Thursday, May 5, 2011


"I am as I am, and so will I be; but how I am, none knoweth truly... disdain me not without desert! Forsake me not till I deserve, nor hate me till I offend."

This is, I believe, one of the many clues Dunnett begins embedding to give the reader some idea of our hero's deeper character once we are able to peel away the disdain, conceited and petulant behaviors, spitefulness and acidic tongue. But as it comes rather early in the overall story, I think we tend to forget about this first and rather tender view of Lymond. It is a fairly intimate moment between two strangers, but in it Lymond recognizes something in Christian Stewart worth respecting and admiring. Though he has suffered a blow to the head causing a momentary lapse in memory, his personality and intelligence shine through at a masterful level. 

There is quite a lot going on in this seemingly simple scene - things I completely glossed over while reading this the first couple of times. All of the characters are still new to us but there are some, like Lymond's brother Richard, that we are better able understand more immediately. Yet, Lymond is supposed to remain an enigma to the readers for the basically the entire series. By this point we've seen him as the leader of a merry band of misfits, a drunkard with a bit of a cruel streak, an able solider and an enlightened man born out of wealth and the highest education. No one in Scotland or England know where his allegiances lie at this point - we are given to understand he has taken bribes in one form or another from both - but we do know he is a wanted traitor in Scotland. He has taken part in skirmishes that are aiding the Scottish forces yet his own brother and Sir Walter Scott are as yet unconvinced. What he is doing at the bottom of Boghall Castle with a sizable lump in his head is a bit of a mystery, but this is where he encounters Christian Stewart and their relationship takes root. She will become an ally of Lymond, for reasons not quite clear at this point - but she is able to break down some of the barriers he has and remains one of the few women to do so in this series. 

This scene has become one of my favorites and not because I imagine it as a love at first encounter situation; mainly it is when we are finally introduced to a rarely seen softer side of our hero and it is with a quite unusual woman, brilliant in her own right.

 The verbal sparing begins with Lymond quoting from A Tale of Rauf Coilzear... (historically there is no other known manuscript except a 1572 version owned by the National Library of Scotland, but as the text belongs to a time period of medieval poetry the reader can assume Lymond will be familiar with it)
 ...'I am but ane mad man that thou hast here met'

Doing a bit of digging, I located an online text of this poem and have located the passage...

'I am bot ane mad man that thow hes heir met
I haue na myster to matche with maister full men
Fairand our feidelis Fewell to fet
And oft fylit my feit in money foul fen 
Gangand with laidis my gouerning to get
Thair is mony Carll in the countrie thow may nocht ken,
I sall hald that I have hecht, bot I be hard set 
To Wymond of Wardrop I wait fell weill quhen
Sa thruie I said, Rolland it is mine Intent
That nouther to Wymond nor Will
Thou sall hald no hecht till 
Quhill I have brocht the to fulfill
The Kings Commandment

I have also found a text that gives a bit of a summary of this medieval tale and helps us understand what is being said. This is a bit of a verbal clue from Lymond, because in the tale the Emperor Charlemagne tells an unsuspecting charcoal-burner that he is Wymond of the Wardrobe and is in the queen's service. Our confused hero Rauf doesn't know what Charlemagne looks like, and so accepts this story to be true. Christian could conceivably take the place of the ignorant Rauf because her lack of sight will always lead her to be ignorant of anyone's true identity and using the allusion to the name here could lead one to think Lymond is aware of his identity and is yet buying time to find a way out of his predicament. Is he also trying to convince Christian she should trust his allegiances are as they should be (by being Wymond of the queen's wardrobe) and so not to consider him an English spy?  

Christian now has her own opportunity and parries his thrust with one of her own from the medieval tale Roswall and Lillian in which a poor and bereft knight known as Dissawar shows up in Lillian's father's kingdom and wins her love. As Lillian is trying to discover the true identity of Dissawar she begs him to
 'cast away that name. 
Call  you Hector of Oliver, or as ye are fair enough, 
Sir Porteous, or else name you for the worthy Emedus; 
or call you for the brave and comely Predicase. 
Or, because I love you so well, let your name be Sir Liondale, 
or great Florent of Albanie if ye bear love for me, my heart! 
Or call you Lancelot du Lake for the sake of your true love, 
or the Knight of the Arms Green, for the love of your bright lady!'

It is here Lymond recognizes Christian's humor, intelligence and quick wit and his respect for her grows immensely when he recognizes he cannot hide behind allegorical and classical allusions to heroes long gone. When he then changes his tune and starts quoting from Sir Thomas Wyatt's works, I feel he is offering Christian an apology for using his games on her and also trying to tell her he will reveal in his own time who he truly is, but asking her for the grace to do so. 

If you have any thoughts to share on this little scene, please feel free to do so. This has been quite a learning experience for me!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the source material for the allusions. I've really enjoyed taking a closer look at this scene. It really is a great scene and comes at a very opportune time. I remember reading this book for the first time, it's not easy and the first 50 pages are some of the most difficult of the entire series. The language and plot are at times impenetrable and the supposed hero is hard to like or care about. I think Lymond's words here serve not only as an apology and appeal to Christian but also as one to the reader from Dunnett. We're being asked to trust both of them. I think this scene really helps the reader to stick-it-out and keep reading. Of course I think it also sets us up for future disappointment and frustration. Once you care about him, Lymond has the power to betray. I can't remember the number of times I threw one of these books across a room or just had to put it down for a month. I can't think of another fictional character I've been as angry at as Lymond. Actually, I have a hard time thinking of a real person with whom I've been so angry!

One more quick point: In your post you noted that Christian is one of the few women who can break down Lymond's barriers. That's certainly true but I think its worth pointing out that there are more women than men with this power in the series.

Elizabeth said...

Heather in the Heights - I love this discussion already! And you're so right when you say that the first part of this book is probably one of the most confusing in terms of word-play and just sheer amount of action.

It's an excellent point that Lymond is reaching out to the reader as well, one I hadn't thought of. I cannot begin to count the times I wanted to rip pages with my teeth because of his behavior, but I fully believe that is part of Dunnett's mastery.

I also hadn't thought about the men in Lymond's life and now that I do a quick mental calculation, you're absolutely correct. I've always wondered a bit about Lymond's and Will Scott's relationship and will pay closer attention to it while reading this time.

Thanks so much for joining the discussion - I've already had a great time and look forward to more!