Dunk and Egg: Hedge Knight to Kingsguard, Runaway to King

The Hedge Knight: The Tales of Dunk and Egg
January 24, 2020
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Dunk and Egg are the protagonists, or perhaps protagonist and sidekick, of The Hedge Knight series of novellas by George R.R. Martin. Dunk of the “wynds and stews” Fleabottom is the penniless (and truly chivalrous) hedge knight who becomes a famous champion. His willful, “orphan” squire, “Egg”, is actually a runaway member of the nobility.

There is much more to it than that, of course. So, warning…

Dunk and Egg: The Hedge Night series

We shall happily tell you all there is to know about Dunk & Egg…but there will be spoilers. If you proceed and get butt-hurt about what you learn, that’s on you.

Dunk and Egg

Dunk is a bastard-born product of the slum called Flea Bottom in King’s Landing, the city from which the Seven Kingdoms are ruled. He is a callow but truly knightly hedge knight who eventually becomes Ser Duncan the Tall, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.  “Egg” is the son of Prince Maekar: Aegon V Targaryen called “Aegon the Unlikely”, and the eventual King of Westeros.

The Hedge Knight stories (aka “The Tales of Dunk and Egg”) begin approximately 90 years before the events of A Song of Ice and Fire.

The Hedge Knight: Duncan the Tall

“The only life he knew was the life of a hedge knight, riding from keep to keep, taking service with this lord and that lord, fighting in their battles and eating in their halls until the war was done, then moving on. There were tourneys from time to time as well, though less often, and he knew that some hedge knights turned robber during lean winters, though the old man never had.” 

The Hedge Knight, from A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms GRRM

Dunk was bastard-born, a resident of Flea Bottom in King’s Landing when found and taken as a squire by Ser Arlan of Pennytree. The old knight often mocked Dunk for being “…thick as a castle wall and slow as an aurochs”, from which teasing came Duncan’s oft-repeated phrase Dunk the lunk, thick as a castle wall.

He was a hedge knight just made when he met Egg, though there is ample evidence to suggest Ser Arlan hadn’t actually been knighted him. Egg, though Dunk didn’t know it at the time, was the fourth and youngest son of Maekar I, Prince of Summerhall of House Targaryen, grandson to Daeron the Good, the Second of His Name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, and Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, etcetera etcetera.

Thus Egg, the smart and well-meaning runaway youngest-son of the most powerful House in the land, became squire to Duncan, a knight of dubious legitimacy, unknown blood, little training, and the heart of a true knight.

Unlike many of the knights encountered in their travels, Duncan takes his knightly oaths seriously. There is a very naive, even Quixotic, way about him. Over and over again we find Duncan well-liked by the common folk, described as a knight “who remembered his vows”.

“I am some boy the old man found behind a pot shop in Flea Bottom.” Dunk the lunk. 

It makes for an interesting dynamic between him and Egg, not least because young Aegon is in some ways more worldly than his master. Dunk is, in many ways, more a paternal – or perhaps fraternal – figure than anyone else in the young prince’s life.

 

Aegon V: Aegon the Unlikely

Egg, or Aegon V, was the youngest son of Prince Maekar (Maekar I Targaryen). He was known as Aegon the Unlikely for the improbable series of events that took him to the throne.

Dunk knew nothing of Egg’s royal antecedents when they met before the tournament at Ashford Meadow. Egg had run away from his brother Daeron (“the Drunken”) Targaryen when Dunk met him outside an inn and mistook him for a stableboy.

…Dunk was still sore and tired when he spied the inn ahead, a tall, daub-and-timber building beside a stream. The warm yellow light spilling from its windows looked so inviting that he could not pass it by.

I have three silvers, he told himself, enough for a good meal and as much ale as I care to drink.

As he dismounted, a naked boy emerged dripping from the stream and began to dry himself on a roughspun brown cloak.

“Are you the stableboy?” Dunk asked him. The lad looked to be no more than eight or nine, a pasty-faced, skinny thing, his bare feet caked in mud up to the ankle. His hair was the queerest thing about him. He had none.

“I’ll want my palfrey rubbed down. And oats for all three. Can you tend to them?”

