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The Green Knight  by Le Rouret


            Gimli entered the tent with a sigh and drew off his dripping cloak.  He hung it on the rack beside Legolas’, which was likewise soaked through; but Bandy had placed several old rugs beneath the cloaks so that the newly swept tent floor would remain undisturbed.  The Hobbit was as careful about the cleanliness and appearance of his Master’s tent as he was about the quality (and frequency) of his Master’s meals.  The oaken table was freshly set with gleaming crystal and glowing silver, and a vast porcelain ewer, decorated with painted flowers, sat in the middle, filled to the brim with floating gardenias.  Their cloying scent was heavy on the air.  Gimli went to the window-flaps and opened them, tying them back to allow fresh, damp air into the tent.  He shivered and rubbed his hands together.  He was still damp from his foray into the Tent City, and felt chilled.  He went up to the sideboard, where a bottle of rich red-purple wine had been decanted, and filled his goblet to the brim.  He sniffed at it suspiciously, wishing it were ale, took a gulp, and decided it was better than naught.  Pulling one of the great chairs out from the table he sat down, looked about him, and drummed his fingers on the table.

            He could hear Legolas’ clear voice floating out from the back rooms like the tinkling of silver bells, fleeting and light; he was singing something in his own tongue.  The accompanying splashy noises fit the nagging image of running water, brought on by the torrential rains, in Gimli’s mind and answered his question about his friend’s current duties.  Another of Bandy’s peculiarities was his insistence that his Master bathe each night.  Legolas had at first objected, as it had created yet more work for his little esquire, but the Halfling as usual persisted and overcame the Elf’s protests.  Gimli had noticed that as time wore on Legolas’ objections to Bandy’s demands had taken on a resigned note, as though he realized he had no longer any say in matters domestic, yet felt it his duty to make a precursory argument to keep the Halfling entertained. Gimli listened, bemused, to the sound of the Elf crooning and sloshing behind the curtain walls, until he realized it was growing ever darker within their abode.  Grunting he rose and sought out his tinder-box, which he used to light a taper on the table; with that he went about lighting the various candles and lamps within the main chamber of the tent, until he was certain it glowed like a faerie-ring from without.  He had just put his tinder-box back upon the sideboard and sat back down to his wine when Bandobras bustled in, wiping his hands on his apron and shaking water droplets from his hair.

            “Whew!” he said, clambering up onto his stool so he could reach the top of the sideboard.  “I don’t mind it’s getting a bit cooler – much more comfortable this way, in my opinion – but the rain I could do without.  Fairly washing a trench right through the middle of the smithy.  We’ll have a little canyon there by morning.”  He lifted the tureen down and jumped lightly from the stool with it in his arms.  “Glad I set that pot on to simmer today.  Soup’ll taste good tonight.  Nice fresh bread we have, too – and some sort of cheese I’ve never seen before, with a soft white powdery rind and tangy flesh.  Grocer said the rind was edible.  Never heard aught like that!  But it’s a nice match with the bread, and I’ve got a good, meaty beef shin as well.”

            “No mushrooms?” asked Gimli cautiously.

            “Oh yes!” said Bandy brightly.  “Never fear, Gimli!  Got them myself from a vegetable hawker who trundled a great barrow full of them through the Tent City today.  Oyster, pigs-ear, singers, and buttons.  Let them stew in their own juices with a touch of red wine and borage.  I’ve made little toast trenchers to eat them with.”  He hurried out of the tent again to the kitchens, letting in a puff of cold air.  Gimli shook his head.  He might have known Bandy wouldn’t let a day go by without serving them mushrooms.

