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The Kind of Guy He Was

Part II

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Part I
Part III

Down went the axe. It bit through skin, fat, muscle, bone - the whole neck, and a big green head popped off a big green neck and rolled across the not very green floor. The knights with ringside seats shuffled their feet aside as the head rolled down between the tables, bumping into their pointy toed sabbatons. Likewise, blood gushed forth (guess what color? Yup. Green).

Fortunately, knights are used to sights like this, or it would put them off their feed. As it was, they just scratched their heads a little, and looked around for the waiter with the soup.

Or, at least, that's what they would have done, if the body had fallen into a limp heap on the floor like it was supposed to.

Oddly enough it didn't.

Instead, it started reaching around on the floor, pushing dogs aside (dogs were allowed into feasts, unlike horses. Dogs were used as living garbage disposals for bones and bits of gristle, from which comes the quaint modern custom of feeding the dog tidbits of turkey surreptitiously under the table at Thanksgiving dinner), searching for the head.

The body found its head without too much difficulty (if only we could all be so together in difficult situations), and picked itself up (I'm having a little difficulty expressing this clearly. Is the head still part of the body even when it has been forcefully detached? I would normally say no, but when the body goes around looking for the head, I get this weird feeling as if a thing is looking for itself - hence the phrase "picked itself up"). Then (this is a good part. It should be in a movie) the body, grasping the head firmly by the hair, extended it's arm toward Gawain, shoving that big green face right up close. The eyelids popped up, the eyes looked at Gawain, and the mouth opened.

"Surprise!" it said.

"That was some pretty respectable axemanship, boy. You slipped a bit when you hit the bone, but anybody might do that. It's the sudden change in texture, you know." The green head laughed. "And, don't forget, on your honor as a Knight of the Round Table, you promised to come out to my place next New Year's Day and give me a go at you!"

Sir Gawain gulped hard. "Uh, where..., uh, where will you be..., uhm, where can I find you?"

"Meet me at the Green Chapel on New Year's Day, exactly one year from now. Ask for the Green Knight. But give yourself plenty of time; you'll have to go out looking for the Chapel. It isn't on the usual tourist maps. Ask everybody you see where it is, and, sooner or later, you'll get there. Remember, you have an appointment. Don't bother to make reservations. I'll be expecting you, unless you chicken out! Bwaaaauwk! Bwauwk bwauwk bwauwk bwaaaaauwk," he cackled mirthfully.

And with that, the green man, being carried by his own body (or maybe he was carrying his own head - you see my problem? Are we our heads or are we our bodies? Aren't we actually both? Or neither? Questions like this keep me awake at night) got up on his green horse, laughed one more big fruity laugh, and rode out the door, which slammed ominously behind him.

Suddenly, it was real quiet.

Gawain was standing in the middle of the hall, still holding the axe, although his axe hand was drooping a bit. He stood looking at the suddenly closed doors. King Arthur was off to the side, thinking about the odd little twists of fate that sometimes occur. Everybody else was looking at Gawain, wondering if Gawain was the kind of guy who faints.

He wasn't.

This was one of those moments when time doesn't know what to do. The law says it can't go back, no matter how badly it wants to. It can't go sideways, because there is no sideways for time. It knows it has to go forward, but it doesn't like the idea, so it just kind of hangs around longer than it usually does. Eventually it is forced by some unknown cosmic process to slouch on ahead, and things start happening again.

Arthur walked over to Gawain, placed the royal hand gently on his nephew's shoulder, took the axe from his damp grasp, and guided him back to his seat, where the great king unobtrusively helped Gawain sit down. There was a bit of mumbled murmuring coming from the low tables which gradually rose in volume, but there was no laughter. Arthur signaled his cup bearers to pour out a stiff one for Gawain, and the queen watched with her gray eyes as he drank it. When there was a little pink back in Gawain's cheeks, Arthur hung the big bloody axe on the wall behind Gawain, returned to his seat, and faced his assembled knights. He raised his cup in a toast.

"That was interesting," he announced. King Arthur looked at Gawain. "Not so good for you, though. Well, you've got a year. Try not to worry about it for now. Let's eat."

From that day on, every time Gawain walked into that dining hall (which was three or four times a day, when possible), he had to look at that big green axe hanging up behind his chair, with dried green blood on it, imagining a similar axe somewhere waiting with a thirst for his good red blood (I did a little research on this. Blood is red because it has iron oxide in it. The Green Knight's blood must have had copper oxide in it, which is green. Like an old penny).

But that was a whole year away, and it is hard to stay focused on events that are a whole year away, no matter how dreadful they promise to be. Especially when summer time rolls around. In spring (April is the cruelest month for some, but not for everybody. Eliot, author of that famous line, was a banker, and, I imagine, for a banker the early reminder that there is a life worth living would be cruel torture. But Gawain was not that kind of guy. He Loved Life with a couple of capital L's and spring would make him roll like a kitty in the catnip patch), the flowers start to poke their bright little heads up out of the cold dirt bringing back colors that have been missed for so long it is almost as if you've forgotten that they existed. I imagine, though, that when the lawns about the castle started to lose their crunchy brown winter texture and started to take on their summer softness and bright vegetation coloration the event held special significance for Gawain.

But he was a good fellow, and didn't let on that anything was troubling him. When the ladies of Camelot switched to summer attire (casting off the thick winter ermine and putting on the thin summer silks) he looked on them with new eyes, knowing that this might be his last chance to appreciate the beauty that all men and all women were made to enjoy.

He was, oddly, especially good company that spring. And if a few ladies looked on him, then looked away with the round edges of a tear beginning to peak from their eyes, he pretended not to notice, made an especially clever joke, and went on with the party.

The summer wore away, and the air got colder.

A little.

