O.K. kids. This is a big, long story here, but there are lots of romantic bits to it, so it won't be that bad. I recommend that you print this thing out, put on you jammies (or take them off, depending on your style), and snuggle up with someone you love, or are at least temporarily fond of, and take turns reading this out loud.
For reasons which will eventually become obvious, you might want to have a green garter belt handy.
Once upon a time (I have a passion for starting stories with "Once upon a time." It reminds me of when I was a kid and my mom would read to me in order to "give me good dreams." All of my favorite stories began with "Once upon a time." Usually, the first letter , which was in a gothic black letter type typeface, would be larger, often the first three words would be a little smaller, but still bigger than the surrounding text. This gave a sense of importance to the words which this manuscript is going to have to do without (unless the folks doing the layout work are friendly), and it always made me try to imagine what this mysterious and romantic time was like. I wanted to go there. You might want to think about that too) there was an author who...
No, never mind that. My story - well, not so good. To make it better, I would have to tell it as if it were a completely different story, a story full of signs, symbols and wonders, much like the story I am going to tell instead.
There was once a time when everybody knew stories like this one, but that time is way in the past. Now, all we get are the stories of the authors who seem to imagine that their sordid little stories are all there are. Not that I don't like authors, or that their stories aren't that good, it's just that there are many other stories worth telling.
I want to tell some of those.
So! I begin again.
Once upon a time there was a king...
Sorry. I have to interrupt again. I?ll try not to do this too much, but I have to set the scene, and it occurs to me that, times being what they are, you may have the wrong idea of the concept of "king." That won't do. To really understand a story, you have to understand the symbols and images it contains, not as you imagine them to be, but as they exist in the mind of the author. Forget all that crap that is currently so popular in literary circles about how "writing is a collaboration between the reader and the writer: in which the reader inserts his or her own putzy ideas into a terminally ambiguous text. This idea just doesn't hold water. If I send you a note that says "Meet me at room 124 of the Holiday Inn at 8pm, Baby," and you "decode it" as "I'm a fuzzy little bunny with a noodle up my ass," there is some serious miscommunication going on. One of us is wacko, and it ain"t me.
Literature and art are attempts to communicate something. True, what they try to communicate is often of an ineffable nature, leading to some pleasant leeway in interpretation, but the "any reading is equally valid" school of literary criticism is nuts. I think it's time we authors take back our literature from those fuzzy little bunny academics with noodles up their asses who are too anemic to dare making meaningful statements about what we authors have to say.
Interpret that as a Marxist allegory if you dare, you ivory tower asshole.
Ooops. Now I've done it. The editor will read this and say "Golly. Many of our readers are ivory tower assholes, and they won't take kindly to this. They'll set down their teacups in petulance and emphatically instruct their secretaries to cancel their subscription." So I'll never get published. Well, listen to me, reader. If you have to read this on my website because the editors of all those fine periodicals out there refuse to print it, you owe it to all of us to write those editors and ask why they chose not to publish it. Make 'em sweat a little.
O.K. I'm back. I took a pill, and I'm better now. Thanks for the cards and letters.
Back to the king.
At the "Once upon a time" time of this story, a king wasn't just fodder for supermarket magazines where his little indiscretions are described in forty-eight point type for the tittering stimulation of bored proletarians (all right. I am hungry, and I do need to get published, and you can't get published in intellectual magazines these days unless there is some Marxism somewhere. So there it is. Now all I have to do is figure out a way to slide a gay guy into the tale, and I'll win some kind of literary award. Actually, now that I think of it, that shouldn't be too hard to do because later on in the story a couple of guys have to kiss. It's really very touching. If you're into that sort of thing feel free to skip ahead. Probably around page seventeen).
