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The ballad of sir dinada.., p.1
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       The Ballad of Sir Dinadan, p.1

           Gerald Morris
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The Ballad of Sir Dinadan

  The Ballad of Sir Dinadan

  Gerald Morris

  * * *

  Houghton Mifflin Company

  Boston 2003

  * * *

  To Ethan, with joy.

  * * *

  Copyright © 2003 by Gerald Morris

  All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce

  selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin

  Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

  The text of this book is set in 12.5 Horley Old Style.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Morris, Gerald, 1963-

  The ballad of Sir Dinadan / Gerald Morris.

  p. cm.

  Summary: Though he would rather pursue his talent as a musician,

  eighteen-year-old Dinadan is forced to follow his older brother

  Tristram's path and become a knight. Set at the time of King Arthur.

  ISBN 0-618-19099-6 (hardcover)

  1. Iseult (Legendary character)—Fiction. [1. Knights and

  knighthood—Fiction. 2. Minstrels—Fiction. 3. Tristan (Legendary

  character)—Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.M82785Bal 2003 [Fic]—dc21 2002010818

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  QUM 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  * * *

  Love me little, love me long

  Is the burden of my song.

  Love that is too hot and strong

  Burneeth soon to waste.

  Still I would not have thee cold,

  Not too backward, nor too bold;

  Love that lasteth till 'tis old

  Fadeth not in haste

  Love me little, love me long

  Is the burden of my song.

  If thou lovest me too much,

  It will not prove as true as touch;

  Love me little, more than such,

  For I fear the end.

  I am with little well content,

  And a little from thee sent

  Is enough, with true intent

  To be a steadfast friend.

  Love me little, love me long

  Is the burden of my song.

  Anonymous Elizabethan Song

  about 1570

  * * *


  I Prelude 1

  II The Noble Tale of Sir Dinadan 24

  III Two Tales of Sir Marhavlt 41

  IV Sir Tristram 65 V Questing 85

  VI The Shadow of the Woods 109

  VII The Moor & the Morons 134

  VIII The Horn of Igraine 163

  IX The Ballad of Sir Palomides 178

  X The Lyre 198

  XI Love Songs 210

  XII A Song for a Lady 229

  Author's Note 243

  I Prelude

  "I call upon the muse of song

  Or epic, like as not,

  To tell a tale, but not too long,

  Before it be forgot.

  "I'd tell the tale of Dinadan,

  A likely, quiet youth,

  Whose great adventures all began,

  Beneath this very roof."

  "That's not a rhyme, there," Thomas said. "Youth and roof, I mean."

  "It's close enough," Dinadan retorted, putting down his rebec. "I heard you use it yourself, in the tale you told last Michaelmas, about Sir Gawain and the White Hart."

  "None of your lip now," Thomas said, nettled. "I never—"

  "You said, 'Alas, that in the shadow of that roof, The flow'r of knighthood offered up its youth.'"

  Thomas frowned. "Did I really?" Dinadan nodded, and the old minstrel grinned. "Fancy your remembering that after this long. You've a true ear for a tale. All right, so I fudged a bit on the rhyme. You can get away with that sort of thing when you're Thomas the Rhymer."

  "Thomas the Humbug, more like," Dinadan said, with an affectionate smile.

  "That's another thing. Your lack of respect for your elders and betters has just put me in mind of it," Thomas said, with mock severity. "Your poem's not formal enough. If you're going to sing a heroic song, you want a longer line, and you want to use your finest copperplate language, too. None of this, 'more like,' or 'before it be forgot.' If you don't take your song seriously, no one will take you seriously as a singer."

  "It isn't as if anyone will anyway," Dinadan said gloomily. "I'm not a minstrel. I'm a deuced nobleman's son."

  "Well, don't act like it's a curse," Thomas said, half laughing. "After all, before long you'll be a knight, won't you?"

  "Probably, but for what? I'll make a horrible knight, and you can't deny it. I can't do anything right!"