Then a little more. With no very good excuse for hanging back, time decided to move on at its usual pace, or maybe it even trotted by a wee bit faster. Eventually, the grain turned to gold in the fields, was harvested and brought in, and new beer brewed. It was a good year, and Gawain enjoyed it more than he usually did, but it passed, as all good things do, and Halloween came around. This was the signal that Gawain had been waiting for. It was Gawain's turn to take part in the harvest, not as a harvester, but as THE harvest. It was time to set off in search of The Green Chapel.

At this point, the poet composes a verse or two describing, in very short form, what befell Gawain during the two months he searched for the Chapel. This takes the form of a list, indicating that these adventures, despite the fact that any one of them could be an entire poem in and of itself, are only incidents on the way to the main event. But the incidents are, of course, important, because they show us that Gawain fought very hard to go on his fatal little journey. And you have to ask yourself - "why?"

He met with dragons, giants, sorcerers, bears, boars, wolves, evil men - all of whom had to be defeated, just so he could go on and have his head lopped off. Wouldn't it have been easier to just go back? Couldn't he have admitted defeat, and, in so doing saved his life? Gawain wasn't the kind of guy who could survive having an axe brought down on his neck. He had no magic, other than his own strength of arm, his strength of character, and the strength of his honor.

He had, unfortunately, sworn before all his peers that he would do this thing. Forget for a moment the fact that it was all a trick, that there was a catch, that the green man knew his own wound would not be fatal, and that Gawain's would be. Remember only, as did Gawain, that he had given his word.

How many times have you broken your word for lesser reasons? What did Gawain feel that we no longer feel today? Would it be worth while to get it back? If so, how do we do it?

Don't ask me.

Ask Sir Gawain. But I will tell you what - I think that Gawain's answer would be very simple. He would tell us that all we have to do is expect it of ourselves.

That's it.

That's the big lost trick.

Certainly dragons, giants, sorcerers, bears, boars, wolves, and evil men would be enough to take the wind out of the sails of most sailors on the seas of fate, but this was the least of the foul weather in the ocean of Sir Gawain's experience. The worst of it all was the ice. And the snow. And that most terrible cold of all, loneliness.

In those days, a knight's traveling clothes were made of steel. A nice, durable material, which was really useful when dragons, etc. are about. Steel shoes, pants, vests, gloves, and hats. The whole ensemble was metal. Unfortunately, as those of you who have tried this will attest, it doesn't do much to keep off the chill. Imagine putting your tongue on a metal fence pole on a bitter cold day, and you'll have a good idea of what Gawain went through each time he had to work his zipper (this is an anachronism. They didn't have zippers in those days. Gawain would have had to do a bit of undressing, but you get the idea).

He rode wearing metal, ate wearing metal, he even slept wearing metal, a thing which boggles the mind. I am nearly positive that he did not have one of those mattresses that you can jump on without spilling the wine. I am pretty sure he slept on the cold, hard ground. Maybe he lit up a little fire, or he snuggled up to his horse, Gringolett, for added warmth, but I bet Gringolett didn't find it entirely pleasant to huddle with an iron-clad fellow during frosty weather, and may have delivered the occasional "accidental" kick.

Probably sounded like a gong.

But the worst of it all was that he was stone cold alone. For months. Gawain was a good fellow, one who liked and was liked by his friends. He was always ready with a good joke, or to provide a needed ear when an ear was needed. He could give good advice, but was wise enough to know that people seldom wanted to hear it, so spoke it sparingly. And, of course, being a knight, he was always ready for any wild escapade his friends came up with. Then there were the ladies.

All those good qualities were added to a fine face and sturdy body, making him the primal chick magnet. This was a position which he never abused, although he couldda. There is a great story in Von Eschenbach's epic Parcival in which a young girl falls head over heals in love with Gawain. Another man would have brushed her off for being annoying, or taken perverse advantage of the situation, but not Gawain. He wasn't that kind of guy. He treated her with dignity and respect, encouraging her affections, but not pressing her for something for which he knew she was not really ready. It was actually quite cute. When he took his leave, she was a little older, but not too much. He left her with memories that would guide her in her experiences with men in the future because she now had a ruler by which to measure all men.

Gentlemen, rather that being jealous of Gawain, we should back up to that ruler and measure ourselves against the mark he left, and should we fall a little short of the mark, instead of pretending that Gawain was an idiot, stretch ourselves as much as possible in our effort to meet it. Yes, I realize that this is old fashioned, but, sometimes, ...

But for now he was alone. Christmas time was fast approaching, that splendid season when everybody wants to huddle for warmth with something other than a horse, but, for Gawain, there was nothing else. And the horse wasn't buying it.

So.

Tired, hungry, cold and lonely, Gawain has reached the absolute summit of the pit of despair. To top it all off, it's Christmas Eve. (Now here we hit a slight snafu. For the story to work the way it is supposed to, we can only have four days between Christmas Eve and New year's Day. The way our calendar works now, we have eight days. I am going to assume that the poet was familiar with the calendars of his time, but not with the calendars of our time, and thus, being blissfully ignorant of what the future held, used his. I don't want to try to fudge this over - eight days makes the story way too long - so I will use his calendar). That leaves Gawain with only four days to make his appointment. It would be the utter pinnacle of patheticiosity (editor - again, I know this isn't a word. This one, however, unlike "funner," has limited utility. No point in agitating to get it in Webster's. No one would use it any more than they use "lugubrious") if Gawain were to expend all that work in his attempt to die nobly and then be forced to live with the disgrace of surviving because of his failure to meet the specific conditions of his particular raw deal (was that a quality sentence or what? I should charge extra for ones like that).

One of the weird things about stories is that everything always happens at the right time. Life is like that too, but people tend not to notice because the right thing is almost never what they expect it to be, and they are so concerned with what they want that what they get goes right by. They should read Eliot. "I said to my soul be still, and wait without hope, for hope would be hope of the wrong thing." Gawain didn't know Eliot, although Eliot knew Gawain, but Gawain did discover that the thing he was hoping for was, in a weird and unhoped for way, about to occur. (So much for Eliot.) The occurrence began in the form of a castle portcullis turning up in the forest on Christmas night.

