Welcome back to A Read of Ice and Fire! Please join me as I read and react, for the very first time, to George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.
Today’s entry is Part 2 of “The Hedge Knight: A Tale of the Seven Kingdoms”, which originally appeared in the anthology Legends: Stories By The Masters of Modern Fantasy, edited by Robert Silverberg.
Previous entries are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for the actual chapters covered and for the chapters previous to them. As for the comments, please note that the Powers That Be have provided you a lovely spoiler thread here on Tor.com. Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.
And now, the post!
The Hedge Knight: Part 2
As the second day of the tourney goes on, faintly heard from his prison cell, Dunk curses himself for a fool. He hasn’t been allowed to speak with Egg or anyone else after they arrested him for assaulting Aerion. He thinks of what the old man had told him about hedge knights being the truest kind of knights, serving only those whose causes they believe in, and protecting the weak and innocent better than those sworn to great houses. When dark falls, food arrives, and Egg along with it, dressed richly in Targaryen garments.
Egg apologizes to Dunk for lying, and tells him “Egg” is short for “Aegon,” a nickname his brother Aemon gave him before going off to the maesters. Dunk asks him if it was all just a big joke played on the stupid hedge knight, but Egg gets upset and protests it wasn’t. He explains that he was supposed to be Daeron’s squire, but Daeron had no interest in going to the tourney, and Egg had just wanted to be someone’s squire. Dunk reflects that he knows what it is like to want something so badly you will lie to get it. He asks what they will do with him, and Egg says his uncle Baelor wants to see him.
Baelor makes Egg serve Dunk wine and chastises him for running for Dunk instead of Baelor before dismissing him. Egg leaves, and Baelor explains to Dunk that Maekar, being severely disappointed in his sons so far, is targeting Dunk as an outlet for his wrath, a matter not helped by Daeron’s lie that he’s been hunting a “huge robber knight” who abducted his brother. He says that Dunk will be tried for laying hands on the blood of the dragon, and mentions that the last time a man was tried for such, he lost his hand for it. Baelor says he will urge his fellow judges to be merciful, but Maekar’s word will carry weight as well. Dunk is speechless. Then Baelor reminds him that a knight accused of a crime also has the right to demand trial by combat, and asks just how good a knight Dunk is.
Later, Prince Aerion, demands a “trial by seven,” which Baelor explains is an ancient and seldom-invoked version of trial by combat in which the accused must face seven combatants instead of one: one for each of the seven gods. However, he also has seven on his side, and so Dunk must find six other knights to stand with him. Dunk asks what will happen if he cannot find six knights to stand with him, and Maekar says coldly that it will prove he is guilty.
Feeling very alone, Dunk leaves the castle and contemplates fleeing, but decides he would rather die a knight than live as an outlaw. Then he sees Thunder tied up outside the Fossoway pavilion. Inside, Raymun is worried about the conditions of the trial; his cousin Steffon mocks him for cowardice and throws in, saying he saw what Aerion did to the puppeteers. Dunk confesses he knows no one else to ask to stand with them, but Steffon declares he will take care of it, and cheerfully leaves. Raymun is much less confident of Steffon’s chances in convincing others to stand with them, and says Dunk should try to recruit as well.
Then Egg enters, declaring Dunk needs a squire. Dunk sees that Daeron is with him and grows angry, throwing Daeron’s lies about him at the prince, but Daeron doesn’t seem to care much. Egg tells Dunk that his father Maekar intends to join the seven accusers, and Daeron says he’ll be there too, but assures Dunk he will be no problem, and asks him to maybe gently knock him out in the first round, as he is very good at “lying insensible in the mud,” but not much else. He says that Maekar has commanded the Kingsguard here (Ser Roland Crakehall, Ser Donnel of Duskendale, and Ser Willem Wylde) to fight with him as well, to Dunk’s horror, but they don’t know who the seventh man will be.
Egg says he can find Dunk more knights. Dunk points out he will be fighting Egg’s own brothers, but Egg says he won’t hurt Daeron, and as for Aerion, he and Daeron both agree Aerion is a monster and they won’t mind at all if he dies. Daeron asks for a private word with Dunk, and Dunk reluctantly goes with him. Daeron tells Dunk he dreams true dreams, and dreamed of Dunk and a dead dragon. He does not know if Dunk killed the dragon or not, but asks that if he does, that he make sure it is Aerion he kills and not Daeron. He apologizes for his lie, and hopes he has not killed Dunk with it.
