THE HIGH HISTORY OF THE HOLY GRAAL
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #19
Here the story is silent of Lancelot, and talketh of Messire Gawain that goeth to seek Perceval, and is right heavy for that twice hath he found him when he knew him not. He cometh back again to the cross whereas he told Lancelot he would await him so he should come thither before him. He went and came to and fro by the forest more than eight days to wait for him, but could hear no tidings. He would not return to King Arthur's court, for had he gone thither in such case, he would have had blame thereof. He goeth back upon the quest and saith that he will never stint therein until he shall have found both Lancelot and Perceval. He cometh to the hermitage of Joseus, and alighted of his horse and found the young hermit Joseus, that received him well and made full great joy of him. He harboured the night therewithin. Messire Gawain asked him tidings of Perceval, and the hermit telleth him he hath not seen him since before the assembly of the Red Launde.
"And can you tell me where I may find him?" saith Messire Gawain.
"Not I," saith the hermit, "I cannot tell you whereabout he is."
While they were talking on this wise, straightway behold you a knight coming that hath arms of azure, and alighteth at the hermitage to lodge there. The hermit receiveth him right gladly. Messire Gawain asketh him if he saw a knight with white arms ride amidst the forest.
"By my faith," saith the knight, "I have seen him this day and spoken with him, and he asked me and I could tell him tidings of a knight that beareth a shield of sinople with a golden eagle, and I told him, no. Afterward, I enquired wherefore he asked it, and he made answer that he had jousted at him in the Red Launde, nor never before had he found so sturdy assault of any knight, wherefore he was right sorrowful for that he was not acquainted with him, for the sake of his good knighthood."
"By my faith," saith Gawain, "The knight is more sorrowful than he, for nought is there in the world he would gladlier see than him."
The knight espieth Messire Gawain's shield and saith, "Ha, Sir, methinketh you are he."
"Certes," saith Messire Gawain, "you say true. I am he against whom he jousted, and right glad am I that so good a knight smote upon my shield, and right sorrowful for that I knew him not; but tell me where I may find him?"
"Sir," saith Joseus the Hermit, "He will not have gone forth from this forest, for this is the place wherein he wonneth most willingly, and the shield that he brought from King Arthur's court is in this chapel."
So he showeth the shield to Messire Gawain that maketh great joy thereof.
"Ha, Sir," saith the knight of the white arms, "Is your name Messire Gawain?"
"Fair Sir," saith he, "Gawain am I called."
"Sir," saith the knight, "I have not ceased to seek you for a long while past. Meliot of Logres, that is your man, the son of the lady that was slain on your account, sendeth you word that Nabigant of the Rock hath slain his father on your account; wherefore he challengeth the land that hath fallen to him; and hereof he prayeth you that you will come to succour him as behoveth lord to do to his liege man."
"By my faith," saith Messire Gawain, "Behoveth me not fail him therein, wherefore tell him I will succour him so soon as I may; but tell him I have emprised a business that I cannot leave but with loss of honour until such time as it be achieved."
They lay the night at the hermitage until after mass was sung on the morrow.
The knight departed and Messire Gawain remained. So when he was apparelled to mount, he looketh before him at the issue of the forest toward the hermitage, and seeth coming a knight on a tall horse, full speed and all armed, and he bore a shield like the one he saw Perceval bearing the first time.
"Sir," saith he, "Know you this knight that cometh there!"
"Truly, Sir, well do I know him. This is Perceval whom you seek, whom you so much desire to see!"
"God be praised thereof!" saith Messire Gawain, "Inasmuch as he cometh hither."
He goeth afoot to meet him, and Perceval alighteth so soon as he seeth him.
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "Right welcome may you be!"
"Good joy may you have," saith Perceval.
"Sir," saith the hermit, "Make great joy of him! this is Messire Gawain, King Arthur's nephew."
"Thereof do I love him the better!" saith he. "Honour and joy ought all they to do him that know him!"
He throweth his arms on his neck, and so maketh him great joy.
"Sir," saith he, "Can you tell me tidings of a knight that was in the Red Launde at the assembly of knights?"
"What shield beareth he?" saith Messire Gawain.
"A red shield with a golden eagle," saith Perceval. "And more by token, never made I acquaintance with any so sturdy in battle as are he and Lancelot."
"Fair sir, it pleaseth you to say so," saith Messire Gawain. "In the Red Launde was I at the assembly, and such arms bore I as these you blazon, and I jousted against a knight in white arms, of whom I know this, that all of knighthood that may be lodged in the body of a man is in him."