If you can believe these old stories, it was the custom in those days to welcome strangers with open arms into your castle on Christmas night, as long as they were well armed and polite. Today this seems like a risky proposition. You've heard the stories and seen the movies - family of five massacred after welcoming stranded stranger into their home - but in those days, every castle had it's own personal army, so the risk of one pathological psychopathic stranger quenching the life blood of the whole family wasn't as great as it seems. Gawain knocked and the door was opened.

A couple of sprightly youths bounded out and took Gringolett by the bridle, leading the horse, and, by extension, Gawain, inside.

Gawain was helped down, courteously welcomed ("courtesy" was a big deal back then. People recognized that there are people who are better than them, and that the proper way to treat those who were was with great politeness. The current cult of "surliness," whose major premise is that equality is best attained, not through hard work, but through treating everybody with equal rudeness, had not yet been established), his horse was praised, and he was invited up to the dinning room to have a sip of the good stuff with the lord of the castle and his frisky little wife. The lord of the castle's name was, I believe, Berciliac, although the Tolkien translation I am cribbing from reframes from mentioning the actual name. His wife was called "Sweetie Pie."

This is a little peculiar, but it seems that not only her husband, but every man in the entire castle called her Sweetie Pie, even the guy who came in on Tuesdays to pick up the dry cleaning. It seems that she was rather easy going and quite affectionate with everyone. Her husband was rather pleased that his family retainers seemed to get on so well with her. Occasionally one of the younger maids would give her a sidelong look out of the corner of her eye, crinkling her brows ever so slightly, but for the most part Sweetie Pie seemed to be well liked, at least by the men.

Berciliac was a great big bear of a man with arms like the trunk of an oak, a chest like the prow of a ship, and a fuzzy hunk of kinked up and well oiled beard keeping his face warm. He was a little bit bald though. And you'd have to fare far to find a friendlier fellow, forsooth? He clapped Gawain a good one on the back with his acre wide palm, nearly knocking the exhausted Gawain to the ground, then picked him up again and thrust a steaming cup of hot spiced wine in his hand (1 bottle of fairly ordinary red wine, 1/2 cup sugar or honey, 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg, 14 clove buds, and one of those curly cinnamon sticks. Bring to low boil in large saucepan, then pour into big mugs. Drink while warm. Very soothing to a chilled soul), and laughed.

"Well little fellow, what brings you out on a cold night like this?! Come, and crush a cup of wine with me (Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, scene 2)! Grab yourself a piece of tender meat as I introduce you to my wife, Sweetie Pie!"

Berciliac, unlike the softer-spoken Gawain, was the kind of guy who ended every sentence with an exclamation mark! I, personally, find it annoying to keep typing those things, but, in my never ending effort to accurately portray reality, I find I must do so!

Well, they had a good old time. Gawain feasted as he hadn't feasted since Halloween in Camelot. Berciliac was jolly good company in a rough sort of way, telling slightly off-colored jokes, on good terms with everyone, drinking toasts to every little thing like an overgrown frat boy, although unlike an overgrown frat boy, he never drank enough to get stupid.

Sweetie Pie was solicitous of Gawain's attention as well, but in a more female-ish way. She kept finding excuses to pick lint off his sweater, or smooth down his already well groomed hair. Every time she bent over to slice little succulent tidbits off his hunk of beef, Gawain could not help but notice that she wasn't wearing much under her seasonally inappropriate summer silks. Silk is a fairly thin fabric, and Sweetie Pie tended to poke out in some very interesting places.

Being a man, Gawain could not help but enjoy the artistic display, yet, also because he was a man, he didn't feel compelled to make a crude announcement to that effect (as in "Nice ____________ [fill in the blank with your favorite female body part]!"). Besides, doing so would have required an exclamation mark, and Gawain wasn't the kind of guy who spoke with exclamation marks.

Long about 4 a.m. Berciliac announced the he was going to retire early since he had big plans to go hunting in the morning. In those days, hunting was quite a strenuous sport, involving a lot of riding, running, walking, swinging and hurtling weapons, as well as the occasional running away from an enraged and sorely wounded boar (boar were hunted with spears. Typically a boar spear was twelve feet long, and had a crossbar about three feet from the point. The reason for the crossbar was that a boar, when speared, liked to run with the spear going through its body until it reached the guy holding the spear, who would be promptly torn to bits by the understandably enraged critter before it died. We're not talking fuzzy bunny hunting here, with or without noodles). Even a big guy like Berciliac needed a good hour of blessed slumber before heading out into the wilds.

Ever the attentive host, Berciliac invited Gawain to go along. Gawain, though, had had a bit much of the wilderness for a while, and, besides, he had that thing with the axe weighing heavily on his mind. Gawain politely declined the invitation.

"Well!" exclaimed Berciliac, "I guess you'll have to hang around the castle all day! No doubt Sweetie Pie will be good company for you, but I bet I have a better time in the forest! Hey! I have an idea! What say you we make a little wager?! I'll give you whatever I get while hunting if you give me whatever you get by hanging around! Deal?!"

"Uhmm... OK. It sounds like I'm getting the better part of the bargain, so what have I got to lose?" replied Gawain innocently. "By the way, I've been searching for the Green Chapel for quite a while now. I have an urgent appointment there in three days. Any idea where it might be?"

"Sure! Sure! That's a creepy old place! I don't know why you'd want to go there, but it's just about a mile on down the road from here! Why don't you stay here for a few days, and, on New Year's morning, you can have a nice breakfast before you head out?! You'll easily be able to make it before ten!"

So Gawain decided he would stay. He spent the rest of the night in pleasant conversation with Sweetie Pie. It turns out that she had an immense store of naughty limericks memorized, the recitation of which gave Gawain some pleasant things to think about and helped take his mind off his soon-to-be-severed head.

