“They go in silence. Their first attack is the most terrible…they sing in chorus the Psalm of David, ‘Not unto us, O Lord,’ kneeling on the blood and necks of the enemy, unless they have forced the troops of the enemy to retire altogether, or utterly broken them to pieces.”
- Pilgrim’s account of the Templars; anon (Barber 179).
“We are all epistemological orphans.”
- Rosi Braidotti, Patterns of Dissonance (2).
This chapter will deal with two models of apprenticeship that occur often within fantasy literature: the contract of service between knight and squire, and the relationship of ‘scurrilous’ pedagogy between master-thief and protégé. Both of these professions share a common language, and I intend to connect their various speech-acts to the linguistic performance of wizardry; I also want to explore how relationships of service are structured around a particular lack. By lack, I am referring to both the mourned-for/unmournable object that is central to psychoanalysis, as well as Lacan’s understanding of life as lack (literally the “lack of lack”) as discussed in the introduction and Chapter One. We will examine in what way the knight is “lacking” the squire, and vice versa—what gap their partnership fills, and how both might be in mourning for each other in some way; that is, how the entire dynamic of service can gesture towards a type of shared melancholia. I will be looking specifically at the Outremer novels of Chaz Brenchley, which illustrate a sexual vassal/retainer relationship between Sieur Anton d’Escrivey and his squire, Marron; I then want to juxtapose this pairing against the relationship between Seregil, the master-thief, and his pupil Alec, in Lynn Flewelling’s Night Runner novels. As I will argue throughout this discussion, not only are discourses of thievery and knighthood intimately connected with each other, they also, in part, define each other as erotic binaries, always resisting yet equally constituting one another as modes of social service. Just as being a knight means, quite patently, not being a thief (and vice versa), the veiled presence of queer sexuality within both of these complex relationships emerges as a force both vitiating and paradoxically cohesive, the expelled particular (like the uncanny, and/or the queer) within the universal that, occasionally and outrageously, issues the very claim to universality that it shouldn’t be able to make—the bubbling of Thieves’ Cant in a crowded tavern, or the intimate whisper between a knight and his squire, that small queer movement that pushes everything into crisis.
I want to highlight here the essential queerness upon which the professions of knighthood and thievery are founded, as well as their uncanny connections to each other as repudiative concepts —sites that allegedly exist by rejecting each other. I have chosen to include primarily medieval and early modern sources pertaining to both knighthood and thievery because I think that these sources provide a useful historical context for Brenchley and Flewelling as fantasy novelists, both of whom are familiar with historical materials on knighthood and roguery. This in no way suggests that I am trying to make an especially concrete historical connection here between rogues and knights, especially given the significant time gap between early modern rogue pamphlet literature and late-medieval knight manuals. I recognize that the intervening century or so between these materials signals all kinds of important political upheavals in England and abroad, and I don’t want to uncritically enact a comparison between two very different—yet similarly rare and marginalized—genres of “conduct.” I am far more interested in gesturing towards the types of historical literature that writers like Brenchley and Flewelling are no doubt adapting from, and thereby asking whether or not the queerness that they, as novelists, impute to their own knights and thieves (in the Outremer and Shadows books, respectively) might not have already been present within much earlier accounts of knightly and roguish behavior. Due to the constraints of this study, I cannot give each of these particular sources the attention that they critically deserve—although great work has already been done on them by medieval and early modern historians—and so I present them as a kind of suggestive reading list, or as guideposts in order to enrich and inform my reading of fantastic texts. As I will argue below, the master “fills” a lack in the squire, just as the squire recuperates or modifies something—queerly—within his Sieur. The master thief/protégé relationship is the socially repudiated flip-side of the knightly partnership, but it mirrors that relation as well as transgressing and parodying it.
By reading historical pamphlets and conduct manuals alongside these fantasy novels, I want to create a broad critical space within which to address the various types of queerness that Brenchley and Flewelling are playing upon within their own writing. Texts like Thomas Dekker’s The Belman of London give the reader a rogue’s eye view of London’s notorious Alsatia and Limeside districts, just as Seregil, in Luck in the Shadows, gives the reader a similar “insider’s” perspective of the fantastic city of Rhiminee—which, like Fritz Leiber’s city of Lankhmar, bears an uncanny resemblance to early modern London. Similarly, the precepts of the historical Knights-Templar, which have generated a significant amount of criticism among medieval scholars, also mirror Brenchley’s “Order” within the Outremer novels, just as Brenchley himself attempts to mirror/queer the historical sources related to the Knights-Templar that he has access to. My goal in reading these texts alongside each other is not to enact a strict historiographic comparison, but rather to look at how fantastic texts can modify and queer the historical traditions that they adapt, while at the same time exposing the attendant queerness already present within those sources.
Both the Outremer and Nightrunner series share similar plots—Flewelling’s thieves must defeat a power-hungry sorcerer, and Brenchley’s knight and squire must protect the mystical equivalent of a biological weapon, called the “King’s Daughter.” The Daughter is the miraculous progeny of the King, who intends it to join symbiotically with its wielder, miming the organic connection between monarch and state. The real thrust of both narratives, however, occurs within the creative parameters of these pedagogical relationships, knight/squire and thief/protégé, both of which move past the homosocial and into the terrain of queer desire. As I intend to argue, it is, in fact, the sexual and sensual charge of these partnerships that makes their pedagogy succeed, and the shared desire of these characters that allows them to devise such a powerful circuit of reciprocal knowledge. I want to explore how these knowledge practices might attempt to subvert what I have previously described as the melancholic aspects of magic, or whether they are themselves actually inscribed within a deeper melancholia of learning, knowing, and forced separation from bodily security.
The Queer Affiliations and Disciplinary Relations of Knights and Thieves
As mirror models of each other—uncanny repetitions—knighthood and thievery required oppositional (and competitive) “how-to” guides. Their doublings and recursions are manifestly textual, producing mirror-image guidebooks that simply recapitulate each other in uncanny forms. Chivalry manuals, such as Ramon Llull’s The Book of Knighthood and Chivalry , or Geoffroi de Charny’s Livre de chevalerie , taught young readers how they might become a knight (by watching other knights). On the contrary, rogue manuals—that is, the wealth of pamphlets and other chapbooks that circulated during the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and especially the works of John Awdley, Robert Greene, and Thomas Dekker—instructed how notto become a thief (or how not to be swindled by one, a protection also achieved through vigilant watching). Both literatures evidence a curiously analogical relationship between the terms “knight” and “thief,” a metonymic slippage that seems to belie the fact that both social orders are supposed to be mutual antagonists. Although this may not be a crucial historical point—many professions probably share similar repudiative characteristics, such as priests and lawyers, for instance—it is significant in terms of analyzing how knights and thieves are important to the fantasy canon. If both professions are perverse mirror images of each other, simultaneously becoming heroes and anti-heroes within contemporary fantasy novels, then their queer historical roots allow us to see how both “titles” represent heroic contrarieties within fantasy writing, polarized opposites that are necessary for the fantasy narrative itself to function. Just as the evil necromancer needs a white wizard, the disciplined knight needs a rakish thief in order to cohere as a military and governmental category within the fantasy world.
