GALEHAUT, THE KNIGHT OF THE FORFEIT

My newest short story, “How, After Long Fighting, Galehaut Was Overcome By Lancelot Yet Was Not Slain And Made Great Speed To Yield To Friendship; Or, Galehaut, The Knight Of The Forfeit,” (those long titles aren’t solely the result of growing up on Fall Out Boy album notes, but go back at least to the original Malory) from Vintage’s anthology Sword Stone Table, is being excerpted in full today on Lithub. (That’s Galehaut, not Galahad; Lancelot’s champion-lover rather than Lancelot’s excessively well-behaved son, dropped cleanly out of legend like a stone by the 15th century, barely surviving as an orphaned reference in the Paolo and Francesco portion of Dante’s Inferno.)

King of the Distant Isles, Galehaut, King also of Norgales; Overlord of the North Marches and Escavalon; Master in Lothian, Gore, the Long Isles, Sorestan; King in Orofoise, Roestoc, Pomitain, the Isle of Servage, the Straight Marches, Stranggore; Duke of Sorelois, Garloth, and twenty more besides. Now in Tintagel, afterward in Joyous Garde; lover of good knights; unhelmeted at last by Sir Lancelot; formerly excellent, currently happy and awaiting burial:

There are too many young men on the earth these days for true friendship to flourish. The flower of knighthood is thereby strangled in the bud, for, without a true friend, the knight can never temper his martial spirit with the cooling breath of love. He charges about from place to place, ever steaming, foundry hot, irritating maidens, stirring up quarrels, distressing shepherds, cluttering the courts, frightening curates, heedless of invitation and mindless of direction. He is a liability to his comrades, a burden to his master, a clod and a pest to his bedmates, and the terror of farmers and livestock alike.

Now the year 1000 was a mutation in time, a warp in the wheel of fortune, and from that cracked year a thousand young men crawled over Christendom and savaged her, bored and voracious after their schismatic birth. So it was that comradeship was introduced to gentle them, the peace and truce of God to restrain them, interdicts and excommunications to quiet them, monks to puzzle them, pilgrimage to weary them, and chivalry to better them. Yet there are so many men, and so few friends among them, that one might search the world twice over without ever encountering him.

The aim of the play of chivalry is twofold. It is perhaps rather truer to say that there is both a known and an unknown aim to chivalry. The first is to keep bored youngsters busy; to teach both boys and horses how to behave, how not to embarrass their mothers at the table; to fill up their afternoons with activity and intrigue that they might end the day tired and ready for honest sleep rather than trouble; to accumulate honor and marks of distinction from kings and ladies, that they might feel themselves trailed about by glory and slow their pace accordingly. The second is to get themselves rid of all honor and glory for the love of a true friend.

Many knights never learn of this aim. They are horse riders and cow-handed, fit only to sire sons and to round out the guest list at court. They can carry a cup across a tiltyard without spilling, say “Pleased to meet you” in French, and die in war. Not for them is the increase of the soul, the swelling up of merit, the augmentation of grace, the tournament in disguise, the leap from the window, the taking hold lightly and in secret of a dearly loved hand, the token worn tight against the chest, the exchange of hair locks, the midnight marriage by a tree-wild monk, the flight in disguise, the trade in clothes, and the setting out across the wasteland. The true knight longs for shame, awaits eagerly the day when he may cast aside his honor and trample it under the pounding of feet as he rushes to his friend. A knight is a humiliation-seeking device, and the point of knighthood is to renounce everything, to give up all, to cast honor and dignity and title aside and tumble headfirst into perfect degradation, perfect friendship, perfect trust, perfect felicity. In this collapse may knighthood, at last, flower. All else is horsemanship and table manners and may as easily be learned from a book (or, for that manner, a well-trained horse) as from a fellow knight. It is better than nothing and nothing else.

Read the rest here.