Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Part 3 Continued
JESSIE L. WESTON (1898)
Then the knight arose and went forth to Mass, and afterward dinner was served and he sat and spoke with the ladies all day. But the lord of the castle rode ever over the land chasing the wild boar, that fled through the thickets, slaying the best of his hounds and breaking their backs in sunder; till at last he was so weary he might run no longer, but made for a hole in a mound by a rock. He got the mound at his back and faced the hounds, whetting his white tusks and foaming at the mouth. The huntsmen stood aloof, fearing to draw nigh him; so many of them had been already wounded that they were loathe to be torn with his tusks, so fierce he was and mad with rage. At length the lord himself came up, and saw the beast at bay, and the men standing aloof. Then quickly he sprang to the ground and drew out a bright blade, and waded through the stream to the boar.
When the beast was aware of the knight with weapon in hand, he set up his bristles and snorted loudly, and many feared for their lord lest he should be slain. Then the boar leapt upon the knight so that beast and man were one atop of the other in the water; but the boar had the worst of it, for the man had marked, even as he sprang, and set the point of his brand to the beast's chest, and drove it up to the hilt, so that the heart was split in twain, and the boar fell snarling, and was swept down by the water to where a hundred hounds seized on him, and the men drew him to shore for the dogs to slay.
Then was there loud blowing of horns and baying of hounds, the huntsmen smote off the boar's head, and hung the carcass by the four feet to a stout pole, and so went on their way homewards. The head they bore before the lord himself, who had slain the beast at the ford by force of his strong hand.
It seemed him o'er long ere he saw Sir Gawain in the hall, and he called, and the guest came to take that which fell to his share. And when he saw Gawain the lord laughed aloud, and bade them call the ladies and the household together, and he showed them the game, and told them the tale, how they hunted the wild boar through the woods, and of his length and breadth and height; and Sir Gawain commended his deeds and praised him for his valor, well proven, for so mighty a beast had he never seen before.
Then they handled the huge head, and the lord said aloud, "Now, Gawain, this game is your own by sure covenant, as you right well know."
"'Tis sooth," said the knight, "and as truly will I give you all I have gained." He took the host round the neck, and kissed him courteously twice.
"Now are we quits," he said, "this eventide, of all the covenants that we made since I came here."
And the lord answered, "By S. Giles, you are the best I know; you will be rich in a short space if you drive such bargains!"
Then they set up the tables on trestles, and covered them with fair cloths, and lit waxen tapers on the walls. The knights sat and were served in the hall, and much game and glee was there round the hearth, with many songs, both at supper and after; song of Christmas, and new carols, with all the mirth one may think of. And ever that lovely lady sat by the knight, and with still stolen looks made such feint of pleasing him, that Gawain marveled much, and was wroth with himself, but he could not for his courtesy return her fair glances, but dealt with her cunningly, however she might strive to wrest the thing.
When they had tarried in the hall so long as it seemed them good, they turned to the inner chamber and the wide hearthplace, and there they drank wine, and the host proffered to renew the covenant for New Year's Eve; but the knight craved leave to depart on the morrow, for it was nigh to the term when he must fulfill his pledge. But the lord would withhold him from so doing, and prayed him to tarry, and said, "As I am a true knight I swear my troth that you shall come to the Green Chapel to achieve your task on New Year's morn, long before prime. Therefore abide you in your bed, and I will hunt in this wood, and hold you to the covenant to exchange with me against all the spoil I may bring here. For twice have I tried you, and found you true, and the morrow shall be the third time and the best. Make we merry now while we may, and think on joy, for misfortune may take a man whensoever it wills."
Then Gawain granted his request, and they brought them drink, and they got them with lights to bed.
Sir Gawain lay and slept softly, but the lord, who was keen on woodcraft, was afoot early. After Mass he and his men ate a morsel, and he asked for his steed; all the knights who should ride with him were already mounted before the hall gates.
