The Thunder of Battle During the Crusades

May 21, 2020

Then the trumpets and horns sound the charge. More than once during the battle the rally is blown. God grant that the retreat be not sounded tonight! The shock of the battle is terrible. The enemy turns and charges in his turn!

The honor of “first blow” is eagerly sought, and to our baron falls the coveted distinction. No one refuses him the glory; he is so highly esteemed. He rides at the head of the advance guard to strike, slay, or overturn all in his way. He kills the Saracen who first opposes him. The battle begins well for the Christians. The advance guard is soon engaged with the Infidel, and then the whole of both armies mingle and fight like demons. . . .

The melée continues with all the usual accompaniments of battle, “the combatants resemble woodcutters in a forest,” and some of our imaginative poets have compared the battle itself to a wood “in which all the flowers are points of steel.” Wounded and dying turn their eyes towards Jerusalem, while the fighting everywhere continues, and “this is a day when the brave are recognized.” Our baron perched on a rock, silently contends with twenty or thirty of the enemy. Each corps shouts its war cry Montjoie for France; Rome is shouted by the soldiers of the Empire; Bourgoigne or Avalon by the Burgundians; Malo-Malo by the Bretons; Valée by the Angevins; Biez by the Gascons; Dex Aie by the Normans; and St. Sepulchre by the true Crusaders. Each division has its watchword and is proud of it. They died with these cries in their mouths, and sometimes they could not utter the cry.

These battles continue for a long while and their episodes are monotonous, but each has a rallying point—the flag—and this represents a grand idea, that of Religion or Country. The King of France—the king par excellence—was not present at this particular battle because his oriflamme was not there—nor was the Dragon. But the barons of France rallied round a pure white banner on which was emblazoned the figure of St. George. The standard-bearer having been wounded, and on the point of quitting hold of his precious charge, our baron hurries towards him, snatches the standard from his failing grasp even as Ogier from Alori, and rescued it. This exploit terminated the battle. The Infidels, vanquished on all sides, retreated and fled.

The Christians remained masters of the field, and lay there to rest that night.

León Gautier, Chivalry, trans. Henry Frith (London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1891), 482–3.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 727


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