Full early, before daylight, the court began to rise. The guests who would depart called their grooms. They made them ready, saddled the steeds, tightened up the girths, and trussed up their mails. The knights, all arrayed for riding, leapt up lightly, and took their bridles, and each rode his way as pleased him best.
Andrei, the lord of the land, was not the last. Ready for the chase, with many of his men, he ate hastily, and then with blast of the bugle fared forth to the field. He and his nobles were to horse before daylight glimmered upon the earth.
A hundred hunters there were of the best, so I have heard tell. Then the trackers led them to the trysting-place and uncoupled the hounds, and forest rang again with the blasts of the bugle and the barking of the hounds.
At the first sound of the hunt the game quaked for fear, and fled, trembling, along the vale. The harts they let pass them, and the stags with their spreading antlers, for Andrei had forbidden that they should be slain, but the hinds and the does they drove down into the valley. As the deer fled under the boughs an arrow whistling smote and wounded each sorely, so that, wounded and bleeding, they fell dying on the banks. The hounds followed swiftly on their tracks, and hunters sped after them with ringing shouts. What game escaped those that shot was run down at the outer ring. Thus Andrei passed the day in mirth and joyfulness, even to nightfall.
So the lord roamed the woods, and Dougie, that good knight, lay abed, curtained about, under the costly coverlet, while the daylight gleamed on the walls. And as he lay half slumbering, he heard a little sound at the door. He raised his head, caught back a corner of the curtain, and waited to see what it might be. It was the lovely lady Tatiana, the lord's wife. She shut the door softly behind her, and turned towards the bed. Dougie laid down softly and made as if he slept. And she came lightly to the bedside, within the curtain, and sat herself down beside him, to wait till he awakened.
The knight lay there awhile, and marveled within himself what her coming might mean, so improper it was. Despite his discomfort, he said to himself, "'It would be more seemly if I asked her what has brought her here." Then he feigned to awaken, and turned towards her, and widened his eyes as one astonished. She looked on him laughing, with her cheeks red and white, lovely to behold, and small smiling lips.
"Good morrow, Sir Dougie," said Tatiana; "you are a deep sleeper, since one can enter thus. Now are you taken unawares, and lest you escape me I shall bind you in your bed; of that be you assured!" Laughing, she spoke these words.
"Good morrow, fair lady," quoth Dougie blithely. "I will do your will, as it likes me well. For I yield me readily, and that is best." Thus he jested again, laughing. "But if you would, fair lady, grant your prisoner the grace to rise? I would get up bed and array myself better, then could I talk with you in more comfort."
"No way, fair sir," quoth Tatiana, "you shall not rise. I shall keep you here, since you can do nothing else, and talk with my knight whom I have captured. For I know well that you are Sir Dougie, whom all the world worships, wheresoever you may ride. Your honor and your courtesy are praised by lords and ladies, by all who live. Now you are here and we are alone. My lord and his men are afield, the serving men are in their beds, and my maidens also, and the door shut upon us. And since in this hour I have him that all men love, I shall use my time well with speech, while it lasts."
"In truth," quoth Dougie, "I think that I am not him of whom you speak, for unworthy am I of such praise as you here proffer. Still, I would be glad if I might set myself by word or service to your pleasure."
"Truly, Sir Dougie," quoth the gay Tatiana, "I know that you possess the praise and the prowess that pleases all ladies. There are ladies enough who would rather have Sir Dougie in their hold, as I have you here, to dally with your courteous words, to bring them comfort and to ease their cares, than much of the treasure and the gold that are theirs. And now, I have wholly in my power that which they all desire!"
Thus Tatiana, fair to look upon, made him great cheer, and Sir Dougie, with modest words, answered her again: "Madam," he quoth, "I have found in you a noble frankness."
Quoth Tatiana, "Were I worth all the women alive, and had I the wealth of the world in my hand, and might choose me a lord to my liking, then, for all that I have seen in you, Sir Knight, of beauty and courtesy, and for all that I have hearkened and hold true, there is no knight on earth I should choose before you!"
