42 The wild dance of fools - 1228
The night evanesced as the sky paled; the shadows fled in silence and on the distant horizon the sun began to rise. And there, out of the mist, came the clearness of dawn with the morning stowed in its lap. The desert awakened as the first soldiers ascended their mounts and the clatter of their harness streaked through the silence. I rose with tiresome difficulty out of the chair I had spent the night in, behind charts and correspondence; thought about the coming day and the battle and delved somnolently through the maps. My legs were asleep. My neck ached. An excruciating pain drummed onto my left temple as my eye felt as if it would drop from its socket. A dreadful sigh escaped me. I recognised, in myself, that I was indignant, and that it had less to do with the Church's hostilities than with myself.
The endless red of the dawn refashioned into orange and fell, together with the first warmth, softly through the split of the entrance. The nightly calm fled from all noise that rose from the encampment, expelling the nightly dreams without hesitation. People marched side by side; barely perceiving a distant greeting or a silent gesture; as they became aware of the death this day would bring.
No livid, threatening clouds gathered. No darkness closed in. But all assembled knew there would be a confrontation today. A wail from the Southern horizon split the horizon in half. Brutal cries, iron and horns filled the air.
The wild dance of fools had commenced.
"If the righteous God wants it. We will prevail." Louis said in farewell. He mounted and rode off towards his flank.
My heart quivered. My mind raced. A deep breath brought me no mental repose.
If my hand trembles, I thought, if my heart betrays me, I may never gain ascendancy in these regions.
The tense mood heightened when the enemy lines broke the horizon and I perceived even Phillip to be on edge. Overwrought and resolute, confronted by Ayyubid banners, soldiers armed and took up shields. The men gripped their swords, slammed their visors down, and took up formation. Galloping my horse down the length of the troop, I bellowed my orders, and the travelling columns reformed at my word.
Auguste, when he drew up beside me and regarded the formation, said, "Those fools ought to be in the back."
"We need them."
"Frills are for parades."
"They can come in handy."
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"I know. You and the old man like to overcomplicate things."
I answered with half a laugh: "we do."
The red haired man turned and let his eyes briefly pass over our opponent's troops. The Ayyubid sultan could have easily sent enough men to overrun us yet the army facing us had no numerical advantage. The reason behind this would become substance for later discussion, but at present, my mind was preoccupied.
We had, unquestionably, the tactical advantage. The Ayyubid front faced us, but we were flanked by Louis's German troops and the Teutonic order: the Ayyubid formation would have to swing around in order to make a second front facing their direction, or be quickly overrun.
But I may not underestimate them, I reminded myself. I must not be led on by them, or this battle will be lost and I will fall well before I have had the possibility to negotiate the surrender of Jerusalem.
Phillip's horse drew alongside my own. Around us, the stale air of the desert would soon be filled with more than mere dust. The duke was silent for a long moment before he spoke. "Their men will be less diligent than they appear. They have been ceaselessly employed on the border, fighting the rebellious forces in Syria."
"Explains the fact they send so little."
"I know," said Phillip, "and it doesn't surprise me. The sultan has been fighting on several fronts for long."
Across the stone and dust, the Ayyubid lines stood immaculately arrayed against us. I turned and addressed one of Auguste's men. A tall blond guard with a freckled forehead. "Send for Armann. Have her deal with them. Tell her she will hunt out the leaders of this fight. Have her take Al-Sahil, the others will take Mosur."
As a slender, melancholic smile came across Phillip's lips, the man whispered between his teeth: "Why fight the whole army, when you can just cut off its head?"
"This has to be done quickly, and we cannot afford to lose even half the men."
Auguste saw the guard off and turned to me, "You won't have to hunt them out, your majesty. They'll be coming for you, too."
"Then we'll have a swift victory. I meant what I said yesterday. If they dare to come within my reach, they'll regret ever laying eyes on me."
Horns echoed through the landscape. Upon their signal, hooves thundered, and one roaring fool charged towards the other.
The shock of collision was much alike the smashing of boulders in a landslide. I felt a familiar battering shudder as I saw it all happen before me. The slam of muscle against metal, bodies against steel, of horses and men impacting at high speed. Nothing could be heard over the crashing, the cries of horses, both sides warping and threatening to rupture, regular lines and upright banners were replaced by a heaving, struggling mass. Horses slipped, then regained their footing. Men fell, slashed or speared through. Swords sheared, shields and horses became rams, pushing in, and further in, opening a space by force alone for the momentum of the men behind.
And so the bards would sing of La Buona Guera. Of La Guerra Santa. Guera de Dio.