The boy looked at him brazenly. “I could. If I wanted.”

Dunk frowned. “I’ll have none of that. I am a knight, I’ll have you know.”

“You don’t look to be a knight.”

“Do all knights look the same?”

“No, but they don’t look like you, either. Your sword belt’s made of rope.”

“So long as it holds my scabbard, it serves. Now see to my horses. You’ll get a copper if you do well, and a clout in the ear if you don’t.”            The Hedge Knight

 

The trial of seven for Dunk, at the tourney of Ashford Meadow

A depiction of the “trial of seven” for Dunk, at the tourney of Ashford Meadow. From the graphic novel The Hedge Knight

 

Dunk and Egg FAQ

How many Dunk and Egg stories are there?

As of this writing, there are three. The Hedge Knight (1998), The Sworn Sword (2003), and The Mystery Knight (2010). They each appeared in an anthology then were later compiled in an in illustrated collected edition called A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (2015). Martin has said he always intended to write more, but that the final book of the series needed to be completed first.

Approximately a decade ago GRRM indicated he had as many as a half dozen or more Dunk and Egg installments in mind, including such working titles as The Village Hero, The Sellsword, The Champion, The Kingsguard, and The Lord Commander. Whether any of these will be completed remains doubtful, though many readers do hope!

Martin later went on to write,

“More travels and more travails await our hedge knight and his squire in the years to come. From Dorne to the Wall, their journeys will carry them across the length and breadth of the Seven Kingdoms, and even beyond the narrow sea to the Disputed Lands and the shining cities of Essos. Along the way they will cross paths with lords and knights and sorcerers, and many a fair maid and noble lady, to write their names into the annals of Westeros, never to be forgotten.” GRRM, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, May 2015

In late January 2021, Variety.com announced that HBO was in “early development” of a Dunk and Egg television series based on the novellas.

Who knighted Ser Duncan the Tall?

Duncan the Tall was knighted by Ser Arlan of Pennytree, whom Dunk referred to while a squire as “the old man”…or so he claimed. There are some who argue, not without merit, that although Ser Arlan had promised to knight Dunk, he was never able to actually do so (dying, as he did, a sudden and unexpected death on the road).  Ser Arlan’s sigil was a winged chalice, silver on brown (Tenné, a winged-chalice argent in heraldic terms).

“Ser Arlan of Pennytree found me in Flea Bottom, chasing pigs. His old squire had been slain on the Redgrass Field, so he needed someone to tend his mount and clean his mail. He promised he would teach me sword and lance and how to ride a horse if I would come and serve him, so I did.” The Mystery Knight, GRRM

How did Ser Duncan the Tall die?

Duncan the Tall died during the great fire known as the “Tragedy of Summerhall”. The fire, in which Aegon V also perished, was reputed to have been the result of Targaryen attempts to return dragons to the world. Egg’s (Aegon V’s) eldest son and heir, Dunk’s namesake Prince Duncan, was also killed in the fire. No specifics as to the exact manner of their deaths has yet been written in canonical sources.

How tall was Duncan the Tall?

Ser Duncan the Tall ultimately stood just shy of 7 ft. (2.1m) high as an adult. He had probably had yet to reach his full growth when he met Egg, but that isn’t explicitly stated.

Dunk was hugely tall for his age, a shambling, shaggy, big-boned boy of sixteen or seventeen years (no one was quite certain which) who stood closer to seven feet than to six, and had only just begun to fill out his frame. The old man had often praised his strength. He had always been generous in his praise. It was all he had to give. The Hedge Knight, GRRM

Two years later, while he is in service to Ser Eustace Osgrey, we read the following:

Sometimes it seemed as though he’d thumped his head on half the doors in Westeros, not to mention every beam in every inn from Dorne up to the Neck. Egg’s brother Aemon had measured him in Oldtown, and found he lacked an inch of seven feet, but that was half a year ago. He might have grown since. Growing was the one thing that Dunk did really well, the old man used to say.  The Sworn Sword, GRRM

Is Egg the Mad King?

