Jeff Harris is the properties artisan at the Goodman Theatre, and a longtime collaborator with Otherworld Theatre building props, costumes, and masks. But once, in the long-long-ago, he was a writer and director, and is all too happy for the opportunity to put on is old suit of armor. As well as writing a short story for the Gateways Writing Series, he directed a short play for Otherworld Theatre’s Paragon Festival last fall.
There were three of them, Sir Dullahan and his two brothers. Each set out from home in search of glory. Each were clad in blue armor, each atop white horses, and each in their own direction. They ventured forth at the behest of their father who bid them not to return until their names had become rich with honor and fame.
Upon his travels, Sir Dullahan accomplished many feats, slayed many beasts, and served many people. Yet somehow, with every new realm he came upon, there were none who knew of him. And so, Sir Dullahan pressed further into the world in pursuit of reputation.
One day, the blue knight came upon a tree within which many other knights were hanging from its branches, swinging by the neck. Some looked to have been killed mere hours ago; others were nothing but bone wrapped in mail. He questioned the nearby villagers, and the townsfolk told him the dead knights were those who had challenged their master, the Greenwood Knight of Glyn Gildrew Castle, for his treasure. What that treasure was, they could only speculate, for they had heard many different stories from many different people. But, if any of the stories were true, then Glyn Gildrew Castle was worth finding and the challenge worth pursuing. The castle rested in the deepest reaches of the northern forests, and most who sought it disappeared. Yet, there were those that succeeded in finding the keep, merely to end up in the tree.
Sir Dullahan believed this quest was a bold one, worthy of repute, and asked the villagers how to find the woodland keep. He was told to enter the forest with the sun always at his back. He would then find a post that stood alone in a glade ahead of the castle. There would hang a great gilded horn. He need only to blow the horn, and the Greenwood Knight would ride out to meet his challenge.
The knight passed into the forest, and for days he braved the monsters that lurked within the woods, until at last he crested a hill and saw below him in a dale was the castle. Riding further, Sir Dullahan found the post with the horn, and without hesitation he gave it a mighty blow which echoed through the forest. He did not wait long before the Greenwood Knight appeared.
He was a fearsome fellow atop a great shire horse. His tunic bore a white stag, and his armor was painted green. In one hand was a lance, the other a kite shield, and at his side was the finest of arming swords. As the Greenwood Knight came close, he raised his visor to reveal a long white beard and mustache. He saluted Sir Dullahan and spoke in a deep voice, “Who is it that would challenge me?”
“It is I, Sir Dullahan of Alymere, son of Sir Bertilak!” Sir Dullahan replied.
“Son of Sir Bertilak? Then you are a Lord?” inquired the Greenwood Knight. Sir Dullahan bowed in response, and the Greenwood Knight continued. “Where is your squire? Your servants? Have you no train to accompany you?”
“I have not, sir,” Sir Dullahan answered. “I have only what you see here. My horse, my armor, and my sword.”
The Greenwood Knight accepted the challenge, and the two knights rode deeper into the woods. He brought Sir Dullahan to the base of a hill upon which sat the keep. There, a tent was set, along with a rack of weapons and a large, ornate gold chest. The Greenwood Knight referred to the chest. “Here is your prize,” he said, “should you defeat me.”
Sir Dullahan explained the many stories he had heard, and inquired what was in the chest, wanting to know for what he was fighting. The Greenwood Knight would only answer cryptically. “Everything,” the deep voice grumbled. “Everything that I have, everything that I am.”
Sir Dullahan then asked what would happen to him should he fall, to which the Greenwood Knight confirmed that he would be hung from the tree in shame until his estate could pay the ransom for his body.
The Greenwood Knight offered Sir Dullahan the lance or the sword. Sir Dullahan preferred the lance, but had lost his in battle just weeks before. The white bearded knight presented a lance of his own from the rack, and Sir Dullahan graciously accepted. The terms agreed upon, each man took his place and faced one another.
At once they rode towards each other with fury. Sir Dullahan was an expert with the lance, and lowered the point precisely, striking the Greenwood Knight in the head. But the lance shattered, being made of weak timber. The Greenwood Knight met the blow with his own, hurling Sir Dullahan to the ground. The Greenwood Knight turned his great horse, intent on trampling the blue knight to death. Unbeknownst to the villain, Sir Dullahan had not lost consciousness, and just as the Greenwood Knight was upon him, he rose, swinging his sword and striking. The Greenwood Knight fell from his steed, but managed to draw his own sword before Sir Dullahan could reach him. A great melee ensued. For three days the two men battled, and the clash of steal rang throughout the trees relentlessly. Not once did they rest, and Sir Dullahan suspected the elder knight’s stamina was aided with sorcery. Angered by the mendacious nature of his adversary, the blue knight found the strength to press on until he delivered a mortal blow and slew the Greenwood Knight, the master of Glyn Gildrew.
