|She sat on a palfrey that was gaily decorated,
With gold beset and many a precious stone;
There was an unseemly sight;
A creature foul without measure
|To ride so gaily, I assure you,
It was neither reasonable nor right.
She rode to Arthur, and thus she said:
“God speed, Sir King, I am very pleased
That I have met with thee;
I advise you to speak with me ere you go,
For I warn thee, thy life is in my hand;
That you shall find, if I don’t defend it.”
“Why, what would you, Lady, now with me?”
“Sir, I would fain now speak with thee,
And tell thee good tidings.
For all the answers that though can boast of,
None of them all shall help thee.
That shall you know, by the Rood.
Thou think I know not thy secret,
But I warn thee I know every bit of it.
If I help thee not, thou are but dead.
Grant me, Sir King, but one thing,
And for thy life, I’ll give a guarantee,
Or else thou shall lose thy head.”
“What mean you, Lady, tell me quickly,
For thy words I have great contempt;
Of you I have no need.
What is your desire, fair Lady?
Let me know it shortly-
What is your meaning?
And why is my life in your hand?
Tell me, and I shall guarantee to you
All that you ask.”
“Forsooth,” said the Lady, “I am no villain.
Thou must grant me a knight to wed;
His name is Sir Gawain.
And such a covenant I will make thee,
Only if through mine answer thy life is saved,
Else let my desire be in vain.
And if mine answer save thy life,
Grant me to be Gawain’s wife.
Advise thee now, Sir King.
For it must be so, or thou are but dead;
Choose now, for thou may soon lose thy head.
Tell me now in haste.”
“By Mary,” said the king, “I may not grant thee
A guarantee for Sir Gawain to wed thee;
It lies in him alone.
But so that it be so, I will do my labour
In saving of my life to make it secure;
To Gawain I will make my lament.”
“Well,” said she, “now go home again,
And fair words speak to Sir Gawain,
For thy life I may save.
Though I am foul, yet I am lusty;
Through me thy life he may save,
Or ensure thy death to have.”
“Alas!” he said, “now woe is me
That I should make Gawain wed thee,
For he will be loath to say no.
So foul a Lady as you are now one
Never have I seen in my life anywhere I’ve gone;
I know not what I may do.”
“No matter, Sir King, though I be foul;
Choice for a mate has even the owl;
Thou’ll get from me no more;
When thou come again with your answer
Right here in this place I shall meet thee,
Or else I know thou are lost.”
“Now farewell,” said the king, “Lady.”
“Yes, Sir,” she said; “there is a bird that men call an owl…
And yet a Lady I am.”
“What is your name, I pray you tell me?”
“Sir King, I am called Dame Ragnell, in truth,
That never yet beguiled a man.”
“Dame Ragnell, now have good day.”
“Sir King, God speed thee on thy way!
Right here I shall meet thee.”
Thus they departed fair and well.
The king very soon came to Carlisle,
And his heart was very heavy.
The first man he met was Sir Gawain,
That to the king thus did say,
“Sir, how have you fared?”
“Forsooth,” said the king, “never so ill!
Alas! I am at the point to kill myself,
Of necessity I must be dead.”
“Nay,” said Gawain, “that may not be!
I would rather be dead, may I thrive;
These are ill tidings.”
“Gawain, I met today with the foulest Lady
That ever I saw, for certain.
She said to me that my life she would save-
But first she would have thee as a husband.
Wherefore I am sorrowful-
Thus in my heart I make my moan.”
“Is this all?” then said Gawain.
“I shall wed her and wed her again,
Though she were a fiend;
Though she were as foul as Beelzebub,
Her shall I wed, by the Rood,
Or else I would not be your friend.
“For you are my honoured king,
And have honoured me many a time;
Therefore I shall not hesitate.
To save your life, lord, it would be my duty,
Or I’d be false and a great coward;
And my service is better than that.”
“Indeed, Gawain, I met her in Inglewood.
She told me her name, by the Rood;
That it was Dame Ragnell.
She told me that unless I had an answer from her,
All my other labour is not even near a solution-
Thus did she tell me.