Gawain

Gawain & the Green Knight

Gawain, Gawain, tumbling down,

falling, falling, falling.

Here is a Hall. A King’s Hall.

The smell of smoldering peat and apple-wood,

of roast meats, old bones and wet dogs.

Where am I?

Here, says the voice inside your head.

Come in! Come in! I welcome you.

There is a lady, dark and fair, with raven hair.

Green eyes melt you.

Sitting now, you hold the wooden table hard,

fearing to float again,

the Hall will melt and you be

falling, falling, falling.

Ba-Boom!

Thunder at the doors.

Ba-Boom!

Again the thunder roars.

Ba-Boom!

Open!

The doors fly open, wind whistles the snow around your ears.

Blind, you see the darkness fill the doorway.

Your heart makes thunder softly in your breast,

Ba-Boom!

Fire sparks from the stones under the green hooves.

Wisps of straw catch light, smolder a moment

and fail in the dampness of the season.

The hooves come closer.

Upwards climbs your eye,

the soft green fetlock,

the shimmering green leg,

the green ripple of shoulder muscle.

Almost you shut your eyes. This cannot be!

But the voice within your head laughs …

Dare not? … Dare not? …

And your eyes betray you forcing you to see.

Green silk reins, bridle, green-gold bit.

Ah! A change.

The horse’s eyes are golden, like a cat,

first slitting then opening so wide you are engulphed.

Retreating, you turn your eyes,

follow up the reins.

The hands are green.

Green wrist emerge from silken green-sleeves.

One hand holds up a holly bundle.

The other holds the Labrys,

two-faced in her own sincerity.

Reaching upwards you find the face, crowned with holly.

Green, green eyes hold you, freeze your blood.

The King is bored, he will not eat

until some one has told a tale to sharpen up his appetite.

Ho! The Green Man calls. Who reigns here?

Who is master of this Hall?

The King’s eyes light, lazily he leans back in his chair.

Why, I do, he says softly.

And wouldst thou game with me?

For I would game, now, at the turning of the year.

And I would game with kings!

Nay! The King laughs.

I cannot game with thee.

I am the King.

My lady holds my head within her hands

and would not let it go.

He eyes the Labrys knowingly.

Then is there any other

who will stand in for the King

and play my game?

For I will surely game before I leave this Hall.

Silence reigns.

Breath is stilled.

Even the flames pause

in licking at the carcass on the spit.

Silence holds sway.

Even the wind pauses in his circling of the towers,

waiting a response.

Silence grips your heart.

Holding hard to the wood of the table you rise, shaking,

legs of jelly threat to buckle and dissolve

and pitch you in the damp straw.

Holding hard to the wood of the table you stand.

And standing thus it seems the hall revolves about you,

twisting light and dark in streamers.

You shake your head. Vision grows.

I will game with you for my lord King,

you hear yourself proclaiming.

Your voice goes on apace despite your reason.

And letting go the table so you stagger forth

and stand beside the huge green horse and his great rider,

an ant beside an elephant.

Haaaaaaaaa! Haaaaaaaaaaaaa! Haaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

The great laugh rolls around the hall shaking the banners,

even the flames leap with the wind, scorching the pig.

And down he climbs, down from the horse.

The earth rocks as his feet touch ground.

He stands before you, holding up the axe,

the holly gone behind the saddle now.

This is our game, he tells you,

that I will bear from you one blow of my great axe.

And I will not fight nor flinch

but will allow you do your best or worst upon me.

And all I ask in return is that you then, a year from now,

bear one blow in return from me and my axe,

and that you neither flinch

nor turn away nor offer any defence.

Will you play my game?

Again your voice betrays your mind.

I will, you say.

It seems as the Hall turns on its axis once again

wedding you both in the eye of the storm.

Slow and stately now he offers you the axe.

He kneels before you.

Parts his green silk hair to show his neck

and bows his head.

Labrys’ body, silken holly shaft, slips easy in your hand.