Ramon Llull reminds us that “the office of the knight is also to search for thieves” (38), and Geoffroi de Charny seems particularly concerned with gambling or carousing of any sort in his Livre de chevalerie: “one should leave playing dice for money to rakes, bards, and tavern rogues” (113; 19, L95-96). Conversely, Robert Greene’s Cony-Catching Pamphlets  mention titles such as “apple-squire” and “rogue-knight” used in Thieves’ Cant (or “Pedlar’s French” ) to describe bawds and pimps, along with “Orders of Knaves” that satirize the knightly system of peerage. Pedlar’s French becomes a magical language-form for rogues, allowing them to enspell different radical possibilities for themselves while avoiding institutional scrutiny. Thomas Dekker’s The Bellman of London  presents a contract between the apprentice-thief and the “Upright Man,” the guild-leader, that looks like a chivalric agreement. In fact, the figure of the Upright Man in Awdeley’s Fraternity of Vagabonds  seems remarkably like an esquire, with his powers of search and seizure, his demands of unquestioning fealty, and his brutal courtship of young female prostitutes, or “doxies.” Both literatures seemed unduly concerned with each other, even going so far as to mimic each other (while denying that any such thing was happening, much like Robert Burton continually denies his belief in witchcraft in the Anatomy). Since there is already a critical tradition pertaining to alternative and subversive languages, such as Polari, Lingua Franca, and “Pedlar’s French,” I don’t have the space within this chapter to address that work in the detail that it deserves. However, I do try to gesture to it as much as possible, and I outline other, more comprehensive sources. My primary argument around wizardry and language focuses on psychoanalytic, rather than specifically linguistic sources, although I recognize that linguists such as Mikhail Bakhtin and Ferdinand de Saussure could provide an important critical context for this work.
Knights and thieves, therefore, are structural antagonists, yet need each other to signify. They should have nothing in common, save for mutual distrust; yet, they speak similar languages, engage in similar clandestine rituals, and adhere to similar ethics of labor: for, despite their reputed idleness, Elizabethan rogues were anything but lazy. Their complex coordinations, fraternities, safe-houses and sign-systems, trading networks, and evasive maneuvers kept them perpetually busy. And itinerant rogues—the homeless, the jobless, the penniless, and the disabled—represented en masse the impoverished population that knights, especially the Order of Templars, were supposed to aid through daily acts of charity. In fact, wandering rogues bore a close resemblance to the itinerant wizards of early modern England, who moved from town to town earning scant coin in exchange for performing poor wonders. Kevin Thomas, in Religion and the Decline of Magic, even states that “at the turn of the sixteenth century, well-informed contemporaries…thought the wizards roughly comparable in numbers to the parochial clergy” (245). Like rogues, wizards were everywhere.
The fantasy that produces and sustains knighthood is similar to Freud’s inaugural erotic fantasy, “A Child Is Being Beaten,” which prefigures the Oedipus Complex. It is upon the ruined foundations of this original, incestual fantasy, Freud claims, that Oedipal relations are first constructed, interweaving with the curious psychic flotsam of the fantasy that came before. In this primal scene, the child-voyeur imagines a mysterious figure who is beating another child (“a child whom I hate”). This beating somehow concretizes the father’s love for the child who is watching, since “my father does not love this other child, he loves only me ( “A Child” 181). But as the scene slowly resolves itself, the child (who is taking a sadistic pleasure in watching the beating), comes to realize that she, in fact, is the one being beaten: “My father is beating me (I am being beaten by my father). This being-beaten is now a meeting place between the sense of guilt and sexual pleasure. It is not only the punishment for the forbidden genital relation, but also the regressive substitute for it” (184). The beating occurs as a punishment for incest, and sadism mixes with originary masochism—a child is being beaten/I am being beaten—to reveal that masochism as an erotic response actually prefigures sadism within childhood development—the punishment becomes the pleasure, and vice versa.
Freud maintains that this interstitial moment of realization—my father is beating me, and I love it—“is never remembered, [and] has never succeeded in becoming conscious” (180). It remains a cryptic spell-component, a cipher or secret word that could produce a magical relation within our own understanding of sexuality, if only we could uncover the proper formula. And if we come to sexuality, to gender even, through the complex operations of a fantasy—what Freud tries to construct as an origin to fantasy, an incorruptible beginning to which there can be no supplement—we also come to the institution of knighthood and medieval warfare through the same fantasy. Richard Zeikowitz, in Homoeroticism and Chivalry, plays on Freud’s beating fantasy by creating a scenario which he calls “A Knight Is Being Beaten”:
Phase 1: knight A is beating knight B [whom the reader hates]
Phase 2: the reader fantasizes being beaten by knight A
Phase 3: knights A and B are beating each other, which the reader is observing
The point here is that, according to Zeikowitz, “there is nothing as pleasurable as being beaten in a good fight. The [medieval] text again reveals the homoerotic foundation upon which each fight scenario is played out” (81). Knights, who regularly accuse rogues of engaging in base tavern-brawls and pointless fights, partake in the same pleasures, the jouissance of the “good fight,” even if their battles are seemingly contained by pageantry and ritual. Every fight has its climax, whether it takes place over some cut purse-strings or a stolen kingdom.
Knights and rogues—acting as medieval categories for containing differing types of social relations, possibly queer ones—cannot escape each other, just as fantasy writers cannot seem to escape them as literary tropes. But what happens, as in the case of Chaz Brenchley’s and Lynn Flewelling’s work, when the covert queerness that motivates both of these social categories is suddenly made visible? What happens when the knight’s kiss to his “brother” is no longer chaste, or the “queer birds” of which rogues speak in The Fraternity of Vagabonds are actually queer? My discussion will approach these questions, while also foregrounding the elements of magic and the supernatural that inhere within both historical and literary accounts of thievery and knighthood. Throughout this project, I intend to explore how magic, and specifically what I want to call magical melancholia (as the deployment of desiring lack within heroic narratives), is a force that links knights, thieves, and wizards together, forming a queer affiliation of sorts between them.
The Outremer saga revolves around Marron, a hapless squire who meets the older knight, Sieur Anton D’Escrivey, through a violent coincidence—Anton wounds him during a practice fight. This wound continues to fester throughout the series, representing a kind of organic lack that cannot be healed, as well as a permeable space, perhaps even a genital space. Anton makes Marron his squire for a variety of reasons, guilt being certainly one of them, but also due to what I want to describe as an acute sense of lack. Marron’s physical wound, described as a “mark” given to him by Anton, also comes to signify Anton’s own psychic sense of loss. There is something about Marron, something within him, that Anton recognizes as a prohibited or obscured part of himself, and Marron draws the same conclusion about Sieur Anton; in the same sense that the ego attempts to incorporate a beloved object within itself during melancholia, the sieur attempts to incorporate the squire, the master-rogue attempts to incorporate the protégé, in order to produce what Kristeva, in Black Sun, calls a “cannibalistic” relation (12).