            Another burst of song shook him from his gloomy contemplations, and a great splashing noise proclaimed that Legolas was exiting his bath.  “If he can still sing and move about,” thought Gimli, “he can’t have been too badly bruised today.”  Every evening he and Bandy had discovered some new discoloration or abrasion upon Legolas’ body; the armour, while protecting him, often was bent or forced inward upon him, piercing the skin in some cases, though mostly just bringing up great swollen purplish masses across his arms, his chest, or his thighs.  Gimli knew this was the cost of such play-acting with war, but Bandobras tut-tutted like a brood hen over a sickly chick, chivvying Gimli to increase the leather padding on the doublet, or tighten the straps.  The Tournament no longer seemed like such a grand thing to Bandy, now that he had seen how much harm could be done through a joust or sword fight.  Only that afternoon one of the local knights had been flung from his horse by Herion of Pelargir, landing sharply upon the crown of his helm; after he had been taken to the leeches’ tent Legolas had sent Bandy to see how badly he had been injured, and the Halfling had returned, white-faced and horrified, to report the knight’s death by broken neck.  He had been so aghast to discover the knights’ mortality might be visited upon them by a game that he had begged Legolas to withdraw, lest his immortal life be shortened by such a trivial pastime.  Gimli smiled a little when he recalled Legolas’ words to his little esquire:  “Death and hurt have ever been a risk, even when warriors play at battle.  And I, sparring with my father, have inflicted various wounds, and been hurt myself; it is a price one pays for practicing the arts of death.”  Bandy had shaken his head and replied:  “Well, then, Master, I’m not so sure I’ll be practicing with that little sword you gave me, then, if I’m going to hurt you with it.”  It had taken Legolas at least a half hour’s worth of persuasion to compel the Hobbit to even consider the possibility of continuing his duty as esquire in training for the warrior’s arts, even for self-defense.  Even now Gimli was not sure Bandy had been convinced, which was a shame really; he had shown such promise.

            “Well,” thought Gimli, “it’s not as though he’ll need to know how to fight – he shall always have Legolas and me about to protect him, while he is out of the Shire.”  The thought of returning Bandy to his homeland was so pleasant that Gimli felt a little better, though it still was slightly disconcerting that Pippin had not answered Legolas’ letter.  “He’d better have gotten it,” thought Gimli.  “It would be vexing indeed to get to Bree and have no one there to take the little scamp off our hands.  And anyway, I don’t want his family to worry.”

            He could hear Legolas rustling about in his rooms, no doubt getting dressed, and he could also hear Bandy speaking outside to some unknown visitor; the sharpness of his voice betrayed his annoyance, and Gimli crept to the tent-flap to eavesdrop.

            “No, I’ll not disturb my Master in his bath,” Bandobras was saying to the accompanying noises of soup slurping into the tureen.  “Honestly, what a day he’s had, chopped at by one knight and taunted by another – no offense to your master, now, but after fighting and jousting all day he’s entitled to a wash and a meal.  I don’t know anything about a letter and there’s no use asking, for if I haven’t heard of it I’m sure my Master hasn’t either.”

            Gimli pulled the flap aside and stepped out into the pavilion.  Bandy had been right; the water was cutting a sizeable trench between his smithy and the kitchen, and it was running under one of the tent’s main pegs; Gimli would have to see to that in the morning, if they didn’t want the whole contraption around their ears by noontime.  Standing in the dark mist, shivering by Bandy’s oven was a tall, slender youth, with long golden hair braided down his back; he was wrapped in a great wool cloak and smelled comfortably of horses.  His fair face wore a troubled expression, and he looked about to entreat the Hobbit again, when he espied Gimli exiting the tent, and turned to him in hope.

            “Master Dwarf,” he said, stepping forward.  “I am Híldaf, esquire of Brytta of Rohan.  It has come to my attention – “

            “Out of the way, out of the way!” said Bandy impatiently, balancing the steaming tureen upon his arms and pushing past the Rider.  “Goodness gracious me!  Anyone would think I had nothing better to do than to play round-rosie with a bowl of soup in my arms!  I told you before, my Master’s not to be disturbed!” He shot Gimli a scathing look and backed carefully into the tent with the soup.

            “What is it, Híldaf of Rohan?” asked Gimli carefully.  “Is your master well?  He took a great fall from his horse.  And how is Éreod, his destrier?”

            “Éreod is halt, but will be well, I am pleased to say, Master Dwarf,” said Híldaf politely, though Gimli could tell he was impatient to tell his tale.  “And I bring thanks from him to Lasgalen of Dale for his munificent gift of sweet oat mash – fodder is expensive here, and it pleased me greatly to give my lord’s horse such a dainty.”