Lift me, heft me, she whispers.

Am I not graceful? Sharp? Incisive?

Do your hands not delight to hold me?

And it’s true.

Your hands caress her silken curves

and slide to grip her firmly for her work.

You feel her rouse and rise.

You feel her speed as she pulls your arms down for the mighty stroke.

You feel the inner sound as she screams for joy,

tasting blood.

The head rolls at your feet.

What have you done?

A life?

A life is gone for you and for the game?

How did you do this?

Ah! She whispers.

No man may resist my calling.

I am Labrys, eater of kings.

Now the world turns backwards.

Slowly, the Green Man rises,

gets up from his knees.

Reaches down to grasp the head and holds it on his arm.

Hast made me a body shorter, laughs the head.

And saying so the body leaps lightly to the saddle.

The green horse turns,

the man reaches down

and plucks the Labrys from your grasp.

She goes lightly, laughing,

returning to her lover.

In one year’s time, the head informs you.

In one year’s time.

And out into the snow they ride.

The doors fall to behind them.

Ba-Boom!

It seems forever since you heard the sea.

The dessert rises and falls before you and behind you.

Is there no thing in all this wasteland?

Your horse carries you forward.

It is long since you had the wit to direct him and he knows,

he knows where you must go.

Mist rises.

A shimmering tower spins before you.

A thing has come to you in all this wasteland.

Will you enter in?

Your horse walks on,

carrying you forward willy, nilly,

into the spinning mist.

You try to close your eyes but yet again they fail you,

forcing you to see.

The mist glows golden.

The light stills.

Warmth and moisture surround you.

Looking now you find yourself within a castle yard.

Silence reigns.

Your breath is stilled, halts in your throat.

What is this place?

A footstep sounds behind you.

Dare you turn?

You must.

Step down sir knight, he tells you.

You have traveled a goodly way.

Come in! Come in! I welcome you.

You climb down, weary,

the earth shudders as your feet hit ground.

Your horse walks over to a stall and is content.

Come in! He says again and turns towards the Hall.

You follow him.

There is a lady, dark and fair, with raven hair.

Green eyes melt you.

Sitting now, you hold the wooden table hard,

fearing to float again,

the Hall will melt and you be

falling, falling, falling.

She brings you food, wine.

Leads you to a fair chamber.

Takes off your armour, like a page

and helps you into bed.

Sleep! She says.

The touch of her hand on your brow is all you know till morning.

Come! He says.

I would go hunting.

I cannot, you reply.

I must go on to the Green Chapel.

I have promised.

I know, he says.

And I can show you your way when your time is come.

Now, while we wait let us have sport.

I am weary, you tell him.

Aye! Then I will hunt about the forest

and whatever I bring home I will give to you.

You will be here

and whatever you find during the day

you will give to me in exchange.

Agreed, you say, wearily, just wanting to be still.

Later, the Lady comes to you.

Anoints your head and leaves you then to sleep again,

giving you only one kiss.

At eventide he comes.

On his shoulder is a fine stag.

See, he says, what the gods have given me today.

How did you fare?

You take him by the shoulders and plant a kiss upon his brow.

Next day again you lie abed.

The Lady comes.

Her breath is honey and roses,

her skin like a peach, her hands cool.

You melt within her eyes.

She pours the unguent on your head.

Bending down she kisses you on the lips.

The taste of sweet wine lingers all the day.

At eventide he comes.

A fine boar on his shoulder.

See, he says, what the gods have given me today.

How did you fare?

You take him by the shoulders and plant a kiss upon his lips.

Next day you lie abed again.

The Lady sits with you.

I know your quest she says and you will fail but for me.

Take this girdle now and hide it next your heart.

When your moment comes none shall harm thee.

She kisses your lips and leaves.

You hide the green girdle deep within your shirt.

At eventide he comes.

A bright red fox over his shoulder.

See, he says, what the gods have given me today.

How did you fare?

Again you take him by the shoulders and plant a kiss upon his lips.

