Thursday, May 10, 2012

Chapter XXVIII½: Amadis of Gaul and Zombies, by Sue Burke

How Amadis and his companions encountered a castle that had been captured by a sorcerer, and what had happened to those who lived there. I wrote this story because no work of classic literature is complete without zombies. 

Illustration from a copy of Der Renner by Hugo von Trimberg, made in Nürnberg in 1425-1431. Der Renner is a sermon in the form of a poem that deals with the seven deadly sins.

Amadis, Sir Galaor, and Balais of Carsante continued on their way to Windsor to see King Lisuarte, as ye have heard, and as they approached a large, strong castle, they saw that its gate was closed and three knights lay before it, their armor badly damaged and stained with blood. They heard the sound of great tumult from within the castle, and they were astonished to see that the gate was blocked from the outside.

Two of the knights were without a doubt dead, for their injuries were severe, but one of the knights stirred, and they hurried to help him. But as they neared, still on horseback, he arose as best he could and waved a bloodied mace at them to drive them away.

"Stay, and come no closer!" he said. "We have failed our duty, and the castle has become the home of demons. Kill me and destroy it, in the name of God, and then flee from this foul place."

"My lord knight," Amadis said, "tell us what has happened, and if we can be of some service, we shall do so as honorable knights, but it would seem very wrong to ask us to kill you."

"My lord, death is the best that awaits me," he said, "and I must hope ye are honorable, for not all knights are. The lord of this castle left to go to a distant part of his lands, and while he was away, a knight-errant arrived and asked to stay the night. The lady of the castle, who is as good as she is wise, received him with honors, but after they had eaten and he had gone to his room, he called for the chamberlain. We thought little of it and went to bed, but in the morning the chamberlain lay pale with death in the courtyard, and as some servants came to take him away, he seemed to awaken, but as a senseless thing with only one thought, and that was to kill. All those he attacked, be they man, woman, or child, fell dead like him, then arose like him to attack others."

Amadis crossed himself and said:

"I have never heard of such an illness as this."

"My lord, I tell you it is no illness," said the knight. "It is the work of the knight-errant, for he soon began to command the dead as if they were his own, and with a cruelty unbounded. He is in service to the Devil, and ye, good knights, if ye love God, must destroy us and this castle and kill him."

As he spoke, one of the dead knights stirred and stood, then charged at them with his sword drawn.

Balais said:

"This knight is dead and yet wishes to fight again!"

The injured knight said:

"Do not let him draw your blood, or ye shall die like him and, like him, ye shall not rest in death. This is a lesson we learned to our loss. Cut off his head or smash it. And with three of you against him, perhaps ye can do that, and do not think it dishonorable, for ye fight a demon, not a man."

"We do not doubt your word," Sir Galaor said, "and ye must not doubt our valor."

The dead knight ran at Balais, who backed away but had difficulty in keeping his horse from fleeing. Galaor charged the knight from behind. He struck the knight's helmet with his sword, and the blade sunk deep, but he did not cut off his head, and so he rode past and immediately prepared to attack again.

The dead knight turned to face Galaor. Balais urged his horse forward to attack, but the horse feared the knight on the ground more than it wished to obey the one on its back, and would not move. And the second dead knight arose and ran to attack Galaor. When Amadis saw this, he lowered his lance and charged as fast as his horse could gallop. The lance entered the visor of the dead knight and came out on the other side, but rather than break, the lance knocked the knight down and dragged him until the helmet's laces broke and it was pulled off, leaving the knight's head torn to pieces.

Balais dismounted and ran at the first dead knight to make him turn toward him. Galaor charged again, and this time struck a great blow with his sword and the knight's head fell to the ground.

With that, they returned to the injured knight, who had taken off his helmet. He said:

"Kill me too, or I shall arise like them. Ye can hear the sorcerer's demons inside. If they escape, his evil will spread, and this land will be lost. By God, destroy this castle out of mercy and justice, which is your duty."

Amadis said:

"My lord, we swear to you that we shall do what ye ask, for clearly it is right to demand this of us."

"I thank you," the knight said, "and I pray that God will bring your work to a good end. And now I must die, and I beg you to let me rest in peace in death."

At that, the knight fell, and Balais gave a blow with his sword and cut off his head. He said:

"I believe this is the courtesy that we owe him."

Amadis said:

"We must destroy this castle, but I do not think that will be an easy task. Clearly, we lack the weapons to take a castle with such tall, strong walls, and it would be no small thing even with them."

"It seems undefended," Galaor said, "for I see no men on the walls. Perhaps we can get some weapons and help in a town near here."

"Fire is a simple tool," Balais said, "and I think we could send fire over the walls with arrows, which we have with us."

