Tag Archives: Gawain

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (751-855)

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And what was the cause for her transformation
Sir Gawain told the king both this and more.
“I thank God,” said the queen;
“I feared, sir Gawain, that she would have harmed you;
Therefore in my heart I was so grieved.
But the contrary is here seen!”
There was game, revel, and play,
And every man to other would say,
“She is a fair sight.”
Then the king to them all began to tell
How did dame Ragnell help him at his need,
“Or my death would had been certain.”

Then the king told the queen, by the Cross,
How he was set upon in Inglewood
By sir Gromer Somer Joure,
And what else the knight made him swear,
“Or else he would have slain me right there
Without mercy or measure.
This same lady, dame Ragnell,
From my death delivered me right well,
All for the love of Gawain.”
Then Gawain told the king all together
How she had been transformed by her stepmother
Until a knight had helped her again.
Then she told the king fairly and well
How Gawain gave her sovereignty over every matter,
And what choice she gave to him.
“God thank him of his courtesy;
He saved me from such fate and villainy
That was so foul and grim.
Therefore, courteous knight and gracious Gawain,
I shall never anger for certain,
That promise here and now I make.
While I live I shall be obedient;
To God above I shall this swear,
And never with you to argue.”

“Many thanks, lady,” then said Gawain;
“With you I shall be me very much content
And that I trust to find.”
He said, “My love she shall have.
Thereafter she need never more crave,
For she has been to me so kind.”
The Queen said, and the ladies all,
“She is the fairest now in this hall,
I swear by saint John!
My love, lady, you shall have forever
For you have saved my lord Arthur,
As I am a gentlewoman.”

Sir Gawain begot with her Gyngolyn,

Who was a good knight of great strength and ability
Of the Round Table.
At every great feast that lady should be.
Of beauty she bore the flower,
Where she trod on the ground.
Gawain loved that lady, dame Ragnell;
In all his life he loved none other so much,
I tell you without a doubt.
Like a coward he lay by her both day and night.
He would not haunt or joust at all;
On that marvelled Arthur the king.

She pleaded the king for his gentleness,
“To be good lord to sir Gromer, indeed,
Although he has offended you.”
“Yes, lady, that I shall now for your sake,
For I know well he cannot make amends;
For what he did to me.”
Now so as to make for you a short conclusion,
I shall make an end very soon
For this gentle lady.
She lived with sir Gawain only five years;
That grieved Gawain all his life,
I tell you certainly.

In her life she never grieved him;
Therefore never was woman to him more dear.
Thus ends my story.
She was the fairest lady of all England,
When she was living, I understand;
So said Arthur the king.
Thus ended the adventure of king Arthur,
That oft in his days was grieved,
And of the wedding of Gawain.
Gawain was wed oft in his days;
But so well he never loved a woman again,
As I have heard men say.

This adventure happened in Inglewood,
As good king Arthur to hunt he went;
Thus have I heard men tell.
Now God, as thou were in Bethlehem born,
Suffer never our souls to be forlorn
In the burning fire of Hell!

And, Jesus, as thou were born of a virgin,
Help him that this tale did divine out of sorrow,
And that now in all haste,
For he is beset by many jailors
That keep him very surely,
With wills wrong and hard.
Now God, as thou art truly Royal King,
Deliver him out of danger that made this tale
For therein he has been too long.

And with great pity help thy servant,
For body and soul I yield into your hand,
For pains he hath great.

Here ended the wedding of
Sir Gawain and dame Ragnell
Who helped king Arthur.

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (630-750)

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“Ah, sir Gawain, since I have wed you,

Show me your courtesy in bed;

Such a  right is mine and cannot be denied.

 

“Indeed, sir Gawain,” said that lady,

“If I were fair you would sing another tune,

But of marriage you have no respect.

Yet for Arthur’s sake kiss me at least;

I pray you do this at my request.

Let’s see you now.”

Sir Gawain said, “I will do more

Than just to kiss you, so help me God!”

He turned to her at last.

He saw her be the fairest creature

That ever he saw, with no compare.

She said, “What is your will?”

 

“By Christ”!” he said; “What are you?”
“Sir, I am your wife, surely.

Why are you so unkind?”

“Oh, lady, I am to blame.

