This week on the Myths and Legends Podcast, we'll finish up the story of Yvain, the Knight of the Roundtable, turned lord, turned crazy naked man wandering the forest. For those of you that love precisely way too much action, this show's for you. He'll fight an army, a dragon, giants, demons, three knights, and his best friend. We'll then learn that true love means tricking your spouse into taking you back against her will. In the creature of the week segment, we'll meet a friendly bathroom cleaner who just so happens to be insanely creepy, and who's probably watching you go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
This is the Myths and Legends Podcast, episode 1C, The Lion Knight Rises.
Welcome to the podcast, where each week I tell stories from myths, legends, fairy tales, and folklore from cultures all around the world.
Here's where we are: Yvain took off to avenge his cousin who was knocked off his horse by a black knight. He avenged his cousin, and then some, by mortally wounding the knight and chasing him back to his castle. He learns that the knight was the lord of the castle, and he avoids capture by the help of Lunette, the servant of the knight's widow. Through Lunette's manipulation and, frankly, poor plotting on the part of the storyteller, Yvain woos the widow and marries her, becoming lord of the castle. Less than two weeks after being married, he makes a deal with the lady that he's going to go adventuring, but will be back in less than a year. He completely forgets to return, and one of the lady's messengers finds him, telling him not to come back. He snaps, goes crazy, and runs off to live in the forest.
So Yvain is using a bow and arrow to kill animals, who he jumps on and tears apart with his teeth. A hermit lives nearby, and lays out some moldy bread for him, but cowers in fear whenever Yvain comes by. This goes on for a short time, probably a month or two, before he's discovered. The British isles are too small for a man like Yvain to disappear, no matter how deep he chooses to sink.
He's sleeping, still naked, out by a road, and a wealthy lady is passing by with her attendants. And, like most well-dress aristrocrats traveling alone through the wilderness, she gets suuuuper close to the smelly, nude man sleeping in the woods, and sees a heretofore unmentioned scar on his face. She realizes this is the legendary knight, Yvain, and sees an opportunity for her people.
Her people, apparently, had been under attack from a rival count, and Yvain, the most accomplished, most virtuous knight in the world – her words – would end the war. She told this to the lady she served, and she agreed.
She pulled out a box of ointment that Morgan le Fey, King Arthur’s sister, had given her. It was extremely valuable, and could heal anyone of any madness. Because it was so valuable, she told her lady only put a little on Yvain’s temples and forehead, because his brain was where the madness was. She should absolutely not use any more than a few dabs.
Back in the forest, the servant decided to hedge her bets and completely ignore her master’s orders. She dumped the entire box on Yvain, rubbed his head vigorously, and then quickly rode off, leaving a robe by him. Yvain, who didn’t wake up when the servant was massaging the ointment vigorously into his scalp, woke up as soon as she was out of sight. He sprung to his feet, and snatched up the robe, clothing himself. He waved to her, and she did the honorable thing, according to one of the story’s writers, and pretended like she had never seen him before, sparing him shame.
It was said he had no idea what he was doing out in the forest, and the servant told him that, wow, she had an extra horse, and hey, since you are just waking up in the woods, you should come stay with us in our castle for two weeks. He agrees, and they ride off, not before the servant casually tosses the box that was filled with healing ointment into a river, though. It was pretty risky, she’ll tell her master later. She almost fell in, and almost lost her life, so it’s really a blessing that only the ointment was lost.
Her lady was livid, but smiled when she found out that Yvain would be staying for two weeks, because in two weeks’ time, they knew the count would be there with his army.
Two weeks later, Yvain had shaved, showered, armored up, and was ready to hit the road. He was still feeling bad about the whole thing with his wife, but was focused more on just leaving at the moment. He looked outside to black smoke filling the sky.
The count’s knights were there en masse, burning and pillaging the town. Yvain knows what he needs to do, and, according a writer, unhorses four nights before anyone can even count as high. The lady’s knights are inspired by Yvain, and he alone turns the tide of the battle. The count flees until Yvain traps him and makes him surrender to the lady of the castle. The lady, for her part, wants him to accept her as his wife…or mistress, because I guess she’s not picky…but he doesn’t even respond. He wishes he could stay, but, remembering what drove him to naked madness, the worst type of madness, he rides off wordlessly in the direction of his wife.
