Sir Gawain

Canto The Second

1912 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

by Rev.. Ernest J. B. Kirtlan, B.A. (London), B.D. (St. Andrews)



CANTO THE SECOND - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Letter N -Now this was the first adventure

NOW, this was the first adventure Arthur had in the year that was young; he yearned for some great show, though no words were spoken as they went to their seats. And, moreover, they had in hand quite enough to do. Sir Gawain was full glad to begin the games in the hall: it is no wonder, though heavy be the ending, and though men be merry-minded when drinking good wine, yet the year runneth rapidly and returneth it never. Full seldom

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agreeth the end thereof with the begin ning. The Yuletide, too quickly it passed and the year that followed it. The seasons succeeded each after the other. After Christmas came the crabbed Lenten season, when the folk eat fish and simple food. Then the weather of the world doth fight with winter. The cold doth vanish and the clouds uplift, and the rain falls upon fair fields in warm showers, and the flowers appear on the ground, and in the woodlands their garments are green. Birds are busy in building their nests, and boldly they sing because of the summer's soft solace that follows there after

on bank,
And blossoms swell to blow
In rows rich and rank,
And bird-notes sweet enow
Are heard in woodlands dank.

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Letter A

AFTER the summer season of soft winds, when zephyrs are sighing over seeds and herbs, and the damp dews are drop ping from the green leaves, then are they glad thereat, the living things that grow there waiting for the blissful blushing of the bright sun. Then hastens the harvest and hardens them right soon, and warns them before the coming of winter to wax full ripe. And the dust by the drought is driven about from the face of the fields, and it bloweth full high. And the fierce winds of the wel kins wrestle with the sun. And the leaves of the trees fall to the ground, and grey is the grass that was green

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erewhile. Then all ripens and rots that grew up before. Thus quickly passeth the year in many yesterdays, and win ter returneth will ye nill ye.

Till moon of Michaelmas
Was won with winter's surety.
Then thinks Gawain, alas!
Of his sorrowful journey.

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Letter Y

YET did he linger with Arthur until All Hallows Day. And on that festival Arthur made a feast for the sake of Sir Gawain, with much rich revelling of the Round Table. And full comely knights and comely ladies were in great

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love-longing for Sir Gawain, though they made great mirth withal.

And many were jesting who yet were joyless, for that gentle knight. For after meat he sadly turned towards his uncle, and spake of his passing, and straightway he said, 'Now, my Life's Liege Lord, I ask thy leave. Thou knowest the cost of this matter, and careless am I of it, and to tell thee of it matters but a little. To-morrow I am setting out to receive back the blow, and to seek the Green Knight as God shall direct me.' Then the best of all the burgesses banded together; Aywan and Errik and many others: Sir Dod dinaual de Sauage, the Duke of Clarence, Launcelot, and Lyonel and Lucan the Good; Sir Bors and Sir Bedivere, great men both of them, and many other mighty lords, with Madoc de la Port. All this company of the court came near the king to counsel the knight; and their hearts were full of care, and great was the grief that grew in the hall that so worthy a man as Gawain should go on that journey a dreadful

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blow to endure and deal not one in return.

'For why?'
The knight made aye good cheer,
'Why should I not defy
Destinies strong and dear;
What can man do but try?'

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Letter Y

HE remained there that day, and dressed in the morning, and asked early for his arms, and they were all brought unto him. And first a carpet of tuly was spread on the floor, and much gold gleamed upon it. The strong man stepped forth and handled the steel, and donned a doub let of very costly Tarsian silk, and then a fair cap closed in above, and with

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fair fur was it bound inside. Then set they steel shoes upon the man's feet, and his legs they lapped in steel with lovely greaves and knee-pieces fastened thereunto and polished full brightly and fixed about his knees with knots of gold. Fair cuisses also cunningly covered his thighs, that were thick and brawny, and were tied with thongs. And then the woven byrny of bright steel rings en folded the warrior over the fair stuff, and well burnished braces were upon both his arms, and good and gay elbow pieces and plated gloves, and all the goodly gear that befitted such a knight, for

that tide,
With rich coat of armour,
Gold spurs he fixed with pride,
Girt with a sword full sure,
And silk girths round his side.

