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       The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf, p.1

           Gerald Morris
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The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf

  The Savage Damsel And The Dwarf

  Gerald Morris

  * * *

  Houghton Mifflin Company


  To my parents, Russell and May Morris.

  Copyright © 2000 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-point Horley Old Style.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Morris. Gerald. 1963-

  The savage damsel and the dwarf / Gerald Morris.

  p. cm.

  Sequel to: The squire, his knight, and his lady.

  Summary: Lynet, a feisty young woman, journeys to King Arthur's

  court in order to find a champion to rescue her beautiful older sister,

  and she is joined in her quest by a clever dwarf and a bold kitchen

  knave, neither of whom are what they seem.

  ISBN 0-395-97126-8

  1. Gareth (Legendary character)—Juvenile fiction. [1. Gareth

  (Legendary character)—Fiction. 2. Knights and knighthood—

  Fiction. 3. Magic—Fiction. 4. England—Fiction] I. Title.

  PZ7.M82785Sav 2000

  [Fic]—dc21 99-16457 CIP

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  HAD 10 9 8 7 6 5 4

  * * *

  "Right so fareth love nowadays, soon hot soon cold; this is no stability. But the old love was not so; men and women could love together seven years, and no licours lusts were between them, and then was love, truth, and faithfulness; and lo, in likewise was used love in King Arthur's days."

  —Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d'Arthur

















  * * *

  Prologue: Beaumains

  It came to pass in the years of darkness, when magic and sorcery did oppress England, that a great king arose and for a time drove back the evil forces. He was y-clept Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, and his court was at Camelot. From this great court, noble knights rode out and fought evil wheresomever they found it, be it dragons or be it recreant knights. Thus these knights gained great worship, unless the recreant knights won, which did happen sometimes.

  Of Arthur's knights, two were most honored: the king's nephew. Sir Gawain, and the French knight, Sir Lancelot du Lac. And when Sir Gawain rode away seeking adventures, accompanied only by his squire Terence, Sir Lancelot drew all honor unto himself for he had never been unhorsed by any knight whatsomever.

  In due time, Sir Gawain returned, having earned glory, and King Arthur did proclaim a tournament. At this tournament, a strange knight y-clept Sir Wozzell, later considered a wizard, did unhorse Sir Lancelot and then disappeared. In sorrow and shame, then, Sir Lancelot declared he would leave the court and end his days in a forest hermitage, and he departed with great dolor.

  At this time arose a young knight, Sir Gareth of Orkney, the youngest brother of Sir Gawain, who did love Sir Lancelot. Sir Gareth vowed that he too would depart, and he swore a solemn oath that ne'er would the court of Camelot hear his name again until he had restored the honor of Sir Lancelot, the greatest of all knights. Thus rendered he much worship to Sir Lancelot.

  Sir Gareth's vow grieved the soul of his brother Sir Gaheris, who spoke to Sir Gawain. "Gawain, my brother, " quoth Sir Gaheris, "we cannot let our youngest brother expose himself to such danger. The silly sod will get lost before e'er going out of sight of the castle. To speak truth, Gareth hath need of a trail of breadcrumbs to find his own chamberpot."

  But Gawain said only that Gareth must fulfill his stupid vow by himself and so Sir Gareth departed alone on his quest. The next day, Sir Gaheris followed his youngest brother at a distance, ready to succor him should he lose his way. After Gareth and Gaheris had been gone for a month, and no word had come, then Sir Gawain repented himself of his hardness of heart, and he set off alone to seek his two brothers.

  Many months passed, and still no word came. Then, but a day before Easter, when King Arthur held court most plenour, a strange dwarf appeared at the court, leading a haggard young man. The man was of goodly size, but gaunt and unshaven, and his hair did hang coarsely over his face. The dwarf led the young man to Sir Kai, King Arthur's seneschal, and did request food for him, lest he starve.

  "Right gladly," said Sir Kai. Then the dwarf departed alone.

  When he was gone, the young man said, "I ask one further boon. Allow me to stay here as a servant."

  Then quoth Sir Kai, "If you wish, sirrah. What is your name?"

  "That will I not say," replied the young man.

  Then Sir Kai laughed. "Why then, I must christen thee myself. I shall call thee Beaumains, which is to say 'Pretty Hands,' for though your appearance is coarse, your hands are soft and your nails betrimmed like unto a lady's—or a courtier's."

  At Sir Kai's mockery, the young man was wonderly wroth, for he was none other than Sir Gareth himself but he hid his face and did not speak for cause of the vow he had taken, that none should speak his name until he had restored the honor of Sir Lancelot. Then took he his place in the kitchen, and soon the court grew used to the kitchen knave whom Sir Kai had scorned, and none wist his true name.

  I. Lady Lynet

  From the castle wall, Lynet watched the battle with mingled horror and hope, mostly horror. The young challenger was no match for the Knight of the Red Lands, who was obviously toying with him. Even from her place high above the battleground outside, Lynet could hear Red Lands taunting the young knight. At last, wearying of his game, the Knight of the Red Lands knocked his challenger's sword to the ground. The young knight removed his helmet and knelt in submission, according to the chivalric custom of the day, but the Red Knight cared little for custom and less for chivalry. As soon as the young man bowed his head, the Red Knight struck it off, then laughed uproariously, as if he had just done something clever. Lynet looked away, clenching her teeth in helpless fury.

