The entrance of a large and boisterous party fresh off the hunt caused quite a stir in the courtyard. Horses and hounds, fresh meat and hot sweaty men all arrived at once. A small army of waiting servants jumped to greet the Lord of the Hunt as he arrived , and every joy attended the evening. But it was the presence of Sir Gawain that caused a stir at court that evening.
Great festivities were made to honor the newest member of their company, who with all courtesy and charm made a handsome impression on each and every alike. He had quickly become a favorite at court, at least among the ladies attending the Mistress of the Hunt who made a wager between themselves to see who might bed him first.
The Lord of the Hunt enjoyed Gawain’s company so much he offered Gawain the use of his home to rest and restore vigor before meeting this mysterious Green Knight in three days. Then the Hunter laughed, and all joined in the joke.
A friendly bargain was made between the men as they parted company for the evening. The Hunter planned, as he always did, to hunt in the morning with his usual company. As Gawain was expected to rest all day – someone made a jest as to which of the two would be more productive in their sport.
The jest gave the Hunter pause. Then he proposed to exchange with Gawain whatever their winnings of the day. With all good faith and charity, our noble youth agreed heartily before every man of the company, the ladies having all gone off to their chambers hours ago.
It was the mistress of the house who greeted Gawain in the morning. She had been waiting in the doorway for quite some time, watching the sleeping angle of his golden manliness. This was as he seemed to her, yet she longed to find out more – much more about him. Especially how innocent he may truly be.
For the ladies of the court bored easily, and a wager had been cast. Who among the castle lovelies would be the first to win a kiss or more and test the gallantry of such a knight, a knight of Arthur’s Table Round. He must acknowledge the kiss by accepting a token. It was the rules of the bet. The Mistress of the house did not mind using her rank for first crack at this prize.
As the sleeping man stirred, she made as if just arriving in the room with a quick knock and a soft landing on the bedside with a breakfast tray. Her lithe and tiny frame pretended to struggle, reaching across his massive bulk to rest the tray on the far side of his body. She wanted nothing between them, and placing the tray there, so ‘awkwardly’ it gave her good opportunity to see if the young knight’s early morning biology responded as she might hope.
Gawain blushed at the glance of a blow from so handsome a maiden. When she begged for a kiss and pouted so prettily, he could hardly refuse. It would have been ungentlemanly to leave her sad on such a beautiful morning.
And thus the lady of the house won her wager. Through the day Sir Gawain found the Lady’s attention amusing and distracting to his task to rest. He was almost surprised by the arrival of the hunting party with a flourish and baying hounds bounding into all corners of the great hall.
Tables were quickly laid and filled to over-edges with mead and ales, savories and sweetmeats, with every delight and delicacy of the days hunt spread open for all to enjoy. And as the feast was about to begin, the Lord of the Hunt called for quiet, and then his guest.
“Here, good and gentle knight, are your portions of my day’s hunt,” spake the Hunter with great show. “You will see thus, I have fulfilled my part of our bargain. What–” (here the eyes of the hunter met his lady’s eyes, then advancing to Gawain)– “did you win, noble Sir?”
Remembering his drunken wager of the night before all at once, Sir Gawain did not think too much about the next thing he needed to do. A deal was a deal after all.
He looked coyly into the Hunter’s eyes, as if a maiden. The fellows and maids of the court erupted in good natured laughter. Gawain thus encouraged, pressed provocatively against his host, lingering a bit too long and hotly as he surprised the Hunter with a kiss.
The Hunter smiled a great glowing smile and laughed with the company. He patted Gawain on the back and they walked into the great hall as brothers. The Lady met her Hunter’s eyes as the two men passed. She felt her color rise and thought her seat was too close to the Great Hearth fire.
At the end of evening’s feasting the two men made their pledge to trade the winnings of the day again. And in the morning Gawain found himself the proud winner of a prize much like the first morning. For the Lady of the House felt a growing curiosity rise about her houseguest and wished, more rather yearned, to have her curiosity satisfied.
Gawain remembered his pledge to the Hunter the night before, and made many gallant excuses to gain no more than a kiss from the Lady who would willingly have given much more.