  Thomas raised one eyebrow. "Is that what you think? Then let me tell you this. You have more skill on your instrument than I'll have if I live to be a thousand. I've never heard anyone play a rebec the way you can, lad. I just wish you'd let me teach you the lyre, too. I know it's old-fashioned now, but—"

  "Why should I learn another instrument?" Dinadan said bleakly. "I'll never be a minstrel."

  Thomas said sternly, "A minstrel's life is hard and hungry, Dinny. Every minstrel I know would gladly trade places with you."

  Dinadan didn't smile. "Would you? Would you be me, if you could?"

  Thomas shook his head slowly. "No, Dinny. Not for the world."

  In truth, while many might have wished for Dinadan's circumstances—he was the son of a noted baron, Sir Meliodas of the Fens—no one who actually knew him regarded the youth with anything but pity. Not only was Dinadan a younger son and therefore less valuable than his older brother, but he hadn't even turned out to be much of a younger son. Dinadan had no aptitude for the knightly arts of tilting, swordplay, courtly dalliance with the ladies, or indeed for any of the roles of the nobility. Perhaps Dinadan's quick wit and humor would have have made him his mother's favorite, at least so he imagined, but she had died when Dinadan was a baby, and Sir Meliodas cared nothing for intelligence. So, the baron had long ago given up on his second son and lived almost entirely for news of Dinadan's more knightly older brother, Sir Tristram.

  Tristram, almost thirteen years Dinadan's senior, had left home eight years before to seek fame and fortune, and he was already being mentioned in the same breath as great knights like Sir Kai and Sir Gawain. Tristram had never returned, but the doting Sir Meliodas gleaned news of his son's heroic deeds from every traveler. Tristram had defeated a giant. Tristram had killed a villainous knight in an island fortress because the knight had insulted a lady. A few months ago had come the news that Tristram had slain a great knight named Sir Marhault.

  Dinadan wasn't jealous. The youth heard the reports of Sir Tristram's exploits with almost as much eagerness and pride as his father did. Indeed, Dinadan had used Tristram's recent victory as the subject of his first full-length heroic poem. Although Dinadan's knowledge of the battle with Sir Marhault was sketchy, he had invented enough detail to make it a rousing tale, with Sir Marhault playing the role of a villainous recreant whom Sir Tristram had no choice but to slay, for the good of all England. Dinadan longed for the day when he might sing his tale to its inspiration, the glorious Sir Tristram himself.

  But that dream seemed unlikely. Noblemen's sons didn't become minstrels. They might learn to play the lyre—a sophisticated instrument—and might write equally sophisticated poetry in praise of some lady or other, but that was all. They didn't learn to play the rebec or to tell heroic stories in carefully modulated tones, in speech divided into neat phrases of exactly the same length, as Dinadan had learned to do. They didn't make friends with retired troubadours, like old Thomas the Rhymer, and they certainly didn't slip away fro
m home, as Dinadan did most afternoons, to ride carelessly through the woods, perched cross-legged in their saddles, playing and singing to themselves.

  "Maybe it won't be so bad, being a knight," Thomas said. Dinadan didn't answer, so the minstrel added, "There's always the church. Sometimes younger sons become priests."

  Dinadan made a face. "Is that your notion of making me feel better?"

  "It isn't all that bad. You could get appointed bishop after a few years, and then you could live like anyone else—better, even. I used to play for some bishops at their feasts, and you'd never know they were holy men from the way they carried on."

  "Don't think I could do that either," Dinadan said wryly. "I respect the church too little to be a priest, but I respect it too much to be a bishop."

  Thomas grinned appreciatively. "Well said, Dinny. You'd be a rare minstrel, for a fact."


  As it turned out, Dinadan's misgivings about his future were warranted. That very evening at dinner, as Sir Meliodas started on the third meat course and about the sixth round of claret, his eyes chanced to fall on his younger son, sitting quietly nearby, and the nobleman lurched to his feet. "What's that namby-pamby wastrel doing still here?" he demanded loudly.

  The dining hall grew silent as the servants ceased their stirring and looked away. No one wanted to be the one who attracted the master's attention when he was in this humor. Dinadan waited until all was still, then said softly, "Was I going somewhere, Father?"