When Anton becomes embroiled in the war over Surayon, a hidden kingdom with distinct Middle-Eastern connotations—Outremer is, after all, an uncanny retelling of the Crusades—Marron finds himself caught up in a political struggle involving wizards, princesses, djinni, and a mystical-biological weapon called “the Daughter.” Marron and Anton are eventually separated, only to reunite (on opposite sides of the war) in the final novel, Hand of the King’s Evil, wherein Marron must choose not only between two warring nations, but between two male lovers—Anton, his old master, and Jemel, a young native of Surayon. Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner novels are less epic in scope, but revolve around a similar relationship of erotic service. A young trader, Alec, is liberated from a dungeon by a master-thief named Seregil. As the two grow closer, Seregil adopts Alec as his protégé, even as his physical attraction towards the younger boy makes him uneasy. While Anton schools Marron in the ornate rituals of knighthood and squireship, Seregil schools Alec in the complexities of rogue culture, including a secret form of sign-language. The most uncanny experience within the Nightrunner novels occurs, I think, when Seregil orchestrates an elaborate test for Alec—a test that, should he complete it successfully, will guarantee him the title of rogue. This job actually forces Alec—unknowingly—to break into his own home, the home he now shares with Seregil, whose interior has been cleverly disguised. In this moment, Alec literally becomes unheimlich; he violates his own, misrecognized house.
Both series begin with a scene of interrogation. In Flewelling’s Luck in the Shadows, Alec lands himself in a dungeon, and has to rely on Seregil (posing as someone else) to escape. Although we don’t hear the precise questions that Alec’s interrogators are asking, we do see him emerge with “dark bruises and welts [that] showed against his fair skin” (Flewelling, Shadows 5). Marron’s interrogation in Brenchley’s Tower of the King’s Daughter is more metaphysical: he is subjected to the gaze of the “King’s Eye,” a magical scrying device that appears as a globe of white-hot flame (which prefigures the mystical device known as the “Daughter,” also a glowing red orb, that Marron will eventually learn to control—both energies seem to be two halves of the same arcane force). Fra’ Tumis, one of the clerics of the Order to which Marron belongs, describes the Eye as “the God’s benediction upon the King, that he may watch over all this land”; Marron himself sees it as “hard light…like white-hot rods of glass, so rigid and so still”
(Brenchley, Tower 8). Later, Rudel—a character who turns out to be a covert wizard—admits to Marron: “I’ve known men twice your age who pissed themselves when I conjured a little light, and then refused to admit it after. Refused to admit either part of it, the light or the piss” (295). Light as a trope within these novels, be it the truth-seeking light of the King’s Eye, or the penetrative and annihilating light of the Daughter, is always interrogative, never gentle.
I mention the act of interrogation for two reasons: because the pain of interrogative disclosure comes to mark all of these characters’ lives, and because knights and thieves seem to represent opposite sides of a disciplinary relation. Foucault, in The History of Sexuality I, identifies the rise of confession in Europe—contiguous with the decline of magic and witchcraft—as the historical turn during which sexuality became linked to a ruthless economy of self-disclosure. Knights were quite involved in the beginnings of this panoptic turn: those with enough social clout often served as an executive branch of the medieval courts, even going so far as to investigate tough cases for the local coroner. Peter Coss notes that hereditary knights, or those with suitable standing in the community, “were often called upon in the criminal sphere…their testimony might be sought, or offenders might be committed to their custody. They could be sent to inspect the scene of a crime or examine the wounds of a victim of assault” (Coss 33). In twelfth-century England, a plaintiff could forego trial on the battleground and choose instead to submit to the grand assize: a jury of twelve knights. As the military field gave way to the courtroom, knights took on an increasingly complex role in late medieval society, becoming investigators, jurors, contractors, bondsmen, and symbols of judicial rather than martial power. By the time that Awdeley’s Fraternity of Vagabonds was published in 1561, the knightly over-class was already being commuted into the early-modern gentry, or “esquires”, who would retain a military reputation that—although not strictly ornamental—did not force them to attend too many pitched battles. Rogues, as the target of knightly justice (and the satirists of late chivalry), served an important if under-analyzed role in the production of this new middle class: the English gentry. Quite possibly, the esquires that emerged from the disarticulated knightly class were chimeras—a queer admixture of both knights and thieves, drawing liberally from both groups in their march towards early capitalism.
When Seregil rescues Alec from imprisonment, he also begins the boy’s apprenticeship in the craft of thievery. Although the master-thief disdains the title of rogue, stressing to Alec that “I specialize in the acquisition of goods and information” (35), his frequent forays to taverns and brothels in the city of Rhíminee bring him into close contact with the marginalized communities of Flewelling’s world. Witty, cunning, devilishly handsome, with long dark hair and bedroom eyes, Seregil takes his place among a long line of debonair rogues within the fantasy tradition. Fritz Leiber’s “Gray Mouser” was one of the first of these shady bachelors, skulking through the fog-choked streets of Lankhmar with his warrior companion, Fafhrd. Formerly “Mouse,” a wizard’s apprentice, the Gray Mouser donned the cloak of master-thief when his teacher was killed by a tyrannical duke. So-named because his gray vestments made him resemble a mouse in the night, the Mouser (along with Fafhrd) found his way into, and out of, dubious neighborhoods, secret guilds, impregnable treasuries, un-stormable castles, and a plentitude of women’s bedrooms; his adventures, as well as his complex and homosocial relationship with Fafhrd, form the substance of Leiber’s Lankhmar stories, now anthologized in four books. The Mouser is intimately connected with the architecture of Lankhmar itself, a city-walker and flaneur whose body is a coiled extension of the streets, back-alleys, lacunae, and dark recesses of the metropolis, stinking of smoke and ordure.
Other charismatic thieves within the sword-and-sorcery tradition, such as Jimmy the Hand (in Raymond E. Feist’s Midkemia novels), or Silk, the unattractive but velvety-smooth rogue in David Eddings’ Belgariad series, play with the boundaries of gender through tricks of invisibility, sleight-of-hand, and even cross-dressing, but always remain ardently heterosexual. Seregil, as a “queer bird,” presents readers with a unique social model of thievery that requires further contextualization. He takes his place among a rowdy group of morts, doxies, rufflers, gamblers, bawds, and pimps—but, at times, and despite his wealthy holdings, he seems to inhabit no place at all. He tells Alec at one point that “I can’t think of anything that means less to me than money” (67), and yet capital—as a mystical relation—is at the center of his life. Despite the relative comfort in which Seregil lives with Alec, he remains unheimlich, un-homely, possessed of a variety of exchangeable sites but not a home.
