Sir Gawain and the Ghost Knight
The King is in his Hall. There is the scent of applewood and venison roasting. Arthur’s knights are at table, the Round Table of Camelot. Bards tell tales accompanied by minstrels. Well received are the jokesters telling tales that make merry, bring laughter and jeers, gafaws and then cheers.
Martin the bard strides forth with his tale, wearing motley and bells. Knights lean closer, to listen to the story he tells, “Here then is the tale of Sir Gawain and the Ghost Knight,” chants Martin there by the fire where he stands.
“This will be good I’ll wager,” says Sir Gaheris with twinkling eye.
Arthur silences him with a glare and Gawain, red as a beet, sinks deeper in his chair.
“Sir Gawain, he of Camelot, being a knight of the Round Table,” The knights cheer and applaud so the Bard pauses before continuing, “He did seek he, hither and thither, for good that might be done in a knightly manner, and in regards to his honor, in keeping with what best befits one of his station and high calling.
“Sadly, no call for succor from fair maiden, or plee from put upon peasantry, abused by an unscrupulous master sworn to other than our good king, nor even a chance attempt at brigandry against his person had arisen to leaven the dreary days. Worse yet, the clouds had opened into a bone chilling, drenching rain.
“It was in low spirits and considerable discouragement that Gawain followed a road toward home. His way wound up a long rise crowded close with mist shrouded pine. This was a perfect place for ambuscade so that Gawain was not surprised, though relieved to tell the truth, to see a dark figure lurking beneath an enormous fir, topping a rise above him.
“Gawain placed his helm upon his head, took his lance firm in hand, and picked up his pace along that lonely road. Soon enough he saw more clearly a figure, resolved from the mist as it were, into a knight, it seemed, caparisoned in green and athwart his path. That is, there appeared a green knight, or rather a knightly figure arrayed in green who’s device he could not discern so as to know what man might inhabit the armor that sat upon the horse in his path.
“Ho there sir knight, who’s vassal may you be, and by what right do you bar the king’s thoroughfare? This said gallant Gawain, but to his goodly query the knight in green said not a single thing. He sat his steed and stared, it seemed, a looming darkened specter.
“Be you friend of King Arthur of Camelot, or be you in contra-point and opposition, for I am sworn to same and will defend with vigor the right, both of myself as a knight, and to all who name him lord, of passage along this way, indeed with lance if you will not remove yourself peaceably. Though he was not in a companionable mood Gawain added generously, Or if you are with the king we might ride on to Camelot and feast at table or some such.
“Civil enough greeting and even kind it was, but that Green Knight said not a thing, nor did he bestir himself to properly vacate the precinct of the kings roadway. It seemed, though it were long odded unlikely to fair Gawain that this looming figure could control his equine mount to this degree, having heard the goodly knight’s command, the Green Knight’s mount lifted tail and gave vent right there upon the road, it would seem, in direct defiance of the king’s sworn man.
“But there, steaming in the roadway was clear evidence of same. Gawain could not let this pass, so to speak. See here you dandy varlet. Said good Sir Gawain. You may be sure that this abuse of the king’s roadway will not be condoned. Arm yourself, defend, if you can, these actions, and know that Gawain at least, will not stand such. And then with heat. Defend yourself! Thus saying, Gawain reined ’round and paced him off a goodly run so to best engage the Green Knight at full tilt. Wheeling, Gawain would have couched his lance and rode the scroyle down, but as he looked to find his target through his visor, much too close he saw the blighted horse, with its rider, seated calmly there astride it, walking slowly up behind our gallant knight and closing distance so as to preclude Gawain’s full tilt charge and satisfaction.
“What is this japery! Hold you there or I will. . . See here, how am I to ride you down, like the dog you are, if I can’t gain enough way? Ye Gods are you even a knight? Wheeling again and riding harder, Gawain galloped to a place well back along the road. Quickly, so as not to allow the green knight time for any other shenanigans, Gawain whirled and brought his lance to bear.
“Wroth as he was and sore put upon, nothing would have stayed Sir Gawain from violence, surely, nothing conceivable could prevent his lightening charge iresitably followed by a deadly lance thrust and victory. The inevitability of it was undeniable, unimpeachable, solid in concept and undoubtable as it was indubitable. So it was a very great shock and surprise to Gawain when he would have kicked his mount to the charge, and to the inevitable, undeniable, indubitable, and certain end of such a charge with violent intent. . .
“. . . But as he rounded, lo, all he had to look on was the backside of the horse, and also, there above that insolent backside, the back of the Green Knight, equally insolent and more. THIS is intolerable. You are no true knight, are you even a man? How can a knight turn curpin in such extremity? Stand and FIGHT!
“This the Green Knight would not do, for with infinite aplomb the bounder wandered along the track at such a slow pace as to make a man, even a lesser man than Gawain, who in his fine pique and temper was quite beside himself at this point, rather mad with blood-lust.
