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The Green Knight  by Le Rouret


            “It is nothing, my Bandobras; nothing, Little One.  I assure you, Bandobras my dear, it is a mere scratch.  See how the mail deflected the blow?  It was not his sword pierced me but the rings of the aventail.  Look, look how quickly the blood flow stops now that the chain mail is removed; it is nothing to be anxious over, nothing at all.”

            “But all that blood, Master!” sobbed the little Hobbit, dabbing at his Master’s bloody collarbone with a wet cloth.  “It has bled so much, I’m sure you’re going to die!”  He took the cloth back to the bowl and wrung it out with trembling hands, wetting it once more and hurrying over to his Master.

            “I will not die, my Bandobras; it is so much better now that you have cleaned it,” soothed Legolas to his esquire, running his long fingers through Bandy’s brown curls.  “Do you not see how shallow it is?  It is only the blood soaked into my arming doublet that makes it look so serious.  Do not weep, dear one, it does not even hurt me; but put a little padding upon it and I shall not even feel it once the bevor is put into place.”

            “We had a cow die from bleeding once,” sniffled the halfling, pressing the cloth upon the scratch.  “It fell upon a ploughshare and bled and bled, and then it grew weak and died, even after it stopped bleeding.  Oh, I am sure you are going to get weak and die, Master, and then what shall I do?  Gimli and I will have no one to take care of except each other, and he’ll be cross with me always, and not let me cook the things I want to.”

            “T’ch, t’ch!” clucked Gimli into his beard, trying not to smile.  “There now, Bandy, I promise I won't complain about your cooking at all when Legolas is dead, but should he live I reserve the right to make my opinions known."

             “Gimli!” reproached Legolas, as Bandobras burst into tears anew and flung his little arms about the Elf's neck.  “You are not helping matters any; in fact I think you are making things even worse.  Have you finished the cheek-piece?  The joust is about to start.”

            “I have; you’ve but to detach yourself from that howling youngster there and let me set the frog-mouth upon your head.  Cease that weeping, Bandy, you are going to make your Master’s armour all rusty.”

            “Oh, but Master, surely you’re not going to joust now that you’re so gravely wounded!” wailed Bandobras, seizing the helm with surprising strength and thwarting Gimli’s attempts to place it over Legolas’ head.  “You’re going to bleed and bleed and bleed and drop down dead, right off of Hatchet’s back!”

            “I shall do no such thing,” said Legolas firmly, taking the reddened cloth from his collarbone and, turning the Hobbit round so that Bandobras could see him, he touched his throat.  “Look, Little One!  It has stopped bleeding already.  Now fetch me a soft cloth, so that I may pad it when Gimli attaches the bevor and neck-guard.”

            Bandobras stared at his master’s throat in amazement, searching with swollen eyes for any seeping of blood, and prodding it with tentative fingers.  At last he exclaimed, “Well, isn’t that the most astonishing thing!  Is it Elven magic, Master, that makes it stop bleeding so quickly?”

            “Yes, it is magic,” said Legolas impatiently.  “Quickly, now, my Bandobras, a clean cloth!”

            “Yes, Master!” said Bandy in excitement, racing off into his chamber.  “Real Elven magic, Gimli!  Imagine!  And there were no flashes or sparkles or anything!  I must've missed it -- I'll have to pay closer attention next time!”  Gimli looked down at Legolas as he lowered the frog-mouth and said reprovingly, “That was not magic; you had but a scratch.”

            “He would rather believe it to be magic,” explained Legolas, smiling.  “Quick, get the neck-guard!  I want it attached before he changes his mind.”

