Everybody got up before the sun had arisen and those who had to leave called to their servants. Horses were groomed and saddled, bags secured, everything prepared and loaded, and then all those who were due to depart leapt up into the saddle and took the route away from the castle that suited each of them best. The lord of the castle was not the last to be ready to set out either. He heard Mass, then quickly ate a hunk of bread soaked in wine, the bugle was sounded and he rode out into the parkland surrounding the castle. By the time the sun had risen, the hounds had been called out of their kennels, put on their leashes, and three long calls had been sounded on the hunting horn. Hunting dogs barked loudly and ran about on their leads, this way and that, sniffing for scents with a hundred of the best huntsmen, as men with greyhounds went to their stations in the forest, before releasing their dogs from their leads. Four long blasts were sounded on the hunting horn, and the forest was at once filled with noise.
At the first blast of this call the deer were startled and ran wildly through the woodland, witless with fear. Those that made for the high ground were fiercely repulsed by the beaters shouting 'Hey!' and 'Wowgh!' as the deer ran towards them. But the stags with great antlers were let through this cordon, and the young bucks as well, for the lord had forbidden any male deer to be killed during the winter season. But the hinds and the does were shouted away and driven back into the deep wooded valleys where they slipped and staggered as arrows with broad tips flew through the branches and brought them down. The deer brayed and cried, fell down bleeding on banks and by streams, or were chased delightedly by the greyhounds, and in turn by the huntsmen, with their hunting horns trumpeting such fearful blasts that it seemed that the cliffs on the valley sides would shatter and fall! The deer that escaped this ambush were shouted off the high ground by the beaters once again and chased into the streams where the men who were stationed below were so skilful, and their dogs so strong and fast, that there was not a moment when a man might not see a deer being brought down by a greyhound somewhere on the valley floor. The lord delightedly rode and dismounted, and mounted again, pursuing the excitement of the day with as great a joy as he pursued the deer.
As the lord enjoyed himself in the forest, meanwhile, Sir Gawain lay snuggled up in bed, lurking under the bedclothes as the morning sun shone on the walls, under a clean coverlet and enclosed by curtains. As he dozed, he heard a tiny noise at his door, and then the sound of the door opening. He raised his head from under the bedclothes, lifted a little corner of the curtain that surrounded his bed and cautiously looked to see who it was, watching to see who might come into view. It was the lord's beautiful lady who closed the door softly behind her and moved slowly towards the bed. Sir Gawain hardly knew what to do when he realised this and, for shame, he lay back again and pretended to be asleep. The lady stepped quietly forwards and stole to his bed, lifted the curtain, climbed in and lay down on the bed beside him. She lay there for a long time, waiting for him to wake up.
Sir Gawain's thoughts raced around in his head as he tried to weigh up in his mind what her motives might be for doing this. Finally he thought to himself: 'It would be more seemly for me to speak with her and to find out, rather than lying here like an idiot.' So he pretended to wake up, stretched, turned towards her, opened his eyes, acted as though he was startled, uttered a blessing and crossed himself. She looked happy, and very beautiful.
'Good morning, Sir Gawain,' she said. 'You are a sound sleeper I must say, that someone can come into your bed like this and you don't even notice. But now you are mine, unless we can come to some arrangement. I shall tie you up in your bed, be sure of it.' She said this laughing.
'Good morning to you,' replied Sir Gawain, playfully. 'I am yours to command, my lady, much to my good fortune! I surrender completely, as this is all I can do, for you have captured me entirely.' So Sir Gawain joined in the joke and laughed with her: 'But if you would be so gracious, lovely lady, as to open your prison and let your prisoner get up, he could arise from his bed and we would have more comfort to continue this lovely conversation.'
'No, in truth, good Sir,' she replied, 'you shall not get out of this bed so easily, I assure you! I shall fasten your arm here, and this other arm here, and then speak with my knight whom I have captured. For you are Sir Gawain, whom all the world worships. Your courtesy and your honour are praised by lords and ladies everywhere. And now you are mine! My lord and all his huntsmen have gone for a long day's hunting, all the other men are in their beds, and my ladies also, the door is closed and fastened with a strong catch, and I shall use this opportunity to my advantage. You are welcome to do with my body whatever you wish to do. I am completely at your bidding.'
