Gaunt Visits at Averup
On the day the unassuming knight Sir Gaunt Edgarson left the women, three full days before they reached Elarga Agamem, he started immediately looking for a faint dust-trail marked by three bushes in a straight line. This was the first test: finding the way to Averup House, where the Chivalric Company lived, worked, and trained. He hmm'ed and haa'ed and muttered to himself as he searched about, and took fixes from distant points. He consulted a book. At one point, he appeared to be conferring with a shrub, which made Echo laugh, but Ms. Foxtrot-Brown just rolled her eyes.
"Oh, Ho! Is it? Shall you? Ho-Ho!" As Sir Gaunt stumbled to the gates of the manor, he was greeted by a burly cavalier atop a giant warhorse. This man continued: "A pale knight, in battered armour, no ride, a lopsided moustache, smelling of perfume and covered in lipstick, comes to my camp and expects me to fix him up, polish his pauldrons, and make him all gallant again? I shall run you down with my charger!"
All this Sir Gaunt had expected, and was not deterred. He bowed and spoke the correct response. "Respectfully, Sir, I -"
"Ooh, respectfully, is it? Little lord, are you? Well, respectfully, little man, I shall shove a tree up your arse," cried the guard on horseback. His wild hair sprung away from his in head like a surprised gorgon and he had a bushy brown beard. His name was Sir Esgough.
Again, observing the protocol, Sir Gaunt lay down in front of the Guardsman's horse (which was very large and powerful) and began again. "Respectfully, I beg your horse to trample me into the ground for I have been invalorous. I did not remain awake constantly while in the company of two women over the course of ten days. I did not carry them elsewhere when they tired of their surroundings. I did not cut off my own leg as meat for them when they became famished.”
Sir Esgough slid from his horse and pushed his bulbous red nose against Sir Gaunt’s own.
“Are you joking with me, Mister Broken-Moustache?” he growled.
“I am not, Sir. I wish only to die so that chivalry may live.”
“Chivalry is alive, so you may die now!” shouted Esgough and threw a punch. It connected with Sir Gaunt’s wheezing chest with a spang!, knocking him off his feet and onto his back where he lay for a few moments, gasping for breath. He was not deterred however, and stood up again, dusted himself off and walked back up to Esgough.
“Sadly, your punch has not felled me!” cried Sir Gaunt. “I wish to take up no more of your valuable time, Sir. Let me be struck only by our enemies and perish slowly, so that our citizens may live long and happy lives!”
Esgough stared into Gaunt’s pale, watery eyes for a long moment, breathing heavily. Then, moving very quickly for a man his size, he picked up the slender Knight and threw him over his shoulder and marched rapidly through the gates of the manor house, across the courtyard and dropped Gaunt unceremoniously into a pile of other valiant sorts, before returning back to his post without another word, and climbing back up on his horse.
Such a greeting may seem inappropriate for one who wished to lay down his life for others, but this wasn’t the case at all. A gallant was required to be humble at all times, in order that others may achieve greatness on their backs. All who passed through the stone gates of Averup were subjected to one act of humiliation or another. Those for whom such acts were intolerable were not welcome in its hallowed halls and training grounds. They would stumble in the face of duty, it was feared, thinking only of themselves, or they would misunderstand the nature of their task such that they could not execute it in accordance with the Chivalric Code.
Sir Gaunt did have one advantage in that he had been a Knight before, albeit not in Summerfate Garden, and as his former Paymaster had pointed out, verbally to Gaunt himself and in further scrawled letters to Gaunt’s old Guild, he had forbidden him to continue to serve nobly in that distant Kingdom. Unfortunately for Sir Gaunt, Lords commanded some influence in the appointment of Knights and could provide recommendations or otherwise for a candidate or Guild member. But he had said nothing about Summerfate Garden – and it would not have mattered if he had, as Summerfate Garden maintains its own jurisdiction in such things. Therefore, penniless and acting on the advice of Sir Maundeselay the Good, Gaunt had set out for Averup some months previously, stopping at a swordsmith and armourer along the way and picking up menial jobs here and there for reward. When he arrived at the Chivalric seat, the peripatetic Knight was more prepared – and considerably older – than most for what awaited them.
The training they all endured was demanding, no doubt about it, for a cavalier must be able to exert him or herself physically at all times while remaining presentable, impeccable and upstanding as required. A Knight was to be a model citizen to whom young children looked up and on whom people could always depend. They were woken frequently with buckets of cold water, or fish or eels, after perhaps just twenty minutes of rest, and sent out into the fields and forest. There they were subjected to mock battles – and real ones, as tempers frayed and things got out of hand – that lasted for days at a time, and all the while there was the threat of an impromptu parade for a visiting dignitary, the details of which were judged every bit as harshly as the skill at arms. There was little to no sleep, no time to prepare for things, a lot of pain, and some new recruits to the Company did not last, being sent either back to their homes in disgrace or to Averup Cemetery.
“They can’t treat us like this,” one youth whined one evening over a lungfish dinner, “they just can’t.”
Gaunt said nothing. It was all as he had expected. The only thing he ever commented on one day was that the morning tea was a little strong for his tastes, but even then he was certain it was doing him some good.
Over time, Gaunt’s unyielding commitment to courtliness and quiet endeavour were noted. He was placed in charge of a rout of thirty, a hoi-polloi of thugs, drunks and wayward types but he led them without complaint. In turn they learned to admire his taciturn stoicism, and even in some cases to emulate it, first in mockery, and later, as it became their second nature.
While others struggled against attrition, injury, infighting and exhaustion, Sir Gaunt’s group went from strength to strength and victory to victory without a bad word. It was soon said in the mess halls that Gaunt Edgarson might yet bring back civility to a profession that was fast being overrun by hooligans. His own detachment of gallants referred to themselves as “Sir Gaunt’s Mob”. They even had a poster drawn up to attract new recruits who trickled in through the gates at a paltry rate, and on this poster was drawn a much-bulked-up caricature of Sir Gaunt, moustache neatly clipped, finger pointing manfully at the viewer, asking:
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