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The Green Knight  by Le Rouret


            The king sat within his tent, reading the report given him by Fenbarad on the people he suspected; none were, in Aragorn’s opinion, likely candidates, being for the greater part young boys unconnected with the tournament, or lords with dubious opportunities concerning the placement of sharpened spikes upon the ground.  Faramir had not yet returned from his meetings with Belecthor in the offices below the stands, and the only other person within the dim, stifling tent was Bergil, who stood quietly, awaiting his king’s will.  The afternoon lay heavy upon the dusty ground, golden and hazy and yellow-blue; birds drowsed in their cool branches, and sap ran freely from the warm crevices in the pine tree boles; the denizens of the ruined city of Osgiliath rested indoors, drinking in the damp chill of stone, or desperately crowding into the dim shadows of the tents.  There was not a breeze to be felt in the royal quarters.  At last Aragorn could take the heat no longer and said to the boy:  “Bergil, please open all the window-flaps and both door-flaps; I am being broiled alive in this tent.”

            “Yes, your majesty,” said Bergil with a grin, and went to do as his lord commanded.  At that moment Éowyn and Arwen entered, both flushed and angry, their cool linen gowns streaked with dust and sweat.

            “My fool of a cousin has accused the Green Knight of throwing down the caltrops,” said Éowyn wrathfully, flinging herself into a nearby chair.  Bergil hurried to find her a foot-stool, desirous of her comfort.   “He said to me that Lasgalen of Dale laughed at him when he had victory over him this morning, and believes for that reason he has crippled Éreod.”

            “He is cross and in pain,” said Arwen, as though seeking a reason for the knight’s folly; “The caltrop, so say the leeches, pierced the sabaton and his foot, and it is very tender to stand upon, I am sure that is why he is so wroth with Lasgalen.”  She too sat, but more carefully, and seemed not to mark the heat as greatly as her burdened friend.

            “He is a fool,” exclaimed Éowyn.  “He is only covetous of the Green Knight’s position as my champion.  He seeks to defame him, since he cannot joust against him.”  She shifted uncomfortably upon the chair beside the desk and furthered her grievance:  “I told him Lasgalen would not have thrown the caltrops down, as he would have wounded his own destrier, and Brytta remarked it would have been no loss for the Green Knight’s horse to be crippled so, as it was fit to be only a cart-horse anyway.  And when I said to him that the Green Knight’s horse was stronger than Éreod, he told me I was no lady of the Rohirrim; I had lived too long in the land of Gondor and had forgotten how to choose horses to fancy.”  She took a deep breath, and Arwen handed her a goblet of wine from Bergil, taking the opportunity to say:

            “There, Éowyn!  It is certainly as you said; he is a fool, and a resentful one at that.  Have no fear, though; I am sure he will find another horse to bear him, and ride against your champion, and then he shall be defeated.”

            “I would ride against him myself upon Windfola,” said Éowyn with heat, “if Faramir would but let me!”

            “And your king besides,” said Elessar, smiling and taking her hand, which was trembling, and wet with perspiration.  “Were you in any condition but that which you suffer, gladly would I grant you a private joust against this kinsman who has so offended you, so that I could watch in gratification as you struck him down.  But that which you carry is far more precious than the arrogance of a braggart, and I would not allow you to endanger it so.”

            Éowyn gave a great sigh, and turned to Arwen her friend, saying, “I knew I erred when I allowed this!  Women are ever barred from the more noble sports of vengeance.  Now shall they ever treat me as a fragile lily in a pot, setting me high upon a shelf in the hot-houses so that I do not bruise from being touched.”

            “You are both lilies gilt with steel, then,” said the king, smiling upon the two women; “I would no more set you out of reach of danger than I would myself.  It is not for you, Éowyn, but for the child you will bear my steward I fear.  Pacify yourself, then, Lady of Emyn Arnen; your arguments against your cousin were just, and I doubt not he shall learn the folly of them anon.”

            Then Éodild burst into the tent, eyes shining and golden hair flying about her face beneath her netted cap.  “My lady, my lady!” she said to Éowyn; “I have just spoken to Targil, who had this from Belecthor; Brytta will be ordered to joust against Lasgalen of Dale on another horse tomorrow, in answer for the accusations he has leveled against him!  It matters not, Belecthor has said, that he trod upon the caltrop, as the foot is not so needed in the joust as a hand; had he hurt his hand he would have been allowed to withdraw.  But now your champion can defend himself against his plaintiff and be acquitted by reason of his superior skills!”  She dropped to her knees beside Éowyn, out of breath.  Her clothing was in disarray and her cheeks were burnished by the heat.  “Brytta has tried to infect all the other knights against the Green Knight in his mortification at being thrown from Éreod; now Targil says Belecthor wants him to pay well for his poison.”

