His uncle stepped away, and slowly sighed
“Gawain,” he said, “I don’t know what to say—
You tell me that you wish that you had died,
That fear of death has led you to betray
Your honor and the oaths you once had sworn—“
He paused, and looked down where his nephew stayed
Head bent over his hands—a ring adorned
In gold, and cut with Orkney’s royal seal
Lay there before him, sunlit-streaked and warm
Upon the wooden table. Arthur kneeled
Beside his silent nephew, took the ring
And said, “Gawain, you tell me that you feel
As if you failed yourself, and me, your king
But that cannot be true, for you are here
Alive. You said you told me everything:
The reason for your quest—how you so feared
My death, that you would rather die instead
And yet, as with each day your death drew near,
You shied away from such an end. You said
You walked through empty woods, and forded streams,
And wandered on long, lonely paths that led
Beyond our earthly world, to stranger dreams.
Then you came back—with such apologies!
My nephew, I must say this failure seems
To me, less failure than a victory
For see, you are alive—you have returned
How can this be defeat? It cannot be.”
But Gawain shook his head, and sharply turned
Away from where his uncle’s gentle eyes
Beseeched him take forgiveness back, un-earned.
So Arthur stood. He said, “My nephew, rise:
I tell you that your honor is not less
Perhaps not more; but then, your honor lies
So far beyond the ken of all the rest—
Indeed, you took a task that none else dared
Although it seemed a doomed and feckless quest.
You proved that, at the last, you truly cared
For life more than for honor formed from games;
Myself, I am just glad that you were spared
And do not know who could, faced with the same,
Choose otherwise. Gawain, you must believe
In this there is no censure, nor no blame.
But still Gawain was silent—and Arthur grieved.