Interlocutor: This story is told at the December 2010 Workshop Day at Bore Place on the High Weald in Kent, an organic farm and home to a splendid environmental and educational charity, Commonwork (http://www.commonwork.org/).
Storyteller: Nancy asked to me to tell a story at this Commonwork Workshop Day. I agreed at once to this opportunity for me to tell my seasonal tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. She replied, “Can you include vegetables?” “What!” I retorted, “Vegetables!” “Yes, can you include vegetables in the story, because it’s to be an advertisement for a new approach to organic food distribution, ‘Grow Cook Eat’.”
Interlocutor: My colleague the Storyteller is going to tell a pretty awful story. I invite the audience to listen carefully for horrible puns and to groan loudly. I now leave you in his culpable hands.
Storyteller: So, here am I, a thespian and storyteller of international renown, andNancy has the asparagus to have me tell a tale about organic vegetables. But, a busker has to earn a crumb, so I must remind myself to take her cue and not take umbrage – (taps forehead) cu-c-umb-rage.
So, y-am going to tell you my story of Sir Haywain and the Green Cabbage. This is necessarily a potted version. As you may know, it was a matter of honour with Haywain that the only food to pass his lips was organic vegetables, though at times he secretly craved a pork pie or a bacon butty .
It was Winter Solstice at King Artie’s Kent castle at Commonlot. King Artie and Queen Guin-eco-vere, very appl-y named, travelled there for the festival, Artie, as a good pear-ent, pushing his little brother Mordred in his High Weald push chair, Guin-eco-vere in a dog-carrot so small there wasn’t mushroom in it.
It was a time for feasting. The great hall rang with the laughter of fair, feisty women and lusty knights, quaffing hot mulled wine, a familiar scene at Commonlot. The festive board groaned beneath a sumptuous fare: barrels of boiled cabbage, basins of braised parsnips, al dente artichoke spears, mounds of mange tout, the vast vege-tables groaning beneath such a feast, all organic, for such was Queen Guin-eco-vere’s command.
Before the feast, the bishop said grace, “Lettuce with a gladsome mind, praise the Lord for he is kind.”
As was his custom, King Artie forbad the feasting to commence save first some wondrous tale of derring-do. As he looked around for such as these, there came a wonder – crashing through the door with a mighty bellow leaped the Green Giant (please, no corny jokes). The Green Giant’s head was a prize green cabbage and he was clutching a gargantuan vegetable slicer in his fist.
The Green Giant’s green cabbage head had button mushroom eyes,cauliflower ears, and a rather sweet turn-ip nose.
The Green Giant spoke, “I cannot tarry or be chard-y here. I come in peace, simply for seasonal sport.” Gazing around, he went on, “Which of you puny knights is willing to trade me blow for blow, wielding my vegetable slicer? Let him leap forth and grasp it, and smite me where I stand. And here’s the bargain, this day twelvemonth hence I get to return the blow. Who’ll take my challenge?”
Incensed, King Arti-choke-d with rage, and leaping up, stretched out his hand for the vegetable slicer, but Sir Haywain reached it first, “Nay, sire, grant me this chance to prove my courage-tte.”
The Green Giant removed his green gherkin, knelt upon the ground, and stretched out his neck for the blade. Casting aside his broccoli spear, Sir Haywain hefted high the mighty vegetable slicer, then whipped it down, chopping off the green cabbage head in a single strike. The green cabbage head rolled away. There was utter shock and silence in the hall.
Slowly, the Green Giant’s torso raised itself to its feet and walked stiffly to where its head lay. He lifted the green cabbage head, its eyes swivelling round to leer at Guin-eco-vere. Holding the head aloft, the Green Giant’s green lips began to move, “I am the Green Giant of the Green Chapel in the Northern waste. This day twelvemonth, Haywain, I shall return the blow.” With that, he was gone.