Nope. At this time, kings were real. A king was someone divinely appointed to rule over the land, and speak and act for the deity. It was the king's job to maintain the sacred order of the world for the benefit of mankind. They didn't always do it , but they were expected to. When they did, they were Great Men because only the great can implement the details of the divine imagination. When they didn't, they were also Great Men, because only the great can set their will against the will of a god. And when they couldn't quite manage the job, they were also Great Men, because only the great can struggle with their humanity before the face of divine will. (I hope a few potential presidents are reading this. It's one thing to struggle with your humanity - it's quite another to lie like a felon.)
This particular king was named "Arthur," and he was a great man, in all three ways, at different times. At the time of this story, he was a Great Man of the first type. God worked through him so perfectly that you wouldn't even know a god was involved, unless you looked very closely (like, for instance, where did that sword in the stone come form? No, Merlin didn't make it. It was just there, sitting in a churchyard. And, later on, the famous sword, Excalibur, was handed to him by a lady's arm coming out of a lake. What's up with that?). It wouldn't always be like this; things would happen later, terrible things, but that is all part of a bigger story than I am prepared to tell right now. Maybe later. Check back in a few weeks.
Arthur was the king during a fabulous golden age that lasted, as all fabulous golden ages do, a very short time. He built it, he maintained it, and he lost it, all with the aid of other men, not quite as great as he, but pretty darn good fellows none the less. Flawed, perhaps, in the way that only humans can be, but also magnificent in the way that only humans can be. Men like this no longer exist , at least, you don't read about them in the newspaper much, although I hate to think that they are extinct . They were both brutal and gentle. They were ungodly violent and blessedly peaceful. They fought over grudges that began many years earlier, then immediately forgave their enemies. They hated to the depths of the human soul, and they loved to a height that no Valentine's Day card would ever dare express (there are laws today, after all). Believe it or not, on top of all this, they were really very modest. How did they manage their way through all these contradictions? It's very simple, although it seems to be a lost art today. They simply did what was the right thing to do in the circumstances in which they found themselves.
These were the famous Knights of the Round Table.
One of them would be born perfect and go to God, leaving the earth forever; another would be born a man, and he would find God, then return to his wife and children; but a third would be transformed into something wholly new in his quest for God, and that, also, is a tale for another time. The knight that this story is about wasn't that kind of guy. He was just a regular guy. His name was Sir Gawain.
Later, Gawain made quite a reputation for himself (for some odd reason, his adventures always involved women. That may be why I feel a certain affinity to him. Not that I have a lot of adventures with women, it's just that I wouldn't mind it if I did. Volunteers? Send me an email : email@example.com. Put "The Gawain Thing" in the "subject" space so I don't open it when my wife's around. Those with pictures get special consideration), but at this time, he wasn't well known. In fact, the only reason the other knights let him hang around with them was because he was King Arthur's nephew, or, as they called 'em in those days, his "sister-son" This gave Gawain a little bit of an inferiority complex.
Picture it as if you were him. There you are, hobnobbing with the rich and famous, fully aware that the only reason you are given hobnobbing rights is that you are related to somebody with some pull. It's not the same as having pull yourself. Sure, there are a lot of weasels who try to get away with this today. We call 'em, well, weasels, and, as a rule, we don't like to have them around very much, unless we have something that smells bad on our shoes that we need to wipe off. Gawain wasn't that kind of guy. Gawain was anxious to fit into that august company. He knew he could do it, but nobody else did yet. And knowing it for yourself isn't the same as knowing that others know it. There's nothing quite like knowing that others know the things about you that you know yourself and would like them to know as well, but they don't. In order to avoid the need to make sentences like that, we call this feeling "satisfaction."
All these guys - King Arthur, various knights of great renown, and Gawain were in Arthur's castle in Camelot, gathered together to celebrate the holiday season. It was what they called "Yuletide," what we used to call "Christmas time" before we were forced to give it silly names like "midwinter holiday" in order to keep from offending people who's skins are a little too thin for our own good. I like the old names, not just because I am an old guy (I'm really not that old, by the way, although my hair is thinning), but because they suggest that there is something more going on than a mere big drunken spendfest. "Yuletide" (Yule time) refers to a pre-Christian or pagan celebration, while "Christmas time" refers to the same celebration celebrated by Christians. The names help us to touch, however briefly or tenuously, something of the divine. Call it God, or spirit, or collective unconscious, or an archetype, or just something strange and wonderful, but don't pretend it isn't there. You're not as dumb as rocks, and even rocks can feel it. Ask 'em.
