A retelling of the ballad of the Scottish borders
A Knight! A Dark and Stormy night! A Castle! A quest! A hot headed wizard! A damsel! Northumberland! What more could you possible want? Musical credits, sources and more at: https://talesofbritainandireland.com/episode-31-the-seeker-knight/
#myths #folklore #legends
“Still he seeks…”
A Knight! A dark and stormy night! A Castle! A quest! A hot headed wizard! A damsel, probably in distress! Northumberland! What more could you possible want?
Also includes a short second story, so you get some real value for money for this one. Given it’s free I’ll leave you to decide how much value that is.
“Whom Spells enthralled in the Haunted Hall”Gregory ‘Monk’ Lewis – Sir Guy the Seeker
Story in summary (Warning – contains spoilers!)
The story in brief, without the detail or discussion – not a transcript.
If you’ve already listened and just want a refresh, only want the bare bones of the story, or really don’t care about spoilers then please do click below to read on…
The Seeker Knight
It’s a horrible night on the North Coast of England. Right on the coast. A figure rides through the darkness and through the pouring rain. Waves crash, lighting flashes, thunder rolls.
You can tell the figure’s a Knight by his almost painfully stereotypical knightly get up – oversized plume helmet, metal winkle pickers, impractical lance. The lot.
He is Sir Guy, a manly man and a damsels’ man and a great a hero as any knight should be. But right now he’s simply sodden wet and just wants to get dry and warm.
And Lo! In a lightning strike he sees the outline a castle in the not too far distance. It’s dramatically perched upon the cliff tops. No lights shine from it but it’s the best he’s got and so to it rides Sir Guy.
When horse and rider arrive at the crumbling walls Sir Guy finds it not so inviting – this is a long abandoned ruin. The entrance way seems barred but thankfully there is an old porch in which his steed and himself can fit, out of the rain, just by the rusted Castle gates.
Sir Guy prepares for a long night of huddling against the elements, but the tempest and fate have other ideas. A bolt of lighting appears from the storm and it strikes the gate with a flashy display of sparks, and improbably the gates swing open.
Sir Guy peers into the weed strewn courtyard and to his shock sees a light there. A flickering light of blue flame. And it’s clearly getting closer to Sir Guy.
He is a Knight. Knights adventure and he can taste adventure in the air. So boldly he takes his sword and heads out into the courtyard towards the oncoming light. It’s his Knightly experience that prevents him collapsing in terror or being stupefied with shock when he gets close enough to discern the source.
For it is a towering figure of a man, clad in a dark robe embroidered with mysterious but clearly arcane symbols, great metal chains wrapped around him and his head swathed in a dancing blue fire. This guy’s look is making one hell of a statement.
Guy prepares to fight but the Wizard makes it clear from the outset that he’s not there to fight – despite his fearsome appearance he’s the quest giver, an archetype Sir Guy is very familiar with. The Wizard booms out a doggerel verse:
“At Dunstanbugh Castle you have arrived!
We shall see this night, if you survive!
Sir Knight, Sir Knight, if your heart be right,
And your nerves be firm and true
Sir Knight, Sir Knight! A beauty bright
Imprisoned, waits for you!”
Typical quest stuff really. An imprisoned damsel was right up his street. “Sign me right up” said Sir Guy, or words to that effect.
And at that the hot-headed sorcerer turned and headed through some concealed doorway in the ruins. And Sir Guy followed. Down flights of stairs, through twisting corridors that must have taken them deep into the earth. Until finally they start to climb again. Climb stairs until they reach a vast gate.
A gate bolted shut, from this side. Well kind of bolted. For where a bolt usually would be was a huge thick evil looking serpent, its fanged maw dripping with venom.
How was our brave Knight to pass this first challenge you wonder? Stand back and let the wizard deal with it apparently. Not just a quest giver but an NPC it turns out, for he brandished his burning iron staff and magic flew.
The lifeless snake dropped dead, unwinding from the lock and hitting the floor with a thud. The gate swung open. Slightly anticlimactic and a breeze for Sir Guy.
Through the gate they went – and no more corridors now, for it opened into a vast dark room. Marble floors stretched away into the distance and the two took echoing steps into the void. And with a sudden woosh a hundreds fiery torches burst into life of their own volition.
Once he’d recovered from the shock a blinking Sir Guy could make out the real scale of the room: larger than any castle or even cathedral that sir Guy had ever been in.
But his eyes were swiftly drawn to the other beings in there with them: one hundred black horses stood in rows, utterly unmoving, and sleeping soundly next to each one was a knight clad in shining white armour. It was evident neither Knight nor horse was in a natural slumber.
