Memories of the Green Knight
By M.L. Stidmon
The Knight reigned in his mount and wiped at the sweat that was dripping down his forehead. The midsummer heat was unusually oppressive today. It had been this way for nearly a fortnight. With the summer heat the Knight was now wishing for an early winter, which was ironic in that last winter had been rather brutally cold and at the time longed for the return of summer.
His travels had brought him back to the County of Champagne, a place that he thought he would never return. Specifically, he was in the forested region south of Troyes. It had been a long ten years since he had last been in this part of the country. Not that he had purposely come back to this area. He found himself in this forest for no other reason than that he was by happen stance just passing through. The Knight recalled both sweet and bitter memories of these familiar trees. For it was here in the woods south of Troyes that an unfortunate turn of fate had led him to becoming what he was today. Here amongst the thick woods a series of events brought him along the path that had damned him to the harshest penance and service to the Church.
The Knight reached behind him and grabbed the water skin. Uncorking the spout he brought the skin to his mouth only to have a tiny trickle of stale water unsuccessfully quench his thirst. He corked the skin and put it back behind his saddle knowing that he would just have to tough it out being thirsty. He urged the horse on down the narrow wagon track through the woods. His mount snorted whiling jerking its head up and down wanting water too. The Knight reached down to steady the horse by patting it on its thick neck. The Knight urged the horse on with the only thought being that needed to find some water, not just for himself but also for his steed.
To add to his misery from the heat of the day the Knight wore, other than the helmet, his full suit of armor. He had even taken off the leather coif he would have typically worn when not wearing the helm. In the heat he was willing to go against custom of covering ones head in modesty. There had been no sign of any threat to his safety. If there were he was confident that being bareheaded wound not be his undoing. Thus his shoulder length dark hair hung in wet strands from his head, soaked with the sweat from the heat and wearing all his armor.
After sometime he came down a slight draw and into a glen. Not much bigger than a few acres the forest ringed the opening. The trees had long been cut back opening up the forest to the sun; however, it was clear that the trees were now encroaching in several places. He pulled on the reins of his mount suddenly causing the animal to be startled from its mindless plodding along as the Knight realized where he was. He had never planned on returning to this secluded place and wonder if there was something at work here. He looked about in amazement as he made sure he was in fact where he thought he was.
There on the far side of the open glen a tiny little cottage stood exactly as he remembered so long ago. He recalled the day he had first seen the little building as if it were only yesterday. He had been battered in a battle that had not gone well for the side he had been on. No quarter was being given to the losing side, so the Knight, along with others, had been forced to flee or be cut down. The battlefield was just to the west of the forest and it was hoped that safety could be had retreating into it. During the flight he had been separated from his few remaining comrades. On that similarly hot day he unwittingly stumbled into this very glen exhausted and suffering from a lack of food and water as well as the wounds of battle. His horse at the time had long ago faltered forcing him on foot. That day he had been reduced to a shell of the once proud formidable Knight that only a few days before had charged into combat.
To his relief that long ago summer day, the little thatch-roof cottage in this glen of the forest meant possible salvation. When he made his way across the glen that day he could see that a woman was working in a garden along side the humble abode. The Knight walked up to the low picket fence surrounding the garden the young woman was busily taking care apparently without being immediately noticed. Standing only a short distance from the woman he was so exhausted that he could not even call out to her.
The Knight recalled how he just stood there and watched her. It was the first time he laid eyes upon his Isabeau. She had been bent over weeding the intrusive plants that have always been a scourge to farmers through out the ages. Her slender body accented by her slightly curvy hips. But at that point lust was not even a remote thought, as all that the Knight could think of at the time was of food and rest. And then she had stood up and turned ever so slowly, her light brown hair flowing freely. As she turned around to face him it was not the warm welcoming smile that he would come to know and cherish every time, but an expression of fear and dread at sight of him. He was hurt and exhausted and the last thing he meant was any harm to her; nevertheless, she actually picked up a hoe and held it defensively before her. She had even called out for help.
“Hey! You!” An old woman cried from the door way to the cottage in answer for the cry, “If its mischief that you want, my Guillaume will take care of you.”