            “Good, good!” said Gimli, though he thought to himself:  “Sweet oat mash!  What will Legolas do next, send Bandy to carting about sugared fruit to the other squires?”  Then he bethought of how Híldaf had said it, and asked, “Thanks from Éreod, or from Brytta?”

            “Éreod, I am regretful to say,” said Híldaf grimly.  “It is on that count I desire greatly to speak with your Master.  Ever since the fight in the barrier has my lord been incensed, hot with wrath and stinging with indignation at Lasgalen’s laughter, and the letter he sent has only served to fuel that fire!  What does your Master mean by it?  I had thought him to be a noble man, possessing justice and mercy in like measure as the other knights here, but such were the words upon the page that it threw my lord into the blackest rage, and so incensed was he that he thrust the paper into the fire at once, without letting me even read it.  It was on that account – “

            “Wait!” interrupted Gimli, holding up his hands, a look of surprise upon his face.  “What letter?  Lasgalen has written to no one since we left Dale.  And he certainly would not write to your lord, as he hardly knows him.  Besides, it is not like him to goad or taunt someone – well, perhaps in fun – “ Gimli smiled “– but only if he knew him well, as he knows me, and he only teases enough to chafe, then ceases before I become angry, and afterwards so soothes and flatters me that I am forced back into good humor.  He would not write a letter to a fellow knight that would serve to infuriate him.  When did this letter arrive?”

            “Yesterday after the foot-combat, and before the joust,” said Híldaf slowly.  “It was delivered by a boy, and had upon it a green wax seal, and it was signed Lasgalen Oakleaf of Dale.  My lord was angry enough that Lady Éowyn had chosen the Green Knight as her champion over one of her own kinsmen, and perturbed by his laughter after his defeat at my lord’s hands at the barrier; whatever was written in that letter served but to inflate his wrath, and it was for that reason he noised abroad the words that Lasgalen of Dale had thrown down the caltrops with the intention of wounding Éreod.   My lord is easily affronted, for though certain it is that he is one of King Éomer’s mightiest knights he is ever seeking acclaim, and likes it not when others are elevated above his station.  The thought that a knight of Dale would supplant him both in the eyes of the Lady of Rohan and the esteem of his fellow knights quite overwhelmed him, and he said things that he ought to have kept to himself.  I had thought to speak with Lasgalen of Dale, and beg him to withdraw his remarks, so that my lord might be appeased, for now he is saying that the joust was inequitable, since he was impeded by a smaller destrier and a wounded foot, and he is crying for vengeance again at the tilt when the Tournament is over, but under traditional rules, so that when he vanquishes the Green Knight he may take his horse, and turn him into a farm animal.”

            “Well, Lasgalen himself was dissatisfied with the joust,” Gimli told him.  “He said to us he did not feel he had won well, as your master was on a weaker horse, and he asked Ara – that is, King Elessar, if they could rematch, but both the king and the steward are worried enough about the caltrop business, and do not wish to delay the Tournament any longer.  But as to this letter, I know not what to tell you, Híldaf of Rohan; it is certainly a mystery to me.  In fact – “ Gimli broke off, stroking his beard thoughtfully.  “If you will but wait a moment while I fetch my cloak and hood, I will take you to King Elessar himself, and you may relate this story to him.  It is not the first queer thing to happen during this Tournament.”

            “Very well, but we must hasten,” said Híldaf, looking behind him with apprehension.  “I do not think my lord will come to look for me, but should he discover me here with his enemies his wrath would be great, and I would pay dearly for it later.”

            “T’ch, t’ch!” said Gimli, peering into the tent, and thought to himself, “What a terrible master Brytta of Rohan must be, that his esquire trusts him not with this knowledge!  I am very glad Legolas is so good to Bandy.”  Seeing the Elf had not emerged from his room, he opened the flap wide enough for Híldaf to go through.  “Come in for a moment and I will let Lasgalen know what I am doing, so his esquire may serve him his dinner without waiting.”

            Bandy stopped short at the table, arms full of porcelain, when Híldaf entered on Gimli’s heels.  “Gimli!” he hissed.  “What are you doing?  My Master will be out in a moment, and he is not ready for visitors!”

