Another Arthurian tale with a strong flavour of Malory – this time turning on themes of double standards, exclusion and knighthood as performance.
Circa 2012. You can read the first tale here. I have notes for several more stories like this, and still love the idea of a collection exploring Camelot’s rise and fall – and values both modern and Malorean – through the untold tales of atypical knights.
When the court of king Arthur was most happy in the service of valiant knights, as old books maketh mention, there was one among them hight sir Dagonet, that was king Arthur’s fool. And this sir Dagonet was no hardy knight of his hands, but sought ever to give his king good cheer and his knights, and he was a true lover in all things. And so it passed that this sir Dagonet would travel into Cornwayle, for there was a lady dwelt there hight Myfanwy, and he loved her passing well and she him.
After some little time, he came unto a fair manor, that was this lady’s, and there were many making great dole. So sir Dagonet inquired what was the cause, and they told him how his lady was taken by a dread knight and strong, and he was called sir Helior of the Thorn. Then sir Dagonet spoke not, but his legs would not hold him. And he fell upon his knees, for all his joy was gone. Then the tears bit at his eyes, and he tore his hair as he were wild for very sorrow. Then he mounted on his horse again, and rode like madness to where king Arthur kept his court.
And I find it written that he rode through a forest by a fair well where sir Tristram de Lyones was wont to be. And sir Tristram was called the prowest of any knight but it were sir Launcelot du Lake; yet for it seemed his lady was untrue (and that was La Beall Isode, and she was a fair lady and a true lover) this sir Tristram forsook his armour and his sword, and let his horse to wander where it would. And he wept and tore his hair as he were woode, and wox full mad for very sorrow. And in this rage he fell upon sir Dagonet, and beat him and soused him in the well, so that he was like to be drowned. Then sir Tristram hyed him into the forest.
So was sir Dagonet sore aggrieved, nor might he travel farther but must stay some days and be healed, though his cause was desperate. Yet none did hear him complain, for often and anon he was beaten of king Arthur’s knights; and many had laughed to see the madman beat the fool. But when he could he set out again, though not so quickly.
And so it befell that king Arthur was hunting with a noble host of knights and ladies. And when sir Dagonet came amongst them they fell back suddenly, for his clothes were all torent and his hair unkempt; and tears stood on cheeks. And sir Dagonet would have ridden before the king and fallen on his knees before him, but that the men and women of the court would have news of Cornwayle, and in especial of sir Tristram, that was much talked of in those days. Nor would they release him but he had told them of sir Tristram’s madness and his sorrows. And then was there much grief-making, for sir Tristram was one of the best knights of the world and was brought low. And so sir Dagonet met with king Arthur and fell upon his knees before him and beseeched a boon.
“Well,” king Arthur said, “ask and it shall be granted.”
“My lord,” said sir Dagonet, “my lady that was both fair and good has taken been by sir Helior of the Thorn. And she is the dearest to me of any wight.” And he might speak no more for weeping.
And king Arthur was desirous to comfort his fool, and eke he asked of those present if they were any knight would adventure to rescue sir Dagonet’s lady. And many would have, for that was a noble host of knights and sought ever after worship. And sir Tor would have assayed, and sir Dinadan, that was a friend to sir Dagonet; sir Braundeles, and sir Ywain, that was called the Knight of the Lion. But sir Dagonet said, “That is not the boon I ask, my lord, but that ye would knight me, and grant me arms and a strong horse, that I might adventure for my own lady.”
And some laughed then, for this was no knight, but the king’s fool.
And sir Dagonet said, “I know that ye have knighted me but in jest. For often have ye armed me but for laughter, as when ye dressed me in sir Launcelot’s arms, and so made a mock of king Mark that ran from me. And also when sir Kay would mock at sir Brewnor, called by him La Cote Mal Tayle, so he bid me arm and joust with him; for no worship is it to beat the fool. And often have I battered my own shield and boasted of my prowess before ye, that ye may laugh and your knights, though it were but shame to me. But she is the dearest to me of any wight, and my own lady, and I would rescue her and I can. And though I be a fool, ever have I been a true lover, which is more than many knights. Therefore I ask that ye knight me, lord, and as ye have armed me merrily now arm me sadly. And if ye should hear that I have failed, then let another venture.”
