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Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 159

The Dilemma

Sir Gawayne was no longer oppressed with sleep; the choice before him was too difficult. If the lady remained hideous by day he would have to endure the taunts of his fellows; if by night, he would be unhappy himself. If the lady were fair by day other men might woo her, and he himself would have no love for her; if she were fair to him alone, his love would make her look ridiculous before the court and the king. Nevertheless, acting on the spur of the moment, he spoke: “Oh, be fair to me only—be your old self by day, and let me have my beauteous wife to myself alone.” “Alas! is that your choice?” she asked. “I only must be ugly when all are beautiful, I must be despised when all other ladies are admired; I am as fair as they, but I must seem foul to all men. Is this your love, Sir Gawayne?” and she turned from him and wept. Sir Gawayne was filled with pity and remorse when he heard her lament, and began to realize that he was studying his own pleasure rather than his lady’s feelings, and his courtesy and gentleness again won the upper hand. “Dear love, if you would rather that men should see you [Pg 283] fair, I will choose that, though to me you will be always as you are now. Be fair before others and deformed to me alone, and men shall never know that the enchantment is not wholly removed.”

Sir Gawayne’s Decision

Now the lady looked pleased for a moment, and then said gravely: “Have you thought of the danger to which a young and lovely lady is exposed in the court? There are many false knights who would woo a fair dame, though her husband were the king’s favourite nephew; and who can tell?—one of them might please me more than you. Sure I am that many will be sorry they refused to wed me when they see me to-morrow morn. You must risk my beauty under the guard of my virtue and wisdom, if you have me young and fair.” She looked merrily at Sir Gawayne as she spoke; but he considered seriously for a time, and then said: “Nay, dear love, I will leave the matter to you and your own wisdom, for you are wiser in this matter than I. I remit this wholly unto you, to decide according to your will. I will rest content with whatsoever you resolve.”

The Lady’s Story

Now the fair lady clapped her hands lightly, and said: “Blessings on you, dear Gawayne, my own dear lord and husband! Now you have released me from the spell completely, and I shall always be as I am now, fair and young, till old age shall change my beauty as he doth that of all mortals. My father was a great duke of high renown who had but one son and one daughter, both of us dearly beloved, and both of goodly appearance. When I had come to an age to be married my father determined to take a new wife, and he wedded [Pg 284] a witch-lady. She resolved to rid herself of his two children, and cast a spell upon us both, whereby I was transformed from a fair lady into the hideous monster whom you wedded, and my gallant young brother into the churlish giant who dwells at Tarn Wathelan. She condemned me to keep that awful shape until I married a young and courtly knight who would grant me all my will. You have done all this for me, and I shall be always your fond and faithful wife. My brother too is set free from the spell, and he will become again one of the truest and most gentle knights alive, though none can excel my own true knight, Sir Gawayne.”


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