  "What, is it already over?" came a jovial voice behind her. Lynet's uncle and guardian, Sir Gringamore, was just coming up the steps with Lynet's older sister Lyonesse. "This new challenger must have been rather a dud," Sir Gringamore said with a laugh.

  "He was just a boy," Lynet said softly.

  "Oh, well then, it's better this way," Lyonesse said gaily. "I suppose I will have to marry the champion who rids us of the Knight of the Red Lands, and really, I couldn't marry some nameless boy."

  "Certainly not," assented Sir Gringamore. "Wouldn't be up to your consequence, my love."

  "He wasn't nameless," Lynet said, fighting back anger. "He was somebody's son, somebody's brother—"

  "Oh, you know what I meant," Lyonesse interrupted impatiently. "He just wasn't important enough for the daughter of a great duke, like me."

  Lynet knew that it was useless to argue—neither her older sister nor her uncle was capable of feeling compassion for a stranger—but she couldn't restrain herself. "You heartless witch!"
she snapped. "That boy gave his life to rescue you! If a man risked his life for me—"

  "For you?" Lyonesse retorted. "You don't really expect it, do you? Dear plain Lynet!" Lyonesse tittered to herself.

  Lynet had no chance to reply, for just then the Knight of the Red Lands called up from the field below. "Are you there, Lady Lyonesse, my pretty? Did you see? I've fought another battle for you! When will you consent to marry me? For your beauty haunts me at night!"

  Blushing, Lyonesse leaned over the wall. "Really, Sir Knight, a woman needs time to think these things over!

  "But, my love, it's been six months! And I've killed thirty-six knights already for you. Doesn't that prove anything?"

  "Yes!" shouted Lynet, pushing Lyonesse aside. "It proves that you're a scoundrel, a cruel fiend, a beast!" Lynet turned to her sister, "Lyon, why don't you just tell him to go to—Never mind, I'll tell him: Listen to me, you red blister! Go to—"

  "Lynet!" shrieked Lyonesse. "What are you doing?"

  "I'm getting rid of a plague! You'll never marry that human manure, and you need to tell him so. Maybe then he'll go away!"

  "All right, my dear!" the Red Knight shouted from below. "I'll give you more time." The knight mounted his horse and galloped back to his camp, which encircled Lyonesse's home, the Castle Perle.

  "That wasn't very clever, Lynnie," remarked Sir Gringamore. "If you make him angry, he'll just attack the castle and take Lyon by force."

  Lynet scowled. "I'm just so tired of young knights wearing their father's armor and dreaming romantic dreams riding up to their death."

  "It is a pity that we haven't attracted a better class of rescuer," Lyonesse said with a sigh. "I wish we could get word to King Arthur's court. All the best knights are there."

  "You know better than that," Sir Gringamore said. "Arthur won't have forgotten that your father fought in a rebellion against him. The king's more likely to send the Red Knight reinforcements."

  Lyonesse sighed in a practiced way. "Then what will become of me?" she said plaintively. Lynet, realizing her sister was moving into her damsel-in-distress mode, hurried away.

  It was hard to accept, Lynet reflected as she sat in her room that evening, but Lyonesse was right. The best solution to their situation was to get word to King Arthur's court and ask for some proven knight to come to their defense. Unfortunately, Sir Gringamore was also right. Lynet's father, Duke Idres of Cornwall, had joined in a rebellion against Arthur years before. He had died in the battle, but doubtless the king still held a grudge against the family of a rebel. So, since King Arthur was their best hope, someone had to appeal to the king without revealing who their father was. Lynet made plans for a journey.

  First she put on her plainest gown, which was of rather expensive blue silk but had no gaudy embroidery on it to mark it as rich and fashionable, and she dressed her hair in a simple style, appropriate for a maidservant. The Knight of the Red Lands had set up an extensive camp outside the castle gates, complete with pages, squires, and other household servants. If she were to slip through, she would be more likely to escape notice if she looked like a servant. Next, she packed a small bag with some soap, a comb, and a few essentials. She considered taking some food from the kitchen, but stealing food would be hard to explain if she were caught. Besides, the knights errant in the stories never seemed to have trouble finding food on their travels, and anything a knight could do, she could do better. She blew out the candles in her bedchamber and waited.

  When she judged it was around two o'clock, Lynet made her way down to the castle stables. Working by candlelight, she saddled a delicate mare. This took a long time, partly because of the dark but mostly because ladies were not taught how to saddle horses, or to do anything useful, and Lynet had to work from her memory of watching the grooms.

  At last, though, she was able to lead the horse to the front gate, raise the portcullis with only a minimum of creaking, and slip out of the castle into the open meadow that sloped down from the gate. While all had gone well so far, before she was truly away, she had to get through the Red Knight's camp. Lynet headed straight for a campfire that burned brightly among the tents.

  "Who are you, then?" came a creaky female voice from the darkness.