“I will no doubt hate myself upon the morrow,” spake he truthfully to his mistress. With a soulful and lingering glance, she recalled the meeting Gawain prepared for the following day and decided to give him a break. Feigning anger, she left of a sudden. Sir Gawain found himself alone all that day.
The solitude gave him time to reflect upon the year past and the day ahead which would likely be his last. In meeting the Green Knight Gawain anticipated revenge and recompense for meeting the bizarre challenge of the winter before. Although he would never admit it, the giant Green Knight had been terrifying with his head attached. The great shaggy green man was so much more unnerving with his head removed. When the eyes opened and disembodied lips spoke, Gawain would never admit that it was stone cold fear that kept him upright at the time.
The day ahead was inevitable, and the thought made our young Sir poor company that evening despite the merriment of his host and his raucous hunting party.
Ever the noble knight, Gawain received, and gave the finest of the day to fulfill his bargain with the Hunter. Yet the light in the room seemed strange to his weary eyes. Dancing lights sparkled in the corners of his vision. He left the evening’s merriment early with assurances from his host for passage to the Chapel of the Green Knight, with whom he must meet or every tale of the honor, strength and nobility of Sir Gawain, the best knight of all King Arthur’s court would be rendered mute through history. If he failed to meet the Green Knight in the morning, Gawain’s name might never be spoke in legend at all. It hinged upon keeping his word and the challenge he accepted a year before.
Dawn broke with the light of the sun as a flaming halo behind the Green Lady’s chestnut colored hair. It dazzled and bewildered his determined soul to see her gentle beauty afresh with the morning. He was disappointed that she did not offer another kiss, as he thought it may be his last taste of lips so yielding and tender. She offered instead, a token of her esteem for Gawain. It was her own green sash, worn at the waist in the style of the day.
The sash itself was rumored to be magical, imbued with special properties to keep the wearer safe. Accepting the fabled gift, a trinket really, seemed like a good idea. Wearing the gift so obviously belonging to his Lady host seemed a little tacky however, so he tucked the Lady’s green girdle (as it was called) under his tunic and otherwise prepared to meet the Green Knight.
Upon entering the great hall, Gawain found himself with his host, who revealed himself (with head firmly attached, Gawain thought) to be the Green Knight all along. His knees began to buckle, yet the thought that he wore a magical green girdle so lately given by his lady fair buoyed the young man and gave him purpose, strength for the task, er, a… head.
Masking terrified resolve with cocky boldness, Sir Gawain offered a nod to the ladies of the Green Knight’s house, averting his eyes from their Mistress. Gawain knelt and prepared himself for payback of his awful stroke and worse bargain. This resigned and noble ending Sir Gawain would perform for the tellers of tales, to preserve his name, his legend. He had little faith the girdle would help.
The Green Knight snorted a harrumph of satisfaction as he raised the loathsome battle ax on high. With one mighty blow the large wooden table of the great hall shuddered. Blood dripped bright red from the blade.
Sir Gawain leaped from the table clapping a hand to his shoulder. “You don’t get another stroke!” he cried out as he sprang out of reach of the ax wielding giant.
The huge Green Knight laughed in a voice as great as the room they stood in. Everyone besides Sir Gawain was laughing, and he found this rather annoying.
“Taking your head would have been easy, Sir Gawain,” said the Knight. “It was because you sought to fulfill the challenge nobly that I spared your life.”
“But you nicked me, my shoulder bleeds… why?” Gawain began to think of all the reasons the Green Knight might be upset with him. It made him a bit dizzy, or maybe that was the bleeding.
“My Lady made an error to say her girdle would protect it’s wearer without also telling that the charm is only suited to the Lady herself. The sash holds no charm for you, gentle Sir.” The Green Knight towered over Sir Gawain and the assorted company.
Gawain was still confused. “It was your word I wanted,” spake the Knight. “If you had run, I would have found you to meet our appointment. As it was, you found me. I was satisfied with your nobility and for this cause did not harm you. It was your fear and faithlessness that earned the scratch from my blade.”
“The blade was no doubt thirsty from the wait,” said the young knight. “Thank you for sparing the finish of my mortal tale for another day and ending.”
With these words all rejoiced in great cheer. The noble Sir Gawain was able to come with honor again to King Arthur’s court, with the songs of bards preceding him. And the story still told again long after.