'Twas a fair frosty morning, for the sun rose red in ruddy vapor, and the welkin was clear of clouds. The hunters scattered them by a forest side, and the rocks rang again with the blast of their horns. Some came on the scent of a fox, and a hound gave tongue; the huntsmen shouted, and the pack followed in a crowd on the trail. The fox ran before them, and when they saw him they pursued him with noise and much shouting, and he wound and turned through many a thick grove, often cowering and hearkening in a hedge. At last by a little ditch he leapt out of a spinney, stole away slyly by a copse path, and so out of the wood and away from the hounds. But he went, ere he knows, to a chosen tryst, and three started forth on him at once, so he must needs double back, and betake him to the wood again.
Then was it joyful to hearken to the hounds; when all the pack had met together and had sight of their game they made as loud a din as if all the lofty cliffs had fallen clattering together. The huntsmen shouted and threatened, and followed close upon him so that he might scarce escape, but Reynard was wily, and he turned and doubled upon them, and led the lord and his men over the hills, now on the slopes, now in the vales, while the knight at home slept through the cold morning beneath his costly curtains.
But the fair lady of the castle rose betimes, and clad herself in a rich mantle that reached even to the ground, left her throat and her fair neck bare, and was bordered and lined with costly furs. On her head she wore no golden circlet, but a network of precious stones, that gleamed and shone through her tresses in clusters of twenty together. Thus she came into the chamber, closed the door after her, and set open a window, and called to him gaily, "Sir Knight, how may you sleep? The morning is so fair."
Sir Gawain was deep in slumber, and in his dream he vexed him much for the destiny that should befall him on the morrow, when he should meet the knight at the Green Chapel, and abide his blow; but when the lady spoke he heard her, and came to himself, and roused from his dream and answered swiftly. The lady came laughing, and kissed him courteously, and he welcomed her fittingly with a cheerful countenance. He saw her so glorious and gaily dressed, so faultless of features and complexion, that it warmed his heart to look upon her.
They spoke to each other smiling, and all was bliss and good cheer between them. They exchanged fair words, and much happiness was therein, yet was there a gulf between them, and she might win no more of her knight, for that gallant prince watched well his words--he would neither take her love, nor frankly refuse it. He cared for his courtesy, lest he be deemed churlish, and yet more for his honor lest he be traitor to his host. "God forbid," said he to himself, "that it should so befall." Thus with courteous words did he set aside all the special speeches that came from her lips.
Then spoke the lady to the knight, "You deserve blame if you hold not that lady who sits beside you above all else in the world, if you have not already a love whom you hold dearer, and like better, and have sworn such firm faith to that lady that you care not to loose it--and that am I now fain to believe. And now I pray you straightly that you tell me that in truth, and hide it not."
And the knight answered, "By S. John" (and he smiled as he spoke) "no such love have I, nor do I think to have yet awhile."
"That is the worst word I may hear," said the lady, "but in sooth I have mine answer; kiss me now courteously, and I will go hence; I can but mourn as a maiden that loves much."
Sighing, she stooped down and kissed him, and then she rose up and spoke as she stood, "Now, dear, at our parting do me this grace: give me some gift, if it were but your glove, that I may bethink me of my knight, and lessen my mourning."
"Now, I know," said the knight, "I would that I had here the most precious thing that I possess on earth that I might leave you as love-token, great or small, for you have deserved forsooth more reward than I might give you. But it is not to your honor to have at this time a glove for reward as gift from Gawain, and I am here on a strange errand, and have no man with me, nor mails with goodly things--that mislikes me much, lady, at this time; but each man must fare as he is taken, if for sorrow and ill."
"Nay, knight highly honored," said that lovesome lady, "yet I have naught of yours, yet shall you have somewhat of mine." With that she reached him a ring of red gold with a sparkling stone therein, that shone even as the sun (wit you well, it was worth many marks); but the knight refused it, and spoke readily, "I will take no gift, lady, at this time. I have none to give, and none will I take."
She prayed him to take it, but he refused her prayer, and swore in sooth that he would not have it.
The lady was sorely vexed, and said, "If you refuse my ring as too costly, that you will not be so highly beholden to me, I will give you my girdle as a lesser gift." With that she loosened a lace that was fastened at her side, knit upon her kirtle under her mantle. It was wrought of green silk, and gold, only braided by the fingers, and that she offered to the knight, and besought him yet it were of little worth that he would take it, and he said nay, he would touch neither gold nor gear ere God give him grace to achieve the adventure for which he had come here. "And therefore, I pray you, displease you not, and ask me no longer, for I may not grant it. I am dearly beholden to you for the favor you have shown me, and ever, in heat and cold, will I be your true servant."