This night he looks at you,

a smile hovers over his mouth.

His lady too looks up from under her eyelids and almost smiles.

You eat bravely, for tomorrow is your day.

The morning is bright.

Your horse is rested,

stamping, champing, restive, on the go.

You climb aboard and touch your breast.

A smile breaks out upon the Lord and Lady’s faces.

Go forth, they cheer you on.

Your horse knows the way.

All the luck of the morning be with thee.

And they turn, take hands and go within the hall.

The shimmering mist surrounds you.

Coming out you find yourself in deep forest.

Trees arch and bow over your head,

the bracken stirs about your horses hooves.

The smell of autumn.

Pacing on, the track brings you up and up

and suddenly you come out in the grove.

Towering mountains spy between the trees.

Before you is the Green Chapel.

Slowly you climb down.

Some thing whispers, Welcome! Come in! Come in!

The earth feels soft and gentle beneath your feet.

You walk into the chapel.

Ho!

You know that voice.

And wouldst thou game with me?

For I would game, now, at the turning of the year.

And I would game with kings!

You turn and come out through the door.

Ba-Boom!

It slams behind you.

He is there.

Green silk reins, bridle, green-gold bit.

Green hands emerge from silken green-sleeves,

one holds a bunch of holly.

The other holds the Labrys.

Your eyes travel up to find the face, crowned with holly.

The green, green eyes hold you, freeze your blood.

It is my Lord.

My Lord of the spinning tower.

He smiles.

And down he climbs, down from the horse.

The earth rocks as his feet touch ground.

He stands before you.

It seems the grove turns on its axis,

the chapel spins.

You stand again in the eye of the storm,

wedded to your fate.

Slow and stately now he holds up the axe.

You kneel before Him, bow your head.

You can hear how Labrys whistles

and then screams for blood as he brings the blade down.

Nothing.

Nothing has happened.

You are still here.

Your head is on your shoulders.

That’s one! He cries and rises up the axe again.

And Labrys screams again.

You flinch and the blade nicks your neck.

Red blood flows.

Ha! He cries. That’s two.

Now be thee still for third time is the spell.

Labrys climbs the sky

and towers in the clouds above his head.

Down and down she screams, slicing the wind.

And nothing.

You still kneel upon the fallen leaves,

your head upon your shoulders.

Now show me! He demands.

Show me my lady’s gift.

Show me now as you did not the other night

but like the fox you hid from me.

And like the fox

I find you in the end.

With shaking hands you draw out the green girdle and offer it.

The light shimmers

and She is there beside him.

I will take back my own, she says

and takes the girdle,

runs it through her hands.

Hast earned it?

She turns to the Lord.

Aye, he says.

She holds it out to you again.

You did my bidding as I asked, she tells you.

The girdle is yours. Keep it close.

Call me, and I will come.

She turns now to the towering Lord,

standing a tip-toe she kisses him as he bends to her will.

The light shimmers

and she is gone.

Fires come down from the skies,

the winds tear through the grove.

The Man begins to laugh.

Laughing so, his body comes apart,

his face, his limbs.

All fly up swirling in the winds.

His body torn to shreds.

You find yourself

within a whirling vortex built of leaves.

Golden leaves, all shades of gold.

They surround you, hold you,

spin you with themselves.

Up you go,

into the eye of the storm.

Gawain, Gawain, tumbling down,

falling, falling, falling.

Here is a Hall. A King’s Hall.

The smell of smoldering peat and apple-wood,

of roast meats, old bones and wet dogs.

Where am I?

Here, says the voice inside your head.

Come in! Come in! I welcome you.

There is a lady, dark and fair, with raven hair.

Green eyes melt you.

Sitting now, you hold the wooden table hard,

fearing to float again,

the Hall will melt and you be

falling, falling, falling.

Tell me, says the King.

Tell me, says the Queen.

And you begin your tale …

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
writer artist gardener shaman
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Celtic shaman – Elen Sentier Coughing up bones …

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