'In good faith,' gasped Sir Gawain. 'This is my lucky day! Although I cannot claim to be able to live up to this glowing description you have given of me. But should you think it fitting, I would be delighted to bring pleasure to your ladyship through conversation or in any other way that I can. It would be pure joy to do so.'
'But how churlish would it be of me if I ignored the fine reputation that you enjoy everywhere?' replied the lady. 'Sir Gawain, there are ladies enough who would rather have you locked in their prisons than possess all the wealth imaginable, and I praise God that, through his grace, I have the very thing that they all desire! I have you, to converse with, to be refreshed by and to cause all my anxieties to be eased away.'
She was so beautiful, and such good company, but Sir Gawain cheerfully deflected every advance she made with courtesy and restraint. 'Madam,' he said, laughingly, 'may Mary reward you! I have seized upon your noble generosity in good faith, and many others here have been so very kind to me as well, and not so much through any merit of my own but because of the honour it does to you, my lady. You, who would find it impossible to behave in any other way but well.'
'Mary!' exclaimed this noble lady. 'I beg to differ! If I possessed the whole world and I was looking for a man to love, then there would be no man upon Earth I would chose before you.'
'But I can assure you that you have already chosen better than I, my lady. And I am proud to be valued so highly by you. I am your true servant, and hold you to be my sovereign in all things. I am your knight, and may Christ reward you!'
They conversed playfully with each other like this until the middle of the morning, and always the lady let Sir Gawain believe that she was in love with him, and spun complements about the qualities that she had already seen him display, his good looks, his courtesy, his manliness, his lively and playful demeanour and all that she had ever heard spoken about him and knew to be true. And he defended himself nobly and acted properly, although she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his entire life. But his mind was on the Green Chapel. He preferred not to carry any more commitment in his baggage on such an anxious journey as the one upon which he was embarked. Finally, the lady asked his leave to go. He granted it with some relief.
She bid him a good day, laughed and said: 'May he who oversees every conversation award you this one. But that you are indeed Sir Gawain? I cannot bring myself to believe it.'
'Why!' exclaimed Sir Gawain anxiously, as though fearing that he may have spoken out of turn in some way. But the lady blessed him and said:
'Because a knight with so fine a reputation as Sir Gawain, with courtesy so completely contained within him, could not easily have spoken so long with a lady without finding an opportunity, at some brief moment in the conversation, to ask for a kiss.'
'It is a knight’s duty to do willingly what a lady asks,' said Sir Gawain, 'and I shall kiss you more willingly still, lest it should displease you.' She took a pace towards him, took him into her arms and kissed him. They commended one another to Christ and she went to the door without another word.
Sir Gawain prepared to get up, hurried out of bed, called to his chamberlain, chose the clothes that he wanted to wear and when he was ready, virtuously went to hear Mass before going to have something to eat. The rest of the day he spent merrily enough in the company of the two ladies, the elder and the younger, until the moon arose. Never has a knight been so graciously received, a guest between two such distinguished ladies and in such pleasant company.
All this while, the lord of the district was engaged in hunting the barren hinds in the forest and on the lower slopes of the fells. So many had been killed by the time the afternoon began to draw in that it would be a job to tally it all up! As the air began to chill, all the men flocked down to where the carcasses lay, piled them all in a heap and the most skilful amongst them began to butcher the animals. There was no shortage of people willing to help. They selected the largest deer first, took a knife to them and found at least two fingers depth of fat on them all. Then they cut the windpipe, caught hold of the gullet, cleaned it with a sharp knife, tied a knot in it, then cut off the four legs and skinned the hide. Next they cut open the belly, releasing the offal so as not to disturb the knot where the gullet was secured, then released the gullet and separating it from the wind-pipe, drew out all the guts cleanly in a mass.