"Well I wish," quoth Sir Dougie, "that you would choose a better; but I am proud that you should so prize me, and as your servant and your knight do I hold you my sovereign."
So they talked of many matters till mid-morn was past, and whenever Tatiana spoke as though she loved him, the knight turned her speech aside. For though she were the brightest of maidens, he had decided to eschew her love for the sake of her lord Andrei, and the blow that must be given without delay.
Then Tatiana prayed her leave from him, and he granted it readily. And she bid him good day with a laughing glance, but he marveled at her words:
"Now that I have spoken with you, that you be Dougie my mind misdoubts me greatly."
"Wherefore?" quoth the knight quickly, fearing he had lacked in some courtesy.
And the lady spoke: "So true a knight as Dougie, and one so perfect in courtesy, would never have tarried so long with a lady and not craved a kiss at parting."
Then quoth Dougie, "I will do as it may please you, and kiss at your commandment, as a true knight should who does not dare ask for fear of discourtesy."
At that she came near and bent down and kissed the knight, and she went forth from the chamber softly.
Then Sir Dougie arose and called his chamberlain and chose his garments, and when he was ready he then went to eat, and made merry all day till the rising of the moon, and never had a knight fairer lodging than had he with those two noble ladies, the elder and the younger.
Andrei chased the hinds through holt and heath till eventide, and then with much blowing of bugles and baying of hounds they bore the game homeward. By the time daylight was done all the court had returned to that fair castle. And when Andrei and Sir Dougie met together, then were they both well pleased. The lord commanded them all to assemble in the great hall, and the ladies to descend with their maidens, and there, before them all, he bade the men fetch in the spoil of the day's hunting. He called unto Dougie, and recounted the tale of the beasts, and showed them to him, and said, "What think you of this game, Sir Knight? Have I deserved of you thanks for my woodcraft?"
"Yes indeed," quoth the other, "here is the fairest spoil I have ever seen in the winter season."
"And all this do I give you, Dougie," quoth Andrei, "by accord of our covenant you may claim it as your own."
"That is true," quoth Dougie, "and I grant you that same. I have fairly won this within these walls, and with good will do I yield it to you." With that he clasped his hands round the lord's strong jaw and neck and kissed him as courteously as he might. And if this kiss was longer in duration than the one he had received from Tatiana, no one need know but Dougie. When the kiss ended, he found he could not unclasp his hands. "Take you here my spoils, no more have I won; you have it freely, though I wish it were greater than this."
"'Tis good," said Andrei, hushed, still so close, "Yet I would like to know where you won this same favour, and if it were by your own wit?"
"No," answered Dougie, moving away, "that was not in the bond. Ask me no more: you have taken what was yours by right, be content with that."
Then they laughed and jested together, and sat down to supper, where they were served with many delicacies. After supper they sat close by the hearth, and wine was served out to them. They promised to observe on the morrow the same covenant that they had made before, and to exchange their spoil, be it much or little, when they met at night. Thus they renewed their bargain before the whole court. Then the night-drink was served, and each courteously took leave of the other and went to bed.
By the time the cock had crowed thrice the lord Andrei had left his bed. The hunting party were at the woods before the day broke. With hound and horn they rode over the plain, and uncoupled their dogs among the thorns. Soon they struck on the scent, and the hunt cheered on the hounds who were first to seize it. The huntsmen spurred them on with shouting and blasts of the horn; and the hounds drew together to a thicket betwixt the water and a high crag in the cliff beneath the hillside. The knights knew well what beast was within, and would drive him forth with the bloodhounds. And as they beat the bushes, suddenly over the beaters there rushed forth a wondrous great and fierce boar; long since had he left the herd to roam by himself. Grunting, he cast many to the ground, and fled forth at his best speed, without more mischief. The men hallooed loudly and blew the horns to urge on the hounds, and rode swiftly after the boar. Many a time did he turn to bay and snap at the hounds, and they yelped and howled shrilly. The men made ready their arrows and shot at him, but the points were turned on his thick hide, and the barbs would not bite upon him, for the shafts shivered in pieces, and the head but leapt again wherever it hit.
