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True Men Can But Try

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He said, “Why should I tarry?”
And smiled with tranquil eye;
“In destinies sad or merry,
True men can but try.”

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


When John was young, before his mother died, the grey dawn was their time together—the hours before morning. She would come to his room around three or so, and read him stories that had been told many times before. Arthur, Beowulf, Roland, and Odysseus were all familiar to him long before they appeared in literature class at school, but his favorite was Sir Gawain. Not the bumbling oaf of the later tales, but Sir Gawain of the green knight, who almost achieved perfection and was forgiven his failing.

If John was a little shaky on how, exactly, Sir Gawain had failed (belts are, after all, commonplace and rather boring—even green ones) . . . well, he was young.

John’s first taste of flight put an end to his dreams of riding around the countryside, ever ready for some new quest. Knights had no place in the sky, weighed down by more than swords and chain mail. But he never forgot the story, or the lesson he only really learned years later—having sworn two oaths and failed to keep either of them. He wore his black mark like a green sash in white Antarctica, and kept his shame to himself.

And then came Atlantis.