Weariness, however, eventually sets in. The knight is worn down, burdened by the cold, lonely quest that is set before him. And through such weariness, the first hint of doubt sets in, doubt in his ability to follow through with his promise. This doubt, though, has not eliminated his faith in God. He rides until Christmas Eve and then, having lost his last bit of strength, he seeks divine aid.
And therefore sighing he prayed, ‘I beg of you, Lord,
And Mary, who is gentlest mother so dear,
For some lodging where I might devoutly hear mass
And your matins tomorrow, humbly I ask;
And to this end promptly repeat my pater and ave
Bewailing his misdeeds,
And praying as he rode,
He often crossed himself
Crying, ‘Prosper me, Christ’s blood!’ (SGGK 754-762)
It is at this moment that respite comes. “Hardly had he crossed himself, that man, three times, / Before he caught sight through the trees of a moated building” (SGGK 763-764). The arrival at Bertilak’s castle is clearly intended to delight both the knight and the reader. “There is a sense of the miraculous about the sudden appearance of the castle, an indication perhaps that Gawain has indeed received supernatural help in his search for the green chapel, a search which in realistic terms he has little hope of bringing to a successful conclusion unaided” (Anderson 309). Yet the sudden splendor of the building may just as likely represent the first of the subtle deceptions Gawain is to suffer throughout his sojourn. It persuades him to let his guard down, to relax, to grow complacent. “If the glow of life within the gracious castle made temptation the more insidious, this was but a reminder that man must not presume upon divine mercy, that his experience of mercy must not relax his vigilance any more than the apparent severity of justice must occasion despair” (Engelhardt 224). Just as faith strengthens the knight on his journey, fidelity should alert the hero to any assaults upon his integrity. But the potential for temptation does not even occur to our hero, instead, he “graciously takes off his helmet, and devoutly thanks / Jesus and St Julian [the patron saint of hospitality; Winny 145], who kindly are both, / Who had treated him courteously, and listened to his prayer” (SGGK 773-775).
Once inside, Gawain receives a warm welcome, and is granted a great freedom by the lord of the keep. “He said, ‘You are welcome to do as you please / With everything here: all is yours, to have and command / as you wish’ ” (SGGK 835-837). Yet once again, the devil lurks just beneath the surface. To check this freedom requires an even greater reliance on his faith and fidelity, an increased effort that seems unlikely given his long travels and comfortable accommodations. The words of his host may also imply an even darker meaning. “This courteous encouragement to make use of everything at yowre wylle may hint at the freedom later offered to Gawain by the lady” of the house (Winny 145).
Gawain is further disarmed (literally and figuratively) by the behavior of other residents of the castle. “There he was stripped, with joking remarks, / That knight, of his mail-shirt and his fine clothes” (SGGK 860-861). The armor he puts off is heavy and as it is removed, off come the burdens of his quest and the vigilance of his virtue. Each of them longs to be with him and learn from him, knowing well the legends surrounding his name. He is,
the man to whom all excellence and valour belongs,
Whose refined manners are everywhere praised,
And whose fame exceeds any other person’s on earth . . . .
‘Now we shall enjoy seeing displays of good manners,
And the irreproachable terms of noble speech;
The art of conversation we can learn unasked,
Since we have taken in the source of good breeding.
Truly, God has been gracious to us indeed,
In allowing us to receive such a guest as Gawain,
Whose birth men will happily sit down and celebrate
In knowledge of fine manners
This man has expertise;
I think that those who hear him,
Will learn what love-talk is.’ (SGGK 912-927)
Like every other aspect of the castle, the agreement Gawain makes with Bertilak seems innocent enough. As Bertilak suggests:
You shall stay in your bed and lie at your ease
Tomorrow until mass time, and then go to dine
When you like, with my wife, who will sit at your side
And be your charming companion until I come home.’ . . .
‘Yet further,’ said the man, ‘let us make an agreement:
Whatever I catch in the wood shall become yours,
And whatever mishap comes your way give me in exchange.’ (SGGK 1096-1107)
Up to this point, the fair-minded reader can understand why Gawain expects nothing but good from this place. He is staying in a well-set castle with a gracious host, flattering servants, and a beautiful lady with whom he may freely and innocently converse. What more could the good knight ask for? The poet, however, warns both Gawain and the reader of the coming deceit in his description of the lady’s entry to the knight’s bedchamber the first morning of hunting.
And as he lazily dozed, he heard slily made
A little noise at his door and it stealthily open;
And he raised up his head from the bedclothes,
Lifted a corner of the curtain a little,
And takes a glimpse warily to see what it could be.
It was the lady, looking her loveliest,
Who shut the door after her carefully, not making a sound,
And came towards the bed. The knight felt confused,
And lay down again cautiously, pretending to sleep;
And she approached silently, stealing to his bed,
Lifted the bed-curtain and crept within,
And seated herself softly on the bedside,
Waited there strangely long to see when he would wake. (SGGK 1182-1194)
I shall tuck you in here on both sides of the bed,
And then chat with my knight whom I have caught.
For I know well, in truth, that you are Sir Gawain,
Whom everyone reveres wherever you go;
Your good name and courtesy are honourably praised
By lords and by ladies and all folk alive.
And now indeed you are here, and we two quite alone,
My husband and his men have gone far away,
Other servants are in bed, and my women too,
The door shut and locked with a powerful hasp;
And since I have under my roof the man everyone loves,
I shall spend my time well, while it lasts,
with talk. (SGGK 1224-1236)
And there a woman met him,
With the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart.
She was loud and rebellious,
Her feet would not stay at home.
At times she was outside, at times in the open square,
Lurking at every corner.
So she caught him and kissed him;
With an impudent face she said to him:
“I have peace offerings with me;
Today I have paid my vows.
So I came out to meet you,
Diligently to seek your face,
And I have found you.
I have spread my bed with tapestry,
Colored coverings of Egyptian linen.
I have perfumed my bed
With myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.
Come, let us take our fill of love until morning;
Let us delight ourselves with love.
For my husband is not at home;
He has gone on a long journey;
He has taken a bag of money with him,
And will come home on the appointed day.” (Pro 7:10-20)