn away from the enemy then, and return to the lines of waiting men on their side of the vale.  The king was met by a squire holding his helm.  Reynald nipped the squire's horse and they shouldered together, both anxious for battle.  The king turned him quickly to face the enemy, and Reynald heard the singing of metal.  The sun lanced through the morning sky and Reynald saw the white gleam of his lord's sword, pointing toward the field.  The royal forces gave cry and ran into battle.  Arrows hissed over their heads, arcing to meet the enemy's advancing lines.  Another volley was loosed, and then the lines met in crash of metal, flesh, and bone.  The king then called to his nobles, and set the cavalry in motion.

The world turned into one of speed and sound.  Grass flew underfoot, crisp air was pulled into lungs, then expelled in bannered breaths.  The tambour of a hundred hooves threatened to tumble the towers of home, and the roar of men hurtling toward battle rang in the air.  At a command, the line of charging cavalry became two, each half swinging to the side, then wheeling in to crash through the weak ends of the enemy infantry.  Reynald lowered his head and bowled over man after man.  His rider trimmed the hedge of soldiers that rose on either side, and Reynald heard the clash of sword on metal, and the woody thunk of sword on bone.  Men and horses screamed as they were cut down, but Reynald and his king fought through.

On the rise, the riders reformed their rank, and Reynald saw the confused melee of footmen below.  Reseated, the line of knights charged again, this time upon the rear.  The enemy cavalry charged up to meet them, but were hindered by the slope.  Reynald and his king plunged into them with the force of speed and downhill weight, Reynald biting with teeth and hooves, his king with steel and mailed fist.  The battle became thick, and Reynald knew only his opponent, his rider and liege, and the art of war.  His mind was nothing but this small world of death, the mingling of blood and dirt, and the will to live it through.

The blow came suddenly.  The pikeman died for his trouble, his jaw and cheek crushed with a small movement of Reynald's foreleg.  Reynald landed heavily and barely kept his feet, the pike blade deep within him, piercing breast and lung, the wound mortal.  The battle surged inward but broke against the king's circle of loyal fighters.  The forces from Reynald's keep pushed forward, outward, and the enemy dropped weapons and fled.  A cheer of victory rose from the defenders as they claimed the field and the day.

Reynald fell gently to his knees and then to his side, careful not to injure his rider by his weakness.  He looked up and saw his king standing above him.  Though beyond, his knights and soldiers exulted and waved the fallen flags of their enemy, the king's face taut with mournful pain.  He tossed his mailed gloves to the ground and knelt by Reynald's head.  Gently, he reached out toward him.  "Well done, lad," the king told him, and tears filled his gray eyes.  "Well done." 

Reynald nickered in pleasure, nudging his liege's hand softly with his nose.  The day for which I was born, he thought to himself, and then, quietly, happily, Reynald willed his heart to stop.


All contents ©2001-2010 Kurt R.A. Giambastiani