What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? What is a ‘Virgate’ and why would someone want it? November 2019 – February 2020


A ‘virgate’ is an Old English measure of land area. It’s about what a team of two oxen could plough in a year. Somewhere around thirty acres, give or take. (They didn’t have modern ideas of uniformity, especially about things like farmland, where some land might be there but unusable.) So if that’s all you wondered about Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, thanks, and bye. Meanwhile if you’re looking to follow the plot, this will get you caught up to mid-February 2020. If you’re reading this after about May 2020, there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Also any news about the comic strip that seems worth the mention. And, as ever, I look at other comic strips on my mathematics blog.

Prince Valiant.

24 November 2019 – 16 February 2020

Prince Valiant and company were heading home, last time, after adventures in Egypt. Here “Home” means the Misty Isles. Queen Bukota is furious with Ambelu, the last of her surviving advisors. Ambelu and his fellow nobles had tried to keep the young Ab’saba queen under control through Fewesi the Healer. That worked out great when Fewesi killed them, kidnapped the Queen, and fled to Egypt where his own people laughed him off as a dangerous incompetent loser. Her vengeance is fairly mild: she’s reassigning Ambelu to be her ambassador to Camelot. Bukota, the current ambassador, will take a post canoodling with her. Their first wedding — they plan to hold another back home — is a merry affair.

After two years in the Misty Isles, Val and family, escorted by the longship Skjalssdis, are bound north for Camelot. Crossing the Mediterranean, there is much reacquainting and catching up. Much time in the south was spent apart. Only the Ab'saban nobleman Ambelu stands alone, banished by Queen Makeda to serve as ambassador to King Arthur's Court. He moves uneasily over the deck, hobbled by a ruined leg, the result of his part in the plot that went horribly wrong. As he morosely struggles to understand his part in this awful, alien world, the ship heels suddenly, and his balance is lost. At this point, things could not seem worse for the proud man. Then he hears the sound of a footstep, followed by a thump, and Gundar Harl is beside him. [ Harl has a wooden leg. ] ``It took me some time to learn to dance with the ship,'' offers the shipmaster. ``We have something in common. Perhaps I can share some tricks.''
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 22nd of December, 2019. So recently I read a book that contained a lot of discussion of Prince Valiant, including summaries of every story done from the origin to the book’s publication around 2005. Among the surprises is that, after some initial work, Hal Foster settled on a specific time and, when it could refer to historic events, made them reasonably consistent with character ages and such. The coherence of this has varied over the years, but still, that’s some amazing work considering how few people would ever notice. Also, there was at least one story that Foster wanted to start aboard ship, but he didn’t want to set about getting everyone on board. So he had the story start with an explanation that the “ancient scrolls” from which the text of the strip is based had some gaps and here’s what comes after one of those gaps. I genuinely love that sort of meta-writing.

And then it’s time to go to Camelot, for the first time since I’ve been doing these What’s Going On In features. Valiant’s been focusing so on tromping around Asia, the Misty Isles, and North Africa so much I didn’t realize he even went to Camelot anymore. The strip says (on the 22nd of December) that Valiant’s spent two years in the Misty Isles, which I assume is character time.

And so, with 2020 dawning, Prince Valiant returns to Britain and his first adopted home. They run across a funeral procession for the local baron, and about how some witches summoned a demon to kill the baron. Valiant would rather leave this all alone. But Aleta asks questions. Gareth, the new baron and one of the mourners, explains the case: the Baron criticized these women, and then he died of demonic possession. In fairness, bats do swarm one of the women. Plus there’s a pox going around. Valiant would really like to just let this be. But then Sir Gawain, a day’s ride out of Camelot, arrives.

Valiant’s suspicious about this well-timed visit. Sir Gawain explains there was a request to the court to deal with a dispute about a parcel of land. And now here’s these women accused of witchcraft and sorcery. The woman with the bats argues that “the ignorant peasants” would destroy their bats’ home.

As Val and Aleta move between an angry mob and its intended victim, they are joined by a friend long unseen --- Sir Gawain! Once the intimidated crowd retreats, Gawain wastes no further time in ceremoniously greeting his companions. But Aleta's attention is fixed on the accused with-woman, who distractedly watches her cloud of bats flit away. 'All this commotion! These fools have disrupted the bats' behavior! They are very sensitive creatures!' Val is more interested in Gawain's unexpected appearance. Gawain explains: 'There was a supplication to the throne - someone here with claims to a parcel of land says she's being forced off her plot. Arn sent me to investigate - but I stumble upon this odd situation' The strange woman snarls at Gawain: 'Do not take this lightly, sir knight! These ignorant peasants would destroy the home of our bas! And I am very familiar with the facts in the behest to Camelot ... come ... I will take you to Afton.' And so, while the majority of Val's entourage is sent on to Camelot, Val, Aleta, and Nathan follow Gawain and the cryptic woman to a lonely cottage - and a dark mystery.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 26th of January, 2020. Val fears that something is missing to make this puzzle sensible. “Would you by chance know of any meddling kids and their talking dog,” he inquires, “and perhaps whether there is an abandoned amusement park or perhaps candy manufactory hereabouts?”

To facts, though. Gawain confirms the grant of two virgates made to Afton, one of the locals. Nathan, who’s part of Valiant’s retinue, notices a clue in the house, though: a bat’s skeleton and a sketch of a bat. Afton petitions Gawain for protection from Lord Imbert, who’s the one who had just died. But part of Afton’s grant is a cave with a spring that allegedly restores youth. It doesn’t, but Imbert thought it does, and wanted the land for himself. Gawain consider that now that Imbert is conveniently dead, and there’s a rumor of Afton or the women summoning a demon to do it … that could be awkward.

Gawain, Valiant, and all go looking for lodging. And that’s where the story has gotten. Where is it going? We’ll have to see over the next few months.

Next Week!

Action! Adventure! Super-detection! People dressed as robots! It’s Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy, unless something demands more attention first.

Hey, did you know that in his travels Prince Valiant has been to North America at least twice? Like, all the way to Manhattan and stuff. Also he’s made it to South America. I don’t know that he’s ever set foot in Australia but that’s some amazing travels. I mean, we moderns forget that while people back in the day — much like today — were happy to stay where they were, some folks really got moving. (He lived in a time that made this considerably easier than Prince Valiant “did”, but do look up James Holman sometime.)

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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