Sir Morbid and the Dragon


Martin Duffy

(Originally a tangent from his early novel, Exit Harry, our hero, a kind of alternate, manic depressive, John Mandeville, sees little of the world for his self absorption.)

Sir Morbid's World

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a bold but miserable knight named Sir Morbid the Brood. Sir Morbid was a very quiet man - the loudest sound he ever made was the deep sigh of regret he would heave whenever he thought of just how unhappy he was.
Sir Morbid had no particular reason for being miserable - at least, none that he could remember anymore. Nevertheless he always felt that a dark cloud of despair hung over his life, waiting to rain down further proof that happiness was indeed impossible and the human condition amounted to nothing more than insult added to injury.
The good King Basildork had knighted Sir Morbid in gratitude for his victory over a fiery dragon that had once terrorized his land. Whereas many knights had faced the dragon in combat only to lose their lives, the man Morbid came forth and said he would take on the challenge as the likely outcome would be his death. He then confronted the dragon and assailed him with nothing more than his sad voice and woe-begone face. The dragon became so depressed by Morbid that he retreated to his cave and set fire to himself.
But there was a price for the King's knighting of Morbid. Basildork soon discovered that when Sir Morbid sat down at the round table with his fellow knights he would depress them too. All assembled would begin to talk of death and lost youth, until each meeting was brought to an end by some knight weeping inconsolably for the lost warmth of his sainted mother. No plans for the kingdom or strategies for great battles could be agreed, as the knights were too busy wailing and beating their chestplates. The King feared that his domain would fall into ruin without a strong military around him.
Having to choose between a sound kingdom and the life of a doom-laden knight, Basildork thought long and hard. Every knight must have his quest, and the shrewd King decided to give Sir Morbid one which would keep him searching far away from the castle until he would surely meet his death. Looking out over the castle ramparts one sunset, such an idea came to him, and so he called Sir Morbid the Brood at once.
The two stood facing west in the chill of the evening, Morbid frowning a great frown as he listened to the King.
"I am troubled," the King began. Morbid nodded, knowing all too well that feeling. "That magic orb, the Sun, shines down on us every day, journeying across hither to hence until the day ends and it disappears. Then comes night, and with it the lesser orb we call the Moon, its white face grinning down with the menace that it might engulf us for all time. Yet at dawn the Moon retreats and the Sun returns to bring its life and nourishment.
"What troubles me is this. We all know that the Earth is flat and the sky above us a glass dome in which the Lord on high has dotted the tiny lights we call the stars. Across this dome the Sun and Moon traverse. But our royal mind is puzzled by this. If the Sun sets each night in the West, then how can it reappear each morning in the East? Is each day's Sun a new disc created by God, or each night is the Sun transported under our Earth, through Hades, to be perched again in the West for its new day's journey? And again we wonder - who are the agents of this transportation, and will they ever seek a levy from us for their toil?"
Sir Morbid heaved a sigh so deep that for a moment the King pondered his own mortality.
"Am I to understand," Sir Morbid droned, "that my quest is to find that place beyond the horizon where either each Sun dies and lies or the one Sun is taken away by mystic forces to be placed once more in the East?"
    "That is precisely so," the King replied.
"I feared you would say that," Sir Morbid sighed. But being ever loyal to the crown and the honour of his knighthood, he pushed out his puny chest and stood erect. "So be it, your royal majesty. I do always as my King bids, even onto death. I shall set out on my quest and not return to your castle until I have found the answer to this question which troubles you so."
By the following dawn, Sir Morbid had donned his full armour and prepared for the journey. He mounted his trusty steed and bade farewewll to the assembled court, setting off out the castle gates and west down the road to face the Sun when it would set again that evening. King Basildork was greatly relieved to watch the knight trot away, for he knew that the task was impossible. Sir Morbid would fall off the edge of the world in his search for the Sun's resting place. The King felt only the tiniest pang of remorse, for he knew his castle would return to normal and his kingdom would once again become a mighty force.