But when the boar felt the stroke of the arrows he waxed mad with rage, and turned on the hunters, so that, affrighted, they fled before him. But Andrei on a swift steed pursued him, blowing his bugle; as a gallant knight he rode through the woodland chasing the boar till the sun grew low.
So did the hunters this day, while Sir Dougie lay in his bed lapped in rich gear; and Tatiana did not forget to salute him. She came to the bedside and looked on the knight. Dougie gave her fit greeting, and she greeted him again with ready words, and sat her by his side and laughed, and with a sweet look she spoke to him:
"Sir, if you be Dougie, I think it a wonder that you be so stern and cold, and care not for the courtesies of friendship. You have so soon forgotten what I taught you yesterday!"
"What is that?" quoth the knight. "I know not. If it be true that you say, then the blame is mine own."
"But I taught you of kissing, " quoth Tatiana the fair. "Wherever a fair countenance is shown him, it behooves a courteous knight quickly to claim a kiss."
"No, my lady," said Sir Dougie, "cease that speech at once; that I dare not do lest I were denied, for if I were forbidden I would be in the wrong should I further entreat."
"Oh really?" quoth Tatiana merrily, "you may not be forbidden, you are strong enough to take by strength what you will, were anyone so discourteous as to denial you."
"Yes, that is true," said Dougie, "but threats are forbidden in the land where I dwell, and so are gifts that are not given of good will. I am at your commandment to kiss when you like, to take or to leave as you may."
Then Tatiana bent her down and kissed him courteously. And as they spoke together she said, "I would like to learn somewhat from you, for young you are and fair, and so courteous and knightly as you are known to be, the acme all chivalry, and versed in all wisdom of love and war. It is ever told of true knights how they risked their lives for their true love, and endured hardships for her favours, and avenged her with valour, and eased her sorrows, and brought joy to her bower. You are the fairest knight of your time, and your fame and your honour are everywhere, yet I have sat by you here twice, and never a word have I heard from you of love! You who are so courteous and skilled in such love ought surely to teach one so young and unskilled as me some little craft of true love! Why, are you in truth so unlearned despite your fame? Or is it that you deemed me unworthy to listen to your teaching? For shame, Sir Knight! I come have come here alone to sit at your side and learn from you some skill; teach me of your wit, while my lord is from home."
"In good faith," quoth Dougie, truth-telling, "great is my joy that so fair a lady as you are should deign to come hither, and trouble yourself with so poor a man. That you make sport with your knight with kindly countenance, it pleases me much. But that I, in my turn, should take it upon me to tell of love and such like matters to you who knows more by half, or a hundred fold, of such craft than I do, or ever shall in all my lifetime, that would be folly indeed! I will work your will as best I can, as I am bound, and evermore will I be your servant."
Then often with guile Tatiana questioned that knight that she might win him to woo her, but he defended himself so fairly that none might in any way blame him, and nothing but harmless jesting passed between them. They laughed and talked together till at last she kissed him, and craved her leave of him, and went her way.
Then the knight arose, and afterward dinner was served. He sat and spoke with the ladies all day. But the lord Andrei rode ever over the land chasing the wild boar that fled through the thickets, slaying the best of his hounds and breaking their backs; till at last he was so weary he could run no longer, but made for a hole in a mound by a rock. He got the mound at his back and faced the hounds, whetting his white tusks and foaming at the mouth. The huntsmen stood aloof, fearing to draw near him, so many of them had been already wounded that they were loath to be torn with his tusks, so fierce he was and mad with rage. At length Andrei himself came up, saw the beast at bay and the men standing aloof. Then quickly he sprang to the ground and drew out a bright blade, and waded through the stream to the boar.