As they considered how to set fire to the castle, a lady in rich clothing that was torn and in disarray appeared in the window of a tower and called to them:

"Oh knights! Ye must help me, or I must end my life with my own hands. A vile sorcerer has taken this castle and will capture our souls make us all his slaves in death. He has taken my sons but not yet my daughter, and ye can save us. I beg you to help us!"

Then she was pulled from the window, and she cursed the person who was taking her away and begged him to let her daughter live.

"By Holy Mary," Amadis said, "this is the worst villainy I have ever seen, and I tell you I can do nothing else but save this lady and her daughter from the unnatural and unholy fate of these knights that we have seen here."

"My brother, ye are right," Galaor said, "and my heart and my honor command me to serve them. I distrust all sorcery, and such evil as this must be stopped."

"Then," Amadis said, "we must enter the castle and fight."

"I shall gladly fight with you," Galaor said.

"As for me," Balais said, "I shall remain outside with our squires, and if ye do not succeed, we shall burn this castle, for if ye two cannot defeat this sorcerer, no other knights can accomplish this feat."

"In the name of God," Amadis said. He ordered the squires to unblock the gates and open them, Galaor took the mace that the dead knight had carried, and they raised their shields and rode into the castle. The squires shut the gates behind them.

As Amadis and Sir Galaor rode through a passageway toward a courtyard, they heard groans and shouts ahead. Galaor said:

"With so much blood on these walls, there has recently been a great battle here."

"So it seems," Amadis said, "yet I see no bodies on the ground."

But as they rode a little further, they saw bones on the ground and the bloody clothing of men and women.

"Here are the bodies," Galaor said, "but only bones remain, although they cannot have been dead for long."

"Indeed," Amadis said, "it seems as if they have been butchered and cleaned of their flesh, and they do not seem to be knights."

"These bodies have been defiled, which is the sign of great wickedness," Galaor said. "Let us move forward with caution."

Amadis did not reply, and while his heart remained strong, it was greatly troubled by what he had seen. Then they heard people shouting and running toward them. They raised their shields and prepared to fight, but what entered the passageway were not knights but the servants of the castle. All were bloodied, and some were missing limbs or flesh, and all had the pallor of death. Their faces seemed senseless, as if they could no longer think. Some carried tools or weapons, and others were armed only with their hands and teeth, and they all ran at the knights, ready to attack.

"Remember, brother," Amadis said, "that we must not be injured by the dead, and I think that these people are as dead as the knights outside, so we must fight the same way. But it troubles me to have to fight men who are not knights or soldiers, and to fight women, whatever their station."

"These are demons, not men and women, so do not think of that," Sir Galaor said. He charged forward, and Amadis followed.

But they faced a great many opponents, and they found it difficult to both fight and protect themselves. Amadis soon backed into a corner so the wall would shield him on two sides. Although he swung his sword wide and delivered many great blows, the attacks continued. He struck a man and his arm fell to the ground, but the man, who wore the clothing of blacksmith, paid no heed to his injury. Amadis had never before injured anyone who was not a knight, and never any lady or damsel or woman, and with every blow, he grew more irate at the sorcerer who had caused this.

He saw that the servants were attacking not just him but his horse, and he cut the hands from the arms that reached for it, and then turned to strike a man who was swinging a shovel at him like an axe. As he did, he saw that Galaor's horse was also being attacked. It fell, but Galaor dismounted quickly and continued to fight. Yet even as the horse lay on the ground, not yet dead, the demonized men and women continued to attack it and tore off its flesh, which they ate with great hunger.

At that sight, Amadis ceased to hesitate and attacked as if he had no pity, since he had seen that it was truly a greater mercy to send these souls to their rest rather than allow them to suffer the cruel sorcery that had made them more like wolves than men. Then he went to help Galaor, for more of these demonized dead were arriving, but as Amadis rode toward him, he could not protect his horse on all sides, and soon it too fell.

Amadis jumped off, as one who feared death in a way he had never feared it before, and fought with Galaor on foot, back to back. He gave great blows with his sword, and Galaor with his mace, both to protect themselves and to send their attackers to their rest. Then they delivered the final blows to the ones who were eating their horses.

With the dead truly dead and the passageway silent, they heard the lady calling for help again:

"Oh my Lord God, may Thy will be done and may I die now, for I prefer that to the fate which is so close to me. Cursed be he who has done this sorcery! Cruel knight, may ye live to see all your wickedness overturned, and may ye be repaid both in this life and in the next for what ye have done."

"Let us go forward," Amadis said, "for the lady still lives, and we may help her."

Galaor said:

"I swear to fulfill her request for vengeance on the one who has caused this."

They passed through a gate and entered a small courtyard that was also stained with blood and strewn with bones. As they looked around, shields raised and weapons ready, three knights charged at them from a doorway. Their armor was damaged and marked with blood as if they had just fought hard, and one lacked an arm, which had recently been cut off.