Specifically, then, it was the part of the holiday (Oh oh. "Holiday" means "holy day." Better change "midwinter holiday" to "midwinter thingamabob," lest some atheist with Nazi-like tenancies gets a wasp up his shorts) called New Year's Day. This is important to know because New Year's Day is the day when everything (symbolically) changes - the old year moves off, for good or ill, and the new comes in, also for good or ill, bringing who knows what marvels and challenges with it. It is the perfect time to begin a great adventure, and, as a Great Man, it was Arthur's habit, on this very special day, to hold up the feed until something wonderful happened.
Everybody was there in their best holiday attire. I can barely imagine what that would be like. On regular days, people like this wore silk, satin, ermine, something called "samite," all woven and stitched with fine wires made of real gold and silver, to say nothing of the silver and gold and jewels they wore on rings, bracelets, anklets, necklaces, and woven into their hair (despite what you see in the movies, they rarely wore leather, except on their feet. Wearing leather was considered "barbaric").
On special days like this, though, they really dressed up.
I imagine the light from the flickering burning Yule log, the wavering flames from candles and torches glancing off all that bright shinny stuff, then moving on to someone else. Everybody would look like bright spirits from a magic realm, which was probably the whole point (God! Just imagine the ladies! Rubies at their throats, golden belts about their slender waists...). I bet that nobody (not even the king) wore a T-shirt proudly inscribed "I'm with shithead."
So there they all are at the big New Year's Day party, waiting for something wonderful. The set up for events like this was much like a wedding dinner at the local VFW hall - in fact, the traditional wedding is a modern imitation of events like this. The Bride wears a stylized princess dress based on fashions 800 years out of date for regular wear. Unfortunately, the Groom is forced to wear that nasty style from only 100 years ago. It would be much funner (editor - I know this isn't a word, but it should be. I find it very useful. If we all use it a couple of times a year in our writing, it will eventually get into Webster's and gain general acceptance, then you won't have to worry about it.) if he got to prance around in tights wearing a sword, but, well, that would be a concealed weapon and is not lawful (try concealing a sword while you?re wearing tights. This will help you to understand what a "codpiece" was for, if ya know what I mean).
For one day, the Bride and Groom get to be royalty, and their marriage symbolizes the sacred union of the male and female which reflects the holy order of the heavens (as Hermes Trismegistus inscribed on the Emerald Tables: "As it is above, so it is below"). Of course, the holy order of heaven is not as stable as you'd like it to be. Most marriages aren't the divine union you'd like them to be either, but that's the idea, at least.
The seating arrangements were the same as the VFW wedding as well. There was a long table, referred to as the "High Table" where the king and queen sat, along with the guests who were particularly honored. This is where Arthur sat with his wife Guinevere.
The old poet who tells me this story takes particular pains to describe her beauty, concentrating especially on her clear gray eyes. I won't go into all that here because I think it is better if you imagine the most beautiful woman you have ever known (I'm speaking of real women here, not those plastic imitation women that you see in magazines and movies. Guinevere was more like those women painted by Botticelli, those whose beauty is enhanced by the flaws which decorate their features. Women like this should never have themselves modified by the boobie doctors) and set her in the queen's chair. Change her eye color, if you are so inclined, tho' I like the gray. Dress her in white, like a bride. But don't put Arthur in a tux.
Whatever you do, don't do that.
Give him a beard, though, well trimmed (traditionally, it is one of those little chin fringe jobbies, which don't look so good on chubby guys, but which seem to work so well for him).
