This piece was performed as one of my three entries in the 2011 LyonBard competition, at Lyondemere/Gyldenholt Yule.
The Beheading Game
Adapted from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Angharat Goch verch Gwenhover
‘Twas Christmastide, and Arthur, High King of all Britain, held at Camelot a great feast lasting full fifteen days, as was his custom. The knights of greatest renown in all of Christendom were there gathered, as well the loveliest ladies ever to live. Each night they danced, feasted and gamed, rejoicing in the glory of Camelot and the good cheer of the Yule season. On the eve of the New Year, all gathered once more for a night of merrymaking, but no sooner was the first course served than the great doors of the hall burst open, and a figure rode through, as fearful to behold as he was wondrous.
Taller than any man living, he was strong of arm and broad of chest, and garbed entirely in the brightest green. Green were his hood and mantle, his cotte and hose, even the belt at his waist and the boots on his feet, adorned with the golden spurs of a knight. His mount was a fey beast, as monstrously large as he, its coat and mane and tail the same vivid green, with green bridle, green saddle, green reins and green stirrups, studded with emeralds set in gold. He wore neither helmet nor hauberk, nor armor of any kind, and bore aloft in one hand a sprig of green holly, and in the other a mighty axe, its handle golden and its steel green.
Arthur-King rose from his throne and made to welcome the strange knight, begging him to join the revels. “Nay,” cried the knight, “I shall not tarry here long, I come only for a Christmas game. If any man here be brave enough to exchange one stroke of my axe for another, strike me now, and in a year and day, I shall return the blow.”
Silence. “WHAT?!” roared the green knight, “is this not Camelot? Are you not Arthur’s knights, bravest and strongest, quickest and most skilled of all men? Or are you cowards, all?” Inflamed, Arthur himself arose.
“I accept your challenge, I, Arthur!” The king strode forth, reaching for the axe – but another had risen, young Gawain, the king’s sister-son, a youth barely grown to manhood, a knight newly made and untried.
“Uncle,” Gawain cried, “do not do this thing, you who are most precious of all here assembled. Let me, the lowliest and least worthy, who would be little missed, take your place.”
Arthur nodded gravely as Gawain came forward. “Make thy stroke sure and strong, my lad, least he survive to return the blow.”
The green knight dismounted from his unearthly steed, presenting to Gawain the axe, and kneeled down before him. “Do you swear, O knight of Camelot, to my rules? A stroke today, to be repaid a year and day hence?”
Gawain assented with a somber nod, and the knight bent his head, offering up his neck, unprotected. Gawain struck, swift and sure, the hall gasping as the knight’s head flew away from his body to tumble across the hall. But then, when all thought the game finished, the headless body, all in green, rose from its knees, and in the great hall of Camelot, retrieved its missing head, setting it again upon those massive shoulders.
The knight grinned broadly at Gawain, now gone pale with dread. “A year and day hence, young knight, seek me out at the green chapel, where your blow awaits.”