Perilous Graveyard

The Perilous Graveyard

The Perilous Graveyard (L’Âtre périlleux) was a 13th century Old French romance. The Perilous Graveyard was one of the few French medieval romance that have Gawain as the hero. Though, Gawain appeared in many French tales, he often take secondary role against such heroes as Perceval, Lancelot and other more obscure heroes.

Gawain have many adventures in The Perilous Graveyard, so I have divided Gawain into main sections.


Perilous Graveyard
Regaining His Reputation


For more stories about Gawain, see Sir Gawain or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.




Perilous Graveyard

This 1st part of the Perilous Graveyard began Gawain’s adventures from the King Arthur’s castle to the death by combat of Escanor de la Montagne.


Abduction of the Cupbearer

The tale began on the grand feast at Pentecost, when a lady in a crimson silk robe rode her horse into Arthur’s court, asking for a boon. This lady wanted to be Arthur’s cup bearer for a day, and wanted Arthur’s best knight to protect her from mistreatment. Arthur was very reluctant to name any of his knight, the best, because he didn’t want to offend any knight that he didn’t choose. The king suggested that his own nephew, Gawain, would protect her honour. The lady readily agreed, because she was secretly wanted it to be Gawain.

The next day, the lady was serving at Arthur’s table, when a large, haughty knight rode into Arthur’s court, and carried the cupbearer off, challenging any knight to rescue her. The giant knight claimed the lady was his sweetheart. Everyone was shocked at the knight’s outrageous challenge, yet none of the knights at Arthur’s table was willing to fight the haughty knight.

Gawain, who was the cupbearer’s protector should have being the one to rescue the lady, but he was in a dilemma of either rushing to save the lady, or to wait until the meal was over. Gawain decided it was best to wait, until the supper was ended.

The king was mightily upset of the lady’s abduction and Gawain’s inaction as the lady’s protector. Sir Kay, Arthur’s seneschal, was even more upset with Gawain, and rebuked Arthur’s nephew. Kay decided to rescue the lady, if Gawain was such a coward. Kay quickly returned to his own chamber, armed himself, before riding out of the castle.

Now, Arthur was worried over his faithful seneschal would meet his death, because he really don’t believe that Kay have any chance against the giant knight. Arthur rebuked his nephew for not acting immediately when the abduction took place. Gawain told the his uncle that he didn’t want to rudely interrupt the king’s feast. So reprimanded by the king, Gawain left the table, and went to his chamber, where he donned his armour and weapon, and rode out on Gringalet. (Gringalet is Gawain’s horse that appeared frequently in the Arthurian legend with his owner.)

The seneschal managed to reach the abductor before the giant knight could get very far from the castle. As usual in most medieval romance, the unnamed knight easily defeated the reckless Sir Kay in a joust. Kay was unhorsed, breaking his right arm as he fell into the ditch. The giant left Kay in the ditch.

It was in this manner that Gawain found the seneschal. Gawain was upset that Kay, and tried to help the seneschal. Sir Kay insulted Gawain as a coward, for arriving too late stop the abductor. Kay returned to the castle while Gawain continued on his journey after the abductor and the cupbearer.

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L’Âtre périlleux was written in c. 1250.
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Death of Sir Gawain

By midday, Gawain heard cries of some women, so he went to investigate. He found three women lamenting and a young man blinded; his eyes plucked out, and still bleeding. Gawain asked one damsel, why they were lamenting, but she fainted before she could tell him anything important. The second damsel also didn’t say much before she fainted as well.

From the third damsel, Gawain learned that “Gawain” had been killed by two knights. The blind youth tried to aid the so-called Gawain, but he lost his eyes from one of the knight. The two knights killed an unarmed knight, who they mistakenly believed to be Gawain and mangled his body. They severed his head and his limbs from the body. It was Gawain whom the three damsels were mourning over.

Gawain, without revealing his identity, couldn’t convince the youth and damsel that Gawain was still alive. So he vowed to return to them, to prove that Gawain was not dead. So Gawain continued his journey, following the abductor; he doesn’t began this new quest until he had killed the abductor in the second part of the romance, in Regaining His Reputation.

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Regaining His Reputation.