Dunk find that the puppeteers are gone. Steely Pate finds him and says the puppeteers have gone to Dorne, but he has the shield Dunk commissioned from Tanselle. Pate has also redone the rim and reinforced the shield for him. Dunk thinks the paint job on it is beautiful, but worries it is an ill omen to use fading light and a falling star, but Pate points out that the elm is alive and growing. Dunk asks how much he wants for it, and Pate only charges him a copper. On the way to the lists, Dunk is surprised at the goodwill show him by the crowd, and asks Pate what he is to them. Pate replies, “a knight who remembered his vows.”
At the challengers’ pavilion, Raymun is waiting with Dunk’s horse Thunder. Dunk is shocked to see Robyn Rhysling, Humfrey Beesbury, and Ser Humfrey Hardyng there as well. He says he is in their debt, but Hardyng replies the debt is Aerion’s; he cannot walk, but he can still sit a horse and fight. Then Ser Lyonel Baratheon appears; Dunk thanks him for listening to Ser Steffon, but Lyonel tells him it was the young prince Aegon who came to him, and that he would not miss a chance to fight the Kingsguard and tweak Maekar’s nose besides. Dunk hopes that Steffon will bring the seventh with him.
There is a roar from the crowd as the other side appears, the three Kingsguard, and Maekar with his sons Daeron and Aerion, but they have no seventh knight either, to Dunk’s puzzlement. Egg and Pate help Dunk get his armor on. Steffon finally appears, but informs Dunk that he is going to fight with Maekar’s side, not his. Raymun is appalled at Steffon’s betrayal, and asks if Steffon has forgotten his vows, but Steffon says he shall be a lord after this, and leaves to join Maekar’s side. Outraged, Raymun demands that Dunk knight him so he can fight along with him. Dunk hesitates, and then is summoned by Lord Ashford. Ser Lyonel says he will knight Raymun in his place, and does so. Dunk is relieved, but thinks they are still one knight short. Lord Ashford tells him that if he cannot find a seventh, he is guilty by default.
Dunk thinks a moment, then rides before the stands and calls out to the knights there, asking if they remember Ser Arlan Pennytree, and asking them to fight with him in memory of his honor. He entreats Manfred Dondarrion, Lord Lannister, Lord Caron, Lord Swann, and Ser Otho Bracken specifically, but they ignore him except for Bracken, who refuses him.
Heartsick, Dunk wheeled Thunder and raced back and forth before the tiers of pale cold men. Despair made him shout. “ARE THERE NO TRUE KNIGHTS AMONG YOU?”
Only silence answered.
Across the field, Prince Aerion laughed. “The dragon is not mocked,” he called out.
Then came a voice. “I will take Ser Duncan’s side.”
At first everyone thinks it is Prince Valarr, but it is Baelor, who brought no armor of his own and had to borrow his son’s. Maekar is incensed, reminding Baelor that Dunk attacked his son, but Baelor replies that Dunk protected the weak, as a knight should, and now the gods will determine if he was right or wrong. He and Dunk go back to the pavilion, where now-Ser Raymun shows them his new device, the Fossoway apple painted green instead of red. Baelor advises them that their opposition will charge with heavy ash lances, but that they should use tourney lances, which are made to break but are twice the length of the cavalry lances; if the others are unhorsed first their lances will be useless. He says Maekar made a mistake in ordering the Kingsguard to fight, for they will not be able to hurt Baelor, so he will take care of them.
Egg gives Dunk his shield and lance, and wishes him luck. Dunk panics a moment when the trial begins, but Thunder saves him and goes forward anyway, and Dunk’s training kicks in. The knights charge toward one another, Aerion directly across from Dunk. Dunk tries to focus, but his lance slides at the last moment and he strikes Aerion’s shield instead of his chest. Aerion’s lance pierces Dunk’s side, and Thunder almost goes down, but recovers at the last moment. Dunk yanks the broken lance out of him, bleeding, and pulls his sword, though he does not know if he can wield it.
He sees that Beesbury is down and Hardyng wounded. Maekar is unhorsed along with one of the Kingsguard. Aerion comes for Dunk again and knocks him off his horse, and then comes again and strikes him in the head with his morningstar. Dunk lays in the mud and thinks that he has failed his companions. Aerion laughs and taunts him before swinging the morningstar again, but Dunk rolls into him and knocks him down, and then grabs Aerion’s shield and beats him with it. Aerion tries to pull his poniard and knife Dunk, but Dunk knocks it away and pulls up Aerion’s helm. He shouts for Aerion to yield, and to Dunk’s shock, Aerion does. Dunk gets up and pulls Aerion up as well, and sees Baelor and Lyonel holding Maekar back from getting to them, while the rest are still fighting. Aerion suddenly goes for his morningstar, but Dunk knocks him down again, and drags him before Lord Ashford’s seat and shakes Aerion until he tells Ashford he withdraws his accusation.
