|Title: The Lioness and Her Knight|
Author: Gerald Morris
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Synopsis: (from the publisher) Lunet is tired of living in dull Orkney with her mother and father (who happens to be the most boring knight of King Arthur's Round Table). She prides herself on always getting what she wants, so when the opportunity presents itself, she jumps at the chance to stay at a family friend's castle near Camelot. Her handsome cousin, Sir Ywain--a young knight seeking adventure--arrives just in time to escort her.
Along the way they pick up a knight-turned-fool named Rhience, whose wit and audacity set many a puffed-up personality in its place. Before arriving at Lady Laudine's castle, the trio stops at Camelot, where they hear the story of the Storm Stone, a magical object deep in the forest that soon sweeps everyone into a web of love, betrayal, and more than a bit of magic.
Filled with broken promises, powerful enchantresses, unconventional sword fights, fierce and friendly lionesses and damsels in and out of distress, The Lioness and Her Knight proves itself as witty and adventuresome as the rest of Gerald Morris's tales from King Arthur's court.
This is, I think, the first of the Squire’s Tales books I read originally while actually knowing Story and her interest in Arthurian legend. Morris typically had a year or two in between the release of each book in the series, and sometime between Dung-Cart Knight and Lioness I made the jump from high school to college where Story and I met. So this may or may not have been the first Morris book she saw me reading, though Savage Damsel is another contender for that title since I’ve reread it so often.
This is the story of Ywain (or Yvain), one of Arthur’s lesser-known knights, told from the perspective of Gaheris and Lynet’s daughter Luneta. Ywain’s relationship with his lady, Laudine, as well as several other tales involving him and the lion he eventually acquires, are retold. According to Wikipedia (make of that what you will), the original was an unusual medieval romance because two characters who are in love actually get married to each other instead of other people.
Sixteen-year-old Luneta of Orkney has the most boring parents in the world. At least, according to her. It appears neither Gaheris nor Lynet bothered to give their daughter much detail on the adventure that brought them together and Luneta has grown up under the impression they are the most ordinary people possible. Like several other Morris protagonists, Luneta longs for excitement and adventure without really knowing what those entail. She also prides herself on her ability to manipulate people and is a little spoiled in that she expects to get her way eventually.
Adventure arrives in the form of her distant cousin, Ywain. He drops by Orkney on his way to Camelot not long after Luneta and Lynet have had yet another fight and agrees to escort Luneta to visit Lynet’s friend Laudine in Salisbury (it’s a lot of L-names to keep track of. Sorry about that). Like Luneta, Ywain dreams of great adventures. On the way, the pair encounter a knight, a lady and a man dressed as a fool. The fool wittily mocks his two companions and asks to join Luneta and Ywain. He introduces himself as Rhience, a young man who lost a fight to Laudine’s husband, Sir Esclados, after disturbing the magical Storm Stone, and Esclados made him promise to dress as a fool for an entire year and not lift a sword against any man. Ywain sees this as an opportunity for adventure and after seeing Luneta and Rhience to Esclados’ castle he disturbs the Stone himself, hoping to provoke a fight and not realizing the knight is the husband of Luneta’s hostess. Ywain kills Esclados but falls in love with Laudine at first sight.
Luneta, after seeing how rough Esclados had been with Laudine, determines that Laudine and Ywain are a good match despite that whole killing Laudine’s husband hiccup, and sets about scheming to get them together. She succeeds, but then Ywain rides off seeking more adventures. However, he gets so caught up in winning tournaments and soaking up knightly glory he forgets to return at the appointed time. Laudine, prompted by her evil steward Malvolus (shades of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night), sends Luneta to find Ywain and tell him he needn’t bother coming back. On hearing the news, Ywain loses his mind and runs off into the forest. Luneta, joined again by Rhience, goes to find him.
They discover Ywain living in the woods, naked and practically a wild animal. Without a means to cure him they settle down to wait at the abode of Godwulf, an unusual hermit who has been feeding Ywain and keeping him from freezing to death. Luneta is led to the Other World and becomes an enchantress thanks to the tutelage of her aunt Morgan le Fay. It is there she finds out her mother isn't as ordinary as she had assumed, but is also a protégée of Morgan’s. Like Lynet, when the time comes for her to leave, she picks the healing potion to bring back with her. Upon rejoining Rhience, Ywain and Godwulf, she uses the potion to bring Ywain to his senses. Ywain and Rhience escort her back to Laudine’s where she is promptly locked up and sentenced to death by Malvolus.