"Now," said the lady, "you refuse this silk, for it is simple in itself, and so it seems, indeed; lo, it is small to look upon and less in cost, but whoso knew the virtue that is knit therein he would, peradventure, value it more highly. For whatever knight is girded with this green lace, while he bears it knotted about him there is no man under heaven can overcome him, for he may not be slain for any magic on earth."
Then Gawain bethought him, and it came into his heart that this were a jewel for the jeopardy that awaited him when he came to the Green Chapel to seek the return blow--could he so order it that he should escape unslain, 'twere a craft worth trying. Then he bare with her chiding, and let her say her say, and she pressed the girdle on him and prayed him to take it, and he granted her prayer, and she gave it him with good will, and besought him for her sake never to reveal it but to hide it loyally from her lord; and the knight agreed that never should any man know it, save they two alone. He thanked her often and heartily, and she kissed him for the third time.
Then she took her leave of him, and when she was gone Sir Gawain arose, and clad him in rich attire, and took the girdle, and knotted it round him, and hid it beneath his robes. Then he took his way to the chapel, and sought out a priest privily and prayed him to teach him better how his soul might be saved when he should go hence; and there he shrived him, and showed his misdeeds, both great and small, and besought mercy and craved absolution; and the priest assoiled him, and set him as clean as if Doomsday had been on the morrow. And afterwards Sir Gawain made him merry with the ladies, with carols, and all kinds of joy, as never he did but that one day, even to nightfall; and all the men marveled at him, and said that never since he came there had he been so merry.
Meanwhile the lord of the castle was abroad chasing the fox; awhile he lost him, and as he rode through a thicket of thorns he heard the hounds near at hand, and Reynard came creeping through a thick grove, with all the pack at his heels. Then the lord drew out his shining brand, and cast it at the beast, and the fox swerved aside for the sharp edge, and would have doubled back, but a hound was on him ere he might turn, and right before the horse's feet they all fell on him, and worried him fiercely, snarling the while.
Then the lord leapt from his saddle, and caught the fox from the jaws, and held it aloft over his head, and hallooed loudly, and many brave hounds bayed as they beheld it; and the hunters hastened them there, blowing their horns; all that bare bugles blew them at once, and all the others shouted. 'Twas the merriest meeting that ever men heard, the clamor that was raised at the death of the fox. They rewarded the hounds, stroking them and rubbing their heads, and took Reynard and stripped him of his coat; then blowing their horns, they turned them homewards, for it was nigh nightfall.
The lord was gladsome at his return, and found a bright fire on the hearth, and the knight beside it, the good Sir Gawain, who was in joyous mood for the pleasure he had had with the ladies. He wore a robe of blue, that reached even to the ground, and a surcoat richly furred, that became him well. A hood like to the surcoat fell on his shoulders, and all alike were done about with fur. He met the host in the midst of the floor, and jesting, he greeted him, and said, "Now shall I be first to fulfill our covenant which we made together when there was no lack of wine." Then he embraced the knight [the host], and kissed him thrice, as solemnly as he might.
"Of a sooth," said the other, "you have good luck in the matter of this covenant, if you made a good exchange!"
"Yea, it matters naught of the exchange," said Gawain, "since what I owe is swiftly paid."
"Marry," said the other, "mine is behind, for I have hunted all this day, and naught have I got but this foul fox-skin, and that is but poor payment for three such kisses as you have here given me."
"Enough," said Sir Gawain, "I thank you, by the Rood." 35
Then the lord told them of his hunting, and how the fox had been slain.
With mirth and minstrelsy, and dainties at their will, they made them as merry as a folk well might till 'twas time for them to sever, for at last they must needs betake them to their beds. Then the knight took his leave of the lord, and thanked him fairly.
"For the fair sojourn that I have had here at this high feast may the High King give you honor. I give you myself, as one of your servants, if you so like; for I must needs, as you know, go hence with the morn, and you will give me, as you promised, a guide to show me the way to the Green Chapel, and God will suffer me on New Year's Day to deal the doom of my weird."