Then with sharp knives they carved out the shoulders of meat in such a way that the sides of the carcass and the ribs beneath were left whole, then broke the chest and cut it in two, slit the throat from the windpipe down to the breastbone, took out the lungs, windpipe and all the membranes attaching to the stomach wall, removed it all cleanly as a piece, cutting it away; and this portion is called the numbles, I believe. Then they cleaned out the stomach cavity from the backbone to the hindquarters, cut through the flesh of the groin up to the backbone and removed the thighs, leaving the spine exposed. Then they cut off the head and the neck and then removed the sides of the carcass from the backbone, throwing the spine with its meat up into the trees as the 'ravens' portion'. Then they pierced each side of rib with a hook, attached a leg to it and the whole parcel became the payment to a huntsman for his day's work, leaving the shoulders and the loins for the lord. Next, they laid out the skin and put the dogs' portion on it, the liver, the numbles and the belly, along with bread soaked in blood. Then they blew the hunting horns, rounded up the dogs when they had finished eating, gathered the meat and wrapped it up to take home with them. The horns blew frantically with pleasure and by the time the light was fading all the men were back inside the castle, where Sir Gawain was already sitting quietly beside a roaring fire. The lord entered the hall and when Sir Gawain saw him, they greeted each other with much joy.
All the men of the castle were commanded to come into the hall and all the ladies were invited to come down from the higher chambers, and when everyone was assembled, the lord asked for all the venison to be brought before him. He called upon Sir Gawain to count it all up with him, and showed him the flesh of some fine, large deer cut properly from the bone.
'How do you rate all this?' he asked. 'Have I done well? Do I deserve thanks for all this effort?'
'Yes, for sure!' replied Sir Gawain. 'There is more quality game lying here than I have seen in seven years, from a winter hunt!'
'And the terms of our agreement stipulate that it is all yours, Sir Gawain,' said the lord.
'This is true,' said Sir Gawain. 'And by the same token, what I have won within these walls is owing to you, and I hand it over with equal pleasure,' and Sir Gawain clasped his hands around the lord’s neck and kissed him. 'This is all that I have, I’m afraid. If it was more, you can be sure that I would have given it to you.'
'It is good,' said the lord. 'But it would be better still if you could tell me where you obtained this treasure.'
'That was not a part of our agreement,' said Sir Gawain. 'Ask me no more. You have taken what is yours.'
They laughed, and joked with one another, and then went quickly to supper, to a very nicely presented meal. Then they retired to a chamber beside a roaring fire. Fine wine was brought to them in good supply, and they agreed to do the same the next day, that whatever fortune brought to each of them should be given to the other in the evening. They shook hands on this deal before all the men in the room, wine was brought to them and the contract sealed with another drink. Then, at last, they graciously took their leave of one another and each hurried quickly to his room.
When the cock had crowed three times the lord jumped from his bed, and all his men from theirs, and when they had heard Mass, and eaten some food, they leapt straight onto their horses and away again for another day's hunting! The sun had barely risen above the horizon as they climbed up onto the open fells with their horns blowing festively. The dogs were unleashed and began rushing delightedly through the prickly scrub and the thorn bushes, sniffing for a scent.
It was not long before a sound of excited barking came from the foot of a rocky hillside where small trees and rank bushes wallowed in a marsh. The huntsmen urged on the dogs that had the scent and there was some wild shouting and loud encouragement as the other dogs rushed to where the noise was coming from and quickly picked up the scent, forty at a time. There was such a din from the pack of dogs that the rocky hillsides rung with the noise. The huntsmen urged on the hounds with their horns and with their voices as dogs poured down the slope between a high rocky crag and the marsh, and stayed as a pack at the edge of this boggy tarn where the hillside was strewn with boulders, searching for the trail.