Sir Morbid began as he would continue - with a heavy heart and the taste of defeat in his sour mouth. He was determined not to fail, yet he knew there would be no joy in victory. Travelling forever westward in the path of the Sun, he was undaunted to find at the end of each day that he was no nearer to where the setting of the Sun took place. He travelled the breadth of his country until he was faced by the sea. There he hired the services of a merchant ship to reach the neighbouring land. Even though he would be considered an enemy force in this land, he traversed it alone from every dawn to every dusk until at last this too he crossed. This brought him to the vast uncharted ocean which was known to lead to the very edge of the world where his quest would finally be resolved.
He could find no seaman so foolhardy as to oblige him by sailing out after the Sun, but Sir Morbid could not be stopped. He pined over the delay while he built his own small craft, then gathered a store of food and water to survive the treacherous voyage. Fishermen, taking pity on what they saw as a miserable fool, warned him that if he travelled far out he would be caught in the swirling currents at the edge of the world and would not be able to save himself from certain doom. Despite this, Sir Morbid simply explained that to die an anguished death was his fate and there was no point in his resisting.
So he set sail out into the ocean, sadly leaving his fine horse behind in the vain hope of one day returning to that shore after his goal had been attained. He set sail westward, and endured an ordeal of storm, fear and pain. The Sun he was following scorched him through the days, but when it set the bitter cold gripped and he shivered the nights away. There were times when the seas raged violently against this intruder. The sullen Morbid would believe his hour had come and would kneel before God in the scant expectation of being received into Heaven as a failed knight errant. But ultimately each tempest receded and the voyage would continue.
On and on Sir Morbid went, ever expecting to see the Sun draw closer and then perhaps a surge of curling sea marking the edge of the world. But such a time never came. If the winds tried to turn him back he would simply lower the sails and paddle hopelessly. No force of nature could make him turn back. The Sun above taunted him, seeming always to be the same distance away - except for those cruelly tantalising occasions when it would loom large and red on the horizon as if he were near his destination.
Then the least expected thing happened. One day, Sir Morbid woke to the sight of land. He checked his bearings again and again, yet he could plainly see that he was still heading west. He thought that at last he was nearing the land of magicians who drew the Sun into the earth.
When he arrived on the shore he found a richly vegitated land. Beaching his craft, he was soon greeted by near naked savages who gathered around him and spoke in a garbled tongue. Sir Morbid the Brood looked at the savages and they looked at him. He had never seen creatures with red skin and human shape before. They had never seen a pale faced man glistening steely bright in the Sun.
He tried to explain his quest to them, but they did not understand. He became very sad and mournful over his plight, pointing despairingly at the Sun and the west. The savages took this to mean he had fallen from the Sun and was anxious to be re-united with it in that land beyond the mountains where the Sun goes to rest. Honouring him as an unhappy God, they gave him a lavish supply of food. They pleaded with him to remain for their festivities, but he pressed on as they danced a ritual dance and prayed to him. With the Sun before him and the Earth as he had once known it to his back, Sir Morbid the Brood carried relentlessly on with his quest.
Days, weeks, months and years passed. Sir Morbid carried on, ever hoping that the night would come when he would see the Sun set not on the far horizon, but in his very presence. He tried to draw closer to it by travelling both night and day, but soon he became so weakened that he collapsed in a grove of trees in the shadow of a great mountain and lay there in a heavy sleep until he was restored. On his pilgrimage he met many red skinned people and saw many wondrous sights of nature. But always his heart was set with grim resolve on his goal, and nothing could slow his progress or distract him from his cheerless fate.
None of the natives he encountered could speak his tongue, so they did not know how depressing he was to talk to. They saw him only as a magical wanderer - his body dressed in armour, his face bronzed by ever facing the Sun - making a noise as poignant as the sighing wind.