No. The Mad King was Aerys II. Egg of the Dunk and Egg tales (Aegon V) was the fifth of his name and the fifteenth Targaryen to sit rule the Seven Kingdoms. The Mag King was Egg’s son, Aerys II Targaryen, second of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm. It was against Aerys, the Mad King, that Robert Baratheon launched his rebellion.

Is Brienne related to Duncan the Tall?

Yes. Brienne of Tarth is related to, possibly even descended from, Duncan the Tall. This was just speculation at first but was later confirmed by GRRM. The initial belief came about because of the arms Brienne had painted on her shield. When asking the sister of a Captain of Guards in Duskendale for the work, she asks that it be done similar to “…an old shield I once saw in my father’s armory.”

This sigil is virtually identical to the one painted for Ser Duncan the Tall by Tanselle Too-Tall before the tourney at Ashford Meadow.

“It was more a picture than a proper coat of arms, and the sight of it took her back through the long years, to the cool dark of her father’s armory. She remembered how she’d run her fingertips across the cracked and fading paint, over the green leaves of the tree, and along the path of the falling star.” A Feast for Crows

Ser Duncan the Tall shield

Duncan the Tall sigil on his shield. An illustration by Gary Gianni, from A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.

“The field should be the color of sunset,” he said suddenly. “The old man liked sunsets. And the device…”

“An elm tree,” said Egg. “A big elm tree, like the one by the pool, with a brown trunk and green branches.”

“Yes,” Dunk said. “That would serve. An elm tree…but with a shooting star above. Could you do that?”

The girl nodded. “Give me the shield. I’ll paint it this very night and have it back to you on the morrow.”

Dunk handed it over.

“I am called Ser Duncan the Tall.”

 

As Ser Duncan is one of Martin’s favorite characters, the revelation that his story is continued in a later knight of a similar mindset should be of no surprise. Just how Dunk’s shield came to rest in Evenfall Hall*, or what Brienne’s exact relationship to Duncan is, remains to be clarified.

*Evenfall Hall, a port on shipbreaker bay, is the traditional seat of House Tarth, whose sigil Brienne deliberately did not take. Tarth is an island southeast of King’s Landing and the Kingswood. It lies off the east coast of the (formerly Baratheon-ruled) Stormlands in the Narrow Sea. It forms the bottom right corner of a rough triangle with King’s Landing at the top (albeit tilted westward) and Summerhall at the bottom left.

Map of Westeros for Ser Duncan the Tall and Brienne: Summerhall, Evenfall Hall, and Kings Landing

Kings Landing, to the north, is where Ser Duncan the Tall would have spent most of his time as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Summerhall, which had been the demesne of Egg’s father (and where Aegon V died) is to the west. Evenfall Hall, the seat of House Tarth, is to the east.

What does Hedge Knight mean?

A “hedge knight” of Westeros could be likened to a knight-errant of Europe, but with less chivalry and romance. Typically very poor and almost universally despised by anointed knights of noble blood, a hedge knight is a wandering knight without a master. They travel the Seven Kingdoms (occasionally venturing across the Narrow Sea to Essos) seeking employment. The moniker comes from their need to sleep outdoors when they cannot afford lodging (or none is available).

“Hedge knights are beggars with blades at best, outlaws at worst. Be gone with you. We want none of your sort here.” Ser Lucas Longinch, The Sworn Sword

Even well-meaning and good-hearted folk often felt the same way.

“A hedge knight and a robber knight are two sides of the same sword,” it was said. Brienne, A Feast for Crow

Not everyone agrees with such an assessment, however. Ser Arlan of Pennytree may have put it best when he said,

“A hedge knight is the truest kind of knight, Dunk. Other knights serve the lords who keep them, or from whom they hold their lands, but we serve where we will, for men whose causes we believe in. Every knight swears to protect the weak and innocent, but we keep the vow best, I think.”

Maester Aemon Targaryen

Aemon Targaryen, played here by actor Peter Vaughan in the HBO television adaptation, was Egg’s immediate older brother. After serving for several years as maester to Prince Daeron at Dragonstone, he went on to serve as the maester for the Nights Watch for decades. He was the third son of Maekar Targaryen after Aerion and Daeron. Aegon “Egg” V was the fourth son.

 

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