They hunted all around the crag and at the edge of the marsh along to where the tarn, a small lake, sent a stream down into the forest, and the men knew from the lack of scent, now, and the bloodhounds’ confusion, that the animal must have taken refuge in the marsh. So they beat at the bushes and the small trees and invited the creature to show himself, which he did, charging through the line of men, aiming to take out as many of them as he could in a single rush! A huge boar! A brute of a beast, he came rushing out, larger than any they had ever seen before. He was no adolescent! This boar caused grief at once, thrusting three men to the ground in a single charge, then turned to do the same again. Men cried: ‘Hey!’ put horns to their mouths, sounded the call for the hounds to be gathered and many were the happy men and dogs who chased after this boar with a great noise and hullabaloo! Often he survived being cornered or surrounded, hurting many hounds and maiming others so that they yelped piteously and howled in pain. The men began to shoot at him with their bows and arrows, hitting him many times, but none of the arrowheads could pierce through the skin of his head or through the tough hide of his shoulders; the arrows splintered on impact and the arrowheads bounced off wherever they hit. But when the boar grew tired of being incessantly bruised and cut by these arrows, mad with fear and anger, he rushed at the men once more, injuring one with each charge. Many of the huntsmen became afraid, and backed off. But the lord galloped after the boar on a swift steed as though he was on the battlefield, blowing the call to regather the hounds once again, while chasing the beast along barely-discernable paths, through thorn bushes and gorse, scrubland and harsh undergrowth, pursuing this wild pig.
This was how he spent the morning, while our splendid knight lay in his bed, Sir Gawain, languishing in the castle under richly-coloured bedclothes.
The lady did not forget to greet her knight. She made her way to his room early, in the hope that he might have changed his mind. She went to the curtain and looked in at Sir Gawain, who greeted her courteously. Then, accepting an invitation that he had not given, she joined him on the bed and with gentle words, lay softly by his side, laughed easily and genuinely and with a playful smile said: 'Sir, are you really Sir Gawain! A man renowned for his courtesy? Have you already forgotten everything that I taught you yesterday?'
'What did you teach me?' asked Sir Gawain. 'I am sorry but I can't remember!'
'I taught you about kissing,' said this beautiful woman. 'You do it to demonstrate affection for a person, and it is proper that a knight who would claim to be well-versed in courtesy should know this.'
'I'm afraid that I must contradict you,' said Sir Gawain. 'Courtesy prevents me from kissing you, for fear of a rebuff. If I were to try to kiss you and be refused, I would be blamed for having been too presumptuous and I would be greatly at fault.'
'Good grief!' replied the lord's wife. 'Who would refuse you? You are strong enough to force a woman if you wanted to, if any woman was stupid enough not to want to be kissed by you!'
'By God, that would be very discourteous!' replied Sir Gawain. 'Unsolicited advances are considered wrong in the land where I come from, especially when backed up by violence! However, I am ready to kiss you, and you may kiss me whenever you like, and leave whenever you want.'
The lady leaned over and gently kissed his face.
They spoke for a while more, and then: 'I hope this does not make you angry,' said the lady at last, 'but I would like to know: what sense does it make that so young and fit a knight as you, and one so courteous, valent and refined as you are deemed to be, should act in this way? In all the stories of true knights, we see it written in clear letters how they risk their lives and endure terrible hardship for the love of their lady, and afterwards they reap their reward by sharing joy in the bed chamber together. This is the very rock upon which chivalry rests: love and loyalty, the very doctrine of arms. You are the most good-looking knight of your generation. There is not a maiden anywhere who does not fall to the ground in a swoon at the very mention of your name. And yet twice now I have lain beside you in this bed and you have not spoken a single word to me about love. Not a single word! You, who are so courteous and skilled in persuasion. You ought to be eager to show off these skills to a lady. You, who are so famed for it! Can you not do it? Is it because you think I am too stupid to respond to such advances? For shame! I lie here alone beside you, hoping to learn something about love. Show me some interest, at least, while my husband is away!'
'It is a great delight and fine sport to me that such a beautiful lady as yourself should choose to come here and spend her time with such an unworthy man,' replied Sir Gawain. 'That you should choose to give your knight any kind of favour at all is very gratifying. But to trouble myself with having to explain the art of true love, and to discuss the themes that are woven into stories of arms and romance, to you whom I know to be a hundred times more knowledgeable in these matters than I am, and will ever be, would be a folly. But I will do all you desire, to the best of my ability, as I am obliged to, and I shall remain your servant, so save me God.'
And so the lady persevered, trying to lead Sir Gawain to his doom, however else she might have viewed it. But he defended himself so well that nothing untoward happened to either of them, and they both began to enjoy themselves very much in each other's company. They laughed and talked and flirted together incessantly, and at last she leant over and kissed him again, then she took her leave and left the room.