"Sir," saith Perceval to Messire Gawain, "You know not how to blame any man."
So they hold one another by the hands, and go into the hermitage.
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "When you were in the court of King Arthur for the shield that is within yonder, your sister was also there, and prayed and besought the help of the knight that should bear away the shield, as being the most discounselled damsel in the world. The King granted it her, and you bore away the shield. She asked your aid of the King as she that deemed not you were her brother, and said that if the King failed of his covenant, he would do great sin, whereof would he have much blame. The King was fain to do all he might to seek you, to make good that he had said, and sent us forth in quest of you, so that the quest lieth between me and Lancelot. He himself would have come had we been unwilling to go. Sir, I have found you three times without knowing you, albeit great desire had I to see you. This is the fourth time and I know you now, whereof I make myself right joyous; and much am I beholden to you of the fair lodging your mother gave me at Camelot; but right sore pity have I of her, for a right worshipful woman is she, and a widow lady and ancient, and fallen into much war without aid nor comfort, through the evil folk that harass her and reave her of her castles. She prayed me, weeping the while right sweetly, that and if I should find you that are her son, I should tell you of her plight, that your father is dead, and that she hath no succour nor aid to look for save from you alone, and if you succour her not shortly, she will lose her own one castle that she holdeth, and must needs become a beggar, for of the fifteen castles she wont to have in your father's time, she hath now only that of Camelot, nor of all her knights hath she but five to guard the castle. Wherefore I pray you on her behalf and for your own honour, that you will grant her herein of your counsel and your valour and your might, for of no chivalry that you may do may you rise to greater worship. And so sore need hath she herein as you hear me tell, nor would I that she should lose aught by default of message, for thereof should I have sin and she harm, and you yourself also, that have the power to amend it and ought of right so to do!"
"Well have you delivered yourself herein," saith Perceval, "And betimes will I succour her and our Lord God will."
"You will do honour to yourself," saith Messire Gawain. "Thereof will you have praise with God and worship with the world."
"Well know I," saith Perceval, "that in me ought she to have aid and counsel as of right, and that so I do not accordingly, I ought to have reproach and be blamed as recreant before the world."
"In God's name," saith the hermit, "you speak according to the scripture, for he that honoureth not his father and mother neither believeth in God nor loveth Him."
"All this know I well," saith Perceval, "And well pleased am I to be reminded thereof, and well know I also mine intent herein, albeit I tell it to none. But if any can tell me tidings of Lancelot, right willingly shall I hear them, and take it kindly of the teller thereof."
"Sir," saith Joseus, "It is but just now since he lay here within, and asked me tidings of Messire Gawain, and I told him such as I knew. Another time before that, he lay here when the robbers assailed us that he hanged in the forest, and so hated is he thereof of their kinsfolk that and they may meet him, so they have the might, he is like to pay for it right dear, and in this forest won they rather than in any other. I told him as much, but he made light thereof in semblant, even as he will in deed also if their force be not too great."
"By my head," saith Perceval, "I will not depart forth of this forest until I know tidings of him, if Messire Gawain will pledge himself thereto."
And Messire saith he desireth nothing better, sith that he hath found Perceval, for he may not be at ease until such time as he shall know tidings of Lancelot, for he hath great misgiving sith that he hath enemies in the forest.
Perceval and Messire Gawain sojourned that day in the forest in the hermitage, and the morrow Perceval took his shield that he brought from King Arthur's court, and left that which he brought with him, and Messire Gawain along with him that made himself right joyous of his company. They ride amidst the forest both twain, all armed, and at the right hour of noon they meet a knight that was coming a great gallop as though he were all scared. Perceval asketh him whence he cometh, that he seemeth so a-dread.
"Sir, I come from the forest of the robbers that won in this forest wherethrough you have to pass. They have chased me a full league Welsh to slay me, but they would not follow me further for a knight that they have beset in one of their holds, that hath done them right sore mischief, for he hath hanged four of their knights and slain one, as well as the fairest damsel that was in the kingdom. But right well had she deserved the death for that she harboured knights with fair semblant and showed them much honour, and afterward brought about their death and destruction, between herself and a dwarf that she hath, that slew the knights."
"And know you who is the knight?" saith Perceval.
"Sir," saith the knight, "Not I, for no leisure had I to ask him, for sorer need had I to flee than to stay. But I tell you that on account of the meat that failed him in the hold wherein they beset him, he issued forth raging like a lion, nor would he have suffered himself be shut up so long but for two wounds that he had upon his body; for he cared not to issue forth of the house until such time as they were healed, and also for that he had no horse. And so soon as he felt himself whole, he ventured himself against the four knights, that were so a-dread of him that they durst not come a-nigh. And moreover he deigneth not to go a-foot, wherefore if they now come a-nigh, it may not be but he shall have one at least out of their four horses, but they hold them heedfully aloof."
