by torch, 1991

This story is a reinterpretation of the 14th century English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Warning: epithets and alliteration ahead! Also some radical plot adjustments. The translation I've found online is a prose one by Jessie L. Weston, which was done at the turn of the century and is rather full of forsooth and i'faith. Or if you want, try the original. Title taken from Brian Stone's translation. Do not archive this story without permission.

Sweetly and steadily

Gawain had always assumed that he was too young to be interested in women. At least, ever since he was old enough to discover that everybody else was. He thought that Guenevere was the most beautiful woman in the world, but this was out of loyalty more than personal taste (although he'd never reflected too closely on that); anyway, she was his uncle's wife, not to mention his liege lord's wife, so it was only natural that even though she was the most beautiful woman in the world, he didn't desire her. Chaste admiration was a proper tribute to her beauty and situation. Anything less would have been churlish; anything more, highly unsuitable. Gawain thought that everything else would come in time. There was no hurry. He had plenty to do, being a good knight.

But then came that Christmas that was like no other Christmas, and Gawain's world was turned upside down so quickly that he barely noticed it until it had happened, and even then he kept on for a while staggering around in little circles of normality like a hen with its head cut off, which seemed prophetic enough.

It all really started with Ettar, who was a cook's helper and had straw-blonde hair. All of a sudden she was everywhere around him, smiling and helpful, turning up constantly where she had no business being. It was very kind of her, but he really didn't need any help most of the time, and shirking her duties would get her in trouble with the cook. And Gawain had an uncomfortable feeling that she was waiting for something, some other acknowledgment of her presence than just Ettar, what are you doing here?

He did give her a present once, a dress, since she always seemed to be very scantily dressed. He'd several times caught a glimpse of her skin, of her breasts, through the gaps in her clothing. But although she seemed to be pleased with this, all the same he suspected that it had not been quite the response she was looking for.

And when she found him alone in the stables one night, checking up on his beloved horse since he couldn't sleep anyway, she did seem to have something fairly specific in mind. She came up to him and pressed close, and he saw that she was still wearing those revealing scraps rather than the good wool he'd given her.

"You're up late, sir knight," she said with a sideways smile, tilting her head up to look at him.

"I couldn't sleep." Gawain gave Gringolet a last pat. "Didn't you like the dress?"

"Well enough," she said, "but I like you better." And she put her arms around his neck and tried to kiss him.

"Now wait just a moment," Gawain said and disengaged himself. "You've already thanked me once, that was enough."

"I don't want to thank you," Ettar whispered. Her body was pressed against his, and her hands went up to stroke his hair. "You are beautiful, sir knight, and a strong young man, and I'm only a weak woman, and here we are all alone..."

At last Gawain understood what she was talking about, and he blushed painfully. He began to wish that he was wearing armor. "Listen, Ettar, I really can't stand here talking all night. I have to go to bed, so if you'll just—"

At that, she thrust herself even more strongly against him. "There's plenty of soft straw over in that corner," she said throatily. Her hands slid over his body and down to his groin.

Gawain jumped back, appalled. "Stop that!" He drew a deep breath and softened his voice. "Don't, I mean, it's very — kind — of you, but I'm not — interested."

There was a moment of very tense silence.

"So?" Ettar put her hands on her hips. "So, you're not interested?" She sniffed audibly, and there was a tidy bit of hell hath no fury in her eyes. "So you sweet-talk me every time we meet and you give me a dress and now you say you're not interested?"

"I think there's been a misunderstanding," Gawain said weakly.

Ettar looked him up and down. "I'll say," she muttered. "Well, by the time you figure out what you want, don't look for me, because I won't be waiting for you any more." She turned and walked away. Gawain felt stunned. He walked back to his horse and leaned against a warm well-groomed flank, shaking his head. Something was wrong, but he didn't know what.

He didn't know until the Green Knight turned up. And he wished afterwards that he had been allowed to remain in ignorance, to remain in innocence.

One moment he was sitting peacefully next to Queen Guenevere, selecting the daintiest morsels on their plate for her; the next he was transfixed, trying to catch his breath, staring helplessly at a giant of a man who had just ridden his horse into the hall and who, although he was green and plainly enchanted, was nevertheless the most compellingly physical creature Gawain had ever beheld. The menace the man exuded was not only that of the otherworld. And as the phantom's hazel eyes stared fiercely into his own for a second, Gawain realized the true nature of his desires, and he wanted to die.

It took some time for him to come out of his stupor and listen to the substance of the Green Knight's conversation with Arthur, and when he did, he wasn't sure that he had understood it correctly. What kind of madness or sorcery was this? It seemed unbelievable that the Green Knight was offering his own neck to the axe, and incomprehensible that he promised a blow in return, one year from now. But seeing Arthur accept the challenge himself, Gawain got to his feet and cleared his throat politely.

"If you don't mind," he said, "I think it would be better if you let me do this." He didn't care if he was being rude to his liege in requesting this task, even though he took care to frame his speech with seemliness. He wanted to kill, to destroy, to shut those mocking, knowing eyes forever.

And if the phantom's taunts were indeed true, if a blow would be dealt in return one year later, then Gawain would certainly not survive that blow. The thought comforted him as others joined in urging Arthur to let Gawain deal with the Green Knight. It wasn't right for the king to respond personally to someone who was both rude and possessed of unnatural attributes. Gawain was prepared to take on the challenge, face the danger and meet his fate.

He exchanged promises with this man and more than a man, whose presence made him shiver with an emotion he had as yet no name for, and set about his bloody work. It was an easy, horrible butchery. The axe lay comfortably in his hands for all its size and weight, and swung in a smooth arc, slicing through flesh like a scythe through grain. When Gawain saw the beautiful head rolling on the floor, he imagined himself picking it up and keeping it in his rooms as a symbol of what he'd fought and overcome; at the same time, he felt his eyes sting with more than just the smoke from the torches.

But the headless body did not stop moving. The head was picked up, but not by Gawain. What should have been a grotesquely mutilated thing was still a man, and vibrantly alive. As the Green Knight made his parting speech, Gawain was terrified, but not of what would happen once he had found the Green Chapel that the phantom wanted him to seek.

"Be prepared to perform what you promised, Gawain," the knight said, weighting the words with secret significance. And the eyes, the mocking hazel eyes, were still the same. They saw something in him that he had not known was there. They created secrets, shameful secrets that filled him to overflowing. He was suddenly alone, abandoned in a strange place, and he wanted to cry out with the injustice of it, that this thing had been done to him — revealed to him — hidden within him. It was intolerable.