            “There you have it, my lady!” said Aragorn, gesturing to Éodild in triumph.  “Lasgalen cannot hope but win now, with the power of justice behind him.”

            “And the stanchion of his admirers as well!” said Éodild with a wide smile upon her youthful face, and mischief in her gray eyes.  “I spoke also to Hador, who is the esquire of Araval of Tarlang; he is friends with the holbytla, and he told me that the Green Knight’s esquire has collected well over a dozen tokens of esteem from diverse young ladies, hoping to supplant you, my lady, in his favor.”

            Arwen burst into delighted laughter at this.  “Ah, alas for those unhappy maidens!” she said, eyes alight with mirth.  “They could have chosen not a more indifferent object!  Thank you, my child, for your timely disclosure; you have lightened our hearts immeasurably.”

            “I do not see why Lasgalen of Dale should be so uninterested in maidens,” said Éodild indignantly, rising and smoothing down the bodice of her dress, which had become rumpled in her heedless flight.  “It is quite unfair of him.  His esquire says he is unmarried.  And there are many young ladies desirous of catching him with their hooks; there is one already, the Lady Dirhael, who brags to all that her uncle is treating a betrothal with him.”

            “Her uncle should not so encourage her,” said Aragorn, though he was smiling himself.  “There is little chance Lasgalen will concede to be wed to any of the flowers of Gondor, despite their purity and beauty.”

            “Well, it is very curious!” said Éodild with a toss of her fair head.  “Why else would he come all this way to a tournament, if not to find himself a wife?”

            Brytta did indeed find himself another destrier; he borrowed, or took as some said, the steed of a younger knight of Rohan, Fréawine, who was reluctant to lend his horse to the warrior but unwilling also to refuse so renowned a knight as Brytta.  Éodild with great indignation reported this to Arwen at the earliest opportunity, being sure that King Elessar and Lord Faramir both heard her complaint as well, so that they could be justifiably provoked by his base actions.  “And he has put the peytral and cruppers upon Fréawine’s poor Léofa,” she said to them the next morning, as they broke their fast together upon the rough wood table in the house in Osgiliath.  “It is a shameful thing to so burden your own steed, but to encumber a borrowed horse – well, as a Knight of Rohan Brytta should know better, and I told his esquire so.”

            “No doubt he fears for the horse’s safety,” said Faramir, as his servant poured the mead into the tumblers.  “After all a lance in the chest would injure a horse quite severely, even were the tip covered with a coronel.  It would be a grievous thing to borrow your brother’s destrier, only to have it wounded as you used it.”

            “A trapper would work as well,” said Éodild.  “And I do not believe Lasgalen of Dale would be so clumsy as to strike a horse in the chest, when he was aiming for his combatant!  He has ever struck the target he intended.”

            “Yes,” smiled King Elessar, pushing aside his plate and propping his long legs upon the stool opposite him, taking out his pipe and filling it from a soft leather bag upon the table.  “Lasgalen of Dale has very good aim.”  His queen laughed lightly at this, and they exchanged secret glances with each other.

            “Why do you blow smoke in and out your mouth, my lord?” asked Éodild, falling to the eggs upon her platter with relish.  “That seems strange to me, though the smell is not unpleasant.  Perhaps when I marry I shall choose a Dúnedan of the North, so that he may smoke after we have our meals.  Does the Green Knight smoke too?”

            “Nay, Lasgalen does not smoke a pipe,” laughed Aragorn; “in fact he has taken me to task for doing so, saying I put clouds into the air that do not belong there.  But his armourer smokes; perhaps you could marry Gimli the Dwarf, and he could smoke at your breakfast table.”

            “Oh!” grimaced the girl, drinking her mead and reaching for another slice of bread.  “Nay, I think not; my mother ever impressed upon me the need to marry a man both tall and well-built, so that I could bear sons strong enough to defend my people.”

            “But Dwarves are very strong, Lady Éodild,” said Faramir with a solemn face.  “They can bear heavy burdens and run great distances; they are formed from the roots of the earth and do not falter.”

            “And Gimli is rich,” added Arwen, glancing mischievously at her husband.  “He is the Lord of Aglarond, which is right in Rohan, and his father Glóin has won much renown in the North.”

            “If he is so rich, then why is he an armourer?” demanded Éodild.  “Ah, I think you are teasing me, my lords, my lady!  I could not marry a Dwarf, no matter how rich or strong he was; think you upon the countenance of my mother were I to bring such a husband home!  Why, she would shout so loud she would frighten off the hens, and then we would have no eggs to eat.”