The Knight recalled how he had feinted; slumping to the ground after the old woman had threatened him. The next thing he remembered was that he was inside the one room cottage lying in a bed. The young lady had once again been turned from him so all he could do was watch her backside as she puttered about the hearth preparing a meal. It was then that the old lady had entered, interrupting the pleasant moment of watching the young woman going about her chores and saw that he was awake.
“Isabeau, he’s alive,” the old lady had said harshly in way of a warning.
That was the first time that the Knight had seen her radiant smile as she turned about and came to him. He was struck by the smile and her beauty. Up until then she had always had her back turned from him only allowing glimpses of her side to tantalizingly hint what she was like. During that first coherent moment he could only stare in awe as she approached his bedside.
“Well Sir Knight, welcome to the world of the living,” she said in way of greetings. “I would imagine that you are hungry?”
The Knight nodded as he realized that he lay practically naked in undergarments beneath the covers. Feeling very vulnerable and still a little confused about where he was and what had happen he asked, “Where am I?”
“Don’t worry,” Isabeau had said to him. “You are safe.”
He was safe he remembered. Isabeau and her foster mother had taken him in and cleaned and bandaged his wounds. Isabeau was the one to offer him to stay much to her foster mother’s reluctance. In return, he promised only for a couple of days at most. But then as he healed and regained his strength he found excuses in delaying his departure as he fixed his armor and arms and rested his horse, for he liked being around Isabeau and wanted to spend as much time as he could with her. Then after a week of having repaired to the best of his ability his few martial possessions he made as way for an excuse to stay by offering to do things around their cottage and their limited tilled lands. The two women lived alone in these deep woods of Champaign and he thought it only fair that he repay their kindness with labor. His stay therefore stretched into a fortnight in which he found himself falling in love with Isabeau and that he could not get enough of her.
She was not only the most beautiful women he had ever known but the most bright and pleasant to be with. She was kind and unselfish while being confident in her opinions and beliefs. She had a natural refinement that most Ladies could only imagine. For the Knight he was truly smitten by her and it ached more than the fading battlefield wounds when she was not around him. After so short a time since meeting her, he was so thankful for finding the woman of his dreams and desires. And the last thing he wanted was to ride on and leave her in these woods.
Isabeau’s foster mother was never truly pleased with the Knights presence or the things he did about the tiny farm. Every day she would make repeated references to her Guillaume. The Knight never saw this Guillaume or any signs of anybody but of the three of them. The Knight tolerated the old woman and was patient with her chiding and obvious disdain for him. But it always seemed when it came to him and Isabeau spending time alone the old woman was never to far away to allow an intimate moment. That is until one day Isabeau had gone off to the nearby spring fed pond where they got their water and washed their clothes. He had watched her go off but was momentarily delayed in following because of doing something with his horse. The old woman was no where to be seen busy in the cottage. The Knight seeing an opportunity of finally being alone with the woman he loved followed after her.
Here in the now, the Knight sat there at the edge of the familiar glen happily reliving the memory of that special of all moments in his life. He had quietly followed her, innocently thinking he would be able to spend time with her alone without the old woman hovering about. He was hoping to express himself to her and open up his heart to her. And when the Knight had finally caught up to the young lady he was embarrassed to find Isabeau nude waist deep in the pond bathing. She was in the process of combing her hair as he came on to the seen. She had seen him right away and again smiled at him. He had been such a little boy, all red face from stumbling upon her privacy. He recalled how he had turned about to retreat back up the path while apologizing for his intrusion. Isabeau had called out for him to stay.
The rest of the memory he recalled with a mixture of pain and joy. The joy of their first intimate moment coupled with the doom that befell her, all because of his actions. He took a deep breath as if gulping it for the first time while trying to suppress the thoughts of her fate. There was a tightening in his stomach as he recalled painfully how she paid for the sins of his guilt. His face set into a grim expression as he tried to put down the nightmare images of their last days together.
The Knight regained his composure and eased the horse over to the cottage and saw that a well had been dug since he had last been there. The cottage itself was run down in disrepair. The orderly garden that Isabeau had maintained was now choked with weeds and thistles. There were other changes to the old homestead the Knight saw that was indicative that the cottage had changed ownership since those brief happy days so long ago. However, the place now looked long abandoned. After giving the place a quick once over for any threat the Knight dismounted his equally exhausted horse.