Berciliac went out hunting at about six. He had a wild time, chasing down a bunch of deer, riding over field and through forest. Being the kind of guy he was, he rode far out ahead of the rest of his crew. He was the biggest, strongest, most athletic out of a whole bunch of guys who were big, strong and athletic. In the end they had hunted down and killed about six dear - plenty for a big feast featuring venison flambe, grilled venison, bar-be-cue venison, venison burgers, and venison baked into these little pie-things with just a touch of brandy added for that extra flavor. Of course, according to the bet, it all belonged to Gawain.

Let's find out what Gawain came up with to trade at the castle.

Gawain enjoyed the luxury of lounging around in bed until seven. Just as he was noticing the sunlight through his closed eyelids and preparing for that first early morning stretch that gets one ready to jump out of bed he heard the door to his guest room open. He cracked his eyelids and peeked out. Who should he see but Sweetie Pie, wearing a somewhat revealing negligee, coming in with a bowl of scrambled eggs and sausage links?

Not too sure if it would be exactly proper to notice her bouncy parts or not, Gawain pretended not to wake up until he could figure out how to let Sweetie Pie know he wasn't blind. He watched surreptitiously as she set down the plate and turned to look at his apparently sleeping form.

"Ohhh," she cooed, "ohhhh, ahhh, oh my... whoa baby... Gawain, thou art hot..." and on and on like that for a good fifteen minutes.

About this time Gawain decided that the greater part of valor might be served best by a gradual noisy awaking; consequently he uttered a loud snore-like noise, produced a noisy stretch, suppressed the urge to fart, all of which would hopefully give Sweetie Pie an opportunity to beat a chastely hasty retreat.

Unfortunately, she just stood there.

And my, how she did stand there! Feet planted firmly on the ground (if they had high heeled shoes back then hers would have been six inchers), hips thrust forward, shoulders thrown back, hands on hips, looking down with that pouty kind of look women can produce at certain times, with her hair falling down in front of her face slightly obscuring her smoldering blue eyes.

It was time for Gawain to face the reality of the situation - Sweetie Pie had something on her mind. She wasn't going to go away -

- So he did the only thing he could do. He sat up in bed (being careful as to exactly where and how the blankets fell) and said, very politely "Sweetie Pie, I thankest thee for thy great kindness in bringing me this splendid repast with thine own two hands. I pray thee, please allow me a privy moment to rise and don my raiment that we may better enjoy this meal, and sweet discourse at leisure." (Yup. He really spoke like that without cracking up and giggling or anything. It required a will of iron to be a knight.)

Sweetie Pie smiled sweetly at him, briefly, in that mock shyness that is so... so... so, you know, coming from the clear blue eyes of a negligee clad lady... And daintily picked up a little pork link and began noisily nibbling at the end.

Whoo-hoo. I gotta stop here. I could have way too much fun writing up this situation. Unfortunately, that would take me far from my purpose, and a story teller should beware of letting the story take control. This story is a teaching tool, and the fun should not be allowed to get in front of the heavy meaning. My muse tells me that what I need to focus on here is the peculiar and painful dilemma in which Gawain found himself. I will, therefore, temporarily switch from narrative to exposition. I won't notify you when I switch back. If you can manage to stay awake long enough, you?.l probably catch it on your own.

There are three conflicting duties and/or desires meeting here, in the person of Gawain. The first one is that, as a knight and a devotee of the cult of chivalry, Gawain has taken on a particular duty toward women. The code of chivalry demands that a knight act with extreme courtesy toward woman. That is to say, if a woman requests something of the knight, he is bound, as a matter of politeness, to satisfy her request, or at least attempt it. In general, this is not a problem - the woman needs help in killing a guy or something, and the knight does it. No problem.

What Sweetie Pie wanted was something which Gawain was painfully aware was within his powers to grant. That explains the nervous plucking to rearrange the sheets. I admit that I feel a certain affinity with Gawain. In situations like this even a chivalrous old geezer like myself feels the stiff call to duty. Not that it happens all that often, it's just that I wouldn't mind it if it did (see previous note).

This would all be clear cut, if not for another conflicting duty. As a knight, Gawain has sworn himself to loyalty to his liege lord. Berciliac, as lord of the castle, is the stand-in for his king - Arthur. To betray Berciliac would also be a betrayal of Arthur. This is bad. To take a tumble with Berciliac-s wife would also be a betrayal of Berciliac's hospitality, which is a clear violation of the ethics of knighthood.

The third point is the bacon on top of the cheeseburger, the final flavor, the sharp edge of the razor on the tip of the tongue. Or, more precisely, the sharp edge of the axe. Gawain knows that his time is limited. The full span of his earthly pleasure is three days from absolute zero (kelvin).

What is honor to a dead man?

Doesn't his nobility in meeting his fatal obligation allow him certain rights, perhaps the right to do one nasty, though pleasant, thing before he dies?

Too bad Gawain wasn't born a few hundred years later. Nowadays, in these more enlightened times, nobody would have a problem here. We never shy away from doing the small, petty and nasty things that tempt us anymore. How much easier, then, is it to find a half way decent excuse to do the big bad things? Today, Gawain would hop in the sack with Sweetie Pie and to hell with Berciliac. Besides, Berciliac would never know, so where's the harm? And if Berciliac did find out, what's he gonna do, kill Gawain? Big deal. Gawain's as good as dead already. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.

But Gawain wasn't that kind of guy (that thing about "Do what thou wilt..." should also includes the much neglected corollary "And what thou wilt not do, thou shalt not.").

No, what he did instead was carefully, gently and politely put Sweetie Pie off with a lot of honeyed words and scootching away. Eventually Sweetie Pie gave up and agreed to leave Gawain if he just gave her a little peck on the cheek. Gawain could do this without compromising his integrity, so he did, and she left.