"Sir," saith Perceval,"Gramercy of these tidings."
They were fain to depart from the knight, but said he: "Ha, Lords, allow me so much as to see the destruction of this evil folk that have wrought such mischief in this forest! Sir" saith he to Messire Gawain, "I am cousin to the Poor Knight of the Waste Forest that hath the two poor damsels to sister, there where you and Lancelot jousted between you, and when the knight that brought you tidings thereof died in the night."
"By my faith," saith Messire Gawain, "These tidings know I well, for you say true, and your company hold I right dear for the love of the Poor Knight, for never yet saw I more courteous knight, nor more courteous damsels, nor better nurtured, and our Lord God grant them as much good as I would they should have."
Messire Gawain made the knight go before, for well knew he the robbers' hold, but loath enough had he been to go thither, had the knights not followed him behind. Lancelot was issued forth of the hold sword in hand, all armed, angry as a lion. The four knights were upon their horses all armed, but no mind had they come a-nigh him, for sore dreaded they the huge buffets he dealt, and his hardiment. One of them came forward before the others, and it seemed him shame that they might not vanquish one single knight. He goeth to smite Lancelot a great stroke of his sword above in the midst of his head, nor did Lancelot's sword fail of its stroke, for before he could draw back, Lancelot dealt him such a blow as smote oft all of his leg at the thigh, so that he made him leave the saddlebows empty. Lancelot leapt up on the destrier, and now seemed him he was safer than before. The three robber-knights that yet remained whole ran upon him on all sides and began to press him of their swords in right sore wrath. Thereupon behold you, the knight cometh to the way that goeth to the hold and saith to Messire Gawain and Perceval, "Now may you hear the dashing of swords and the melly."
Therewithal the two good knights smite horse with spur and come thither where the three robber-knights were assailing Lancelot. Each of the twain smiteth his own so wrathfully that they thrust their spears right through their bodies and bear them to the ground dead. Howbeit the third knight was fain to flee, but the knight that had come to show Messire Gawain the way took heart and hardiment from the confidence of the good knights, and smote him as he fled so sore that he pierced him with his spear to the heart and toppled him to the ground dead. And the one whose leg Lancelot had lopped off was so trampled underfoot of the knights that he had no life in him.
When Lancelot knew Perceval and Messire Gawain he made great joy of them and they of him.
"Lancelot," saith Messire Gawain, "This knight that led us hither to save your life is cousin to the Poor Knight of the Waste Castle, the brother of the two poor damsels that lodged us so well. We will send him these horses, one for the knight that shall be the messenger, and the two to the lord of the Waste Castle, and this hold that we have taken shall be for the two damsels, and so shall we make them safe all the days of their life. This, methinketh, will be well."
"Certes," saith Perceval, "you speak of great courtesy."
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "Messire Gawain hath said, and right willingly will I grant him all his wish."
"Lords," saith the knight, "They have in this forest a hold wherein the knights did bestow their plunder, for the sake whereof they murdered the passers by. If the goods remain there they will be lost, for therein is so great store as might be of much worth to many folk that are poverty-stricken for want thereof."
They go to the hold and find right great treasure in a cave underground, and rich sets of vessels and rich ornaments of cloth and armours for horses, that they had thrown the one over another into a pit that was right broad.
"Certes," saith he, "Right well hath it been done to this evil folk that is destroyed!"
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "in like manner would they have dealt with me and killed me if they might; whereof no sorrow have I save of the damsel that I slew, that was one of the fairest dames of the world. But I slew her not knowingly, for I meant rather to strike the knight, but she leapt between us, like the hardiest dame that saw I ever."
"Sirs," saith the knight, "Perceval and Lancelot, by the counsel of Messire Gawain, granted the treasure to the two damsels, sisters to the Poor Knight of the Waste Castle, whereupon let them send for Joseus the Hermit and bid him guard the treasure until they shall come hither."