Unlike the itinerant vagabonds of Robert Asprin’s popular Thieves’ World series, who spend most of their time gambling and carousing at the Vulgar Unicorn , Seregil hails from an aristocratic family and owns substantial property in the city of Rhíminee—thievery, for him, is like Foucault’s concept of sexuality as a “style,” a complex series of chosen intimacies and gestures rather than a de facto social or biological class. In offering Alec a thief’s apprenticeship, he is also offering a set of multiple relations to transgression and discipline, a particular way of looking at the early capitalist system that has begun to grip Flewelling’s world, and a mode for living that also allows room for the presence of queer sexuality. After their escape, Seregil informs him teasingly that “under those bruises and that scowl, you’re fairly pleasing to look at”; Alec, however, misses the almost predatorial look that Seregil gives him, and readers are told that “[Seregil’s] expression betrayed nothing more than the thoughtful concentration a man might show when sizing up a horse he was about to buy” (Flewelling, Shadows 20)
Horses are, in fact, an appropriate metaphor, since apprenticed squires are so often equated with livestock in chivalry manuals and the accounts of chroniclers. The Rule of the Templars , a conduct manual for the Order, frequently conflates squires themselves with the destriers (war-horses) that they tended: their clothes were often kept near the stables rather than in the regular vestry, and it is noted that the Under-Marshall “may take squires from the caravan and give them to brothers who he sees are in need of them, and place caravan squires in the horse caravan” (Upton-Ward 62; 176). There is a curious principle of substitution and exchangeability that applies to apprentices and squires, since their role within the emerging capitalist economies of these medieval worlds seems to resemble that of a proletarian underclass. This also relates to Rosi Braidotti’s claim, at the beginning of this chapter, that all squires are “epistemological orphans.” Braidotti is referring to the children of modernity, but this idea can be equally applied to squires and protégés within medieval discourse, who always seem to lack family connections—which is precisely why they must be adopted by masters. Both Alec and Marron are orphans in a variety of crucial ways, orphans within an epic narrative that requires them to be part of a family-system in order for them to signify properly within the social world; an epic narrative constantly in mourning for itself, since it cannot acknowledge or reconcile its own repudiated queerness.
Language, Silence, and Shared Relations of Service
Seregil’s first seduction attempt towards Alec is not physical, but rather verbal. He relates his own exploits and adventures to the younger man, as any rogue would, but under Seregil’s rhetorical skill the words take on an aura of sexual invitation. I was struck, actually, by the similarity between Seregil’s speech and that of Illyria, the demonic character on Joss Whedon’s Angel who replaces ‘Fred. Illyria tells Wesley that “I walked worlds of smoke and half-truths…opaline towers as high as small moons. Glaciers that rippled with insensate lust” (5.18). Seregil tells Alec that
I’ve seen [dragons] flying under a full moon in winter. I’ve danced at the great Festival of Sakor and tasted the wines of Zengat, and heard mermaids singing in the mists of dawn. I’ve walked the halls of a palace built in time beyond memory and felt the touch of the first inhabitants against my skin. (Flewelling, Shadows 37)
Seregil is casting a spell over Alec here, a spell of sexuality; he thereby wins Alec over, not through the promise of sex, or even fame, but through the compelling account of his own emotional life. This is the erotic edge of every spell, the sexual contours that most highly-ordered thaumaturgy attempts to disavow—not just the quest for a lacking object, but the casting of a net, the ensnaring or enspelling of a love-object. Alec sees the “Festival of Sakor,” he tastes the “wines of Zengat,” and he wants to share in Seregil’s own private sensorium. Like Seregil, he wants to feel “the touch of the first inhabitants against my skin,” just as, unknowingly yet, he wants to feel Seregil’s touch.
Seregil also frequents the “Street of Lights”, Rhíminee’s district of carnal pleasures (similar to Delany’s “Bridge of Lost Desires”), and is unapologetic about his same-sex affairs. “Your Dalnan priests frown on such couplings,” he tells Alec, “claiming they’re unproductive…[but] that depends on what one intends to produce” (256). He is, in a sense here, referring to the spell of capital—the production ex nihilo of something from nothing, of the magic of labor power—but also to the anti-productive power of queer relationships; the paradox of the erotic relation that “produces” something unsignable. Although he doesn’t even share a kiss with his wide-eyed apprentice until the end of Luck in the Shadows, his courtship of Alec (and Alec’s slow but steady responses to his erotic life) forms much of the book’s narrative. Near the beginning of Luck in the Shadows, for instance, after narrowly avoiding capture and escaping through a sewer, Alec, Seregil, and Seregil’s old friend Micum—who happens to be Seregil’s first love, which makes the scene resemble a modern collision of warring boyfriends—are forced to doff their wet clothes and dry off by a hastily improvised fire. Alec, ever curious, is unable to stop himself from cruising both Micum and Seregil’s naked bodies, but neither man seems to mind. It is Micum, in fact, the straight warrior, who seems most flattered by Alec’s uncertain gaze:
Micum’s [scars] were by far the more numerous and serious. The worst was a pale rope of tissue that began just beneath his right shoulder blade. It curved down around his back to end just short of his navel. Noticing the boy’s interest, he turned toward the light and ran a thumb proudly down the edge of the welt. (Shadows 78)
Just as Brenchley’s character Marron will come to bear the sexual and
metaphysical scars of the “Daughter,” Alec finds himself intrigued, even envious, of the scars “proudly” exhibited by Micum. Not just exhibited, but fondled, caressed, as Micum “[runs] a thumb proudly down the edge of the welt.” This desire for the scar comes to signify a melancholic need for something that can never satisfy, a longing relation to hole-ness and incorporeality, liminality, that will return with a vengeance after Seregil is significantly wounded and Alec has to nurse him back to health later in the novel. Alec wants not only the ragged signature of Micum’s scar, but also the memory of trauma, the bonding sigil that would join him to the same company that he sees these two men belonging to—a company that is in itself queer, since Seregil is not precisely a thief, and Micum is not a titled knight, but both adapt and manipulate these roles in order to find the living space inside of them. These scars are not simply phallic in the empowering and patristic sense, but also patently erotic, since the dimpled surface and silky-rough texture of the tissue recalls the feel of genital flesh.
Anton’s courtship of Marron is also a slow burn, occurring as it does beneath the homosocial curtain of knighthood. His first act upon meeting Marron is to injure him, most likely as a violent reaction to the boy’s own willfulness (he refuses to submit to the knight during a practice exercise), and it is no coincidence that the resulting wound becomes a perpetual mark. Marron calls it “a brand of ownership that he could mar but not mend….[A] fat and ragged mouth of red-wet flesh, half grown-over before it was torn again and yet again” (Brenchley, Tower 244). Mar is even a part of his own name—Marron—which, like Nevèrÿon, is a graphical site for difference, a catachresis. Marron is perpetually marred, just as Ennis del Mar, the tortured cowboy in Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, comes to embody the destiny of his own name. The wound is also, as I have already described, the physical “return of the repressed,” the uncanny signification of Anton’s own sense of lack, which he inscribes upon Marron. It is this tearing, “again and yet again,” a constant splitting and suturing, that creates a biological site for the Daughter’s unstable power—it feeds on his blood, on the very openness of his body, regardless of Marron’s own wish to be “like a locked tower.” Magic, in this sense, throws all the locks open, rendering the male body as violable, uncertain, replete with bloody chambers and vermilion exit strategies, riddles of bone, lymph, and viscera through which the transforming power of the uncanny might escape.