That evening, Berciliac returned home and, with his normal bluff good humor, tossed the cleaned deer at Gawain's feet. Gawain thanked him profusely and accepted the venison which he then directed the cook to prepare for the nightly feast. At this point Berciliac suggested that it was time for Gawain to pay up. Gawain looked around shyly, then leaned over and gave Berciliac a little peck on the cheek. Needless to say, Berciliac found this hilarious and let out a series of loud guffaws, peppered throughout with spicy exclamation marks. It looked like this: "Haw! Haw haw! Ah! Haw haw! etc.! etc.!"

He then pulled Gawain aside and asked "So, what prey were you hunting to receive such a trophy?!"

Gawain was a relatively fast thinker, which is a good trick to master if you?re not the kind of guy who lies.

"I promised to pay up, but not to explain my technique. I've paid up, you'll have to be happy with that."

Berciliac snickered.

"Well," he chuckled, "don't ask, don't tell!"

He gave Gawain a little nudge (for Berciliac it was a little nudge, 'tho it nearly knocked Gawain over). Sweetie Pie came into the room, demurely dressed this time in a long white gown that covered her dainty ankles, and the feast began.

Later, much later (4 am), Berciliac once again invited Gawain to go hunting the next morning. By this time, you'd think Gawain would know better and get out of Sweetie Pie's sinuous clutches by accepting Berciliac's offer, but apparently he didn't know he was a character in a story where events take on a certain abstract symmetry, and he expected events to flow in the normal chaotic manner of real life. Gawain turned him down.

Well, guess what? Gawain was a character in a story, so events did flow in the abstract symmetry of a story, and events were repeated the next day, but with some escalation in intensity.

Berciliac, hunting, had much less luck than on the previous day. There was a lot of exertion, of sweating, of stomping through boggy ground up to the knees in muck and so forth, and, in the end, a terrible fight with some relation of that irate boar I mentioned earlier. The boar managed to injure one of the hunters (not Berciliac - nothing ever harms the wild guy. Everyone around them might be destroyed in a massive flood or violent hurricane, but the wild guy is always the one who comes through without a scratch, clinging to a floating hemorrhoid donut or entangled in a clothes line covered with an old lady's stretchy bras and girdles [you couldn't put this stuff into a story. Nobody would believe it, but, in reality, it happens all the time]. I believe that this is the universe's way of giving us advice on how to live correctly), and kill several of Berciliac's best hunting dogs before being eventually subdued.

Meanwhile, back at the castle, Gawain was waking up. He peeked carefully out of his mostly closed eyes, surveying the room in search of a lurking Sweetie Pie. When he was certain that the shadows were entirely devoid of concealed seductresses he sat up in bed and prepared to make a dash for his trousers.

Alas! he was too late.

Sweetie Pie, who had apparently been peeping through the keyhole, chose that exact moment to pop through the door.

As Gawain was raising the blankets preparatory to swinging his legs to the floor, exposing parts of his person which he preferred not to expose at this time to a certain other person, Sweetie Pie made a swift advance through the door and hopped in beside him. In a spasm of self defensive modesty, Gawain slammed down the covers, accidentally trapping himself with the near naked Sweetie Pie in a warm and snug cocoon.

If extracting himself from the sticky taffy-like Sweetie Pie was difficult when she was merely bringing breakfast, imagine how delicate the operation must have been when she joined him on the mattress. It is extremely problematical to remove yourself from a woman who is cozied up to you under the blankets without seeming to give insult, particularly when she smiles so prettily, and her hands tend to wander warmly... Popping out of bed like a jack in the box as the lady tips over into the space you have just vacated would be too, too crude.

I, quite frankly, don't know exactly how he got out of this one. I had to turn my head because there are certain private things that are rude to look upon, and even if I were rude enough to look upon them, they are ruder yet to describe, and, despite what you've been told, I'm not as rude as that. I imagine that, once more, he got out of it with a carefully controlled mixture of smooth words and slow retreat (Note: it has been my experience that that particular combination is about as effective in getting you out of trouble without creating a great fuss as any other). At any rate, ultimately they parted on good terms, although she insisted on a kiss which was much juicier than the previous one first. I don't believe there were tongues involved, at least my source doesn't mention them, but it was definitely juicier.

Berciliac came back later that day, and tossed the boar body to Gawain, going into a long narrative of the unpleasant hunt he (and the boar) had bravely endured. Gawain again thanked him for the lovely carcass, and sent it off to the cooks. By adding a large quantity of mashed potatoes they were able to get an acceptable feast out of it. Everybody had a swell time, especially when Berciliac asked for his wages from Gawain, and Gawain gave him a nice juicy kiss right on the lips. Talk about an uproar in the old hall that night! These were real manly men, and if people wanted to laugh at their little joke, that was fine with them. Only a weenie spoils everybody's fun by being a boar and getting all ticked off (unless you really are a boar, in which case you yourself are most entertaining when hunted or eaten. Ask anyone.).

Once again Berciliac asked where Gawain had acquired that wet little trophy, and Gawain tactfully pointed out that it was none of his business. Berciliac roared with laughter, laughter which was once again liberally sprinkled with these: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!.

Well, the night wore on, they had a swell time, Sweetie Pie behaved herself, and eventually the standing bet was renewed.

This is the third time, the last day Gawain would be staying at the castle, and the last day before Gawain gets his head lopped off. In a lot of ways, nothing much matters to Gawain anymore - what would be wrong with one last fling with a very willing lady? And Berciliac? What would the betrayal of him mean, when it is obvious that he has been betrayed many times already? And it isn't like Gawain would be forcing Sweetie Pie into any thing she isn't already hot to do. And who's gonna know? The whole thing is just absurd. Only an absolute dolt would turn her down again.

This, I imagine, is what went through Gawain's head as soon as it hit the pillow; that and a bit of wonder at how it will feel when the axe hits his neck. Does it hurt? If so, for how long? And then what...?

Eventually Gawain fell into a troubled sleep where erotic dreams of Sweetie Pie mingled with dreams of squirting blood. Freud would have loved it - Eros and Thanatos, love and death, dancing hand in hand like sugar plumbs in Gawain's head. Creepy, a little, but then, this is what nature is - love, which is life, and death entwined in one long, perpetual, ecstatic, wet and very messy hump that gives birth to everything. We all go through this every day of our lives, of course, it's just that in Gawain's case the experience had come to a sharp edge. Much like the edge of the axe waiting on New Year's Day in the Green Chapel just down the road, and with his name writ large upon it.

