Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Part 4, lines 1998-2308
The next morning was New Year's day, and the dawn brought with it terrible storms, carrying driving snow. Gawain heard it all - he was in bed with his eyes closed, but he slept little. Just before dawn he rose, dressing by lamplight, and ordered his groom to bring his mail shirt and Gringolet's saddle. Gawain was made ready, magnificent in all his armor. Underneath it all he wore a layer of wool against the cold, then the rest of his armor, polished as well as when he had arrived. And with a glorious fur-lined velvet vest, mounted in jewels, Gawain wore the green silk belt, the present from the lord's wife, aware of his best interests. He was determined to save his neck from the threat of the Green Knight.
Gawain took leave of the noble folk in the castle. Gringolet was made ready; the horse had been well groomed and fed, and Gawain sang the praises of the caretakers in the castle. Gawain mounted and spurred his horse, commending those within to Christ, once and for all. The castle gates swung open and Gawain crossed himself as he passed through. A guide had been assigned to him, and he followed the guide's lead. The trees were bare and the cliffs frozen along the way. A misty drizzle settled on the land and melted on the mountains. At the top of a hill, the guide stopped and Gawain pulled up alongside. He asked to speak freely to Gawain, as someone who loved and cared for him. He said that Gawain should go no further: the wild man who lived there was the most horrible creature on earth, bigger than four of Arthur's knights, and loved to kill anyone - peasants, priests, monks, or abbots - at a whim. He then swore to Gawain that if he were to turn back he would tell no one of it, and lie for him always on the matter. Gawain stood firm:
"'I'm grateful, fellow, for all your good wishes;
I believe you'd keep it a secret, I believe you.
But however loyally you lied, if I rode
Away, fled for fear, as you tell me,
I'd be a coward no knight could excuse.
Whatever comes, I'm going to that chapel,
And I'll meet that wild man: however it happens
It will happen, for evil or good, as fate
He may be,
God can see,
God can save.'" Part 4, lines 2127-2139
The guide told him he was courageous; courageous enough to voluntarily lose his life, it appeared. The green chapel was ahead, along the road in the upcoming valley. The guide swung around and raced off, leaving Gawain alone. The knight remained where he was, gathering strength by appealing to God, then spurred Gringolet down the path. Down in the valley, Gawain saw nothing but hills and rocky crags. The only strange thing was a queer kind of mound, in a glade by the bank of a stream. The water in the brook bubbled as though it were boiling. Gawain dismounted, and tied his horse to a lime tree. The knoll had holes at the end and at the sides, and patches of grass grew everywhere; he saw nothing inside but an old crevice-like cave. Gawain commented on the ugliness of the place, cursed it, and said to himself that this challenge with the Green Knight must have been the work of Satan.
Climbing on the roof, Gawain suddenly heard a violent noise, clattering off the cliff like a grindstone on a scythe. He called out, pronouncing his name. A voice replied from over his head, telling him to wait; what he came for he'd get right quick. A figure, grinding a weapon to a sharp blade stopped and came down through a hole, whirling an enormous long-bladed battle-axe. It was the Green Knight, and he looked as he had a year before, his skin, beard, and face green. But now he skipped like a dancer, leaping along and using his axe handle to hold him up as he approached Gawain, who stood grim as if on a battlefield. The Green Knight watched Gawain bow to him, then said that he knew he could trust Gawain now, for he had come to the green chapel. He continued that even though Gawain had made a difficult journey, it was time for him to pay his due and submit to an axe-stroke. Gawain asked him only to keep his bargain and swing only once, and he would oblige. Gawain bent his neck and leaned forward. He tried to seem fearless, but he knees were weak. The Green Knight hefted the axe above his head and pretended to strike. Had he done so, Gawain would have been dead forever. But as the Green Knight brought up the axe, Gawain looked to the side and caught a glimpse of the glimmering blade. He jerked his shoulders back just a bit as he saw this, and the Green Knight jerked the blade away. He said:
"'Gawain? You can't be Gawain, his name
Is too noble, he's never afraid, nowhere
On earth - and you, you flinch in advance!
I've heard nothing about Gawain the coward.
And I, did I flinch, fellow, when you swung
At my neck? I never spoke a word.
My head fell, and I never flinched.
And you, before it can happen your heart
Is quaking. Who doubts I'm the better
'I flinched,' said Gawain,
'I won't again.
And this much is plain:
My head, if it falls, won't talk in my hands.'" Part 4, lines 2270-2283
Gawain then promised to stand his ground; the Green Knight hefted the axe again. He swung it down, but stopped the blade short of Gawain's neck before it could hurt him; Gawain stood his ground like a rooted stump, and the Green Knight laughed and said Gawain now seemed ready for the blow. Gawain was angry and ashamed, and told the Green Knight that he talked too much and perhaps had scared himself with his threats. The Green Knight mockingly told him how brave he was, and lifted the axe once again. Gawain though his chances this time of living was scant.