Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Templar and the True Cross (part 2)

Chapter II

    In the early hours of the morning Sir Jean-Marc was once again on his knees in prayer. He thanked God for this day, and prayed for the strength and courage to overcome his enemies, to resist temptation and turn away from his own sinful nature. Gathering up his belongings, the Templar left Le Chevalier Noir and went out into the cool, clear morning. Though there was no snow, it felt as if winter had come early, much to the dismay of the farmers. A northerly wind carried a stiff coldness that was to reflect the times to come. Jean-Marc did not like the cold. The years he had spent in the Mediterranean had conditioned him for warmer climates.
    In the stable, he saddled his long-time companion, a spirited stallion, who was the sole recipient of whatever affection existed in the man. The horse had taken him far, been loyal and true, and Jean-Marc realized the need to care for the beast the same way he cared for his sword, which he kept honed. His armour, which he also kept in good working order, was free of rust and dirt. These were his sole possessions, the tools of his trade. He loaded his armour and supplies upon a mule, and the Templar rode to the tournament grounds outside the city of Paris.
    Tournaments were a centuries-old tradition in the Holy Roman Empire, and began as training grounds for knights. The early tournaments were often bloody matches, not far removed from actual warfare. Broken bones, severe wounds and even deaths resulted from these matches, where armies of knights would meet upon the field and battle. The harshness of these melees garnered strong disapproval from the Church. Kings realized the loss of knights did not make up for the brutal and fatal exercise, and so tournaments became regulated and more of a friendly competition rather than a lethal training ground.
    The tournament was being held on a large level field surrounded on two sides by low hills which allowed spectators to observe the matches. On the third side was erected pavilions for the wealthy and nobles, though it was still early in the tournament and few members of the nobility were present. The crowd that gathered today was light-hearted and eager to see a hard-fought competition. They were not eager to see a knight die, but a show of  blood or a serious injury was always welcome, and would provide lively conversations for days to come.
    A fall breeze fluttered the colourful banners and pennants that danced about on poles and lances. The grounds were busy with knights, officials and squires. Sir Jean-Marc soon spotted the three men from the tavern who were competing in the joust. The Templar went over to the jousting officials and with a little persuasion, convinced them to match him up with the scar-faced knight. Jean-Marc waited patiently as an official approached the knight to ask if he had any objections to being matched with de Montpellier. The scar-faced one listened to the official, then looked over to where Jean-Marc stood. Glaring at Jean-Marc, the knight nodded his head slowly.