The flaming wizard barely stopped to let Sir Guy take the scene in before he strode off down to the end of the room, past the knights and horses to where something glowed. Sir Guy followed.
The light came from the reflection and refractions of a huge crystal. A crystal flanked on either side by even larger humanoid skeletons, one of which held a sword and one of which a horn.
But Guy’s gaze was drawn inside the crystal, for somehow, impossibly, within it he could see the form of a woman.
She was (of course) breathtakingly beautiful and Sir Guy immediately fell in love (read: lust).
And as he got closer Guy could see that despite her crystalline tomb she lived still. Her eyes opened, her mouth moved but her words could not be heard, but Guy could tell she was pleading. Pleading for rescue.
He reached for his sword, to dash the gem gaol but up spake the wizard to stop him. “This crystal was made by the arch fiends of hell and no earthly weapon can break it”.
Despite the intriguing backstory this statement hinted at he gave no more of it, and Guy did not ask for it.
The Wizard gestured to the skeletons : “You must make a choice – the horn or the sword. One will free her, the other….. well….”. And he drifted off into silence his meaning clear.
“Ok… which one then?” asked Guy
“I cannot help you in this” the wizard intoned morosely, once again hinting at the backstory never to be explained.
“Just raise an eyebrow?” suggested Guy.
“Pick.” said the wizard, and this time his words were coloured with an unmistakeable sense of urgency. Sir Guy did not need to be told that this was not something he was going to get to think deeply about.
Thoughts whirred through Guy’s mind… horn or sword, horn or sword… maybe the sword is not earthly and can break it? Maybe the horn can summon help? Oh damn it… He reached for the skeleton with the sword. At the last moment he second guessed himself and changed his decision, reached for the jewel encrusted ivory war horn. Took it down and blew into it.
The rich sonorous sound echoed through the cavern. Sir Guy removed the horn from his lips and slowly silence returned. For a small while. Until it was broken by the sounds of long inanimate knights waking.
“Maybe they could help!” thought Guy.
Amassed ranks of knights turned towards him. Raised their weapons menacingly. And charged.
Sir Guy braced himself for the greatest and final fight of his life. The knights raced towards him, the torches went out as suddenly as they had come to life, and all that Guy could see was the fiery head of his companion who bellowed: “Shame on the coward, who sounded a horn when he might have unsheathed a sword!”.
And then his fire went out and the scene fades to black.
Surprisingly this wasn’t the end for Sir Guy. He woke up the next morning, groggy and confused but otherwise uninjured, blinking in the sunlight. The storm had passed.
He could have left then. He should have left then. But he had seen her and so he was in love with her. And yet he had failed to save her and that could not be! So he searched for the gate back down below the castle. He couldn’t seem to find it however intently he searched. And he so he waited till midnight the next night, waited for the wizard to reappear. But of course he did not.
But Sir Guy never gave up his search. He sold everything he had eventually, devoted the rest of his life to a ceaseless unsuccessful quest for the woman in the sepulchral crystal. The Seeker Knight the locals called him.
And though he has been dead many a year some even say he searches still.
There’s a much longer version of this, a second connected tale and more discussions on the podcast episode, so if you’re hungry for more why not give it a listen?
It was brought to my attention after releasing the episode that the castle name should be pronounced DUN-stanburgh, rather than dun-STAN-burgh as I do throughout the episode
I got this wrong even though I actually visited the place before recording the episode (pictures below). Sorry about that everyone!
Here’s a good video on the difficulty of pronouncing British Place names that makes me feel a bit better about it:
Views of Dunstanburgh and illustrations of the story
Pictures of the oddly pixelated castle are my own from a very fine day out. The nearby village of Craster is well recommended, particularly if you have a penchant for seafood.
Jingling Geordie’s hole
(tee hee hee)
The advert mentioned in the podcast in full:
Listen to the episode to find out what occurred on April 13th, 1819 at the allotted hour!
The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus
As mentioned in the discussion section the seven sleepers was a well known medieval tale of a bunch of good Christians who were entombed alive by an evil pagan Roman emperor and awoke hundreds of years later thinking that only a day had passed. This was the kind of thing that one might put down to the fairies or the flight of the Navigator but in this case it was all the work of god.
More on Sewingshields with Icy Sedgewick
If you’re hungry for more on this topic then prolific folklore expert Icy Sedgwick has a page all about Sewingshields castle and a whole podcast episode to boot. Check it out at https://www.icysedgwick.com/king-arthur/
Musical credits for Episode 31: The Seeker Knight
Intro and outro theme from the incredibly talented Alice Nicholls Music
Other music, used under various Creative Commons licenses:
Castle of Darkness
Conqueror of the kingdoms
Tales from the asylum
Lullaby for democracy