The Green Knight and the Werebeast
The Green Knight had thought it had taken all of his will power to crawl from the frigid tributary of the Neckar. But in the cold winter morning it was all he could do to keep moving in the direction that he thought the village of Tubingen was. He fought with a haunting voice within him urging him to just lie down and curl up for some much needed rest. With his woolen cloak a stiff cocoon about him. And his leather and mail armor were also frozen with ice from having been thoroughly soaked. To make matters even worst for him, he was battered and bruised from being swept along the river. Some of his wounds were quite serious and if it had not been for the freezing temperatures he would have had to worry about lost of blood. But being of water, blood does not flow so well in the dead of winter. Therefore, lying down next to some tree would have been the death of him. What he really needed was a warm hearth.
The Green Knight had been sent to this region of the Germans by the church to hunt down and dispatch a reported werebeast. The hunt had been the easy part. The actual dispatching of the werebeast had been an entirely different matter all the more compounded by the brutal winter weather and deep snow. Nevertheless, the Green Knight had persevered and tracked the beast to a small glen in the forest where under last night’s full moon he had confronted it. Having battled several lycanthropes in the past the Knight was all too aware of the ferocity and strength that they possessed. It was that experience that had prepared him for the confrontation, giving him confidence. Armed with a silver tip lance he had charged upon the beast.
The outcome should have been assured, the great armored knight on a war horse bearing down upon the werebeast. The chase through the deep winter snow had been long and arduous for both the quarry and the hunter. A slight advantage had gone to the hunter since the werebeast had affectively broken a trail through the frozen landscape. But the werebeast, spawned from an evil curse, proved to have just as much stamina as the huge equine, or even more.
The werebeast had paused in the glen as the Knight broke through the trees and charged down upon the wolf-like creature. The snow was too deep for dexterous maneuvering on the horse’s part and the werebeast easily sidestepped the initial charge. The Green Knight knew that the beast had the intelligence of the human it was during the day. Suspecting that the werebeast would only dodge and evade while he was mounted upon his steed, it would only be a matter of time before his mount would be too exhausted to continue the chase.
Boldly the Green Knight slipped from the horse’s back and tossed the lance off to the side. He had then drawn the long hand and half sword to confront the creature on foot. The creature seeing what it took as a foolish action of the knight advanced towards the sword wielding warrior.
That is when the trap to lull the werebeast into attacking him unraveled. Never before did he ever hear of a werebeast of any kind working in concert with any other living animal. To the Green Knight’s surprise, two huge wolves charged in attacking, blind-siding him. Knocked off his feet, he could only defensively swipe at the wolves but not before one had actually bit only into his leather gauntlet.
After the sudden appearance of the two wolves, the fight had gone from about to easily dispatching the werebeast, to a struggle for his very survival. As the Knight tried desperately to regain his feet and the advantage, the werebeast and the two wolves kept up the attack constantly snapping their fangs at him and raking his armor with claws. His counter blows were ineffectual, only swiping at empty air. It got to the point that the Knight realized that he was overmatched and needed to retreat. He was reduced to fighting with two daggers, one of which was a silver blade, having lost the long awkward blade in the struggle.
The werebeast and compatriot wolves had forced the Knight back into the woods to a point over looking a ravine. Below was a raging stream cutting a path through the rocks till it emptied into the Neckar. Seeing a means of escape the Green Knight chanced that the Lycanthrope would not follow him as he presumed the two wolves would surely not. With the fight going against him and no possible other avenue of escape, the Knight threw himself over the edge in a probable suicidal move, landing in the raging stream below.
There in the river, the quick rushing current washed him away. It was all he could do to keep his head above water and keep from drowning. Where the battle with the werebeast and wolves had caused several wounds, his body was truly battered in the turbulent rapids. As he was carried along he was bashed into rocks and ice.
Nearly lifeless and frozen to the core the Green Knight reached a calmer spot in the stream. Exhausted and numb all over it was only his indomitable will that dragged him out of the freezing water and into the frigid air. With great fortitude he had stood upon the bank of the stream and followed it down to the Neckar. From there he followed the river up stream looking for the village of Tubingen, knowing that it could not be much farther than a few leagues.