And it became worse.

The year that followed was a year in hell.

Gawain struggled to maintain his standards, to remain pure of heart and body, but he fought a losing battle against an enemy lodged in his own flesh. He was surrounded by other young knights and squires, hopeful, eager, merry and handsome, and they all looked up to him. Their shy smiles when they tried to win a word of praise, the sight of them bathing in the river in the summer months, even the rank smell of their sweat after arms practice — all of it built up the pressure inside him. And then the older men, skilled knights with rough hands and dark voices, would see him and praise him, and he shied away from their presence and their praise alike, aching with shame.

Somewhere in the back of his head, Ettar said, So you're not interested? At night he had hot troubled dreams, never quite clear, never vague enough. He knew this was all wrong. He knew what he ought to do instead. So he tried.

He had never performed such feats before. This was the year he killed four giants, rescued seventeen maidens from diverse grisly fates, found five new candidates for the Round Table, and unhorsed twenty knights in a single tournament, impressing all the seventeen maidens deeply. This was the year he devoted himself to chivalry and courtesy towards the ladies at Camelot, and learned the ins and outs of the conversational maze. This was the year he fought with himself every step of the way, forcing excellence like a peach in the greenhouse of his guilt.

Arthur praised him constantly, admiring his prowess, setting him up as a model for all the other young men. "Gawain, you're amazing. I can only wish that all my other knights were like you."

I don't think you'd like that at all, Gawain thought. Not at all. And he watched with mingled shame and envy as Arthur turned to Guenevere and asked her, with an infatuated smile, not to throw him over for this younger and handsomer man, whose bright smile, crisp red-gold curls and clear green eyes were no doubt breaking hearts all around the court.

Guenevere smiled back at her husband. "Don't worry. He's gorgeous all right, but he's just not my type. Now if someone came along with blue eyes and that kind of reputation..." She laughed happily, and Arthur laughed with her, having blue eyes himself.

In an effort to return to where he had been before, he spent even more time in the company of women. He tried, he really did try, to look at the women the way he had always thought he would. But it was impossible. The women were lovely and clever and delightful to be with, and soon he adored them all and would have done anything for them. Except one thing. Time and time again he tried to feel what he should, but it was like trying to reach into a painted picture. He was stopped at the surface. Left outside.

Time passed very quickly. As he moved through the changing seasons, Gawain felt a surge of panic. There was not enough time. He would never be able to cleanse himself, to meet the Green Knight with a pure heart. Or at least with a clean mind, he thought. And he wanted very much to be at peace with himself before he died.

To that end, he quit Camelot with two months to spare before his arranged meeting. He travelled slowly northwards, trying to think things through, and only becoming more confused, in between killing ogres and dragons and rescuing the occasional damsel from the occasional inaccessible tower. Travelling became the norm; the rhythm and logic of it gave him a wholly unreasonable sense of security, as if the journey would never end. There would always be a stony path, cold armor, the smell of Gringolet's damp mane, and another Wild Man waiting in ambush behind another rock.

The cold bit into his shoulders, hips and legs, and he began to feel that he would never be warm again. He had a vision of himself arriving at the meeting place with icicles in his hair and his joints frozen stiff, unable to move as the Green Knight drew nearer. It became a dream that recurred every night; every night the Green Knight came a little closer to him as he stood there — like a monument to foolishness, he told himself when awake.

The further north he rode, the less populated the forest became. There was no point in asking the Wild Men if they had heard of the Green Chapel, since they were usually too muddled to know if it was yesterday or tomorrow, and he hadn't come across a hermit in a long time. This bothered him, since generally you could not ride a mile into a strange and enchanted forest without encountering a hermit or two. They were usually friendly, reliable people who could furnish you with anything you wanted, from sumptuous meals and powerful talismans to an explanation of last night's dream and directions to the nearest perilous graveyard. Gawain would have given a lot for some good advice.

It was Christmas again. It was Christmas Eve, as a matter of fact, and it was miserably cold, and Gawain was seriously considering whether banging his head against a tree or screaming would improve his situation. He had just decided that it would at least be a change from almost falling out of the saddle from lack of sleep, when Gringolet (who, being a magical horse, annoyingly enough never got tired) started trotting along with increased speed, and Gawain nearly fell out of the saddle anyway. "Whoa! What do you think you're doing?"

Gringolet just kept on going, so Gawain sat back and waited. He was prepared to admit that of the two of them, the horse was probably the one most capable of being in charge at the moment.

And soon enough he saw a light gleaming ahead. Coming out of the forest at long last, he saw a castle, one that looked huge and nearly impenetrable, surrounded by a double moat. It was apparently brand new, and very impressive. A faint hope began to stir in Gawain; perhaps he would actually be warm once more. He patted Gringolet's neck lovingly. "What a wonderful horse you are." The horse derisively blew some air out of his nostrils as if to say, yes, yes, I know.

As Gawain neared the castle and was seen by the guards, frantic activity broke out. A porter appeared and asked him if he wanted lodging, then without waiting for an answer rushed off; the drawbridge was let down with a clang and a groan and a thump; about a dozen people ran out and started to welcome him. As they led horse and knight into the castle, they all seemed to be speaking at once, and he only caught disjointed phrases, the most frequent of which seemed to be, "Merry Christmas!", "Welcome!" and "We must get you something to eat." This last was so entirely in keeping with his own wishes that he almost said "Please!" and his stomach started to growl.

They more or less lifted him off Gringolet, leading the horse off to be stabled and dragging the knight into the hall. Gawain had just managed to get his helmet off, and was wondering hopefully whether someone could be found who was approximately his size and could lend him something clean to wear, when the band of talkative well-wishers around him drew back a little, and he heard himself addressed by a decisive voice that managed to sound crisp and suggest dark velvet at the same time. "So there you are! Welcome to my castle, sir knight!"

Gawain looked around and saw a tall, broad-shouldered man entering the hall through a doorway on the right. The man was auburn-haired, his cheeks flushed as if from vigorous exercise, his eyes a deep smiling brown. At the sight of him, Gawain felt all his misery and desire come together into a burst of powerful longing, felt his secrets cry out, wanting to be told.

"You — you must be the lord of this castle," he managed to say. "My name is Gawain, I'm a knight of the Round Table, and I — I wonder if I may lodge here tonight."