Sir Gawain got up and went to hear Mass. Then a meal was prepared for them, graciously served and he spent the rest of the day amusing himself with the ladies.
Meanwhile, the lord was galloping over the fells, pursuing the gigantic wild boar. It rushed over the hillsides and then grievously bit the backs of his finest dogs as it defended itself in a corner, until bowmen forced it out into the open once more. And yet the boar made the bravest retreat, until at last he was so exhausted that he could flee no more and with all the remaining strength that he could muster, he ran into a small confinement of cliffs and boulders beside a raging torrent. With a sheer wall behind him he whet his tusks in anger and frothed at the mouth. All the men surrounding him were tired of shooting at this animal from a distance, but none had the courage to approach too closely. The boar had hurt too many men already, and it was foolish to risk any more huntsmen and dogs against a creature that was so massively strong, and so angry.
The lord arrived. He saw that the animal was trapped and that his men were too frightened to go in for the kill, so he quickly dismounted, drew a shining sword and, leaving his horse where it was, strode purposefully forwards, splashing through the raging torrent of the river. The wild boar was immediately aware of the man wielding a weapon; his bristles stood on end, he grunted loudly and then launched himself at the knight like a rock from a trebuchet! All the men stood in fear for their lord, as he and the boar collided in the midst of the white water that was rushing down the hillside. But the boar received the worst of it, for the lord thrust his sword into the boar’s throat and run it right up to the hilt and into the animal’s heart as they met. The boar snarled in submission and yielding, fell into the water and was carried swiftly downstream where a hundred hounds seized him and bit him with all their might! Then the men carried the boar back onto open ground, where the dogs finished him off.
Then there was a blowing of the kill from many a hunting horn! A whooping and cheering by all those who didn’t have a horn to their lips! The dogs barked excitedly, urged on by their masters who had been foremost in the chase. A man who was skilled in forest crafts began to butcher the boar, first cutting off the head and setting it high on a pole. then cutting the sides of the beast roughly away from the backbone, taking out the entrails and placing them over a large fire that had already been kindled in order to cook them, mixed with bread, as a reward for the dogs. Then he sliced great fillets of flesh and removed the heart and liver and kidneys; and then very expertly tied all this meat together into a great bundle and hung it all, together with the two sides of the animal, from a large carrying-pole. And with the meat of a great boar on their shoulders, they set off for home. The boar’s head was carried in front of the lord, whose bravery and strength, in the raging torrent of a cascading river pouring down from the fells, had caused the demise of a very fine animal.
They arrived at the castle and the lord made his way quickly to the hall where he called Sir Gawain over to receive what was his, with excited accounts and a great deal of pleasure and laughter. The ladies were sent for and the huntsmen gathered around. The lord showed to Sir Gawain the huge sides of flesh and narrated the story of the chase they had had that day, the hugeness of the boar, his speed, his ferocity and his strength, as he recounted the battle they had had with him in the woods and on the fells. Sir Gawain congratulated the lord on his skill and valour and said what a magnificent achievement it was to have brought down such a huge animal, for he had never seen so large a boar as this in all his life. They inspected the gigantic head, touched it, measured it, and Sir Gawain expressed his praise through some choice expletives, for the lord’s benefit.
'Now, Sir Gawain,' said the lord. 'This meat is yours, by force of the agreement that we have made.'
'You are correct,' replied Sir Gawain. 'And just as certainly, all that I have received I must now give to you.' And he clasped the lord around the neck and graciously kissed him, then gave him another kiss as well.
'Now we are even,' Sir Gawain assured him. 'Our obligations are fully discharged.'
'By Saint Giles, though!' exclaimed the lord. 'You must be the best merchant I know! If you keep this exchange up any longer you will be rich!'