The distinct smell of burning wood carried in the calm morning air as the Green Knight rounded a bend in the river. In his frozen state he could barely discern the ruins of a stone keep. In such a desperate state he would just have to take a chance and hope that the occupants were hospitable. Trudging on as if drunk, he plowed his leaden legs through the deep snow to the ruins.
Inside, the sudden appearance of the Green Knight startled two young children huddled about a small fire in an alcove of the ruined main hall of the keep. The Knight tried to lift an arm and present an open hand in greeting and to calm the fears of the two children huddled together. Frozen to the point of being stiff all over, he could barely lift the arm. He gazed about the ruins for any adults and saw that he and the children were evidently alone. Stumbling over some debris the Knight lurched towards the fire and with a heavy thump fell next to it.
Immediately the little flame caused him to warm some. Shaking off the urge to go to sleep he sat up straight, crossing his legs, to hunch over the fire to warm up better. By this time the two children had scooted to the far side of the fire to keep the flames between them and the frozen Knight.
After what seem like a long time the Knight looked up at the two children, a boy and little girl.
“It’s okay,” the Green Knight said trying to be reassuring, “I won’t hurt you. I need the warmth of your fire. Where’s your Papa or Mama?”
The children did not reply as they silently looked back at him with obvious fear in their eyes. He diverted his eyes from them and placed a couple of pieces of wood on the fire. He had no intentions of scaring these children. He was just looking to thaw out and be on his way.
“When do you expect the grown ups to return?” the Knight asked thinking who ever the guardian of these children must be away on an errand, probably out scavenging food or wood for the fire.
Still there was silence.
Then for the first time the Knight saw that there was a small pot suspended over the fire. Inside was a stew bubbling away. From within him his stomach grumbled. The Knight looked about the immediate area of the fire pit and could only find two bowls.
Ladling out some of the stew into the two bowls the Knight asked of the children, “Was this to be your breakfast? Here have some.”
The Knight then set each bowl down before the two huddling siblings. Taking the pot from the hook he set it down before him. With out fretting over the hot stew he slurped the remainder of the contents down, making his body feel that much warmer.
“Hans,” the little girl spoke out, “he’s eating mama’s stew.”
The Knight paused in scooping from the little pot as the girl spoke. He looked at the girl with a little shame. Here he was taking food from this family to save him self.
“Lass, I have coin. I can pay your mama for the food,” the Knight responded. He then finished the contents of the pot. Still terribly thirsty he looked about for something to drink and saw nothing.
“Boy, be a good lad and fill this pot heaping with clean snow,” the Knight ordered.
At first the boy did not move, this irritated the Knight. “Damn it boy, do as I say. The quicker you help me the quicker I will be on my way.”
The boy gave the Knight an intense look of hatred as he reluctantly got up and took the pot from the Knight.
“Don’t worry; your sister will be safe. On my honor nothing will befall her,” the Knight tried to reassure as he could clearly see that there was a look of concern directed from the boy being asked to leave the girl alone. “Come on get going, get the snow. Be sure to pack that pot with as much as you can.”
As soon as the boy left, the Knight stood up. The girl cringed and scurried a couple of paces from the fire. The Knight laughed as he took off his cloak and draped it nearby to dry out some. Still standing he looked closely at where the werebeast had punctured his mail with a claw, driving the steel chain links into his chest. He sat down again and started to remove his gauntlets.
“I don’t know what more I can tell you, I will not hurt you. There is nothing to be afraid of little one,” the Knight said as he finished taking off his gauntlets. The girl did not reply and stayed where she had retreated away from the Knight.
The boy came back moments later with the pot overflowing with clean white snow. He could see that his sister had moved slightly away from the fire and gave the Green Knight a suspicious look.
“Rest easy boy, I only took off my cloak and gauntlets.”
The explanation seemed to pacify the boy and he set the pot next to the Knight, trying to keep as far from the big man as possible. Inwardly the Knight could only chuckle as he set the pot hanging over the fire again. If he wanted to he could easily hurt these children with such ease as to be nearly effortless. The fact that it was the last thing he would ever do only added to the irony of their behavior towards him.