He went over to the well leading the horse with him. He picked up the bucket tied to a long rope sitting upon the stone wall of the well and dropped it in to gratefully hearing a splash. The Knight hauled the bucket up hand over hand till it emerged from the hole. The Knight looked at the clear water only a moment before taking a long drink, hoping to rinse the bile from his mouth. His horse nuzzled him and he brought the bucket up to the horse for it to have a drink. When the bucket was empty the Knight dropped it back into the well and brought it up again. This time he let the horse have the water. The taste of bile was still in his mouth as he wiped at the ragged beard of droplets of water.
As the horse drank the Knight looked about the cottage and spotted an old rusty axe sticking out of a chopping block. Without realizing that he was back to remembering his first days with Isabeau, he smiled as he recalled the ruse that Isabeau and he would pull over her foster mother in order to find time alone. She would go off to the pond to do the wash or bring water. Those were chores that the old woman would not do. Then he would say he was off to chop wood since winter was on the way. The Knight would then go off in an opposite direction deceiving the old woman, while in fact he would circle around in the woods and meet with Isabeau at the pond. Most of the time the Knight and his new love would be satisfied with just being in each others company talking about their dreams and desires along with pasts. Then there were those times they would make love. But the ruse was not long lasting as the old woman had grown suspicious due to the lack of wood being brought back for the length of time spent in the woods.
The Knight took the old ax handle in both hands and lifted it up giving it an appraising look as he continued with the recollection. He and his Isabeau were sitting innocently along the bank of the pond while Isabeau was wringing out clothes when they were discovered by the old woman. She was so crossed and livid at the deception that never before had the Knight ever heard so wrathful of words come from any woman ever. Isabeau had gone after the old woman pleading with her to understand that she was finally happy and in love with the Knight. The Knight remembered how he stopped to gather up the laundry before following after the women back to the cottage when there was a scream.
The Knight looked at the place in front of the cottage where he had come across several men-of-arms roughly manhandling Isabeau. They were men of Burgundy out looking for fugitives from the battle. Venturing deep into the woods they had come across the little glen with the cottage at the moment that Isabeau and her foster mother had returned from the pond. The soldiers were brutal and saw an opportunity to relieve themselves with sinful fun.
The Knight had only the axe for a weapon as he came running to the defense of the women. The soldiers were oblivious to the Knights presence till he was hacking at them with a fury unmatched by any of the men of Burgundy. The Knight’s attack was so sudden and violent that the soldiers were quick to retreat only putting up a feeble resistance when the Knight attacked any one of the men. Not long after the first scream had brought the Knight running to Isabeau’s defense than the men of Burgundy were in head long flight on horseback.
The Knight was brought back to the present when his horse made a sound. He put the ax down and walked back to the well and where the empty bucket lay. He lowered the bucket once more into the well to draw water for the thirsty equine. As he hauled up the rope he was distracted by an unnatural sound. Quickly he let loose the rope and spun about. The bucket splashed far below as he saw a huge figure standing in the deep shadows of the forest edge. The Knights hand dropped to where a short sword dangled from his belt.
His long hand and half sword was in its scabbard hanging from the saddle on the opposite side where he stood next to his horse. He was thus forced to face whatever lurked in the shadows with the smaller blade of his falchion.
Since becoming a member of the Order of the Holy Trinity the Knight had come across many a creature evil or otherwise. Never before had he encounter one such as the misshapen giant that entered the clearing. His horse reared on its hind legs and ran off before the Knight could better arm himself or even get his shield. The Ogre, for that was what it must have been, was deceptively quick as it charged the Knight with an up raised cudgel. It was all the Knight could do to avoid havening his skull caved in.
In his first move to avoid the Ogres attack the Knight dove off towards the old wood pile where he had dropped the ax. He scrambled for it literally on all fours. The Ogre was following after bringing the huge club down on the dodging Knight. The gnarled oak limb that had been fashioned into a most effective weapon came close to connecting more than once and just as the Knight grabbed the ax handle he parried a blow with the falchion.
The Knight’s arm went numb as the edge of the falchion bit deeply into the club as the Ogres blow landed fully upon the blade. Then to the Knights horror the hilt of the blade was yanked from his tingling fingers as the Ogre went to strike another blow at him. Not entirely defenseless the Knight swung the ax at the thick legs of the Ogre. Connecting with a feeble swing, the ax barely bit deeply into the upper leg of the huge brute. That was enough to disrupt the Ogre from striking a blow as it howled in pain.