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Letter A

AS soon as he was fully armed, his trappings were noble, and the very least latchet or loop gleamed of gold. Thus accoutred, he heard Mass sung at the High Altar. Then he came to the king and to his court comrades, and lovingly took leave of lords and ladies, and they kissed him and commended him to Christ. By that time his horse, Gringolet, was geared and girt with a saddle, that gleamed full gaily with many golden fringes everywhere newly nailed and enriched for the business he had in hand. The horse's bridle was striped across and across, and bound with bright gold. The trappings of the horse's neck an

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of the proud skirts, the crupper and the covering, accorded with the saddle, and were all bordered in rich red gold nails. Then he took hold of the hel met and hastily kissed it, and it was strongly stapled and stuffed within. It was high on his head, and hasped behind with a light kerchief of plea saunce over the visor, and embroidered and bound with the best of gems on broad silken borders and with birds on the borders, such as painted parrots at their feeding, and with turtles and true-love knots intertwisted thickly, and it was as if many a maiden had been making it seven winters

In the town.
The circle was most of price
That surrounded the crown;
Of diamonds a device,
And both were bright and brown.

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THEN they showed him the shield of shining gules and the pent angle painted with pure golden hues. He brandished it by the belt, and about his neck he cast it, that he was seemly and fair to look upon. And I am intent to tell you, though I may weary you somewhat, why that pentangle belonged to that noble prince. It is a symbol that Solomon set up some while for betokening of truth, as its name doth show. For it is a figure that hath five points, and each line overlaps, and is locked in the other, and everywhere it is endless, and the English call it, as I hear, the endless knot. Therefore was it befit-

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ting this knight and his clean armour. For Sir Gawain was known as a knight both good and true and faithful in five and many times five, and pure as gold, and void of all villany was he, and adorned with virtues

in the mote,
For the pentangle new
He bears in shield and coat,
And is a knight most true
And gentle man, I wot.

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AND first he was found faultless in his five wits. Then he failed not in his five fingers. And all his trust on earth was in the five wounds suffered by Christ on the cross, as the creeds do tell us, so that when

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the knight was placed in the mêlée, his thought was ever upon them above all other things. And so it was that all his strength he found in the five joys that the fair Queen of Heaven had in her child. And for this cause it was that the knight had made to be painted her image in comely fashion on the greater half of his shield, so that when he looked upon it his valour never failed him. Now the fifth five that this knight excelled in were frankness and fellowship above all others, his cleaness and courtesy never were crooked, and compassion, that surpasseth all else. These five pure virtues were fixed in this knight more firmly than in any other. And all five times were so joined in him that each one held to the other without any ending and fixed at five points, nor did they ever fail; for they were joined at no point nor sundered were they at all, nor could one find any end thereof at any corner when the games began or were gliding towards an ending. Therefore the knot was shaped on his strong shield, all

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with red gold upon red gules, called the pure pentangle among the people

of love.
Now geared is Gawain gay,
He brandished the lance he bore,
And bade them all good day,
And went forth evermore.

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Letter H

HE spurred his steed so strongly, and sprang forward on his way, that the stones struck fire as he rode. And all that saw that gallant knight sighed in their hearts. And each man, caring much for the comely one, said the same words to his neighbour, 'By Christ, it is scathe that he should be slain who is so noble

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of life. In faith it is not easy to find his fellow upon earth. Now, verily, to have wrought would have been wiser, or to have made yonder dear man a duke; a shining leader of men in the land he should be. This would have been better than that he should be broken to nought, and haled by an elvish man in arrogant pride. Who ever knew any king such counsel to take as knights who are cavilling at the Christmas games?' Many were the warm tears that welled from their eyes when that seemly sire went forth from those dwellings

that day.
So he made no abode,
But quickly went his way;
Many a desert path he rode,
As I in book heard say.

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Image of Sir Gawain by Frederic Lawrence

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NOW passed Sir Gawain on God's behalf through the realms of Logres, though no game he thought it; and often alone he lingered at night time when he sought in vain for the way that he longed for. No companion had he save his horse, nor no one but God to whom he might call by the way. And now he was nearing the north parts of Wales, with the Isle of Anglesea on the left. He fared over the fords along by the fore lands. At the Holyhead Hill he had the heights behind him in the wilderness of Wirral. Few dwelt there that loved either God or man with a good heart. And ever as he fared he would ask any that he met if they had ever heard speak of the Green Knight in any part thereabouts, or of the Green Chapel. All denied with a nay that ever in their

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lives they had known such a knight of such a hue

of green.
The way of the knight was strange;
By many a hillside, I ween,
His face gan oft to change,
Or ever the chapel was seen.