I beg your mercy, my fair madam-

I hadn’t realised.

A lady you are most beautiful to me,

And but today you were the foulest creature

That I ever saw in my eyes.

Happy I am, my lady, to have you thus”-

And he embraced her in his arms and began to kiss her

And was very happy indeed.

 

“Sir,” said she, “thus you shall have me:

Choose one, so God save me,

My beauty will not hold-

Whether you will have me fair on nights

And as foul on days to all men’s sight,

Or else to have me fair on days

And on nights the foulest wife-

Only one you may have.

Choose one or the other.

Choose now, sir knight, which you prefer,

Your honour to preserve.”

 

“Alas!” said Gawain; “The choice is hard.

To choose the best, it is impossible,

Whichever choice I choose:

To have you fair on nights and no more,

That would grieve my heart,

And I would lose my honour.

And if I desire on days to have you fair,

Then on the nights I’d have slim pickings.

However would I choose the best:

I know not at all what I should say,

But do as you will now, my happy lady.

The choice I put in your hand:

 

“Whatever you will is,

Loose me as you desire, for I am bound;

I put the choice in you.

Both my body and my goods, heart and everything,

Is all your own, to keep or sell-

That I swear to God!”

“Many thanks, courteous knight,” said the lady;

“of all earthly knights thou are most blessed,

For now I am honoured.

Thou shall have me fair both day and knight

And ever as I live I will be fair and bright;

Therefore be not grieved.

 

“For I had by transformed by magic,

By my stepmother, God have mercy on her,

And lay under enchantment;

From my true form,

Until the best of England

Had married me in truth,

And also that he should give me sovereignty

Of all his body and goods for certain.

Thus I was transformed;

And you, sir knight, courteous Gawain,

Have given me sovereignty certainly,

And never shall you be sorry for that.

 

“Kiss me, sir knight, now;

I pray thee, be glad and make good cheer,

For all has turned out well.”

Then they had joy beyond imagination,

The way a couple does

When they are alone.

She thanked God and mild Mary

She was rescued of what had befallen her;

So did sir Gawain.

He made mirth in her chamber

And thanked Our Saviour,

I tell you, for certain.

 

With joy and mirth they stayed awake till morn

And then the fair maid began to rise.

“You shall not,” said sir Gawain;

“We will lay and sleep till noon

And then let the king call us to dinner.”

“I agree,” then said the maid.

Thus the time passed until midday.

“Sirs,” said the king, “let us go and discover

If sir Gawain is still alive.

I am truly afraid for sir Gawain,

Afraid that the fiend has him slain;

Now would I find the truth.

 

“Let us go now,” said Arthur the king.

“We will go witness their rising,

How well has he faired.”

They came to the chamber, all uncertain.

“Arise,” said the king to sir Gawain;

“Why do you stay so long in bed?”

“By Mary,” said Gawain, “sir king, surely,

I would be glad, and you should let me be,

For I am quite happy here.

Abide, you shall see the door opened!

I trust you will say I am quite fortune;

I truly do not wish to rise.”

 

Sir Gawain rose, and by the hand he took

His lady fair, and to the door he went,

And opened the door wide.

She stood in her smock by the fire;

Her hair came to her knees as red as gold wire.

“Lo, this is my pleasure!

Lo!” said Gawain unto Arthur-

“Sir, this is my wide, dame Ragnell,

That once saved your life.”

He told then to the king and queen

How suddenly her shape had changed-

“My lord, now by your leave”-

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (563-629)

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So it happened after but a day

That that foul bird should be married

To sir Gawain.

The day had come that’d be the day;

Therefore the ladies felt great sorrow.

“Alas!” they said again.

The queen pleaded with dame Ragnell –

“To be married early in the morning,

As privately as you may.”

“No!” she said; “By Heavens’ King,

That I will never do, for nothing,

That you can say.

 

“I will be wedded publicly,

For I have made such a covenant with the king.

Doubt not,

I will not go to church until the time of High Mass

And in the open hall I will dine,

Amidst all the court.”

“I am grieved,” said dame Guinevere;

“For I think it would be more honour

And a pleasure to you.”

“Yes, as for that, lady, God save you.

This day my pleasure I shall have,

I tell you that without a boast.”