Once, a most beautiful woman savage, with dark skin and dusky brown eyes, entreated him to stay with her in love. She did not understand, nor could she ever understand, that a knight errant's code demanded his unswerving loyalty to his quest above all else - even his own happiness. Sir Morbid travelled on, leaving the weeping woman behind.
He at last reached the western extreme of the strange continent, but was confronted with a great expanse of sea. Accepting mournfully that it was his fate to once more suffer the ravages of seafaring, Sir Morbid built a humble craft and set off into the unknown.
Keeping to the path of the Sun, Sir Morbid the Brood drifted on at sea. Surely, he believed, he would this time be caught up in the swirling currents at the edge of the world. Even if death awaited, at least in his last moments he would witness the fate of his final day's Sun. But the journey went on for many months. Despite his prudent use of supplies, he eventually had no food or water and had to carry on battling to reach his elusive goal. He became weak and delirious, and was not surprised one day to witness the sight of land on the horizon to the west. He felt sure that he had finally taken leave of his senses. As he lay, close to death, in his craft a kind wind filled the sails and brought his to land safely.
He awoke from his illness to find himself in a warm bed with many faces looking down on him. He had never seen such faces before. They were round, with slanted eyes and broad smiles. When his health had been restored, these friendly people brought him to the court of a palace where one of their kind sat on a throne of great splendour. Sir Morbid explained his plight to this emperor, but they did not speak the same tongue and the knight could only gesture to express his need to proceed with his quest.
In the end these kind people gave him a fine caravan of riches to help him on his way and a troop of warriors to guide him until they reached a great wall beyond which the Sun set and Sir Morbid had to go. He gave his thanks and left them in order to carry on towards the setting Sun.
Sir Morbid despaired of ever fulfiling his quest. He wandered on, ever westward, declining the aid of the many peoples he encountered. Inconsolable in his grief and shame, he plodded the roads and plains. He cursed the Sun above and the earth below. He cursed the God who had afflicted him with such a woeful plight. But never did he consider ceasing his quest. He would not fail his King.
As the years passed he remained true to his task. With a begrudging eye he still observed and followed the Sun. But he could no longer perceive an end to his journey, for he was past believing that the mystery of the setting Sun would ever be revealed to him. On and on he trekked through lands he had never seen before. Across lesser seas he sailed, but the Sun grew no closer while Sir Morbid grew older, sadder, and weaker. His armour lost its shine and his sword had rotted in its scabbard. He became a gaunt and dreary figure whose shadow stretched back over a voyage of sorrow. He had used up all his gifts, and was reduced to plodding on the back of a lame old work horse.
Then a day came when a ship carried Sir Morbid to a land where the natives spoke his tongue. He was greatly puzzled by this, and carried on after the Sun through villages that seemed somehow familiar. He was astonished one day to find himself still heading west but on a path he recognised as the one to the east of the castle of King Basildork. Frantic and confused, he reached the familiar gates of the castle.
An old serf in the courtyard, recognising something faintly familiar about the crest on the battered armour, came towards the weary knight. He stood in awed silence for some moments, then cried out.
"Sir Morbid! Sir Morbid the Brood! Sir Morbid the Brood has returned!"
A great crowd gathered around the bedraggled knight on his hoary steed, and a cry went up around the castle that the long lost Sir Morbid had returned. King Basildork, now a feeble old man, demanded to be carried from his throne and brought out to the yard.
Seeing his King approach, a frown of terrible grief fell on Sir Morbid's wizened face. Tears sprang from his eyes as he fell to his knees before King Basildork. The King was speechless with disbelief.
"My great King Basildork!" Sir Morbid cried, throwing up his arms in anguish, "forgive me I beg you! The Sun deceived me and I have lost my way! Grant me your leave to make amends by setting out once more and completing the mission you bestowed upon me!"
Before the senile King could ask or answer, the haggard knight climbed back on his horse and turned away. He rode out past the castle gates westward to face the Sun. Down the road he trotted, off and away into the curving horizon, as he wept for shame and lamented his worthlessness. Sir Morbid the Brood was never seen again.

Mandeville writes his memoirs