And king Arthur was amazed, but he consented to this. And solemnly he knighted sir Dagonet again. But his knights grew wroth with the fool, for it seemed he had spurned their aid, and eke shamed them, for there were some amongst them knew in their hearts that they were no true lovers. And they scorned sir Dagonet, and made mock of him. And no arms nor horses could be found for him amongst them, so that he must adventure armless and on foot perforce, but that sir Dinadan, that was a right noble knight and kind, made him a gift of his own. And so sir Dagonet was mounted passing well and armed. And he thanked the king and sir Dinadan and took his leave. But many there smiled to see him go, and others laughed, and all made merry of the new knight.
Then as he passed there was a great noise, for the king’s hounds had set upon a cur that had come amongst them. And sir Kay, that was a witty knight of his tongue, called out to sir Dagonet, and said that this should be his first adventure, “to slay the dreadful beast.” And so sir Dagonet dismounted and drew his sword, and went amidst the dogs where they were fighting. And he struck mightily, but his aim was not good, and by mischance he slew one of the king’s hounds, and so too when he struck again, so that the pack fell back for fear. Then the cur made much of its saviour, and licked his face and fawned on him like a spaniel. And sir Dagonet was wroth to be so shamed before that company and chased the cur in his anger; yet though he kicked and cursed, still it would gambol about him. And so many laughed at sir Dagonet then, and sir Kay made much of the “mongrel and fool, and both in their coats of motley.” And mockingly they dubbed him La Chevalier du Corniaud, which is to say, the Knight with the Cur.
And sir Dagonet blushed red for pure shame and the tears bit at his eyes. But for all he kicked and cursed at the cur, still it followed him from that place, like the laughter.
And so he went from that place, and anon he came unto a wide forest. And he rode through this forest for many days, for it was said that sir Helior of the Thorn did dwell therein. And ever the cur came behind him. And so he came unto a clearing, and he espied a horse tied to an oak, and a knight fast by with a maiden. And that knight saw sir Dagonet, and said, “Sir, for thou have a horse and my lady does not, I would joust with thee.”
And the knight sprang upon his horse and raised a great spear, would sir Dagonet or no. So he dressed his shield and raised his spear also, and they rushed together. And sir Dagonet break his spear on the shield of this knight, but the knight’s spear struck him in the chest so that he flew over his horse’s tail and landed full heavily. And while he groaned and could not rise, the knight took sir Dagonet’s horse for his damosel, and they rode on their way. And sir Dagonet watched that knight departing with his maid, and bethought him of his Myfanwy, and his tears were hot. And he sighed full sore and moaned, for he knew not how he might find her without his horse.
Then came the cur unto sir Dagonet, and licked his face as he would comfort him. And for he was wroth and nigh mad for sorrow, he beat the cur and kicked it. But the cur complained not, for often and anon had it been beaten by men. So sir Dagonet pushed it from him, and went his way. And he sweated and pained, for the forest was dense and his armour was heavy.
Then it fortuned that a horse came rushing by as it were greatly affrighted, and he fain would have caught if he could. But a great voice cried, “Hold, knight, thou shalt not deprive me my supper and I breathe!”
And sir Dagonet was sore afraid, for there came a great giant, and it bore a club like unto a piece of timber. And there was a knight across the giant’s shoulder, and the horse was his. Then sir Dagonet hefted his sword, but it availed him not, for the giant struck him such a buffet that he flew against the lower branches of a tree, from whence he fell and moved not. Then the giant paid him little heed, but pursued the horse.
So it befell that a fell snake came upon sir Dagonet whiles yet he swooned, and would like to have slain him had not the cur still followed him. For the cur barked at the snake, and sir Dagonet awoke, and as he waked the cur took the snake in its jaws and shook it till it were dead. Then was he thankful; eke yet he sighed for great dolour, for his armour was bent and battered, and he wot not how he could fight in it. And so he departed that place.
And after many days sir Dagonet espied a castle, that was broad and well-diked, and there was a village hard by. And he inquired of the people whose castle was this. And they said it was sir Helior’s, that was a hardy knight and a strong. And for he had destroyed many good knights and taken their ladies, they said, he feared none earthly man, but it be sir Launcelot, sir Trystram, other else sir Lamerok (for these were called the greatest knights of the world in those days). And they told how this sir Helior had but lately brought a lady to his castle, but she had locked herself in a tower, for which he was full wroth. And of this they were right glad, for sir Helior was a ravisher of women.