            Léofa sweated and champed beneath the heavy armour, shifting his feet about in the dust and trying in vain to shake away the flies that harried his face beneath the heavy shaffron.  Dark clouds stewed and boiled fretfully in the hazy sky, and over the roar of the crowd came the subtle rumblings of thunder, echoing between the hills of Ephel Duath and the Mindolluin.  The promise of a storm did nothing to soothe the nerves of the horse of Rohan, who was uncomfortable enough carrying this strange knight in addition to the heavy armour, which was not his wont to wear.  Upon his back sat Brytta of Rohan, fully encased in cuirass and helm, clutching his long lance.  He had affixed the standard of Rohan to the end of the lance, a white horse upon a green background; it was a challenge, he told his esquire, to the token about the Green Knight’s elbow.  He was a hard man, close-lipped and close-minded, heavy-handed with horse and servant, and intensely loyal to King Éomer; it was his intention, as he noised abroad to all who would listen, to prove to the knights of Gondor and its fiefdoms that the might of Rohan had saved Minas Tirith and would prove stronger and more powerful than all the other powers of men. 

            He had heard of Hallas’ attack upon the Green Knight and was of mixed opinion; one part rejoiced to hear another knight had likewise so hated his rival that he had disdained the rules of combat and sought to kill him; for the other part he hoped the injuries sustained by Lasgalen of Dale were not serious, so that he would not be denied his chance to prove himself upon the body of the usurper.  It was with mixed relief and reluctant admiration he saw Lasgalen of Dale enter the quadrangle and approach the lists; the Green Knight sat easily upon his appalling destrier as it pawed and bellowed and increased Léofa’s agitation fourfold; still the blue scarf flickered and snapped from his polder-mitten, and the crossed oak-branches graced his escutcheon.  The green-silver armour in the halting light of the approaching storm made him seem more a wraith atop his war-horse, and so still was he that Brytta wondered if perchance his esquires had set naught but the armour upon the saddle, and the knight was elsewhere.  The Rider sucked his teeth in impatience, shifting his painful foot carefully in the stirrup, and muttered to his esquire:   “Does he not feel the heat beating down upon him?  There he sits, as cool as if the entire icehouse were inside his armour!  I feel as though I am being roasted alive.”

His esquire answered, checking the girth-strap and anxiously patting Léofa upon the cruppers, “So long as you don’t let him spit you, my lord!  I have watched him joust, and his lance is ever true to the mark; be wary of his destrier also, for it is said he frightens other horses away from the tilt by his aggression.”

“Léofa is a horse of Rohan,” said Brytta disdainfully to his esquire.  “He will not be so cowed and demoralized by this half-bred plough-horse from the North.  And have you forgotten, Híldaf, that I have never missed an enemy at which I charged, and have unseated and killed more men than any knight of another realm?  I am of the line of Fréaláf of Helm, and this willowy son of the bastard-lords of Eriador shall not overcome me, though he be clad in armour fit for a great king.”  With those proud words, Brytta set his lance into the rest, seizing the handle behind the vamplate, and signaled to the herald his readiness.

The herald looked upon Lasgalen of Dale, who nodded once at him, also readying his weapon upon the lance-rest of his cuirass; the flag was lowered, and with a cry to rival the bawling of the destrier of Dale Brytta dug his spurs into Léofa’s ribs.  For his part the horse of Fréawine did his best to gallop down the lists, but the heavy armour impeded him and he was puffing like a bellows when he met Hatchet’s charge.  Both lances met their marks, shattering into splinters with the sound of cracking lightning; the knights passed each other, and trotted back to their places at the ends of the tilt.

Léofa was stumbling with weariness upon the dry dirt of the quadrangle, head lowered, and Brytta with an abrupt movement jerked upon the reins so that the horse’s head was upright.  “Walk proudly in Gondor!” he admonished Léofa.  “You shame me by dragging your feet like a rouncey.”

“The armour is too heavy, my lord, and the heat too oppressive,” said Híldaf cautiously.  “You will break his wind, riding him thus.”

“I know what I am about!” snapped Brytta.  “Do not think to teach me my duties, esquire of Brytta!”  Híldaf lowered his gaze, so his lord would not see the anger in his eyes, and stepped away from the Rider.  Thunder muttered and grumbled about the foothills all around them, and the hot breeze brushed past them in fits and starts.  It was growing darker; the blue-black clouds roiling over Osgiliath, their edges livid with fitful lightning.  The herald, after an apprehensive look at the sky, glanced at the knights, who both nodded.  The flag again dropped, and the knight of Rohan spurred his mount forward.

