The Hedge Knight is the first in a series of novellas set in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire, written by George R.R. Martin. It is set eighty-nine years prior to the events of A Game of Thrones and does not feature any of the same characters. It was originally published in 1998 in a fantasy anthology called Legends, edited by Robert Silverberg. It was nominated for the 1999 Best Novella Award for both Locus and the World Fantasy Awards.
A comic-book adaptation of the novella was released in 2004.
The novella, the first in a series, opens in 209 AL, some eighty-nine years before A Game of Thrones takes place. Unlike the main series' sprawling, multi-character narrative, the novellas only have one POV character, a hedge knight named Ser Duncan the Tall.
At this time, the Seven Kingdoms are at peace. King Daeron II Targaryen sits the Iron Throne and his rule has been just and popular, although the realm still bears the scars of the Blackfyre Rebellion of thirteen years earlier and the disastrous rule of King Aegon IV that preceded it. Daeron has formally brought Dorne into the Seven Kingdoms and his several sons and many grandsons have secured the succession for a long time to come. In a time of peace there is not much work for soldiers or knights, so tourneys have become a popular pastime. Lord Ashford, a rich lord of the Reach, has invited the great and good of the land to come to a great tourney to be held on Ashford Meadow, which is sure to be the great social event of the year for those who attend. The knights will compete for the honour and favour of his daughter, and to show their own honour and skills in battle.
On the road
Ser Arlan of Pennytree is an old and experienced knight approaching his sixtieth year. He has taken a squire, a strong and strapping lad he has dubbed 'Dunk', for his slow and deliberate way of thinking. Arlan decides that they should attend the tourney, but he takes a chill along the way and dies on the road. Dunk buries the body and proceeds to the tourney by himself, vowing to take part and win honour.
Approaching Ashford, Dunk stops for the night at an inn, leaving Arlan's warhorse Thunder and riding horse Sweetfoot and their pack-mare Chestnut in the care of the stableboy. Dunk talks to the innkeeper and learns that most of the village has gone to see the tourney. The only other occupant of the inn is a drunkard who suddenly wakes up and claims he knows Dunk from his dreams. He staggers off to bed. After his meal, Dunk returns to his horses to find the stableboy pretending to ride Thunder as a knight. Dunk is more amused than annoyed, but turns down the boy's request that he takes him as a squire.
At Ashford Meadow
Dunk rides on to Ashford to find that most of the major noble houses of the South have sent representatives to the tourney. He watches a puppet show depicting a fight between a knight and a dragon and then sees a respected armourer, Steely Pate, about armouring himself for the tourney. They reach an agreement, although the price strains Dunk's limited financial reserves. He returns to his campsite to find that the boy from the inn has followed him anyway. Getting over his annoyance, Dunk decides to let the boy squire for him, and learns his name is Egg, so dubbed for his bald head. Egg suggests that Dunk needs a 'proper' knight's name if he wishes to compete, and they decide to call him 'Ser Duncan the Tall'.
Dunk goes to the castle to enter his name on the lists, but the steward, Plummer, needs some proof of his identity. This stymies Dunk, who reports that he was knighted by Ser Arlan before he passed with a robin in a tree as the only witness. He hits on the idea of asking Ser Manfred Dondarrion to vouch for him, since he and Ser Arlan served his father on campaign in Dorne three years earlier.
As Dunk leaves the meeting, he is surprised to see a number of heavily-armoured knights flying the flag of House Targaryen arriving. Prince Aerion Targaryen, son of Prince Maekar and grandson of the king, has come to take part in the tourney as a challenger, whilst his cousin Prince Valarr is serving as one of the Lady Ashford's champions. Dunk is relieved to hear that the three knights of the Kingsguard who are guarding the royal princes do not plan to enter the lists, but is unnerved at the thought of having to face a prince in the joust.
Dunk explores some more of the camp and meets Ser Steffon Fossoway, who is practising with his cousin and squire Raymun. Steffon is sarcastic and unkind towards his cousin, but not unfriendly towards Dunk. He is also skilled in combat. Raymun is friendlier, and befriends Dunk.
Dunk sells one of the horses, Sweetfoot, and is able to afford his armour. He then meets with Ser Manfred, but Manfred does not recall him or Ser Arlan, and is unable to vouch for him.