            “Peace, Bandy!  I’m only here to fetch my cloak,” said Gimli, raising his voice.  “Lasgalen!  Here is Híldaf, esquire of Brytta of Rohan, so do not come out uncloaked!  There is another mystery brewing, and I am going with him to Faramir about it!”

            Híldaf, who was looking about him with wondering eyes at the splendor of the Green Knight’s tent, heard a light, clear voice from behind the tent walls say, “Can it not wait until after dinner?” to which Bandy echoed, “Yes, yes!  After dinner!  Eat first, conspire later!  Have pity on my poor stomach, and on my Master’s too!”

            “No, Lasgalen,” said the Dwarf firmly, glaring at the holbytla, who was looking resentfully at Híldaf.  “I fear this cannot wait.  There has been another letter sent, to Brytta of Rohan this time, and Híldaf here says it was sent by you!”

            There was silence, and then the curtain-rings gave a great clatter as the entryway was flung open.  The Green Knight stood there, face obscured by linen scarf, knit cap and hood, his green cloak still swirling about his legs as he fixed the clasp beneath his masked chin.  He strode forward, eyes glittering beneath the deep cowl, and began to pull on leather gloves.  Híldaf noticed his hands were long and white, and Lasgalen was taller than Híldaf had thought he would be.  Bandobras made an impatient noise and folded his arms across his chest.

            “Well, then, my friend,” said the Green Knight softly to Híldaf, “perhaps you had best disclose your mind to me, whilst we seek out the steward and the king.”

            “That’s just fine, then!” said Bandobras angrily, taking off his apron and flinging it into a chair.  “The shin’ll be burnt to a crisp!  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!” 

            “Peace, Bandobras!” said the Green Knight, though his voice was soft and kind, and he laid one gloved hand upon the Halfling’s head.  “Stay here, Little One, and Gimli and I shall soon have this mystery mended.  There is mischief afoot, that is certain, and as it certainly concerns me I must needs take it to the lord of the Tournament.  Faramir and Elessar will know what to do; they have already begun inquiries about the caltrops and the letter to Lady Dirhael.  All information we possess must be given them.”

            “But, Master,” said Bandobras, grasping Lasgalen’s hand as he passed, “if it’s such a small thing, can’t it wait ‘til later?  At least after the third course – my stomach is flapping against my spine like a flag on a flag-pole.  And the King and the Steward and their ladies are surely eating at this very minute.  It would be awfully impolite to interrupt them.”

            “You are nothing if not persistent, my dear hobbit!”  laughed the Green Knight.  “Nay, Little One, I go forthwith.  Eat a little here, to temper your hunger, and be sure to watch the shin to see that it does not burn, because its aroma has teased me while I was in the bath and my appetite has been whetted.  I will rush back, I assure you, my Bandobras, because so great is my desire to eat the shin I will speak in haste and quit the lords and ladies with the undue swiftness, just so I can sit at the table and sate myself upon the goodness you have prepared for me.”

            “Well spoken!” muttered Gimli, winking at Híldaf, who did not seem to know what to make of this; but the speech had its desired effect, for Bandobras looked pleased and he said, very flattered, “Will you?  Did it?  Well, that is very nice to know, Master, and actually now I think on it, this will give me a few extra minutes to make up a nice salad for us, to eat between the soup and the shin.  I got a bolt of good greens this morning and some late tomatoes.  And I still have that olive oil and the wine vinegar for a proper dressing.  It would taste quite good.  Would you like a salad of greens and tomatoes with dinner too, Master?”

            “Tempt me much further and I shall fall derelict in my duties as a knight of this Tournament,” said Lasgalen solemnly.  “By all means make the salad, my Bandobras, while Gimli and I attend this little matter; as soon as is possible we shall quit the lords and ladies and return here, so that we can eat your most excellent cooking.”

            “Well, what are you waiting for, then?” demanded Bandobras, pushing them to the tent flap.  “Hurry!  The sooner you leave the sooner you return.  Oh, and Híldaf!” he called after the three, “if you like I’ll set a place at the table for you too!  There’s plenty!  Poor fellow,” he sighed, closing the flap on the cold rain and turning back to the table.  “I’ll wager he gets nothing like braised shin and mushrooms in Brytta’s tent!”

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