Post-classical history

§ Usama Deals a Deceptive Blow

[40] A similar thing happened to me during an attack against Apamea.9 Il-Ghazi10 (may God have mercy upon him) had just defeated the Franks at al-Balat – that was on Friday, 5 Jumada al-Ula, in the year 51311 (14 August 1119). He annihilated them and killed Roger,12 lord of Antioch, and all his horsemen. So my uncle Sultan (may God have mercy upon him) went to join Il-Ghazi. My father (may God have mercy upon him) remained behind in the castle at Shayzar, he having been told to send me to Apamea at the head of the troops that were with me at Shayzar, and to call to muster the troops and the Arab tribesmen to go pillage the crops there (for a large host of Arab tribesmen had just joined us).

A few days after my uncle’s departure, the town crier called us to arms. I set out at the head of a small group, barely amounting to twenty horsemen, all of us convinced that Apa-mea had no cavalry stationed in it. I also brought along a large body of pillagers and Bedouin. But as soon as we arrived at Wadi Abu al-Maymun and the pillagers13 and Arab tribesmen had scattered over the fields, a large contingent of Franks came out and attacked us. For, that very night, there had arrived in Apamea sixty horsemen and sixty infantrymen! They cleared us out of the valley, pushing us back before them until we reached our men who were already in the fields pillaging them, and who were now raising a loud tumult. Death seemed preferable to me compared to the destruction of that crowd of people who had come with me. So I turned to confront a horseman in the Frankish vanguard who, in order to pass swiftly before us, had taken off his hauberk14 and lightened his gear. I thrust my spear into his chest and he flew off his saddle, dead. [41] Then I confronted their cavalry who followed him, and they took flight even though I was completely green to combat, never having taken part in a battle before that day. With a horse beneath me as fleet as a bird, I continued on the heels of my enemies, sometimes attacking with my spear, sometimes manoeuvring away from them for cover.

In the Frankish rearguard was a horseman on a black horse, big as a camel. He was wearing a mail hauberk and a gambe-son.15 I was afraid of him, thinking he might be trying to lure me further along so that he could turn on me and attack, until I saw him spur his horse onward and it twitched its tail. I knew then that it had become exhausted, so I attacked, running my spear through him such that it stuck out nearly a cubit in front of him. Thanks to the lightness of my body, the force of the spear-thrust and the speed of the horse, I was bumped backwards from the seat of my saddle.16 Turning back, I pulled my spear from him, assuming I had killed him. I then assembled my comrades and found them safe and sound.

Now, there was with me a young mamluk who was leading a black mare alongside me. Under him was a fine-looking saddle-mule, sporting a thick silver saddle-blanket.17 The mam-luk dismounted, left the mule on its own, mounted the mare and flew off back to Shayzar. As soon as I had rejoined my comrades, who had caught hold of the mule, I asked after the mamluk, but they said, ‘He left.’ I realized then that he would reach Shayzar and worry my father (may God have mercy upon him). So I called for one of the soldiers and told him, ‘Go quickly back to Shayzar and let my father know what has happened.’

Sure enough, the young servant, having returned to Shayzar, was summoned before my father, who asked him, ‘What did you meet with?’

He replied, ‘My lord, a thousand Franks came out and attacked us! I doubt if anyone has escaped, except my master!’

‘And how’, my father asked, ‘would your master, alone of all the people, escape?’

The boy replied, ‘I saw him in full armour, riding the dark mare18 …’,and continued his account, when that soldier I sent after him finally arrived and informed my father of the truth of the matter. I came in after him, so my father (may God have mercy upon him) asked me to tell him what happened.

‘My lord,’ I told him, ‘this was the first battle in which I ever took part. But when I saw that the Franks had reached our men, death seemed preferable to me. So I turned to confront the Franks, either to be killed or to defend that crowd.’

And he spoke (may God have mercy upon him), quoting this verse as illustration:

The coward of the tribe will flee to save his own head

But the brave will stay to defend a stranger instead.

After a few days, my uncle (may God have mercy upon him) returned from his visit to Il-Ghazi (may God have mercy upon him). His messenger came to summon me at a time that was not his usual time for such a meeting. So I went to him [42] and who should I see with him but some Frankish man. My uncle said, ‘This horseman has come from Apamea wishing to set eyes on the cavalier who speared the horseman Philip. For the Franks are amazed by that spear-thrust, which pierced two layers of the horseman’s armour, and yet he survived.’

‘But how’, I cried, ‘could he have survived?’

‘That blow’, the Frankish knight explained, ‘only pierced the skin at his waist.’

‘Fate is indeed an impregnable fortress,’ I replied, for it seemed unimaginable to me that he could have survived that spear-thrust.

Thus I say that whoever is about to thrust a spear should clasp it tightly to his side with his hand and his forearm, and let his horse do what it does in such a situation. For if he should move his hand with the spear or extend out with it, then his thrust will have no effect and do no damage.19

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