While traveling through a forest, he hears a horrific cry, and chases after it. He rides into a very deep part of the forest and finds, of all things, a dragon holding a lion by the tale, and burning his butt with his fire breath. It’s here that I realize I am not fit to be a knight. My first and only inclination would be to get as far away from this spectacle as quickly as possible and let the lion and dragon hash out their differences themselves. Yvain, however, is a knight and decides to side with the lion, because the dragon is so full of wickedness.
He approaches with his shield out, to block the dragon’s fire breath, and when he got close to it, he bashed the dragon in the face, somehow avoiding the lion. He jumped atop the dragon, and drove his sword deep into its back. It died, but he kept hacking and hacking until it was in tiny pieces.
He was breathing heavily, exhausted, when he remembered the lion. He jumped back and raised his smoldering shield, ready for a fight, but found it, and I quote, “standing on its’ hind paws, bowed its’ head, joined its’ forepaws and extended them toward Yvain, in an act of total submission,” and that it “knelt down, its’ whole face bathed in tears of humility.” Yvain immediately recognized that the lion was thanking him and submitting to him for saving his life. He wiped the poisonous dragon blood from his sword. In a couple weeks, in the Saga of the Volsungs, a hero gets the power to understand the speech of birds after he drinks dragon blood, but I guess English dragon blood isn’t as magical.
Yvain saunters off, feeling pretty good about himself, and realized the lion was following him. He decided to let it happen, and thus he became the knight of the lion. As it turns out, getting involved in this fight is the best possible thing Yvain could have done, because this lion will aid him time and time again.
For two weeks they wandered the countryside, camping out at night and the lion bring back food for Yvain, and at the end of the fortnight, they rode up to the clearing with the fountain that started it all.
Yvain couldn’t handle it, and collapsed in sorrow. For an unexplained reason, his sword was out, and as he fell, it found a spot between plates on his armor and sliced him. He lost so much blood that he felt faint, and just laid there, dazed, wondering if he should get up again.
The lion came back from a hunt, and found Yvain lying there, blood surrounding him, and assumed the worst. In a truly bizarre turn, it took the sword in its mouth and found the perfect tree. If Yvain, the man who he had sworn his loyalty to, was dead, what did that leave him with other than the full, happy lion life he would have otherwise had? He wedged the sword in between branches on a tree so that it lined up directly with his chest, jogged back a bit, and took off in a run toward the sword point.
Yvain, hearing the lion running, sat up, and the lion, seeing Yvain out of the corner of its eye, swerved so soon that he barely avoided scratching himself on the sword point. The lion was elated, but Yvain lamented aloud as he bandaged himself up. He, apparently just now, realized it was his fault he was in this current circumstance. He had turned his own joy to sorrow through his selfish choices.
Cutting his self-flagellation short was a voice from chapel, saying that he should really just shut up. His sorrow was her joy. He sought out the voice, and found a woman locked in the shadowy chapel. He couldn’t see her, and he was wearing armor, so she didn’t know him.
She was accused of treason, she said, and would be hanged or burned alive tomorrow if a knight didn’t come to her aid and fight the three knights that accused her of treason. She only knows two knights in the whole world who would do that for her. One was Gawain, who she couldn’t reach, and the other was Yvain, the knight because of whom she was was locked away.
“Wait…what?” Yvain said.
She explained that when Yvain didn’t return, her lady became angry with her. Lunette had enemies in the lady’s court, who took this as an opportunity. With Yvain having killed the castle’s champion and then promptly abandoning it, they were now in a worse situation than ever. Anyone could ride up and mess with the fountain, and no champion could ride out to challenge the person. They accused her of treason, since she had convinced the lady to marry Yvain, a decision she still stands by. Knowing that she had a friend in Gawain, who was flirting with her hard when he stayed there with Arthur’s court, she demanded a trial by combat. She had forty days to find a knight on her behalf, and she rode to King Arthur’s court.
There, she learned that Gawain was out trying to rescue the Queen, which is part of a Lancelot story I’ll go over later, but amongst all the brave knights, she couldn’t find anyone to fight on her behalf. Yvain was out tearing into deer with his teeth, so he was unavailable. She rode back, and the days passed quickly.