When the beast was aware of the lord with weapon in hand, he set up his bristles and snorted loudly, and many feared for their lord lest he be slain. Then the boar leapt upon Andrei so that beast and man were one atop the other in the water. But the boar had the worst of it, for the man had marked, even as he sprang, and set the point of his brand to the beast's chest, and drove it up to the hilt, so that the heart was split in two. The boar fell snarling and was swept down by the water to where a hundred hounds seized on him, and the men drew him to shore for the dogs to slay.
Then the huntsmen smote off the boar's head, and hung the carcass by the four feet to a stout pole, and so went on their way homewards. The head they bore before Andrei himself, who had slain the beast at the ford by force of his strong hand.
It seemed to him far too long before he saw Sir Dougie again in the hall. He called, and the guest came to take that which fell to his share. And when he saw Dougie, eyes kind and red hair shining, Andrei laughed aloud, and bade them call the ladies and the household together. He showed them the game, and told them the tale, how they hunted the wild boar through the woods, and of his length and breadth and height; and Sir Dougie commended his deeds and praised him for his valour, well proven, for so mighty a beast had he never seen before.
They handled the huge head, and Andrei said aloud, "Now, Dougie, this game is your own by sure covenant, as you well know."
"'True," quoth the knight, "and as truly will I give you all I have gained." He took Andrei round the neck, and kissed him twice, long and pleasant. "Now are we quits," he said, forehead pressed to Andrei's, "this eventide, of all the covenants that we made since I came here."
And Andrei answered, face pink, "By my troth, you are the best man I know; you will shortly be rich if you drive such bargains!"
Then they set up the tables on trestles, and covered them with fair cloths, and lit waxen tapers on the walls. The knights sat and were served in the hall, and much game and glee was there round the hearth, with many songs of Christmas, and new carols, with all the mirth one may think of. And ever that lovely lady Tatiana sat by the knight, and with still stolen looks made such effort to please him, that Dougie marveled much, and was wroth with himself. He could not for his courtesy return her fair glances, but dealt with her cunningly, however she might strive to wrest the thing.
When they had tarried in the hall so long as it seemed them good, Dougie and Andrei turned to the inner chamber and the wide hearthplace, and there they drank wine, and Andrei proffered to renew the covenant for New Year's Eve. Though the knight craved to do so, he had resolved to depart on the morrow, for it was nearing the time when he must fulfil his pledge. But Andrei would withhold him from so doing, and prayed him to tarry, and said,
"As I am a true knight I swear my troth that you shall come to the Green Chapel to achieve your task on New Year's morn, in good time. Therefore abide you in your bed, and I will hunt in this wood, and hold you to the covenant to exchange with me against all the spoil I may bring home. For twice have I tried you, and found you pleasing and true, and the morrow shall be the third time and the best. Make we merry now while we may, and think on joy, for misfortune may take a man whenever it wills."
Dougie granted his request gladly, then all went to bed.
Sir Dougie lay and slept softly, but Andrei, who was keen to hunt, was afoot early. He and his men ate a morsel, and then he asked for his steed; all the knights who would ride with him were already mounted before the hall gates.
'Twas a fair frosty morning, for the sun rose red in ruddy vapor, and the sky was clear of clouds. The hunters scattered, and the rocks rang again with the blast of their horns. Some came on the scent of a fox, and a hound gave tongue; the huntsmen shouted, and the pack followed in a crowd on the trail. The fox ran before them, and when they saw him they pursued him. He wound and turned through many a thick grove, often cowering in a hedge. At last by a little ditch he leapt out, stole away slyly by a copse path, out of the wood and away from the hounds. But where he went the hunters foresaw, and three started forth on him at once, so he must needs double back, and betake him to the wood again.