"These knights seem to be as dead and yet as alive as the rest," Galaor said.

"We have seen that the dead here can fight as fiercely as the living," Amadis said, "so let us guard our heads better than they guard theirs."

One knight attacked first, and Amadis met him, giving mighty blows with his sword, but I tell you that it was a strange fight, for while the knight moved more slowly than he would have were he alive, he had no concern to protect himself and attacked without pause, so Amadis could barely land a blow and at the same time protect himself from the other knight's sword. He cut off pieces of armor with flesh in them, but the knight was not troubled by his injuries.

The other two joined in the fight, and Galaor swung his mace at them and at their weapons, and though his blows were great, they had little effect. Amadis cut halfway through the leg of one of the knights, who continued to attack, as one who had no sense of his own body.

Finally, Amadis leaned in after a sword had just swung past him, grabbed the knight by the helmet, and pulled it off a little, enough to separate the helmet from the gorget, and quickly cut through the knight's neck. Then he struck another knight from behind as he was attacking Galaor, and that knight's head also fell to the ground. Freed from defending himself, Galaor smashed the head of the third knight, so all three now lay motionless on the ground.

They heard more shouts and more calls for help from the lady, and without hesitation they ran forward into a very beautiful, wide courtyard, and they were amazed by what they saw. The lady whom they had seen in the tower was chained by her neck to a pillar in its center. She held a large sword, and with it she was trying to protect herself from a damsel whose face, though beautiful, had the pallor and senselessness of one who was dead. The lady did not wish to harm the damsel, so she struck with the flat blade of the sword rather than the edge, but the sword was heavy, and the lady swung it with difficulty.

A large, strong knight in full armor watched her, laughing, and two more knights stood motionless beside him. The large knight's armor was new but had no insignia to show who he might be.

"Oh, help me, good knights," the lady said. "This damsel is my daughter, and she has been made a demon. That knight is the sorcerer who has done this to us. Ye must kill him to avenge us, for nothing else can save us!"

"Do not listen to her," the knight said, "not because she speaks lies, for what she says is true, but because ye cannot help her or even yourselves. Know that my name is Lanufal. I can control the dead, and I shall rule these lands and all of Great Britain and then the lands beyond the seas."

Amadis burned with anger and told him:

"What cowardice is this that thou sendest the dead to fight for thee? What the lady says is true and just, and we shall do justice to avenge her and to protect all innocent people from thee. And I shall fight thee not for her alone but in the name of King Lisuarte of Great Britain and all the other kings of the lands that thou desirest, whose duty it is to protect their people from vile sorcerers like thee."

"We shall send thee to the most foul pit of Hell," Galaor said, "which will be God's justice."

Lanufal laughed and told the damsel:

"See these knights? Their flesh will taste the sweetest of all, and ye shall have it, my dear. Turn and attack, and we shall see if these knights are so honorable as to strike down an unarmed damsel."

She turned toward them. Her fine clothes were torn and stained, her mouth was wet with blood as if she had been eating living flesh, and her eyes were as lifeless as stones.

"I pity this damsel," Amadis said, "and I despise thee even more for what thou hast done to her."

"And these two knights," Lanufal said, "are her dead brothers, and they shall fight your friend, and I shall watch and enjoy the fruits of my labors. Soon ye two new knights, so brave and so foolish, shall be my servants and shall fight for me."

The two knights charged at Galaor, and the damsel slowly approached Amadis. He raised his shield and sword, but tears ran down his cheeks.

"I have pledged to protect all ladies and damsels and all women whatever their station," he said, "and she can do nothing to save herself because of thee, miserable knight."

"Kill her," the lady said, weeping, "if indeed ye pity her!"

Amadis said:

"I shall do nothing to disgrace myself."

"Send her soul to her rest, if ye love God," the lady said.

"Love God if ye wish," Lanufal said, "but I rule here, and I laugh at your suffering."

"May God forgive me," Amadis said.

By then the damsel had come quite close, and in her senselessness, she did not move to protect herself, and Amadis, with one blow, sent her head to fall at her feet.

"I have done the most honorable deed I could," Amadis told Lanufal, "and now I shall make thee pay for my dishonor!"

He ran at Lanufal, who did not lift his shield or draw his sword. Amadis swung with all his might and brought his sword down on the top of his helmet, but the sword felt in his hand as if it had struck solid stone. The helmet did not yield and the knight did not move, and he seemed not to have been struck at all.

"What is this?" Amadis said.

"This is more sorcery," Lanufal said. "This armor shall yield to no knight. Now prepare to fight, but ye cannot win, and soon ye shall be my knight. Ye may have strength and even honor, but it cannot save you."