Yvain revealed himself, both to her anger and happiness. He said he would defend her, as long as no one knows his identity. She resists, but eventually agrees, and tells him not to be late, because she’ll be executed in the morning if he’s not there.
Even though he has been sleeping in the forest for two weeks, he decides that he needs to sleep in a bed tonight, and seeks out a castle. He actually backtracks until he finds the castle both he and Calogrenaut had stayed at their first time through, but now the town up to the thick wall was gone. As he rode up, the people of the castle understandably said that the lion was definitely not allowed. Yvain assured him that the lion was totally cool and definitely would not attack and kill anyone unless Yvain told it to. They said, “well, good enough for us,” and let them both in.
At dinner that night, everyone was laughing and pleasant, until spontaneously breaking into tears. They assured Yvain it was nothing and that he should just finish his dinner. But when they didn’t stop crying, Yvain could see it was obviously not nothing, and said they should just tell him.
The baron had a beautiful daughter. One so beautiful that she captured the attention of a local giant and his gang of bandits, who decided that, yes, they would like to take her. They showed up at the city one day, demanding the baron’s daughter. He understandably refused, and sent out his six sons, all knights, to disperse the giants. The giants killed two of them, took what they wanted from the town, and dragged the other four off to their lair, saying they would be back in a few weeks with the knights, to trade them for the daughter.
That day was tomorrow. Yvain sighed, and said he would be glad to help out and fight the giants, as long as they came early, since he had a prior engagement. They were thrilled, and showed him to his chamber, where Yvain and the lion slept.
The next morning, he ate breakfast, went to mass, and killed time until he couldn’t wait any longer. He called the baron and his family to him, apologized profusely, but said he must leave. A girl would be burned alive if he didn’t help. The daughter broke down in tears. The giant had made it clear that he wouldn’t take the maiden for himself, however that would work, but would take her to be passed around among the thieves in his cave. Yvain was sad, but said he had to go. As if on cue, he heard screams from outside the castle.
They went to the gate to see the giant walking up, surrounded by his thieves. The knights were in horrible shape. Barefoot and smelly, they were sitting atop worn out horses, and an evil dwarf rode behind them, whipping them bloody.
Yvain saw all this and nodded. They brought him his horse and began dressing him for battle. He asked the baron to lower the drawbridge for him to ride out, and then bring it back up, because he might not be coming back. The baron agreed, and Yvain rode out. They all sat in terror, since they had watched many of their bravest fall to this giant when he destroyed their town, and though Yvain seemed honorable and high-born, he could very well end up like one of them. Unknown to Yvain, his lion bounded out after him.
Yvain rode out and got straight to business, telling the giant he didn’t care for his idle chatter. The giant unslung his club, which had a huge spike in it, and sneered. Yvain rode hard, and drew first blood, striking the giant in his chest with a lance. The giant glanced down. Rage replaced the surprise on his face, and he swung at Yvain, smashing into his armor and doubling him over on his horse. The horse put enough distance between Yvain and the giant for the knight to recover, and he drew his sword. When he got close enough to the giant he sliced enough flesh from his cheek, and I quote, “for grilling” and the giant swung back with enough force to lift Yvain off his horse and leave him clinging to his horse’s neck as it galloped away.
Sore and bleeding, Yvain remounted his horse when he was far enough away, and turned around to see the giant bounding toward him. A yellow blur flew past him, and he saw his lion jump and bite into the giant’s leg, tearing out skin, muscle, and nerves. The giant stopped to tear the lion off him, and this is where Yvain saw his opening.
The giant flung the lion and tried to smash him with the club, but the lion jumped nimbly aside. The giant tried to raise his arm again, but found it limp. Yvain had ridden up beside him, and, with one slice, separated his shoulder from his chest. He spun around, and Yvain’s sword caught him in the stomach, not stopping until he was at the giant’s throat. The giant tumbled over, dead.
The thieves with the giant panicked, and fled when the drawbridge to the castle dropped and peasants began pouring out with anything they could use as weapons. The sons cheered, and the Baron rode out, offering marriage to his daughter and, essentially, his title and land to Yvain for saving them. Yvain refused, and said there was somewhere he had to be. They yelled to him as he rode off, asking who he was, and he yelled back to tell everyone they had been saved by the Knight with the Lion.