And sir Dagonet had great pain and sorrow for the dread and danger of Myfanwy (for so he deemed this lady), and for that the castle was so strong, and eke its lord so hardy. And as he sorrowed there came three wild knights and set upon him, for this was lawless country, and sir Helior kept no law in those his lands. Then sir Dagonet dressed his shield and drew his sword, but it availed him not, for they were strong knights of their hands. And they seized upon his sword and shield, and they threw him to the floor and beat him, for they deemed it sport. And then they had like to have slain him, but of of a sudden there came a great roar from the forest, and the branches shook as if some great beast did bat them in its fury. And these recreant knights were affeared, for they deemed it were a lion. So they fled, and left sir Dagonet to be devoured.
Then sir Dagonet had almost swooned for fear; but when the branches parted he espied only the cur, a-wagging of its tail. And then he laughed, and had great joy of that cur, and it repented him that ever he had beaten it. And though he lamented the loss of his sword and his shield (for the knights had fled with them), and the destruction of his armour, and his horse that had been stolen, yet he might be but a little sad, for the cur would lick his tears, and sport and jape in the bushes so that the branches shook, and bark and roar.
Then did sir Dagonet bethink him how the knights had fled a dog that seemed a lion. And he bethought him how king Mark had fled him when he had seemed sir Launcelot. And sir Dagonet bethought him how the great of the lion’s strength lay in his mighty voice, that goes before him, more than his claws. And so he lay down to sleep in great good cheer.
Then when the sun had risen, he strode full knightly through the streets of the village until he came before the castle of sir Helior. And he bore his helmet in his hand, that was bruised all out of shape, but he had no sword or shield with him. And when he stood before the walls he let out a great cry, as he had heard sir Launceleot or sir Tristram cry upon the tournament field: “I seek the false knight sir Helior of the Thorn!”
Then there came upon the walls a man passing big, and said, “False knight, you call me, scarecrow? And what knight are thou, with armour all torent? What knight are thou, bearing nor shield nor sword? What knight are thou, that stumbles here on foot like a forester?”
“I am a knight of the fellowship of the Round Table,” said the stranger knight, “and sworn to do battle with all false knights. And thou art no true knight, but a destroyer of worthy knights and terror to good women; and thou hast torn the lady Myfanwy from sir Dagonet, that is the king’s fool, the which shall cost thee dearly. And as to my armour, it is the witness of a thousand enemies, who each struck me once but hurt me not, and were not suffered to strike again! And as for my shield, a mighty giant reft it from me and threw it in a flood, before I slew him! My sword I left fixed in his brainpan, whence no man might remove it! And as for my horse, he was taken by a grisly lion, the which I followed to a cave, wherein I left its carcass!”
Then sir Helior began to look upon this stranger knight with different eyes. For of late his people were sore affeared of some great beast of the forest, and swore they had heard it roar. And the knight that could boast such deeds was perforce a strong knight and a man of worship. So he said in courteous wise, “And what is your name, sir knight?”
“As to that, ask again when you have come down from your walls,” said sir Dagonet.
So anon sir Helior was armed and went forth the castle gate. And his armour was all of green steel, and girded round about with many an iron thorn. And he bore a wide shield, and a mighty sword upon his hip. And he was mounted upon a great black horse, with eyes of fire. And for it seemed this stranger knight must be some man of worship, and he feared but three such men, sir Helior asked again, “And what is your name, sir knight? Are ye not sir Lamerok, sir Pellenore’s son?”
“As to that, ask again when you have come down from your horse,” said sir Dagonet.
So sir Helior dismounted him, and sir Dagonet said, “Nay, I am not sir Lamerok, though he be a bold knight truly; yet were I he, methinks I would not be so bold as to fight thee in armour all torent, and eke on foot.”
