From the author: The Green Knight is, naturally, full of concern for protecting the environment, just as the Red Knight focuses on the means of production... But who is the knight with the lovely song?
Thin branches slapped at the Green Knight as he rode. He gently pushed them aside, and soon came out into the glade, where the grumbling was loudest.
A knight in red sat on the ground as his horse, unsaddled and its bridle removed, nipped the grass beside him. The Red Knight himself also tore at the grass, yanking it out and tossing it aside, as his angry murmurs continued apace.
“Halloo, good Sir Knight!” the Green Knight called.
The Red Knight flipped his visor up, took one look at the Green Knight, and returned to destroying the grass. “A term reeking of class distinction and privilege,” he spat, apparently to no one.
The Green Knight rode closer, then swung himself off his horse. “Pip pip, what ho!" he said. "Well met! I am on a quest, and seek companions unafraid of challenges.”
The Red Knight stopped pulling at the grass and looked up at him again. “A quest?”
“Certes,” the Green Knight said. “Much needs to be done, and there is no time to lose. But tell me, good Sir Knight, why are you antagonizing the grass in such a manner? Surely you realize that not only does it provide sustenance for your horse, but also furnishes the air with oxygen, and functions as a habitat for diverse small creatures and insects.”
The Red Knight stood up. “You talked of a quest,” he said.
“So I did. In vain have I long been searching for a companion stout and true, but now that I have found you, the hunt is at an end, and we can make common cause. Mount your steed, sir, and I will explain as we ride!”
The Red Knight looked at his horse, then down at the ground. “I can’t.”
“How so? Is the beast injured? Or are you yourself—“
“I can’t!” the Red Knight said. “It would be wrong! Using another being for my own benefit… It’s immoral and must not be countenanced.”
The Green Knight glanced at the knight's mare, and then gazed at his own horse silently for a moment. “I suspect you are correct, sir,” he said. “I had thought I had been fair to my fellow creature – a saddle made of natural undyed hemp, maternity leave, pesticide-free grass and organic, heritage apples – but you are right. I hereby renounce my use of this companion animal.”
The Red Knight strode forward and grasped the Green Knight’s arm in a firm grip. The Green Knight returned the clasp. “Good, good!” the Red Knight said. “And now, on to our quest! We must move swiftly, and seize the means of production!”
“The means of production?”
“Of course! Then the workers can rise up and take their places, brothers in a brotherhood of equals! The owners, the capitalists, the nobility – they will feel the just wrath of the oppressed!”
The Green Knight stroked his chin. “I, too, advocate a greater use of cooperatives and an increase in the political power of the disenfranchised and marginalized, in the perhaps vain hope that the Earth's new stewards would treat her with more compassion, but this talk of wrath makes me uncomfortable.”
“But those who will not join the revolution must suffer the consequences of their actions,” the Red Knight said. His eyes had become wild. “A bullet for every capitalist who refuses the new order!” Spittle flew with this utterance.
“But Sir Knight! Bullets – do you understand the environmental cost of mining the lead? Not to mention the fact that such weapons of destruction and mayhem are not compostable!"
The Red Knight waved away the Green Knight's worries. "All such concerns are immaterial – focus must be maintained on furthering the revolution. Then production will soar, the wastelands will bloom, the swamps will be drained and made productive. A new era!"
"To speak so casually of the destruction of desert habitats and wetlands – I want no part of your new era! I am afraid, Sir Knight, that we must part ways.”
The Red Knight glared at him for a moment, then sat down forcefully. “My time will come,” he said, and tore again at the grass.
The Green Knight unsaddled his horse. “I apologize, old companion, for the way I have thoughtlessly used you,” he murmured to his steed. “You are now free – free to make your own choices, to go whither thou wilt, to find your own path, too seek your own destiny.”
The horse ate grass.
“No need for tears,” the Green Knight said, removing a mailed glove to wipe his eyes. “Farewell.”
“So be gone already,” the Red Knight said.
The Green Knight trudged across the meadow. He looked back, just once, but the horse was still eating grass, and the Red Knight continued his angry monologue. The Green Knight sighed and turned away. After a bit he entered the wood, and the sun-dappled grasses were superseded by low brush and the trunks of trees. He walked on for another hour, and then paused.
“I had not realized how much work my good steed performed for me, carrying my armor-plated form to and fro,” he said. He removed his helmet and shook sweat away from his eyes. “Time for a short, mindful rest break.”
Careful not to crush any young plants, the knight sat, resting his back against a tree. He took comforting breaths of the good air and smiled at the life around him – the tree at his back, the sounds of birds in the high branches, the chutter of squirrels. Beetles scrambled through the twigs and leaves on the ground, and a column of ants carried a dead grasshopper to their unseen home.
“Lovely,” the knight said. “Reuse and recycle!”