 

She was prepared to go to church

And all the nobles were there,

I do not lie,

She was dressed in the richest manner,

More finely than dame Guinevere;

Her clothes were worth three thousand marks

Good red gold at that,

So richly she was dressed.

But for all her appearance, she was still

The ugliest, that ever I have told of –

An uglier sow man has never seen.

 

For to be brief,

When she was wed, they hurried them home;

They all went to meet.

This bird-like lady sat at the high dais;

She was most foul and not courteous,

So said all that were present.

When the servants came before her,

She ate as much as six men;

Amazing everyone.

Her nails were three inches long,

With which she broke her meat hideously;

Therefore she ate alone.

 

She ate three roosters, and also three curlews,
And a great many meat pies she ate up, in truth.
All men therefore had marvelled.
There was no meat that came before her
But she ate it up,
That ugly, old damsel.
Everyone that ever saw her
Prayed the devil would gnaw her bones,
Both knight and squire.
So she ate until the meat was done,
Until they drew clothes and had washed,
As is the custom and manner.

Many men would speak of diverse foods;
I trust you may know enough of what there was,
Both of domestic and wild beasts.
In king Arthour’s court there was no want
For what might be captured by man’s hand,
Either in forest or in field.
There were minstrels from various countries.

[The manuscript is here missing one leaf, containing
about seventy lines; the narrative continues
at the moment of Ragnelle’s and Gawain’s wedding night.]

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (444-562)

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In the evening he met there with Sir Gromer,

And he spoke to the king stern words:

“Come now, Sir King, now let’s see

Of thine answer, what it shall be,

For I am ready for thee.”

The King pulled out the two books:

“Sir, there is mine answer, I dare say;

For some will help at need.”

Sir Gromer looked on every one of them:

“No, no, Sir King, you are a dead man;

Therefore now you shall bleed.”

 

“Abide, Sire Gromer,” said King Arthur,

“I have one answer that shall make all certain.”

“Let’s see,” said then Sir Gromer,

“Or else, so God help me, as I say to thee,

Thy death thou shall have as recompense,

I tell thee now for sure.”

“Now,” said the King,  “I see, as I guessed,

In thee there is but little gentleness,

By God may I be aided.

Here is our answer, and that is all

That women desire most of all,

Both free and wed:

 

“I say no more, but above all else

Women desire sovereignty, for that is what they like.

And that is what they most desire,

To  have under their rule the manliest men,

And then they are well. Thus they taught me

To rule thee, Gromer, sire.”

“And she that revealed this to you, Sir Arthur,

I pray to God, I may see her burnt on a fire;

For that was my sister, Dame Ragnell,

That old hag, God give her shame.

Else I would have succeeded;

Now I have wasted all my work.

 

“Go where you will, King Arthur,

For of me you may always be sure.

Alas, that ever I saw this day!

Now, well I know, my enemy thou will be.

And such a predicament I shall never get thee;

My song may be ‘Well-away!’”

“No,” said the King, “that I guarantee:

Some weapon I will have to defend myself with,

That I swear to God!

In such a plight thou shall never find me;

And if thou do, let me be beat and bound,

As is for thy best proof.”

 

“Now have good day,” said Sir Gromer.

“Farewell,” said Sir Arthur; “so may I thrive,

I am glad to have beaten you.”

King Arthur turned his horse into the plain,

And soon he met with Dame Ragnell again,

In the same place and steed.

“Sir King, I am glad you have fared well.

I said how it would be, in every detail;

Now keep what you have promised:

Since I have saved your life, and none other,

Gawain must marry me, Sir Arthur,

Who is a very gentle knight.”

 

“No, Lady; what I have promised you I shall not deny.

If you follow my council, keeping quiet,

Your wish you shall have.”

“No, Sir King, I will not do so;

Either I shall be wed publicly, or I will leave

Or else I would be shamed.

Ride ahead, I will come following,

Unto your court, Sir King Arthur.

Of no man I will be the shame;

Remember how I have saved your life.

Therefore you shall not argue with me,

For if you do, you’ll be to blame.”

 

The King was very ashamed of her,

But she rode forth, though he was grieved;

Until they came to Carlisle.