Lady of the Perilous Cemetary

The other knight with the maiden in captivity, arrived at castle before nightfall. The giant knight found accommodation with the lord of that castle. Gawain, however, arrived too late. The gatekeeper refused entry to everyone, once the sun have set and the gate closed. Left without a choice, Gawain had to sleep out in the open.

Not far from the castle, there was an old, deserted cemetary and a ruin chapel. Gawain decided to rest for the night in the graveyard. It was long before the hero encountered a young lord riding towards the castle. When Gawain spoke up, the frightened young man thought the devil had come to kill him or take his soul.

The young lord was relieved to find out Gawain’s identity, and offered to help him to get inside the castle, because it wasn’t safe to stay at cemetary after dark. Usually, when the lord arrived at the castle late and the gates were closed, one of the servants would drop down a rope from the top of the battlement so he could climb the wall. But Gawain refused to enter the castle if it meant leaving his horse behind.

The young lord, however, was willing to help Gawain, so that the abductor could not enjoy his captive. The youth returned to the castle, which belong to his brother-in-law. The youth asked his brother-in-law for a boon: that the knight’s beautiful captive would sleep in his sister’s chamber, but return her to her captor in the morning. The knight futilely refused, but his host had already given his promise to his brother-in-law, so he would have forced the knight to do so. So the knight reluctantly agreed and allow his captive to sleep in the chamber of the host’s wife. The young lord and his sister’s family were upset to learn that Gawain was spending the night in the cemetary, fearing that he may not be alive in the morning, but they were fearful from opening the gates.

Back at the cemetary, Gawain was sitting on one of tombs, and before could get any sleep, stone slab covering the tomb began to lift up by itself. Astonished, Gawain watched with growing horror, as the stone slab continuing to open up. In the coffin, a young, beautiful blonde woman sat up in a samite robe of red and green. She immediately recognised Gawain and reassure him that she was no ghoul or demon. However, she was trapped in the cemetary because of demon knight. She told him about the curse of the Perilous Cemetary.

When her mother died, her father had remarried. Her stepmother was a witch and jealous that her beauty was less than hers, so she used enchantment to inflict her stepdaughter with madness. Years later, a strange knight (devil in human form) arrived, telling her that he could cure her of madness only if she promise to be his sweetheart. Her demonic lover only visited her in the cemetary at night, and during the day the damsel must sleep in the coffin. The damsel regretted letting this demonic knight become her lover. Only the boldest knight could saved her from the strange knight.

Gawain agreed to helped her, and she informed him if at any time he was to falter, he only have to look at the cross on top of the chapel, to recover his strength and courage. Gawain didn’t have time for any new instruction, because the demonic knight arrived.

The knight was jealous and angry when he saw her with Gawain. They attacked one another with lances, then sword. Both knights suffered from numerous wounds. Whenever Gawain faltered in the long combat, the blonde damsel reminded him to look at the cross on the chapel, to regain his strength and courage. Finally, it was the demonic knight who began to tire from the long encounter, driven back by Gawain sword strokes to the tomb. The demonic knight tripped and fell into the coffin that the damsel sleep by day. The impact of his fall, caused his sword to fall from his grip and his helmet to fly off his head. Gawain wasted no time, and lopped off the demon’s head with his sword.

The damsel rejoiced that she was free from the horrible knight and her curse. Exhausted from the battle, Gawain and the damsel slept in the cemetary.

People at the castle heard the battle from the cemetary and were anxious about Gawain’s safety, especially the young lord who befriended Gawain, but none of them ventured out of the castle at night, even after the battle ended. They immediately set out at dawn. Everyone rejoiced when they saw that Gawain was alive. The young lord had food and drink brought from the castle. The young lord also had informed the hero that he had fulfilled his promise last night.

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Escanor de la Montagne

At the castle, the abductor was reunited with his captive, and they continued on their journey after breakfast. When news reached Gawain that they have left, he wanted to set out after them. Both the blonde damsel of the Perilous Cemetary and the young lord wished to accompany him in this journey.

Gawain left the cemetary with his companions, but Gawain failed to gain on the abductor before nightfall. The abductor and his captive reach another castle and was given accommodation by the lord. Gawain’s young companion was also related to this lord by marriage.