"Well, of course!" said the man. "You're more than welcome." And he looked straight at Gawain with an expression in his eyes that almost made Gawain stumble over his own feet. "Tell me— No, it can wait. Go with these people and get a bath and a change of clothing. We can talk later."

Gawain was swept away again by the chatty crowd, and brought by means of several stairs and passages to a room warm with steam, where he was swiftly stripped and bathed by competent attendants. From there he was taken, wrapped in a drying cloth, and still surrounded by people (the whole thing was starting to remind him irresistibly of a holy relic being carried in procession), to a splendid bedchamber, furnished so expensively that the sheer bad taste of it took his breath away, and dominated by a huge and very comfortable-looking bed.

Before he was able to do more than glance longingly at it, he was dressed again. The clothes were beautiful, and fit him very well, being only a little too large. They also felt brand new.

Then he was brought down into the hall again. The men who surrounded him all seemed to be very impressed with the fact that he actually was Gawain, "the famous Gawain," as they put it, and he tried as best he could to live up to their somewhat exaggerated ideas of his splendor, and also remember to mind his manners — he felt that he must have looked rather ridiculous on first encountering the lord of the castle.

As he was fed delicious food (broiled fish in herb sauce, fine white bread, wine like liquid gold) and warmed by the heat of the fire in front of which he had been seated, he relaxed and became more conversational, joking about his long journey and obliquely boasting of his deeds along the way. Only when he had finished eating did he see the brown-eyed handsome man listening in the group around the fire.

Gawain blushed deeply as he man rose and came nearer.

"It's time to go to church," he said.

They all went together, Gawain's attendant satellites being a little less talkative and exuberant now, in the presence of their lord. Gawain was ceremoniously seated in the front pew, next to the brown-eyed man. The nearness made him fear death at any moment from constriction of the throat. He fought it manfully, taking deep slow breaths and trying to listen to the sermon.

As Gawain was on the inside, his view cut off by the man he was trying not to stare at, he did not see until they rose again that the front pew on the women's side was also occupied. From it rose an old lady of extreme ugliness, and a young lady of extreme beauty, clearly waiting to be escorted out of the chapel.

"Forgive me for not introducing myself before," the man said. "I am Bercilak of Haut Desert; this is my wife Blaisine and her aunt."

Gawain bowed with excruciating politeness to the two ladies. I'm glad he has a wife. I am very glad that he has such a beautiful wife, with whom — otherwise I might have — lead us not into temptation, but — but — oh God, please, hear my prayers.

Blaisine, walking next to him, was a stunning woman, with delicate features and eyes that were a pale green reflection of Gawain's own. She had the kind of very soft white skin that looks like fine-napped velvet. A dimple in her chin saved her from being too angelic. She asked him simple, friendly questions about his journey and he answered as best he could, until they were rather abruptly interrupted by Bercilak.

"The brave knight must be tired; we must let him have his sleep, my love," he said and hooked an arm around his lady's waist, drawing her away with him. Gawain could only conclude that his host had grown tired of the aunt (who did, indeed, look remarkably bad-tempered), and longed for his wife, as being a far more pleasant companion in many ways.

On that cheerful note, Gawain went to bed.

Over the next few days, he discovered that Christmas at Haut Desert was a round-the-clock party. No matter what the hour, someone was always drinking, eating, singing, gambling, dancing, even reading or praying. He was made welcome everywhere and invited to join in everything. Gawain spend a lot of time in the company of the lady Blaisine and her husband, and also a lot of the time praying incoherently in the chapel. He made several praiseworthy inner vows that he broke at once on seeing Bercilak again. In the presence of his host, the young knight felt faint, and his soul shivered within him. He found that he was drinking too much. There was nothing for him to do but leave.

The moment he mentioned that idea to his admirers, they all protested wildly, and one of them went off to find Bercilak, who agreed with them. "There's no need for you to hurry away, is there?"

"As a matter of fact, there is," Gawain said. So far he had kept the reason for his presence secret, but now he explained that he was only passing through the area on his way to the Green Chapel. He had almost forgotten in the torment of falling in love that he was actually scheduled to die within a couple of days. It made him feel curiously light-headed.

Amidst the exclamations of the others, Bercilak calmly informed him that the object of his quest could be found quite near by, and he could stay and take his ease at Haut Desert until then. In fact, Bercilak did not so much inform Gawain as command him. There being no way out of this except rudeness, Gawain was forced to accept.

Bercilak invited him to come hunting over the next few days, but this offer at least was one that Gawain could and did decline. He was still tired from his months in the wilderness, and used that as an excuse, the real reason being that he didn't want to make a public exhibition of himself by being too obviously entranced by Bercilak, which he certainly would if they were to spend the entire day together, riding in the wild, hunting, feeling the excitement of the chase, flushed and eager, muscles straining...

Emerging rather suddenly from these deep and dangerous waters, Gawain became aware of his host saying, "...a fair exchange, dont you think?" with that very gleam in his eyes that sometimes made Gawain entirely forget the existence of the lady Blaisine.

"Oh, yes, of course."

"It's a deal, then," Bercilak said. "I give you what I get in the forest, you give me what you get in the castle. Barring the food in your belly, of course; I don't think I'd have any use for that."

Gawain smiled a bit absently at this out-of-character pleasantry, while trying to figure out what on earth he'd just let himself in for. He had no idea what he could be expected to 'get' in the castle, nor did he exactly want to be saddled with a lot of dead animals while on his way to an encounter with someone who would in all likelihood make him just another dead animal. It was too grim a joke for him to appreciate.

However, he had agreed, and they drank to their bargain in hot, spiced wine.

Gawain had trouble sleeping that night. His dreams were no longer vague, but so explicit that they shocked him and woke him up. There was also the dream of the Green Knight.

Towards morning he fell into a deep, heavy sleep, and only woke when somebody opened up the bedcurtains and sat down next to him on the bed.

At first he thought he was back in the wilds, being attacked by a monster, and momentarily he tensed all his muscles to jump up and sell his life dearly; but when the mists of sleep cleared from his eyes he saw that it was the lady Blaisine who sat by his side. She was laughing, apparently at his startled expression.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you so suddenly," she said.

Gawain smiled. "Is it so strange that I should be startled when the sun suddenly rises by the side of my bed?"

She seemed to be pleased with the compliment, and settling herself more comfortably, she deposited a breakfast tray on his lap and sat talking about various subjects while he ate.