    This was to be strictly a pas d’ armes, or a tournament a’ plaisance, where combatants competed purely to test their prowess against one another. There was to be no unchivalrous displays of an emprise, where blood and death were purposely sought. Despite this, Jean-Marc fancied himself a good judge of character and knew the man he would compete against. The scar-faced knight would try to kill him regardless of the rules. Jean-Marc would have to be wary.
    Being without a serf or squire to assist him, Sir Jean-Marc laid out his own armour in an orderly fashion, and began to dress inside the small tent he had set up. Against his body he wore close-fit stockings and a loose tunic, over which he put on his acton, or padded undergarments. The acton helped to protect his body from blows and also created a buffer from his hauberk, a mail shirt made from thousands of small metal rings joined together for protection. Jean-Marc’s thigh-length mail shirt had long sleeves ending in mittens to protect  his hands, and a hood or coif to cover his head. Next he put on mail chausses to cover his legs. Over his mail he wore in a sleeveless surcoat of white emblazoned with a black cross upon his chest. The long surcoat was girded at the waist with a wide heavy belt. Lastly Jean-Marc carried his helmet with a cross cut into it for vision. Bending to one knee, he uttered a short prayer, and so adorned, he picked up his shield and left his tent to prepare for the joust.
    Once outside, Jean-Marc was approached by a man a few years younger than himself. The man was dressed as a knight, and was tall, well-proportioned and convivial. The man did not bother introducing himself, nor did he ask de Montpellier his name.
    “You are jousting against Guy of Lyon?” he asked Jean-Marc.
    “Who is Guy of Lyon?”
    The man pointed to the scar-faced knight. Jean-Marc nodded.
    “A friendly bit of warning, Sir Knight; watch out for Guy of Lyon. He is not above foul play. Not long ago Guy of Lyon jousted against a friend of mine. It was to be a competition only. Guy charged and aimed his lance at my friend’s head and wounded him severely. When you charge Guy of Lyon, be mindful of his trickery, Sir Knight. Keep your head low and your shield high.”
    De Montpellier nodded to the man knowingly and with appreciation.
    Jean-Marc approached his horse and gently stroked its head. He spoke to it in soft even tones telling the beast what was to come and what was expected of it. Jean-Marc synched the saddle tighter and inspected the stirrups. Confident his accoutrements were in order, he mounted the horse and made his way to the field.
    Since this was to be a friendly bout, the combatants were issued blunted lances to prevent serious injury. Couching the lance in his right arm, Jean-Marc held the weapon up, while holding his shield with his left. His opponent would approach on his left side. The two knights sat their mounts at the opposite ends of the field.
    The scar-faced Guy of Lyon sat on a black horse with a covering to match the man’s surcoat, which was emblazoned with a white stag across the chest. The man’s shield consisted of six diagonal  alternating stripes of black and white. From beneath his helmet he glared at his opponent. He had been insulted and made to look the fool last night, but now he would win back his honour against this so-called Templar. He would have taken his revenge out on the man last evening, but he had had too much to drink, and his companions had talked him out of it. Now, on the field of battle, he would prove who was the better man. He would have to take the Templar the first round, for despite his hatred of the man, Guy of Lyon suspected this knight was not to be trifled with. He would give him no warning, no quarter. He meant to dispatch his opponent right readily.
    The rules of the joust were simple: the two knights would charge one another and use their lances to unseat the other from their mounts.

    At the signal, the two knights dug their spurs into their horses’ flanks and charged towards each other, Jean-Marc still holding his lance up. The horses gained speed as their hoofs dug in and threw up dirt. Guy of Lyon aimed his lance at Jean-Marc’s head, but still the Templar kept his weapon up. The combatants drew closer and it appeared as if the Templar would not lower his lance. As they were practically upon each other, the Templar lowered his lance across his horse’s neck and leaned forward in the saddle. Jean-Marc held his lance tightly, couched in the crook of his arm for support. He squeezed his knees tightly around his horse and prepared for the impact. Guy of Lyon kept his lance high aiming for Jean-Marc’s head which, if it contacted, would surely knock the Templar from his saddle. Jean-Marc had been sitting his horse high, leaning to the left, but at the last instant he dropped into his saddle and shifted his position causing Guy of Lyon’s lance to miss him completely. Jean-Marc’s lance, however, impacted with the black and white shield of the other, knocking the dark knight from his horse.
    The crowd cheered as Guy of Lyon tumbled off his mount and resoundingly hit the ground.
    Jean-Marc’s lance had splintered on impact, so he discarded it. He turned his horse about and rode up to the knight upon the ground, who was momentarily stunned. The spectators looked on in anticipation as they watched the Templar dismount and approach the other. They cheered again as de Montpellier removed his helmet, tucked it under his left arm and put out his right hand to help the dark knight to his feet. This act of chivalry, so seldom seen these days, caused the crowd to remember the romance of an age gone by that would not likely be seen again.

    On the ground, the dark knight’s ears continued to ring from the impact and shook his head to clear it. Still on his back, he removed his helmet and stared up at the Templar and his outstretched hand. He knew it would show dishonour if he refused the Templar’s gesture. Guy of Lyon put out his hand and allowed de Montpellier to pull him to his feet. As the crowd cheered, Guy of Lyon leaned closer to Sir Jean-Marc and said, “This is not over, Templar.”
    “Here is my head,” Jean-Marc responded.
    The black knight seethed at this blatantly obvious challenge, but knew this was not the time or place for what he intended. He would be patient. He would wait.          
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