“This life is slow suicide, unless you read.”Herman Wouk

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Tale of Sir Beaumains and the Churlish Damsel

Follows below a modified excerpt of the tale of Sir Beaumains, from Sir James Knowles' King Arthur and His Knights, copies of which abound online. As in my previous Arthurian adaption, The Tragedy of the Moot Point, it is hoped the hints of Trump-era political relevance are plain enough (lest the reader think "Fair-hands" too on the nose, it is from the original Malory). 

Now, on Whitsuntide came a man before King Arthur's Table Round as they were sitting to meat, asking after quests. The man's face and hair shone the color of the sun as he told of his many adventures, and the king, being taken with the artfulness of his dealings, granted him three gifts. 

Then said King Arthur, "What is thy first request?" "This, lord," said he, "that thou wilt give me meat and drink enough for twelve months from this time, and then will I ask my other two gifts." 

The king had granted his desire, and given him into the charge of Sir Key, the steward. But Sir Key scorned and mocked the man, calling him Beaumains, that is, Fair-hands, and putting him into the kitchen, where he had served for twelve months as a scullion, serving below even the jesters and troubadours and jongleurs among the guests of the court. And, in spite of this treatment, Beaumains had faithfully obeyed Sir Key.

And so in the twelfth month a damsel came before the king. Now, this damsel brought news from across the kingdom, and told of a tyrant of the Redlands across the marshes. "I know him not," said Arthur. "But I know him, lord," said Sir Gawain, "and he is one of the most perilous knights in all the world. Men say he hath the strength of seven; and from him I myself once hardly escaped with life."

And now at this time came young Beaumains to the king, while the damsel was there telling of this news, and said, "Lord, now I thank thee well and heartily that I have been twelve months kept in thy kitchen, and have had full sustenance. Now will I ask my two remaining gifts." "Ask," said King Arthur, "on my good faith." "These, lord," said he, "shall be my two gifts--the one, that thou wilt grant me this adventure of the damsel, for to me of right it belongeth; and the other, that thou wilt bid Sir Lancelot make me a knight, for of him only will I have that honour." "Be it as thou wilt," replied the king. 

But thereupon the damsel was full wroth, and said, "Shall I have a kitchen page for this adventure?" and so she took horse and departed. Then said Beaumains to the king: "My lord, the honor of this quest being mine by right not only, but nor by my honor shall I suffer go unmet such a challenge to the sovereignty of thy lordship, who has shown me favor."

Then came one to Beaumains, and told him that a dwarf with a horse and armour were waiting for him. And all men marvelled whence these things came. But when he was on horseback and armed, scarce any one at the court was a goodlier man than he. 

Then Sir Key cried, "I also will ride after the kitchen boy, and see whether he will obey me now." And taking his horse, he rode after him, and said, "Know ye not me, Beaumains?" "Yea," said he, "I know thee for an ungentle knight, therefore beware of me." Then Sir Key put his spear in rest and ran at him, but Beaumains rushed upon him with his sword in his hand, and therewith, putting aside the spear, struck Sir Key so sorely in the side, that he fell down, as if dead. Then he alighted, and took his shield and spear, and bade his dwarf ride upon Sir Key's horse.

By this time, Sir Lancelot had come up, and Beaumains offering to tilt with him. And after giving long battle Lancelot marvelled at the strength of Beaumains, for he fought more like a giant than a man, and his fighting was passing fierce and terrible. So, at the last, he said, "Fight not so sorely, Beaumains; our quarrel is not such that we may not now cease." "May I, then, stand as a proved knight?" said Beaumains. "For that will I be thy warrant," answered Lancelot. So then he knighted Beaumains, and, after that, they parted company, and Sir Lancelot, returning to the court, took up Sir Key on his shield. And hardly did Sir Key escape with his life, from the wound Beaumains had given him. 

But all men blamed Sir Key for his ungentle treatment of so brave a knight.

Then Sir Beaumains rode forward, and soon overtook the damsel; but she said to him, in scorn, "Return again, base kitchen page! What art thou, but a washer-up of dishes!" And in such manner did the damsel speak of Beaumains to any whom they met in their adventure.  

And on the morrow, the damsel and Sir Beaumains rode on their way till they came to a great forest, through which flowed a river, and there was but one passage over it, whereat stood two knights. And the damsel beseeched the knights to seize Beaumains, calling him a false knight. So there, in the river, one of the knights met him, and they brake their spears together, and then drew their swords, and smote fiercely at each other. And at the last, Sir Beaumains struck the other mightily upon the helm, so that he fell down stunned into the water, and was drowned. Then Sir Beaumains spurred his horse on to the land, where instantly the other knight fell on him. And they also brake their spears upon each other, and then drew their swords, and fought savagely and long together, and all the while the damsel did not cease calling imprecations upon Beaumains and giving encouragement to his assailant. And after many blows, Sir Beaumains clove through the knight's skull down to the shoulders. 

