The Courteous King

For he held the head straight up in his hand; turned the face toward the highest on the dais; and it lifted up the eyelids and looked straight out, and spoke thus much with his mouth, as ye may now hear: ÒLook Gawain, that thou be ready to go as thou has promised, and seek loyally, hero, till thou find me; as thou has promised in this hall in the hearing of these knights. To the green chapel go thou, I charge thee, to receive such a blow as thou has dealt. Thou deservest to be promptly paid on New YearÕs morn. 18 As the knight of the green chapel many men know me; therefore, if thou strivest to find me, thou shalt never fail. And so come, or it behooves thee to be called recreant.Ó

With a wild rush he turned the reins, and flew out at the hall doorÑhis head in his handÑso that the fire of the flint flew from the foalÕs hoofs. To what country he vanished knew none there; no more than they wist whence he was come. The king and Gawain roared with laughter at that green man; but this adventure was reckoned a marvel among men.

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Though the courteous king wondered in his heart, he let no semblance be seen, but said aloud to the comely queen with courteous speech, ÒDear dame, today be never dismayed; well becoming are such tricks at Christmas, in lack of entertainment, to laugh and sing about among these pleasant carols of knights and ladies. Nevertheless I may well go to my meat, for I can not deny that I have seen a marvel.Ó He glanced at Sir Gawain and said cheerfully, ÒNow, sir, hang up thine axe; it has hewn enough.Ó And it was put above the dais to hang on the tapestry where all men might marvel at it, and by it avouch the wonderful happening. Then they turned to the board, these heroes togetherÑthe king and the good knightÑand the keen men served them double of all dainties, as was most fitting; with all manner of meat, and minstrelsy both. They spent that day in joy until it came to an end. Now take care, Sir Gawain, that thou blench not for the pain to prosecute this adventure that thou has taken on hand.


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