The Knights at Camelot in Christmas
Right then! Time to start the story. The Knights of the Round Table we shall meet, via the tale of one of them: Noble Sir Gawain. And when we are finished, we shall know more than we did at the beginning, at least that is the hope. We shall meet knights in their castle, see great undertakings, and find out who is pure of heart and what that takes to achieve. Let’s begin!
At Christmastime in Camelot, good King Arthur had gathered all the knights of the Round Table from wherever they were before, to join in the feasting and the celebrations of our Lord’s birth. Many of these folk are still so famous, you may well have heard their names before. Besides the King, there was the lovely Lady Guinevere, his Queen. Brave Sir Lancelot. Sir Bedevere. Sir Bors, of course. And Sir Kay. Yet one you may not have before encountered was the noble Knight Gawain, the King’s nephew. Newly knighted, he sat close by his uncle at the Top Table and drank in every sight.
Outside the storm blew fierce, whilst inside all was merriment. A great fire roared in the hearth, and lamps lit the revelries so that each shaft of light that reached the outer yard, whether from high window, or low set door, seemed to brighten even the blizzard that fell across its welcome.
The gathered company knew one another well and waves of song and peals of laughter filled that great hall with their good cheer. Many had travelled from their own castles at the border lands and they had much to catch up on with their countrymen. But now, as the allotted hour came, they seated there themselves as in was brought the feast.
There came a charger full of roasted mutton, spiced steam rising from its fatty flesh. Trenchers piled with preserved fruit, golden fish, and charred parsnip. A fine peacock, breathing fire from a spoon of brandy in its mouth, and perched in a laden pear tree was brought; the canny cook then whisked off, with ecstatic flourish, the capon’s cloak to reveal the broiled flesh within studded with mace. The goblets were filled with finest mead or mulled wine, the gong was rang.
Then, of all a sudden, BANG! The door crashed wide and in walked the largest man a man had ever seen. His hair was verdant green. His raiment shone with emerald sparkle. His beard a foot-tangle of glaucous hue. His eyebrows coppiced stumps of bristled shoots. Beyond all this, his skin beneath with lawnlike hue did shine. He stumped to the centre of the room and stopped. The knights stared in consternation at this new entrant, near twice as tall as the highest of themselves.
The verdant vagabond creaked his tangled head from side to side, viewing the crowd. His gimlet gaze fell at long last on the good King. ‘Arthur?’ came the thunderous rumble. The King assented with a tip of his chin. ‘Good King Arthur, I come tonight to your famed castle to seek what bravery is amongst your knights. I have heard many stories, and wish to ascertain if what I hear is true. I come to lay a challenge.’
Good King Arthur cleared his throat, ‘Welcome, thrice welcome, noble friend! Please, will you take a seat and join our feast?’ The great green giant stood his ground.
‘Please, for it is Christmas Eve and we are set to dine. We would that you join us and share our joy.’
The viridescent varmint just stared, his borehole eyes taking in the scene, travelling the gathered company from left to right, and back again. He spoke. ‘I come to lay a wager in hazard,’ boomed the great one. ‘Who amongst these assembled knights is brave enough to pledge my bargain?’
‘Please, sir, we have tourneyed all day, indeed in two days time we intend further hastiludes, in which you are more than welcome to join…’
‘Stop!’ Crashed the green giant, his timbre like deep winds in ancient woods. ‘I am not here for battle games. I seek one brave enough to take my snickersnee, and lop off my head.’ At this he brought forth a mighty blade, it had the serrated shape of a crack willow leaf, as long as a leg, yet as lithe as a misericorde. ‘Which of these gentilehommes is man enough to take me at my word?’ He paused and looked about the room once more. ‘These knights so famed look at me as though I were the Devil himself! I see throats bobbing, and eyes blinking, but I want just one man to step forward and prove the worth of the congregation.’
The assemblage remained mute at this mad intrusion. The flaming logs crackled in the silence. The good King opened his mouth once more to speak…
But the noble Sir Gawain stood forth, ‘good Sir, I will accept your challenge!’ The gasps went up, yet he continued. ‘Uncle, I am young yet whereas all others are well proven in battle. I have no heirs to leave behind should I come to mischief. I shall accept this knotty challenge.’ He approached the ginormous paladin and stood before him.
‘Noble Sir Gawain, welcome, slice welcome! My challenge is this, you will get one good swipe with my snickersnee, I will not flinch. Then, in one year you must travel to my green gable where I will swipe you once in return.’
Gawain stood his ground, meeting the great green giant’s gaze, ‘I accept.’
‘You must repeat your oath before us, sir.’
‘I will smite you with your chopper now. Then, when Christmastime comes round once more, I will find your lair, and you may have at me in like manner.’
The giant nodded, ‘Sir Gawain, I take that as your troth.’ The knight passed the blade towards him, holt held forth.
Snickersnee felt hot to Gawain’s palm, it pulsed as were sap flowing through its very veins. He spoke to it, ‘Snickersnee, will your swish be true, or will you work some dark art and deceive me?’ The sword caught the firelight and winked at noble Sir Gawain, but it kept its counsel to itself.
The great green giant then took off his diopside gorget and laid bare his malachite neck. He took one step forwards and bowed from the waist as a willow before the brook. There he waited.
Noble Sir Gawain raised the chopper full to its height then brought the blade down fast. The heavy bough was severed clean from the mighty bole in that chop and the head bounded across the room amidst the feet of the noble lords and ladies.
Without missing a beat, the humongous trunk righted itself and marched towards the green boss, ensnaring its ivy tangle in sticked fingers and, lifting it high, he swung it around to face the knight who had shorn it so. The mouth spoke as though unaffected by the lack of lung, ‘well, noble Sir Gawain, your strike was true. I shall expect your arrival timely at my Green Hall.’ He turned around and stalked out the very entrance he had entered not so very long before, slamming the great doors shut with one last mighty shunt.
To get the moment gone, the King declared the feasting should begin without delay. The cheer was mighty once more and the food was filling. And once the tables had been cleared the drink began in earnest as a merry band struck up with rousing tunes and the carolling and dancing continued till the break of dawn. And though his friends threw arms of kinship around him; and though the gentlewomen gathered to his side; and though his uncle feted him above all others this special night, our noble lord felt foul. For despite his success this e’en, he knew that once thirteen moons had passed he must face this foe again.
The praise that went up that Christ mass was earnest for all, for they knew that these times were special and that fate would exact its toll in place and time unknown for most, no matter how they strove. Noble Sir Gawain however knew his path, he could count on a time and place for his fate, and he would wear this knowledge lightly for, in some way, he felt it a blessing.