            “Then you had better eat some more here, my lady, since our poult seems immune to shouting,” broke in Faramir’s servant Ardún politely, setting another plate of eggs upon the table.  “Indeed she is immune to most injustices; I stepped upon her this morning and not a strike upon the foot did she give me.  I would venture to guess she is used to such treatment.  Ah, Lady Éodild, it is comforting to see a maid with such a hearty appetite; so many young ladies are overly concerned for their waists.”

            “There is nothing wrong with my waist,” said Éodild stoutly, taking another egg.  “Where are you going, Ardún?  Are you bringing food up to my lady now?  May I come with you?  I must tell her about Brytta.”  She snatched up her plate and cup and followed the servant up the winding stone staircase, her light voice floating back over her shoulder into the dim, smoky kitchen:  “Do you not think it strange, Ardún, that Lasgalen of Dale does not wish to marry?  I think it exceedingly strange.”  Ardún’s reply was lost in the sound of their footsteps, which soon passed out of hearing.

            Aragorn and his steward chuckled together for a moment, and Arwen smiled at them.  “My Undómiel,” said the king, taking his beloved’s hand in his own, “I believe I shall seek you out a lady’s maid, so that I may be as well entertained by her at home in Minas Tirith as I am when I am in the house of the Steward of Gondor.”

            “If you could but find me a maid like Éodild, I should be exceedingly indebted to you, my lord,” said Arwen laughing. 

            “As for myself,” said Faramir, still chuckling, “I believe I should rather have an esquire like unto the esquire of the Green Knight; it would do me good, I think, to be constantly reminded that I breathe the same air as my subjects.”

            Éowyn sat at her favorite spot for the foot combat, no longer needing to pull the coverings aside from the back of the enclosure; Belecthor, once he had discovered his lady’s determination to watch the barriers from that site, had set upon the bench a comfortable cushion, and tied part of the covering aside with a rope, so that the Lady of Emyn Arnen had her own private seat for the foot combats, much like a very small royal box.  And he further attempted to set her at ease by the placement of screens to block the hot rays of the late summer sun, and the deliveries of cooling drinks and ices, and sweetmeats in case she felt hungry.  It distressed him greatly, then, to see Queen Undómiel also seated there, but without such amenities; he sent his servants scurrying off to find another cushion, and more wine and sweets.

            “Whom is your champion fighting today?” asked Arwen, peering out from the enclosure to the barriers below.  From that height it did not look so big, and the tops of the knights’ and esquires’ heads were foreshortened.  She could see the men-at-arms with their wooden poles standing in each corner, and the herald with the knotted rope who measured the combatants’ paces from each other before the combat began.  There was a crowd of people standing about, or sitting upon bales of hay piled around the barriers, talking in tones of excitement and anticipation.  The day was not as hot, for clouds were roiling in, obscuring the sky with their downy masses, and lit silver upon their western flanks by the bright sun.  She could not see Lasgalen of Dale nor his retainers.

            “He fights Hallas of Lossarnach,” said Éowyn, peering about below her.  “They fight third, right before the joust.”  She accepted a goblet of wine from one of Belecthor’s serving men, then heard a faint cry from below her:  “Lady Éowyn!  Lady Éowyn!”  She looked down and saw several people around the barriers waving up to her, having just descried her from below; she smiled at them and waved her hand to them, which seemed to please them, for they turned one to another and said excitedly:  “Did you not see?  It is the Lady of Emyn Arnen, and beside her is Queen Undómiel!”

            “Hallas of Lossarnach; they have fought before, have they not?” said Arwen.

            “Once, two days ago,” said Éowyn; “they have also jousted, but only once.  He is young and strong, and very eager to win the prize; Éodild tells me his family is not wealthy, and he greatly desires to marry.”

            “Your Éodild is a fount of useful information,” smiled Arwen.  “Have you spoken to Lord Belecthor?”

            “Yes,” said Éowyn.  “He is not so concerned about the caltrops as I had guessed he would be.  Now that their immediate danger is removed, and since no further incidents have occurred either yesterday or today, he feels it was but a trivial thing, and the perpetrator will rest now from his attacks. It was, after all, but one lone incident; there is no need to distress yourself, he said to me, for a lone incident!”  She rolled her eyes and took a sip of wine.  “I had expected him to be more dismayed by it – I was mistaken; he takes the small things acutely, but the larger episodes pass him by like leaves upon the water.  Should there be a second incident, he said to me, he would consider the caltrops part of a larger plot, but for now he wants only to wait, and to hope.”

            “Now, that is a Gondorian!” laughed Arwen, and Éowyn, smiling, agreed.