Then was it joyful to hearken to the hounds; when all the pack had met together and had sight of their game they made as loud a din as if all the lofty cliffs had fallen clattering together. The huntsmen shouted and threatened, and followed close upon him so that he might scarce escape. But the fox was wily, and he turned and doubled upon them, and led Andrei and his men over the hills, now on the slopes, now in the vales, while Dougie the knight at home slept through the cold morning beneath his costly curtains.
But Tatiana, the fair lady of the castle, rose betimes, and clad herself in a rich mantle that reached to the ground. She left her throat and her fair neck bare and bordered with costly furs. On her head she wore no golden circlet, the symbol of her wedded bliss and high place, but a lattice of precious stones that gleamed and shone through her tresses in clusters, as though she were unmarried still. Thus she came into the chamber, closed the door after her, flung open a window, and called to Dougie gaily, "Sir Knight, how can you sleep when the morning is so fair?"
Sir Dougie was deep in slumber, and he dreamed a troubled dream of the destiny that should befall him on the morrow, when he should meet the knight at the Green Chapel and abide his blow, but when the lady spoke he heard her, and roused from his dream to answer swiftly. Tatiana came laughing, and kissed him courteously, and he welcomed her fittingly with as cheerful a countenance as he could muster. Her so gloriously and gaily dressed, so faultless of features and complexion, Dougie could not mistake her seductive intentions.
The knight thought again upon his covenant with Andrei. Red flushed his face as he realized what he must do that night should he grant her desire. But this could not be. They spoke to each other smiling, yet was there a gulf between them. She shall win no more of her knight, for that gallant prince Dougie watched well his words. He would neither take her love, nor frankly refuse it. He cared for his courtesy, lest he be deemed churlish, and yet more for his honor lest he be traitor to his affections for Andrei, his host. Thus with courteous words did he set aside all the seductive speeches that came from her lips.
Then spoke Tatiana to the knight, "You must already have a love whom you hold dearer, and like better, and have sworn such firm faith to that lady that you care not to know me - that I have now come to believe. And now I pray that you tell me the straightforward truth, and hide it not."
And the knight answered, (and he smiled as he spoke, for her words allowed him to conceal much) "no such love have I, nor do I think I shall have soon."
"That is the worst word I may hear," quoth Tatiana, "but at least I have mine answer; kiss me now courteously, and I will go hence; I can but mourn as a maiden that loves much."
Sighing, she stooped down and kissed him, and then she rose up and spoke as she stood, "Now, dear, at our parting do me this grace: give me some gift, if it were but your glove, that I may think of my knight, and lessen my mourning."
"Now, I wish," quoth Dougie, "I would that I had here the most precious thing that I possess on earth that I might leave for you as a token, for you have deserved far more reward than I can give. But it is not to your honour to have at this time a glove as gift from me. I am here on a strange errand, and am without goodly things. That mislikes me much, lady, but each man must fare as he is taken, if for sorrow and ill."
"Well, knight highly honored," quoth that lovesome Tatiana, "though I have nothing of yours, yet shall you have something of mine." With that she proffered a ring of red gold with a sparkling stone therein, that shone even as the sun. But Dougie refused it, and spoke readily, "I will take no gift, lady, at this time. I have none to give, thus none will I take."
She prayed him to take it, but he refused her prayer, and swore that he would not have it. Tatiana was sorely vexed, and said, "If you refuse my ring as too costly, so that you will not be so highly beholden to me, I will give you my girdle as a lesser gift." With that she loosened a lace that was fastened at her side, knit open her kirtle under her mantle. Resting upon her skin, it was wrought of green silk, and gold, only braided by the fingers, and that she offered to the knight, and begged him though it were of little worth that he take it. Again he said no, he would touch neither gold nor gear of hers. "And therefore, I pray you, do not further displease yourself, and ask me no longer, for I shall not grant it. I am dearly beholden to you for the favor you have shown me while I have abided here, and ever, in heat and cold, will I be your true servant."
