Balian couched the lance and lowered his head so he could clearly see the length of the tiltyard through the horizontal slit in the helmet. Now, when the noise around was dampened by the arming cap, chainmail, padding and iron helmet, he could hear his thoughts and feelings: he was terrified.
He looked down the length of the tiltyard and his head was full of memories of falls. Bad falls. Falls that hurt like hell. Falls that left him bruised. Falls that left him limping. Falls that left him winded. Falls that knocked him unconscious. And he remembered the doctor saying, “a bad fall could cripple you for life.”
Balian was terrified of being a cripple. Those early weeks after being released from the pillory had given him a hint of what it might be like to be crippled. But it might also be much worse.
The earth was trembling as Baldwin gathered speed, and in his eagerness to be gone Damon was leaping up on his hindlegs, nearly rearing. Balian could not delay any longer. He let the stallion have his head and concentrated on his opponent, the tip of his lance and his shield.
The collision was jolting and splinters flew in all directions, but both riders remained in the saddle and a cheer went up from the spectators. They reached the opposite ends of the lists and took the next lance handed up to them by their opponent’s squire.
Turning around, Damon didn’t give Balian a chance to hold him back. Ears flat on his head he was streaking down the lists again with a vengeance. Balian dropped the reins altogether and concentrated on the actual clash of arms. With his legs and weight, however, he coaxed Damon a little to the right, drawing his brother’s lance tip with him and making it harder for a clean and direct blow. The trick worked because Baldwin didn’t have enough control of his destrier to follow with his horse. Instead, he leaned farther out of his saddle, and still couldn’t land a direct hit. His lance slipped and scratched along the surface of Balian’s shield rather than shattering.
Unfortunately, although Damon responded sensitively and slipped back closer at the last moment, Balian was out of practice and also missed the mark. His lance only glanced off Baldwin’s shield.
Each with lances intact, they turned again and started down the lists for a third run.
Suddenly, a female voice was calling, “Balian, don’t! Stop! Stop!” It penetrated all the padding over his ears only faintly, yet so intensely that it disrupted his concentration. He missed the center of Baldwin’s shield by a hand’s breadth and so failed to smash his brother to the back of his saddle, dissipating some of his brother’s strength.
Instead, with the full weight of man, horse and armor moving at a combined speed of close to fifty miles an hour, Baldwin’s lance hit him on the upper third of his shield. That was higher than normal and it unbalanced Balian. He felt himself start to fall backward while Damon continued to pelt down the tiltyard, oblivious to his rider’s danger. Balian grabbed for the pommel of the saddle and gripped Damon with his legs. He didn’t want to fall! Not at this speed!
Already there was daylight between himself and the saddle. For a split second he saw the sand rushing past, and then he hit the ground so hard that his helmet clanged and he blacked out. Yet, even as he lost his vision, he rolled and with his hand he shoved the helmet up and off so he could see and breathe again. He pulled his feet back under himself, pushed himself up and staggered a couple of steps before Hugh, Bella, and Rob converged on him in various states of fright.
Balian was grinning. “I’m alright!” he shouted at them. “I’m fine!”
Baldwin was looming over him, his stallion flinging lather in all directions as he fought the bit. “Balian! Are you hurt?”
Before Balian could answer, Damon galloped up, head down and ears flat. He thrust himself between Baldwin and Balian and started viciously lashing out at Baldwin’s stallion. With a loud whinny of outrage, the white stallion fought back. Hugh and Rob grabbed Bella roughly and yanked her out of danger. While Baldwin struggled to get control of his mount, Balian threw an arm over Damon’s neck to pull him back. “Calm down! Calm down! Come here!” He got hold of Damon’s reins and pulled him away from the other stallion, stroking his neck and calming him with his voice.
Baldwin drew up six feet away, his horse still fretting and snorting, and shouted to his brother again, “Are you alright?”
Grinning over Damon’s saddle, Balian called back. “I’m fine! Well done! I’ll get you tomorrow!”
“Balian, no!” Bella rushed back to his side and flung her arms around him protectively. “You don’t have to do this! You don’t have to prove anything!” Then lifting her voice to be heard by Baldwin she added reproachfully, “And you shouldn’t be provoking him!”
Baldwin raised his hands in a gesture of innocence. “He challenged me, Bella! I tried to warn him, but he insisted.”
“He’s telling the truth, Bella,” Balian assured his sister. He bent and kissed the top of her head, and handed Damon’s reins off to Rob. “And you don’t need to worry, little sister. I’m fine. I really am.”
He was, in fact, more than fine; he was elated. He’d fallen and had not hurt himself at all. He had rolled right back onto his feet, and as he flexed his shoulders, he could feel nothing more than bruises and muscular pain. He laughed as he tossed Guy, who had scampered up, his helmet, punched Hugh in the shoulder, and then laid his arm around Bella’s shoulders and started to lead her off the tiltyard in the direction of the postern gate back into the city. He had vanquished his terror of a fall.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish