Iwein, the Knight with the Lion: Chapter Five

IWEIN: THE KNIGHT WITH THE LION Chapter One

IWEIN: THE KNIGHT WITH THE LION, Chapter Two

IWEIN, THE KNIGHT WITH THE LION: Chapter Three

Iwein: The Knight with the Lion: Chapter Four

Iwein rose early the next day, surrendering to consciousness after a long and fruitless fight to return to the blessed realm of sleep shortly before dawn. The time of year was now high spring, mid-May headed into June, with Pentecost ascending on the horizon of church feasts. That meant that the night had been short indeed. He went to Laudes and was pleased to see Laudine, Lunete and Geoffry, the only persons with whom he had any true conversation were there, along with about forty servants and soldiers of various ranks. The attending crowd in fact nearly filled the small chapel. Father Bertram, whose name Iwein himself only learned after the celebration of that hour, led them in the chanting of Gospel and Psalm passages. Iwein thought it a blessed surprise that the priest’s voice was both clear and pleasant and it seemed to him that the father had inspired those present to sing particularly well.

Once the hour was completed and the crowd was breaking up, each person moving on to their assigned duties and tasks, Lunete approached Iwein and quickly instructed him on where he was allowed to eat or acquire provisions to take with him on his watch. That place was the buttery, located in the hall across from the stables. It was where the soldiers and indoor servants generally ate, and he would be counted among the soldiery for the time he spent among them. Then, while they were walking to the stables, Lunete also explained how he was expected to spend his days (watching over the Stone Table) and who would be keeping watch over him for any signs of attempting to flee and thereby break his oath. The „who“ meant everyone in the castle including the stable boys and the milkmaids. She then disappeared back into the thinning throng, heading toward her mistress. The fact he would be watched, and watched by everyone, weighed on him to the point that he felt relief at the prospect of spending that day, and many days after, alone watching a huge rock do nothing. It seemed almost insulting. He had given his word, he was under a magical geas that would take his life if he fled, what more assurance of his good conduct did they need? Once he was properly horsed, with, what he had to admit, was a magnificent sable stallion with a white blaze on its forelock, he rode out to the table.

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When he arrived, the glade was alive with birdsong, much as Kay had described it. The weather was darker than on the day he had fought the Green Gryphon knight, and the grass around the Stone Table was still very wet with the morning dew. He rode around the table once, found a stout oak tree to tether his new mount and dismounted to sit down next to the table. Removing his right gauntlet, he put his hand on its surface. The grey-blue stone was cool to the touch and he noticed that the table, now that he touched it with his own skin for the first time, had a strange, prickling feel to it, like what one felt when stroking dry wool to raise the blue sparks. The sensation was not unpleasant, only strange. Stepping back from it, he stood next to the object of his new duties for a few minutes, drinking in the scene as the clouds slid by overhead at a leisurely, almost languid pace. Gradually, as the light winds blew the great, billowing white ships through the sky on their misty sails, he began to wonder if most days guarding the Stone Table would be like this or if…

An extraordinarily loud equine sneeze broke him from his reverie. He looked up at his horse, which had been contently chomping down grass around the tree to which it was tethered. It looked up, nodded at him. Responding to the invitation, Iwein stood and walked over to stroke its long snout.

“You need a name, don’t you?”

The horse murmured and brushed its head against his chest.

“Well, I’ll just say names and you can nod when you hear one you like….” He paused and thought for a moment before suggesting, “Bucephalus?”

Nothing.

“Sable the Second?”

Nothing.

“Silver Blaze?”

Nothing.

“Goliath?”

Nothing.

“Stormwind?”

At this the horse sneezed and even seemed to shake its head in an emphatic “no!”

“Alright, alright…not Stormwind….Ironhoof the Foe-Slayer?”

At this suggestion the horse made a loud, almost human gagging sound.

“Very well then…something simple. Karl?”

This suggestion elicited a derisive snort. Clearly simple was not going to do.

Iwein took a step away from his steed and said, quietly, “Judah Maccabbee?”

This suggestion evoked what looked for all the world like an enthusiastic nod from the massive equine.

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“Judah it is, then. Now, let’s get to know each other a little better since we are going to have many great battles together.” With that, he mounted the horse and then spurred him on to a full gallop, racing across the meadow along the brook next to which the Stone Table stood.

Over the next few hours, the knight repeatedly put his new steed through its paces: Gallops, sudden turns, sudden stops, regular combat speed for wading through infantry and jousting speed. On that first real day as the Guardian of the Stone Table, Iwein stayed away from the castle of Lady Laudine as long as he could, practically until sundown, enjoying the bright weather and the freedom from watching eyes of Laudine’s servants. This meant among other things that he and Judah were terribly hungry by the time they got back and between settling Judah in the stable and getting something of an evening meal himself, he was barely in time for vespers. This earned him surprised and disapproving looks from both the father Bertram and Lunete. He and Laudine exchanged, however, appreciative glances as they left the chapel at the end of the hour.

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“You approve of our martial visitor arriving late for vespers, ma’am?”, Lunete frowned and glowered as she fell into step beside her mistress.

“No,” Laudine answered curtly. “I approve of him arriving at all. In my mind, the chance that he might attempt to flee and so die had disturbed me all day.”

Relief spread across the older woman’s face. „Your worry can be understood. He wouldn’t have been the first. But it is good now to have the worry put to bed. ,” Lunete said. She took Laudine’s hand and patted it in a materteral fashion.

“Yes, it is well that my fear has been allayed, for now. But one day down and a year less a day yet to pass? We shall have to wait and watch this foreign knight.”

The next day he prepared a bit better before leaving the castle: He brought more food for man and beast, thinking to bring carrots for Judah this time, and he brought his javelins with him so that he and Judah could and did spend most of the morning and into afternoon practicing mounting javelin throwing and rapid turns. Getting the ring targets from the armory had taken more time than he had wanted: Only one of the men working there spoke fluent English in addition to Welsh, and explaining “the iron posts with rings on top for throwing spears through in practice” using mostly hand gestures and crude drawings made with burnt sticks had been a difficulty Iwein had not anticipated. Part of the conversation went like this:

Iwein: But I can see them right there! Those metal rods with the rings on top!

Armory worker: Dydwi ddim deall.

Iwein: The metal RODS with the RINGS on top!   (shouting the emphasized words and pointing exaggeratedly at the spear throwing targets in a stack).

Armory worker: Ddim deall! Ydych yn siarad cymraeg? Nac ydy deall saesneg.

Iwein: Parlez vous mai un peu francais?

Amory worker: Ffraneg? Nac ydy.

And it went on from there. Eventually he did get his point across, get the spear throwing targets, each an iron rod of about five feet in length with a ring approximately ten inches across at the top and was thus able to practice that day. The later conversation about getting wood blocks and gourds for sword practice went better because he found a stable boy to act as interpreter.

His equipment obtained, he began regular training with javelin and sword as a means of keeping himself fit for war. The armory eagerly supplied him with six solid javelins he then put to good use in regular training.  He might have been bound to Rhiw Gwyrdd, but he was still a Knight of the Round Table and he was not going to let this enchanted exile make him soft.

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