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Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 155

Sir Gawayne’s Devotion

By this time Sir Gawayne, the king’s favourite nephew, had entered the hall, and greeted his uncle warmly; then, with a few rapid questions, he learnt the king’s news, and saw that he was in some distress. “What have you paid the loathly lady for her secret, uncle?” he asked. “Alas! I have paid her nothing; but I promised to grant her any boon she asked, and she has asked a thing impossible.” “What is it?” asked Sir Gawayne. “Since you have promised it, the promise must needs be kept. Can I help you to perform your vow?” “Yes, you can, fair nephew Gawayne, but I will never ask you to do a thing so terrible,” said King Arthur. “I am ready to do it, uncle, were it to wed the loathly lady herself.” “That is what she asks, that a fair young knight should marry her. But she is too hideous and deformed; no man could make her his wife.” “If that is all your grief,” replied Sir Gawayne, “things shall soon be settled; I will wed this ill-favoured dame, and will be your ransom.” “You know not what you offer,” answered the king. “I never saw so deformed a being. Her speech is well enough, but her face is terrible, with crooked nose and chin, and she has only one eye.” “She must be an ill-favoured maiden; but I heed it not,” said Sir Gawayne gallantly, “so that I can save you from trouble and care.” “Thanks, dear Gawayne, thanks a thousand times! Now through your devotion [Pg 276] I can keep my word. To-morrow we must fetch your bride from her lonely lodging in the greenwood; but we will feign some pretext for the journey. I will summon a hunting party, with horse and hound and gallant riders, and none shall know that we go to bring home so ugly a bride.” “Gramercy, uncle,” said Sir Gawayne. “Till to-morrow I am a free man.”

The Hunting Party

The next day King Arthur summoned all the court to go hunting in the greenwood close to Tarn Wathelan; but he did not lead the chase near the castle: the remembrance of his defeat and shame was too strong for him to wish to see the place again. They roused a noble stag and chased him far into the forest, where they lost him amid close thickets of holly and yew interspersed with oak copses and hazel bushes—bare were the hazels, and brown and withered the clinging oak leaves, but the holly looked cheery, with its fresh green leaves and scarlet berries. Though the chase had been fruitless, the train of knights laughed and talked gaily as they rode back through the forest, and the gayest of all was Sir Gawayne; he rode wildly down the forest drives, so recklessly that he drew level with Sir Kay, the churlish steward, who always preferred to ride alone. Sir Lancelot, Sir Stephen, Sir Banier, and Sir Bors all looked wonderingly at the reckless youth; but his younger brother, Gareth, was troubled, for he knew all was not well with Gawayne, and Sir Tristram, buried in his love for Isolde, noticed nothing, but rode heedlessly wrapped in sad musings.


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