            The two ladies watched from above, like songbirds observing the inconsequential doings of lesser beings beneath their nest; below them travailed the knights and the esquires, and the people shouted and waved their pennants.  At last the winners departed victorious, and the two knights, green and brown together, approached their corners of the barriers.  The herald came forward with his knotted rope, having to push the Brown Knight back a few steps; he seemed very impatient to begin.  Éowyn noted that Lasgalen’s figure was calm and relaxed beneath his armour, and wondered what expression one might read upon his face, could one see it hidden behind the basinet.

            At last the herald, being satisfied, bid them begin, and it fell to Hallas to strike the first blow, which he did, swinging the huge broadsword in a great arc down upon Lasgalen’s head.  But the Knight of Dale blocked the blow and flung Hallas’ sword aside, and the herald told Hallas to step back again.  Then Lasgalen swung, faster and lower than Hallas, catching him upon his pitted fauld with a loud clang, and Hallas staggered sideways.  Belecthor, who stood with his judges watching, nodded and his servant held up one green flag, setting it in its socket at the back wall.  The herald pushed Hallas back into his corner again, where he reluctantly shifted from one foot to another, swinging his sword in a restless manner.  Arwen could see his eyes behind the visor darting to and fro.

            “The Brown Knight is very eager, is he not?” asked Arwen, as Éowyn applauded Lasgalen’s point.

            “Far too eager, I deem,” said Éowyn.  “If he excites himself overmuch he will be no match for my champion.”

            Now it was Hallas’ turn, and he charged at the Green Knight with his sword high.  Lasgalen blocked him again, though so vigorous was the blow that their swords’ edges slid together to the hilt in a shower of sparks.  Arwen could hear the Brown Knight’s cry of frustration over the screech of the metal.  “Fruitless once more!” said Éowyn with satisfaction, applauding with the rest of the crowd, which started to cry out the Green Knight’s name.  This seemed to inflame Hallas of Lossarnach further, for he retreated to his corner angrily, clutching the haft of his sword so that the very tip trembled.  When the herald bid Lasgalen strike, Hallas lunged forward as well, parrying the Green Knight’s blow violently aside and sweeping his sword into the air with an angry exclamation, aiming a stroke upon Lasgalen’s aventail with such ferocity that the Green Knight reeled, the rings broken and torn so that all could see the arming doublet and the bleeding white flesh beneath.  Even as the judges and his own esquire cried to him to stop, Hallas raised his sword once more and struck at his opponent’s cheek-piece, cutting through it and pulling the edge of his sword away.

            The Green Knight stumbled back from him, raising his sword before his face and blocking Hallas’ next blow, which was to his gardbrace; then giving a tremendous twist he spun about, knocking Hallas to one side, and faster than the crowd could follow with their eyes, he slid the tip of his sword into the back of Hallas’ knee, between the poleyn and cuisse.  Hallas screamed in agony, and the Green Knight wrenched his sword about with a sudden swift movement and leaped back, away from his attacker, who fell thrashing to the sand.

            The crowd, indeed the judges and Belecthor himself, were in an uproar; there were cries of, “Rogue!  Cheat!  False knight!  Down with Hallas!”  The men-at-arms had rushed forward with their poles too late to stop the Brown Knight, who had fought like a madman, but they stood now about him, knocking his sword from his gauntlet, while one of the judges in a shrill voice berated him for such reprehensible actions, and Hallas’ esquire, a thin young man in a ragged tunic, wept and wrung his hands.  The Green Knight stood back, sword held cautiously before him, its tip tainted red with Hallas’ blood.  His own blood flowed freely into the arming doublet, staining it a ruddy brown; the little perian sprang at him with a strangled cry and tried to put himself between his master and the Brown Knight, but the Dwarf held him back.

            “Peace!  Peace!” cried Belecthor to the crowd, holding up his hands, but the people would have none of it:  “Down with Hallas!” they roared.  “He has illegally struck the Lady’s champion!  Down!  Down!”  At last Belecthor turned and spoke to his guards; they came forward and lifted the groaning Hallas from the sand, taking him from the barriers, his weeping esquire trailing along behind.  The Ceremonies Master and the judges huddled together for a moment; then one of the servants went up to the point wall, and placed all three green flags in their sockets; this pleased the crowd finally, and they cheered Lasgalen of Dale’s victory, though it was a bitter one.

            “Lasgalen Oakleaf of Dale wins by default,” cried the herald, and the people erupted into cheers once more, crying aloud his name even as he was led away by his retainers.

            Arwen and Éowyn looked at each other, white and shaken; Éowyn said:  “I believe, my queen, that this would count in Belecthor's opinion as a second incident.”

            “I believe you are right, my lady!” said Arwen.

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