Dealings with dragons
A thwarted Dunk returns to the castle to report this failure to the steward, only to find that several of the Targaryen princes are present and engaged in a heated dispute. Prince Maekar is irate at the disappearance of his sons Daeron and Aegon, and at having to wait for the Kinsguard to round them up, and is annoyed at his elder brother Baelor, the heir apparent and Hand of the King, for pointing out Daeron's failings as a drunkard. Dunk, nervous at being amongst such prestigious company, reports his misfortune and it appears he cannot take part in the tourney, until Prince Baelor unexpectedly recounts the time he and Arlan fought in the lists several years previously, when Arlan broke four lances against the prince in battle, an honourable tally. The prince's sponsorship allows Dunk to take part in the tourney after all.
Dunk asks the puppeteer, an attractive young woman named Tanselle, to paint him a new set of arms for his shield. She agrees, and Dunk becomes flustered.
Dunk and Egg watch the first day's jousting, and Dunk notes the Prince Valarr is only facing undistinguished knights. He conclues that Valarr is not a very skilled warrior, but balks at the idea of challenging a prince of the realm to combat. Prince Aerion kills one of his opponent's horses in an unnecessarily brutal manner, and Dunk is surprised when Egg vehemently urges Aerion's opponent, Ser Humfrey Hardyng, to kill Aerion. However, Hardyng's leg was broken in the fight and he cannot fight on.
In the evening, Raymun and Dunk share a cup of wine and Dunk learns that Aerion is considered a particularly cruel and merciless man, although thankfully far down the order of succession. Egg bursts in and tells Dunk that Aerion is hurting the puppeteer. When Dunk arrives, he finds Aerion in a rage that Tanselle would have the dragon (the symbol of House Targaryen) lose a fight. He burns her puppets and breaks her fingers. In a rage, Dunk beats him to the ground before he is restrained by royal guards. Aerion vows to kill him. Egg then arrives and defuses the situation, revealing that he is really Aerion's brother, Aegon. Dunk is taken to the cells in the castle instead.
Preparing to fight
Prince Aerion accuses Dunk of treason and attempted murder, whilst Dunk claims he was standing up for the smallfolk, as all knights are sworn to do. The line of reasoning does not impress the authorities present, so Dunk challenges Prince Aerion to single combat, certain he can defeat the prince (who is also recovering from the wounds he suffered at Dunk's hands). Aerion, having forseen this threat, responds with a call to hold a 'Trial of Seven', where he and six knights will fight Dunk and six knights of his own. Aerion has already recruited his brother, Daeron (the drunkard from the inn), to the cause, claiming that Daeron was also wronged by Dunk when Dunk 'stole' his younger brother away from him.
Dunk sets out to recruit his own allies. Ser Steffon Fossoway agrees to fight for him, although more for the prestige of fighting in the first Trial of Seven for many decades than out of personal loyalty. He goes to find more men, but Raymun is dubious of his chances. He and Egg also agree to speak to knights and warriors they know as well. Daeron arrives and lets Dunk know that he is no fighter and will simply lie insensible in the mud after the first blow, but he warns him that Prince Maekar and the three Kingsguard will also fight. He also tells Dunk of a dream he had in which Dunk slew a dragon, to Dunk's distress.
Steely Pate tells Dunk that Tanselle and the other puppeteers have left for Dorne, but she completed the design for his shield before she left. Arriving on the field, Dunk is bewildered at the support he receives from the commons, until Pate tells him that his actions have shown him to be a true knight in the eyes of the smallfolk.
Raymun speaks to Ser Humfrey Hardyng, who is eager for payback against Aerion. However, his injury means he can only fight from horseback. His brother-in-law, Ser Humfrey Beesbury, also agrees to take Dunk's part, whilst Egg speaks to Ser Robyn Rhysling, whom he knows from other tourneys, and convinces him to join the cause. Egg also goes to Ser Lyonel Baratheon, the 'Laughing Storm' and one of the most formidable knights on the field. Amused by Egg's persistence and unorthodox means of persuasion (by upending a flagon of wine over his head), Ser Lyonel takes Dunk's part in the battle.