Gawain took his time over breakfast, chewing carefully as if his digestion depended on it, trying to account for the sudden change in the lady's manner. She had always been pleasant and perfectly polite to him, but nothing had prepared him for her present forwardness. As she went on talking, he heard her suggest that she should tie him to the bed in order to have her wicked way with him; the next moment she was implying that she was his not too unwilling prisoner, and of course would yield to his strength. By now thoroughly alarmed, even if a little amused at the back of his mind that he of all men should be cast in the role of forceful seducer, Gawain tried to steer the conversation into safer channels, but the lady was stubborn. In fact, she wasn't just stubborn, she was becoming entirely too straightforward.

"Do I not have a beatiful body?" she asked plaintively. "Don't you want to feel against yours the softness of my skin?"

"Lady, I am a rough and ugly creature from my time in the wilderness," Gawain said, "unfit to be near you except to furnish a contrast to your beauty. Next to your skin should only be the finest of linens."

"Like the sheets in your bed," the lady said, feeling them with her long white hand. "Do you then wish me to lie with you?"

"This is no time to lie abed; the sun is already high. If you will allow me to rise and get dressed, I shall be glad to bear you company for the rest of the day." God, I'm so clumsy, it's pathetic.

Blaisine kept on, however, teasing and tormenting him, so that only with great effort did he maintain his calm. It was all he could do not to jump out of bed and run. The lady was far more powerful than Ettar, even if not much more subtle, but Gawain was comforted by the fact that since she was the wife of his host, no blame could be attached to him for refusing her, if only he did it politely enough.

Eventually she seemed to resign herself to his lack of interest, or perhaps she just ran out of innuendo. She was on the verge of leaving when she suddenly said, "You do not act at all like I thought Gawain would. He's supposed to be such a one for the ladies." I am? "You haven't even asked me for a kiss." Before he had time to draw breath for an answer, she went on, "But I will give you one all the same, to preserve your reputation."

And the next moment, Gawain had his arms full of the lady Blaisine, while she kissed him, with surprising restraint, on the mouth.

Then she was up and out of the room. Gawain slowly crawled out of bed, feeling completely bewildered, and faintly disgusted at the indifference he had felt at the touch of her lips. If that had been Blaisine's husband... Gawain slapped his own cheek sharply, telling himself he wasn't properly awake yet, and proceeded to get dressed.

He spent the rest of the day in the company of the two women. Blaisine was again the perfect lady of the castle, not for a second letting her manners slip. Gawain assisted her in this praiseworthy aim, and they had quite a pleasant time together.

Then when it began to grow dark, Bercilak returned with his hunting party. He came striding into the hall, sweaty and dirty, with his dogs yapping and barking at his heels, and called out a greeting. "There you are, my lovely ones!" He sank down in a chair next to them and pushed back his hair. "Go on, praise me," he said with a wicked grin. "I have killed a lot of deer today."

The ladies smiled and complimented him, while refusing to come and inspect the carcasses. "I'm sure they're beautiful, dear," Blaisine said, "but perhaps another time."

Grinning broadly, Bercilak turned to Gawain. "Well, you're the rightful owner, according to the deal we made, so why are you being so quiet? Don't you think I'm a great hunter? Have you no words of praise for me?"

"For me to praise your excellence would be presumptuous," Gawain said, then realized that he was using the wrong language and hastily added, "I'll just congratulate you, and myself, of course."

"Of course. Well then, what have you gained today? What have you got to give me?"

Gawain was about to say Nothing, when the air slowed down around him and he became aware of certain things. The lady Blaisine was looking at him as if she would have liked to sew his lips shut. Bercilak seemed curiously expectant. The old aunt had a glint in her eye that was pure malice.

Oh, no.

Gawain thought he had said the words out loud, but nobody reacted. At least now he knew what he had to do. But he couldn't help wondering why these people were playing a game with him as a pawn.

He drew a deep breath. "I didn't gain very much today," he said and rose out of his chair. The young knight tried not to tremble as he put his arms around Bercilak and gently kissed his lips. "That's all, I'm afraid," he said as soon as he could breathe again.

"And it's not to be despised," Bercilak said, a shade more flushed. "Where did you get such a precious prize?"

Gawain, feeling the lady Blaisine's eyes burning a hole in the back of his neck, forced himself to smile. "That wasn't part of our bargain, sir. You will have to be satisfied." Then he felt her expelled breath like a breeze on his skin.

"Yes," Bercilak said, "I shall. Ladies, we will have supper as soon as I've changed my clothes."

Gawain took advantage of Bercilak's departure to sneak away himself. He went to his room and tried to calm down. He was completely confused. Unable to sit, he paced up and down and then did a handstand against the wall. Right and wrong, wrong and right echoed back and forth in his head. In acting right, he had been forced to act wrong, and that wrong had seemed so right to him, had seemed oh so desirable, in fact, that he was beginning to question his own judgment. The morals of the whole thing were beyond him, he finally decided, turning himself right side up again. He could only try to do his best not to be tempted into sin.

Flinging himself on the bed, Gawain remembered the feel of Bercilak's lips against his own, remembered that body hard with muscle and promise that had burned in his embrace; remembered also that the kiss had been, however briefly, returned. No, that wasn't possible. And still he could feel it; his lips knew the pressure and yielding of another's. He rolled off the bed and down on the hard, unyielding floor. "Behave yourself!"

And he tried very hard indeed to behave himself for the rest of the evening. But he had even worse trouble sleeping that night. His soul ached with love and confusion.

It came as no real surprise to him to be woken by Blaisine the next morning. He thought he was better prepared this time to defend his virtue, but she disconcerted him by practically flinging herself on him, intent on kissing him again.

"Hey!" Gawain threw his arms up protectively.

The lady sat back, opening her lovely eyes very wide. "Why, sir Gawain! Are you always this churlish of a morning? You were not so averse to my kisses ysterday."

Gawain took a deep breath and mentally cursed yesterday. He thought about saying, I'm nineteen years old and a virgin, and not used to being kissed by strange women. Or, by any women. Or even, look, I'm in love with your husband. No, I'm not, dear God, I'm not! Or, I like to clean my teeth first.

"It is true, lady, I am but a churl, and do not deserve your kisses. You had better save them for one who is worthier than I." And we all know who that is, don't we?