  "Not as far as I can see!" Sir Meliodas roared. "That's the problem! How old are you now? Seventeen?"

  "Eighteen, Father."

  "A boy of seventeen ought to be out making his way in the world!" Sir Meliodas declared. "When your brother was your age, he had already killed two giants!"

  "It was only one, and he didn't do it until he was twenty-three," Dinadan commented.

  "How many ogres have you faced, eh?"

  "Only one," Dinadan replied. "I haven't killed him, though."

  "There! See? You're naught but a simpering miss in boy's clothes! You should be away from here, earning glory and doing knifely ... knicely ... kni—...doing things. By Gor, I'd rather have you dead in glorious battle than cowering at home underfoot like this!"

  "And likewise, I'm sure," Dinadan murmured.

  "Here, where's my man?" Sir Meliodas demanded, looking about him with bleary eyes. His steward, Stearnes, stepped forward, and Sir Meliodas said, "Go fetch my sword, Stearnes! We're going to make a man of this milksop!"

  Stearnes swallowed hard, glanced once at Dinadan, and said, "My lord, I beg you to lie down. You don't wish to hurt your son."

  "Don't be such a block!" Sir Meliodas said. "I'm not going to hurt him! I'm going to knight him!"

  "Knight him?" Stearnes asked.

  "Knight me?" Dinadan asked.

  "That's right! If you won't go out and earn the right to be knighted, then I'll knight you myself and shame you into living up to it! Hop to it, man! We'll set this boy right in the head at last, or kill him trying!"

  And so it was that Dinadan was knighted. The ceremony was conducted profanely and unsteadily by the increasingly muddled Sir Meliodas, who bellowed the words of consecration and reeled drunkenly about, waving his sword with wild abandon. Dinadan stood his ground, refusing to run or to respond. At the last moment, Stearnes took his life in his hands and darted within sword range to grasp Sir Meliodas's arm before he laid the blade on Dinadan's shoulders, or else Dinadan might have begun knighthood with a missing limb or two. When the ceremony was over, Sir Meliodas managed to mumble, "Rise, Sir Dimbledum ... Dumblebin ... Dinderlin ... oh, bugger it..." before passing out and sliding under the table. Dinadan, his cheeks bright with shame and fury, looked about the room at the shocked faces of the household. He thought of several biting comments to make about his pathetic unconscious parent, but he said none of them.

  "I wish you all well," he said at last. "I'll be going now."

  Two hours later, at the darkest hour of the night, Dinadan rode out the front gate of his father's home, promising himself that he would never again enter those walls. He had taken his father's second best warhorse and piled his own armor and weapons on its back, but he himself rode a gentle mare, sitting cross-legged on the saddle, fingering his rebec.

  Dinadan didn't really ride cross-legged, or at least not the way a person would sit cross-legged on the ground. What he did was slip sideways, hook one knee over the horn of the saddle, and tuck his other leg underneath. He ended up swiveled about a quarter turn to his right, looking very precariously perched, but he had never fallen. He had developed this peculiar position while trying to discover a way to ride and play the rebec at the same time, and now it was second nature to him. He could ride almost at a gallop and never miss a note.

  But even Dinadan could not play the rebec forever, and he had put his instrument away and was riding astride when he came upon a gaily colored encampment. The sun was high in the sky, and Dinadan guessed he had been riding for more than eight hours, and that without food, so he was very glad to see the circle of bright tents, each with its cook-fire in front. A few bearded men in chain mail watched him approach, and as he drew close, one stood to greet him.

  Greet might be the wrong word, Dinadan thought, looking at the soldier's scowling face, but then the man's eyes fell on Dinadan's second horse, piled high with armor. "You a knight?" the man asked gruffly.

  Dinadan hesitated. "I suppose I am," he said.

  "Suppose?" the man repeated with a guffaw. "Are ye or ain't ye?"

  "I am. My name's Sir Dinadan." The title was going to take some getting used to.