The Order to which Marron belongs is modeled after the Templars, and shares many of their precepts. Founded roughly in 1119 by Hugh of Payns, and ratified by the 1129 Council of Troyes, the Order of Templars grew exponentially—from a band of ragged knights whose clothing was donated by papal goodwill, to an international medieval corporation extending across the Mediterranean (Barberpg ref?). At its height during the early fourteenth century, according to Malcolm Barber, the Order “may have had as many as 7000 knights, sergeants, and serving brothers…by about 1300 it had built a network of at least 870 castles, preceptories, and subsidiary houses, [extending] from London to Cyprus” (Barber1). Designed after the existing Knights Hospitallers, who ran infirmaries and charitable houses throughout the crusader states, the Templars’ original purpose was to conduct pilgrims safely through war-torn “Outremer”: the Old-French term for Palestine and its surrounding environs, the “land beyond the sea.” King Baldwin II, who was living at the time in the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem (thought to be the original site of the Temple of Solomon; also the inspiration for the Key of Solomon, an early-modern magical text), “gave them [the Order] a base in his palace, to the south side of the Temple of the Lord, which was the name given by the Franks to the Dome of the Rock” (7). Building upon the national palimpsest of the fragmented Turkish state, the Templars employed a far-reaching system of papal-sanctioned propaganda in order to swell their ranks; by 1300, they were turning away applicants, and coming down especially hard on anyone thought to be embroiled in simony or bribe-taking. Simony is, in fact, the number-one offense punishable by expulsion from the Order. Murder is number three, and sodomy is number seven (Upton-Wardpage ref?).
Like the Templars, Marron’s “Order” is based upon a lengthy set of precepts—widely available to the literate brothers, but absolutely secret to the world outside the refectory. Like the strict protocols of wizardry, the alchemical formulae and hermetic riddles that structure magic, the Order thrives upon its own perverse rules. As a hired knight with a hereditary title, Anton is a part of that world, but he is simultaneously an outsider—mistrusted by the clerics, feared by the brothers, and preceded by his sodomitical (and murderous) reputation. As one sly trader tells Marron, “That’ll be why your friends are so unfriendly; Sieur Anton’s squire must be Sieur Anton’s boy” (97). This early in their partnership, Marron still has no idea what it might mean to be Anton’s “boy,” let alone his squire.
But, ultimately, it is Marron himself who decides upon the particulars of this sexual contract, just as it is Marron who invites, and allows, intimacy from Anton. Even after discovering that Anton killed his younger brother (who caught Anton with another boy), Marron still submits to his apprenticeship, because something about Anton fits his own scars, the locked chambers within his uncertain boy’s body. Like so many gay teenagers who experience their first sexual encounter with an older man—in an era when such relationships are regarded as predatorial rather than pedagogical—Marron takes something from Anton, even as Anton claims the reciprocal desire that their contract implies without ever stating. This resembles Kristeva’s process of cannibalistic incorporation, which she describes in Black Sun: “Better fragmented, torn, cut up, swallowed, digested…than lost. The melancholy cannibalistic imagination is a repudiation of the loss’s reality and of death as well” (12). Both Anton and Marron attempt to incorporate each other within their own private field of melancholy, not realizing until much later that their shared relation of service is primarily what creates melancholia as a private universe.
Not unlike a rogue, Marron remains under constant watch, since his Order functions as a medieval panopticon. He is told where to go, what to do, and with whom he should do it, until his days and nights become a blur of paternosters and penitent silences. Like the Templars, the Order functions primarily through an ethics of visual containment, teaching the brothers how to police themselves no matter how far they stray from the clerics. Standing beneath the mystical King’s Eye, which is yet another technology of surveillance, Marron “thought he was coming into the presence of something that could outweigh the purpose of the God Himself, unless perhaps it was the absence of the God that filled this hall, or left it so very empty” (37). Daily, he is forced to hide the horror that he feels for his past deeds, including the razing of a village done in the name of the Order. For Marron, this bloodshed reaches an inescapable climax when he kills an infant with his bare hands: he remembers “gripping its ankles and spinning with the frenzy like a mad priest on the temple steps…crazed even to his own ears as he dashed the babe against the stones of the wall there, as he saw its skull split and heard its sudden silence” (14). This “sudden silence,” the uncertainty of his conviction, along with the deafening non-sound of a human life unraveling, is what the ecclesiastical routine is supposed to cover over. The anamnesis of the killing moment, never quite remembered, always adjacent to perception, when the catastrophe of his own blood mixed with the infant’s only serves to prefigure the Daughter’s awful power.
The killing of an infant is the ultimate anti-productive gesture, the ultimate defiance against the capitalist structuration of life; it is also a mad version of the ancient dance of St. Vitus, the frenzied performance that can only end with the dancer’s own death. Silence becomes Marron’s coping mechanism, a form of melancholia—with the object of his sadness eventually gaining corporeal form through the Daughter’s magic—and he tells no one of this until much later in the series. Silence is also the pharmakon to magic, in the sense that it is magic’s opposite while at the same time helping to constitute the mystical relation: there must be silences between the words, but there must also be words between the silences, in order for the spell to succeed. The Order (both the actual Templars, and their uncanny double within Brenchley’s Outremer) enshrines a productive type of silence: brothers are exhorted not to shout or swear, and never to boast (especially of past sexual exploits) but it is truly the murmur, the whisper, the barely heard and dimly seen gesture, so uncanny, that the Rule fears the most.
The whisper is always transgressive amid the Order’s silent precincts, and therefore it should not be surprising that a whole constellation of rules around voice, tone, and the appropriateness of the whisper have been set down in the Rule. The suppertime period of prayer, compline, has its own particular demands for speech and silence: knights are told that “when compline has been sung…if he [the brother] wishes to say anything to his squire, he should say it quietly and calmly, and then may go to sleep. And when he is lying down he should say one paternoster” (Upton-Ward 87; 305). Similarly, after vespers, each brother “should go to his bed quietly and in silence, and if he needs to speak to his squire, he should say what he has to say softly and quietly” (27; 31). These moments of quiet intimacy—the tease of a whisper, the proximity of lips, the press of two faces together, perhaps even the drag of stubble and reek of warm breath—suggest a space of creative lust between knight and squire: the gap between speaking “quietly and calmly,” and then “going to sleep,” seems a tantalizingly small one, as if both parties are already sharing the same bed. How, after all, can a knight speak “softly and quietly,” whilst in bed, if his squire is not already within whispering distance? And what loud desires might these “calm” words possibly prefigure?
