Nanny Piggins tells the story of her distant relative, Sir Bramwell Piggins who was a knight at the round table of Camelot, and how he came to face the fearsome Green Knight.
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‘The Least Brave Knight at the Round Table’ as told by Nanny Piggins
‘Why are you looking so sad, Michael?’ asked Nanny Piggins. ‘Is the chocolate cake I put in your lunchbox not agreeing with you? Was there not enough of it and you’re coming down with the first symptoms of starvation?’
‘No, the eighteen slices you jammed in to my lunch box for recess was enough to see me through until the family sized pavlova you packed for my lunch,’ Michael assured her. ‘There’s nothing wrong. I’m just thinking about my homework.’
‘You poor boy,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Thinking is the absolute worst! Especially when you have to do it about homework.
I do believe this ‘homework’ your teachers keep setting you is a barbaric torture that should have been outlawed along with all other medieval torture devices.
I mean, they won’t let teachers stretch you on the rack anymore or lock you in a dungeon full of rats. And yet they are allowed to set you algebra - which to my mind is twice as bad.’
‘It’s not too bad,’ said Michael. ‘They just want me to write an essay.’
‘But essays are dreadful too,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Essays are all about arguing a point reasonably and logically. And where is the fun in that?
When I argue things I like to do it passionately and irrationally, preferably while throwing a lemon merangue pie at someone’s face.’
‘Well, you might be able to help me with this essay’ said Michael. ‘We’re learning about King Arther and Camelot. So I have to write about – who was the bravest knight at the round table.’
‘Wasn’t that Sir Lancelot?’ asked Samantha.
‘Or his son, Sir Galahad?’ said Derrick.
‘But King Arthur was a knight too,’ said Michael. ‘And he was really brave as well. Was it him? Do you know the answer, Nanny Piggins?’
‘Hmm,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘It is all debateable. They all had dark secrets that they kept from the Ancient Celtic Story Writers. But I can say for sure who was the least brave knight at the round table.’
‘You can?’ asked Michael.
‘Oh yes, because the least brave knight at the round table was a distant relative of mine – called Bramwell Piggins,’ declared Nanny Piggins.
‘So this was another one of your male relatives who had the same name as your brother?’ asked Michael.
‘Yes, it is a family name,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘The Bramwell Piggins who was a knight at King Arthurs court was Sir Bramwell Piggins the 22nd.’
‘Was he a lot like your brother?’ asked Samantha. The children knew Bramwell Piggins the 154th quite well. He was a very lazy pig.’
‘Yes, the Ancient Celtic Bramwell was exactly the same as our modern day version,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Regrettably, the near do well genes run strong in the male side of the Piggins family.’
‘Did the Ancient Sir Bramwell disgrace himself?’ asked Derrick.
‘Oh yes,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Let me tell you the story.’
So the children and Boris all snuggled round, while Nanny Piggins told them the tale.
‘My distant cousin Bramwell Piggins was so useless,’ began Nanny Piggins. ‘That it fell to my other distant cousin, Queen Arthur, to look after him. You remember I told you about her…’
‘She was the one who pulled the sword from the stone and became Queen of the Britons,’ said Michael.
‘That’s right,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘It was a tiresome job. Ruling an entire island was alright. And galivanting about the countryside on quests was positively fun. But the responsibility was a hassle.
And the biggest hassle of all was finding her near do well brother Bramwell a job. Obviously she couldn’t give him an important job with lots of responsibility where people relied on him – so she couldn’t send him to work in a cake shop or a bakery or a choclatier.
It was one thing to constantly let down your entire family. But letting down cake customers is just plain wrong. So she needed to find Bramwell a job that didn’t really matter. So she made him a knight of her round table.
‘But weren’t knights important?’ asked Michael.
‘They liked to think they were,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘But think about it – in medieval society the truly important people were the farmers who grew food and the craftsmen who made tools and clothing. You can’t survive without those things.
Whereas all the knights would did – was go around having jousting tournaments and fighting with other knights. If that stopped happening no one would even notice.
Having knights was just a way of keeping the brawniest bone-headed trouble-makers out of everyone else’s way so they could get on with being good citizens.
‘That is the exact opposite of everything we have ever been taught in history,’ said Derrick. ‘And yet, it makes complete sense.’
‘If you’re looking for good sense, you don’t look to history – that’s for sure,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘So anyway, one Christmas, when Queen Arthur had gathered all 150 of her knights around her round table. She liked to get them all together a couple of times a year – just to check up on them and make sure they hadn’t been disgracing themselves.