He raised his sword, but Amadis dodged the blow and struck at the edge of the other knight's shield, but it was not cut or damaged in any way. Lanufal advanced with little hurry and swung his sword again, which sunk into Amadis's shield and cut off a piece. Amadis heard the great blows exchanged between Sir Galaor and the two knights, and the lady said:

"Good knight, may ye do everything ye can to defeat this wicked sorcerer or die an honorable and clean death! I do not know why God does not send us help."

Amadis saw that she still held her sword raised in anger. He continued to fight, but he could not injure the knight, and was forced to move backwards to protect himself, and although Lanufal tried to move him toward Sir Galaor and the other two knights, Amadis moved toward the lady.

Soon they were fighting in front of her, and Amadis struck Lanufal with such a blow that it made Amadis's sword fall from his hand. He knelt to pick it up, and the other knight leaned over to strike him, but the lady brought her sword down on his head. She was not strong, but the sword was good, and it sunk a little ways into the helmet, and she could not pull it out.

Lanufal reached up and took it out, then struck her on the face with the pommel. But as he did that, Amadis jumped to his feet and aimed a blow at his head, but the other knight defended himself with his shield. Then he began to attack Amadis more fiercely.

"Your armor will yield to no knight," Amadis said, "but the lady has shown that your sorcery was more brave than wise, since not all those who bear arms are knights."

"This will be of no advantage to you, lowly knight," Lanufal said. "Protect yourself, for anyone can harm you."

Meanwhile Galaor had been fighting with the two sons, who were strong, but their cleverness as knights had left them with their lives, and no knight was as agile as Galaor. He struck few blows with his mace, but they were mighty and well-aimed, and first one son, then the other soon fell.

He saw that his brother was in trouble and hurried to help, and Lanufal, in his anger, did not see him approach. Galaor struck Lanufal with all his strength on his back, and although his armor was not damaged, the knight staggered, and Amadis leaped to one side and brought his sword down in the cleft the lady had created, and he cut the sorcerer's head in two.

That done, they freed the lady from the chain.

"May God give ye the reward ye deserve for defeating such an evil man," she said. "My sons and daughter and the people of this castle have died, but many more are now saved."

She knelt to kiss Amadis's hands, but he raised her up and said:

"My lady, it was your blow that defeated him, and ye are to be praised for your courage. Ye have done what no knight could have done."

"With his death," Galaor said, "his treachery is ended, and if he has any books of sorcery, we must destroy them so no one can cause such suffering again."

The lady said she would take them to the room where he had stayed, but they heard shouts from outside the castle, and then some armed men entered as fast as their horses could run, among them Balais, and they were shocked by what they saw. The lady was very happy to see them, and she addressed one of them, who wore fine armor and rode a large, handsome horse:

"My lord husband, these two knights have defeated a cruel sorcerer, and while we have lost much, they have saved all of Britain from the greatest horror in the world." She told them everything that had happened, and how she had called for help, and what the knights had done.

Her husband said:

"I have heard from this other knight who waited outside about the death that was not death, but what I see here is beyond all recounting. Truly, these two knights deserve thanks as sincere as our sorrow." When he learned that they were Amadis of Gaul and his brother Galaor, he said, "I have heard you praised as the greatest knights in the world, and know I now that it is true."

He asked them to stay and promised to serve them with honors, but Amadis and Galaor wanted to go, not just to get to Windsor but to leave a place that had given their hearts such deep anguish. The lord of the castle offered them new horses, the best that he had, and everything else they might need for their journey, which they accepted with many thanks.

So they continued on the road, but they stopped at the first chapel they found to pray that such evil would not return again to the world.


  1. This is great! I hope it's the beginning of a series.

  2. But what infernal foe could he face next?

  3. Thank you indeed, it is perfect!
    Could I ask - why you choose ''Lanufal'' as a name, does it have any special meaning?

  4. Hello and thank you!
    I invented that name because it seemed to fit within the general style of names in the novel, but those names rarely mean anything. "Amadis" is a real name (another form of the name is "Amadeus" in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), and some names seem to be sort of derived from British names, but most are simply meant to sound exotic -- the events in this book happened long ago and far away.

  5. Wow, I'm a fan of the Amadis books, but this is really, really amazing. There should be a story about Amadis heading to the crusaders' siege of Constantinople and torn between loyalty to a beautiful Bizantine princess or to the european nobility - even the period would be matching

  6. Thank you! I enjoyed writing this.

    There is a medieval book about a knight who goes to Constantinople, falls in love with a Byzantine princess, and fights against the Ottomans: Tirant lo Blanch. You can find out more the book at and read a translation at Project Gutenberg:

    It's not quite the story you're asking for, though, which would involve the event that split Western and Eastern Christendom. That crusade would be a fascinating setting for a story!