With the approach of next Winter Solstice, Sir Haywain left Commonlot for the Northern waste to search out the Green Chapel, for a mangoes where a man must go, accompanied by his faithful cauli, “Come on flower.” The weather was pretty chilli and the way was long, but Sir Haywain had a runner bean, and swiftly completed the journey.
Finally, so weary he was dead beet, he came to a moated castle, its pointed pinnacles glistening in the early morning light. The castle was in a poor state, its roof was full of leeks from which water sprouts poured down the walls. Yet, the jovial lord greeted him warmly. His wife was gorgeous, utterly radish-ing. She led Sir Haywain to a chamber hung with rich tapestries. There was a bed of soft down with quilted coverlets curtained in silk brocade.
Sir Haywain told of his dire quest to meet the Green Giant three days hence. “Why, the Green Chapel is barely a mile away. Rest here and nourish yourself. “I shall cherry-sh the time,” quoth Sir Haywain. Said the lord, “For three days whilst you rest I shall go a-pulling organic vegetables in my greenhouse. My wife shall keep you company at home. So, let us make a bargain. All I pull up in the greenhouse is yours. Whatever you pull is mine.” They raised their mugs of ale to swear their oath.
Interlocutor: if you get brassica-d off with this terrible story, you can alwaysleaf.
Storyteller: The lord arose at cock crow and took to his greenhouse. Meanwhile, Sir Haywain snored in his bed of down, beneath the coverlets, with silk curtains drawn. He was fast asleep, dead to the world, completely tomatoes.
There was a soft click as the door quietly opened. Soft footfalls crossed the floor. The lady slid the curtain aside, laughter quivering on her lips, “Wakey wakey, sire, I bring you breakfast.” On the tray was a juicy Big Muck, a whole cow-burger in a sesame seed bun with a slice of jerkin to go. “Madam, madam, for honour’s sake, alas, I must refuse.”
And so, with subtle taunts she toyed with him, wafting the Big Muck before his face and sinking her teeth into its juicy flesh. Whilst he parried each foray with courtly grace.
“Surely,” she said at last, “the gentle knight might crave at least the sesame seed bun before we part.” “Madam, ‘tis my courtly duty to obey.” She thrust the sesame seed bun at him and withdrew.
That evening in the hall, the lord heaped up his winnings for the day, ripe beetroots, their juice running like blood over the flagstones, “All for you, sire, this was our bargain.” Sir Haywain clasped him by the shoulder, “My winnings, lord, a fair exchange, one sesame seed bun.” “Why,” said the lord, “what delight. How came you by this?” “Ah!” replied Sir Haywain, “That was no part of our bargain. I will not say.” So, jesting, they went in to dine.
The next morning, the lord arose at cock crow and took to his greenhouse. Meanwhile, Sir Haywain snored in his bed of down, beneath the coverlets, with silk curtains drawn. He was fast asleep, dead to the world, completely tomatoes. And there the lady tiptoed to him, withdrew the curtains, breathed his name. Again she tempted him, with spit roast suckling pig on a sesame seed bun with a slice of gherkin to go, its juices dribbling onto the coverlet.
At this point, I must tell you a sad tale. Suckling pigs didn’t like being roasted on a spit, so they decided to go on strike, with the slogan, “Strike not Spike”. Alas, those clever GM scientists developed a docile suckling pig, which they calledGenetically Mollified.
“Madam, madam,” cried Sir Haywain, “I would fain cast away my honour for such a piece of crackling. Yet, I will not.” “Why, sire, have you forgot what I taught you yester-morn of courtliness and sesame seed buns?” And with that, she thrust two sesame seed buns at him and was gone.
That evening, the lord displayed his winnings, a veritable bouquet of cauliflowers. “For you, sire, as we agreed.” Sir Haywain clasped him by the neck, “My winnings, lord, two sesame seed buns.” “Why,” said the lord, “two sesame seed buns. Such increase in your trade. How came you by such fortune?” “Ah!” replied Sir Haywain, “I will not say.” So, laughing, they went in to dine.