The sound of a foot fall on stone caused the Knight to jerk about. Entering the ruined hall was a woman in tattered dress and cloak. Far from being beautiful she was not ugly. The hard peasant life was most evident upon her. She carried a bundle of wood. Taking in the scene she approached cautiously.
“It’s okay; I have not hurt the children and can pay for the food and anything else I need,” the Knight said in way of friendly salutation.
There was anything but welcoming hospitality in the woman’s return glare. She said nothing as she came close to the children dropping most of the wood, retaining a good size stick for obvious protection.
“I’m sorry that I have frightened you all. Please believe me I mean you no harm. I just need to warm a little, perhaps dry my cloak and clothes too. And bandage my wound here and then I will be off. I told the children I am more than happy to give you coin for your troubles.”
“We don’t want your coin, just leave,” the woman sneered.
“Soon, give me a moment,” the Knight said trying not to seem like he was losing his patients towards the woman and children with their obvious hostility towards him.
His armor consisted of a stiff leather vest over mail. The ties of the vest were now unfrozen and with still somewhat numb fingers he was able to untie them. Taking the vest off prove to be painful, he was more hurt than he had initially thought. Looking closer he saw how several of the chain links had been torn and the jagged metal driven into his chest. In order to take off the mail shirt he would basically rip those pieces of metal from his flesh and then could expect even more bleeding.
The snow in the pot was now mostly melted. He wanted clean water to wash the wound but he could see the remnants of the stew still stuck to the sides of the pot or floating in the water. He took the ladle and started to stir the water while periodically scrapping the sides. While he did this he was creating a very watery soup. When it was warm enough but not too hot he looked over at the woman who still glared at him.
“We had the stew earlier and the children said it was your breakfast. I know it’s not much but it would be a waste to throw this out. I need the pot for clean water. Hand me the bowls and I will fill them.”
There was still some stew left in both bowls. The woman looked down at them and then back at the Knight. “Why do you do this?”
“Look woman, I mean you no harm. I just need to warm up a little and bandage my wounds then I will be gone from here. But my patience does have boundaries.”
“Those wounds,” she pointed to the Knight’s chest, “how did they happen?”
“I was sent to this region to hunt down a werebeast. I tracked it down last night. It did not turn out like I had thought it would. It damn near was the death of me.”
“Why do you hunt the werebeast?”
The Knight had reached over and taken the bowls filling them with the soupy water. With the rest of it he took a long drink empting the pot. Setting the pot down, he looked at the woman cradling the two young children in her arms protectively.
“It’s what I do. I take my direction from his Holiness the Pope.”
“And this werebeast, he threaten the Pope?” the woman asked insolently.
“No, it did not threaten the Pope.”
“Then why hunt a creature that has done nothing to anyone?”
It was true there were no reports of the werebeast attacking anyone. There were accusations of cattle and other livestock being taken by the creature but not one report of anyone being killed by it. As a matter of fact, if it had not been spotted by a respected bishop of the region then it is highly doubtful anyone would have known of it. The only reason he had been called upon to hunt the cursed creature and dispatch it was only because he happen to be nearby in Stuttgart.
Looking at the woman he stated simply, “It exists, and for that reason it is to be hunted down and destroyed.”
The woman glared at the Knight as he wiped the pot out with a piece of cloth. He then looked at the boy and held it out.
“If you would please, fill it again.”
The woman reluctantly released the boy who took the pot from the Knight. The Knight took some of the wood that the woman had just brought in and stoked the fire even higher and hotter. He then got some bandages ready waiting for the boy to return. Drawing his steel dagger he wiped it down and placed it into the coals of the fire.
“It seems unchivalrous to kill something just because,” the woman said as the boy returned with another pot full of snow.
The Knight took the pot, setting it back on the hook above the fire, noticing that the boy was not as guarded this time. He wondered if he was finally easing their fears or was it because their mother was there.
The Green Knight sat back with his hands out before him massaging blood and life back into them. He looked at the peasant woman and then about the ruins.
“It’s an evil curse that I kill, not some hapless animal. If this curse goes uncheck then it could threaten all of humanity. It’s necessary.”
