Their high spirits lasted until the next torrential rainstorm hit. This broke over them with so much violence that it swept some of the wagons right off the road, while others became helplessly mired. Horses and mules broke their legs in the chaos and had to be put down. Even men sometimes became so mired in the mud they could not pull themselves free, and lay whimpering in misery until their comrades freed them. Many of the supplies were lost or simply ruined by the rain. As night fell, the rain turned to sleet. The ice storm that night killed hundreds of the already weakened pack and draft horses, and scores of men as well.
As dawn broke, a strong patrol of Turkish cavalry attacked the already lamed army. The Earl of Leicester counterattacked and enjoyed initial successes until the Saracens were reinforced. At that point the Earl of Leicester was unhorsed and many of his men could fight no longer. Fortunately, Andrew de Chavigny rode to his relief, and the Saracens were at last driven off. The English celebrated a victory, but the draft horses were still dead, the supplies soggy slops, and the weather showed little sign of improving.
The humble size of his company and the fact that it was made up of natives were clear advantages for Ibelin. To be sure, they lost one of the destriers in the ice storm when he panicked at a loud noise, fell on the ice, and shattered his knee. They lost two draft horses when the wagon ahead of them abruptly broke an axle and casks of wine crashed down on them, crushing one outright and injuring the other so badly he had to be put out of his agony. But they lost no men, because the natives from Outremer knew Palestinian winters and had come prepared with boots, mittens, and vests lined with sheepskin, as well as woolen shirts and hose. Ibelin had also had the foresight to bring horse blankets, and these had prevented the exhausted draft and packhorses from freezing to death during the night, while keeping the worst of the sleet and rain off their provisions as well.
Despite the lack of casualties, however, morale had reached a low point, and Ibelin heard more and more of his men murmuring about the campaign being pointless. Men also wanted to know where King Richard was; the fact that he was “raiding” and occasionally brought cattle or camels back as loot no longer satisfied anyone.
The bulk of the army straggled into Beit Nuba on the last day of 1191. The Templars had a commandery here, occasionally known as the Castle of the Baths or just the Castle of the Templars. It had been built on the foundations of a Roman fort and was square and regular in plan, with an extensive bath complex that had been restored and well maintained by the Templars. The Saracens had evidently used it as their command post, and it had not been damaged. Because the Templars had formed the vanguard of the army, they had already reoccupied their commandery and had been at Beit Nuba when the sleet and ice storm hit; they suffered no casualties.
Grand Master Robert de Sablé was both shocked and horrified by the state of the main army as it limped, staggered, and dragged itself into Beit Nuba. Catching sight of Ibelin among the other native contingents, he hurried over to speak with him. “What has happened?” he asked anxiously.
Ibelin told him.
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