The Knight got to his feet and squared off against the Ogre with the ax held ready. The Ogre regained its focus and with the Knight’s falchion still stuck in the cudgel swung at the armored warrior. The cudgel only swiped at empty air as the Knight ducked while also striking out with the rusty ax. The head this time bit deeply into the side of the Ogre.
This time the reaction of the brute was such that the Knight barely retained the ax in his grip. The brute staggered back while swinging at the Knight with a half hearted backhand swipe. The Knight was easily able to avoid this attack and even snatched at the hilt of his short sword freeing it. Now armed with the ax and the falchion he advanced on the Ogre.
The Ogre gripped its side as the Knight walked up to it. The brute swiped at the Knight keeping the armed man from coming to close as it took stock of the situation. It could not understand how he had gone from certain victory to clasping at his side where only its think hide and stone hard rib cage had saved it from death.
The Knight had no wish to fight the Ogre and keeping a safe distance called out to it.
“Why did you attack me? What did I do to you?”
The Ogre was somewhat confused at first not expecting the Knight to call out to it. It called up the sounds that formed words that he rarely used and answered. “I save ma mere.”
The Knight looked at the Ogre not quite understanding what he met. He stole a quick glance at the cottage and saw how it was so run down. He then looked at the Ogre standing far enough away where either would have to charge the other to resume the fight.
“Ma Mere? I come in peace. I do not mean any harm to anyone.”
“Lie!” The Ogre bellowed swinging the cudgel towards the Knight. “Soldiers took Isabeau way. Soldiers hurt ma mere.”
“Isabeau.” The Knight could not help but whisper. Then something occurred to the Knight. But he could not say anything more as the Ogre, bleeding from the two wounds, resumed the fight enraged.
The Knight backed lithely away despite the armor from the Ogre. Maintaining a safe distance just out of the reach of the cudgel the Knight called out, “Guillaume!”
The Ogre had taken a double handed grip on the cudgel and had been about to bring it down upon the Knight in what would have been a terrific blow, when the Knight called his name. The Ogre was brought up short as it was mystified that this Knight would know him. It stayed his hand as he wanted to know who this man in armor was.
“I know you?” the Ogre asked.
“Maybe, I knew your mother and Isabeau,” the Knight said trying to calm the brute down and reason with it.
“You knew ma mere and Isabeau?” The brute said with a sort of child like glee.
Taking this opportunity to quell any more attacks and to find out information the Knight replied, “Yes it was a long time ago. Your mother and Isabeau helped me when I came here a long time ago. You are Guillaume that she talked about, your mother that is?”
The Ogre patted his chest with a big hand and said with what passed as a grin, “My name is Guillaume.”
“I see,” the Knight said lowering the ax to the ground and sheathing the falchion. “Your mother, where is she?”
The Ogre pointed off to the cottage. “She there, sleeping.”
The Knight grimaced trying to understand what the Ogre meant. As if understanding that the Knight was confused the now gentle giant made a motion for him to follow as he went over to the door of the small abode.
The Knight had to look over the shoulder of the stooping brute at the door way to the cottage. The Ogre was much too big to enter and could only look in from the entrance. The Knight could see in the gloom one of the beds with a dark lump under the bedding.
“There is ma mere,” the Ogre said in a child like voice. “She is sleeping, must be quite.”
The Knight caught the warning look of the Ogre, but ignored him. He was no further threat for the time being. The Knight took in the interior of the small cottage and saw how the affect of leaving the door open for several months, possibly even a good year had done. Leaves and debris had blown in forming piles. Animals had also visited the cottage knocking over what few possessions there were.
The Knight understood what must have happen. He tapped the big brute on the back and said. “If you want I will look in upon your mother?”
The Ogre with round eye wonderment like a child’s despite his grotesque features said, “That ok, I’m not allowed in cottage.”
The Knight gave the Ogre another pat and squeezed by him entering the little place. The air was dank with the smell of rotten vegetation. The Knight looked about once more to make sure there was nothing threatening. He then strode over to the bed calling out to the old woman.