He leaned his head back against the tree and closed his eyes. Slowly he became aware of a muted tinkle, and of his own thirst.
“The water in this forest is unlikely to have ever been imprisoned in toxic plastic bottles,” he said, “and as I walk in search of the stream my exhalations of carbon dioxide will do their part to nourish the plants that I pass.”
He got to his feet and set off through the forest. The tinkle, however, failed to get louder. He turned to the left, and walked, but the sound of water died out. He turned around and continued his journey, and the alluring sound gradually returned, at first louder and then quieter.
“I must seek the high road, or at least higher ground, so I can espy the lay of the land and discover where it might be that the brook wends its way,” the knight said. “This thirst is really getting to be a bitch.”
Ahead of him the ground rose, and he rose with it. He paused – did he hear some clanking noise? A sound of metal against metal? He couldn't be sure.
He continued his way. The path grew steeper. At some points he had to dig his mailed toes into the turf to make further progress, and he even had to reluctantly and apologetically enlist the aid of some saplings to pull himself up. Finally, however, he broke free to the top of the grassy knoll. Breathing heavily, he turned himself around to survey the scene before him.
The stream – yes, there was the glint of water, on the other side of the hill, no more than thirty or forty yards distant. But on the banks of the small river there was an alarming sight – two figures struggled and fought, one encased in black armor, and his opponent all in white, and the clash of swords against shields tore the peaceful air.
“Such ferocity! Dark – well, at least one of them is -- and stormy knights, indeed,” the Green Knight said. “Before I can get down there to stop them – see how they tear the land and frighten the birds – one of those brave knights, at the least, is certain to be killed! And yet I must make the effort.” He scrambled down the hill towards the fight.
When he arrived, there was no blood-soaked corpse on the ground. In fact, the combatants continued their knight moves, hacking away at one another, as angrily as ever.
But why were they doing battle? Perhaps they were fighting over the means of production, which the Red Knight had kept talking about. But he didn’t notice any means of production nearby.
“Ho, there, good knights!” he called out.
The knights continued fighting. First the White Knight would seem to have the upper hand, beating the Black Knight down onto his knees, and then the Black Knight would rally, and send the White Knight staggering back.
And which side should the Green Knight join? Who was the villain, and who the hero? Or should the two be fighting at all?
“Ho, there!” he said again. Again he was ignored.
The Green Knight looked around. Maybe a local personage, a witness, would present himself, and explain the fight. Maybe a damsel in distress would indicate which knight was her oppressor, and which her savior.
No such luck.
“Perhaps you could tell me why you are fighting,” the Green Knight said, a little more loudly. “Mayhap we could find a solution together to whatever it is that causes you to clash so violently. It does seem as though the only difference between you is the color of your outer encasements, which hardly seems something to have so much conflict over. I am sure you are aware that the chips of metal flying from your clashing swords will not naturally decompose.”
There was no response – the two continued to battle as furiously as ever.
"Is this a racial thing, maybe?" the Green Knight guessed. "Or is it that one of you supports Israel, and the other Palestine, in a never-ending conflict? Or maybe – I know! -- one of you is Good, and the other Evil! Is that it?"
The Green Knight mayhap had been a passing frog, for all the attention he got.
"Is this a recreation of a chess game, perhaps? The struggle between Democrats and Republicans? An abstract commentary on contrasts?" A sudden thought struck him. "Is it – is it – the polluters and the good, natural Earth? That's it, right?"
Neither knight so much as glanced his way.
Finally the Green Knight turned away, drank his fill from the river, and sat down on a hillock. His only option seemed to be to wait until one knight emerged victorious, and then ask his questions. But when the fight finally ended, would the victor be able, indeed, to answer his queries? Hard knights they undoubtedly were, but they fought so fiercely that even the winner would be certain to be a hard, dazed knight, and possibly concussed as well. He could only wait and see.
He sat there the rest of the afternoon, and into the dusk, and finally fell asleep to the sounds of their battle.
He slept fitfully, the sounds of battle so near, and at one point he dreamed – or saw – the image of a knight looming over him against the night sky; his armor sparkled. But then he dozed again, and when next he stirred the starry, starry knight was gone. He slept more deeply.
In the morning he awoke to find the bellicose knights still at it. "I give up," he said. He scooped another drink out of the river and went his way, following the watercourse.
A half hour later the sun was shining more fiercely, and sweat was trickling down inside his suit of armor. Nevertheless, he continued on. Soon he heard the odd sound of … singing?
Pursuing the sound to its source, he beheld a knight whose armor was covered in a cloak of purest white, a sheer and light fabric that swirled out from his form as the knight turned and cavorted, singing nonsense sounds as he did so.
“Pip, pip! Well met, good Sir Knight!” the Green Knight called.