When he approached the clearing with the chapel and the fountain, he saw the fire, and feared the worst. As it turned out, it was only very nearly the worst, as Lunette’s accusers were dragging her, bound, to throw her in. He ordered her accusers, the three knights, to let her go, but they refused, and said that he would have to face them if they wanted her to go free. Of course, his lion couldn’t help, and he must order the lion to sit quietly. Because the lion has learned commands at this point, he happily obliges when Yvain orders this, but Yvain says he can’t promise the lion won’t jump in to help.
They readied for battle, and though it was three-to-one, Yvain stood his ground at first, sending the lead accuser to the ground and taking on the other two brothers. When he climbed back on his horse, though, Yvain was over-matched, and began to flag.
The lion quickly disobeyed his one and only command to stay out of it, and got into the fight. He leapt up to the lead accuser, and snatched him off his horse, tearing into his chainmail shirt like it was cotton, spreading the knight’s entrails on the grass.
The other two brothers, hearing his screams, abandoned Yvain and began attacking the lion. Yvain, wounded and exhausted, not only by the current fight but from fighting a giant earlier, still finds strength to fight. He lays into the knights, and with the lion, subdues them. The knights surrendered to Yvain’s mercy, and Yvain, apparently not knowing the definition of the word “mercy,” orders them cast on the fire that had been prepared for Lunette.
Lunette is freed and the lady of the castle runs over and hugs her. She had forgiven Lunette, realizing it wasn’t her fault that Yvain left, but they were all still bound by Lunette blurting out that she wanted a trial by combat, so they had to go through with it.
I should mention that Yvain’s face has been hidden by his armor and no one, save Lunette who he talked to the previous night, knows it’s him.
The lady and Lunette walk over to thank the knight, and ask that he stays.
The 21st century audience member in me wishes that Yvain was contrite and humble, revealing himself to be the man that wronged her and begging her forgiveness with tears and trembling hands, wrapping up the story nicely here. He doesn’t, though.
His wife comes up to him, and says that she’s forever in his debt and that he should stay in the castle until his many wounds are healed. They then enter into an odd little interchange where the lady somehow doesn’t realize Yvain is talking about her. He says he can’t imagine staying in this place until his lady has ceased her anger against him. She says that anyone who would be angry with a knight of his renown sounds just terrible. He tells her not to question him about it, because it’s a private matter, and she relents and just asks him his name, and he tells her the Knight with the Lion. She begs him to stay, but he insists that he can’t until he was certain he possessed his lady’s goodwill, to which she says she hopes he finds it and says goodbye. He watches in sorrow as she departs.
As an aside, I have no idea why he didn’t just reveal himself, or if he was attempting that and she just didn’t recognize him, or if they both recognized each other but she was insistent on him asking forgiveness. I see it all as equally plausible.
After the crowds disperse, Yvain looks down and sees his lion, too wounded to walk. The knight pulls out his presumably very large shield and packs it with moss to make it comfortable, then he pulls the lion onto it. He hooks the shield to the back of his horse, and slowly pulls the lion to some huge manor they find, and he and the lion are healed.
They continue on adventuring and rightfully, the Knight with the Lion’s reputation as someone who helps those in need grows.
Now, there’s a long story we won’t go into of two sisters who’s father died and left them an inheritance. The older attempts to disinherit the younger, and it comes, once again, to trial by combat, where they both get knights to defend their rights, by decree of King Arthur. The older sister asks Gawain, who agrees on the condition that she keep his involvement private, and the younger sister has 40 days to find her champion. She chooses this enigmatic Knight with the Lion, who has been helping people in need, and sets off to find him.
She follows the trail of rumor and finds Yvain in a forest, now a changed man. He agrees to help her without asking anything in return, because she appears to be on the right side of the argument. They set off back to Camelot together.
They pass by way of the Castle of Dire Adventure, which is perhaps the coolest castle name in the history of castles. In something seemingly out of Monty Python, people outside the town are really mean, saying that he shouldn’t stay there and should just continue on his way. He remarks on how rude this is, but keeps riding up. The closer he gets, the more people come out, and it’s less of a warning and more just outright insulting him. They say that he’s going to be shamed and vilified in the castle, that he’s a foolish wretch, and that he should just turn back because no one wants him in the castle.