"Who would be worthier than the noble Gawain, peerless champion of the Round Table?" Blaisine's laughter tinkled like ice down his back. "I will kiss you, sir Gawain; you are not a man who will spurn a tribute from a fair woman."

Yes, I am. Gawain suddenly realized that if she kissed him, he would be honor-bound to kiss her husband. The thought made his knees go weak. I can't let her do it. It's just as much a sin as if — as if—

The lady took advantage of his hesitation. She was in his arms, kissing him rather more enthusiastically than the previous day, before Gawain had collected his wits enough to get out of it.

Then she sat back and gave him a coy look. "I hope you don't think I'm too forward?"

You nearly pushed me out of bed.

Not until two hours later did Gawain succeed in pushing her out of bed and out of the room. In the end he was forced almost to be rude to her. He didn't actually mind Blaisine's presence — it was almost enjoyable to fence with her, and she kept his mind off other things. One other thing, to be precise. But Gawain also knew that the longer he allowed her to stay, the greater was the risk that she would kiss him again. And he could not allow that to happen. Oh, no.

When the lady had left him and he was alone with his sin and his conscience, he tried to examine both, but didn't succeed. Restlessly, he got out of bed and walked around the room. A noise in the corridor outside made him worry that someone would come in and see him pacing stark naked on the floor, so he quickly got dressed and pulled his fingers through his tangled curls, and went down to the hall to be pleasant to the ladies.

The rest of the day passed much as the previous one had. They talked, and played little games, and drank a little wine. Gawain felt an occasional urge to just grab the bottle and get plastered, but he held back.

When Bercilak came home that evening, there was blood all over his clothes, but he was smiling. Gawain, accustomed from years of fighting to reading physical pain in movement, saw almost immediately that the man had come to no harm, although for a second his heart had lurched with in him. The lady Blaisine leaped up with a cry and hurried towards her husband.

"Are you all right?"

He caught her skillfully with one arm and held her away. "Be careful, my dear, or your pretty dress will be ruined. This isn't my blood. I had great sport today, and killed a boar."

"Oh!" Blaisine stepped away readily enough, and wrinkled her pretty nose in feigned or real disgust. "Don't you think you had better wash, dearest? It isn't really proper to burst in on ladies when you're covered ith gore."

"I'm sorry," Bercilak said, but he didn't seen particularly contrite. Instead he turned to Gawain. "Well, and so today I have a boar for you; I hope you're hungry. What have you got for me?"

Gawain stepped up to his host, trying to look as casual as, say his brother Agravaine, who was almost obnoxiously obsessed with women, would have done under the same circumstances. Then he realized that Agravaine, if presented with the same circumstances, would by this time be fleeing from the castle as fast as his horse could carry him, having slept with Blaisine at the first available opportunity. Thank you, brother, you're a great help.

He tried to look cheerful. "My earnings are still smaller than yours," he said. When he kissed Bercilak this time he was as careful as yesterday to reproduce the lady's kiss exactly, but that meant a lot more, today. Gawain wanted to — he didn't quite know what he wanted. Instead of kissing Bercilak until the sky fell down, which was one of the alternatives, he ended the kiss on the very heartbeat that was appropriate, and stepped back with a false and unconcerned smile.

"You seem to have quite a thriving trade going," Bercilak said. "Well, I will remove my gory self from the ladies. Supper later?"

They all nodded their assent, and he left, whistling an airy snatch of a song. This time, Gawain stayed in the hall, being curious to know if the lady Blaisine would allude to the peculiar game she was playing, he supposed, with her husband. She didn't. Her aunt, however, dropped a malicious remark to the effect that she didn't see why Bercilak should get all the kisses, but Gawain merely smiled at her and kissed her hand; he supposed she was feeling her age and lack of beauty when contrasted with Blaisine.

At supper that night, they all got drunk. Bercilak told hunting stories of boars and bears that grew progressively larger and fiercer as the night wore on; Gawain countered with tales of tournaments and the many battles he'd had with challenging knights who had wanted to find out for themselves if this young man was really as good as the stories about him claimed. Blaisine told some anecdotes about her upbringing in a convent that would probably have horrified the abbess, had she been privileged to hear them. (Gawain, on the other hand, wasn't entirely surprised.) Only the old lady was quiet. She seemed to have fallen asleep in her chair. They all went to bed late.

Gawain dreamed about the Green Knight sneaking up on him from behind. He could feel someone breathing against the back of his neck. He dreamed about things he hadn't realized were anatomically possible. He also dreamed about Bercilak.

He dreamed about kisses.

When he woke up the next morning, he couldn't see Blaisine and felt almost insulted by her absence. At the same time, his head ached a little, and it might be nice to be alone. Then he heard her laugh. She was standing by the window, wearing a remarkably low-cut dress.

"How are you feeling to day?" The question appeared to be prompted by genuine sympathy.

"I've been better, but... I trust you are well, lady?"

She smiled. "My aunt knows certain remedies for aching heads. Here." She gave him a cup with a transparent liquid in it. "I will give you breakfast in a little while."

Gawain drank the contents of the cup, and they went on talking in the comfortable, friendly manner they had come to enjoy the night before. He was very relieved that he did not have to defend his reputation or his virtue this day. In spite of the suggestive clothing, she was very demure. It seemed harmless to let her sit beside him on the bed.

But then she was lying beside him instead, reclining gracefully on top of the covers. One wrong move now and she'll find out I don't wear my cuirass to bed. As quietly as he could, Gawain moved away from her and, with a smile, asked her where his breakfast was. "I am becoming very spoiled, you know."

Without paying any heed to what he had said, she began pulling his hair softly. "I can only find one explanation," she said softly. "You love someone else, don't you? There is a fair lady at Camelot to whom you cannot be untrue."

"There is no lady at Camelot whose beauty appeals to me more than yours. I have not promised fidelity to any woman, nor am I likely to." He might be bad at lying, but he could prevaricate with the best of them. "Ow! Please don't pull my hair out. Or are you trying to see to it that no one else will ever want me?"

"I'm sorry," Blaisine said, but gave his hair one last tug all the same."You have beautiful hair." She sat up and smoothed her own white-blond tresses down. "Is it true that you are leaving us tomorrow?"

"Yes. I can't stay any longer. Your husband has told me that the place I'm looking for isn't far from here, or I would already be gone."

"Well, I would give you some gift before you leave. You have already refused the one I most wanted you to have." Blaisine pulled a ring from her hand. "Will you accept this?" It was a rather chunky gold ring, set with a large gemstone of a kind Gawain had never seen before.