"Now," said Tatiana, "you refuse this silk, for it seems simple in itself. It is small to look upon and less in cost, but if you knew the virtue that is knit therein you would, I imagine, value it more highly. For whatever knight is girded with this green lace, while he bears it knotted about him no man can overcome him, for he may not be slain by any magic on earth."
It came sharply into Dougie's heart that this were a savior against the jeopardy that awaited him at the Green Chapel. Could he so arrange it that he should escape alive, this was a craft worth trying. And so Dougie let her say her say. Again she pressed the girdle on him and prayed him to take it, and this time he granted her prayer. She gave it him with good will, and beseeched him for her sake never to reveal it but to hide it loyally from her lord; and Dougie agreed that never should anyone know it, save they two alone. He thanked her often and heartily, and she kissed him for the third time.
Then she took her leave of him, and when she was gone Sir Dougie arose, and clad himself in rich attire. He took the girdle, knotted it round him, and hid it beneath his robes. He made merry with the ladies, with carols, and all kinds of joy, as never he did but that one day, even to nightfall; and all the men marveled at him, and said that never since he came thither had he been so merry.
Meanwhile the lord Andrei was abroad chasing the fox; awhile he lost him, and then it came creeping through a thick grove, with all the pack at his heels. The lord drew out his shining brand, and cast it at the beast. The fox swerved aside for the sharp edge, and would have doubled back, but a hound was on him ere he might turn, and right before the horse's feet they all fell on him, and worried him fiercely, snarling all the while.
Then Andrei leapt from his saddle, caught the fox from the jaws, and held it aloft over his head, and many brave hounds bayed as they beheld it. The hunters gathered, blowing their horns. 'Twas the merriest meeting that ever men heard, the clamor that was raised at the death of the fox. They rewarded the hounds, stroking them and rubbing their heads, and stripped the fox of his coat; then blowing their horns, they turned homewards, for it was near nightfall.
Andrei was glad to return, and found a bright fire on the hearth. The knight beside it, the good Sir Dougie, was in joyous mood for the pleasure he had had with the ladies. He wore a robe of blue, that reached to the ground, and a surcoat richly furred, that became his red hair well. A hood like to the surcoat fell on his shoulders, and all alike were done about with fur. He met the host in the midst of the floor, and jesting, he greeted him, and said, "Now shall I be first to fulfil our covenant which we made together." Then he embraced the knight, and kissed him thrice, as satisfyingly as he might.
"Oh," quoth the other, "you have had good luck in the matter of this covenant!"
"It matters naught of the exchange," quoth Dougie, "since what I owe is swiftly paid."
"Mine, alas," said Andrei, "is behind, for I have hunted all day, and naught have I got but this one fox-skin, and that is poor payment indeed for three kisses as good as you have here given me."
"Worry not," quoth Sir Dougie, for he had rather have Andrei's kisses than if he could have all the world, "I thank you."
Then the lord told them of his hunting, and how the fox had been slain. With mirth and minstrelsy, they made merry till it was time for them to part, for at last they must take to their beds. Together Dougie and Andrei left the hall for the inner chamber alone. There Dougie took his leave of Andrei, and thanked him fervently.
"For the fair sojourn that I have had here at this high feast may you be honored for all time. I give you myself, as one of your servants, if you so like; for I must needs, as you know, go hence with the morn, and you will give me, as you promised, a guide to show me the way to the Green Chapel, and on New Year's Day the Green Knight will deal the doom of my weird."\
"By my faith," quoth the host, "all that ever I promised, that shall I keep with good will."
"Then," replied Dougie, pink of face and heart thundering, "I am still yours for one night more, to do with what you will, for I am your servant in all things."
On one knee Dougie knelt before his lord. In his hands he grasped the edge of the fine scarlet girdle wrapped around his waist and brought it to his lips, supplication and submission. Andrei raised him from the floor and then kissed him, all courtesy gone as they listed into one another. By torchlight Andrei led Dougie to his chamber, and brought him to his bed. That they slept soundly I may not say, for the morrow was not much in their thoughts.