"Chronicle of the Wondrous
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
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
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
"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
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)
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