Forgotten Ground Regained
Table of Contents
Book III (to line 1318)
Book IV (not yet translated)
A crowd stirred early at the crack of dawn.The guests who were going had their grooms at work,and they set about swiftly saddling the horses,strapping up gear and stowing their bags.The richly dressed riders were ready to travel,swinging into saddles, snatching up reins,each man of them heading where he meant to go.The beloved lord of that land was not last among thembut came ready to ride with riders about him.He had a hasty meal when he had heard mass,and hurried with horn-call to the hunting fields.Before the light of day illumined the earthboth master and men had mounted their steeds.Then the hunters who knew how leashed their hounds in pairs,cast open the kennel door and called them outsideand blew three long blasts on their blaring horns.Then the beagles burst out and kept baying fiercelywhile they curbed and kept them from casting for scents.I hear there were a hundred hunters as cleveras can be. Now huntsmen take their places, and all the hounds run free, as horn-call clamor races swift past brush and tree.
The first hint of the hunt horrified the forest.Deer darted through clearings, driven by panic,seeking safe haven -- but suddenly they turned,bolting from the hunters who blocked their escape.The harts they let hurry by with their high heads tossing,and the big bucks also, with their broad antlers --for the lord enforced a limited seasonwhen no man might hunt for the male deer.But the hinds were held back with a "Hey there! Whoa!"and the din drove the does to the deep valleys.Then slipping from the string there came down-slanting arrows.As they burst round each bend more bolts found their mark,and the broad heads bit through their brown hides.How they brayed -- how they bled -- and on the banks diedas the pack came pelting pell-mell behind themwhile hunters with upraised horns came hurrying after,blowing blasts so loud they could have burst the cliffs.If any escaped unscathed from the archersthey were stopped and slaughtered at the stations below.As they came harried from the heights and were hunted to the streams,the men who manned those stations were such master huntersand their greyhounds so gigantic, they grabbed them at onceand dispatched them as promptly as people could looktheir way. The lord, his eyes grown bright would spur, dismount or stay -- galloping with great delight right past the end of day.
While the lord found delight in the linden-wood,that good man Gawain had a grand bedwhere he dozed while daylight dappled the wallsand crept through the counterpanes and curtains about him.As he drifted half-dreaming, a delicate noisesounded softly at the door, which suddenly opened.When he heard this he heaved his head from the sheetsand pulled a corner of the curtain carefully aside,warily wondering what it might be.It was the lady herself, such a lovely sight,who closed the door carefully and quietly behind herand bent toward the bed. Blushing the fellowlay down and lurked there, looking asleep.Taking step after step, she stole to the bed,caught up the curtain and crawling insidesat down beside him with silent motions.A long while she lingered there to look at him waking.The man lay unmoving for more than a while,for his mind was bemused what to make of thisstrange situation. It seemed most amazing.But he said to himself, "It would suit far betterif I let the lady enlighten me herself."Then he straightened and stretched and stirring toward herhe opened his eyes and acted astounded.Then he crossed himself as if he claimed protectionfrom that sight -- her chin and cheeks were sweet, blending red and white; her voice a pleasant treat where small lips smiled delight.
"Good morning, Sir Gawain!" she gaily exclaimed."You're a sound sleeper! I slipped in unnoticedand you are quite my captive! Unless we come to termsI shall bind you in your bed -- of that be quite certain."Delighted the lady laughed as she teased him."Good morning, gay lady!" answered Gawain blithely."Just decide on my sentence; it will suit me nicely.I'm your prisoner completely, and plead for your mercy.It's my best bet, so I had better take it!"(So he teased her in turn, returning her laughter.)"But at least, lovely lady, allow me one wish:pardon your prisoner, please let him rise;let me be out of bed, in better apparel,and we'll finish chatting in far greater comfort.""Certainly not, good sir," that sweet lady said."You'll not budge from your bed: I have better plans.I shall hold you here -- and that other half also --and get to know the knight I've so neatly trapped.I know enough after all, to know of Sir Gawainwhom all the world worships; every way you rideyour courteous character is acclaimed most noblyby lords and by ladies and all living people.And now you are here, and here we're alone --my lord and his men will be long afield;the servants are sleeping; so are my maidens;I have closed the door, it's securely locked;and since I have in this house he whom all admire,I shall spend my time in speech I am sureto treasure. My person's yours, of course, to see you take your pleasure; I am obliged, perforce, to serve you at your leisure."
"In good faith," said Gawain, "I would gain too much!Though I am hardly he of whom you are speaking --the honor you outline is obviously morethan what I am worth -- and how well I know it!By God! I'd be glad if it seemed good to youto assign some other service I might doto value and revere you; I'd be very glad.""In good faith, Sir Gawain!" she gaily replied."If I prized the prowess that pleases all othersso little or so lightly, I'd be less than gracious!There is no lack of ladies who'd love so very muchto have one so handsome held as I have you,who'd be so glad to listen as your gracious speechsoftened their sorrows and soothed all their caresthat they would gladly give all the gold they have!But I praise the Prince whose place is in heaventhat I have right here what others hope to seeby grace!" She'd such a cheerful air who seemed to sweet of face, but he with spotless care answered every case.
"Madam," said that debonair man, "may Mary reward you!"In good faith, I have found you to be fine and noble,but though a person's prowess may be praised by others,the honors they assign are not owed to me.The worthiness is yours, who think well of others.""By Mary!" she remarked. "I must disagree.Were I worth as much as all women living,and all the wealth of the world were where I could spend it, I should hunt very hard and haggle for a lordof such nature as I know that this knight has here --high-minded, hearty, and handsomely formed.As I heard from others and hold to be true,there's no finer fellow to be my first choice.""Fair lady, I find your first choice was better,"he replied, "but I am proud to be prized so highly.I am your sober servant and you my sovereign queen --I have become your knight and may Christ reward you."Thus till mid-morning passed they made conversation;and always she acted as if she adored him;while Gawain was guarded though gracious enough."Were I the loveliest of ladies," the lady surmised,"love can mean little when he has loss so muchin mind -- the blow he must receive, his debt repaid in kind." She asked if she could leave, and he was so inclined.
Then she gave him good day and glanced at him laughing,and as she stood astonished him with these stunning words."Now may God grant you honor for gracious conversation,but I guess that Gawain's not your given name.""What do you mean?" the man asked at once,afraid he had failed in some form of honor."Bless you," she answered. "I must base my doubton Gawain's known graciousness, his grand reputation.How could the complete paragon of perfect behaviorspend so much time speaking with a ladywithout craving a kiss in courteous fashionby a tactful hint or turn of conversation?""Very well," said Gawain, "your wishes will guide me,I shall kiss when called upon, as becomes a knightwho would not upset you. Say nothing more."At that she came close and clasping her armsbent beautifully down, embraced him and kissed."Now may Christ care for you," they called to each other,and away she went without a word further.But he's ready to rise, and rushes out soon,calls for his chamberlain, chooses his clothing,and thus changed, charges out cheerfully to mass.When he dined that day, delicacies were served him;making merry past moonrise that man gave funfree reign. The world could never hold two finer dames, it's plain, the young one and the old -- those two could entertain.