The mighty northern destrier shrieked his scorn as he flung himself down the length of the tilt, and Léofa, already demoralized, flinched as he approached.  Brytta’s lance was deflected by the polder-mitten, nearly tearing Lady Éowyn’s scarf from the arm, but the Green Knight’s dragon’s-head coronel smote Brytta full upon the escutcheon, knocking him backwards on the saddle sheets.  Léofa staggered and attempted to slow his pace so that his rider could regain his balance; Brytta in his rage and mortification dragged upon the reins and dug his spurs into the horse’s flanks, driving him back along the lists so they could charge again.

Híldaf looked back to the entrance, where stood Fréawine with his arms folded; even from that great distance the esquire could see the anger upon the young knight’s face.  “You must not treat this mount so, my lord,” he admonished Brytta as his master approached.  “He is not your destrier; you must be more gentle.”

“You forget yourself, esquire of Brytta!” said the knight, glaring down at the younger man through his visor.  His helm, crowned with a horsetail, glowed dully in the dim light of the cloudy sky, and the restless hot wind tugged at his surcoat.  Beneath him Léofa labored to breathe, foam dripping from his mouth.  “I have been fighting orcs and Dunlendings since before you were whelped.  I know well what I am about.”

“All the same, my lord, Léofa is Fréawine’s horse, not your own,” said the esquire firmly, though he knew he would suffer for it later.  “And your brother-knight stands by the leeches’ tents, watching to see how you ride him, and will be wroth with you should any evil thing befall his steed.”

Brytta did not deign to respond to this, but applied himself instead to the herald, who dropped the pennant.  Léofa groaned and stumbled forward toward the war-horse that hurtled toward him, its shaffron gleaming and peytral clanging upon its chest; upon its back rode a flash of sickly white light, or so it seemed to the man of Rohan; before he could properly aim his lance, the Green Knight was upon him, his lance striking him full in the chest and pushing him so far back upon the saddle it slipped off the numnah, and once again he struggled to regain his seat.  Through the ringing in his helm he could hear the crowd roaring his enemy’s name, and through the visor as Léofa turned he caught a glimpse of Éowyn Éomund’s daughter sitting beside her husband, applauding with the rest.  This so incensed him that by the time Léofa lurched back to his esquire he was grinding his teeth, all the more determined to strike Lasgalen of Dale upon the head at his next pass.

There was a low rumble of thunder from the east, and Híldaf looked anxiously to the sky; there was another glimmer of lightning behind the gathering clouds, and almost immediately following a crack and a boom; the people in the stands were looking up, and some were covering their heads with cloaks or hoods.  Léofa snorted nervously, and Híldaf stroked his neck beneath the crinet to soothe him.  Brytta looked down the tilt to Lasgalen of Dale, who sat unmoving upon his great horse; the destrier pawed at the ground, throwing up billows of dust behind its huge hooves, and tossed its head up and down upon its thick straight neck.  Lightning flashed again, kindling the bat-wings athwart the Green Knight’s helm, and the crimson enameled eyes set above the visor glinted evilly at him.  Brytta shivered.  He suddenly recalled the tales of the dragon of Esgaroth, tales of death and flame and cold water, and speculated doubtfully if Lasgalen of Dale wore this armour in memory of its destruction.  He caught himself wondering if this slim knight had won honour and renown in battling the dragon himself, or if perhaps there were other dragons in the wastelands of the north, against which this redoubtable warrior had proved himself.  There was a soft pinging sound upon his helm, and he looked up to the sky; a drop of water splashed against his visor and scattered upon his eye.  Then the skies opened up in earnest, driving against the armour like arrows; Brytta could feel the cold water starting to trickle down the back of his neck guard into his arming doublet.  He tightened his grip upon his lance, not wanting it to slip upon the gauntlet, and shouted to the herald:

“Quickly, man!  Drop the pennant!  We must conclude this match ere the rain drives us from the lists!”

The herald, shielding his face from the blows of the raindrops upon him, looked over at the Green Knight, who nodded his winged head once.  Brytta could see the water streaming off the frogmouth and hoped it was running down into his bevor.  The great destrier gave a loud bellow and shifted his huge feet, and Léofa shivered.