The look that the woman gave the Knight surprised him. It was as if he was announcing his attentions to rob them or something. He could not understand her attitude, it was not rational or… human.
Looking about the ruin keep the Knight turned back to the woman. “Tell me, how is it that you live here in this place? Where are you originally from? Your accent is more eastern than from around here.”
“Saxony,” the boy answered.
“Hans,” the woman snarled at the boy. “Watch yourself I will do the talking.”
“Saxony? I have not been there since oh when the girl must have been first born. Funny, it was because of a werebeast too. It was my first such kill,” the Knight stated.
He did not miss how the pupils of the woman dilated. He had struck a nerve about the Saxony werebeast.
Continuing on, “Was it the werebeast that drove you from Saxony?”
The woman said quickly, “No it was not the werebeast it was something else.”
The woman nuzzled the back of the girls head in a comfortable familiar manner.
“Yeah, I know how things like that can happen,” this time the Knight gave a knowing look through narrow slits of his eyelids.
For awhile there was no further discussions as the snow melt water soon started to bubble in the pot. The Knight leaned forward and dipped his finger in. Satisfy that it was warm enough to use for washing the Knight made sure all was ready for him.
He reached down crossing his arms and grabbing the bottom of the mail shirt. He then pulled it up and over his head. He had to go slow because of the pain and stiffness that he still felt. When it came to the point that he had reached where the metal links were embe dded in his flesh he quickly jerked the mail up. There was a slight prick of pain as the metal links were ripped out. He paused a moment to catch his breath before completing taking off the mail shirt.
At that moment, with the shirt up over his head blinding him, the woman struck out with the stick she had never sat down. With all the strength she had she struck the Green Knight up against the head. The Knight was dazed and forced backwards. The woman had not stopped there and leapt upon the Knight hitting him repeatedly with the stick.
The Green Knight had been a warrior for more years than most could remember. He had lived a hard life fighting many battles and confronting many creatures and demons. His strength was considerably more than even the most experience soldiers in the world. The woman had the element of surprise and a tenacity rarely encountered.
For the Green Knight he was stunned from the initial blows. He brought up his arms in a defensive manner to ward off the blows. The woman was on top of him still trying to bash his head. He tried to grab her arms but still feeling the effects of nearly freezing to death his movements were sluggish. Finally he decided to take a couple of blows and deal with the woman herself.
He grabbed her forcefully; all the while she rained blows down upon him, and literally kicked her off to the side. He was then able to get to his knees and confront her.
“Are you mad woman?” he barked at her.
“I should have killed you last night!” she screamed and leapt towards him. Her eyes were wide with hatred as her teeth gnashed together.
The wild woman dove upon the Knight wielding her stick high over her head. She landed hard against him, her intended blow as limp as her body suddenly became. The Knight held her body close to his with one arm while the other arm was between them. He stood up still clutching the woman who was now a limp body. He looked at the shocked faces of the two children. Then he let the body slip to the floor exposing that he grasped the silver blade dagger.
Walking from the ruins the Knight paused for a moment. The cloak was for the most part dry and he wrapped it tighter about him. The sun was now high to the south. It had taken him awhile to cleanse the chest wound and cauterize it. The burn where he had placed the one dagger still stung. But it closed the wound from bleeding profusely. Then there was the matter of what to do with the bodies. He finally decided leaving them as they were would be cruel. Not to mention if they were found it would look like some murderous thug had killed a mother and her two children. No, he had to do something about that.
Turning back towards the ruined hall of the keep he flicked a burning brand into the pile of wood and brush he had gathered. It took a while but the pyre was soon totally engulfed. He thought it ironic that in the bitter cold air he had to back away from the intense heat from the fire. He turned to continue on to Tubingen.
Just outside the keeps walls the Green Knight paused as a set of tracks caught his attention. From the direction where he had fought the werebeast and the two “wolves”, were two distinct sets of canine tracks. What caught his eye was that for one of the sets continued into the keep while the other one went up to the bare stone. What was unique about this set of tracks was that the very last print was that of a child’s foot. In a perverse way he felt better of the dirty deed that he had to perform.