Before, the abductor and captive entered the castle, the blonde damsel from Perilous Cemetary was upset that Gawain would be fighting this knight that they were following, because she recognise him. She pleaded him not to fight him, because she knew that Gawain’s mother had warned her son not to fight a knight, named Escanor de la Montagne. Strangely, Escanor have the gift that most people associate with Gawain, himself, where his strength increase each hour in the morning, reaching peak at noon, before his strength decline after each hour in the afternoon.

Another interesting information, revealed is that Gawain’s mother was a fairy. Though, the text doesn’t actually reveal his mother’s name, this “fairy” implied that Gawain’s mother was Morgan, sister of King Arthur, because she was known as Morgan le Fay. Usually, Gawain’s mother and Arthur’s sister, was an ordinary woman, named Morgawse or Morcades; perhaps the author had mistaken Gawain’s mother being Morgan.

When she couldn’t dissuade Gawain from combat with Escanor, she advised him to fight him late in the afternoon or even at night. Gawain agreed.

At Gawain’s instruction, his young friend visited the lord, and convinced his kinsman, that the captive should be given into the care of the lord’s wife, who was another sister to Gawain’s companion. The lord couldn’t refuse the boon, so the abductor couldn’t sleep with damsel. Escanor was again angry with the young lord at Gawain’s service.

Escanor only agreed to surrender his captive, or else he would be force to face Gawain at night. When Gawain heard that Escanor had given in to his host’s suggestion.

In the morning, Gawain got up early, and managed to confront the abductor just outside of the castle, on the road.

It was revealed that Escanor had planned this day, far in advance. It was his plan to send the damsel to Arthur’s castle. He hoped that Gawain would follow and fight him. The damsel was really Escanor’s sweetheart. By this time, Escanor didn’t want to fight Gawain, and was willing to let his pursuer to leave, without a fight, but Gawain consider this, would brand him as a coward.

Gawain’s friend, remembering the damsel advice to the hero, tried to delay the combat, suggest this wasn’t a good place to fight and suggest the best place would be in the open field. Both knights agreed, and followed the young lord.

Each damsel was now fearing for her knight, as they sat on the hill, under a tree. Escanor’s damsel now regretted to her lover’s plan.

Both knights charged, with their lances levelled against each other. Both lances shattered on the other shields. Gawain immediately drew his sword, but Escanor suggested that Gawain’s companion to fetch more lances from the castle. When the lord returned with six lances and offer them first to Gawain, he graciously told his friend to give Escanor the first choice of lance. This allowed Escanor choose three of the best. But it was all to no avail, all the lances were destroyed in the jousts. Both knights then attacked each other with their swords.

Gawain was fighting quite well, until he split deeply Escanor’s shield, but his sword got stuck. Escanor twisted his shield, so that Gawain lost his sword. Weaponless, Gawain rode away, and picked up one of the broken lances that Escanor had discarded earlier. Instead of aiming the lance at the knight, Gawain killed Escanor horse. Escanor was outraged, that Gawain had killed his charger, as he leaped to his feet. To Escanor, it was cowardly act to kill an opponent’s horse; he lost all respect for Gawain. Gawain seeing how tall Escanor, feared for his own horse, Gringalet, quickly dismount to fight his enemy on foot. Gawain managed to regain his sword.

The two knights fought long and hard, sometimes favouring Escanor, and at other time favouring Gawain. By the sun rose higher, Escanor became stronger. The shield barely protected them, and their hauberks were torn in several places, revealing their bleeding wounds.

The fight ended suddenly, when Escanor’s sword became stuck on Gawain’s shield, and couldn’t draw it back. Escanor now fearing death, pleaded for mercy. Instead of accepting his enemy’s surrender, Gawain dispatched his enemy: his sword clove Escanor’s head all the way to the shoulders.

The young lord and the blonde lady were overjoyed that Gawain was victorious, but Escanor’s damsel was grieving for her dead knight. Gawain consoled her, by promising that she should return his uncle’s castle, where Arthur could find a better knight to be her husband. The damsel agreed to Gawain’s suggestion. So the two ladies and the young lord followed Gawain back to Arthur’s castle, but Gawain’s adventure would not end so soon.