HE climbed many a cliff in strange countries, far removed from his friends in foreign parts he fared, and at each waterway that he passed over he found a foe before him, and a wonder, I trow, so terrible in appearance that to fight him he was forced; and many a marvel among the mountains he found, that it would be too tedious to tell the tenth part of what he found. He fought with dragons and wolves, and sometimes
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with madmen that dwelt among the rocks, and at other times with bulls and bears and boars, and with monsters that attacked him from the high moun tain; and had he not been stiff and strong and serving the Lord, doubtless he had been done to death ere this. Fighting troubled him not so much, but the wintry weather was worse; when the clouds shed down upon him cold clear water, freezing ere it reached the fallow earth. Almost slain by the cold sleet, he slept in his harness, more nights than enough amidst the naked rocks where the cold burn ran by clattering from the crest, and hanging high above his head in hard icicles. Thus in perils and many a painful plight this knight wended his way until Christmas Eve

The knight that tide,
To Mary he cried,
To show him where to ride
Till some shelter he spied.

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IN the morning he rode merrily by a mountain, through a full deep and wondrous wild forest; high hills were on each side, and woods of huge and hoary oaks, a hundred of them together, beneath him. The hazel and the hawthorn were trailing together with rough, ragged moss spread on all sides. Sorrow ful birds sang on the bare twigs and piped piteously through pain of the cold. Upon Gringolet the man glided underneath them, all alone, through mud and mire, careful of his labour, lest he should be too late to see the service of his Lord, who on that night was born of a maiden our strife to be ending. Therefore, sighing, he said, 'I beseech thee, O Lord, and Mary, our dearest and mildest mother, that ye would grant me some place of restPage 102

where I might hear the Mass and matins of this moon. Full meekly I ask it, and thereto I will say full soon my pater and ave

and creed.'
He rode as he prayed,
And cried for misdeed,
And sign of Cross made,
And said, 'Christ's Cross me speed.'

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Letter S

SCARCELY had he thrice signed himself with the sign of the Cross, when he was ware of a castle in the wood, on an upland or hill embosomed in the foliage of many a burly monarch of the forest. It was the comeliest castle that ever a knight possessed, in the centre of a

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meadow, with a park all about it. A palace beautiful, and for more than two miles encircled by trees. The knight caught sight of this palace of refuge on one side, shimmering and shining through the sheeny oaks. He gently doffed his helmet, and gave high thanks to Jesus and St. Gilyan, who had both of them gently and courteously guided his footsteps and hearkened to his cry ing. 'Now,' quoth the knight, 'grant me good hostel.' When putting his gilt heels to Gringolet, fully by chance he chose the right path, and full soon it brought him to the end of the draw bridge

at last.
The bridge was soon upraised,
The gates were shut so fast,
The walls were well appraised,
They feared not the wind's blast.

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THE knight, on horseback, stood still on the side of the deep double ditch that led to the place. The wall of the castle was wondrous ly deep in the water, and rose up aloft a full great height and was built of hard hewn stone right up to the corbels, which were supported under the battlements in the very best fashion, and with watch towers full gaily geared between, and with many a clear and lovely loophole; and that knight had never seen a better barbican. He beheld the great and high hall of the castle, and its towers builded between very thick trochets; * fair and wondrously big round towers were they, with carved capitals craftily fashioned; and he saw the chalk-white chimneys, not a few, above castellated roofs that shone all white. And so

* Trochet.—An architectural term of doubtful significance.

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many painted pinnacles were there everywhere, among the castle battle ments clustered so thickly, that it seemed as if they had been cut out of paper. The noble man thought it full fair as he rode forward, if by any chance he might come within the castle cloister and harbour in that hostel during that

holy day.
Then came when he did call,
A porter full gay,
And took stand on the wall,
And hailed the knight alway.

