Chapter 16 Summary

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The "sluggard" knight who came to Wilfrid's assistance at the tournament has traveled north through the woods and gotten lost in Yorkshire. Tired and hungry, he cannot tell which path is the most likely to take him back to the road, so he leaves the decision to his horse. Allowed to pick his own way, the weary horse sets off in the direction of a nearby hermitage.

The hermit's hut is made of logs and stands beside a stone fountain and ruined chapel in an isolated forest glade. The Black Knight is relieved because hermits are bound to offer hospitality to travelers in need.

Knocking on the door of the hut, the Black Knight is at first ignored by the hermit and then told to keep going. Surprised and unwilling to be unaccommodated, the knight appeals to the hermit's religious obligations, but the hermit says he has no food or fodder to share.

The knight then asks to be shown the way to the road, but the hermit says he's getting behind in his prayers and can't spare the time. He starts to call out a series of complex directions through dangerous geographical terrain, which prompts the knight to threaten to break the door down if the hermit doesn't open up and give him a place to stay the night. The hermit replies that if he is forced to defend himself, the knight will be sorry. The knight, who is a large and powerful man, kicks the door, which rocks the hut, and the hermit at last admits him.

The hermit has two large dogs, a torch in one hand, and a club in the other. Seeing that his visitor is a formidable knight, however, he welcomes him and claims that he was afraid he might be a robber; the forest is full of outlaws. Silently, each man sums the other up as the most physically powerful looking man he has ever seen.

The Black Knight asks about food and lodging for himself and his horse, and the hermit answers by pointing at two corners of the hut and retrieving a plate of dried peas. When the knight brings in his horse and blankets him with his own cloak, the hermit is moved enough to provide some hay from a hidden stash. Sitting down to their dried peas, the two men remove helmet and hood so they may see each other as they eat.

The knight suspects that the bluff and brawny monk is more used to sirloin than peas and asks for liquor to wash down the meal. The hermit gives him water from the fountain and counters the knight's doubts by claiming that such holy refreshments are miraculously nutritious.

The hermit introduces himself as the Clerk of Copmanhurst, and the Black Knight says he is called the Sluggard. The hermit smiles and suddenly recalls some worldly food he had previously stored away and forgotten about. Soon they are eating venison (illicitly caught) and drinking copious amounts of wine.

The hermit offers the knight a year of absolution if he'll choose some weapons and fight with him, just for fun. The Black Knight chooses instead a harp that he notices among the pile of weapons offered him. The hermit reluctantly agrees but only on the condition they get a lot more drunk first.

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