Under Seregil’s tutelage, Alec is also learning the value of silence, although his silence is a kind of Derridean “supplement” to the gestural communication of rogues. After teaching him a few coin tricks, he graduates to sign-language:
Without lifting his arm from where it rested across his knee, Seregil moved the fingers quickly in a smooth ripple, as if drumming briefly on an invisible tabletop. “I just told you to have the horses ready. And this—“ He raised his right index finger as if to scratch under his chin… ”This means we’re in danger from
behind.” (Flewelling, Shadows 28)
Seregil’s encouragement to Alec as he learns the rogue’s sign language—”No, that’s too much. You might as well shout! Yes, that’s better. Now the horse sign. Good!” (pg ref?)—sounds like pillow talk: a sexual neophyte being gently trained in the craft of roguish foreplay by a more experienced Molly. It is also a spell-language, a verbal strategy that allows rogues to communicate beyond institutional constraint.
The bulk of Thieves’ Cant was not gestural, but rather lexical. Cant or canting probably emerged from the Latin verb cantare, meaning “to sing,” and was attributed to the singsong tones of beggars and vagabonds who worked the notorious London district of Alsatia. Cant also shares grammatical ties with canny, in the sense of speech as a knowledge-practice, a knowing; and, more perversely, both forms of the word serve as the origin of the Latin slang cunny, which referred to genitalia (somewhat like Gorgik and gorgi). Although Thomas Harman was the first to connect canting with “beggars’ language” in a 1566 text (a clear indictment against the theory of some historians that Robert Greene simply invented canting in his Cony-Catching pamphlets of 1591), references to cant as a “language of beggars” appeared in Germany as early as 1514 (Gotti 7). In The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds, his lexical study of canting in England, Maurizio Gotti describes the rogues’ jargon as “containing terms commonly used by beggars and thieves to denote the essential elements connected with their mischievous way of living” (16). Gotti, in fact, points to soldiers—what was left of the knightly class—as a primary constituent of the growing rogue population in sixteenth century London, since military men were often destitute between wars, and had to rely on begging and petty thievery to survive.
Canting, like sign-language (or the proscribed whispers and regimented prayers of the Templars) allowed thieves to communicate the complexity of their vast interior world, and outsiders were none the wiser. Like the mysterious lexica of magic and spellcraft, the bubbly sing-song of cant and “cony-catching” conceals a powerfully transgressive edge—the ability to defy normative censure and authority, to maintain a secret enclave of marginalized folk, to communicate dense meaning that might only be translated by the initiated. The craft of lock-picking, in fact, is referred to as the “Black Art,” and includes terms like “charm,” which sometimes means the lock-pick, and other times the actual person doing the lock-picking (a thief is a charm, and a charm is a lock, like a locked closet). Greene states that “the charm hath many keys and wrests, which they call picklocks, and for every sundry fashion they have a sundry term; but I am ignorant of their words of art, and therefore I omit them” (175). Obviously, he is not “ignorant,” since he spends much of the Cony-Catching Pamphlets describing detailed language and terminology—like magic, this particular “Black Art” is a sort of catachresis within rogue discourse, a secretive lexicon practiced in dark rooms, crowded taverns, and hidden guilds.
Breaking and Entering
Language and ritual, then, seem to me to be the crucial queer signifiers that link rogues and knights together, and which thereby connect the fantasy works of Brenchley and Flewelling. When I asked Brenchley about the apparent queerness that I was imputing to fantasy literature, he saw a definite connection between queer life and fantasy writing as two similar genres, two modes of living in the world:
I do think that's right. Something about the way magic subverts hierarchy, maybe? Queer definitely relates to magic: it's that adolescent secret that you daren't quite tell, but you do let it show in how you are and what you do, and you wait for other people to understand; and it's dangerous, and powerful, even if its power is only negative, even if it fucks your life up, that's okay because you're just the sorcerer's apprentice, you're only just learning to control this stuff. And of course that's true for straight kids too, but for us it's bigger, more dangerous, different. We're the wizards, they're the swordsmen; there aren't many of us and we have to look after each other. (Email, Sept 17 2005)
His link between magic and queerness, like my own, depends crucially upon a secretive or melancholic language that operates in a similar way to sadness, even as it grasps wildly for power and definition. The Daughter, a negative energy-force that grips Marron’s body, is a kind of naked singularity that sucks in all biological life around it, crushing and dismembering in its attempt to—what? To devour, to be whole, to understand a world that it deems hostile, to belong? Or perhaps to sate Marron’s own developed sense of vengeance, which culminates in the brutal death of his best-friend and former lover, Aldo. Marron himself describes the Daughter as “nothing but smoke, red smoke that hung in the air and suggested something living, an animal, an insect, a monstrous breeding of the two” (Tower 231). This harkens back to Foucault’s definition of the monstrous, in the Abnormal lectures, as a “mixture of life and death….[T]he transgression of natural limits, the transgression of classifications” (63). Like wizards themselves, the Daughter—a creation of wizards, the ex nihilo production of the anti-productive class—is monstrous, unclassifiable, and dangerous.
Both Marron and Seregil are haunted by a spectral power—Marron has the Daughter, which he must protect as a mystical treasure even as it attempts to destroy him from the inside, but Seregil also has a shadow of sorts that pursues him. Like the shadow that haunts Ged in Ursula Leguin’s Wizard of Earthsea, proving after all to be a dark and repudiated part of his own psyche, Seregil’s own stalker is an uncanny monster:
Even at the distance of a bowshot Seregil could see something amiss in the lines of the figure, some profound wrongness of proportion that disturbed him more than the fact that Alec obviously couldn’t see it…[it] regarded him silently, then bowed deeply and began a grotesque dance, leaping and capering about in a fashion that would have been ridiculous if wasn’t so horrible. (Shadows 136)
As it turns out, the monster is connected to a charmed amulet, called a “telesm,” that Seregil unwittingly steals. The amulet takes over Seregil’s mind, just as the Daughter takes over Marron’s body, until both man and boy are rendered unrecognizable to their companions, cruel simulacra of their former identities. This metaphor of abject possession, the devouring of human life by a hungry and shadowed power, echoes what Sándor Radó describes in 1928 as the “dread of starvation” (Pardo 40) at the heart of melancholia, the cannibalistic impulse that paves the way for Klein’s later work on melancholia as the tension between incorporable (good) and un-incorporable (bad) objects. Seregil is, quite literally, being eaten alive by magic, and what is left—weathered, exhausted, a mumbling and incoherent wreck—resembles uncannily Freud’s own description of the melancholiac (in “Mourning and Melancholia”) as “he [who] knows whom he has lost but not what it is he has lost in them” (245).