If any of them got on her nerves – she would set them a quest. The knights all thought a quest was a tremendous honour. But really it was just her way of getting her most irritating knights to go a long way away for a long period of time.’
‘But they also had important quests,’ said Derrick. ‘Like the search for the Holy Grail.’
‘Oh my dear boy,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Think about what you’re saying. Queen Arthur sent Lancelot, Percival and Galahad on a years long quest to find the Holy Grail.
And what is the Holy Grail? It’s a cup! She sent them off for years looking for a cup. Meanwhile, her kitchen was full of cups the whole time.
‘She sent them off on a wild goose chase?’ asked Samantha. Truly shocked.
‘No, she sent them off on a wild cup chase,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘So, as I was saying, they were they’re all sitting around waiting for their annual work New Year party to get started.
When suddenly, there was a disturbance outside the great hall. They could hear servants shouting and the sound of horse’s hooves on the stonework. Before they knew it, the doors had burst open and a knight on his great big horse road right in to the great hall. Which was dreadfully unhygienic considering that they were just about to serve food.
‘This would have been astonishing in and of itself. If you’re going to crash a party – riding into someone’s house on horseback is a dramatic way to do it. But people barely noticed the rude arrival because there was something even more shocking about this particular knight – he was entirely green.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Michael. He knew ‘green’ could mean ‘new’ or ‘inexperienced’. It could also be a name, their own surname was ‘Green’. And either of those options was easier to imagine than the actual truth.
‘This knight was literally green in every way,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘His pants were green, his tunic was green, his armour was green, his sword was green, his skin, hair and beard were all green too. Even his horse, bridle and saddle were all completely green.
And not a subtle olive green or an understated turquoise either. They were bright green – the colour of new grass in the spring.
‘Wow,’ said Michael.
‘And on top of that,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘This green knight was a total grumpy guts. Instead of saying, ‘hello – or sorry about the horse poop I just left in your lobby’ he launched straight into the death threats and challenges.
‘Is anyone here brave enough to accept my challenge?’ the Green Knight demanded.
No one responded. To be fair, that may not have been cowardice. The knights were all still staring at him wondering how anyone could be so green. He was greener than a green tree frog. So no one was really listening to what he was saying. People don’t listen to green tree frogs either for much the same reason.
‘I thought as much,’ boomed the Green Knight. ‘I was told the bravest knights in the realm resided here at Camelot. But all of you are too cowardly to face my challenge.
Queen Arthur leapt to her feet. ‘How dare you? If your challenge involves eating chocolate or cake I’ll have you know I won’t hesitate to accept it.’
‘It is not that type of challenge,’ said the Green Knight. ‘My challenge involves certain death for him or for me.’
The knights of the round table all loved the idea of deadly challenges so they all started yelling at once.
‘I’ll take up the challenge,’ yelled Lancelot.
‘No, pick me,’ called Sir Percival.
‘No, mememem,’ said Sir Galahad.
Queen Arthur rolled her eyes. It was exhausting keeping her knights alive when they were so silly.
Just then, her no-good brother Bramwell caught her eye. He had used the opportunity of everyone being distracted by the arrival of the Green Knight to grab food off other people’s plates and shove it all in his mouth at once.
‘No,’ said Queen Arthur. ‘None of you shall have this quest. I shall give it to the bravest among you all – my own brother Bramwell.
‘Bramwell was horrified to hear his name. He hadn’t really been listening, but he could tell from his sister’s tone of voice and the way everyone’s heads had whipped around to look at him, something bad was happening.
‘If you don’t want to accept the challenge,’ continued Queen Arthur, ‘…say so now, Bramwell.’
Bramwell desperately wanted to say ‘no’. He wanted to scream ‘no’ over and over again but he couldn’t because he had so much food in his mouth.
He desperately tried to chew it quickly but there was too much too chew. He tried to swalllow but that just made him choke. And Sir Gawain helped out by slapping Bramwell hard on the back, which made him stumbled forward into the centre of the room.
‘Ah, so you are the one to accept my challenge,’ said the Green Knight.
‘Um… said Bramwell. ‘What exactly is this challenge, exactly.’
‘We shall each strike one blow at the other’s neck,’
‘Ahuh,’ said Bramwell. This seemed simple if unpleasant.
‘I will allow you to strike first,’ said the Green Knight.
‘Oh good,’ said Bramwell. He liked the idea of striking someone else much better than the idea of being stuck himself.