Tables were raised upon trestles, covered with cloths, and bright light from wax torches on the walls illuminated everything as the men sat, or served, in the hall. Soon there was a noise of merriment at the tables surrounding the fire. Many were the topics of conversation, and there were many noble songs, some fine new carols to dance, verses to sing and all the customary mirth of a Christmas feast. Sir Gawain spent the evening beside the lord’s lovely lady, who behaved very standoffishly. She avoided eye-contact with Sir Gawain and made such polite, discrete and formal conversation that he found himself wondering why she was doing this, and became quite annoyed and upset. But he exchanged only quiet pleasantries with her in return, however much it saddened and perplexed him. And when all the merriment in the hall had come to an end, the lord called Sir Gawain to his chamber and to the fire, for some more private and convivial conversation.
There they drank and talked, and the lord suggested that they play the same game yet again on New Year’s Eve. But Sir Gawain at once begged leave to ride out the next morning, for it was nearly time for him to prepare for his obligation at the Green Chapel. The lord wouldn’t hear of it though: 'As I am a true knight,' he insisted, 'I give you my word that you shall arrive at the Green Chapel as soon as it is light on the morning of New Year’s Day, to do whatever it is you have to do. Therefore, lie in your bed and rest in the meantime. I shall hunt in this forest, and let us keep once more to our bargain. We shall exchange all that we have each gained when I return in the evening. Twice we have agreed to this and both times you have been true to your word. Now, perhaps, for me, it will be third time lucky! Remember this, tomorrow morning! But let us be merry while we may, and think only of happiness. A man never has far to look to find sorrow, if that’s what he wants.'
Sir Gawain agreed to stay. A toast was quickly brought to them and they drank to seal the bargain, then each took a lighted taper and went to bed.
Sir Gawain slept soundly all night. But the lord rose early the next morning to go hunting. After hearing Mass, he had a bite to eat with his huntsmen, then asked for his horse. Noblemen were already waiting on their hunting steeds outside the main door of the hall, and everyone was in good spirits. The countryside looked beautiful. There was a heavy frost and the sky was ablaze in reds and yellows as the sun rose above the horizon, then the huntsmen unleashed the hounds at the edge of the forest and the rock-strewn hillside rung with the noise of the horns.
Some of the dogs quickly fell upon a scent near to a fox’s lair, weaving this way and that as they followed the trail into some farmland. A small hound began to bark excitedly, the men pursuing the hounds shouted encouragement, the other dogs rushed over to see what was going on and they all set off in a panting rabble after the scent; then they spotted the fox and tore after the creature as he hurried away, frightening him with their dreadful noise. The fox dodged this way and that and doubled back through many dense thickets, stopped to listen many times beside hedges and at last, leaped across a little ditch and crept out softly by the edge of a small wood, thinking to escape the hounds by stealth. But then, before he realised it, he ran straight into an ambush. Three greyhounds set upon him at once. He turned and fled away in a new direction, towards the forest. Then it was a joy to hear the hounds, as they all formed into a pack once again to chase after him. Such abuse they hurled at him with their yelping and barking that it seemed that the rocky scrambles and rough cliffs would collapse into heaps of rubble at the noise! The men whooped at the fox when they saw him, shouted at him with menacing words, threatened him, called him a thief, and always the hounds were so close behind him that he had no time to stop. The dogs chased after Reynard through the forest and then out again onto the open fells, then he would dodge back into the woodland again, he was so wily. He led them this dance, the lord and his huntsmen, beside the high fells, while Sir Gawain slept soundly behind his lovely curtains, on that cold morning.
The lord’s wife arose as soon as it was light and, when she had prepared herself, put on a fine skirt trimmed with expensive fur that trailed upon the floor. Then she made her way to the chamber where Sir Gawain lay, for she had set her heart upon something this morning and did not want to see it fail. On her head she wore a net studded with precious stones, twenty or more in each cluster. Her face and neck were bare, and so were her breasts and her back. She opened the door to Sir Gawain’s chamber, closed it behind her, then threw up a window and called to him: 'Ah! Man! How can you sleep? This morning is so beautiful!'
Sir Gawain stirred out of a troubled dream, mumbled heavily to himself and when he heard her voice he began to wake. His mind was filled with oppressive thoughts of a Green Chapel where he was to meet a knight and receive the stroke of an axe; but when he became aware of that lovely lady, he recovered his wits, pulled himself from his dream and answered her politely. The lady went over to him and, laughing, leaned over his face and gently kissed him. He welcomed her with a broad smile. She was so beautiful, so alluringly clad, her face was so lovely and her breasts so perfect that a vigorous upwelling of delight warmed his heart and his loins. With gentle smiles, they both burst into laughter. Joy and happiness filled them and possessed them entirely. They exchanged some carefree thoughts.