  The soldier looked at the slender Dinadan with evident scorn, but he called over his shoulder, "Garth! Go tell 'er ladyship that a mighty questin' knight's 'ere lookin' for adventures." The others laughed, but one stood and made his way to the largest tent, at the center of the encampment.

  Dinadan was trying to remember what he had said that might have been interpreted as a desire for adventures, when the most beautiful woman he had ever seen stepped out of the large tent. Her golden hair fell with shimmering softness over her shoulders, and she wore a loose dress that clung to her form in all the most fascinating places. "Thank goodness!" the woman said, heaving a deep sigh and looking at Dinadan as if he were the last jam tart on a platter. "Our prayers have been answered!"

  A tall man in light armor followed the lady from the tent and turned jaded eyes on Dinadan. "Are you sure, Lady Miriam?" he asked, with a slight cough. "This one seems rather young. Perhaps he is not yet ready to test himself for a lady's sake."

  "Fie, Sir Annui!" Lady Miriam said. "He has a true knight's bearing! Can you not see it? I'll vow that people also doubted Sir Gawain when he was this man's age. Please, Sir Knight, will you join us for our luncheon? It is meager fare, due to my sad calamity, but what we have you may share." Dinadan hesitated, glancing uncertainly at the large man behind the lady. "Do not mind old Sir Annui. In sooth, I think he envies your youth and vigor. Come, sit beside me and eat."

  It was hard to tell which of those promised delights was more enticing to Dinadan. In any case, he received both. Lady Miriam sat close beside him, making sure that his plate stayed full and listening wide-eyed to Dinadan's every word. It did not seem to Dinadan that the savory meat he was fed was "meager fare," but perhaps they were feeding him the last good food that they had. Sir Annui, the tall knight, sat with them at first, but after a few minutes, he stood abruptly and walked away. Lady Miriam leaned close to Dinadan's ear and giggled. "Poor Sir Annui," she said. "He's an old friend of my father's. I believe that he has some notion of marrying me, and I can never make him see that it's quite impossible. Do you not think that he's very old?"

  Dinadan had not noticed this, but perhaps women had different ideas of what was too old. Lady Miriam, who looked to Dinadan to be about twenty-four or twenty-five, evidently preferred younger men, anyway. Dinadan casually stretched, then pushed his shoulders back to make them
appear broader than they really were.

  Lady Miriam continued. "And besides, it irks him that I've said I cannot marry until I am able to possess the land that is rightfully mine."

  "What land is that?" Dinadan asked, taking another bite of roast boar.

  Lady Miriam sighed and leaned her head on Dinadan's shoulder. "The land just over that hill belongs to me. It was given me by my grandfather, and just in time, too. My parents had died, leaving me penniless. I don't know what I would have been forced to do, if I had not been given the manor and the lands of Grace-moor Castle. But when I arrived to take possession, I found it occupied by a villainous knight, calling himself Sir Edmund."

  "Didn't you explain that the castle was yours?" Dinadan asked.

  Lady Miriam snuggled her head closer into Dinadan's shoulder. He could smell a faint perfume in her hair. "If only it were that easy," she said with a sigh. "Sir Edmund knows that he has stolen the land, but he thinks no one can stop him. He has a hundred knights, each stronger than the last. No one except Arthur himself could overcome such an army. I have no one but a few of my grandfather's servants, who are still loyal to me, and Sir Annui."

  Dinadan sighed at the story of woe, but it was hard to pay attention to all Lady Miriam was saying. She was all but sitting on his lap now.

  "There is one hope, though," Lady Miriam said, raising her head to look into Dinadan's eyes. "Sir Edmund is not so great a knight himself, and he is often alone. One lone knight could find him, challenge him to single combat, and slay him. Once Sir Edmund is dead, the others will go."

  Dinadan imagined himself a conquering hero, earning the beautiful Lady Miriam's gratitude, but a nagging doubt intruded. "But ... if that's what it would take, why doesn't Sir Annui challenge him?"

  "Poor old Annui," Lady Miriam said, shaking her head. "He was wounded in his last tournament, and he cannot fight."

  "He seemed fine to me," Dinadan said in mild protest.

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