Into the court she rode by his side;

For she would spare no man’s feelings-

The King did not like that at all.

All the country was full of wonder

From whence she came, that foul creature;

They had never seen so foul a thing.

Straight into the hall she went.

“Arthur, King, have Sir Gawain fetched for me,

Before the knights, all in presence,

 

That I may be secured.

In happiness and woe bind us together

Before all your knights.

This is your promise; let’s see, have done.

Bring forth Sir Gawain, my love, immediately,

For a longer wait I can stand no more.”

Then came forth the knight Sir Gawain:

“Sir, I am ready for what I have promised,

All oaths to fullfill.”

“God-a-mercy!” said Dame Ragnell then;

“For thy sake I wish I were a fair woman,

For thou art so good-willed.”

 

Then Sir Gawain pledged himself to her

In happiness and woe, as he was a true knight;

Then was Dame Ragnell happy.

“Allas!” then said Dame Guinevere;

So said all the ladies in her bower,

And wept for Sir Gawain.

“Allas!” then said both King and knight,

That ever should he wed such a creature,

She was so foul and horrid.

She had two teeth on either side

As a boar’s tusks, I will not hide,

A large handful in length.

 

The one tusk went up and the other down.

A mouth very wide and foully formed,

With many grey hair.

Her lips lay like lumps on her chin;

A neck, forsooth, on her could not be seen-

She was a loathly one!

She would not be wedded in no manner

But unless it was made known in all the land,

Both in town and in borrow.

All the ladies of the land,

She called to come to hand

To make the wedding properly done.

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (360-443)

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In the evening he met there with Sir Gromer,

And he spoke to the king stern words:

“Come now, Sir King, now let’s see

Of thine answer, what it shall be,

For I am ready for thee.”

The King pulled out the two books:

“Sir, there is mine answer, I dare say;

For some will help at need.”

Sir Gromer looked on every one of them:

“No, no, Sir King, you are a dead man;

Therefore now you shall bleed.”

 

“Abide, Sire Gromer,” said King Arthur,

“I have one answer that shall make all certain.”

“Let’s see,” said then Sir Gromer,

“Or else, so God help me, as I say to thee,

Thy death thou shall have as recompense,

I tell thee now for sure.”

“Now,” said the King,  “I see, as I guessed,

In thee there is but little gentleness,

By God may I be aided.

Here is our answer, and that is all

That women desire most of all,

Both free and wed:

 

“I say no more, but above all else

Women desire sovereignty, for that is what they like.

And that is what they most desire,

To  have under their rule the manliest men,

And then they are well. Thus they taught me

To rule thee, Gromer, sire.”

“And she that revealed this to you, Sir Arthur,

I pray to God, I may see her burnt on a fire;

For that was my sister, Dame Ragnell,

That old hag, God give her shame.

Else I would have succeeded;

Now I have wasted all my work.

 

“Go where you will, King Arthur,

For of me you may always be sure.

Alas, that ever I saw this day!

Now, well I know, my enemy thou will be.

And such a predicament I shall never get thee;

My song may be ‘Well-away!’”

“No,” said the King, “that I guarantee:

Some weapon I will have to defend myself with,

That I swear to God!

In such a plight thou shall never find me;

And if thou do, let me be beat and bound,

As is for thy best proof.”

 

“Now have good day,” said Sir Gromer.

“Farewell,” said Sir Arthur; “so may I thrive,

I am glad to have beaten you.”

King Arthur turned his horse into the plain,

And soon he met with Dame Ragnell again,

In the same place and steed.

“Sir King, I am glad you have fared well.

I said how it would be, in every detail;

Now keep what you have promised:

Since I have saved your life, and none other,

Gawain must marry me, Sir Arthur,

Who is a very gentle knight.”

 

“No, Lady; what I have promised you I shall not deny.

If you follow my council, keeping quiet,

Your wish you shall have.”

“No, Sir King, I will not do so;

Either I shall be wed publicly, or I will leave

Or else I would be shamed.

Ride ahead, I will come following,

Unto your court, Sir King Arthur.

Of no man I will be the shame;

Remember how I have saved your life.

Therefore you shall not argue with me,

For if you do, you’ll be to blame.”