He’s perplexed by this, and a kindly old lady tells him it’s just a custom of the town, to berate travelers as they pass by, because it’s just a horrible horrible place and no one should enter it ever. He’s more than welcome to come in, but he should really just not enter it. Really. Turn around and leave. But he’s welcome to come in. But he shouldn’t.
Yvain decides that despite a whole town yelling at him to turn back, he and this maiden will in fact stay the night there. A porter meets him at the gate where he says, cheerfully, “come on it! You’ve arrived at a cursed place where you’ll never be able to leave!” And Yvain obliges, dismounts, and enters the town.
There, in the courtyard, he sees 300 women who’s clothes are threadbare sewing with strands of gold and silk, weeping and obviously there against their will. He demands to know what’s going on, and finally finds someone who’ll tell him.
The king of the Isle of Maidens went out seeking adventure, and came upon this castle where he stayed the night. Unbeknownst to him, the castle was inhabited by two demons, which Cretian de Troyes says is definitely not made up, because they were born of a woman and a demon. They threaten him, and he offers for his release to send them 30 maidens each year for as long as they live. They agree, and he keeps up his end of the bargain, and for over ten years he has been sending young women to this castle.
Yvain nods and backs away quietly, not really assenting to the implicit request just hanging in the air. He and his companion find their way into the main castle, and meets a cheerful lord and his beautiful 16 year-old daughter. They make pleasant conversation, and have dinner, where it’s said that they have so many courses that the serving people get exhausted just carrying them out. They show Yvain to his room, where he sleeps undisturbed with the lion at his feet.
The next day, after mass, Yvain told the lord that he would be leaving, to which the lord told him that he was dreadfully sorry, but, you see, we have this custom here where to leave you have to fight two demons, and, as it turns out, no one has left. He says he is compelled to uphold it, but, hey, if Yvain can defeat the demons then he can marry the lord’s daughter.
Yvain makes it clear that he neither wants to marry the 16-year-old nor fight demons, but the lord is already in the process of calling them.
The demons walk in and we are given no other description than that they are “black and hideous,” and that they have spiked club and are armored everywhere except on their head and below their knees.
The lion begins to bristle and snarl, and they are adamant that the lion is not part of the fight and needs to be locked up, to which Yvain kind of awesomely replies that if they’re so scared of the lion, then they can lock it up. They make it clear that Yvain needs to fight them alone, without really giving him any justification, and he accepts this without question and locks the lion away in a small room. They then take it outside.
Yvain is armored up and mounts his horse, and the battle begins. The demons weapons must have been otherworldly, because it’s said that Yvain’s shield and helmet dissolve like ice, and he’s immediately having a pretty bad time, being beaten mercilessly on both sides. The lion, locked away in the room, hears this and knows he needs to help his master. The underside of the door is rotten, and the lion claws at it until he can fit underneath it.
Outside, Yvain is minutes from death when, like the last fight, the lion leaps and pulls one demon off his horse. The other one immediately stops wailing on Yvain to go rescue his brother, and Yvain takes this advantage to slice the demon’s head off. He and the lion dispatch the other demon, and there are absolutely no negative consequences to the lion intervening. Why Yvain didn’t just sick the lion on them at first is beyond me, because he made it exceptionally clear he did not want to fight.
Everyone cheers, and the slaves are freed. The lord is happy, though it’s not like he was suffering to a large degree under the demons, what with his massive feasts. He makes good on his offer and wants to give Yvain his castle, all his wealth, and his daughter. Yvain says, seriously, I told you I didn’t want any of those things before the fight, and I still don’t. He does take some new armor, though, and rides off in the direction of Camelot with the younger sister, to defend her inheritance.
What follows is a drawn out bit where Yvain is disguised and Gawain is disguised, and they fight each other nearly to death in a bit of dramatic irony where we know this the whole time. They finally both collapse from exhaustion, and it’s revealed. They embrace and both cede the match. King Arthur takes this opportunity to rule in favor of the younger daughter, who he liked better the whole time. He says that either the older daughter can play nice and give the younger daughter her inheritance, or Arthur will declare that the older daughter’s knight ceded the match and therefore the younger daughter will win all, conveniently omitting that her knight also quit. If everyone is just going to go along with this faulty logic, you have to wonder why King Arthur didn’t just rule in favor of the daughter he preferred at the outset, saving everyone all the trouble. Oh, and also the lion is locked in a better room this time, to keep the good knight Gawain from being torn to pieces as happened to Yvains foes in the last three fights.
