Please, humble traveller, do not venture to draw back my hood! I assure you, I am not Richard the Lionheart!

Kind stranger! I must thank you for your interest in my welfare this bitter evening. Your speech has been courteous, your manner frank and true, and your hospitality most welcome in such a storm as this. But I hope you will not think me discourteous if I decline to draw back the hood that conceals the contours of my face. I can assure you, it is not in my nature to deceive, but I must anon remain incognito for reasons that are not my own. You have dealt nobly with me, stranger, and I should like to deal nobly with you. It seems to me that within your worthy chest beats a heart as true and free as ever England saw, and I —

Well, let us say only that if Richard the Lionheart were here — and he may in fact be closer than you dare to think, closer even than you realize — that he would be proud indeed, proud and grateful to call himself the king of hearts such as this! But I assure you, fellow-traveller, that I am not he.

No, I am not Richard the Lionheart! Richard Cœur de Lion, favoured son of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Duke of Normandy, Aquitaine, Gascony, and Cyprus besides, Count of Nantes, Maines, Anjou and Poitiers, sometime overlord of Brittany with, there are some who say, the enchanted blood of Mélusine herself swimming distantly in his royal veins, foster-brother to that great scholar Alexander Neckam having suckled at the nobler right breast of Hodierna of St. Albans, and a better wet-nurse there never was seen in England or in Christendom anywhere — a good man, and a good soldier, and a good king too, God willing, but I am not he, and he is not I!

I am a mere honest pilgrim, my friend, simply traveling through these parts, and curious to see how the king’s subjects are treated by Prince John in the good king’s absence. I suppose Richard Lionheart and I do share some outward characteristics, and can even understand how one might (in error) confuse the two of us! I stand nearly two meters tall unshod, as straight and unbent as a yew branch, and the ruddy-gold hairs on my arms do gleam in the firelight as boldly as he is said to gleam by those who have seen him! I myself have never seen him, though I am given to understand that in addition to being a dab hand at hunting, hawking, lovemaking, feasting, tilting, he is as generous to noble enemies in times of war as he is to noble friends in times of peace. I am but a good pilgrim, of an honorable but by no means remarkable family, who bears perhaps a passing resemblance to the countenance of our well-beloved king, King Catheart whom (I hear) everybody loves. Tell me, do you hear the same thing? Do men still talk in England of such things? Do they remember their once-beloved king, or have they quite forgot him, storm-tossed as he has been now many a long year in his long and arduous journey from Acre? He remembers his people — I hear that good King Richard remembers them, whether in chains in Cyprus, in the knightly halls of Guy of Lusignan, or in proud arms against that peerless foe, Prince Saladin, the noblest man I ever — a better man I never — ‘twere a pity God and the world should have set our arms against one another. For a time I had hoped we might be joined together, and would have gladly given the sweet Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany to his brother in marriage, that we might rightly call one another cousin — But listen to me prattle on. I am an old man, and my memories are not what they were. Bear my rambling tales no mind, innkeeper. What do people say of good Prince John in these parts? Does he remember the loyalty he owes his elder brother, the rightful king, and steward his people justly in his lamentable absence?

Oh, this? No, this is not the ring of St Valerie, though in sooth I wot well you might mistake it for such, dear comrade. It is another ring entirely, and not the very ring Richard first betook to his elegant and kingly hands when at the tender age of twelve he was granted the lance and emblems peculiar to the duke of Aquitaine.

I pray you, do not ask to remove my hood again! I would dearly love to grant you any boon you ask in requite for your largesse on this ferocious evening, but this one I cannot, nor can I yet give tongue to any reasons why. Know only that I have made a solemn vow, and cannot remove my hood until such a time as is meet, when all your questions will be thoroughly and solemnly answered by — by the highest earthly authority imaginable. I shall say no more. Allow this humble old traveler his secrets, I pray. Someday will the hood be tossed back in a great green clap of hearty laughter, and all that is now tumbled-down shall be restored to thunderous, mighty a-rightness! Ha, hah, for England, then! Ha, hah, for Richard! Let any man, be his birth ever so high, who has wronged my loyal Saxon people, each of them as good and as honest as any Norman, in my leave, quake in fear, when Richard’s himself again!

[Every other robed man at the dining table suddenly erupts in boisterous acclaim, pounding their tankards against the rough wooden planks, shouting, ‘Ha, hah, for Richard!’ in manly unison.]

You must forgive my companions. It is — it is merely a song we grew quite fond of on the road. I misremember where we came to learn of it.

My name? Why, I thought I had given it to you already. My name is Rickon — Rickon Occitan. Merely Rickon Occitan. Yes. Yes, that will serve admirably. Tell me, is King John’s castle far from this place? I have a mind to view it from the road…