Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Part 1, lines 250-490
Arthur stood by solemnly and watched the Green Knight ride into the hall, for he knew nothing of fear, and asked the knight to step down off his horse and join them at their feast - whatever he had come for could wait until later.
The Green Knight responded by exclaiming that he had no intention of lingering; he recounted that the men in the room were reputed to be the proudest, boldest, and bravest warriors in all the land. He had come, he said, to see if this were true. He had come in peace, he said, for he carried a sprig of holly and wore no armor. Arthur said that nevertheless, if it were a fight he was looking for, the men would not hesitate to leap to battle. The Green Knight insisted he intended no harm, for even if they fought him they would lose, for there was no muscle in the room to match him. He had come only to propose a game to Arthur's knights, in the spirit of Christmas, to test their supposed bravery. Any one of the knights had only to rise and give the Green Knight one blow with his axe, the agreement being that afterward he would have to submit to one axe blow from the Green Knight. The knight that chose to accept would give his axe blow now, and the Green Knight would return the blow not that day, but a year and a day later.
The Knights of the Round Table sat even stiller now, and the Green Knight's eyes glowed red as he reared back and laughed at them:
"'Hah! Is this Arthur's house, hailed
Across the world, the fabled court?
Where have your conquests gone to, and your pride,
Where is your anger, and those awesome boasts?
And now the round table's fame and its feasting
Are done, thrown down at the sound of one man's
Words - and you sit there shaking - at words!'
And he laughed so loud that Arthur winced,
His fair face flooded hot with shame,
And his cheeks;
He flared as angry as wind,
And all his people
Burned." Part 1, lines 309-322
Arthur exclaimed that the Green Knight was being foolish, but if it was folly he wanted, it was folly he would get: he would do the honor himself. The Green Knight dismounted, and Arthur took up the axe and prepared to swing it. The Green Knight acted indifferent toward Arthur, and stood stroking his beard. Suddenly Sir Gawain leaned forward from his seat at the table and pleaded with Arthur to let this challenge be his.
"'Think of your bold knights,
Bursting to fight, as ready and willing
As men can be: defer to their needs.
And I am the slightest, the dullest of them all;
My life the least, my death no loss
- My only worth is you, my royal
Uncle, all my virtue is through you.
And this foolish business fits my station,
Not yours: let me play this green man's game.
If I ask too boldly, may this court declare me
The knights whispered, buzzed,
In a voice said it was
For Gawain; the king should halt." Part 1, lines 351-365
Arthur ordered Gawain to rise and accept the axe, which he did, as Arthur commanded his heart and hand to be steady and strong. Arthur reminded Gawain to strike but once and do as the Green Knight bid. As he approached, the Green Knight asked Gawain to speak his name, to make everything clear. Gawain obliged, and pledged to accept the stroke from the Green Knight in exactly a year. The Green Knight said he was pleased, and then asked that Gawain not accept the axe stroke in King Arthur's court, but instead seek out the Green Knight at his castle and accept it there. Gawain asked where that would be, since he knew neither the Green Knight's name or his home; the Green Knight said there would be time enough for such information after Gawain had swung the axe. Or perhaps he would say nothing, which would be better for Gawain, for it would not oblige him to hunt the man out.
The Green Knight bowed down and bared his neck; Gawain hefted the axe and brought it down. The blade cut through bones and skin and flesh, and slashed the ground as it cut through. The Green Knights head came off and rolled on the floor, and the surrounding knights kicked at it with their feet.
The Green Knight's body spurted blood, but his body stood up straight and dashed toward the thrashing feet of the knights, and retrieved his head. He carried it to his horse and mounted, holding his head by its long green hair. He twisted his bloody stump, then turned the face toward Arthur and Gawain, and said to Gawain that he should ride to find him as he had promised, in a year - that he should seek the green chapel, of which many men knew, or he would be called a coward forever. Then, the Green Knight wheeled around on his horse and galloped from the hall. Arthur and Gawain grinned at the joke and laughed at the Green Man, for they knew miracles had been sent.
Arthur was amazed in wonder, but did not show it. He turned to his wife, Guenevere, and reassured her that such events were right and proper for Christmas. He added that now, according to his custom, he could sit down and dine; the marvel he awaited had come. Arthur told Gawain to hang up his axe, for it had cut enough. The axe was hung as a trophy on the wall, and the knights and ladies returned to their tables, and Gawain and Arthur were served double portions, according to their rank.
The first part of the poem thus ends:
"And now, Gawain: think.
Danger is yours to overcome
And this game brings you
Danger. Can this game be won?" Part 1, lines 487-490