At this time, they were happy and in love, like perpetual newlyweds. This is why it was a golden age (what with it reflecting the holy order of heaven as it does and all). Ah well. Bad things are ahead for them, but they didn't know it yet (see Le Morte d'Arthur for further details. At this point it hadn't been written yet. Wonderful story in a dreadful way, well worth reading), but maybe there is something in those gray eyes (a mixture of light and dark) that hints at future developments, if you look real close.
Also at the high table are the honored guests of the king and queen. The queen's special favorite (Lancelot du Luc) is seated at her left (as she is seated to the left of the king), and the king doesn't know enough yet to be jealous. The king's special favorite is seated at his right. This is where Gawain, his nephew, is to be found today.
The other tables are set up at right angles to the king's table, and the other guys and gals sit there. Right now, they are smelling the food and waiting to eat. Nobody is complaining, though, despite the fact that they are drooling like Pavlov's dogs, because they know that, if you sit waiting in the belief and expectation that something marvelous is going to happen, sooner or later it will.
They aren't disappointed. Just as the roasted pheasant is about to get cold, and the wine is about to warm up, the great big doors open, and in comes a great big man, who has the bad taste to enter riding on a great big horse.
It isn?t generally considered polite to ride a horse into the dining room, and it is especially dangerous when the dining room is full of guys who are used to taking swipes at people who they do not consider to be very polite, but his guy can get away with it because he is green.
So is the horse.
Hmmm... It isn't every day that a big green guy shows up at dinner uninvited, so this seems to qualify as something marvelous. Good. Dinner is ready, and we're all hungry. But more is going to happen, so hold off on the pheasant and wine for just a few moments. You'll be glad you did.
This is where I am supposed to describe just how green he was, but, before I do, let me just take a moment to say that he wasn't an unhealthy green. Not like a bad bruise, or what Shakespeare calls "green carrion sickness" (gangrene) Nope. He was grass green. Bright. You'd want to take off your shoes and skip barefoot through his beard, holding the hand of a cutie, if it didn't seem like such a weird thing to imagine. His clothes were of the same shade of green.
And, I have to admit, he was rather nicely dressed - silk, satin, samite, and all the rest. The jewels he wore were green, probably emeralds, although periadot is nice, too. The only thing about him that wasn't green was the gold thread woven into his clothes, hair and beard, but this just set the gold off nicely, avoiding that monochromatic style that is sooo last year.
The gold probably picked up some of the green color and gave it back with a certain depth and radiance that designers everywhere will be attempting to copy next season. Need I mention that his saddle, his horse, the horse's mane AND its teeth were grass green as well? He also carried a big green axe. And he laughed - not like the dapper though crazy guy he appeared to be - but more like a very jovial man who saw a big joke that everybody else was missing.
"Looky here, youse guys!" he said ("youse" is Northern Midwestern for the Southern "you all," which means "all of you," although it doesn't have the same kind of sensual sound), "I'm not here wearing armor, because I'm not here to fight anybody, not that you little boys look up to fighting me anyhow. I'm just here, on this special day, to invite you to play a nifty holiday game with me."
King Arthur, always the gentleman, stood up at his place at the table.
"Good sir,?" he said, "although you were not invited, we are more than glad that you have come. Please take a seat (the horse can wait outside), and have a bite to eat with us."
"Sorry I can't stay," quoteth the green man. "But allow me to explain my game. It is really quite funny. See this big old green axe I have? Just for fun, I'll let anyone here (assuming that someone has balls enough for this) take a swipe at me with it. I promise I won't duck or anything. The only catch is that, whoever takes a free swing at me, has to give me his word that he will let me take a free swing at him in exactly one year from today in my secret hideout, provided, of course, that I am not dead."
