It was the summer of 1160AD. I, Nicolino Ettore, stood upon the walls of Marseille alongside my brothers-in-arms. The air was filled with tension and there were clear signs of fear among many of us. All was quiet within the city below and behind us, every door and window shut tight.
Marseille was a beautiful city. It used to be French territory, but our Milanese forces had captured it some years earlier. Captured being an understatement. The population, mainly Milanese, was not always so. Just like the city, it was originally French. During the days of its capture, my countrymen had put much of the population to the sword. Almost every Frenchman was slain, men, women, children... The streets were littered with corpses for weeks.
We had always been told that the people of France were nothing but a collection of high-nosed nobles and starved peasants. That these people had no fighting spirit, and thus we needed not fear revenge on their part, they could never gather the courage for such an act.
Yet now, there they stood, hundreds of French soldiers upon the fields, armed to the teeth. Even at this distance, one could see the determination and rage pouring from their faces, shooting glares of pure hatred in our direction, ready to avenge the massacre of their fellows.
Time passed slowly as we watched them preparing for the coming battle, the French lily fluttering majestically and proud over their camp as soldiers sharpened their blades, crossbowmen filled their quivers and knights tended to their horses.
Knights. Despite the tales of French cowardice, I always heard their knights portrayed as bastions of honor, pride and righteous fury. Their commitment to a cause was unshakable, their spirit strong and their charge devastating. Should they managed to make their way inside the city, our doom would be near certain.
Time passed slowly. Every minute felt like an hour. I found myself thinking of my family, my wife and child awaiting my return in Genoa. From the looks of things, I wouldn't be seeing them again. Carissa, my wife, was probably at home right now, cradling little Perla in her arms, singing a lullaby. I shook my head and dried a single tear off my cheek, trying not to think of her reaction at the news of my death, promising myself I would return to them, no matter what.
I gathered my senses and looked back towards the opposition. They were ready. All was silent. There was no chirping of birds, no whispers of fear, no distant shouting. Nothing. The world stood still. Until the volley.
Hundreds of bolts and arrows dove down upon us, the sounds of them driving into wood and flesh overwhelming. Our crossbowmen responded with a volley of their own, penetrating what little they could hit past the French shieldwalls. The exchanging of ammunition continued for a while, as the enemy made their way towards us with their siegetowers. We managed to take down one before it dropped the walkway, sending the soldiers below into a scramble to reach one of the other three while dodging our bolts.
At my section of the walls, a tower was looming above our heads, its intimidating, wooden form ready to release a stream of soldiers into our ranks. The captain shouted words of encouragement through the cries of pain and ferioucious warcries, trying his best to inspire us and embolden our fighting spirit. Then the walkway came down. The sudden crash of wood hitting stone, followed by a wave of murderous Frenchmen, made our hearts jump.
The noise grew louder and the captain's voice became silent as the clashing of steel flooded my ears. An enemy soldier struck at me, his full helmet ineffective at silencing cries of rage. I parried and blocked his strikes, the weight of his sword on my shield like a hammer's blow, his fury like that of a rampaging bear. At the first sight of an opening, I took my chance, and swung my blade at his waist, which he effectively blocked before moving in for a counter-attack. His strike proved careless, as I quickly struck out with my shield, throwing him backwards, and followed immediately with a quick thrust at his stomach. The man cried out in pain before slumping to the ground.
All around me, French and friendly soldiers fell one by one, our opponent slowly gaining the upper hand. I could see a few lone comrades running for the city center, their spirits broken and steadily spreading its influence among the rest of us. I could feel my will to fight diminishing as I fought off another attacker, a desire to run as fast as I could growing instead.
All over the walls, more of my brethren died or ran, overwhelmed by the French ferocity and determination. If I wanted to live and return to my beloved, I could see no alternative but to run, run towards the city center and hide somewhere or keep running and make my exit on the other side. And so I did. I pushed off the foe nearest to me and fled, speeding off the walls in leaps and bounds in full battle attire. As I did, others joined me, the remaining soldiers hastily abandoning their posts and leaving the walls to French control. As I made my way through the streets, I could hear cheerful shouts growing in the distance, and one other thing... Rumbling of hooves.
My heart was brimming with fear as I realized the horror. With the loss of our walls, the French also took control of the gate, the gate which now lay open as knights poured through by the hundreds. I desperately tried to move my legs faster, but exhaustion was taking its toll, and I found myself slowing down rather than speeding up. Looking back I could see the knights entering the street at great speed, their presence growing and striking hopelessness and desperation into my mind and that of my brethren, the thundering of hooves and neighing of their steeds adding more to their already intimidating appearance. Their lances readied, I watched as those of my fellows further behind me were skewered or trampled under their charge.
My mind returned to Carissa and my daughter. I could feel nothing but regret for leaving them, for signing up with the army in hopes of glory and a future for my people, only to die in these streets, miles away from them. If only I had stayed with them.
Still running, with no hope of escape, I looked back one last time. I watched as the unstoppable force charged through the street towards me, the ever-increasing sound of their approach louder than a thunderstorm as they descended upon me like a giant tidal wave.
... And that is where I died.