Great peril threatens, if Mary does not look after her knight! The beautiful lady presses Sir Gawain so hard that he can see no other way out except to accede willingly to her advances or else to be brutally rude to her. Sir Gawain cares for his reputation for courtesy and is loathe to be abrupt with her, but he worries even more about the harm he will receive if he does as the lady wishes, and is then rightfully accused of deceiving the lord of the castle and abusing his hospitality.
'God shield me!' he thought to himself.
With great deftness he parried all the leading questions and invitations with courtesy and good humour, until she exclaimed: 'I believe you have a woman whom you prefer to me. Be open about it! Tell me the truth. How else could you not deserve to be rebuked for failing to make love to a lady who lies beside you with a heart that aches more with desire than does any other woman’s in the whole world!'
'I have no lover,' replied Sir Gawain, smiling warmly back at her, 'and no intention of finding one at the moment.'
'Then this is the worst possible news,' replied the lady.
'But I have my answer, much to my misfortune,' she conceded. 'Kiss me now, gently, and I shall go. But I shall grieve like a love-stricken girl, since that is all that is left for me to do.' And sighing, she bent over and kissed Sir Gawain gently, then pulled herself away, and as she stood she said: 'My love, at our parting, at least give me something of yours to hold as a keepsake, a glove perhaps, to remind me of you and to ease the pain I shall feel when I think of you, alone in my room.'
'I wish I had the most valuable thing that I possess with me, for you have deserved more reward than I can offer you at the moment. And to give you some worthless token – well, it will not honour you to receive just a glove from the store of gifts that Sir Gawain is able to bestow. But I am here on business in unknown lands and have no men to lead pack horses or to carry bags full of valuable things for me to give out as presents, much to my sorrow. One can do only the best that one can in the circumstances. Please understand this.'
'No gift then?' replied the lady, sadly. 'Then although I am to receive nothing of yours, you shall have something of mine.' She produced a fine ring of red gold set with a large raised diamond that sparkled with beams of light as though they came from the sun itself. Make no mistake, this ring was valuable! But Sir Gawain refused it.
'I desire no gifts on this occasion,' he insisted. 'I have none to give and can accept none.'
She tried desperately to persuade him but he stood firm.
'If you refuse my ring because it is too expensive,' she said at last, 'then I have something of less value. Take my waistband instead,' and she softly grasped the material of a silken band that was clasped around her waist over the linen underskirt below her gown. It was of green silk with gold threads, embroidered sparingly around the hem. She proffered this to Sir Gawain and urged him, although it was less than he deserved, to take it. But he refused once again and explained that he could not accept any gifts at all, until, through God’s grace, he might have endured the adventure and the obligation that he had shortly to face.
'And therefore, I ask you,' he said, 'in all humility, please do not be offended but stop this game, for I shall not accept anything from you. But I am greatly in your debt because of the hospitality and friendliness you have shown to me, and I will be your true servant always.'
'You refuse this because it is such a small gift?' asked the lady. 'Well, it might seem so to you, but although it is small it is nevertheless valuable and if you knew its qualities you would praise it more highly. For the man who wears this green waistband need fear no man on Earth nor any blow that he might suffer, for nothing on Earth can kill him.'
Sir Gawain paused. Then he conceded the struggle at once and allowed the lady quickly to remove her waistband and to give it to him. For it came into his mind that this might be a godsend when he arrived at the Green Chapel to receive whatever fortune decreed that he must; and if he could avoid being killed without reneging upon the bargain that he had made, this would not amount to dishonour. She gave it to him with pleasure. He accepted it graciously. She asked for her sake that he keep it a secret and not to tell her husband about it. Sir Gawain promised that nobody would learn a thing. Only he and she would know about it. Then he thanked her many times, most sincerely, and for a third time, she kissed her handsome knight. Then she took her leave and left the room, for she could see that this was all that she was going to get from Sir Gawain.