Rhience and Ywain return just in time to rescue Luneta, having picked up an unusual traveling companion: a lioness they rescued from a dragon that Rhience has dubbed “Lass”. Lass kills Malvolus and Rhience and Luneta spend the next several weeks teaching Laudine how to run a castle without a domineering man telling her what to do. Ywain slips off with Lass, not wanting Luneta to try to get him back together with Laudine. He feels he messed up too badly to be forgiven. Luneta and Rhience have to find him again, however, when they encounter a lady named Philomela nearly assassinated in the woods. Philomela has been looking for Ywain to be her champion in her cause against her treacherous sister Philomena who is trying to steal her inheritance. They are set to have a trial by combat but Philomena got to Camelot first and got all the other knights to promise not to help Philomela. Ywain is the only knight of note left.
Luneta and Rhience locate Ywain, who has wandered into the land of Diradvent. The lord of the land and his two henchmen have been taking women as tribute from a neighboring kingdom they defeated in battle and forcing them to embroider as slave labor. Ywain, Luneta, Rhience and Lass set the women free and dethrone the lord, leaving one of the women behind as the new ruler.
Luneta manipulates Ywain to agree to be Philomela’s champion against his better judgment. When they arrive at Camelot they discover the other champion is Gawain and now that both knights have given their word they won’t back out of the trial even though with all the facts it’s obvious which sister is telling the truth. Luneta uses her magical skills to rig the fight so the two men are fighting with bendable swords rather than live weapons, leading to one of the funniest fight scenes Morris has ever written—and he wrote Gareth in single combat with a fish. King Arthur imposes a time limit so if neither knight can overcome the other the trial goes to his judgment. Arthur shows his own skill at manipulation (though I suspect it might have been Kai’s idea) to get Philomena to confess her treachery. Philomela, however, has become BFFs with Laudine and decides to go back there and cede her lands to her sister. The group escorts her back to Salisbury, where Luneta uses a final bit of manipulation to get Ywain to the point of apologizing to Laudine, though the choice to reveal his identity is his. Laudine and Ywain are finally reunited. Luneta realizes she is in love with Rhience, whose year as a fool is up and he has regained his identity as a knight and the son of a lord (thus suddenly bringing him to Luneta’s attention as a potential suitor, which she hadn’t really considered before when he was dressed as a clown even though it’s fairly obvious in the second half of the book Rhience is in love with her).
Luneta (Lunete): Laudine’s servant who helps Ywain and Laudine get together and is later rescued by Ywain from being burned at the stake in Chétrien’s original version here is the daughter of Lynet and Gaheris. Luneta is a skilled manipulator, but like Jane Austen’s Emma eventually gets her comeuppance for trying to arrange everyone’s lives when she accidentally gets Gawain and Ywain to fight each other. Trained by her great-aunt Morgan le Fay as an enchantress, Luneta appears to be more powerful than Lynet but like Lynet will never be truly powerful because she won’t devote herself entirely to magic. I really enjoyed Morgan and Luneta’s affectionately antagonistic relationship as two people used to getting their own way bouncing off each other. Luneta keeps her head in a crisis and is an equal traveling companion for Ywain and Rhience. A running joke through the book, also incorporated into the title, consists of referring to both Luneta and Lass as ‘lioness’. Thus the book’s title could refer to Ywain and Lass or it could be about Rhience and Luneta.
Rhience (Calogrenant): Though not Ywain’s cousin in this version, it is his defeat at the hands of Esclados that prompts Ywain to visit the Storm Stone. Rhience is the son of a nobleman who has already gone through several careers as a monk and a knight before his present occupation as a fool due to his promise to Esclados. He is still trying to figure out what he wants from life and eventually finds a goal in Luneta. Rhience has an acid tongue and a habit of finding the humor in everything that luckily most people don’t take seriously because of his fool’s clothing. Story and I had a disagreement while we were reading about whether or not he crosses the line when he mocks Laudine. Story’s opinion (as I understood it) is that Rhience’s humor becomes mean-spirited at that point because Laudine isn't smart enough to keep up or even realize she’s being made fun of. In particular Story objects to Rhience making fun of Laudine for being in a borderline abusive relationship with Esclados, about which she has a point because abusive relationships are not something to mock. I think Rhience has such a low tolerance for people who do stupid things that the only way he can deal with it is to mock because he can’t understand why someone would choose to do something nonsensical. And he does gain more sympathy for Laudine as Luneta consistently defends her hostess even though she herself doesn’t respect Laudine and finds her weak and silly. For the most part I enjoy his incongruous humor, though I leave it to readers to decide for themselves whether he crosses the line with Laudine.
Ywain (Yvain): He swings between reasonably intelligent and being a complete idiot without warning for most of the first half of the book. Though an excellent fighter, he still has a lot to learn about what it really means to be a knight. Once he actually loses his mind from the grief of forgetting about Laudine and then regains it, he becomes much more sober and levelheaded. Also much less annoying. I particularly like his reaction when he discovers Luneta has gotten him stuck fighting Gawain: “if you hadn’t saved my life so many times, I feel sure I’d strangle you now.”