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'GOOD sir,' quoth Gawain, 'wilt thou go mine errand to the high lord of this place to crave of him for me a place of refuge?' 'By St. Peter,' quoth the porter, 'yea, surely I trow
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thou shalt be welcome to stay as long as thou likest.' Soon after the porter came again, and with him were noble folk who had come to welcome the knight. They let down the great draw bridge, and joyfully went forth, and knelt down upon the cold earth to do honour to the same knight as it seemed worthy to them. And they swung the broad gate widely on its hinges, and he saluted them royally, and rode in over the bridge. And many a fellow held for him his saddle while he alighted, and full many strong men stabled his steed. Knights and squires then came down that they might bring him with joy into the hall. And when he doffed his helmet others enow hastened to receive it at his hand, and took from him his sword and his shield. Then saluted he full kindly each one of these noble men, and many a proud man pressed forward to pay honour to that prince. And they led him, all clad as he was in his high weeds, into the hall, where a fair fire burned fiercely upon the hearth. Then the lord of that people came

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down from his chamber that he might receive honourably the knight in the hall, and he said, 'Thou art welcome to do as it liketh thee. All that thou findest here is thine own to do with it as thou willest and

to possess.'
'Great thanks,' quoth Gawain.
'May Christ always thee bless.'
As fellows that were fain,
Each the other gave press.

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GAWAIN glanced at the man who thus gave him good greeting, and thought him a mighty man that was master of the castle, a huge fellow for the nonce and of great age. Broad and bright was his beard, and of beaver hue, and strong and stiff was he in his stride and stalwart in

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shanks, and his face was fierce as fire, and of speech was he free, and well he seemed, forsooth, to our knight to hold landlordship of a free, good people. The lord of the castle led him to a chamber, and speedily commanded that a page should wait upon him loyally. And at his bidding servants enow were at hand, who straightway brought him to a bright room, where the bedding was noble, with curtains of clean silk, with bright gold hems and full curious and comely canopies and embroidered above with bright linen lawns, and the cur tains ran on ropes with red gold rings. Tapestries of Tuly and Tars were hang ing on the walls, and on the floors carpets of the same patterns. And then with merry speeches they took off his bryny and his gay clothing. And they brought him rich robes full readily, that he might choose the very best. And soon as he took them and was dressed therein, well did they become him. And in his flowing robes the knight seemed verily to each man there to be gay with beautiful colours. And

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his limbs under them were so lovely and shining that it seemed to them a comelier knight Christ never made

for sight.
'Whence was he on earth?'
It seemed as though he might
Be prince of peerless worth,
In field where fierce men fight!

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A CHAIR richly embroidered, together with quaint cushions and hassocks, was placed for Sir Gawain before the chimney where a fire of charcoal was burning. And then a well-made mantle was cast upon his shoulders, and it was of brown linen and embroidered full richly and fair furred within with the finest of skins and with ermine lining, and the hood also. And thus richly

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arrayed, he sat in that chair, and as he warmed himself, speedily his good cheer quite returned to him. And then they set up a table on fair trestles, and they covered it with a snow-white cloth and set thereon sanat and salt-cellars and silver spoons. Then the knight gladly washed himself and went to his meat. And serving-men served him in seemly fashion, with several sorts of stews and sweets, with seasonings of the best, double fold, as was fitting, and many kinds of fish, some baked with bread, and some roasted on coals, some sodden, some stewed, and savoured with spices and, withal, with clever speeches that the knight liked well. A full noble feasting the man called it when those Athelings cheered him

as friends.
'This penance now you take,
And you shall make amends.'
That knight much mirth 'gan make
For wine that to head wends.

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THEN did they, in spare fashion and privately, put questions to that princely man, and he answered them courteously that he was a knight of the court of King Arthur, that rich and royal King of the Round Table, and that to him alone he owed fealty, and that it was Sir Gawain himself sitting there, and that he was come to keep that Christmas with them as it had happened. When the lord of ºthe castle heard that he had him in * his power at last, loud laughed he thereat, so lief was it to him, and all the men in that mote made much joy to be in his presence at that very time, since prowess and purest manners were ever to be found in his person, more than in all other men upon earth, and most honourable was he. Each man softly said to his fellow, 'Now shall we, as is fitting, see modes and manners and

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noble talking without a blemish, and what is fair in speech unsought we shall learn, since we have here this fine father of nurture. God has given us His goodly grace forsooth, in that He granteth us to have so goodly a guest as Sir Gawain, when merry men of his breedin

shall sing.
Good manners now, I trow,
This knight shall be bringing;
Who heareth him enow
Shall learn of love talking.'