And sir Helior’s heart was eased by this, for he would liefer have to do with many another knight but sir Lamerok. But soon his fears returned, and he bethought him what knight might be so bold as to fight in armour all torent, and eke on foot. And he held onto his horses reins, and asked again, “Your name, sir knight? Are you not sir Tristram de Lyones, that is called one of the prowest knights on life?” And he awaited the stranger’s answer in great doubt, for he would liefer have to do even with sir Lamerok than sir Tristram. But sir Dagonet only said, “As to that, ask again when you have doffed your helm.”
And sir Helior of the Thorn wot not to do, but at last he unbuckled his helm, for his horse was near unto him yet if he need flee. And sir Dagonet said, “Nay, I am not he; nor is he yet a knight of the Table Round, as I am. And were I sir Tristram, though he be a valiant knight and strong, yet methinks I would not be so bold as to fight thee bareheaded, without sword nother shield.”
And sir Helior’s heart was eased but for a moment, then sore bestad with fear, for he bethought him of but one knight so bold as to fight in armour all torent, and eke bareheaded without sword nother shield. And so with trembled lip he asked again, “Sir knight, are you not sir Launcelot du Lake, that is the queen’s champion, and the hardiest knight of the world?”
And sir Dagonet spoke not, but eyed him sternly.
And for he deemed this stranger knight sir Launcelot, sir Helior blaunched full pale, and his legs held him not but he fell to his knees, for he was much affrighted. And he called on sir Launcelot’s great courtesy, and on his famous magnanimity, and begged his poor life of sir Launcelot, that he might spare him.
“Only render me thy sword and service,” said sir Dagonet, “and sir Launcelot would spare thy life.”
And so sir Helior ungirded his sword and put it in his hands, and with much weeping he thanked him, and trowed that this was sir Launcelot truly, for his great mercy. And sir Dagonet looked down upon this false sir Helior, this destroyer of good knights, that had torn his lady Myfanwy from him, and was like to have done great wrong by her. And his heart grew cold.
“Nay, I am not he,” he said, “for sir Launcelot is a very parfit knight, and I am but a fool. And were I he, methinks, this I would not do.” And he raised sir Helior’s sword above his head and thrust it mightily, so that the blood braste forth and stained the earth with purple, and sir Helior was slain.
And so sir Dagonet unlocked the tower of sir Helior that was dead, and found his Myfanwy therein. And the knight and this lady were nigh overcome with joy, so that their tears were like a single stream upon their faces. And sir Dagonet wept for the blood on his hands and the knight he had slain. But the people of that village rejoiced full well, for sir Helior had been a great tyrant over them, and they would have made sir Dagonet their lord and his lady their lady, and give them the castle and the lands there about. But sir Dagonet would not, for he said those lands were “sir Launcelot’s, truly, though I slew sir Helior.” And sir Dagonet left that place with his lady in sober wise. And the cur was with them.
And after a time they came again to king Arthur’s court. And king Arthur had much joy of his fools return, for he had missed him, and queen Guinevere made much of the lady Myfanwy. And then sir Dagonet told the knights and ladies there that he had slain sir Helior, and he showed them his sword and thorny armour in evidence of this. And he told how the cur had saved him many a time or he would no more walk on life. And some there believed him, and some believed him not, but deemed he had stolen those arms by some fool’s trick. And sir Kay was merry to see sir Dagonet still with the cur, and made many a mock at him, and king Arthur’s knights laughed at the fool as they were wont.
And king Arthur made orders for a new siege to be brought for the Table Round, that sir Dagonet might take his place there. And sir Kay was given task of this, and he bade servants do as he ordered them, and they brought forth a siege where these words had been writ: For the Chevalier du Corniaud. And he asked sir Dagonet what he thought of his handiwork, and the men and women of king Arthur’s court there grinned, and bated their breath in readiness.
But sir Dagonet was silent only, and went to that siege and gravely seated his lady therein. And he placed his hand on the head of the cur, and the other on Myfanwy’s shoulder, and she took it in her own.
Then sir Dagonet said sadly, “The Chevalier du Corniaud, my lord? Nay, rather, call me the Chevalier du Coeur, for terrible things I have done, for love.”
And no one laughed.
So endeth the tale of sir Dagonet, that was a faithful fool and true lover, and slew sir Helior of the Thorn to save his lady, as ancient books diversely maketh mention.
Now go watch The Zeppo from Buffy Season 3.