Ritual allows us to control the enormity of magic, just as it places structural limits on knighthood and thievery as social categories. Chivalry manuals are unduly concerned with curtailment of “ornamental” social activities—eating too much (or knowing too much about food and wine), sleeping in soft furs, wearing the latest fashions, even decorating one’s armor with baubles, glitter, and flare—all of which might render knights as being a bit too fabulous. Yet knightly rituals are firmly entrenched within a homosocial symbolism that, most often, breaks through into the realm of homoerotic expression and same-sex desire. These are magic naming rituals, the same kind that create wizards with fantastic new identities like Sparhawk (formerly Ged, the village goatherd), or Mithrandir (once a boy named Pug, the hero of Raymond E. Feist’s Midkemia novels). The process of creating and dubbing a new knight, itself replete with nudity, bathing, dressing, and a few chaste kisses—demonstrates quite readily the erotic power of these transformative rituals.
“On the eve of the ceremony,” says Charny’s Livre de chevalerie, “all those who are to be knighted the next day should enter a bath and stay there for a long time, reflecting on the need to cleanse their bodies henceforth from all impurities of sin and dishonorable ways of life; they should leave all such impurities in the water” (166-67; 36, 4-10). This divestiture of “impurities,” along with the “long time” that a knight must spend in his ritual bath, seems to hint at a particularly vigorous masturbation session, capable of leaving all impurities to swirl away in the water. Later, the would- be knight should “go and lie in a new bed in clean white sheets; there they should rest as those who have emerged from a great struggle against sin” (169; 36, 11-13)—the “great struggle,” one assumes, referring to whatever happened in the bath. After this psychological battle, the celebrant is approached by his knightly peers, who dress him in “red tunics…black hose…[and] white belts, with which they gird them, signifying that they should surround their bodies with chastity and purity of the flesh” (169; 36, 16-31). This is a reverse strip-tease: the knights begin with his feet and end with his mid-section, girding him with the belt that is supposed to signify a knight’s chastity—a poor protection against all of the sexual opportunities that he will soon experience on the continent.
It is difficult to determine precisely when Marron transitions from being a squire to being the “Ghost Walker”—a Mau’dib-type prophetic figure for the Sharai (harkening back to George Herbert’s Dune), who is able to wield the power of the Daughter. As I have previously argued, the squire represents a forgotten underclass in chivalric literature, often mentioned only for his curious interchangeability and exchange-value. The squire is a sign for lack, since a million squires would still somehow be interchangeable, still be worth nothing (less than a horse); and yet the squire also comes to represent the psychic lack within the master, the knight, and in that way he gains a peculiar type of agency. A squire is like the idea of a coin—without the brass—a placeholder for capital, or a spell-ingredient that only gains power when it is combined with the proper words. Much of the Rule of the Templars is devoted to recording the amount of swappable squires that each knight, lord, or high-ranking cleric is entitled to, as well as how one kind of squire might be easily traded for another. Matthew Bennett argues that the word “squire” probably derives from the Anglo-Saxon scutifer (“shield-maker”), which “[became] by the thirteenth century clearly identified with the care of horses…the principle duty of the squire” (Bennett 2).
Marron, unlike most squires, takes a firm hand in his relationship with Sieur Anton, even going so far as to initiate and encourage sexual contact with him. In a scene both moving and playful, after his wounded arm (scarred by Anton, remember) has been bandaged and bound, Marron gently and patiently gives Anton instructions on how they might carefully have sex:
“Now, how shall we manage with this? We must put it out of the way. If you lie on the bed, thus, it should not trouble us. Good. Does that feel comfortable?”
“You won’t hurt me, sieur.”
“You seem very sure of that.”
“Marron, my name is Anton. Only for tonight, while we’re alone, do you think you might manage to use it? Or at least not to call me sieur in every sentence?”
“No, sieur, I like it.”
(Brenchley, Tower 186-87)
Marron’s pleasant affirmatives—“no, sieur, I like it”; “you won’t hurt me, sieur”; “do it again, sieur”—demonstrate his submissive mastery of the situation. Marron is, in fact, a bit of a switch-hitter, as he demonstrates later with Jemel, able to assume both dominant and submissive roles, like Gorgik, depending upon the specificity of the erotic encounter (or upon his own personal whims and desires). Unlike Gorgik, he doesn’t require the social sign of the collar to do this. He does it because he wants to.
This also demonstrates Foucault’s notion of S/M as a series of practices that “produce pleasure with very odd things, very strange parts of our bodies” (Advocate Interview 165). Marron’s wounded arm becomes a fetish object within this scene—he is able to control and produce pleasure through his wound, precisely because his body has been marred or damaged in a specific way. The tunings of pain and power become the framework for this sex scene, where pleasure emerges from the very site that should prohibit or complicate its generation. Marron effectively transforms his own physical lack, the mark of his failure as a squire and the signifier of his incompleteness, or openness, into an erotogenic zone. His wound is simultaneously an orifice and a phallus, which we have to admit is an impressive act of magic.
This sexual education, however, is also a social one, and both Sieur Anton and Seregil try to instruct their protégés in moving up the political ladder, while simultaneously teaching them how to fill an acute social lack, a black hole represented by their working-class origins. Considering that Seregil dons drag (becoming “Lady Gwethlyn”) several times throughout Luck in the Shadows, it seems as if Alec is attending a kind of rogue’s finishing-school here, training how to become a proper lady:
First, the hanging sleeves of a formal robe are pushed—never rolled—halfway back to the elbow, no farther. You may place your left elbow on the table, never the right, although it’s generally acceptable to rest your wrist at the edge. Food is handled with the thumb and first two fingers of each hand; fold the others under, like so. (278)
As Alec himself observes, life in Seregil’s manor has “a charmed quality,” and part of the charm involves the unraveling of high-society mysteries. He is being indoctrinated into a particular queer style of life, a mode de vie. But it is also no coincidence that, for his first real challenge as a burglar and cutpurse, Seregil has Alec unknowingly break into his own home. Despite their charmed life together, Seregil still feels the need to teach Alec that “home” is an unstable signifier for anyone, unheimlich—a burglar can easily defy the most complex lock, just as burglar’s own life can be disrupted by churning socio-political forces beyond his control.
When Alec, curious, follows Seregil to the infamous Street of Lights, he sees that “despite the early hour, each house had one or more colored lamps burning above its entrance. There were only four colors: rose, amber, white, and green” (232). Each color represents either a heterosexual or queer possibility: straight male prostitutes who sleep with women, straight female prostitutes who sleep with men, queer women who sleep with women, and queer men who sleep with men (with, one imagines, a certain amount of playful overlap). After following Seregil into one of the queer houses—which is really the fantastic version of a historical Molly House—Alec finds himself in a new environment both aesthetically and erotically charged:
The murals [in the room] were divided into panels, and each presented handsome male nudes intertwined in passionately carnal acts....[A]s Alec watched, Seregil leaned his head back and his robe fell open to reveal the smooth column of his throat and the lean planes of his chest and belly. Fascinated and confused, Alec felt the first hesitant stirring of feelings that he was not prepared to associate with his friend and teacher. (151-152)
Alec discovers here that the tantalizing murals and friezes, as well as the various configurations of queer bodies in different poses, all represent a powerful kind of erotic lack that, up until this point, he has been trying to fill by stealing goods, breaking into houses, and performing a particular kind of roguish identity. The Molly House is melancholic because it dramatizes a homosexual relationship that could never occur outside, by the light of day, and Alec is surprised and a bit terrified to realize that he has always somehow been a part of that impossible circuit. What he desires is not simply Seregil’s body, “the smooth column of his throat,” almost vampirically, but also the cultural legitimacy of a real erotic and emotional relationship with his teacher: he wants their sexuality to be immortalized, on one of those scandalous murals, even as he balks at their crass sensuality.
