In my quest for things medieval this year, I decided to pursue the stories of Charlemagne's knights, who don't get out as much as King Arthur's anymore. To my surprise, although Charlemagne is a more historical character than Arthur, his knights are just as legendary, and their adventures are, if anything, more fantastic. All that battling the Saracen gives them a more international flair, and their adventures include trips to or visitors from India, Cathay, and the moon (where everyone's lost wits are kept in tidy little vials).
My guide on this quest has been Thomas Bullfinch, who wrote up a lengthy volume with all the mythology he thought it might be useful to anyone to know. Although he's not the most enthralling storyteller in the world, he does passably well, and it's handy to have everything in one volume which (Bullfinch being a good Victorian) can safely be left within the children's reach. I will definitely be watching for my own copy at Half-Price Books.
One surprising thing about Charlemagne's knights is that some of them are girls. The most prominent is a doughty maiden named Bradamante, who falls in love with a Saracen knight named Rogero. She spends a lot of time rescuing him from various enchantments of his foster-father, who is trying to keep him in idle seclusion from the dangers of battle. Rogero's a good fighter, but not much against enchanters.
In due time it is revealed that Rogero was in fact the child of Christian parents who were slain by the prince he is now serving, and he eventually sees his way clear, despite knightly codes, to abandon his past creed and commander and convert to Christianity, join Charlemagne's forces, and, not incidentally, marry Bradamante.
Trouble is, while Bradamante has been riding knight-errant around the countryside, her parents have been more-or-less betrothing her to the son of the Byzantine Emperor. They don't think a landless knight is an adequate substitute. Upon hearing this news, Bradamante proves she really is a girl and goes to her room and cries. Rogero rides off to challenge Prince Leo himself, but when Leo saves his life, Rogero winds up vowing to serve him. Prince Leo, who, though he means well, is a poor fighter, finds in his anonymous new friend the perfect champion to secretly substitute for him when Bradamante vows she won't marry a man who can't beat her in a fair fight. And Rogero is too much the loyal knight to refuse the request.
It's an exciting and complicated tale, and all ends happily, which is a rare ending for Charlemagne's knights. Another girl, named Fleurdelis, is always following the knight Florismart around, but since she's no fighter she always has to beg some other knight (once Bradamante) to rescue him from the trouble he gets in. When he dies, she thinks regretfully that if only she had been there, she might have screamed at the right moment. There's a moral in there somewhere.
The curious thing is that of the few girls who are knights (Rogero's sister is another), nobody seems to make a big deal about it. Clearly it's not common, but neither is it treated as shocking or improper by anyone. Of course, none of the bad guys are too thrilled when they find out they've been beaten by a girl.