 

The King was very ashamed of her,

But she rode forth, though he was grieved;

Until they came to Carlisle.

Into the court she rode by his side;

For she would spare no man’s feelings-

The King did not like that at all.

All the country was full of wonder

From whence she came, that foul creature;

They had never seen so foul a thing.

Straight into the hall she went.

“Arthur, King, have Sir Gawain fetched for me,

Before the knights, all in presence,

 

That I may be secured.

In happiness and woe bind us together

Before all your knights.

This is your promise; let’s see, have done.

Bring forth Sir Gawain, my love, immediately,

For a longer wait I can stand no more.”

Then came forth the knight Sir Gawain:

“Sir, I am ready for what I have promised,

All oaths to fullfill.”

“God-a-mercy!” said Dame Ragnell then;

“For thy sake I wish I were a fair woman,

For thou art so good-willed.”

 

Then Sir Gawain pledged himself to her

In happiness and woe, as he was a true knight;

Then was Dame Ragnell happy.

“Allas!” then said Dame Guinevere;

So said all the ladies in her bower,

And wept for Sir Gawain.

“Allas!” then said both King and knight,

That ever should he wed such a creature,

She was so foul and horrid.

She had two teeth on either side

As a boar’s tusks, I will not hide,

A large handful in length.

 

The one tusk went up and the other down.

A mouth very wide and foully formed,

With many grey hair.

Her lips lay like lumps on her chin;

A neck, forsooth, on her could not be seen-

She was a loathly one!

She would not be wedded in no manner

But unless it was made known in all the land,

Both in town and in borrow.

All the ladies of the land,

She called to come to hand

To make the wedding properly done.

In which Lancelot is boring but Galahad is worse

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By this point it should be clear that there is little love lost between Lancelot and Yours Truly. And I am sorry, I really am! I tried to like the guy or at least view him with some sort of academic objectivity, but I can’t. Him and Guinevere, they’re supposed to be this power couple and yet Lancelot seems to have as many ladies fawning over him (with various degrees of reluctance on his part) as Gawain. And Gawain is known as the Ladies’ Knight! Give me a break. Anyway…What was I saying? Oh, yes! For the longest time I thought Lancelot would hold the “least favourite knight” title for me. Then I came across this young lad named Galahad….

 

Galahad’s character suffers from what I like to call the Superman Syndrome (and if that is a real thing I apologise to whoever coined the term). His singular function in the Arthurian tales is to be flawless. He’s the best knight; he’s the other person to pull the sword from the stone (thank you Malory…); he’s the one to find the Grail; yada, yada, yada. And you know what? I could –somewhat begrudgingly- deal with all that if he got some character development on the way. But nooooooo… I’m not kidding! In Malory’s version (which I’m going with since I don’t have access to the other versions of the story right now) he finds the Grail, rules as king on a city nearby (or was it the city he found the Grail in? I always get confused at this point.) and then dies. I think the way it is explained is that he was too pure for this imperfect world. Or it could just be that Sir Bores-a-lot Jr. had no other reason for existence. I’m not exaggerating. From the moment Elaine (not Elaine of Astolat, another Elaine) hears Lancelot is visiting her father and starts plotting to sleep with him, it is with the understanding that the result of the union will be the Chosen One. And we all know how that works out….

 

 

There are versions of the legend were Percival or even Gawain (-sigh- When am I gonna get a movie about him?) find the Grail. Heck! I’m pretty sure Lancelot finds it in one. Do I have a problem with that too? Well, I have problems with the Grail subplot in general, but that is the subject for another post (or more likely a dissertation). But no, I do not mind any of these three gentlemen finding the Grail. Why? Because that is not their only characteristic. They are not carbon cut-outs or lists of tropes on legs. They are three-dimensional characters with all the imperfections and struggles that come with that. And for that reason I can sympathise with them. Because I can see there was a process and a struggle to better themselves in order to be considered “worthy”, whatever that means….In Galahad’s case, not so much.

 

Now, someone might point out the fondness that medieval authors had for allegorical storytelling and archetypical characters. I understand and respect that. Sometimes variations on an already familiar theme are more imaginative than a completely new melody. However, even archetypes develop over time and I’m sorry but I just don’t see that in Galahad’s case.

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (246-359)

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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.