Laudine: The jury’s still out on how intelligent Laudine actually is because she acts like a complete airhead most of the time. However, I do think she is a victim of a society telling her that the only worth a woman has is her beauty. Any intelligence she has, she has suppressed or funneled into a fantasy world where she thinks only of herself and refuses to accept reality. She is a minor enchantress in this version but uses her powers only on beauty. Slowly she comes into her own as the domineering men in her life are removed and she learns the value of her own backbone. She bravely helps Rhience and Ywain rescue Luneta from Malvolus and learns to make decisions for herself rather than agree with whoever is the dominant personality in the room.
Esclados: For all that he doesn’t spend much time in the story, he has a pretty big impact on it. He is the catalyst for Rhience and Ywain’s adventures and his death of course touches off a major crisis for his wife Laudine. He seems to not pay much attention to Laudine and what little attention he does bestow is gruff and disapproving. Laudine appears to fear him while he’s alive but venerates him after his death because to her he represented security.
Gawain: He makes a few appearances at the beginning of the story. His most important contribution is at the end where he and Ywain end up in a trial by combat where neither wants to fight the other. However, what I did like about this situation is why they won’t back out of it: both men have gone through a singular life-altering event where they gave their word and failed to keep it (Gawain with the Green Knight and Ywain with Laudine), and now refuse to make the same mistake in compromising their honor again.
Morgan: As I said before, I enjoy her relationship with Luneta. Luneta, Sarah, Gawain and Terence are probably the only people in the World of Men who refuse to be overawed by Morgan and actually call her out when she does things they don’t agree with.
Lynet: It probably shouldn't surprise readers of Savage Damsel that sharp-tongued Lynet has an antagonistic relationship with her just as spirited teenage daughter. It makes me wonder if Morris had a teenager himself in the house when he was writing this, because most of his previous teenage characters have been unusually mature. Lynet and Luneta come to a meeting of the minds after Luneta has been off adventuring and has become an enchantress herself.
Gaheris: If he weren't already married to Lynet, I’d marry this version of Gaheris myself. He continues to be hilarious and practical; it is his idea to smash the Storm Stone at the end and free Laudine of its curse. He’s also good at soothing his prickly wife and daughter, which is a really excellent skill for a father caught in the middle to have. It’s particularly impressive given he grew up in a household of men since his sister must have died when he was quite young and his mother of course didn't give a damn about her children.
I did want to comment specifically on the characters we meet in Diradvent, in particular Dorothea and Sir Carius. The story takes a very dark turn at this point, where Luneta, Rhience and Ywain discover the female slaves forced to sew in a windowless dungeon until they starve or are beaten to death. One of the women, Dorothea, has survived ten years of this horror and seems to be suffering from some version of Stockholm Syndrome where she has convinced herself that this is actually a good life. She has been so badly traumatized that when the women are freed, she stays behind and continues to live and sew in the dungeon by choice. It’s an incredibly sad image Morris paints of her sitting in the dark with her back deliberately turned to the light.
Sir Carius, nominally the lord of Diradvent, claims he was forced to do all of these horrible things by his right hands The Brothers. Actually he and his daughter Floria remind me of the ordinary people of Germany during the Holocaust: they knew what was going on and chose to turn a blind eye not only because they were afraid of Hitler’s enforcers but because many of them benefited from Jews being forced from their homes and businesses and from the stolen possessions of the millions murdered or deported. Sir Carius and Floria benefit from the profits of the slave labor and are well aware why they are living so well, and they choose a life of luxury over doing the right thing even after the Brothers are dead.
Arthur, Kai, Guinevere, Lamorak, Dinadan, Agravain, Gareth, Lyonesse, Bedivere, Lancelot, Florence, Lovel and Alardin are mentioned or make cameo appearances. This is, I think, the first book in the series where someone does not make fun of Griflet at least once. Original Morris characters Terence and Eileen also show up, and there is a reference to Piers as well.
I like this book a lot. The characters are witty and enjoyable, the story moves at a good pace, and as usual there are some profound words to take away (though not as many as in Princess, Crone and Dung-Cart Knight, sadly). The emphasis in this book appears to be keeping your word and doing your best to do the right thing—or not—and the consequences of those choices. Also that manipulating people, even if you think you’re helping them, is not always best.
This is probably the biggest time jump in Morris’s universe—it’s been at least seventeen years since the end of Savage Damsel at the beginning of this book, since Gaheris and Lynet’s daughter is now all grown up. How long it’s been since Dung-Cart Knight is harder to say, but my guess is it’s been ten to twelve years.
Next up: the beginning of the end (even though Morris drags his feet and takes three whole books to do it). Yeah, you knew it was coming. After all, the ultimate King Arthur spoiler is: everybody dies.
And we were all having such fun. On that cheerful note, see you at the next review!