So then, as you may have guessed, Berciliac rode off with his pals to hunt the next day. This time, however, the hunt did not go at all as planned. Even an avid outdoorsman like Berciliac would be justified in complaining about this one, although Berciliac, being a big, robust fellow with better things to do than whine, never did.

It started off well enough. A fine morning - not to cold for that time of year, and, of course, there were no pesky mosquitoes. The horses were ready and willing, the guides had had whatever the medieval equivalent of coffee was (generally heated beer with mysterious herbs mixed in. Back in those days, beer was considered an appropriate breakfast food. The herbs are a whole different story. Try beer made with yarrow or wormwood instead of hops for an unusual experience. Bon appetite!), and a nice lunch (leftover boar and refried mashed potatoes) had been packed. Off they rode in search of whatever the woods would present.

Which wasn't very much. The deer had decided to sleep in late and were still stretching and plucking lazily at their pajamas when Berciliac & Co. invited them out to play. The boar had all decided to take the weekend off and lie on a warm tropical beach, sipping margaritas. Even the rabbits were in seclusion doing what they do do while in seclusion (and we all know what that is, don;t we?). After riding all day and finding nothing, not even a stale hunk of bear poop (if you're not a hunter you may think I'm being crude here, but, if you are a hunter, you will surely recognize that I have done considerable research into the importance of poop to an outdoorsman. This is called "adding local color."), they were about to call it quits when,

suddenly,

without any warning,

a vole showed up.

Now a vole ain't no big shakes as a subject for hunting, but the dogs had been getting bored and cranky. As soon as they scented it, their little ears perked up, their tails stuck straight out, and they began poking their noses into the air and sniffing friskily. They were so cute! You gotta love dogs.

Berciliac did, so he shouted "Tally ho!" and off they went.

Vole hunting is a strange sport. I'm not sure if it's because voles have all lived unhappy lives and become chronically cynical and morose, or if Buddhism is the religion of the genus and species of vole (Microtus pennsylvaricus) and they all practice the art of resignation, or maybe they're just plain boring, but, even when excited dogs are running around yipping and snapping at them, all they do is stand there looking at you blankly. That's why boar, despite their ferocity, are generally considered to be jollier (Editor: I have no idea if this is a word or not. Frankly, I no longer care) company than voles. If you invite a bunch of boar to a tea party, you will certainly be mentioned in the morning paper. Invite a bunch of vole and nobody will show up. Not even the vole.

So there's this humungous pack of three hundred and sixty-five dogs, running in a circle around the vole and barking madly, and there's the vole in the middle looking around with glassy eyes, when Berciliac comes up, reaches into the midst of the dogs, and picks the vole up by the scruff of his neck. It was a lot like picking up a cocktail weenie with bar-be-cue tongs, only more so. Berciliac was just about to wring the little guy's neck and stuff him in his hunting pouch, thinking of how grand the head would look stuffed and mounted and hung above the fireplace, when he suddenly laughed a series of awesome belly laughs that knocked the acorns out of the oak trees. Still laughing, Berciliac gave the vole a sharp rap on the top of its head with his index finger just to make sure it was awake and then set the little guy on the ground, waved his big meaty arm in an all-encompassing gesture and said "Come on youse guys! Let's go home!"

Home...

Yes...

That reminds me. Things were happening back home.

Gawain had had a very restless night. The chamomile tea he enjoyed after supper hadn't helped as much as he had hoped it would. After much tossing and turning he got up at about 4:15 and decided that, as long as he was up anyway, he'd put on his steel pants, just in case Sweetie Pie stayed true to form. This precaution did not increase his physical comfort any, but it did relieve a bit of the pressure pressing down on his spirit, allowing him to drift off into a sweaty slumber.

Blissfully unaware that Gawain was wearing protection, Sweetie Pie had laid her sensuous plans, and proceeded to put them into erotic action.

Right after her husband left, Sweetie Pie popped out of bed and started rummaging through her underwear drawer. After picking out a few items, holding them up against her naked body, checking herself out in the mirror and rejecting those which did not meet her rather stringent requirements, she managed to select a pair of green fishnet stockings, a green garter belt, a green tissue-like g-string and a green transparent bra (Note to reader: I am not entirely sure exactly what women wore in those days when they wanted to be absolutely irresistible, but it was probably not fishnet stockings, garter belts, g-strings or transparent bras. I tried to find out by doing a little research - I did a Yahoo image search using the key words "medieval" and "bimbo." Once I turned off that annoying safe-search feature, I got some tentative results. Unfortunately, none of the images I found came with bibliographic information detailing the historical sources giving rise to the modern photographic interpretations. I am, therefore, not entirely certain that they were made with an eye to historical authenticity, although several were interesting for other reasons. Perhaps some of you with a scholarly bent to your nature would care to comb the historical material available; that is, after you get bored looking into "The Socio-Economic Dynamics of Beet Production in Central Europe During the Crusading Era" or "Ethnic Unrest as a Motivational Event in the Pre-Renaissance Transfer of Authority." I am sure there is at least one good article in this. You could call it "Gender Politics as Manifested Through the Temporary Adoption of Non-Standard Garments in the Feudal Household" if you want to. I'd just call it "How Women Got Hold of a Guy's Sword in the Old Days." That's why I only got a C- in history class. But, until you write that paper, I will use the fishnets, etc. as a trope to suggest the physical manifestation of Sweetie Pie's delicately agressive libido).

Perhaps, under the circumstances, green was an unfortunate color choice on Sweaty Pie's part, but, once again, curling Eros and Thanatos together into an overt display of affection may have a synergistic effect on Gawain?s sagging ... uh... morale. Let's wait and find out.