“You poxy blaggard. Turn and face me if you be a man, you smoldering mundungus. So saying Gawain savaged his charger’s flanks and prepared to engage, though he warned the Green Knight again ere he would have struck him. Gawain railed, I will have satisfaction. Stand, you craven gundygut, and fight or or or. . .
“But naught could come to mind that would allow Gawain to ride down an enemy who was neither facing him, nor exactly fleeing in the sort of way that might bring a proper attack from the rear, if ever one might be justified. Honor bound, Gawain was at a loss and drew rein as roughly as he’d spurred his mount.
“His horse flesh, tempestuous itself, and sensing its masters discomfort, chose that moment to add to it. Rearing in a most unexpected way, the charger bolted clean out from under Sir Gawain, sending him foot over withers and helm under knickers before dashing him down upon the muddy road in a splat and a rattle.
“Momentarily stunned, Gawain quickly, at least for a heavily armored man on uncertain ground, regained his feet and drew sword to face the inevitable attack. Alas, it did not come. But Gawain thought, above the ringing in his ears, might there be laughter on the wind?
“Not far off his charger was cropping grass as was the sway backed plow-horse of a mount that bore the Green Knight, cheekily sitting his mount now once again athwart the road. This was intolerable provocation, but Gawain was in no position to answer it immediately. The situation vexed him sore.
“It was a most unknightly procedure, unsquired and alone, for Gawain to capture, remount, and rearm upon his charger. All the while he believed he could hear distant laughter. So it was a red faced knight, Gawain and no other, who once again stood mounted and facing the Green Knight, or rather standing at the ready to fight the Green Knight who, for his part, sat calmly side on, displaying a blank green shield, his sinister display a clear mock of such disrespect as to madden beyond all restraint the long suffering Gawain.
“Defend, I’ll give you no more warning nor quarter. You have earned this beyond all bounds of knightly behavior and I require satisfaction. So saying and without delay Gawain couched his lance and charged.
“Soon enough Gawain was at the gallop and bearing down on the Green Knight where he waited, at rest, before the huge spreading fir at the top of the hill. With madening Nonchalance, the horse and rider wandered off the road, still side on to Gawain. The small satisfaction of the Green Knight quiting the road was not now of a sufficiency to stay Gawain.
“Adjusting to the new deflection, Gawain bore down. With satisfaction, he saw the varlet turn head on to him, awaiting his attack. As he neared the collision, Gawain had eyes only for the heart of his enemy. Gawain stood high in his stirrups, and leaned in against the shattering impact of taking a man full in the chest with a lance. Indeed Gawain drew some back just before contact, and then thrust with all his might to run the man through.
“He couldn’t have missed, he was sure, Sir Gawain watched the point take the insolent knight full on his breastplate, but it was as if the Green Knight were a phantasm or wraith and its armored breast resisted his thrust no more than would a vapor. And so, inevitably, without the counterbalancing resistance of an armored man to set him back in his saddle, Gawain followed his thrust over the back of the Green Knight’s horse and headfirst upon the road, his fall broken by naught but the horse flop that had in large part precipitated the engagement.
“The dung did not afford any more resistance than had the Green Knight, indeed it rather smoothed and lubricated the way as Gawain skidded over the hill. Far from slowing, it seemed, he began to gain way as he bounced and rattled down the road into a smallish village, ending his careen in a rather large communal pig wallow.
“Mortification were not nearly a sufficient descriptor of Gawain’s embarassment. At least, though his shame was witnessed widely by the populace, Sir Gawain was saved from drowning in the murky middlemost depth of the pig wallow, being drawn forth by the efforts of four good men of the village. Further, these same men were able to identify and secure the young vandals who had made up the wooden effigy, placed it upon a perloined plow horse, and presented it at the top of the hill from which devolved all the tragic event afore mentioned.” Martin bows with laudably dignity despite bells jingling on his hat.
When the snickers and gaffaws subside, the King nods to the bard, “Master bard, well told.” Then to Gawain he says, “Truly an amazing adventure, Sir Gawain, but what became of the young rapscallions?”
It seems Sir Gawain could not get redder, but he, with exagerated dignity, ignoring his fellow knights in hopes of salvaging something good from it all says, “Having been saved from sure death by their fathers,” he says, “I remembered my own imperfect youth and decided that the punishment should fit the crime.”
“Oh? What punishment?” asks the monarch, Arthur, over the rim of his drinking horn of red wine.
Arthur drinks deep, Gawain, clearly pleased with himself, responds,”Why, they are this moment cleaning my armor.”
He is less pleased as his king spews wine across the table, Gawain’s mantle, and his beard which drains onto his fresh doublet. “Oh Gawain, you didn’t!” Arthur moans.
* * * *
The ride has been long and trying, but it is nearing an end with every step closer to Camelot. Still, the knight emissary from a nearby kingdom is not at all pleased to see a knight baring his way.
Looking hard at the shield device on the mounted knight he recognises the heraldry of sir Gawain of Camelot. “Sir Gawain, what is the meaning of this?” The knight is vexed that Gawain makes no answer, but Gawain, in full armor, visored as if for battle, plods out from under the great fir he has been lurking beneath.