Just a one-shot from a crusader's point of view as part of the army at the Battle of Hattin. First story, so some feedback would be welcomed.
The whole army was hot, dusty, thirsty and tired. Mounted knights sat slumped on their horses while infantry men sat at their feet, taking a much needed rest. Weapons, helmets and shields lay scattered about on the ground. This was when the men's faith was tested the most, when it seemed that God had abandoned them.
A few men, however, remained standing, eyes fixed on the fast-approaching dust cloud that had appeared behind one of the two mountains that gave this place the name 'Horns of Hattin'. One of these men, a knight named William of Flanders, shook his head sadly.
"Saladin's army comes at us fast," he said gravely in Latin, "and all the king does is moan that it's too hot."
"It's what comes with having a king from France," replied another soldier, in English. This man was an archer, and William could tell just from looking at him that he was no knight. His face was rugged and pock-marked, he had missing teeth and what teeth he did have were yellow or black.
Still, it was unusual that he should understand Latin. Perhaps he had been the bastard son of a lord. Yes, thought William, that would be the most likely explanation. He himself had bastards spread throughout the Crusader Kingdoms, all of them the products of tavern wenches or serving girls who couldn't say 'no'.
The dust cloud continued to move towards the Crusader army, but the sky was darkening as the sun set, bringing welcome relief to the Crusader army.
"Saladin will not attack today," Robert said, more to himself than anyone else. "His army is as weary as ours. He will want them to rest so they can kill us tomorrow."
"You don't think we'll win?" asked the archer.
"I know we won't," replied William. "Saladin has proved it many times before. And we brought Reynald de Chatillon with us. Saladin wants his head for the death of his sister."
"But we do God's work," replied the archer.
"God doesn't come into this," William snapped. "We've given the Saracens reason after reason to kill us, every one of them just. I learned that out here, as I talked with the Muslims who lived on my land."
"Well, if I'm to die here, my bow shall take as many Saracens with me as possible," the archer said firmly, turning back towards the now-settling cloud.
That night was unbearable for the Crusaders. They heard the singing of the Saracen army and the smoke from their thousands of camp fires blew into the Crusader camp, filling the air with the stench of wood smoke and robbing the men of sleep. At last, the smoke passed and the men could finally sleep. Mere hours later, however, they were woken by the sunlight that streamed in through the thin canvas of their tents. Pages ran through the camp, bleary eyed, as they hurried to dress their masters ready for battle.
William's own page was among them. William remained silent as he was helped into his armour, thinking on the battle to come. He prayed fervently to God, Christ, the Holy Virgin and all the saints that his page would survive the carnage, having once been told by a priest that God more readily listened to prayers for others.
And soon the time for battle was upon him. William mounted his horse, feeling a stab of pity for the animal, who would surely be killed by a Saracen arrow in the first charge. He commanded his mount forward to join the other knights, who were at the front of the army, lances in hand. Vaguely, William's thoughts drifted to the English archer. He would be at the back of the army, but would not be safe from a stray Saracen arrow or from the deadly Saracen cavalry when the other elements of the army were cut down or captured.
A trumpet sounded, a flag was lifted, and the line of knights began to move forward, at a walk at first, but gaining in speed as they neared the Saracen lines. William could see their flags fluttering in the breeze, and could see the words written in Arabic. William had never learned Arabic, but knew that they would be passages from the Qur'an, the Muslim holy book.
At the signal, the knights urged their horses into a full gallop. Lances dropped as one along the line, and the Muslim archers knelt and took aim.
There was the snap of bowstrings being released, followed shortly by the whistling of arrows. William instinctively lowered his shield and heard the thud when the arrow hit it. William looked around and saw that some of his fellows had not been so lucky. Despite this, the Crusaders had speed on their side. Before the Saracens could loose off another volley, the knights were on top of them, William lost his lance in a Saracen spearmen and quickly drew his sword to fight off the Saracens pressing in on him from all sides. He slew five of his attackers before being dragged from his horse. The horse, lost without a rider, proceeded to charge around the battlefield before being caught by an arrow in the neck and falling instantly. William desperately fought on, determined to take as many Saracens with him as possible. He managed to cut his way to a Muslim officer and cut the man's throat before being grabbed from behind and thrust back into the combat.
William continued to fight on, surrounded by blood, screams and arrows. His sword arm ached from the exertion of the battle, but if he stopped he would die, and he knew it.
"Sweet Mary," he muttered as he locked blades with another Saracen, "give me the strength to keep fighting." Mary must have heard his prayer, as he found himself able to swing again and again.
That was until he felt a sharp stab of pain in his right leg. He stumbled, and a Saracen took the opportunity to curl his hand into a fist and punch William squarely in the face.
When William awoke, he found himself staring at some sort of canopy. The noise of the battle sounded far away and he heard voices speaking in Arabic. Suddenly, one of the voices became what was unmistakably a shout, and William heard footsteps on every side of him. He looked from side to side. Armoured and bearded men stood on either side of him. One of them, he did not recognise. But the other was a man whose face he knew very well, even though he had never met him before. This man was Saladin, king of the Saracens.
"So, you are awake," Saladin said in clumsy French. William did not answer, not knowing whether Saladin was expecting a response or not. Instead, he picked himself up. It was easier than he had expected. "You lost a lot of blood," Saladin said, "but my physicians are the finest in the world."
"Thank you," William replied, not looking at Saladin.
"Your army is beaten," the other man said simply, not a trace of a gloat or even of well-deserved triumph.
"You don't sound pleased," William observed.
"Many lives were lost today," said the other man seriously. "That is not something to rejoice about."
William was taken aback. He hadn't expected this from the Saracens, whom he had always been told were a barbaric people who gloried in the slaughter of their enemies. It seemed that the Crusaders, who mercilessly attacked trade caravans and villages, were more barbaric than the Saracens.
"You are free to leave," Saladin told William. "Go wherever you want. But I must warn you, I am marching on Jerusalem. If you go there, you will die."
"I shan't be going to Jerusalem," William replied. "I think I will go to Acre."
"I think I will go home," replied William. "I will go to where the men speak Italian, and then continue until they speak something else."
Saladin smiled and nodded.
"Very well. Farewell."
William turned back to the battlefield. The dead covered the battleground, their remains being picked at by vultures. William grimaced. He knew this would happen to one army after another until Saladin was victorious. And he wanted no part of it.