In the short story ‘The Hedge Knight,’ we are introduced to Ser Duncan the Tall, a boy supposedly knighted by Ser Arlan of Pennytree on his deathbed. However, there are a few clues in the story that suggest that Dunk may not have been knighted at all or, at the very least, is hiding something. While the evidence is minimal at best, it makes for a matter of interesting debate.
When Dunk goes to enlist in the tourney at Ashford, he tells the steward Plummer how he happened to be knighted. He says that Arlan knighted Dunk with his own sword, as he lay dying of a chill.
This story seems innocent enough, but the curious fact is that Dunk never even thinks about his newfound knighthood when he buries Arlan. One could assume that Dunk’s mind would be filled with the joy of becoming a knight, but he never reflects upon it once. True, Dunk’s mind could have been filled with more pressing matters at the time, but there are other things that make the reader doubt Dunk’s tale. When he buries Arlan, Dunk first considers going to squire for another knight, or joining the City Watch. These hardly sound like the desired occupations of a man who has just been knighted. In fact, no thoughts of the Ashford tourney enter Dunk’s mind until he draws Arlan’s sword...which, curiously enough, is still attached to the swordbelt. If Arlan had just finished knighting him with it, would the dying man have truly sheathed the sword afterward?
Yes, these events can all be explained away pretty easily. Perhaps the shock of Arlan’s death drove all the excitement of knighthood out of Dunk’s mind. Perhaps he was so used to squiring that the thought automatically entered his head that he could go squire elsewhere. And perhaps Arlan did have enough strength to put his sword back on his belt. But, combined with other clues, these circumstances cause the reader to doubt Dunk’s tale.
When Dunk is imprisoned after assaulting Aerion, Aegon (Egg) comes to visit him in the cell. The boy begs forgiveness for concealing his identity from Dunk, and a curious thought comes to Dunk’s mind:
Dunk looked at him thoughtfully. He knew what it was like to want something so badly that you would tell a monstrous lie just to get near it.
This is interesting. What event in Dunk’s past did he yearn for so badly, and what lie did he tell to get near it? From the reader’s knowledge, the only event that fits is that Dunk lied about his knighthood in order to enlist in the Ashford tourney. Yet Dunk has lived at least sixteen years, and probably has other events in his past. He could be referring to something that the reader is not privy to, but it seems more likely that Dunk is lying about his knighthood.
As Dunk’s trial approaches, his is forced to knight Raymun Fossoway in order to have enough combatants. At this point, Raymun asks Dunk to knight him. Strangely, Dunk hesitates at the offer and says he should not, even with Raymun and Lyonel Baratheon prodding him on. Finally, Ser Lyonel decides to knight Raymun, leaving Dunk to walk away “feeling as relieved as he was guilty.”
Now why would Dunk feel relieved, or guilty, that he would not have to knight Raymun? This is the piece of evidence with no real explanation. Perhaps Dunk became flustered at having an honor such as knighting a nobleman being thrust upon him. This could explain why Dunk is relieved by not having to knight him. But guilty? Dunk’s emotions remain a mystery, and the only possible explanation is that he did not wish to knight Raymun, as he was not a knight himself.
In conclusion, there are several striking pieces of evidence that point to the fact that Dunk was never knighted. Perhaps these pieces are nothing by themselves, but combined, they suggest rather strongly that Dunk lied about receiving his knighthood, and Arlan never knighted him after all.
In A Storm of Swords, we learn that Dunk eventually became the Lord Commander of Aegon’s Kingsguard. Dunk seems like a fairly honorable man, and it seems likely that he would not have joined the Kingsguard without being knighted by someone. Yet only time will tell whether or not Dunk is lying about his knighthood.