The next morning, the lord arose at cock crow and took to his greenhouse. Meanwhile, Sir Haywain snored in his bed of down, beneath the coverlets, with silk curtains drawn. He was fast asleep, dead to the world, completely tomatoes.
Once more the lady came to him, bounced onto the bed, and stooping low one sesame seed bun she gave him. One sesame seed bun, and all the bliss of blossom time was his. Hard the lady pressed her charms, with Melton Mowbray pork pies and bacon butties, for she knew his secret craving, plus two more sesame seed buns. Sir Haywain cried in anguish, “Heaven forefend I should cast my honour aside, and yet, I love pork pies and bacon butties with all my heart and soul.”
The lady pressed upon him the three sesame seed buns, then drawing back unfurled from round her narrow waist the lord’s green gherkin, enriched with stones of jade and emerald. “T’is a talisman of magic worth, so potent it will shield you from any blade. Wear it beneath your mantle when you meet the Green Giant. But promise, lest kale-amity befall me, breath no word to my lord.”
That evening in the hall, Sir Haywain grasped the lord by the neck and delivered three sesame seed buns. “Three sesame seed buns!” laughed the lord, “Rich merchandise. And the price you paid?” “That’s no part of our bargain. My payment’s made.”
“Then here is mine,” said the lord. He displayed his winnings for the day, “A bundle of alfalfa sprouts fresh cut, a poor return for a gift of priceless worth, three precious sesame seed buns.” Of the green gherkin, Sir Haywain spoke no word. “It is enough,” he said, and, embarrassed, turned away.
A reluctant dawn broke on a Winter Solstice joyless, bitter and bleak. Sir Haywain bade farewell to his host and headed slowly towards the Green Chapel, in a narrow sheer-sided valley, sunless and dank. The green bejewelled gherkin was bound about his waist in hope it might shield him from hurt.
As he approached the Green Chapel he heard the whirring of the grindstone, the Green Giant’s vegetable slicer being sharpened to a fine edge. Then the Green Giant appeared, hefting his vegetable slicer. “Twelvemonth past you lopped off my cabbage head. Now, I shall return the kindness,” said the Green Giant. “I am not afraid,” replied Sir Haywain.
Sir Haywain knelt and stretched out his neck. The giant spat on his hands and hefted the great vegetable slicer, raised it high and brought it down with all his power and strength. No power on earth could save Sir Haywain now. The vegetable slicer hurtled towards his bared neck, so guided by the Green Giant it gave Sir Haywain’s neck the smallest graze, three drops of his bright blood staining the snow.
Unbelieving, Sir Haywain leapt to his feet, snatched up his broccoli spear and stood at guard, “You’ve had your blow. You shall have no other. I have kept the bargain we made. Now, I’m ready to pit my skill at arms against yours.” The Green Giant leaned on his vegetable slicer, “I’ll strike no more. You have been true to our bargain.
“In return for all the organic vegetables, you gave all six sesame seed buns, yet you paid the lord falsely, for you held back the green gherkin, and for this I grazed your skin. Yet, I forgive you, for you are a true knight. Moreover, I too have lied, and I cannot broccoli (brook a lie!! Where does he dig them up?) – the lady is my wife.”
“Your wife!” cried Sir Haywain, “well, that’s a turnip for the book.” Sir Haywain was mortified, “Alas, I have betrayed the laws of chivalry and my honour as a knight.” “Never mind, never mind,” said the Green Giant, “Why not stay, it pays a decent celery.”
But no, returning to Commonlot, Sir Haywain truthfully told his tale, showing the scar the vegetable slicer had made, and displaying the green gherkin. Yet, he was racked with grief and shame for the garnish on his name. In bitter shame and grief, Sir Haywain hung his head, and would ne’er be comforted.
So, that’s it, that’s shallot.
© David England, 2010