There are moments in life when you should think very hard before you jump up and say "Me! Me!" This was one of them. All the good old boys had this funny feeling that everything was not quite kosher in Camelot at this moment. And they knew it wasn't just the wine talking, because they hadn't had more than a quick nip so far today. The first day of the new year, a big green guy, a free swipe with the axe, a return engagement in exactly one year - Hmmm - Where was the catch? This had the odd scent of MAGIC about it.
Nobody was moving. Everybody was just sitting with their mouths hanging open (good thing the meal hadn't begun yet. It is bad enough to be forced by circumstances to sit with your mouth hanging open, but there is nothing like sitting with your mouth hanging open while gobbets of half chewed pheasant and dribbles of wine with floaties in it drop out to take the last shred of dignity out of you. Aren't you glad you waited?).
The green man looked around, laughing.
"'Scuse me. Maybe I'm in the wrong place. Isn't this Camelot? Aren't you King Arthur? Aren't these the most famous knights in the entire realm of Logres? Where is the man who can stand up here without holding on to mommy's hand?" (Logres is an old-timey name for England. If we were allowed to teach great literature about great men and women in schools these days, I wouldn't have to keep interrupting to explain these things to you. Unfortunately, our government has decided that all kids need to be able to construct a perfectly grammatical sentence which should, theoretically at least, perfectly [if stiltedly] express a profound idea, while simultaneously making it impossible for any kid to have an idea worthy of expression in even a poorly constructed clunker. In this, both Democrats and Republicans are equally guilty. Please write to your congressman or congresswoman and express your concern. Then step back so you don't get spattered when the bullshit starts to squirt).
This peeved Arthur no end. He had spent a lot of time collecting these knights, and he was kindda proud of them. Arthur hopped over the table and stomped down to where the green man was still sitting on his green horse. Those veins that weightlifters have in their necks were bulging and thumping with startling intensity on the royal personage.
"Sir! You gotta lotta ( is "gotta lotta" one word or two? Gottalotta? It doesn't even look like English) nerve, coming in here with your idea for a stupid and very sloppy game while we're all set for a good feasting, but if it's a bit of the ol' axe you want, I'll be gosh darned happy to give it to you." (These weren't Arthur's exact words, but I'm thinking of some of the younger readers who might enjoy a tale like this and who should not have to contend with the realities of angry adult speech).
The green guy smiled, and laughed, and leapt off his horse. He held out the axe to the king.
"Knock yourself out, Kingster."
At this moment, Gawain, who had been sneaking bits of candied yams, swallowed hard and stood up.
"Sire! This might not be a good thing for you to do, what with you wearing your new samite jerkin and all. What he suggests is apt to get a bit messy. If you don't mind, why don't you let me have a go at this? It is true, I'm only here because I'm your nephew, and I am probably the least greatest of all these other great guys here, but if you give me a chance, I'll do my best, and hopefully not come out of this looking too bad.?
(Notice what Gawain is doing here. It is generally a good idea to act modestly before you do something, no matter how simple it looks. There is always time for bragging later on when - if - you pull it off successfully.)
Arthur cooled down immediately. He looked at the boy, and he was proud of him. A king isn't supposed to grin at youthful enthusiasm, but sometimes it's hard not to. Arthur did. He put his hand on Gawain's shoulder and said, "Make us proud, boy."
The king handed off the axe to the kid.
The big guy was grinning and laughing as well. It was starting to get a little creepy. Don't worry, he won't be laughing soon. Gawain has quite an arm on him, and he has the axe now. But the green man wasn't afraid. He got off the horse and stood there, making an elaborate show of loosening the neck of his shirt and pushing his (green) hair out of the way. Meanwhile, Gawain quietly inspected the axe.
Yup, it's real steel. And sharp too.
The green man even went so far as to lean over and stretch his neck out. He wasn't going to make this psychologically easy on Gawain though. He turned his head, looked at Gawain, smiled as Gawain raised the axe. Nobody was quite sure what was going to happen, but something was definitely going to happen. Interestingly enough, what happened was exactly what you?d expect to happen.
Well, not really.
(Continued on next page. Click here)
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