At some point we're told it's set in the Middle Ages, maybe in the preface, I'm not sure where. It doesn't really matter as nothing in the story indicates any specific year or period between 1300 and 1800. Set in France, the story follows a peasant family fleeing the lackeys of a wicked Duke before it turns out the Duke is a Count and the actual Duke is a nice guy but his wife is evil and they have a haunted wing in their castle they never go into. Every ten pages or so, the story seems to dump its premise to make a new one with some of the same characters, finding time along the way to vociferously champion feminine modesty.
The peasant family, Jacquemar and Dunisleda and their kids, are taken under the wing of an old man named Grodern and his son who takes them to a convent where the evil henchmen of the evil Duchess stop short of apprehending them for fear of violating the sanctuary offered them by the Abbess. During their flight through that infamous tempest, Dunisleda had told them the story about how her humble peasant garb had only aroused the wicked Count further, beginning the novel's confusing layering of narratives. In telling Jacquemar about the designs the Duke and Duchess has on them, Grodern is compelled to tell a long story about two knights visiting the Duke who want to investigate the haunted wing of the castle. If you're wondering why Grodern isn't telling the same story to Dunisleda, her primary function in the novel is to lose consciousness, prompting this bit of poetry from Jacquemar;
Life will but pass too drearily!
Arise, my Dunisleda, smile,
One look, sad sorrow to beguile.
Sorrow is bad enough. Heaven help you if you get sad sorrow. That's double triple dog sorrow. With complications from drearily.
Grodern tells Jacquemar how one of the men they'd killed in an effort to escape had been a favourite of the evil Duchess.
Jacquemar, who I think is not convinced at this point that the Duchess is evil, says, "Is it a crime then to have a favourite?" A lot of the dialogue in this book hits somewhere just off the target of making sense.
'Descend, foul fiend, and take us from this gloom,' holla'd Grimoald.--
"Your epithets are not encouraging," replied the voice [of the ghost].
Grimoald is one of the knights that comes to the castle, though Grimoald is not his real name, which he keeps hidden. Unique among all the characters of the book, he's neither a complete villain or an epitome of virtue. He's described in an impressive and mysterious manner by Grodern;
The party at the same place was last night augmented by the arrival of a stranger knight, in black armour. Every thing he had about him was black, except what I proceed to describe:--He carried a shield covered with cloth of the same dismal hue. On being asked what were his bearings, he removed the black cloth, and showed that his shield was covered with another painted one. 'Beneath this,' said he, 'they are; but never until a certain deed is done shall it be removed; then shall my cognizance be seen, and then shall my name be known. Until then, call me Grimoaldus the Avenger.'
Buried somewhere in that haystack of superlatives, it sounds like there's someone not to be fucked with. Except ten or so pages later the author suddenly can't stop bullying him. In their investigation of the ghost, the knights and the Duke end up in a courtyard where Grimoald actually gets stuck in the mud, yelling angrily at the ghost taunting him. Then there's a genuinely funny scene later in the novel where the protagonists are all gathered in a room, taking turns playing a harp and singing and Grimoald broadly feigns being too self-conscious to perform before none too subtly demanding the instrument and proceeding to sing,
Hark, the tempests of the north
Split their caves and sally forth:
Rocky fragments up they tear;
High aloft their spoil they bear;
Howling, rend the trembling air;
Whizzing from the earth they fly,
Dash the clouds and bruise the sky.
We're meant to take this as clearly artless and ham-fisted, Grimoald continuously made the butt of jokes from then on. It's a shame he never learned the grace of composing lines about dreary sad sorrow or dismal howling tempests. How can he even bring up tempests without telling us if they were dismal or not?
Twitter Sonnet #910
A sleep as clear as paint appoints the eye.
Rod Serling's slumber steeps as green as tea.
A finer crow destroys the worldly pie.
In two dimensions posts defend the bee.
In Dido's dream the IV drips a wine.
A velvet cable blushed with gravid threads.
Intensely watched by skulls the cats will dine.
A banquet raided late by Ness and Feds.
A shield sufficed for certain thoughts delayed.
In honour winds encircle stairs too real.
Deformed, the window cut the pants displayed.
A long assertion snapped the holy seal.
A haunted wing affrights its ghosts with birds.
The echoed wings of bats assume the words.