King Henry got to his feet and raised his childish voice to speak as loudly as possible. “Are you ready to prove the truth of what you say with your bodies before God?”
“Aye, my lord!” the heralds answered in unison, while the knights nodded silently.
“Then—” King Henry looked sharply at Caesarea.
Caesarea whispered, “Take your positions, in the name of God.”
King Henry repeated the phrase and the knights turned their backs on one another to canter to opposite ends of the lists. The heralds took up their positions behind the barriers watching carefully for deeds they could later relate in poem and song. The contestants turned to face each other. Lances were passed up to them. A tense silence fell.
“Give the signal, my lord,” Caesarea murmured to Henry, and the boy king raised his hand, held it up for a moment, and then let it drop sharply. A trumpet sounded the advance. The two knights thundered down the lists toward one another.
As Caesarea had predicted, Barlais’ horse was slower, encumbered as he was by his heavy armor. The knights clashed not at mid-point but closer to Barlais’ starting point. Karpas’ lance hit Barlais’ shield squarely and splintered from the force of the blow. Barlais was flung against the cantle of his saddle, and failed to land a blow with his lance at all, although he was not flung down.
In a normal joust, this would have been viewed as a ‘win’ for Karpas. Yet this was not a friendly tournament, but rather a no-holds-barred duel to the death.
As Barlais righted himself, he shifted the hold on his still intact lance to just four feet behind the head, and pivoting his horse around, he flung himself at Karpas. With a communal intake of breath, the spectators recognized that Barlais had anticipated his opponent’s “success” and planned this unconventional attack.
Karpas drew his sword and swung at his opponent, delivering a hefty blow to Barlais’ shoulder and then his side that looked crippling.
Yet Barlais not only withstood the blows, he crouched low over his saddle and continued straight at Sir Anseau, his arm lifted. A split second later, he plunged the lance downwards.
To gasps of horror from the spectators, Karpas’ visor was torn off by the first blow. The lance tip had found its way into the vulnerable crack between the helmet and visor. The next blow hit flesh and blood gushed from Karpas’ face.
Yvonne de Hebron clapped both hands over her face in horror, and Bella flung her arm over her shoulders to comfort her.
Barlais delivered a second blow to Karpas’ face, whose sword appeared to have no effect on Barlais. Then in stunned shock, the spectators watched Barlais strike a third time at Karpas’ unprotected face. The spectators held their breath in horrified anticipation of a fatal blow.
Instead, Karpas flung his sword aside, reached up, and grasped the lance directly behind the steel tip. With an audible roar, he wrenched the lance to one side. Still roaring he urged his horse forward.
Barlais’ horse staggered and sidestepped. His rider clung to the lance as if for life, but inexorably the saddle moved out from under him. With a loud thud, Barlais landed in the sand. His head cracked down after him so hard that many people in the stands winced instinctively. Others sprang to their feet in surprise and excitement.
Barlais was not dead. Slowly, swaying, he rolled to one side and got a knee under himself. He shoved himself up, staggered, fell again to his knees. For a moment his head sank down as if the weight of the great helm was too much for him. Then, the thunder of hooves penetrated his armor, and he jerked his head back up. Karpas had collected a lance from his squires and was galloping back to finish Barlais off. With superhuman effort, Barlais forced himself to his feet and started running toward the grandstands below the king’s box.
It was obvious that Barlais didn’t have a chance. He was armored, on foot and already injured. Karpas bore down on him, hunched over the lance like the angel of death. The big black horse consumed two yards of tiltyard with each stride.
Abruptly Barlais’ horse put his head down and bolted after his master. He placed his armored body between the attacking Karpas and the defenseless Barlais.
Everyone jumped to their feet a second time. Meg dragged the near unconscious Lady Yvonne with her, while Bella and Eschiva clung to each other.
The horse protected his rider all the way to the side of the lists, where Barlais drew his sword and stood with his back against the wooden fence. The horse, snorting and prancing intercepted each attempt by Karpas to get around him. One minute he kicked out with his hind feet, the next he tried to tear the face off Karpas’ horse with his teeth. Within minutes he had thoroughly intimidated Karpas’ stallion, despite the infuriated kicks Karpas landed on his flanks drawing more and more blood.
Frustrated by his inability to come to grips with his opponent, Karpas grasped his lance half way down the shaft and tried to thrust it across Barlais’ loyal horse at the man pinned to the railing. While these efforts yielded little at first, bit by bit the heavy armor was wearing down the spirited stallion. He was breathing so heavily it could be heard in the grandstands, and his turns started to become clumsy, his head started to droop. His will to protect his master was undiminished, but his ability was fading fast.
Barlais too was in trouble. Sheer terror had enabled him to run, but now the injuries of his fall were catching up with him. He could not stand upright, apparently having injured his right hip. The shoulder above it also hung awkwardly. He was unable to lift his sword above shoulder height in self-defense.
Karpas, blood streaming from the wounds to his face, flung the lance aside, and turned his horse around to cross to the center of the lists to retrieve his sword.
“This is the moment to stop the contest, my lord,” Beirut murmured in the young king’s ear.
Henry looked up at him astonished. “But—”
“Barlais is finished and his horse nearly so. God has favored the Lord of Karpas. Give Barlais his life, and he should be grateful to you.”
“What do I do?”
“Stand up and call on Karpas to desist.”
The look King Henry gave Beirut said it all, but the baillie insisted, “Caesarea and I will enforce your command.”
King Henry took a deep breath and stood up. “Enough! Stop! Sir Anseau! My Lord of Karpas! Stop!”
The people in the stands turned to gape at the young king, but the Lord of Karpas had hold of his sword and was already re-mounting.
“Walter! Boys!” Beirut called out, and then plunged down the bleachers. He leapt with easy grace over the railing of the lists, his brother-in-law and sons behind him.
“See to Sir Amaury!” Beirut hissed to his sons, while he and the constable continued toward Sir Anseau. The latter tried to spur forward past the regent and constable, perfectly aware that they had come to rob him of his victory. Beirut reached up and grabbed the Lord of Karpas’ bridle as he tried to ride past, and Caesarea did the same on the other side.
“Damn you! Let me finish him off!” The Lord of Karpas shouted furiously. His face was a sheen of red. Blood still flooding from his open wounds was mixed with sweat, making it thin.
“The King has ordered an end,” Beirut responded.
“The hell he has!” The Lord of Karpas flung back at him. “This was your idea, Beirut! Don’t think I don’t know that you want peace! But there will be none as long as that weasel lives! Let me put an end to this!”
The Lord of Karpas brutally put spurs to his horse, who reared up and tried to break free. Caesarea, who was shorter than Beirut, was lifted clear off the ground for a second, but between them, Beirut and Caesarea held the horse from moving forward. The Lord of Karpas started cursing Beirut in a colorful stream of invective, but the combat was over.
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