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Regaining His Reputation

The second part of Perilous Graveyard has nothing to do with Gawain’s earlier adventure, against the demonic knight in the cemetary and against Escanor. Despite the title of this romance, Perilous Graveyard, the rest of Gawain story in the second part have nothing to do with the cemetary.

However, an earlier scene (in Death of Sir Gawain), where Gawain encountered the three damsels and the blind lad, is link with Gawain’s new adventures. Gawain now attempted to find the perpetrators who claimed to kill and mutilate him.


The Lady and the Sparrowhawk

First, they returned to the castle, the one near the Perilous Cemetary, where Gawain recovered from his wounds and strength. The two ladies and the young lord decided to go with Gawain to Cardueil, when he departed, but seven leagues before Gawain and his companions reached his uncle’s castle, they heard in the forest, a damsel crying in distressed.

Gawain decided to go to the lady’s aid, and asked the young lord to lead the two ladies to Arthur’s castle. Gawain departed from their company, in search of the weeping damsel.

Upon finding the damsel, she informed him that her lover’s pride sparrowhawk left in her care, had flew off and perched on the high branch of an oak tree. Gawain promised to help the damsel, dismounted and removed his armour and weapon, preparing to climb the tree if necessary. The moment he got the sparrowhawk, the lady’s knight returned. The knight thought his sweetheart had being unfaithful. Despite that he was only honourably fetching the sparrowhawk that had escaped from the lady’s care, but the knight didn’t believe her or Gawain. The knight in revenge took off with the lady’s palfrey and Gawain’s charger.

The lady was now distressed that her lover have abandoned her, but Gawain promised to help the damsel of clear complexion. Gawain donned his armour and helmet, and they walked, until it began to rain and snow. The found a small cover under the cross on the hill. Both the hero and damsel were cold and hungry.

Though, they had the barest of cover under the cross, they couldn’t stay, but they had good fortune of meeting a knight and his squire. The knight had a spare palfrey. The knight (we would later learn his name is Raguidel de l’Angarde) was willing to give his own charger and the palfrey to Gawain and his companion, in return for a boon that he would ask at a later time. The knight received the sparrowhawk to remind Gawain of their bargain if they should meet again. Then they went their separate ways.

Gawain and the lady of clear complexion journeyed through forest until they reach the kingdom of the Red Fortress. Here, Gawain met a beautiful lady being punished by the King of the Red Fortress. For the last three years, the King of the Red Knight would forced the lady into the very cold, black fountain, where she would stand all day, from sun up to sun down, four days a week. The king had arrogantly boasted that no knight was better than him. The lady had the courage to tell him that there are knights within King Arthur’s court who are better than him. The King of the Red Fortress would kill any knight, who tried to break the custom and rescue the lady, in single combat. He would then impale the defeat knight’s head on a stake, near the black fountain. The King of the Red Fortress has collected 54 heads since this wicked custom began.

Gawain broke the custom by defeating the King of the Red Fortress, whom he learned was called Brun Without Pity. Gawain refused to disclose his own name until he had recovered his own name and his horse. Gawain would only received Brun’s surrender if the king would become a prisoner of King Arthur. Brun agreed and took the lady he had mistreated with him, on the morning of the next day, to Arthur’s court. Gawain refused to stay at Brun’s Red Fortress, and continued on his journey. They were forced to sleep in the woods.

Then Gawain met a knight, who was friendly at first, until the stranger told the hero about himself. The knight had trouble winning the lady he loved. She would only become his sweetheart if he agreed to accept Gawain as his guarantor. The knight thought this would be an empty promise, because he heard news and believed that Gawain had been recently killed. The knight revealed that he swore an oath, won the damsel’s love, but decided to abandon her for another lady.

Gawain was angry with the faithless knight for breaking his oath to the lady, challenge him in a duel. They fought until Gawain forced him to surrender. The defeated knight, Espinogre de Wi, agreed to not love any other woman except the lady he had broken his promise to. Espinogre became the Gawain’s companion in most of Gawain’s adventures from that point on. Gawain helped Espinogre reconciled with his sweetheart. Staying at the damsel’s castle, where Gawain recovered from his previous violent encounters, before the nameless hero continued on his journey with Espinogre and the lady of clear complexion.