‘If I survive the blow,’ said The Green Knight. ‘Then you must allow me to strike you one blow to the neck. One year from today at my home the Green Castle.’
This sounded like a strange and protracted way of having a fight. But Bramwell reasoned if he struck first. So long as he cut the Green Knights head off, then he had nothing to worry about.
And if for some reason he didn’t manage to cut the Green Knights head off, he’d have a whole year to try to get out of the consequences.
‘Okay,’ said Bramwell. ‘Prepare to be struck.’
All the other knights cheered, mistaking Bramwell stupidity for bravery.
‘The Green Knight got off his horse, kneeled down on the ground. Pulled back his hair and exposed his neck.
‘Do you worst,’ said the Green Knight.
‘Alright,’ said Bramwell. Now Bramwell may have been lazy, no-good, and useless but he was very good at eating cake. And over the years he had become very good at cutting cake.
He knew how to handle a sword. Because a sword and a cake knife are much the same thing. If anything, in the Piggins family, we tend to have cake knifes that are even bigger and heavier than swords just so we can cut up massive cakes very quickly.
Bramwell swung his cake sword high above his head, and using all his body weight, which was a lot, slammed down the sword into the Green Knights neck. Cleanly slicing off his head in one blow.
The crowd erupted in cheers.
But then, the Green Knight’s body – stood up and grabbed it’s own head. Both the body and head were still alive.
‘You have had your blow,’ said the Green Knight. And as you can see - I am still alive. You will come to my castle one year hence and I shall have my one strike back. With that the Green Knight jumped on his horse and galloped out of the room.
‘Oh dear,’ said Bramwell.
Bramwell spent most of the next year trying to run away. But Queen Arthur was vigilant and never let him get further than the vegetable garden. When the next New Year’s feast was drawing near – Bramwell set out to journey to the Green Knight’s castle.
He travelled for days across the wild countryside until he came to a lovely castle.
Bramwell knew it wasn’t the Green Knights because it wasn’t green. But he still had a week until he had to confront the Green Knight so Bramwell thought he could stop here and ask to rest for a night before he continued his journey.
Bramwell tentatively knocked upon the door, half expecting to be chased off. But when the door flew open a happy gentleman was holding the door.
‘Why hello there, a visitor!’ said the happy gentleman. ‘We so rarely get visitors in these parts. What a magnificent treat!”
Bramwell explained that he was looking for the Green Knight’s castle. This made the happy gentleman even happier.
‘Why, that is perfect,’ he exclaimed. ‘The Green Knight lives only one hour’s ride away. You can stay here and rest for three days until New Year’s Day.’
Bramwell loved the idea of resting so he instantly agreed. And it proved to be a good decision. The happy gentleman was a wonderful host. He had his staff serve all the finest food. His beautiful wife came and sang for them and told them wonderful stories.
Before they went to bed that happy gentleman told Bramwell. Tomorrow morning I rise early to go hunting… The thought of this horrified Bramwell.
‘Because he didn’t approve of hunting?’ asked Samantha.
‘No, because he didn’t approve of getting up early,’ explained Nanny Piggins. ‘But that is not what the happy gentlemen had in mind. He urged Bramwell, ‘Stay in bed yourself. You need your rest for when you face the Green Knight. Sleep as long as you like. My wife will be here if you need anything while I’m away. But let us make a merry bargain. Any prize I win while I am out I will gift to you on my return. And in exchange any prize you get here you will gift to me.
Bramwell laughed and agreed to the bargain, because that seemed like the polite thing to do and went off to bed.
He slept late, only awaking when the wife of the house came in bringing him breakfast in bed. She had a whole tray towering with cakes and pastries. Bramwell was the happiest pig alive. He tucked into them straight away.
But as Bramwell ate, it soon came to his attention that the wife was flirting with him. She was telling him he was handsome and brave and intelligent.
This made Bramwell uncomfortable. She was distracting him from his food. So he politely made light of her comments and deflected her flirtatious suggestions.
And in the end, the wife gave up. She said she would leave Bramwell to his meal if he would give her but one kiss. Bramwell was happy to pay that price to finish his meal in peace. So he quickly kissed her on the cheek then went back to guzzling baked goods.
When the happy gentleman returned, he had bagged three fine deer while out hunting. ‘My friend, Sir Bramwell – I present you with my prizes. What have you won for me while I was away.
‘Just this,’ said Bramwell. He put his hands on the happy gentleman’s shoulders and kissed him on the cheek.