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Letter W

WHEN dinner was done, All this noble man arose, and as night time was nearing, the chaplains were mak ing their way to the chapel. Bells rang richly, as was right, to the proper evensong of that high feast. The lord and his lady also
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came down to the chapel, and the lady entered quaintly into a comely closet.* Gawain glided in gaily full soon. The lord of the castle caught hold of the hem of his robe, and led him to a seat, and called him by name, and said he was of all men in the world the most welcome, and gave him great thanks, and they embraced each other, and all the time of the service they sat side by side. Then did the lady list to look on the knight. Then came she from her closet with many fair maidens. Now her skin, and eke her flesh and her countenance, were the fairest of all, as she was also in form and colour and in all other virtues, and she was fairer even than Guinevere, as it seemed to Sir Gawain. And as he looked down the chancel upon that sweet lady he saw that another lady led her by the left hand, older than she was, an ancient as it seemed and high in honour,

*Comely closet.—A sort of private box or balcony commanding the high altar, such as one may see in the Royal Gallery in the Chapel of the Palace at Versailles.

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and nobles were about her. Very un like to look upon were those two ladies, for if the young one was fair, yellow was that other one; rose red was the young one, rose red all over, whilst the other had rough and rolling wrinkled cheeks. The young one had kerchiefs with many fair pearls displayed upon her breast and her bright throat, shin ing sheenier than snow that falls on the hilltops; the other had a wrap on her neck folded over her black chin in milk white veils; her forehead was folded in silks, lumped up and adorned with trifling jewels. Nothing was bare of that lady but her black eyebrows, her two eyes, her nose, and naked lips. And a sour sight were they to see, and strangely bleared. Men might say that in her a worshipful ancient lady

was found.
Her body was short and thick,
Her buttocks broad and round;
A comelier one to pick
Was the lady she led on ground.

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NOW when Gawain glanced towards that gay lady, who looked so graciously, he took leave of the lord and went to wards the ladies. He hailed the ancient one, and inclined himself full humbly. The lovelier of the two he took a little in his arms and kissed her in comely fashion, and addressed her courteously. They returned his greeting, and right soon he asked that he might be her servant. They took him between them, and talking together they led him to his chamber and towards the chimney corner, and they straightway asked for spices, which the pages brought full speedily, and winsome wine they brought with the spices. And the lord of the castle leapt aloft full often, for he intended that they should make mirth. He took off his hood right speedily, and hung it on a spear, and bade them win the wor-

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ship thereof and so make the most mirth that Christmas tide. 'And I shall try, by my faith, to contend with the best ere I come short of it by help of my friends.' Thus doth that lord make sport with laughing words, that he might gladden Sir Gawain with games in the hall

that night,
Till that it was tide,
That the king commanded light,
Sir Gawain no more doth bide,
But for bed him doth dight.

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Letter O

ON the morrow morn, when all men call to mind how the Lord was born to die for our destiny, joy waxed every where in the world for Christ's dear sake. So was it in that castle. And

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doughty men on the dais served many a dainty mess at meal times. And the ancient lady sat in the highest seat on the dais. And the lovely lord sat by her side, as I trow. Gawain and the gay lady sat together in the midst whilst the messes were served, and throughout all the hall the folk were served, each according to his rank. There was meat and mirth, and so much joy that to tell thereof were much trouble to me, yet peradventure I may take the trouble. For I know that Gawain and the gay lady had great comfort of each other's company for the dear dalliance of their whispered words, and with clean and courteous talk, free from filth. And their playing surpassed of all princes

the game.
And trumpets do blare,
And much sounding declaim;
Each of his own took care,
And they two did the same.

