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"Chronicle of the Wondrous Fish"
By Sir Guillaume "Angel Of Death On My Hard Drive" de la Belgique

I recently finished reading (yes, contrary to popular rumors, most knights can actually read) a book about tournaments in the Middle Ages in general, and about the famous knight William Marshal in particular. In the SCA, we consider the tournament as the pinnacle of gentlemanly behavior and chivalry, but sometimes research reveals that our recreation of history isn't quite as accurate as we might like.

For example, in the 13th Century the tournament was conducted with about as much chivalry and gentlemanliness as the clearing of a tropical rainforest by a major petroleum corporation. Imagine what an SCA tourney would be if it was run by impoverished hyenas and you'll have a close approximation.

Medieval tournaments were held without benefit of rules, safety precautions, or regard for the well-being of anyone involved, including the spectators. (Although there was a sort of safety box where the knights went - I am not kidding here - to have their helms cut off of their heads when they became so dented and deformed they couldn't see anymore.) (The helms, that is, not their heads.)

Although this theoretically took place in the area surrounding a village (often known as "ground zero"), in reality the action usually spilled over into the village itself with all the predictability of the referee being knocked out in a Professional Wrestling(r) match, causing the peasants to flee to nearby countries and altering the ecology and social structure of the town for hundreds of years to come.

Just like our tournaments, however, these Medieval tourneys offered prizes to the survivors, and undoubtedly the combatants regarded many of the prizes just as our fighters do. ("I let Duke Helmdinger pummel me for 15 minutes so I could win three yards of trim? Gee, how nice...") Knowing this, it was with amusement that I read this actual passage, which the author took very seriously, regarding tourney prizes:

"At Pleurs, In Champagne, after the combat's conclusion, a woman of noble birth ... comes to offer a wondrous fish, a pike over six feet long ... to the victor (of the tournament, William Marshal)."

In order to increase his reputation for generosity, the book says, William did not keep the "wondrous fish," and instead gave it away. "The fine object therefore passed from hand to hand among the upper barony to end up, of course, in (William Marshal's) own."

Too bad there's not an account of this "wondrous fish." We can only imagine what it might have been like ...

A Fishy Tail

Amidst jubilation from the populace, William Marshal came before the Duke of Burgundy to accept his prize. "For your chivalry and valor this day," the Duke said, "We give unto you this fish of tremendous capacity." Then did come forward all the courtesans and pages of the court lugging the great fish, for its weight exceeded 30 stone, and they did dumpeth the fish upon Sir William, who made great effort to drag it away before it stunk up the whole hall, and the Duke of Burgundy could little contain his laughter at this sight.

"The Duke is a bloody bastard," said William to his household when he had brought the great fish to his pavilion, "and I'll not abide this overgrown haddock in my tent one moment longer. Squires! Take this thing and give it unto Sir John d'Erley and let him enjoy its stench."

With that the lads hoisted the great fish upon their shoulders and made straight-away for the pavilion of Sir John. As the evening was still young, they knew John would be at the revel, searching for a young maid to ply with wine and lure into his chamber. Therefore did they secret the fish into his tent, unnoticed by the sentry who must surely have had no sense of smell whatsoever.

Shortly Sir John returned to his pavilion with one of the ladies of the Duke's court, whom he had promised to show some "strange Pictish runes." The lady entered the tent as John exchanged a wink with the sentry, and she said, "My lord, it's quite dark in here. I cannot see the runes."

"Fear not, kind lady," John replied. "Let me give you a candlestick to hold." With that he entered the tent, and suddenly the stillness was broken by a stout: "whoop!"

"What is this thing?" Sir John shouted. "Guard, bring a lantern!" The sentry entered and Sir John discovered he had indeed stumbled over the great pike, which was lying in fishy repose directly before the doorway.

"This was Sir William's prize," Sir John said, "And now he has saddled me with the stinking thing. Guards! Remove this fish from my tent and take it to Earl Renaud Fitzherbert. When last I saw that drunken fool, he could barely stand. I'll wager he won't take note of it until tomorrow morning. What a wonderful cure for his hangover!"

Then did the knight's henchmen lift the great fish and trundle it to the earl's pavilion. The earl's sentry bade them halt and state their business. "This is a gift from our lord who wishes to honor the earl for his chivalry upon the field this day," they said, and the man (being none too bright) believed them.

The sentry laid aside the curtain and Sir John's men rushed in with the reeking fish, then quickly took their leave. Soon the earl returned to take his ease for the night and, as John observed, the man had consumed many flagons of ale. "Is this my tent?" the earl asked his guard.

"Yes, my lord."

"And has my lady yet returned?"

"No, my lord," the sentry replied, grasping the earl's elbow to keep him from toppling over. "She must still be at the revel. There were some men here earlier with a gift for you and I told them ..."

"A gift for me? Oh, how sweet. See that the king grants knighthood to every last one of them," said the earl. "And where is my lady?"

"As I told you, lord, she's not yet returned. Perhaps you should take to your bed and sleep."

"No, I don't think so," said the earl. "I'll just go to bed and sleep."

The earl stumbled into the darkened pavilion, disrobed, and slipped beneath his blanket. "Oh, pardon me, my lady," he said. "I did not wish to disturb thee, but thy skin is so soft. Thy breath is so sweet. Might I place my hand upon the fullness of thy hip, the smoothness of thy leg, the wetness of thy ... tail??? Guards!"

The earl's men rushed into the pavilion to find him in a compromising position with the great fish. "Get this thing out of my bed!" he shouted. "Is this not the prize that was inflicted upon that dolt William Marshal? Deliver this horrible fish back to the man post haste!"

The earl's guards transported the fish away, but they did not lightly bring it back to Sir William, for the knight's prowess with sword and lance was quite renowned. Instead, at the breaking of the dawn, the earl's men crept quietly to where Sir William was still laying abed, and softly said, "Sir William, in order to enhance your esteem, we bring you this gift."

As the knight opened his eyes, the guards flung the great fish upon him, causing the bed slats to rend and the wooden legs to break away beneath its weight, and splashing fishy goo all about the pavilion. The guards fled the tent, laughing and punching one another, and at that time Sir William wiped the fish scales from his face and was heard to say: "Next year I'm spending the tourney season in Luxembourg!"

Copyright Reserved to Scott Farrell

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