Sir Dullahan, exhausted, returned to the chest and opened it, only to find it empty. The Greenwood Knight had deceived him one final time. Infuriated, he rode to the castle, and demanded entry with sword drawn. But the soldiers there opened the gates, and, with uncommon obedience, they took him to see the Lady of the Greenwood Knight.
In a great hall bedecked with antlers, a beautiful woman greeted him. She, too, was dressed in green, and had long braided black hair. She was much younger that Sir Dullahan expected the wife of the Greenwood Knight to be, and he also thought she would be angry, or tearful. But, at the sight of him she smiled, and calmly asked if her husband was dead.
“I have done the deed, my Lady, and nobly so. I am here to demand my prize.”
The Lady raised her hands. “This,” she softly spoke, “this is your prize. The castle of Glyn Gildrew and everything it has to offer are now yours. Its vast wilderness and its farmland; the crops the peasants yield, and game within these lands are yours to distribute as you deem fit.” She continued speaking. “Its knights are yours, as are the soldiers and servants. Its gold and jewels are yours, its food and drink, its fires and beds. Even its Lady.” She knelt before him and kissed his hand and addressed him as Lord. The people in the hall followed suit.
He bid her to rise, and asked if he broke the curse of the gilded horn, or if he were to assume the role of his predecessor. She affirmed that the obligation to answer the horn was the price for unlimited comforts. Each time he was victorious in combat, his wealth would grow. She offered him a chalice. If he drank from it, he would be honor bound to be Glyn Gildrew’s champion and master, under pain of death, for the chalice was enchanted to end the life of those who broke their oaths. Everyone who dwelt within the castle drank from the cup, all of whom pledged to serve the keep in their own way, thus never wanting. Even she, whose oath was to be the Lady of the Greenwood Knight, and attend his every desire. Sir Dullahan queried about how many husbands there were in her life.
“Seven,” she admitted. “You will be my eighth, and, God willing, my last.” She went on to tell him that he need not drink from it. Sir Dullahan was free to refuse the glory, riches, and renown the woodland castle promised, just as any knight was free to sound the horn in challenge.
Sir Dullahan took the chalice. “If I drink from this,” he said, “I shall fight with righteousness. I will not deceive my opponents as your husband did. I will treat my foes with deference, and hang them not from a damned tree. The people will have my blessings, and my justice, and I will bring honor to my father’s name.” She bowed, telling him that as master the realm was his to rule as he wished, and she would be joyful that he would do so with such pride and grace.
And so, Sir Dullahan drank from the chalice, and all in the hall rejoiced. He was bathed and given the Greenwood Knight’s armor and tunic. That evening, there was feast the likes of which he had never seen. The tables were laden with game and fruits from the world over. Four and twenty barrels of mead were emptied as the finest musicians played through the night. Sir Dullahan rejoiced at his good fortune, and counted his blessings. Indeed, that night he went to his chamber, and knew is wife well.
At dawn Sir Dullahan arose to a magnificent breakfast and was surprised to learn that his wife had arranged a hunting party for him, that he might explore the woodlands and learn to tame them with his men. But, no sooner had she related this to him, than the horn did sound. Instantly, he was surrounded with squires who fitted his armor with tremendous haste. Sir Dullahan took to his horse, but before he could exit the gates, his wife begged him to carry a potion.
“It will give you unordinary spirit to defeat any who stand before you,” the Lady pleaded. But, Sir Dullahan reminded her of his pledge to fight with honor. She insisted he bring it with him, if only to put her mind at ease. Reluctantly, he took the vial, but again vowed he would not use it. With that, Sir Dullahan, as the Greenwood Knight, rode the path to meet his challenger.
Upon reaching the glade he found not one, but two knights. Sir Dullahan’s heart broke, for he recognized them. Both were clad in blue armor and both sat atop white horses. Sorrowful thoughts flooded his mind, which turned into shameful ones as he gripped the vial. But then he thought of all he had won; his wife, his wealth, his lands, their influence and their glory. Like the white bearded knight he had slain before, the shameful thoughts were fleeting, and so too was brotherly love. Thus, as Sir Dullahan approached, he raised his visor but a little, and tasted the potion the Lady of the Greenwood Knight had given him.
Rob Southgate is a professional actor in commercials and films, a professional podcaster, and a professional public speaker. He recently released his first book and is busily booking a national tour of the SMG Podcast Marathon. Rob loves sharing ideas with others and creating opportunities for his creative associates. Along with his wife, Martha, Rob started Southgate Media Group as a creative outlet and a way to incorporate all of their interests and their past experiences. SMG is home to over 100 podcasts, blogs, and video channels. If you think Rob has a lot going on, ask him about his amazing daughter, Molly.