"By my faith," said the host, "all that ever I promised, that shall I keep with good will." Then he gave him a servant to set him in the way, and lead him by the downs, that he should have no need to ford the stream, and should fare by the shortest road through the groves; and Gawain thanked the lord for the honor done him. Then he would take leave of the ladies, and courteously he kissed them, and spoke, praying them to receive his thanks, and they made like reply; then with many sighs they commended him to Christ, and he departed courteously from that folk. Each man that he met he thanked him for his service and his solace, and the pains he had been at to do his will; and each found it as hard to part from the knight as if he had ever dwelt with him.
Then they led him with torches to his chamber, and brought him to his bed to rest. That he slept soundly I may not say, for the morrow gave him much to think on. Let him rest awhile, for he was near that which he sought, and if you will but listen to me I will tell you how it fared with him thereafter.
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Hero: Often a young person taken from an out of the way area, raised by strangers, with some special mental or physical gift. The central figure in any story, the hero goes on a quest—physical or spiritual—in an effort to heal a rift that has caused his world or community to fall apart. All of the archetypal symbols discussed here involve the hero in some way.
Mentor: Usually an older person, usually himself a former hero, who aids the hero, acting as a father or mother figure. The mentor teaches the hero valuable skills needed for the quest and often bestows magic weapons upon the hero.
Noble Sidekick: There is often a character who is particularly loyal as a companion and whose nobility of character reflects the greatest attributes of the hero as the hero develops. Usually this character possesses a particular character trait that highlights the same trait developing in or permeating the hero.
Herald: The source from which the hero receives the call.
Supernatural Aid: This influence aids the hero during the quest with power or advice.
Loyal Companions: These help the hero during the trials and tasks of the quest. They usually do not accompany the hero into the center of the abyss.
Threshold Guardian: Often there is a figure keeping the hero from passing into (or out of) the adventure or a part of the quest. The hero must use cunning to turn this figure into a friend, disable it, or destroy it.
Friendly Beasts: On the journey, the hero often befriends a kind beast who demonstrates that nature is on the side of the hero.
Creature of Nightmare: As opposed to a friendly beast, this is an ugly, disfigured, unnatural beast encountered—often in the center of the abyss—that represents nature in its twisted state.
Devil Figure: This character functions to keep the hero from finishing the quest, often with some temptation or some other dark means.
Evil Figure who is Ultimately Good: Sometimes evil characters end up turning around and helping the hero, turning good due to some inner spark of sentiment that gets amplified due to his positive experience with a good hero. Sometimes, this is the hero himself who has had a revelation of some kind.
Outcast: These are characters whom society has banished for some perceived evil done to the community. Often, outcasts end up ironically saving the societies that banish them.
The Hermit: An isolated (often outcast) being who lives close to nature and the earth and thus has a tremendous spiritual wisdom.
The Old Crone: This is an old, wise woman with special powers who may aid the hero on the quest.
The Educated Fool: This often pedantic figure highlights the distinction between “book-learning” and wisdom gained through experience.
Scapegoat: This is a special kind of outcast whose banishment is meant to rid society of some greater ill.
Temptress: This woman’s role is to keep the hero from completing the quest, using sexual or other means to distract the hero from his purpose.
Damsel in Distress: This is a female figure who is often a boon to be retrieved by the hero. Sometimes she is used as bait to capture the hero.
Platonic Ideal: This is a figure (usually female) whom the hero admires for noble spiritual or mental qualities. She acts as an inspiration for the hero (e.g., Athena, Virgin Mary, Guenevere)
Earth Mother: Often depicted as an over-weight female, this figure represents fertility, abundance, and the nourishing gifts of the earth. She often acts as a mother figure for the hero.
Unrequited Lover: This character never truly gains the desired affection of the object of his love, sometimes driving the lover to fits of madness in his frustration.
Father Figure: This is a figure that mentors or challenges the hero as a father would.
The Ruling Parasite: A selfish, evil ruler that metaphorically sucks all the life from his surrounding lands, resulting in a desolate wasteland. This figure has often invaded the community and his ousting can be a hero’s primary task.
The Trickster: Often the hero is undermined by a figure whose comical attitude toward life becomes a nuisance. The hero frequently disables this figure’s power by outwitting him at his own game.