But ever the damsel still scoffed at Sir Beaumains, and said, "Alas! that a kitchen page should chance to slay two such brave knights! Thou deemest now that thou hast done a mighty deed, but it is not so; for the first knight's horse stumbled, and thus was he drowned--not by thy strength; and as for the second knight, thou wentest by chance behind him, and didst kill him shamefully." And said the damsel, "if thou followest me thou wilt be surely slain, since I see all thou doest is but by chance, and not by thy own prowess." 

Anon the damsel and Sir Beaumains came into a black space of land, where they came upon the Knight of the Blacklands, who said, "Fair damsel, hast thou brought this knight from Arthur's court to be thy champion?" "Not so, fair knight," said she; "he is but a kitchen knave." "Then wherefore cometh he in such array?" said he; "it is a shame that he should bear thee company." "I cannot be delivered from him," answered she: "for in spite of me he rideth with me; and would to Heaven you would put him from me, or now slay him, for he hath slain two knights at the river passage yonder, and done many marvellous deeds through pure mischance." "I marvel," said the Black Knight, "that any man of worship will fight with him." "They know him not," said the damsel, "and think, because he rideth with me, that he is well born." 

In lordly deference to the damsel the Black Knight addressed Sir Beaumains, "Now quit this lady also, for it beseemeth not a kitchen knave like thee to ride with such a lady." "I am of higher lineage than thou," said Sir Beaumains, "and will straightway prove it on thy body." Then furiously they drove their horses at each other, and came together as it had been thunder. But the Black Knight's spear brake short, and Sir Beaumains thrust him through the side, and his spear breaking at the head, left its point sticking fast in the Black Knight's body. Yet did the Black Knight draw his sword, and smite at Sir Beaumains with many fierce and bitter blows; but after they had fought an hour and more, he fell down from his horse in a swoon, and forthwith died. Then Sir Beaumains lighted down and armed himself in the Black Knight's armour, and lamented the tragedy that such an honorable knight had met an end merely by cause of the damsel's churlishness.

But notwithstanding all his valour, still she scoffed at him, and said, "Away! for thou savourest ever of the kitchen."

Anon the damsel and Sir Beaumains entered the domain of a knight clad all in green. And to this honorable knight the damsel in like manner delivered her fulmination against Sir Beaumains. And the Green Knight, being bound by damsel's petition, rode at Sir Beaumains, and they brake their spears together, and then they drew their swords, and gave many sad strokes, and either of them wounded other full ill. 

And when the Green Knight fell under the mighty blows delivered by Sir Beaumains, he yielded, and prayed him to spare his life. "All thy prayers are vain," said he, "unless this damsel who came with me pray for thee." "That will I never do, base kitchen knave," said she. "Then shall he die," said Beaumains. "Alas! fair lady," said the Green Knight, "suffer me not to die for a word!" Then cried the damsel, "Slay him not; for if thou do thou shalt repent it." "Damsel," said Sir Beaumains, "at thy command, he shall obtain his life." 

Yet still did the damsel rebuke and scoff at Sir Beaumains, and would not suffer him to sit at her table.

At last the damsel and Sir Beaumains came through the marshes and into the Redlands where they met the Red Knight, who gave battle. Then, with their swords, they fought fiercely for the space of three hours. And at last, Sir Beaumains overcame his foe, and smote him to the ground. Then the Red Knight prayed his mercy, and said, "Slay me not, noble knight, and I will yield to thee with sixty knights that do my bidding." "All avails not," answered Sir Beaumains, "save this damsel pray me to release thee." Then did he lift his sword to slay him; but the damsel cried aloud, "Slay him not, Beaumains, for he is a noble knight." Then Sir Beaumains bade him rise up and thank the damsel, which straightway he did, and afterwards invited them to his castle, and made them goodly cheer. 

But notwithstanding all Sir Beaumains' mighty deeds, the damsel ceased not to revile and chide him. 

And as she constantly reviled him and tormented him, he said to her, "Damsel, ye are discourteous thus always to rebuke me, for I have done you service; and for all your threats of knights that shall destroy me, all they who come lie in the dust before me. Now, therefore, I pray you rebuke me no more, and so spare the kingdom the tragedy of the needless dishonor and defeat of more good knights. For whatsoever ye said to me I took no heed, save only that at times when your scorn angered me, it made me all the stronger against those with whom I fought, and thus have ye furthered me in my battles. 

"But whether I be born of gentle blood or no, I have done you gentle service, and peradventure will do better still, ere I depart from you." 

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