The other stopped spinning and looked away from his cloak. “Hello, good sir!” He took a corner of the cloak and slowly swept it back and forth.
“I hight the Green Knight, and I seek companions unafraid of suffering and pain – walking instead of driving, for example – to join my quest.”
“Really?” The other knight seemed not entirely interested. “And what do you think of my cloak, sir? Does it not flutter in the breeze in a lovely and charming manner?”
“It does that, indeed,” the Green Knight replied. “Though I must say I prefer to be a knight in shining armor. The fabric is not one that is known to me, I think. Might it be some form of silk? And if so, did it come from free-range silkworms, who died of natural causes?”
“No. It is satin.”
“I see. And what is satin?”
“Again, I see. Please tell me the meaning of these strange words, ‘nylon’ and ‘rayon’ and ‘polyjester.’
“Of course, good Sir Knight. Nylon is a synthetic fabric made from petroleum products. You know, oil and such. Rayon, now, that is a really fascinating thing. It is derived from cellulose.”
“I see. It is, then, a natural fabric. This is good, for I cannot accede to the use of non-recyclable or artificial fibers.”
The Knight in White Satin looked down. “Well, as to that,” he said, “I regret to say that although it is derived from cellulose, it does require extensive, uh, processing to actually become rayon.”
“So – it not a natural fabric?”
“It is. It comes from cellulose.”
“But then it is processed. Probably using a lot of weird and toxic chemicals and the destruction of old growth forests.”
“You don’t know that. For all you know, it is a process of something like passing the unrefined cellulose through a spring-fed waterfall, then drying it in the presence of laughing children.”
The Green Knight smiled. “Wonderful! And this is truly how it is made?”
“It could be,” the Knight in White Satin said. “I just wear the stuff. I don’t really know how it is made.”
“So – for all you know, it could be refined by exposing it to the burning tires of gas-guzzling SUVs, dunking it in ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons, and then dabbing it with the tears of enslaved toddlers, using a brush made from the hairs of murdered endangered white tigers.”
“Could be. Or it could be like I said, with the waterfall and the laughter and that kind of junk.”
“You clearly have more knowledge of fabrics than I possess. Though you do not know for sure, which of these two scenarios do you think more likely?”
The Knight in White Satin sighed. “I guess I wouldn’t bet against the use of burning tires,” he finally admitted.
The Green Knight nodded. “I sorrowfully take my leave of you, then, Sir Knight.”
The Knight in White Satin nodded as well. Then he spun around. “Look how the satin shimmers in the sunlight!” he cried. He hummed to himself, a tune that looped around itself, never reaching an end.
The Green Knight walked away.
He walked through the forests, he walked through meadows, he walked through glens and valleys and tors and places like that. And as he walked he did so with a frown. Indeed, anyone who glimpsed him as he walked might have termed him the Knight of the Sad Countenance.
Would he never find another knight to assist him in his quest? And another thought had been growing within him, which he could no longer ignore: what, exactly, was his quest, anyway? To inspire those with whom he met – and yet his words seemed to have no power.
And so his gait slowed, his feet all but dragging as he walked along.
Then, in the distance, he heard a song. A woman's voice, strong and clear.
Approaching the source, he beheld a knight sitting on a fallen tree, singing an unhappy song quietly to herself. And although the song was a lovely one, it seemed to lack something, a vital element; and so it was not only sad, but broken.
The strange knight looked up as the Green Knight neared her, ending her song.
“I do not mean to intrude,” the Green Knight said. “I was merely drawn here by the melody and uncanny power of your song.”
“You do not intrude, good Sir Knight,” the singing knight said. “I am named Gladys.”
“And I am the Green Knight. I am pleased to meet you, Gladys Knight. It does my heart good, to see that a woman such as yourself has been allowed by the patriarchal power structure of our land to be given the honor of knighthood! But do tell me, what do you here, alone in this forest?”
“I wasn’t always alone,” Gladys said, “but I seem to have misplaced my colleagues.”
“I am sorry to hear that. Were they companions stout and true?”
“Indeed they were. But I have not seen them for some time.”
"I do hope they are not, now, late knights."
"I am sure they are not."
"That is good." The Green Knight drew a breath. “It appears to me, good knight, that you are on a quest. A quest to discover your lost associates.”
Gladys blinked. “I suppose I am.”
The Green Knight bowed low. Upon rising, he said, “Then may I be allowed to assist you in this noble quest? I have traveled far, and met many, and yet I have had no direction, no purpose. Together, perhaps, we may inspire true nobility among kings and yeomen, seamstresses and farmers, artists and architects, and pipefitters. And find those you have lost.”
Gladys returned the bow. “Then let us be on our way!”
"By all means! Pip, pip, what ho!"
They set forth on their quest. And yes, they met other knights along the way, but they’re not really a part of this story.
This story originally appeared in The Fifth Di.