With his identities of Yvain and the Knight with the Lion converging, he decides that it’s finally time for his lady to take him back, and he knows just the way to do it. He rides to the fountain.
Crouching next to it, he takes the pitcher and constantly scoops the water from the fountain, pouring it on the emerald. A massive storm comes, and stays. She will accept him or the forest and her city will fall into hell.
In the lady’s city, the storm is raging, with lightning striking buildings, water pooling in the streets, and wind pulling down structures. In the castle, the lady is wringing her hands. They haven’t had a knight to ride out and defend the castle since Yvain left, and no one in the city will brave the storm, let alone fight the knight that dared to challenge them. Lunette sees an opportunity.
She says she knows of a knight who could go out and protect the fountain, and the lady knows this man, the knight of the Lion. Lunette says that he won’t come back without being reconciled with his lady. If, however, Lunette’s lady would promise to help the knight of the Lion become reconciled to his lady, then maybe the knight would help.
The lady agrees, but Lunette says that it would be better if she swore the oath before Lunette left, and brings out a holy relic for her to swear on. She doesn’t see a problem with this, and as soon as she finishes the oath, she’s trapped. Lunette is thrilled, but hides it, and mounts a horse to ride out to find Yvain.
She is in luck when, giving the fountain a wide berth to avoid whomever was creating the storm, she sees the lion. She rides out and find Yvain, and tells him to come with her – she has solved all his problems.
They ride up to the castle, with the skies clear, and see the lady waiting in the courtyard. She is thrilled that Yvain could be found so easily, and confirms that, once again, she will do everything in her power to make sure he is reconciled to her lady. Lunette is the one that drops the bomb – she’s the Knight with the Lion’s lady. The knight is her husband, Yvain, and she must be reconciled to him or else she’ll go back on her oath she swore on a holy relic.
Her lady is livid. She says that she would rather have storms destroy all her lands than live one day with him, but she can’t go back on her oath, so she’s trapped with him. Yvain is very happy about this, and he apologizes for leaving her and the city defenseless, and asks her to forgive him. She says that if she doesn’t, she’ll be guilty of perjury, so she has to. He gives up his life of adventure, and decides to stay this time.
Briefly, I’m a bit disappointed with how this story ended. Yvain’s character arc was moving toward his redemption, but then he takes a hard left and decides to terrorize and trap his wife into taking him back. In some ways, I like how this story doesn’t fit into the knight-in-shining-armor trope, with a perfect and pristine knight that always does the right thing. Yvain, for all his despicableness, reflects something very human. He’s just a man who makes what he perceives to be the best choices he can. Though he does make costly mistakes, he tries to make them right, albeit in an almost equally despicable way. There are so much more to these stories than just the clear-cut good-vs-evil of the sanitized children’s versions and the simplified Hollywood versions. I really hope you’ve enjoyed this first story.
Next week on the show, it’s a one-parter where I’ll tell the real story of Aladdin, the story of a boy who uses his two genies in a reasonable, practical way until he falls in love, then everything kind of goes off the rails.
Before the mythological creature of the week, I just want to say, if you’ve enjoyed the show, please leave a review on itunes. You can find the show on itunes by going to itunes.mythpodcast.com. Also, you can go to mythpodcast.com for transcripts, pictures, and extras for each episode.
Ok, onto the mythological creature of the week!
This is a weekly segment where I talk about a different mythological creature unrelated to the larger story. The creature this week is the Akaname from Japanese mythology.
The name means “filth licker” and it does exactly what it sounds like – it licks especially dirty bathrooms. It’s a hunched creature about the size of a child or small adult, but appears much smaller due to its hunched posture. It has a mop of greasy hair on its head, with its red skin as greasy as its hair.
They are shy and afraid of humans, but it is considered the personification of the fear of using a dark bathroom late at night.
At first, this seemed like a pretty helpful little guy, cleaning up dirty bathrooms, but apparently they can spread disease and should be seen more like a cockroach or a rat and less like a much creepier version of the little scrubbing bubbles