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AND there were many blows struck for two days, and the third day came quickly enow. And gentle was the joy making of St. John's Day, which was to be the last day of the games, the folk were thinking. On the grey morning a tournament was to be held. And, won dering, they awoke and drank wine, and carolling they danced full doughtily. And at length, when it was late in the day, they took their leave, each strong man to wend on his way. Gawain bade them good day, and the good man of the house took him and led him to his own chamber beside the chimney piece, and drawing him aside, thanked him dearly for the goodly worship he had given unto him in honouring his house as his guest and giving good cheer during the high feast. 'I trow,' said he, 'while I live, well worth will

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it be that Gawain was my guest at God's own feasting.' 'Grammercy.' said Sir Gawain, 'in good faith thine is the honour, not mine, and may the good God grant it unto thee. I am at thy service to do thy behest as it be hoves me in high and low things

by right.'
The Lord was then full fain
Longer to hold that knight:
To him answered Gawain,
In no way that he might.


THEN sought the lord of the castle to know full surely what doughty deed he had in hand at that dear season of the year, that he came forth so keenly to journey all alone from the court of

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the great King Arthur before the holly of Christmas was taken down in the city. 'Forsooth,' said the man, 'thou sayest well. A high and hasty errand it was that had me forth from the court. I am summoned forth to seek out a certain place, and I know not whither to wend to find it. And for all the land of Logres, so help me our Lord, I would not fail to find it by New Year's morning. Therefore I make this request of thee here that thou wilt truly tell me if ever thou hast heard tell where standeth the Green Chapel and the Green Knight that doth keep it. By statute there was made a covenant between us that if I might be still in the land of the living, I should meet him on that day at the Green Chapel. And it now wanteth but a little of that New Year, and I would more fain and gladlier look upon that man if God will than possess any good in all the world. By your leave, there fore, it behoves me to wend thither, as I have now for the business but barely three days. As fain would I fall dead

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as fail of my errand.' Then the lord. laughing said, 'It behoves thee rather to linger here. For by the end of the time, I will show thee the way. Grieve thyself no more about the Green Chapel. For at least four days thou shalt be at ease in thy bedchamber. Then on the first of the New Year thou shalt ride forth towards that chapel in the morning and do as thou wilt.

Rest here till New Year's day,
Then rise up without guile,
Men shall set thee in the way—
It is not hence two mile.'

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THEN was Gawain right glad, and in gamesome mood he laughed and said, 'Now for this above all else I thank thee right heartily. Achieved will be my chance. I will dwell here meanwhile as thou wilt, and do as thou dost deem well.' Then the lord took him and set him at his side, and caused the ladies to be brought, so that they might be better pleased, though they had seemly solace in each other. And for love the lord spake many merry words, as though he scarce knew what he would say. Then he cried aloud and spake to the knight, 'Thou hast promised to do what I shall tell thee. Wilt thou do this behest

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that I bid thee at this time?' 'Yea sir, forsooth will I,' said the true man. 'While I bide in thy castle I am bound by thy behests.' 'Thou hast come,' quoth the lord, 'from a far country, and hast passed much waiting time with me, and hast gone short of sustenance and of sleep. I know it, forsooth. Thou shalt linger in thy sleeping-chamber at thine ease to-morrow morn, during the time of the Mass; then shalt thou wend to thy meat with my wife, and shalt sit at her side and comfort thee with her company till I return to the courtyard of the castle

at the end.
For I shall early rise
And a-hunting I shall wend.'
Gawain takes his advice,
Bowing courtly to his friend.

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'BUT further,' quoth that lord, 'we will make a covenant that what I win in the woodlands thine it shall be, and whatsoever fortune thou shalt achieve here shall be given by thee to me in exchange for my gift to thee. Swear soothly that we will make this exchange between us, whether hap be loss or gain to us.' 'By God,' quoth Sir Gawain, 'I grant thee thy word, and lief it is to me that thou dost list to make sport.' 'Let some one bring us wine,' said the lord of the castle, 'for now this bargain is made between us'; and they both of them laughed and drank deep, and the lords and the ladies held dalliance together until night came. Then with many strange doings and fair words not a few, they stood still and spake softly, and kissed in

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comely fashion, and took their leave. And each was brought to his bed attended by many a page and by flam ing torches

full soft.
To bed, ere they go out,
They recorded covenant oft.
The old lord of that rout
Could well hold sport aloft.

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