As they emerged from the barbican, the night was alive with shouting and waving torches. “Form up! Form up!” Reginald de Sidon shouted; he commanded the van and was on the far side of the dry ditch. Since the alarm had been raised, there was no longer any reason to maintain silence.
The men around Balian and the King started trotting and then cantering, hurrying to cross the bridge and get on firm land before the enemy could launch an attack. Balian was relieved when the hollow clunking of wood beneath his horse’s hooves gave way to the higher-pitched chinking of iron horseshoes on packed sand. The horses, pressed together as more and more riders followed them off the bridge, were getting more agitated than ever, and some started to rear up as they tried to break free but were held back.
A shouted warning was followed by the distinctive sound of arrows burying themselves in shields. The King, of course, could no more carry a shield than he could a lance, but Sir Tancred was on his left and charged with his protection. Balian could only pray that no arrow would find its way through the surrounding wall of men.
A moment later, the barbican bell started ringing wildly—joyously almost. The last of the sortie party was out of Ascalon; the gates closed again. Sidon shouted, “Jerusalem!” and the horses at the front of the pack sprang forward. The riders immediately behind were caught a little by surprise, but soon put spurs to their horses and started forward. Balian, with the King beside him, had no need of spurs. The herd instinct of the horses had taken over, and their mounts started charging with the rest.
Balian focused on keeping beside the King, checking Gladiator just enough not to outdistance the less powerful Misty. He heard shouting around them, and the thudding of arrows still accompanied them, but mostly he was aware of the night being increasingly lit up. The Saracens were lighting fires to enable them to shoot better or to try to frighten the horses—or both—but the King’s conroi of heavy armor was increasing in speed and had become all but unstoppable—unless there were spiked ditches ahead of them.
Balian heard the sounds of fighting—the shouts of men engaging, the unmistakable and familiar sound of a lance shattering, the clang of metal on wood. But these noises were on the periphery. In the center of the charge, the dominant sound was the thundering of hooves, the chink of armor, the panting of men and horses, and within minutes the sky was darkening again as the shouting started to recede. Men began to sit back and slow down their chargers. Balian reined in Gladiator to a controlled canter and then let him fall into a trot, as the King likewise sat back, and Misty dropped his head and snorted as if to say: that’s enough.
A moment later, the knights ahead parted to let Reginald de Sidon through. He rode straight to the King, who stopped to wait for him. “Your grace, we are clear of the city. The road ahead is free.”
“Then let us make for the rendezvous with the Templars,” Baldwin answered, and he sent Misty cantering forward to take his place at the head of his knights.
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