They then meet a young, sad knight named Cadret. Cadret loved a daughter of local baron, but because of her mother’s resentment against him, the woman had persuaded her husband to marry her off to a rich lord from a neighbouring region. Cadret wanted to rescue his sweetheart, but knew he would be killed, because he would be facing twenty knights escorting the young damsel. Gawain and Espinogre offered to help Cadret win back his sweetheart, but at this moment the lady of clear complexion complained that she was terribly hungry, and as her protector, Gawain must find her food. She knew of castle nearby, where they could gain food. Gawain told Espinogre to go with Cadret, and he would follow them after the lady received some food.

At this castle, Gawain entered alone, finding a lone lady at the table for supper. She was waiting for her seven brothers to return. The haughty lady refused Gawain’s polite request for food, telling the hero that had brothers been there, Gawain would not be able take any food from her table. A dwarf advised that Gawain should just take the food, because the lady was adamant. So Gawain brought some food to his companion without the lady consent. Gawain returned to the castle and took the wine out of the lady’s hand, because the damsel of clear complexion refused to leave until she has quenched her thirst. The outraged lady abused and insulted Gawain for such churlish behaviour for stealing the cup of wine from her own hand.

As they were leaving through the gates of castle, Gawain recognised the knight holding a sparrowhawk on his hand, whom Gawain had receive horses in exchange for a boon. His name was Raguidel de l’Angarde. The knight was here now, to claim his boon. Raguidel told Gawain that in the castle was his ladylove. Since the lady’s brothers were out hunting, it was a good time for Gawain to take the lady within the castle in custody.

So Gawain rode into the hall of the castle, took the haughty lady and rode out, with her screaming and cursing Gawain, until she recognised her lover, Raguidel. The damsel forgave Gawain for abducting her and apologise for being rude before.

One of the damsel’s brothers, named Codrovain the Red, heard her cry, so he armed himself and rode after them. As Codrovain approached, Gawain immediately recognised his horse, Gringalet, and knew immediately that this knight was the lady of clear complexion’s lover, the Knight of the Sparrowhawk.

Gawain immediately charged at the other knight with his lance ready. Although Codrovain struck first, Gawain unhorsed him, so that he landed on the ground. Before Codrovain could recover from his fall, the nameless hero (Gawain) would have struck off his head, had not Codrovain’s lady intervened on his behalf. Gawain would not spare unless Codrovain take back his ladylove, who had not unfaithful to him. Codrovain agreed, and Gawain took back his warhorse, Gringalet. Codrovain also accepted his sister taking Raguidel de l’Angarde, as her betrothed. By this time, Codrovain’s brothers arrived armed for battle, but he told them that Gawain and Raguidel were his new friends.

Gawain told them for now that he can’t accept their hospitality of Codrovain, because he needed to aid Cadret and Espinogre to win Cadret’s sweetheart, but he accepted the aid of Codrovain and his brothers.

Cadret and Espinogre had surprise the escort of Cadret’s sweetheart. They were fighting valiantly, but they were also outnumbered. Espinogre blew his horn, for Gawain to come to his aid. Gawain rushed into the battle with reinforcement. Though, the enemies still outnumbered Gawain’s smaller party, Cadret’s side were now gaining the upper hand in battle. Seeing no hope of winning, they fled from Gawain and his companions.

Codrovain invited them all to his castle, but Gawain and Espinogre could not accept, because the hero still haven’t completed his quest, to win back his name (reputation). The only way he can do this was to find those who claimed to have mutilated Gawain’s body. (Gawain still didn’t disclose his name to the present company.) But Gawain promised to Codrovain and his other new friends that he would return if he was successful in his quest.

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Faé Orgueilleux

So Gawain and Espinogre continued on their journey, until they met another knight who offer them hospitality in his castle. Their host was named Tristan Who Does Not Laugh. Here, Gawain finally discovered clues and identity of the two knights who boasted killing Gawain and blinding a squire that the hero met with three mourning damsels. See the Death of Gawain.