Pleased with the end result, Sweetie Pie slithered out the door and pranced merrily down the cold stone hallways, observed by nobody but the cat who was quite used to this sort of thing. Arriving at Gawain's door, she rummaged through her pockets (yes, I know that I didn't describe any garment that could conceivably contain pockets. Don't be so literal. It's a story) until she found the master key. She rubbed a little Crisco she happened to be carrying on it so it wouldn't squeak, inserted it slowly and carefully into the lock, turned it, and noiselessly opened the door.

She smoothly insinuated herself into the room.

She crept tip-toeing to the spacious bed. Sweetie Pie's one track mind was very preoccupied, otherwise she would certainly have noticed the big sag in the mattress where Gawain?s artificially weighted lower torso was busy cooperating with that mysterious force known as "gravitation."

As softly as a cooing dove she lifted the covers and slipped her slinky self into bed, cooing like a soft dove (Attention English majors: Is there a name for a sentence like this? It's kind of like a palindrome, but not really. If there is no name yet ascribed to these, I would like to propose calling them "metaphysical simile reversal constructions." Feel free to refer to them by that name in your next doctorial thesis. Remember you heard about them here first. You know how authors are. Pretty soon everybody will be using them.).

The laws of the universe are very exact, unappealable, and harsh. One of these laws kicked into effect at this point - the famous law of gravity, which states clearly in article VIII, section 9, subsection 34c "When the weight of a partially armored knight, combined with the weight of a scantily clad woman exceeds by fifteen percent or more the highest test rating of the structural integrity of a bed, assuming that no precautions have been taken to reinforce the underpinnings of said bed, it is mandatory that the whole thing, including, but not limited to, the knight, the armor, the woman, the scanty clothing, as well as any other items resting upon the bed at the time the test rating is exceeded (such as, for instance, cats, pillows, crackers, blankets, wine flasks, etc.,) come crashing instantly and loudly to the ground. Failure to do so shall be punishable as a capital offense under this law."

Since everybody involved was upright and law abiding (except the cat, who was still patrolling the hallway), they immediately complied.

Gawain awoke with a start, surprised to discover himself enmeshed in a snarl of sweat damp blankets and encumbered by the prostrate and equally ensnarling form of Sweetie Pie. Sweetie Pie, for her part, was also surprised to discover herself prostrate on the floor, recumbent on Gawain, swathed in blankets, and with what little clothing she was wearing now somewhat askew. The big difference in their respective status came, not from the state of surprise in which they found themselves, but in the emotions which immediately followed the state of surprise.

Gawain panicked while Sweetie Pie exhilarated.

Poor Sir Gawain's legs were wrapped in the twisted sheets, Sweetie Pie's arms were wrapped around poor Sir Gawain, and, struggle as he might, poor Sir Gawain could not extract himself from either. Gawain did suffer so, being right in the position Sweetie Pie had for so long been longing to position him. With a swift series of agile body movements that would have impressed most Olympic quality wrestlers, Sweetie Pie maneuvered herself around until she had Gawain in a leg lock, sitting astride him in close pelvic contact. In youthful enthusiasm she began bouncing up and down...

Oops.

She actually only got in one real good bounce before discovering that the lower body armor of a knight is impregnable to the thighs of even the most peppy lady. Out in the barn Gringolett perked up his ears, recognizing the gong-like sound which suddenly emanated from the interior of the castle, shook his head slowly, and went back to chewing his oats. I'm not sure if horses can smile or not, but if they can, Gringolett would have had a slight upward twist of the lips at the corners of his mouth.

Sweetie Pie did not find it so amusing, however. I expect that there was a certain amount of bruising, and more than a little pain, of which Gawain, due to his extensive training as a warrior, was able to take immediate advantage. Sweetie Pie suddenly found herself lifted into the air and set, gently but firmly, on the ground a few feet away. This gave Gawain an opportunity to flip his bound body around like a fresh fish in the bottom of a rowboat and eventually gain his feet. Now on his feet, he staggered backwards until he bumped into the wall, which he used to prop himself up while he fought with the binding sheets, emerging some fragments of a second later like a butterfly.

Speaking of butterflies, Sweetie Pie had, in the mean time, overcome her shock and disappointment, rising to face Gawain.

My writing teacher, who is currently looking over my shoulder, tells me that I have gone far too long without any dialogue, so here is the dialogue I should have been using, starting at the point where Sweetie Pie slipped into Gawain's bed. I don't care to go back and fit it all in where it should go in the narrative, so perhaps you should think of this as an exercise in imagination and put it there yourself:

"Ooooh!" cooed Sweetie Pie.

"Oomph," murmured Gawain and Sweetie Pie simultaneously.

"Aaah, oooh," crooned Sweetie Pie.

"Holy Shit," muttered Gawain under his breath.

"YEOOW!" shouted Sweetie Pie.

"Hrmph," gasped Gawain.

This about brings us up to date. Gawain's gonna take it from here:

"Milady, I beg thee forgive me thy injuries. I swear by all that I revere and hold holy that I wouldst never knowingly do thee any harm whatsoever. Allow me, therefore, to summons thy ladymaids that they may soothe thy injuries with sweet salves."

"I have a little salve here," said Sweetie Pie, holding out the Crisco. "I'd rather have you do it."

"Madam, any true knight wouldst most assuredly count himself blessed shouldst thee request an anointing from his own hand upon thy person, yet, for my part, I feel I must demure from such honor, of which I am surely not worthy."

Ok, so you get the picture. It went on like this for a good 20-25 minutes. The upshot of it all was that Sweetie Pie would let Gawain off the hook if, and only if, he agreed to a high quality kiss right now, and to carry a love token from her when he next went out adventuring.

This love token thing was an old custom amongst the knights of the time. A woman would give the knight some article of clothing, such as a hanky, the sleeve torn from her dress, a veil or something of the sort, and he would tie it to a hook on his helmet, or to the tip of his lance, or tie it around his arm as a symbol that he was dedicating all the fighting and killing he was doing to the woman. It was a very fine gesture, much better than a Valentine's Day card which doesn't require any fighting or killing at all, only about $2-5 cash money.