He shook his head. "That is much too costly, lady. I have nothing to give you in return."

She smiled secretively. "We will see about that. If not the ring, will you then accept my girdle?" She unwound the green girdle from around her waist and held it temptingly in front of him. Gawain frowned with uncertainty. It seemed such an obvious and cheap sexual trophy — the very thing destined to give Bercilak wrong ideas.

Blaisine, seeing him hesitate, continued with her sales talk. "It is not as simple as it seems," she said. "While you wear this, no harm can come to you — you cannot be killed." Gawain, sunk deep in thoughts of Bercilak, almost didn't hear her. "You know," she went on in a different voice, "if anyone were to come in and see us like this, they would probably think that it looked a little strange."

That did get Gawain's attention. "If you think so, lady, you should not have begun the habit of bringing me breakfast. I would not bring your reputation into danger for the world."

"Well, and I may not be the one who's in danger. What if I should scream, and say you tried to force me?" Gawain was quiet. "You would be in trouble, sir knight, from my loyal serving-men. And all because you will not accept this little gift of mine." Gawain remained quiet. "But if you will take my girdle, and promise me one other thing, then I am sure you will come to no harm."

"And what is this other thing?" Gawain almost could not force himself to speak. He had, foolishly it seemed, grown rather fond of Blaisine, in spite of her provocative ways.

"Let me kiss you once — just once." With a return of her merry self she said, "I'm sure just a kiss cannot frighten you. Surely you are used to my lips by now?"

Gawain's mind raced. He was fairly certain that Blaisine's threat was real, and also fairly certain that he'd be put to death by her faithful servants long before her husband came home. Not even the best knight in the world could stand unarmed and unclothed against a whole castle. The girdle, once accepted, would have to be rendered up to Bercilak, but probably no harm would come from that. The kiss... A kiss.

Gawain surrendered. "Oh, all right."

With a wickedly triumphant little smile, Blaisine bent over him, giving him full benefit of her cleavage. "Now don't resist," she said.

The lady put everything she had, which was a lot, into that kiss and embrace; her lips, tongue, and hands did their best to kindle a fire in Gawain's heart, or at least in his groin. Finally, when she was becoming entirely too personal, Gawain broke away, feeling rather upset.

"I told you not to move," the lady said.

"I never promised not to," Gawain retorted weakly.

"Well!" And Blaisine got up and left the chamber. Gawain buried his face in the pillows. I can never go through with this. Never. And she's angry with me. And I can't do it. I cannot do it and that is final.

That day, he did get drunk. The conversation was more brittle than before, the jokes and games more threadbare and stale, and Gawain drank. Blaisine, at once gracious and aloof, pretended not to notice. The old lady seemed maliciously amused, her usual attitude towards anything and everything. Gawain, unhappy and angry with the world, kept drinking steadily, not enough to lose control entirely but more than enough to keep reality at bay.

Late in the afternoon, driven by an impulse he could not quite explain, he went to confess his sins. It seemed like the proper thing to do, but he knew even before he went that he couldn't do it the way it should be done. He could not bring himself to speak of what was really on his mind. Gawain listed a number of misdeeds so minor that not even his hypersensitive conscience could feel particularly guilty about them, but he could not, could not say how he felt about Bercilak, or admit that he had welcomed the lady's kisses for reasons quite different from the ones that might have been expected.

Leaving the chapel, he felt worse than before. He drifted through the castle aimlessly, not wanting to rejoin Blaisine and her aunt. Finding his way into the kitchen, he persuaded a servant to give him some wine, and he kept wandering up and down chilly hallways, steering clear of company, drinking miserably and muttering under his breath, "I can't do it. I just can't do it." I want to do it.

It had grown late as he came into a small chamber near the main courtyard. He wasn't as drunk now as he had been earlier in the day, and the wine was all gone, so he couldn't do anything to change that. The room was dark, and he sat down in the window seat, wondering whether it would not be better after all to go back to the ladies and play at propriety again. Then there was a noise at the door, and Bercilak came in, returned from the day's hunt.

"Sir Gawain! I didn't expect to find you here all on your own."

"I'm here to give you what I have gained today," Gawain said with a joyless smile, and realized as he said it that it was perfectly true. "I hope you don't mind."

Carefully setting down his empty wine goblet in the window embrasure, Gawain got up and discovered that he was actually quite steady on his feet. Some new, deep and painful emotion seemed to have burned the drink out of his blood. Without apology or explanation, he wrapped his arms around Bercilak, without measuring or pretending to anything this time, and kissed him, not in the artificially seductive manner of the lady Blaisine, but the way he'd wanted to kiss him all along. There was no conscious thought, just the knowledge of love and loss, the taste of life and of his own coming death. And the kiss was sweet.

Sweet, until Bercilak broke free from the embrace he had returned and, holding Gawain at arm's length, said severely, "That is enough. You have no idea what will happen if you go further now."

Gawain was too stunned by the action to be surprised by the words, and anyway, they were true. "No, I have no idea," he agreed, the sweetness in him turning as bitterly sad as Bercilak's eyes; then he turned and left.

That night, he didn't come down to dine with the others. He let it be known through a servant that he needed his rest because of the adventure awaiting him in the morning. Probably the laugh would be on him, but he didn't care as long as he didn't have to face anyone. He was brought food in covered dishes, and it was delicious as usual, and also accompanied by messages: from Blaisine, who wished him luck and would maybe see him off in the morning, from the aunt, who was sure he would do his best, and from Bercilak, saying that they would meet soon enough and that a guide would be provided for him.

Gawain put the dishes aside, unable to finish the food. He had only been sent one small jug of wine, and he couldn't bring himself to ask for more. Perhaps drunkenness would not even help, and he didn't want to go to his death with a hangover. His heart was sore with rejection. I wish I'd never seen him. I wish I'd never cared for him. I wish I were down there singing Christmas carols and wondering how to go to bed with Blaisine.

I love him.

"I love him." Whispering to his pillow like any other lovesick adolescent, Gawain gave himself up to a good cry.

Then he lay tossing and turning for a long time. There was no sleep anywhere. Gawain knew that the dreams to come would be painful anyway. The longer I stay awake now, the more life I will have to remember tomorrow. Flashing before my eyes, no doubt.