When the lady had gone, Sir Gawain quickly got dressed into some fine clothes, found a safe hiding-place for the waistband and then made his way quickly to the chapel where he found a priest. Asking this priest if he would hear his confession and guide him into better ways, Sir Gawain confessed and the priest pointed out all his misdeeds, the large and the small, and implored God to have mercy upon Sir Gawain so that his soul might be safe when he rode from the castle the next day. Then Sir Gawain mingled with the ladies and danced carols and other entertainments, joyfully and with carefree abandon, until it was nearly dark. Everybody was delighted with his company. He was happier now than he had been throughout his whole stay.
Let Sir Gawain remain in the care of the ladies, for the lord is in a forest clearing now, having just killed the fox that they had been pursuing. As he rode across a bridge to catch up with the thief, he had heard the hounds coming towards him again and suddenly Reynard had come racing through a rough thicket with a rabble of dogs streaming behind him, close at his heels. The lord had spotted the fox, drawn his sword, swung it at him, the animal had flinched, changed direction to avoid the blade and run right across the path of one of the hounds who had caught him in its mouth. Then all the dogs fell on Reynard!
The lord swiftly dismounted, snatched the fox away from the dogs' teeth and holding him high over his head, gave out a whoop! The dogs barked excitedly in response. Huntsmen hurried to the scene, blowing the signal for the dogs to regather until they saw their lord holding the fox and realised their mistake. Then they all assembled and those carrying bugles blew them with all their might and all the others shouted and cheered. It was a merry sound they all raised there for Reynard's soul! The hounds were rewarded with a lot of fuss and a rubbing of faces and necks. Then they pulled off Reynard's coat.
By now it was nearly dark and, blowing loudly on their hunting horns, they made for home. The lord arrived at his castle and found the hall fire lit and Sir Gawain beside it, surrounded by many beautiful women, looking very contented and pleased with himself. He wore a blue robe that reached to the floor, a stylish and well-fitting overgarment lined with ermine and a hood of similar style draped over his shoulders. They greeted one another very jovially, then Sir Gawain said: 'Let me fulfil at once the agreement that we made last night.' He embraced the lord and kissed him three times, as deeply and lingeringly as he could.
'By Christ! You will sell a lot of that merchandise if you price it correctly! All I have to show for a day's hunting is this lousy fox skin, the devil take it! It is a poor payment for three such fine kisses.'
'Enough!' said Sir Gawain. 'I thank you, by the Cross of Jesus!' And then the lord related to him the tale of the day's hunt.
With merriment and song, and every delicious morsel that they could possibly imagine, they spent the evening very happily. The ladies laughed at the men’s jokes and the lord and Sir Gawain were in fine spirits; they all laughed so much it was as though they were all delirious, or drunk! But at last the evening drew to a close and the thoughts of the men turned to their beds. Sir Gawain took his leave first of all, thanking the lord profusely and in all humility for such a wonderful stay.
'Thank you for such fine hospitality, and for entertaining me at your Christmas feast. May God reward you with honour! But tomorrow, as you know, I must depart, and I will count myself your true servant, if it pleases you, and if you would provide me with a man as you promised, to guide me to the Green Chapel where I must suffer my fate tomorrow morning.'
'I will be pleased to,' replied the lord, and he at once instructed a servant to accompany Sir Gawain the following day, going by way of the open fells, which was the quickest way, then down through the forest. Sir Gawain thanked the lord for his generosity and then took his leave of the noble ladies, with much kissing and affection, and he offered them all a thousand thanks and they in return commended him to Christ. There were some sad sighs! Then he took his leave of every man he came to, thanking him for the trouble that he had gone to on his behalf and the effort they had all taken to make him so welcome. And they were all sorry to say goodbye to him, as sorry as they would have been if Sir Gawain had been living with them all his life! Then, with men and light, he was led to his chamber and cheerfully prepared for bed, and sleep. But I cannot say if he slept or not, for he had some serious business to attend to in the morning. The moment he has been seeking is close now. And if you will all be quiet for a little longer, I will tell you what transpired.