The pennant dropped.  Fearing the gouging of the spurs Léofa leaped forward, panting under the weight.  The rain was sheeting down now, a grey curtain obscuring the stands from them; alone and unmarked the two knights accepted the challenge and approached each other amid the churning of mud and dirt, the streaking of water and the hammering racket of rain upon the armour.  Brytta roared his cause to the uncaring elements, driving his unfortunate mount forward and lowering his lance.

The blow to his head took him completely by surprise.  Lights flashed before his eyes and he wondered if it were more lightning.  The dim interior of his helm darkened further, and he thought to himself:  “The storm is worsening.  I can see nothing now.”  There was another blow to the back of his head and he thought again:  “The knave!  He strikes at my back where I am undefended!”  All went silent, and he wondered at that; slowly and faintly the muted noise grew, and he heard above the sound of rain striking the cuirass and helm the roar of people chanting a name that was not his.  He opened his eyes, marveling that they had been closed, and tightened his legs in their cuisses to grip Léofa’s back.  But there was aught between them; he realized belatedly that he was upon his back, and the rain was driving down into his helm through the visor.  Then into his line of vision came Híldaf’s face, concerned and dripping and saying:  “My lord!  My Lord Brytta!  But speak my name and assure me you are not harmed!”

“I – I am not, Híldaf,” said Brytta thickly, struggling to rise, but his arming doublet was now soaked through with muddy water and he was even heavier than before.  Besides that his head was reeling, and his esquire’s face was incensing him by its continuously advancing and receding, like the waves upon the shore.  “Where is my horse, you fool?  I must charge the Green Knight again; this rain has made Léofa fall from beneath me.”

“Nay, my lord,” said Híldaf, hauling him to his feet by the arm and helping him to stand upright upon the mud.  A sharp pain stabbed Brytta through his foot, and his mind cleared.  “Lasgalen of Dale struck you full upon the helm.  That is three points; he has won.”  Brytta groaned and pulled his arm away from his esquire; he would not be led from the lists like a vanquished foe.  “And Léofa has bolted; he is away over to the leeches’ tents.  He fled to his master Fréawine, and though I cannot descry it fully in this rain, it seems to me that they are removing the armour.”

The rain was plummeting down upon the quadrangle in right earnest, splashing mud upon Brytta’s greaves, and the stands were emptying, though the people in their excitement still chanted over and over the name:  “Lasgalen Oakleaf!  Lasgalen Oakleaf of Dale!”  Brytta looked to the winner’s wall, where a servant of the Ceremonies Master was pinning up a green pennant with crossed oak branches upon it.  Then he looked up into the royal box, which through being covered by a pavilion was still tenanted by the lords and ladies, awaiting a more convenient time to quit the grounds.  Éowyn sat there, looking down upon him, but in the grey twilight of the rain storm Brytta could not see her face.  He turned from her to Híldaf and said:

“So I have lost.  It is all the doing of that horse; it was too small and weak to bear me.  You ought not to have allowed Fréawine to lend it me – he is a slight and frail man, and his horse is like to him, unable to endure the weight of a true warrior. I shall challenge Lasgalen of Dale again, upon a larger horse, and I shall best him!  Take me to him, Híldaf – I must throw down my gauntlet before him, to let him know he has won by default, through no especial skill of his own!”

“I am sorry, my lord,” said Híldaf, turning from the knight, “but Lasgalen of Dale has already quitted the lists; whilst you still swooned after falling, his esquire left me with this message from him: ‘Tell your lord that my master says this is your punishment for using a good steed so cruelly.’  Do not fear, though, my lord; your standing in the lists is still high enough that you may joust against Lasgalen of Dale once more – if you can but find yourself a horse mighty enough to abide your burdensome load.”

“I did not swoon!” roared Brytta, ignoring the twinge of pain behind his eyes.  “Bring me to the Green Knight!  I shall cast down my gage before him!”

“It is too late, Brytta of Rohan,” said Híldaf, gathering up the muddy lance and walking away from his lord in the rain.  “He is gone to meet with Hallas of Lossarnach.”

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