Our hero’s eyes sought eagerly, and long
Sought vainly; for the lady Elfinhart,
Debating with herself, stood yet apart;
But as Sir Gawayne gathered up his reins
And bade the draw-bridge warden loose the chains,
Suddenly Elfinhart stood by his side,
Her fair face flushed with love, and joy, and pride.
She plucked a sprig of holly from her gown
And looked up, questioning; and he leaned down,
And so she placed it in his helm. No word
Might Gawayne’s lips then utter, but he heard
The voice that was his music, and could feel
The touch of gentle fingers through the steel.
“Wear this, Sir Gawayne, for a loyal friend
Whose hopes and prayers go with you to the end.”
And, staying not for answer, she withdrew,
And in the throng was lost to Gawayne’s view.
He roused himself, and waving high his hand,
Struck spur, and so rode off toward Fairyland.
Long time he traveled by an unknown way,
Unhoused at night, companionless by day.
The cold sleet stung him through his shirt of mail,
But, underneath, his stout heart would not fail,
But beat full measure through the fiercest storm,
And kept his head clear and his brave soul warm.
No need to tell the perils that he passed;
He conquered all, and came unscathed at last
To where a high-embattled castle stood
Deep in the heart of a dense willow-wood.
And Gawayne called aloud, and to the gate
A smiling porter came, who opened straight,
And bade him enter in and take his rest;
And Gawayne entered, and the people pressed
About him with fair speeches; and he laid
His armor off, and gave it them, and prayed
That they would take his message to their lord,—
prayer for friendly shelter, bed and board.
He told them whence he was, his birth and name;
And the bold baron of the castle came,
A mighty man, huge-limbed, with flashing eyes,
And welcomed him with old-time courtesies;
For manners, in those days, were held of worth,
And gentle breeding went with gentle birth.
He heartily was glad his guest had come,
And made Sir Gawayne feel himself at home;
And as they walked in, side by side, each knew
The other for an honest man and true.
That night our hero and the baron ate
A sumptuous dinner in the hall of state,
And all the household, ranged along the board,
Made good cheer with Sir Gawayne and their lord,
And passed the brimming bowl right merrily
With friendly banter and quick repartee.
And Gawayne asked if they had chanced to hear
Of a Green Chapel by a Murmuring Mere,
And straightway all grew grave. Within his breast
Sir Gawayne felt a tremor of unrest,
But told his story with a gay outside,
And asked for some good man to be his guide
To find his foe. “I promise him,” said he,
“No golden guerdon;—his reward shall be
The consciousness that unto him ’t was given
To show a parting soul the way to heaven!”