Gawain and the White Rose by T.C. Stevenson

Sunday, October 28, 2012
Knight Gawain travels to the Green Citadel to face punishment, but is distracted by a preternatural white rose, in T.C. Stevenson's fantasy dedicated to Holly Massard

Gawain surveyed his surroundings from the peak of the path. Below him, a vale of multi-colored oak trees sprang to vibrant life in the glow of a pink and orange sunset. Amidst the forest, cutting between the mountains, ran a narrow white river. From his elevated perspective, the knight saw no sign of the Green Citadel that he sought in the lands beyond. He drew in a deep breath through his nostrils, savoring the musty crispness of fall, and exhaled in frustration.

"We still have some distance ahead of us yet, Agape," Gawain sighed and patted the head of his gray colt with a heavy chainmail-laden hand. Gawain's steed and traveling companion did not heed his master's banter. The animal's wide eyes were focused with intelligent fascination upon the steep cliff of earth and rock that loomed over their narrow mountain path.

Struck with curiosity by his horse's fixation, Gawain followed Agape's vision in search of what had captured his mount's attention. His eyes widened with amazement, and he stood frozen with a dumbfounded expression of wonder upon his bearded face. Halfway up the mountain, caught between two rocks and nestled in a dark mound of dirt, rested a rose of unparalleled beauty. The flower was as white as fresh snow and, despite the fading daylight, seemed to glow like a star in the depths of night.

"Incredible," the knight whispered. Agape snorted a distracted retort and shuffled back and forth anxiously. Gawain shook himself free from the rose's allure and dismounted. He stood along the edge of the path and assessed the diminishing color and light in the evening sky. He sensed his strength and will waning in tandem with the setting sun. They had another hour's worth of travel by daylight, but in the company of the mysterious rose, he was willing to set up camp earlier than usual.

The young knight rarely slept along mountainsides, for he had heard tales of many travelers resting under similar conditions being crushed in their sleep by falling rocks. Yet, as he looked up at the bare cliff and saw the rose glowing ever brighter in the darkness under the rising moon, he decided that being in the presence of such a magnificent sight justified the danger. As Gawain laid on his bedroll, he wondered if he had been the first to ever see the luminescent rose. He determined that it must be so, for it seemed to him that all those who observe the flower's beauty would be destined to love it and conspire to take it for themselves.

The stars hovered and shifted in the sky as the moon rose to full height and began its slow descent, but despite many hours of travel, Gawain did not sleep. Late into the night, drowsiness began to take precedence over his fascination with the rose. Yet, seemingly in response to his abrupt weariness, Gawain was awoken by a fragrance as sweet as honey and as subtle and soft as cotton against his nose. Compelled by an intoxicated compulsion, he approached the mountainside and began to scale the steep cliff. Agape stamped his hooves and neighed in protest, but Gawain could not hear him.

Twice Gawain fumbled with the loose rocks on the mountainside and nearly lost his footing, but he did not yield. The cliff's terrain posed no particular threat, but Gawain's vision was so resolutely fixed on the rose that he could not properly assess the safest path to climb. Rocks of varying size tumbled down below him as he reached with growing desire for the glowing flower. As he ascended, his climb became more desperate and reckless. When it appeared as though the rose was soon to be within his grasp, his scrambling climb became too brash; he lost his grip and fell backwards, plummeting to the path below. As Gawain fell, it seemed to his eyes that the rose was fleeing from his outstretched hand. As he fell to the earth, despair occupied his mind rather than fear; the rose had deemed him unworthy.

Gawain awoke in the midst of a vivid recollection of his agreement with the Green Knight. The mysterious immortal's words rang heavy in his ears like the bells of a funeral toll. New Year's day was quickly approaching, and he had yet to discover the Green Knight's citadel so that he may receive the blow that was due to be dealt unto him.

Despite yearning to slumber indefinitely, Gawain's honorable vow had yet to be fulfilled, and the morning sun beckoned. As the vision faded and Gawain stirred, the reality of his circumstances became apparent. When he attempted to push himself upright, his wrist gave way to a terrible, searing pain, and he fell backwards into the dirt with a groan.

Gawain inspected his surroundings and discovered the debris of a minor landslide. Soil, rocks, and small boulders obstructed the path and spilled over into the valley below. With a pained grunt, Gawain turned himself over with his good hand and stood to assess the damage. Miraculously he avoided being buried in the rubble. There was no sign of his bedroll nor of his equipment. Gawain's heart trembled as he realized that his companion-steed, Agape, was nowhere to be seen. Frantically, he ran to the edge of the path and peered over the cliff. Far below the road, along the edge of the forest, Gawain made out the twisted and crippled corpse of Agape, half covered by earth and stone.

Gawain fell to his knees with a devastated cry. Agape, who had borne him as a burden for years, his companion in both war and travel, had been maimed by his careless obsession. With no clothes, no food, no weapons to hunt with, and no horse to bear him to more familiar lands, Gawain's starvation seemed assured. He set his face into his hands and wept for guilt and for grief.

When Gawain's circumstances seemed most dire and he had surrendered himself to dishonor and despair, a familiar and enticing scent drew him away from his bereavement and back to the mountainside. Gawain stumbled towards the rock-adorned mound of soil and collapsed before the white rose. In the landslide, it had become dislodged from its position on the cliff and had, miraculously, landed on the pathway unharmed. With trembling hands and tear-filled eyes, Gawain reached out to caress the flower's face; the buds were as soft as spring clouds. Their touch filled him with the delight and wonders of a child and suddenly, Gawain the brave knight of Arthur's court, in the presence of the rose, was once again as innocent and carefree as a babe.

However, Gawain was not content. He wanted the beauty and soothing love of the rose to be his treasure and his alone. Fearing that some unseen thief may conspire to steal the flower from his tender touch, Gawain grasped the rose and attempted to pull it from the loose earth. Much to his pained surprise, the white rose did not budge. In addition to the flower's reluctance, it also bore many sharp thorns angled down in such a way as to say 'I am not to be taken'. When Gawain stood, expecting to find the rose between his fingers, he found instead the sheared and bloody flesh of his sword-hand.

Gawain screamed out, but not in pain. He fell to his knees with his hands hovering over either side of the rose and stared down in horror at the frayed and blood-stained petals. As blood dripped from his hand and was absorbed into the earth, he watched the rose wither and die. In a matter of seconds, the flower's beauty had been undone. Gawain observed with dismay as the rose collapsed under its own lifeless weight into ash and floated away in the mountain breeze.

Long did Gawain the Covetous mourn for the felled rose before he set off down the path in search for his buried equipment and slain companion. Despite much hardship, Gawain's doom was not certain. He counted his blessings in spite of his misfortunes after discovering, with relative ease, his pack of necessities and valued adornments. Much to his despair, Gawain could not properly bury his steed, but made do as best as he could with his injured wrist and no spade.

Once more Gawain set out onto the road determined to accomplish his quest and maintain his valor. Yet, he would never be the same. Like the green, guilt-ridden girdle he was destined to wear, Gawain would bear the shameful scar of the white rose until the end of his days. As his path descended, Gawain looked over his shoulder in hopes of seeing a speck of white on the brown mountain canvas, but the flower was nowhere to be seen. A patch of red roses had bloomed in its stead - a wound upon the mountainside, a scar upon Gawain's heart.

1 comment:

  1. This is a fine write up about Camelot's legendary Sir Gawain. His trusty steed is not something out of Sir Thomas Mallory's prose. Well done. I felt like Sir Gawain whenever I go horse rising in centennial park horse riding.