Peredur - Knight of the Round Table.
King Arthur ruled wisely and had conquered all of Europe which he ruled by the the laws of chivalry. Knights established their reputation and wealth through selling their services as warriors to the powerful Lords and Earls. Other Knights roamed throughout the kindom entering jousting tournaments and challenged other knights to fight them. Under the laws of chivalry the loser could ask for mercy and surrender his armour and weapons to the victor, and agree to whatever demands were made upon him. These are the adventures of two such heroes, Peredur, a Knight of the Round Table and the son of The Earl. of the North, and his friend, Walthro-the-Bear-Slayer.
“Where are we going, Mother?” four year old Peredur asked, after being wrapped in a goatskin and lifted into the back of a cart. The sun had barely risen and the courtyard of the castle was filled with the cold morning mist.
“Where none will ever find us,” she said. “Somewhere safe from the curse of wars.”
“But how will father and my brothers know where we are?” Peredur had been looking forward to their return for he could barely remember the big men who bounced him on their knees, laughing loudly at his squeals of delight, for it had been so long ago.
“They will not be coming looking for us,” she said and a great sob escaped from her.
Peredur wanted to ask more questions but seeing that his mother was upset and likely to fly into a rage, he thought it best to keep his questions for later.
“All is ready, my Lady,” Sturig, the goat herder said. He was old and leaned heavily on his staff. He looked down at Peredur and smiled revealing his few remaining teeth.
“We’re going on a long journey little master, so rest you well”
“You have assembled the rest of our company as I instructed?” his mother asked. “Just women and children and men such as yourself who have little knowledge of battle.”
“As you so ordered, my Lady, no weapons, armour, saddles or bridles for the ponies, nothing that could teach the young Lord about fighting. The harnesses on the ponies that pull the carts will be burnt when we reach our new home.”
“Very well, Sturig,” she said. “I have lost my husband and six sons to warfare and it will not claim Peredur, too.”
Peredur tried to make sense of her words, his father and brother’s lost in a place called warfare? Wherever warfare was he was grateful that they were not going there.
The cart trundled out of the castle and above the clip-clop of the ponies’ hooves and the rumbling of the wheels, he could hear his mother crying softly.
It was a few weeks after Peredur’s thirteenth birthday and feeling bored and restless he decided to walk down towards the stream, from which the village drew its water. As he drew nearer he heard someone crying out in fear, splashing and deep throated curses. Hastening forward he perceived Gor, the largest man of the village, standing in the stream and drowning someone.
Gor's huge hands were fastened onto the back of his hapless victim’s neck forcing his head beneath the surface of the water and for good measure, Gor’s knee was planted into the small of the drowning man’s back. A maiden was desperately trying to pull him from off his victim, but Gor used one hand to swat her away, and she slipped and stumbled in the water.
Peredur, bounded into the stream and seizing Gor’s mane of hair he pulled him backwards forcing him to relinquish his hold on the man. Gor turned upon Peredur, beating him about the head and shoulders with his stick and driving him back up onto the river bank.
When the girl helped the man in the stream to his feet, Peredur saw that it was Walthro, who was now gasping and spluttering for air. Although Walthro, was a year older than Peredur, he was small and sleight of stature.
Rage coursed through Peredur and ignoring the blows that Gor rained down at him, he punched the bigger man full in the face.
“Coward!” he cried and threw more punches at the bigger man. “Walthro is but a third of your size!”
“My lady’s son or not, I shall beat thee until you learn respect for your elders,” Gor growled and set about beating Peredur, with such ferocity that Peredur, who was using his arms to protect his head, thought that his arms must surely be broken.
“Peredur!” Walthro had scooped up a fishing pole and threw it as you would throw a spear.
Peredur caught it deftly and gave back to Gor, what Gor was giving to him. Soon Peredur was receiving far fewer blows in return for those that he himself was giving. At length the bigger man threw down his stick and fell to his knees in front of Peredur.
“Mercy,” he begged. “Mercy.”
Peredur, summoned both Walthro and the maiden to him. “Tell me the truth of what happened here,” he said.
“I was walking along by the stream when I heard someone, cry out in pain,” Walthro said. “I hurried and saw Gor standing over Lycia, who lay cowering on the ground. In his hand he held a stick which he was using to beat her.”
“Lazy, slovenly wench!” Gor scolded. “I told you to catch three fish for my breakfast and you offer me but one.”
“I’ve been fishing since sunrise,” the girl sobbed. “But the fish are not taking my bait...”
“You will catch me another two or I’ll cut off one of you ears and use it for bait,” he said and beat her again with his stick."
"I was filled with a terible rage," Walthro continued. "Seeing Lycia being so cruelly abused and I threw myself at her tormentor. Taken by surprise my weight bowled him off of his feet and together we rolled down the grassy bank and into the stream.
Gor, being bigger and far stronger than I, soon overpowered me and forced my head back under the cold water in order to drown me. I struggled futiley my cheeks bulging as though to burst as I strained to hold my breath. Your timely intervention saved my life,” he said.
Then Lycia, also thirteen summers old, told Peredur and Walthro, her sorry tale.
Her mother had taken Gor for her husband and as a stepfather for Lycia. From the start Gor had bullied and beaten both his wife and Lycia, preferring to take to drinking strong mead and to resting, rather than to work to support his family.
Failure to catch him enough food to fill his belly resulted in a beating, such as Walthro had witnessed for himself.
After she had finished relating the circumstances of her ordeal, Peredur ordered that Lycia remove her garments. She lowered her eyes demurely but did as she was bid and revealed the purple and black bruises that covered her shapely form.
“Dress thyself, Lycia,” Peredur said gently. “Then go to my house and to my mother. Tell her what has befallen you and she will give you a healing ointment for your bruises.”
After she had departed Peredur looked down upon Gor, and when he spoke there was iron in his voice.
“Had you have lain with the girl then I would have had you hung,” he said. “But you have chosen your own punishment.” He turned to Walthro. “You might be small of stature and sleight of build, but your have twice the heart of men such as he. Tell me, how are you at fishing?”
“I have a reasonable enough skill,” said Walthro, looking pleased with Peredur’s praise. “But I am at a loss to understand the purpose of your question?”
Peredur, gave him the fishing pole. “It’s simple enough,” he said. “We will have fish for breakfast you and I, and Gor shall supply the bait!” He siezed one of Gor’s earlobes in one hand and severed it with a small knife. Gor screamed in pain and clamped his hand against the wound to stem the bleeding. Peredur, handed Walthro the piece of flesh, which he secured on the hook and then cast the line into the stream.
“No matter if the fish steal the bait,” Peredur said. “Gor has another ear and should that be stolen also, then I swear that we will use the worm that hangs between his legs.”
Fortunately for Gor, Walthro’s fishing skills were great enough to catch sufficient for their breakfast with just the single earlobe. Gor, sneaked out of the village that night and was never heard of again. From that day forward, Lycia became his mother’s servant, and he and Walthro, became fast friends.