It took them a while to decide on exactly which of the few articles of clothing Sweetie Pie was wearing would be a good love token. Gawain was partial to the g-string, what with it being small and portable and all, but they eventually settled on the green garter belt because Sweetie Pie managed to convince him that the belt had magic properties which would prevent any serious injury from befalling the wearer. As evidence of this she pointed out that her thighs, which, although greenish from bruising, were not torn or bleeding, and she was certainly not in danger of dieing, even if she was limping a bit.

Now this is where we enter into the fourth quadrant of opposing issues. There is a common misconception in the literary world that three is the magic number, since one isn't enough, and two gives a sense of artificially induced balance, but three forms a nice kind of non-symmetrical evenness. This is an idea derived from Asian art. However, this is a Western story, and in the west we look at movements between poles. In order to have enough poles you have to have either two or four, or some other even number (see Carl Jung's writings on the dynamics of personality types for more information). As it stood before, the poles were duty (Gawain's loyalty to his host) vs. pleasure (the indomitable Sweetie Pie), leaving death (the axe of the Green Knight) without a dance partner. Enter the magic garter belt, which represents life (Gawain's chance to escape from that aforementioned axe). Now we have everything in order - nicely balanced - and the energy can move freely between the four poles.

With the magic garter belt, Gawain now has a way to escape death. In a way, this is a kind of a cheat, but it isn't, strictly speaking, against the rules. Still, there is something which smells a little bit dishonest about this. If Gawain goes off to meet the Green Knight, knowing he won't die, is he welshing on the deal?

But then, on the other hand, didn't the Green Knight enter into the bargain with exactly this advantage? In which case, wouldn't Gawain simply be evening up what was already an off kilter agreement? I'll leave this complex philosophical dilemma to greater minds than mine to figure out. Gawain decided that it was not cheating, but I'm not sure we can rely on him. He has a particular bias on the issue.

But let's not forget either that Gawain has entered into an agreement with Berciliac, and should, by a strict interpretation of the rules, turn the garter belt over to him. But, if Gawain does that, surely Berciliac will recognize his own wife's underwear, and this will give rise to exactly the problem Gawain has been struggling to avoid. Oh man! Talk about your tough decisions!

At any rate, he put the magic green garter belt into his pocket (armor does not have pockets, but the clothing worn under armor could. Satisfied?), bid Sweetie Pie adieu at the door, and finished dressing. Then he went downstairs to meet Berciliac who had just come back from hunting.

When Berciliac saw Gawain on the stairs he spread his hands, simultaneously shrugging his shoulders and smiling cheesily in the universal gesture meaning "I got nothin..."

"Whadju git?!" he asked Gawain.

Without skipping a beat Gawain walked up to him, threw his arms around Berciliac's big hairy neck, and gave him a wet one right on the lips. At the same time Gawain bent his left leg at the knee, raised his foot into the air behind him and curled his toes.

This threw everyone, including Berciliac, into a paroxysm of laughter.

When Gawain broke out of the clinch he stood kind of sheepishly while Berciliac put his big paws on his shoulders. Berciliac looked closely at Gawain's eyes.

"Is that it?"

"Yeah."

"Nothing else?"

"Nope."

"Sure?"

"Yup."

"I kinda thought, maybe...?"

"No. That's it."

Berciliac looked hard at Gawain a moment longer, then burst out into that robust laughter for which he has become so justifiably famous. He whacked Gawain an especially hardy thump on the shoulders with his open mitt and said:

"Come on then. Let's go eat."

Since the day's hunting had not been what you?'d call productive, they had to send out for pizza, which was OK, as this was (possibly) Gawain's last meal, and pizza is a pretty good choice for a last meal. No point in being concerned about calories.

Well, the time has at last come for our fearless Sir Gawain to bid a fond farewell to Berciliac and Sweetie Pie. As interesting as his little sojourn had been, there was that thing which must be done which Gawain was determined he must do. Before leaving he took a quick moment to slip back up to his room, put on the garter belt (it was a bit tight) and armor up.

Gawain had been such jolly company that everybody in the castle was sorry to see him go, although nobody knew exactly why Gawain was going off to the Green Chapel. There were some things Gawain didn't tell his hosts (this all happened in the days before women's daytime talk shows, when people still kept some information private, and didn't run around telling inspirational stories to any busybody who was willing to listen. Besides, Gawain was a real manly man, and everybody knows that men tend to be close mouthed about the things that trouble their minds. Ask any married woman. She'll confirm this.).

Gringolett was saddled up and stood pawing the ground out by the portcullis. When Gawain walked out the front door, everybody was lined up to say good-bye as he walked to his horse. Gawain walked the gauntlet, offering a kind word of thanks to each person who had made his stay so comfortable, complimented the grooms on their tuxes and the fine care they had taken of Gringolett, and, at last, arrived at the end of the line where Berciliac and Sweetie Pie were waiting to shake his hand and say fair-thee-well.

Sweetie Pie placed her hands on Gawain's shoulders, stood up on tiptoes, looked deeply into his eyes, and delivered the traditional fair well kiss. She tried to keep a stiff upper lip, but her upper lip kept trembling. Gawain kind of checked out of the corner of his eye to catch Berciliac's reaction to this. Berciliac just rocked back and forth a bit on his heels and whistled a short chunk of a then current pop tune (Greensleeves) while looking up at the clouds. When Sweetie Pie was done she stepped back, turned her head shyly and sighed. Berciliac stepped forward grabbing Gawain's hand and began pumping it in a manner that demonstrated both Berciliac's great strength and his good intentions.

Gawain hopped up on Gringolett's back and off they went down the road where the signs clearly pointed out the way to the Green Chapel. Funny how Gawain had not noticed them before.

(Continued on next page. Click here)

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