Finally he fell into a kind of doze, not quite asleep but not awake enough to move or speak. The fire was banked for the night, giving only an occasional gleam to light the darkness of the room. He no longer needed to be conscious of anything, and drifted on the edge, undisturbed by dreams, undisturbed by life. At first he didn't even notice that there was a noise at the door.

Someone was entering the room. There were soft steps on the floor, and the rustle of clothing being impatiently thrown aside. Gawain heard but did not react, still on the other side of wakefulness. The only thing that occurred to him was that if this was the lady Blaisine, he was going to laugh. Hysterically.

And then he was no longer alone in the bed. He was no longer alone. Arms held him in a tight, tender embrace and as Bercilak's lips closed on his own, Gawain did laugh, wildly, silently. Yes. Oh, yes.

There were no painful dreams that night

When Gawain was once again himself, by himself, shortly before dawn, he was still laughing, jubilantly, bitterly, under his breath. He was still laughing when he fell asleep.

A servant brought him breakfast this time. Gawain was grateful that he did not have to face Blaisine. He knew that he would have been embarrassed. At the same time, there was something inside him that didn't care about any consequences that the day might bring. He felt hard and brittle at the same time, ready to break, ready to be broken. There were little aches and pleasures in his body that kept him balancing between the two. A conscious arrogance would not let him be happy. Instead he became aggressive, and was quite intentionally rude to the servant in sending him on a final errand, and put his clothes on as if they were enemies.

Leaving his room and going out into the castle he held his head high and strode forward in a deliberate way that invited comment in order to crush it. Of course there was no one there to see him or read the signs on his skin or in his eyes. But he was in public. Last night had been complete in and of itself, a self-contained breath of darkness and heat; now Gawain was flung into the open world where he had lived, and felt that he didn't fit in any more. Hence the wariness. From now on, this was enemy territory.

The weather was terrible. Snowflakes were whipped by a cold wind into drifts that obscured all roads. The sky hung low, a deep metallic grey. Gawain frowned at the thought of armor, and finally decided not to put it on. It would hardly do him any good. Instead he went to find his horse, not bothering to send anybody for it, not that he saw anyone to send. The castle seemed almost empty.

It felt good to see Gringolet again. The horse had been stabled for so long that he was willful and impatient, nudging Gawain again and again to encourage him to hurry. As they left the stable and came out into the cold and unfriendly courtyard, the young knight looked around for the guide he had been promised. A surly-looking man came up to him. "Here I am."

"I can see that." Blaisine was not around, which was scarcely surprising, considering the hour and the weather. That was a relief to Gawain. His careful education had not included what to say to a lady the morning after you've slept with her husband.

That Bercilak wasn't there caused him a momentary pang, but he shrugged it off. What could they have said, really? "Well, let's go."

They rode in silence through a landscape so fierce and yet so lovely that Gawain was lost as if in a dream. Everywhere he looked he saw echoes of the night that had passed. It had stopped snowing, and the wind did not bother him; however, the guide muttered dark complaints under his breath.

The sun rose higher in the sky, and the wind abated a little. Snow covered the hill where the guide drew his horse to a stop.

"Is this where we're going?" Gawain asked. It didn't look particularly like a Green Chapel.

"It's close enough," the guide said, "and if you take my advice you'll go no closer. You'll never leave the Green Knight's domain alive. He's the strongest man in the world, and the least merciful. Go back to the south while you have the chance. I'll never say anything. You can trust me."

No, Gawain thought to himself. Last night he had abandoned a number of previous truths and this morning even more, in refusing to consider himself a sinner. But he wasn't ready to compromise all his principles; indeed, it seemed those he had left were those he most deeply believed in. "It's very sweet of you to be concerned for me," he said out loud, "but I don't break my given word."

The guide scowled uncertainly for a minute, then wheeled his horse around and disappeared with great speed back the way they had come.

No great loss. But he could have pointed out the way first. "I suppose I'll have to trust you," Gawain said, patting Gringolet's neck. "Can you find me the Green Chapel?"

The horse unhesitatingly started to make his way down the ravine in front of them. While Gawain pondered the mixed blessings of having an enchanted horse, they reached the bottom in good order. Surprisingly, the snow, rather than having piled up, was thinner on the ground there. Gringolet stopped in front of a curious structure that was presumably the Green Chapel. It looked like an overgrown pile of rocks, but there was actually an entrance at one end. It did not seem particularly inviting.

Gawain got off his horse and straightened his clothing. He was just about to enter the Green Chapel when a sudden noise made him stop. Turning around, he realized that it was the sound of metal shirring against a grindstone. It seems I'm expected.

Drawing a deep breath, Gawain considered making his peace with God while it was still possible. But he didn't know how to do it. He could not renounce his love for Bercilak or deny the night they had spent together. It seemed like the only real and honest thing in a world of dreams and lies. Even the bitterness in him, the awareness that he would never be able to tell anyone that he had loved before he died, was welcome, was evidence. It was real. There had been love.

Then the Green Knight strode into Gawain's line of sight, carrying his enormous axe and looking fiercer and less friendly than ever. He jumped down one side of the ravine, and quickly came closer.

"Well, here I am," Gawain said, feeling silly. The rapture and arrogance that had carried him through the morning were gone now that he was staring into the green face of death. He wanted merely for it all to be finished, and at the same time he wanted to see and breathe and smell and taste and feel as much as possible in just a few seconds. The Green Knight was very close now.

"Don't be so shy, sir Gawain. Come closer. Or are you afraid?"

"Of course I am," Gawain said. "What do you expect? Let's just get it over with."

The Green Knight grinned joylessly. It seemed, strangely enough, that here in his true home he lacked the abundant vitality that had animated him at Camelot. He looked and acted like a puppet. "Bare your neck," he said, "and I will strike you swiftly enough."

Gawain pulled his clothes aside, shuddering as the cold wind bit into his skin, relishing the shudder. He looked down and saw a few strands of grass sticking up through a thin layer of snow. Beautiful. "I'm ready."

Before he had time to draw another breath, the axe whirled through the air. But it stopped short just before it hit his neck. Gawain blinked in amazement.

"You moved."

"No, I didn't."

"Well, don't do it again."

The axe came sweeping towards his neck once more, and stopped with the same suddenness. "I told you not to move."

Gawain looked up, exasperated. "Look, I'm not the one who's playing games here. Stop teasing me." Then he saw that there were tears in the eyes of the Green Knight, and he fell quiet. There was a new tension in the air.