Ser Steffon arrives, but only to tell Dunk that Aerion has talked him into fighting for the other side instead. Furious with his cousin's treachery, Raymun asks to be knighted so he can take Dunk's side. Ser Lyonel carries out the knighting, but this still leaves Dunk one man short. He calls to the crowd of other knights for support, but none seem interested in helping him, until a knight clad in black armour rides onto the field. Against the odds, it turns out to be Prince Baelor.
The trial of seven
Battle is joined. Prince Baelor, aided by Ser Robyn Rhysling, holds off the Kingsguard, who are commanded to not harm a prince of the blood and can thus do little but defend themselves. Ser Raymun defeats his cousin, but Ser Humfrey Beesbury is killed, whilst Ser Humfrey Hardyng is wounded once again. Prince Maekar is unhorsed and removed from the fight momentarily before engaging his brother.
Aerion and Dunk fight and Aerion gains the upper hand, wounding Dunk with a tourney lance. However, Dunk is the larger and stronger man, and beats Aerion insensible. He drags him off the field, where he withdraws his accusation and Dunk is acclaimed the victor. A furious Prince Maekar orders his son into exile in the Free Cities for a few years to see if that improves his character.
Whilst Dunk's wounds are treated, Prince Baelor arrives to congratulate him on his victory. But when his helmet is removed, it is revealed that he has suffered a grievous head wound. He falls to the ground and dies very quickly.
Prince Baelor is sent to the flames in the Targaryen tradition, leaving Prince Valarr as the heir to the Iron Throne. Dunk is bewildered that this has happened because of him, and Valarr is enraged. Prince Maekar comes to see him and offers him a place in his household guard as Egg's mentor, which Dunk turns down, suggesting that Aerion never slept rough in the cold and maybe that accounts for how he has turned out, nor has Daeron. Maekar considers this, and then sends Egg to Dunk. He will serve as Dunk's squire, travelling incognito with him for a few years to season him and hopefully make him into a better man.
Dunk and Egg discuss where they will travel first. Dunk suggests Dorne, and Egg agrees; he has heard they have good puppet shows there.
- The original short story is undated, save it happens fairly late in the reign of King Daeron II. In the comic book adaptation, the date is firmly set in 209 AL, just a few months before the Great Spring Sickness and King Daeron's death.
Relationship to A Song of Ice and Fire
- Egg mentions his other brother Aemon at one point, who is of course Maester Aemon of Castle Black, who as an extremely old man plays a role in the first four novels of the main series.
- Prince Baelor's death in a 'tourney incident' is mentioned by Maester Aemon to Jon Snow in A Game of Thrones.
- Some of Dunk and Egg's adventures and their eventual fates are mentioned in A Storm of Swords.
- Egg's daughter marries the Lord of Storm's End many years later, making him the great-grandfather of King Robert Baratheon and his brothers Stannis and Renly.
- Egg is also, of course, the great-grandfather of Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen.
- Members of both the red and green-apple Fossoways play minor roles in the main novels. This story explains how the house was divided in two.
- Ashford castle is also the site of a major battle during the War of the Usurper, where Randyll Tarly defeats Robert Baratheon's army and forces him to retreat from the field.
- When she was younger, Brienne of Tarth found a shield with the same heraldic device on it that Dunk employs in the battle. It is possible it is the same shield. How the shield got to Evenfall Hall is unknown. Some fans speculate that Dunk may have married into House Tarth and is thus Brienne's ancestor, but this does not square with his known eventual role as a Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, who cannot take wives or father children. Further details are hoped for in future books and novellas.
The Hedge Knight was originally published as a prose novella as part of Legends, an anthology of epic fantasy fiction published by Tor (in the USA) and HarperCollins Voyager (in the UK) in 1998. A number of other works by authors such as Stephen King, Robert Jordan, Raymond E. Feist and Tad Williams were also published in this collection. The prose version of The Hedge Knight was later reprinted in GRRM: A RRetrospective in 2002, as well as its 2007 reprint, Dreamsongs.
The six-part comic book adaptation of the story by the Dabel Brothers was published in monthly parts in 2003, and then assembled as a graphic novel in 2004. This edition was reprinted by Marvel Comics in 2007.
The Hedge Knight will be republished as part of The Tales of Dunk and Egg, Volume One, currently scheduled for publication in 2014.