The Sundering Flood, by William Morris

Chapter xli. They Joust with the Knight of the Fish

Thence they rode through the fields and the thorps two days, and on the third day in the morning they saw a fair white castle on a hill, and on the plain underneath a little plump of men-at-arms under a banner. So the Knight arrayed his folk and went forward warily, although that folk seemed to be not above a score; for he knew not what might be behind them; and they were hard on the baily of the said castle. But when they were come within half a bow-shot, and Osberne could see the banner that it bore two silver Fish addorsed on a blue ground, a herald pricked forth from the castle-folk, and when he drew nigh to Sir Godrick and his he said: “If I knew which were the captain of the riders I would give him the greeting of my lord, Sir Raynold Fisher of the Castle of the Fish.” “Here then is the captain,” said Sir Godrick; “what would Sir Raynold with him?”

“This,” said the herald, “that whensoever my lord seeth the riding of any weaponed men over a half score by tale, they must tarry and joust with him, two of theirs against two of his, and must run with sharp spears of war till one side is overthrown or sorely hurt. This is the custom of the Castle of the Fish, and hath been these hundred years. Wherefore now declare thy name, Sir Knight.”

“This is an evil custom,” said Sir Godrick, “and sorts but little with mine errand, for I have overmuch bitter earnest on hand to play at battle. But since thy lord besetteth the way I must needs defend myself against him, as I would against any other ruffler or strong-thief. Go tell him that the Knight of the Weary-Strife will come presently with a good man of his and deliver him of his jousts.” And Sir Godrick was very wroth.

So when the herald was gone Sir Godrick turned to Osberne and said: “How sayest thou, Red Lad, is this any of thy business?” “All of my business, lord,” said Osberne, “albeit I am none so wroth as thou art.” Said the Knight, looking on him kindly: “Thou art not bound to run, Red Lad; the sharp spear is an unhappy beast, and these men are doubtless of the deftest.” Said Osberne: “It all comes in the day’s work, lord; I pray thee turn me not back.”

“Well, do we on our basnets and make we speedy end of it,” quoth Sir Godrick; “a wise man must ever wait upon a fool’s pleasure.”

So the two of them went forth, and found the others ready over against them, the Knight of the Fish against Sir Godrick, and a very tall, stark man-at-arms against Osberne. Short is the story of this course; for Sir Godrick and the Fish brake their spears, but in such wise that the Castle-knight lost his stirrups, and it went but a little but that he fell to field. As for Osberne, he played so warily that he set his spear-point in the default of the long man’s defence just where arm joins shoulder, and the spear went through and through him, and he fell to the earth most grievously hurt. Therewith Osberne, who must needs let his spear fall, took a short ax from his saddle-bow (for he would not draw Boardcleaver) and abode what was to do. But the Knight of the Fish cried out for fresh spears for him and Sir Godrick, and must needs run again, and this time the Knight’s spear brake on Sir Godrick, whose shaft held that he drave the Knight of the Fish clean over the arson of his saddle, and but for the goodness of his shield and double jazerant the spear-head had been in his breast withal.

Then Sir Godrick cast up his spear-head, and lifted the visor of his basnet and looked around, and saw Osberne sitting still upon his horse and the long man in the arms of his fellows, and he cried out: “Now this comes of fools! Here is our journey tarried, and one man or two, who be not of our foes, slain or sore hurt, and all for naught. Ho ye! give my man his spear. And thou, Red Lad, come up before they make us do more hurt.”

But therewith the Knight of the Fish sat up and had come to his wit, and laughed and said: “Here is a surly one! Why, thou might’st complain more if ye had come to the worse as we have. Come now, all the sort of you, into my house, and drink a cup with us for the washing away of all grudge against the honorable custom of the Fish.” Sir Godrick shook his head, but the wrath ran off him and he said: “Sir Knight, thou art debonnaire in thy folly, and I thank thee; this thy bidding might we have taken with a good will hadst thou not compelled us to waste our time in knocking you off your horses. And I am sorry we have hurt thy champion, and well I hope that he will be clean healed.”

“Dost thou?” said he of the Fish; “now will I tell thee that if he be healed, I will send him on to thee to be thy man, that is if he will go. For well I know thee that thou art the Lord of Longshaw: and as to my champion, he will suit thee to a turn, for he is well-nigh as surly as thou, and as stiff in stour as may be.”

Hereat all laughed, and they bade each other farewell, and so departed with good will. So they rode on, and nought more befel that day, and they guested in a fair thorp in good enough welcome.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 22:07