Marron and Alec both find ways to use their masters’ language in sly and innovative ways, choosing not to use “the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house,” à la Audre Lord, but to stage a break-in purely to expose the violability of the masculine manor. After Alec breaks into Seregil’s home, the two are still able to live there; after Marron submits to, and enjoys, Anton’s sensual burglary/buggery, the two are still able to function as knight and squire. The apprentice’s power, then, seems to stem from submission, just as the bottom’s control emerges from an act of “surrender” that is actually an enormously focused deployment of pleasure. At this point, all sorts of analogies emerge between burglary and buggery, between cant and camp, between knave and nelly (or master and Molly), and this only serves to reinforce the linguistic heritage that knights, rogues, and queers all share. Polari, like a magic spell, releases wild signs that seem, at first, entirely arbitrary, but simply require the ear of a queer bird, or a few sly tools learned in the “queer cove” (canting slang for “prison.”).
Marron’s journey from squire to master does not end particularly well. At the conclusion of the series, he finds himself witnessing an impossible duel between his ex-lover, Sieur Anton d’Escrivey, and his current lover, Jemel. In a Gordian twist, it seems that Anton killed Jemel’s former lover, Jazra, and Jemel’s desire for retributive justice is as unquenchable as the Daughter’s mindless hunger. This is also the uncanny “return of the repressed,” like the many seemingly pointless journeys of Gorgik and Pryn—the circulations and perambulations that represent the tension between heimlich/unheimlich, or what Helene Cixous identifies as “the return road which passes through the country of children in the maternal body. You have already passed through here: you recognize the landscape. You have always been on the return road” (544). Jemel has already entered into a lover’s contract with Jazra, similar to the contract between knight and squire: “Whom I love, him do I fight for / whom I fight for, him do I love” (Brenchley Tower183). In Thomas Dekker’s The Bellman of London , we are shown another contract, between a would-be rogue and the Upright Man, that closely resembles this agreement of lover’s service, a rogue’s spell linking vassal with master-thief: “I, [blank],do stall thee, [blank], to the rogue, by virtue of this sovereign English liquor, so that henceforth it shall be lawful for thee to cant, that is to say, to be a vagabond and beg, and to speak that Pedlar’s French” (Judges 308).
These contracts become performative utterances, calling into being the very identities—rogue, knight, lover—that they cite. In the end, it seems, Jemel is fighting more for the contract than he is for his lover’s blood. This is a passion of the contract, and just as Marron cannot bear to see Jemel destroy his ex-lover, neither can he bear to watch his new lover die at the hands of his former teacher. In a sense, this is a battle of two texts, a clash of contracts that Marron himself must disrupt—by calling on the power of the Daughter one last time, he becomes the living mark that sunders this paratactic sentence, this list of desires and duties, the splash of blood against vellum that washes all trace of a signature away:
[Marron] flung his body between the two duelists, and was impossibly lucky not to find himself twice-skewered as he deserved—but he always had been lucky, just as he always had been desolate…he seized one of the startled figures and dragged him through a sudden raw wound in the world, a ripped red gateway to a golden land. (Brenchley Hand 759)
Just as Tylendel drags Vanyel through a mystical door, and Noyeed leads the hapless smuggler through a maze of dark passageways, Marron seizes the power here to defy the text—he tears a hole in the world, pulling—who?—someone through. Either way, as Marron pulls back the curtain that separates Outremer from Surayon, the mortal world from the secret country that lies beyond (as inchoate and illegible as the Temple of Solomon, or the Dome of the Rock), he projects his own ragged wound onto the surface of social life, rendering the world itself as wounded, bleeding, ragged from failed sutures and ever-violable; the world as lack, in mourning for its own “poverty of relations,”(“Social Triumph” 159) as Foucault describes it. Maybe he pulls nothing and nobody but his own shadow through the portal, the fetish of his own melancholic sadness that no amount of mystical power can assuage. In this climactic moment, it is unclear if he actually devours the Daughter, or vice versa. Alec is unable to rip open a gate in space-time, but he does open a door of sorts, invoking the hinge of desire that joins his curious body with Seregil’s more experienced one. In spite of the older man’s caution and avoidance, Alec gambles on a kiss, which—like the kiss of the knight—is a text replete with its own contradictions, legible perhaps only within that warm chiasma, the meeting-point of lips where we surrender to the broader social contract that links us as human beings, the melancholic riddle of affect: “It was Alec who brought their lips together. Seregil’s first reaction was disbelief. But Alec was insistent, clumsy but determined…it spoke silent volumes of bewildered honesty” (Flewelling, Shadows 443).
Fantasy, as a genre, is also a thief of sorts: it steals liberally from other genres, including the gothic, the western, the romance (both medieval and contemporary), the epic, the thrilling boy’s stories of the pulp tradition (pre-Hugo Gernsback), and the bulk of classical mythology—Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in particular. Like a raven, fantasy builds its nest from all sorts of discarded materials, stitching together tropes and conventions in order to produce something old and new at the same time. Like Alec, fantasy breaks into the houses of literature, of myth, and of history, not just to expose the fragility of the canon, but to marvel at the complexity of its locks. Sometimes, home has to be broken into, so that it continues to signify as home, with all of its cracks, alleys, clogged gutters and broken windows.
As both squire and protégé demonstrate within these works, the metaphor of the locked tower and prayer-closet is not enough to convey the various melancholic articulations of drama and desire that circulate within apprentice relationships. There is definitely something queer about being either a rogue or a knight, but if I have not quite put a spotlight on what ‘it’ might be, that is probably because both relations are ambivalent in themselves. The economy of looks between knight and squire, the hungry gaze of young men as they watch heroic knights, is similar in every way to the dense array of looks, nods, gestures, and invitations that might occur in any urban neighborhood dominated by gay men—Polk Street, Davie Street, Cheapside in Tudor London, or the Street of Lights in Rhíminee. Blink, look away, and you might miss it. But, as I hope I have demonstrated, the connections that bind knights and rogues together are not simply visual or imaginary. They both share similar linguistic, historical, military, and geographic conventions, and they both serve as literary foils to each other, so that one could not possibly exist without the other: there is no Sir Lancelot without Robin Hood, and no Livre de chevalerie without The Fraternity of Vagabonds. The queerly reciprocal service contracts each profession enacts also bring out the melancholic bonds that structure all social relations.