There was no response as he approached the bed. He looked back at the Ogre and saw a look of worry on his face. With a callous thought he thought it strange to see such a monstrosity fretting so. He turned back towards the bed and reached for the coverings. Gently pulling them back he saw the long dead remains of someone, likely that of the old woman. He covered her up and turned about.
The Knight stepped from the cottage and looked at the Ogre who had backed up some waiting anxiously. The Knight looked at the huge brute who moments before was trying everything to bash in his head. The Knight shook his head slightly in disbelief at how events tend to turn in totally unexpected ways.
“I’m sorry my friend,” the Knight said walking up to the Ogre. “Your mother is dead.”
The Ogre had been slightly stooped over to hear more clearly what ever the Knight was going to stay. The news was not at all what he expected and the gargantuan man slumped heavily to the ground. Bearing his face in his large hands as he began to sob.
The Knight was truly amazed at such a sight and was motionless for a moment. Never before would he have ever imagined such a reaction from the brute. He was dumb stuck not sure what to say or do.
After a moment the Knight reached out a hand, placing it on the gently heaving shoulders as the monster cried. “If you want I will help you bury her?”
The Ogre looked at the Knight standing next to him. Even while sitting the Ogre was eye to the man in armor. The brutes face was wet with tears. His eyes were red and his nose ran. The Knight took an involuntary step back from the Ogre.
“I sit here,” the Ogre said not quite able to express himself well but enough to convey what he wanted.
The Knight backed away a few more steps after nodding. He then looked about for his horse that had run off when the Ogre first attacked. Fortunately his mount had not gone to far off and was warily watching the proceedings from the far side of the glen. The Knight pointed off to his horse and was going to explain his intentions but the Ogre was staring off towards the cottage crying and was all but oblivious to the Knight. The Knight turned about and walked off to get his horse.
Still jittery from the Ogre’s assault the horse was nervous as the Knight approached it. It was only the familiar soft comforting words spoken to it before it began to relax and allow the Knight to come close. The Knight stepped slowly as he made straight for the bridal. As he grasped the leather harness the horse was startled at first but reassuring pats and strokes down its flanks calmed it down. The Knight then turned back to look at what the Ogre was up to.
The Ogre had gotten up from where he been uncharacteristically overcome by emotion and sauntered over to the wood pile. The Knight began to walk his horse back over to the cottage. As he did so the Ogre was seen hunched over going about some business. The horse became nervous at sight of the Ogre and jerked its head up nearly breaking the grip of the Knight. The Knight was momentarily distracted trying to keep his mount under control and when he looked at the brute he saw that he has a burning brand in hand. Then the Knight watched as the monstrous man with the misshapen features flicked the burning brand into the cottage. The wood of the cottage was very dry due to the hot dry summer and it did not take long for the small hovel with the body of the old woman who had given him so much grief to be fully engulfed.
Both the Ogre and the Knight watched the cottage burn. Only the sound of wood burning and the cottage coming down as its structural integrity literally went up in smoke was all that could be heard. Every now and then the horse snorted nervously as it was forced to be in the close proximity of the Ogre and the make shift pyre.
The Knight took the reins of the horse and mounted the beast. The horse danced about a few steps as the Knight situated himself in the saddle. The Ogre appeared to not have noticed as it stood there watching the fire consume the cottage.
It took several prodding kicks to the horse to get the steed to come remotely close to the Ogre. The Knight did not know what to say to the Ogre. The Ogre broke the silence as he turned to face the mounted Knight, tears still streaming down his face.
“You the one with Isabeau. She liked you.”
The Knight could only nod.
“Where Isabeau? I go to her?” The Ogre asked pleadingly.
It pained the Knight to say what he was about to but he looked at the Ogre and said, “She also died, sometime ago.”
The Ogre let out a whine, threw up his arms and turned about in despair. The Knight watched silently as the Ogre dropped down to its knees and wept even more. The Knight tried to say some words to comfort the brute but the Ogre ignored him. Looking about the glen the Knight turned the horse in a desired direction and urged it on from the glen.
At the edge of the glen the Knight gave one last glance back at the glen that had been so full of memories. The sight of the distraught Ogre kneeling beside the burning remnants of the cottage was just one more. This memory would not so much haunt him but would only confound him.