For the third time, the Green Knight started the mighty swing of the axe that would cut Gawain's head off. And this time the axe bit into flesh and drew blood before it was stopped with a wrench. Gawain, clapping a hand to his shoulder and wincing with pain, saw the Green Knight throw the axe away as if it weighed nothing at all, and with a dissolving and a reshaping that rippled the air ever so slightly, turn into Bercilak.

"I knew there was something wrong. You're not wearing the damn thing. And I've hurt you."

Gawain, completely bewildered, felt himself close to blacking out. Bercilak helped him straighten up and dragged him onto Gringolet's back, mounting behind him. "Where are we going?" Gawain was dizzy with shock.

Bercilak was the Green Knight?

"Somewhere safe." They rode out of the ravine, and followed a narrow path deeper into the forest, stopping eventually outside a small, snug stone cottage.

It had to be an enchanted place, Gawain decided. It was clean and tidy. There was even a fire burning in the hearth. It was warm and comfortable and even if it wasn't really safe, it felt safe. Gawain sat on a bench and let Bercilak wash his wound and wrap some cloth around his neck and shoulder, while he tried to come to terms with the fact that he wasn't dead. It seemed like a miracle. "I'm not dead," he said experimentally to himself. "I'm not dead. How wonderful."

"Yes. You really aren't wearing it, are you?"

"Wearing what?" Gawain had recovered enough to begin to take an interest in what Bercilak was saying to him, but it didn't make sense. "What are you talking about?"

"The girdle that Blaisine gave you, the green one."

"Oh, that. How did you know about that? It should be in your room by now. I forgot about it until this morning, so I gave it to the servant and told him to give it to you. Was I supposed to wear it?"

"No," Bercilak said patiently. "Or rather, yes. That's the whole point. She said if you wore it you couldn't be killed, right? But that wasn't true. If you had worn it, I would have had to cut your head off because you had cheated me in the game."

"Oh." Gawain thought about that for a few moments. "Saved by absentmindedness, I suppose. I must have been thinking of something else."

Bercilak smiled. "You're told of a way to save your life and you don't listen. I'm glad you didn't, though. What were you thinking of?"

There seemed to be no point in concealing the truth. "You."

They both fell silent. The fire crackled. The wind blew snow around the walls of the cottage. Gawain was aware of the cut at the base of his neck hurting, of the warmth coming from the fireplace, of the intensity of his own emotions. He had never felt so alive before.

Bercilak looked up again. "You can stay here for a while, until you heal a bit. It's too cold to go riding with an open wound no matter how slight it is. And I — I'd prefer not to go back."

"I don't know." Gawain tried to speak, but couldn't. There was too much to say. The surprise of being alive and having an entire life ahead made him strangely passive. He had no plans, no direction to take.

In the end, he stayed over a week in the cottage, which had once belonged to a holy man. Gradually, from what Bercilak told him, he pieced together the whole story of Morgan the fey's elaborate plot, and how it had all gone wrong. Somehow it didn't surprise Gawain that the woman he had known as Blaisine's aunt was actually his aunt, the rarely seen and never trusted Morgan. He already knew of her enmity towards Arthur. It made sense that she would have laid a witch's trap to cut off the king's head.

And then I interfered. Gawain shivered when he looked at his lover's head, his memory seeing it green and rolling on the floor at his feet. Of course, killing Arthur's heir wouldn't be a complete waste of time. Guenevere had not yet had any children, and perhaps she never would. Gawain's brothers, the younger Orkney hotheads, would make terrible rulers. So would I.

What with love and snow and trying to unravel whatever lay behind Morgan's plot, time passed quickly in their little universe. Gawain was quietly happy. On the fifth day, he discovered that he was collecting moments, movements, trying to fix sights and sensations in his memory as if he were about to lose them. His wound was healing rapidly. Gringolet was restless.

Late at night, lying close, amazed that this could happen again and forever, that love would go on and on and not stop or even falter, Gawain nevertheless broke the silence to say what had to be said. "What are you going to do now?"

Bercilak became quite still for a moment, and it seemed to Gawain that he was catching his breath. Gawain could feel the same ache in his own heart. But the question had to be asked. The future ahead of them was huge and incalculable.

"You're going back south," Bercilak said. "I knew that, really. I was just trying to forget it."

Gawain nodded. "So was I."

They shifted slightly, looking at each other, creating a space in between where their words could go. Bercilak continued, "I don't know what I'm going to do. I think Morgan might want to have a say in the matter, and I don't feel like letting her run my life any more." He smiled, half-heartedly. "I fell in with the wrong company. There was nothing real in my life before. Now even when you leave, there will always be you. I suppose I could become a virtuous hermit, or a champion for the right cause, or something. Anything, as long as I don't have to have an enchanted castle. Or a wife."

The memory of Blaisine made Gawain smile. Then he grew serious again. "You know I have to go back. I can't desert my uncle. For better or for worse, I'm his heir, and I actually believe in what he's trying to accomplish with his Round Table. Most of it, anyway. I don't know if I'll be much help. I'm too confused. It takes singlemindedness to achieve greatness."

"You'll be an ornament at the court, anyway," Bercilak said. "You're much too beautiful not to be noticed, so I suppose you'd better make yourself into a model of knightly virtues."

"Before I become quite addicted to knightly vices?"

"Before you become quite addicted to knights, at any rate."

It was a long time before they fell asleep that night.

Knowing that there was separation ahead put a permanent ache in Gawain's heart. Gradually he became comfortable with it. Pain was memory. Some things had not changed. Gawain would still not be able to tell anyone that he had loved before he died. But he had, he really had. Whatever else happened to him later, there had been love. It could not be regretted any more than he could complain about the pain.

Somehow they both knew which day they would part. It wasn't mentioned between them, not alluded to, but present in every breath. The night before, they sat in front of the fire, not talking very much. The pain in Gawain's heart burned along with the flames. He played with Bercilak's hair, feeling it run soft and warm along his fingers. "I love you, you know."

Then they were quiet together again, securely ensconced in love and misery. They made love glow in the night, and then left each other in the morning almost without a word. There was no space for words, no time. More conventional lovers, parting, might have cried and regretted. But Gawain would not cry, and he refused to regret his choices. As he rode away, he could have sworn he heard a door close somewhere with a soft, deadly finality.

He scratched Gringolet's neck and began to rehearse the story he would tell when he came back to Camelot.

* * *

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