  Lynet started violently, dropping her small bag. "I'm ... I'm only a servant girl," she stammered, groping in the grass for the bag.

  "Not likely," the voice cackled. "Them's flash clothes, a flash horse, and you even talk flash. Escaping from the castle, are ye?"

  "No, no!" Lynet gasped. She found her bag and hugged it close, realizing that while she had remembered a comb and a change of undergarments, she had not thought to bring a weapon. "Not at all."

  The voice choked with coarse laughter. "Right, then, of course you ain't. You be a maidservant, I reckon. Walking the master's horse, eh?"

  "Yes, that's right," Lynet said, grateful for the explanation.

  "And the master's horse being all saddled with a lady's saddle, in the middle of the night, is just the way the master wanted it, I reckon." The voice exploded with raucous laughter.

  "Shh!" Lynet whispered urgently. "You'll ... you'll wake the master!"

  This sent the voice off into another paroxysm of laughter, and another voice, gruff and male, interrupted. "What's all this, then? Who's there?"

  "Oh, it's just a couple of poor lady's maids, it is. Nothing to concern you, guard," the first voice replied between guffaws.

  The guard snorted. "A likely tale. Who are you really?"

  Lynet was paralyzed with fear, but the cackling voice answered immediately, "You be too quick for us, I see. No hiding anything from a clever guard like you. We be escaping from the castle there, riding off to King Arthur to ask him if he mightn't like to send a knight to bash your master a bit for us. Could you tell us the way to Camelot?"

  Lynet gasped, and her knees felt weak, but the guard only snorted and wheezed with laughter. "Your first story was better. What do you want, then? We've no handouts for the peasantry here."

  "Not even a loaf of bread?" the voice said, shifting from its cackling to a whining tone. "It be a long road to Camelot, you see."

  The guard laughed again. "You've got a proper gall, you do. All right, here. It's a bit of old biscuit. Take it and be off."

  "Thank'ee, lad. You be a gennleman, a true gennleman."

  Before Lynet's bemused eyes, a burly guard stepped out of the shadows, handed a flat piece of bread to a slight figure in a long shawl, then waved them on. A small cold hand grasped Lynet's wrist and pulled her sharply forward. She walked—or rather, staggered—through the ring of tents, following the imperious figure that was tugging her along, and before she knew it, the sleeping camp was behind her, and she was concealed in the shadows of the forest.

  "There you are," the figure's voice said, with a chuckle. It no longer sounded like an old woman, but rather like a boy or a young man. "Through the camp. Now, if I were you—well, I'm not, of course, since I'm no ninnyhammer—but if I were you, I'd put some distance between myself and them."

  "I'm not a ninnyhammer!" Lynet responded sharply.

  The figure giggled suddenly. "Did you really think that you might pass for a servant in that silk dress? Oh dear, heaven preserve such innocence. Arthur's at Camelot, which is northeast. Do you know the Pole Star?"

  "Who are you?" Lynet whispered breathlessly.

  "Never mind that. Do you know the North Star?"

  Lynet didn't, astronomy being another useful art that was not taught to ladies, but she said, "Of course I do. Why did you help me?"

  The stranger hesitated, then said, "How old are you, Lynet?"

  Startled at being called by name, Lynet could only gasp and whisper, "Sixteen."

  "I just wanted to see that you saw seventeen. You know—or rather, you ought to know—you have great potential. We at the Seelie Court have been watching you for some time now. I couldn't see you throw it all away for one mad, misbegotten plan. Now, you just keep the Pole Star ahead of yo
u and a little to your left, and you can't miss Camelot."

  "What is the Seelie Court?" Lynet demanded.

  But there was no answer, and Lynet was vaguely aware that a presence had been withdrawn, leaving her alone. Dazedly, she mounted her horse, picked out a bright pinpoint of light that might possibly have been the North Star, and set off.

  That particular star may not have been the North Star, but it hardly mattered, since during that night of interminable plodding, Lynet followed several different stars. Every time one faded, or she lost track of exactly which star she was following—it was very poor planning on someone's part that every star looked so much like all the others—she would simply choose a new one and hope that this time she was correct.

  Her eyes grew heavy, and more than once she almost fell off her mare, but perhaps the one useful skill that ladies were taught was riding, and Lynet was a true horsewoman. By instinct, she was able to stay in the saddle, even when more than half asleep. At last, the sun rose, directly before her, and she guessed that she was far enough from the Knight of the Red Lands that she could rest. She found a mossy bank under a tree and was soon fast asleep.

  The sun was high in the sky when she awoke, and she knew she must have slept for hours. She was acutely hungry and spent several minutes casting about for the fruit and berries that she supposed knights errant ate when traveling. Finding nothing that appeared remotely edible, she remounted, thinking some very harsh thoughts about knights errant who ate everything they found and left nothing for the next travelers.

  By midafternoon, Lynet had begun to wonder if grass really tasted as bad as people said, and she knew she was hopelessly lost. At last, she came upon a peasant's cottage, where a man and woman were working in a little garden plot. "Excuse me, good people, could you tell me the road to Camelot?"

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