Apparently the two villains, named Faé Orgueilleux, nicknamed Roche Faée, and Gomeret Sans Measure, were in love with two ladies, sisters, whom they woo. But these two ladies contemptuously ignored their suits in marriage, because the eldest was in love with Gawain, while the younger sister loved the Red Knight, who was none other than the hero Perceval. Faé Orgueilleux and Gomeret were jealous because the sisters claimed that these two heroes of King Arthur were better knights than them. The two villains promised that they would marry them when they showed dead Gawain’s body to them. That was the reason why they attacked and mutilated a knight’s body, which they assumed to be Gawain. Tomorrow would be the day when they would force the sisters to marry them with false proof.

Tristan himself doesn’t believe that the two villains had killed Gawain. The nameless hero told them that they were the ones that he was looking for. Tristan Who Does Not Laugh promised them that he would send Gawain and Espinogre in the right direction.

Gomeret Sans Measure was staying in a tent on the hill, while Faé Orgueilleux resided in his castle. Gawain and Espinogre decided that each would face the other knight. So Espinogre went off and defeated Gomeret, while Gawain confronted Faé Orgueilleux. Faé Orgueilleux surrendered immediately after he was unhorsed, because Gawain’s lance was driven into his shoulder. Faé Orgueilleux agreed to be King Arthur’s prisoner.

It is at this point that Gawain finally revealed his name, which he had kept hidden after killing Sir Escanor. The hero blamed Faé Orgueilleux and Gomeret for killing an innocent knight, who they mistaken to be Gawain. Gawain was also angry that they have taken away the sight of a lad, who has three damsels as companions.

Faé Orgueilleux promised Gawain that he could restore the life back to the knight he had killed and the sight back to the blind lad.

So Gawain left the field outside of Faé Orgueilleux’s castle, seeking to rejoin his friend, Espinogre, heading towards the direction of the castle of Sir Tristan Who Does Not Laugh.

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Restoration of Life and Sight

Gawain journeyed with Faé Orgueilleux and his sweetheart back towards where the castle of Sir Tristan Who Does Not Laugh, when they saw a Black Knight leading away the mounts of Espinogre de Wi and Gomeret Sans Measure. Both knights were lying on their back, where the Black Knight had defeated them.

Both Gawain and Faé Orgueilleux were upset that each of their friends were defeated by single knight. Faé Orgueilleux asked to confront the Black Knight first, as it was courteous and fair that only one knight would fight the Black Knight.

Faé Orgueilleux was soundly defeated. When he was unhorsed, he broke his right arm in the fall. The Black Knight now has three fine horses. Leaving Faé Orgueilleux’s lady behind, Gawain went to confront the Black Knight. They fought until light was fading. The Black Knight suggested that they continue their due in the morning, but the hero refused. The Black Knight surrendered peacefully when Gawain revealed his name to him. The Black Knight revealed that he was Le Laid Hardi, one of the knights of the Round Table, who had come looking for Gawain, since he had heard rumour of Gawain’s death.

With this, Gawain returned to Tristan’s castle with his wounded friends. Tristan welcomed Gawain, who longer kept his name secret. Tristan’s daugher used herbs called toscane, to heal all the knights.

The next day, Faé Orgueilleux performed a miracle, restoring the head and the limbs of dismembered knight, as well as using his power to restore the dead knight back to life. Everyone marvelled at Faé Orgueilleux’s magic. The restored knight told everyone in the hall that he was Sir Courtois de Huberlant.

When they set out the next morning, Tristan wanted Gawain to escort his daughter to Arthur’s court, so that she could find a more suitable suitor. Gawain and Espinogre then left with, Faé Orgueilleux and Gormoret, as well as their sweethearts, on their journey to Codrovain’s castle, where Gawain’s other companions were staying. They stayed for a night with Codrovain’s company, and in the morning, they all decided to go with Gawain back to his own country.

Along the way to Caerlion, they stopped briefly, where Gawain met the blind lad and the three mourning ladies. Once again, Gawain and his companions witnessed the magical power of Faé Orgueilleux, who restored the sight to the lad, who was named Martin.

Gawain arrived at his uncle castle at Caerlion, with a larger company than when he left. Arthur and his court joyously welcomed Gawain back, and he recounted his adventures. Gawain’s adventures ended with weddings of his new friends who married their respective sweethearts, by the Bishop Renies of Chester.

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Perilous Graveyard  |  Regaining His Reputation

Sir Gawain  | Perilous Graveyard  |  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight