What with one thing and another he’d been separated from his hunting party and brother knights and though they were no more than a morning’s ride from King Mark’s castle Sir Gawain (of Arthur’s knights the very paragon of gentility) found himself lost yet again. “Some strange adventure is this,” quotha, “and dark these woods.” He spun a tale and eke another to himself before coming to the other side, and marveled to see a vast plain spread out before him and a court thereon assembled. “I will assay it, and bear report to Mark the king of what passes in his domain,” and, so saying, descended unto the court.
A strange court indeed. A young man of the most unaffected simplicity, whose face was the very index of his mind, sat a high bench against a woman of twenty-six or twenty-seven, bound hand and foot like a criminal, with the most noble, the most agreeable, the most interesting visage, rendered yet a thousand times more piquant by that tender and touching air innocence contributes to the traits of beauty. Sir Gawain marveled at the abuses piled upon her by the young man, and vowed in his heedless heart to rescue her, an he could.
“Oh, Monsieur,” she sobbed, “unbend, I beseech you; be so generous as to relieve me without requiring what would be so costly I should rather offer you my life than submit to it!”
“Tell us,” commanded the young man, “why so strange an animal as man was made? and if the Emperor of the Ottomans concerns himself with the comfort of the mice on board his ships?”
“I pray you, tell me what this means,” said Sir Gawain of a good old man standing off to the side, “and why she cries so.”
“I do not know,” answered the worthy man, “I am entirely ignorant of the event you mention; I presume in general that they who meddle with the administration of public affairs die sometimes miserably, and that they deserve it; but I never trouble my head about what is transacting at Constantinople; I content myself with sending there for sale the fruits of the garden which I cultivate.”
And Sir Gawain was sore perplexed, and not a little outraged.