The happy gentleman laughed at this. ‘And who did you win this prize from.’
Bramwell did not want to get in trouble, so he said, ‘That was not the deal. I was to give you my prize. Not reveal who I won it from.
The happy gentleman laughed at this clever evasion. And all was well.
The next day the happy gentleman went out hunting again. And again Bramwell slept in, only to be woke by the wife bearing breakfast.
And again she flirted with him, but this time even more outrageously. But again, Bramwell made light of all her suggestions in a very gentlemanly manner.
The wife finally agreed to leave Bramwell to his breakfast, but this time she wanted a greater payment. Two kisses. Bramwell didn’t enjoy having to put down his cake. But he did it, kissed her twic and she left him to eat in peace.
‘When the happy gentleman returned, he handed Bramwell seven rabbits and asked what Bramwell had for him in return.’
‘Just this,’ said Bramwell. He grasped the happy gentleman by the shoulders and kissed him twice. Once on each cheek.
The happy gentleman thought this was a wonderful joke.
And the next day he went out hunting a third time. And for a third time, the wife brought Bramwell his breakfast. But this she was even more demanding. She flirted and cajoled. She argued that Bramwell was going to face the Green Knight tomorrow and would surely die. So it would be better if he ran away with her instead.
Bramwell did not want to run anywhere. He hated running. He didn’t even like fast walking. So he refused all her entreaties. The wife eventually said she would go, if he would accept four gifts from her.
‘What four gifts?’ asked Bramwell.
‘This,’ said the lady, with which she leaned in and kissed him three times. ‘And then this...’ The wife pulled a ribbon from her hair.
‘If you wear this ribbon it will protect you from all injury.’
Bramwell was terrified of facing the Green Knight the next day, so having a piece of ribbon that gave him super power made him very happy.
‘Thank you very much,’ he said, as he tied the ribbon about his wrist, under his sleeve.
‘When the happy gentleman returned home with a pair of partridges,’ he asked what Bramwell had won. And Bramwell gave him three kisses. The gentleman laughed harder than ever.
But Bramwell did not say anything about the scrap of ribbon. He reasoned. It was not much of a prize. But he would surely need it when he faced the Green Knight the next day.
The next morning, Bramwell set off to find the Green Castle. He had only ridden for an hour when he came to an rund down old castle that was entirely Green. Bramwell didn’t even have time to knock on the door before the Green Knight came galloping out on his great green charger.
‘So you have come to face me,’ said the Green Knight. ‘Get down on your knees and get ready to receive your blow.’
Bramwell was already on his knees because his legs had turned to jelly at the sight of the fearsome Knight. The Green Knight drew his mighty green axe high. And Bramwell bent his neck.
If he was going to have his head chopped off he thought it was better for it to be one quick blow.
Bramwell heard the swoosh of the axe through the air. Felt the ice cold of the blade, but it only just scratched the skin, before clunking into the ground.
Bramwell leapt up and staggered back, in case the Green Knight should strike again. But he did not. And before his eyes, the Green Knight changed. He was still green, but his features transformed. Bramwell realised he was now looking at the happy gentleman.
‘Your honesty saved you from my axe,’ said the Green Knight. ‘I sent my wife to tempt you. But each time you rebuffed her, and duely gave me each kiss you had won.
‘The scratch to your neck is for the ribbon. You did not give me that.’
Bramwell was so ashamed, he fell to his knees once more. ‘Oh please do take another swipe at me with your axe. If I return home and tell them what I’ve done, I’ll never hear the end of it.’
‘Nay, keeping the ribbon was but a small crime,’ said the Green Knight. ‘You feared for your life, which is understandable. You are a goodly man to refuse the temptation before you. You may now go home unscathed.
Bramwell considered explaining that he had just wanted the wife to leave him alone so he could eat his breakfast, but he realised that now was not the time to start embracing honesty,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Instead, Sir Bramwell ran all the way back to Camelot.
When he got there he was hailed a hero by all the other knights of the round table. Queen Arthur guessed the truth. But everyone else assumed that Sir Bramwell’s bravery and honesty had saved him from the Green Knight. When in reality, Bramwell’s life had been saved by his greediness for breakfast food. Which is why, to this day – it is still an expression frequently used that – breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The end, time for bed.
‘Is that really where that expression comes from?’ asked Derrick.
‘My dear boy,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘How many times do I have to tell you, never let the truth or reality ruin a good tale.’