After, Egg and Pate help a dazed Dunk out of his armor. Egg tells Dunk that Beesbury died in the first charge and Hardyng is gravely wounded, but everyone else is alive, including Daeron and Aerion. Dunk says Daeron’s dream was wrong, then. They are concerned about the wound in his side. Baelor appears above him, and tells the others to use boiling wine, not oil, on it. Dunk assures him Dunk is his man. Baelor seems disoriented, and asks Raymun and Pate to take off his helm.
Pate lifted the battered helm away. “Gods be good. Oh gods oh gods oh gods preserve…”
Dunk saw something red and wet fall out of the helm. Someone was screaming, high and terrible. Against the bleak grey sky swayed a tall tall prince in black armor with only half a skull. He could see red blood and pale bone beneath and something else, something blue-grey and pulpy. A queer troubled look passed across Baelor Breakspear’s face, like a cloud passing before a sun. He raised his hand and touched the back of his head with two fingers, oh so lightly. And then he fell.
Dunk caught him. “Up,” they say he said, just as he had with Thunder in the melee, “up, up.” But he never remembered that afterward, and the prince did not rise.
At the funeral, Dunk stops to offer sympathies to Prince Valarr, but Baelor’s son only says that Baelor could have been the greatest king since Aegon the Dragon, and asks why the gods took him and left Dunk. He commands Dunk to leave him, and Dunk does. Dunk’s wounds are healing clean, and he thinks Baelor saved him twice, and that the world makes no sense to save him and kill a great prince.
The next day, Maekar comes to see him under the elm, and Dunk is sure they’ve come to kill him after all. Maekar says that he has sent Aerion to the Free Cities, in the hope it will change him for the better. Then he says he is sure that it was his mace that dealt Baelor the fatal blow, but that he never meant to kill his brother, though he is sure no one will believe that. Dunk answers that Maekar may have swung the blow, but it was for him Baelor died, and Maekar agrees that the whispers will follow Dunk as well. Dunk says if he had yielded they’d have chopped off his foot, and wonders whether his foot will someday will be more valuable than a prince’s life. Maekar doubts it, but says the septon told him no one can understand the workings of the gods.
Then he tells Dunk that his youngest son needs to be a squire, but has said he will serve no other knight than Dunk, and asks if he will have him. Dunk is stunned, and protests he is only a hedge knight, but Maekar offers to give him a place in his own house. He surmises that Dunk still has much to learn, and Dunk agrees. Dunk tells him that before Baelor died, he swore to be his man, and Baelor said the realm needed good men. He says that he will take Egg on, but only if he will go on the road with him, as a hedge knight. Maekar is incredulous, and Dunk says he wagers that Daeron never slept in a ditch, and Aerion never went hungry. Maekar stares at him, then leaves without a word.
The boy came the next morning, just as the sun was coming up. He wore old boots, brown breeches, a brown wool tunic, and an old traveler’s cloak. “My lord father says I am to serve you.”
“Serve you, ser,” Dunk reminded him. “You can start by saddling the horses. Chestnut is yours, treat her kindly. I don’t want to find you on Thunder unless I put you there.”
Egg went to get the saddles. “Where are we going, ser?”
Dunk thought for a moment. “I have never been over the Red Mountains. Would you like to have a look at Dorne?”
Egg grinned. “I hear they have good puppet shows,” he said.
So, Dunk and Egg are completely adorable and I heart them. I am kind of laughing and being upset at the same time, though, because of course Martin can’t write a story without which someone you don’t want to die totally dies in it. Because OF COURSE NOT.
Man, that was genuinely upsetting. And I really should have guessed it from the moment Daeron told his dream to Dunk, because of all the Targaryens there, who besides Baelor was the big, actual dragon, the one worthy of the title? I probably would have gotten it, really, if I’d stopped to reason it out, but all things considered I’m glad I didn’t. It was really much nicer just to get it all as the story unfolded on its own. There really are times where I think my tendency not to see plot twists coming is a kind of enjoyment-of-stories superpower, and this is one of them.
“Enjoyment” being a relative term, of course, since I was really quite saddened that Baelor died. Attrition of the non-insane portion of the Targaryen family tree is not a good thing, people, let’s not do that! But, well. We already know how that goes down for them in the end anyway, don’t we. One must wonder how differently things would have gone if Baelor had lived to ascend the throne instead of Valarr. Who, admittedly, seems to strike a sort of rare middle balance between the usual Targaryen extremes of either “brilliant” or “batshit,” but we already know it just goes downhill from there.
But, maybe Baelor on the throne wouldn’t have made that much difference, in the long run—not as long as that wild card of psychopathy continues to run through Targaryen veins. Maybe Aerys wouldn’t have been on the throne when he was if Baelor had lived, but sooner or later one of the Aeryses (or Aerions, or Viseryses) in the family would have wound up there, and things would have gone from there anyway. So, maybe it ultimately makes no difference in the grand scheme of things.
*shrug* It’s not like we’ll ever know, right?
[Daeron:] “Aerion’s quite the monster. He thinks he’s a dragon in human form, you know. That’s why he was so wroth at that puppet show. A pity he wasn’t born a Fossoway, then he’d think himself an apple and we’d all be a deal safer, but there you are.”
LOL. Daeron’s not exactly a shining example of humanity in this story, but at least he has a handle on excellent snark.
And Maekar eventually acquits himself rather well, too—not on the battlefield, mind you, because wow, you couldn’t have not swung your giant heavy mace at your brother’s head?—but after, in seeing the wisdom of sending Egg with Dunk and actually doing something hard for once.
In other news, ohhh, okay. Aemon is the third son, the one who went to the maesters… and ultimately ended up in Castle Black. Got it, okay. Of course, I am a little astounded by this, since the disclaimer at the start of this story states it takes place a century before the events in the series proper, which means that Aemon is well over a hundred years old by the time we meet him in… er, whichever book we met him in. Damn, that’s some serious longevity—and probably the reason I didn’t immediately make the connection. If I had thought about it at all, I would have assumed Aemon came from at least one further generation down the line, if not more.
Also, ha, I totally called that Egg’s real name was going to have an “ae” in there somewhere. Not that this was an especially incisive prediction to make, because Targaryens are nothing if not predictable in their naming patterns, but I am still pleased I predicted it. So There.
I elided a lot of it in the summary, of course, but I did love the way Martin portrayed the trial-by-combat from such a necessarily narrow POV (Dunk’s, natch), and how realistically it seemed to be portrayed. For me in particular, the reminder that the slit of the visor in full armor completely cuts off peripheral vision was very anxious-making. I hate having my peripheral vision curtailed in any way, so that brought the whole thing into very sharp relief for me. Well done.
Also, wow. Is Steffon a bag of dicks, or is he a large and drippy bag of dicks? You decide! I was initially kind of confused as to why Raymun wasn’t ponying up and joining in as well, but I don’t think I had realized before that he wasn’t actually a knight until Lyonel did the deed for him. Oops.
As far as the trial-by-combat thing goes, I’ve given my vehement disapprobation of the concept on this blog before, and I still think it’s kind of cuckoo-bananas, but it occurred to me on this occasion that one thing it does do is provide the accused an alternate avenue of recourse in a system of justice in which the “standard” method of judgment is acknowledged to be biased. This is something I hadn’t necessarily caught before, conditioned as I am to the idea that a system of justice ought to be as unbiased and objective as possible by default, but that of course is not at all the case in Westeros. (And, well, it’s actually not truly the case in the U.S. either, but it’s supposed to be. Grumble.)
Operating from my previous premise, then, the idea of trial by combat is thoroughly ridiculous, but supposing that the system is prejudiced from the beginning and allowing for at least some kind of end-run redress to that fact, however wonky, makes a certain amount of sense. Ignoring, of course, that this alternate avenue is only available to the rich, the noble, and/or the extremely lucky, aka Dunk. Because so much classism, so little time, eh, eh, amirite? Sigh.
But whatever, my point is that if you choose to look at this wackadoo system of justice as an at least partial attempt to compensate for its own flaws, the whole idea of trial by combat becomes at least a little more palatable. Not entirely, mind you, because seriously, the idea that Dunk would have become automatically guilty just because he couldn’t find six other guys willing to go get the shit beaten out of them on his behalf is really just bonkers, but it’s a little bit better than the idea that nobles and royalty can just go around accusing whoever of whatever and there is no possible way around it. A little.
But in any case, after reading this I sort of wonder and/or hope that HBO will decide to film this story as well as the series proper, because it is actually a wonderfully self-contained-yet-related companion to the series proper that had some great “cinematic” moments in it—Egg’s reveal and Baelor’s reveal as the seventh champion for Dunk being the most obvious. The entire thing, in fact, would make a great made-for-TV movie to put alongside the series on HBO, in much the same way this story is a companion piece to the written series proper—linked, but not interfering.
But either way, I look forward to seeing more of Dunk and Egg’s adventures, though it might be nice if they didn’t all end in tragedy. This being Martin, though, I probably shouldn’t hold my breath, huh?
Well, we’ll find out soon enough, won’t we? Join me next Thursday for the start of the next D&E story, “The Sworn Sword,” and until then, cheers!