Monday, December 18, 2017

Martin Re-Read: "The Mystery Knight"

Read the previous entry in the series here.

“The Mystery Knight”
Warriors, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, 2010

(Important announcement follows the post.)

Anyone who thought that Martin was just writing random stories about these two people wandering around Westeros hasn’t been paying attention to the way he writes A Song of Ice and Fire. Throughout the three stories, he’s been planting the seeds for this one, in which a bunch of nobles and a would-be prince attempt the Second Blackfyre Rebellion—and it fizzles badly.

Dunk, being Dunk—“thick as a castle wall,” as Ser Arlan always said—stumbles into the would-be rebellion completely by accident. He decides to attend a wedding feast and tourney in hopes of winning a bit of money so he and Egg can continue their trip north. Egg, probably approaching puberty, is beginning to get frustrated about hiding his identity and mouths off a lot more than he used to, so Dunk has to tell him to shut it often enough that when Egg tries to tell him that “this is a traitor’s tourney,” he doesn’t listen.

On the way, they come across some lords and a hedge knight calling himself Ser John the Fiddler. Everything’s going pretty normally until after the bedding (during which Dunk finds himself holding the one single woman in this story while she’s completely stark naked, of course). Dunk gets really really super drunk and overhears a conversation he doesn’t understand (lords plotting), then has a conversation with Ser John. The Fiddler tells him that he’s had dreams of Dunk in Kingsguard white and a dragon “bursting” from an egg here at the tourney. He drunkenly rambles a bit about taking Dunk into his service, none of which Dunk remembers clearly in the morning. As becomes pretty clear to anyone who isn’t “thick as a castle wall,” Ser John is really Daemon II Blackfyre and nearly everyone here is plotting with him, so of course he expects Dunk to enter his service and rebel against King Aerys.

Dunk, thinking he’s cute, enters the lists as “the Gallows Knight” for the sigil on his new shield (which he hasn’t had time/money to get repainted yet), deciding that everyone loves a mystery knight. Of course, he doesn’t immediately realize that the true mystery knight here is Ser John. Subverting the trope of “fair unknown” a bit, Martin has Dunk knocked out in his first tilt, and it turns out that Lord Gormon Peake has been bribing all those who face “Ser John” to lose. Usually in a “fair unknown” tale, the unknown knight in question is a) noble (check for “John,” not for Dunk) and naturally has the prowess of a knight (clearly no check for either).

Everything goes completely chaotic for a bit—Egg goes missing; the dragon egg meant to serve as a prize for the tourney (and probably pretext for Daemon beginning his rebellion) disappears; a hedge knight who refused to take a fall for Daemon is accused of theft and tortured; and Lord Alyn Cockshaw decides that Dunk is a threat to his influence with Daemon (because of Daemon’s dreams) and tries to kill him by shoving him into a well. But Dunk shoves him down the well, locates Egg (who’s been unmasked as a Targaryen), and kills a lord who attempts to kill Egg. Egg has told everyone holding him prisoner that his father, King Maekar, is aware of the rebellion and on his way to put it down, not realizing that Brynden “Bloodraven” Rivers is aware of it. An army shows up at the gates, and Daemon tries to demand single combat with Brynden, who says no way and has him taken prisoner.

The reader, of course, is aware that Daemon’s first dream comes true later; Dunk does indeed serve as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard under Egg when he becomes Aegon V. The second part seems to pretty clearly refer to Egg revealing his identity toward the end of the story, as he stops being the little boy hiding a signet ring in his boot and becomes a Targaryen with the signet ring on his finger. Daemon just wildly misinterpreted the dream.

A couple of other interesting side notes: Walder Frey shows up in this story as a snot-nosed four-year-old who totally narced on his sister (the one getting married in the story) for having premarital sex with a scullery boy. Also, Martin includes an ubi sunt early in the story:

Where is our young prince now? Where is his brother, sweet Matarys? Where has Good King Daeron gone, and fearless Baelor Breakspear? The grave has claimed them, every one[.]

Readers of Tolkien will, of course, recognize this structure from Aragorn’s “Lament for the Rohirrim” in The Two Towers—“where now the horse and the rider?” Tolkien, of course, borrowed this from Anglo-Saxon poetry, specifically “The Wanderer.” This was a common poetic structure in Anglo-Saxon poetry, especially poems that examined the transitory nature of life and society (so, you know, all of them). It’s likely that Martin borrowed it from Tolkien rather than from medieval literature, because I haven’t been able to find any evidence that he’s read medieval literature extensively. (I mean, he’s probably read Beowulf and Le Morte Darthur, but beyond that nobody knows. If anyone sees him at a con or something and wants to ask about his familiarity with medieval lit for me, I will make you cookies.)

This is the last “Dunk and Egg” story to date, though Martin always plans more. The stories are fun, with a bit of bittersweetness (which is typical for Martin) because we know how the story ends, and it isn’t pretty. But getting to know these characters and some of the history just prior to A Song of Ice and Fire is nice. There are three more stories I really hope he writes: Dunk escorting Aemon and Brynden north to the Wall; whatever will give us a clear explanation as to how Dunk and Brienne are related; and the Tragedy of Summerhall (though that one might break me).

So, announcement time. I’m stepping back from the blog a bit; this will be the last of my regular posts. I’ll pop in occasionally when warranted, and I’ll definitely be back for Game of Thrones season 8 (which I hear isn’t coming until 2019? Darn). But other projects have started crowding my headspace, and it’s time to let someone else have the biggest voice here. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Art by Gary Gianni from A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

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