And Joseus said that he would do so, and is right glad that the robbers of the forest are made away withal, that had so often made assault upon him. He guarded the treasure and the hold right safely in the forest; but the dread and the renown of the good knights that had freed the forest went far and wide. The knight that led the three destriers was right joyfully received at the Waste Castle; and when he told the message wherewith he was charged by Messire Gawain, the Poor Knight and two damsels made great joy thereof. Perceval taketh leave of Messire Gawain and Lancelot, and saith that never will he rest again until he shall have found his sister and his widow mother. They durst not gainsay him, for they know well that he is right, and he prayeth them right sweetly that they salute the King and Queen and all the good knights of the court, for, please God, he will go see them at an early day. But first he was fain to fulfil the promise King Arthur made to his sister, for he would not that the King should be blamed in any place as concerning him, nor by his default; and he himself would have the greater blame therein and he succoured her not, for the matter touched him nearer than it did King Arthur.
With that the Good Knight departeth, and they commend him to God, and he them in like sort. Messire Gawain and Lancelot go their way back toward the court of King Arthur, and Perceval goeth amidst strange forests until he cometh to a forest far away, wherein, so it seemed him, he had never been before. And he passed through a land that seemed him to have been laid waste, for it was all void of folk. Wild beast only seeth he there, that ran through the open country. He entered into a forest in this waste country, and found a hermitage in the combe of a mountain. He alighted without and heard that the hermit was singing the service of the dead, and had begun the mass with a requiem betwixt him and his clerk. He looketh and seeth a pall spread upon the ground before the altar as though it were over a corpse. He would not enter the chapel armed, wherefore he hearkened to the mass from without right reverently, and showed great devotion as he that loved God much and was a-dread. When the mass was sung, and the hermit was disarmed of the armour of Our Lord, he cometh to Perceval and saluteth him and Perceval him again.
"Sir," saith Perceval, "For whom have you done such service? meseemed that the corpse lay therewithin for whom the service was ordained."
"You say truth," saith the hermit. "I have done it for Lohot, King Arthur's son, that lieth buried under this pall."
"Who, then, hath slain him?" saith Perceval.
"That will I tell you plainly," saith the hermit.
"This wasted land about this forest wherethrough you have come is the beginning of the kingdom of Logres. There wont to be therein a Giant so big and horrible and cruel that none durst won within half a league round about, and he destroyed the land and wasted it in such sort as you see. Lohot was departed from the land and the court of King Arthur his father in quest of adventure, and by the will of God arrived at this forest, and fought against Logrin, right cruel as he was, and Logrin against him. As it pleased God, Lohot vanquished him; but Lohot had a marvellous custom: when he had slain a man, he slept upon him. A knight of King Arthur's court, that is called Kay the Seneschal, was come peradventure into this forest of Logres. He heard the Giant roar when Lohot dealt him the mortal blow. Thither came he as fist as he might, and found the King's son sleeping upon Logrin. He drew his sword and therewith cut off Lohot's head, and took the head and the body and set them in a coffin of stone. After that he hacked his shield to pieces with his sword, that he should not be recognised; then came he to the Giant that lay dead, and so cut oft his head, that was right huge and hideous, and hung it at his fore saddle-bow. Then went he to the court of King Arthur and presented it to him. The King made great joy thereof and all they of the court, and the King made broad his lands right freely for that he believed Kay had spoken true. I went," saith the hermit, "on the morrow to the piece of land where the Giant lay dead, as a damsel came within here to tell me with right great joy. I found the corpse of the Giant so big that I durst not come a-nigh it. The damsel led me to the coffin where the King's son was lying. She asked the head of me as her guerdon, and I granted it to her willingly. She set it forthwith in a coffer laden with precious stones that was all garnished within of balsams. After that, she helped me carry the body into this chapel and enshroud and bury it.
"Afterwards the damsel departed, nor have I never heard talk of her since, nor do I make remembrance hereof for that I would King Arthur should know it, nor for aught that I say thereof that he should do evil to the knight; for right sore sin should I have thereof, but deadly treason and disloyalty hath he wrought."
"Sir," saith Perceval, "This is sore pity of the King's son, that he is dead in such manner, for I have heard witness that he ever waxed more and more in great chivalry, and, so the King knew thereof, Kay the Seneschal, that is not well-loved of all folk, would lose the court for ever more, or his life, so he might be taken, and this would be only right and just."
Perceval lay the night in the hermitage, and departed on the morrow when he had heard mass. He rideth through the forest as he that right gladly would hear tidings of his mother, nor never before hath he been so desirous thereof as is he now. He heard, at right hour of noon, a damsel under a tree that made greater dole than ever heard he damsel make before. She held her mule by the reins and was alighted a-foot and set herself on her knees toward the East. She stretched her hands up toward heaven and prayed right sweetly the Saviour of the World and His sweet Mother that they would send her succour betimes, for that the most discounselled damsel of the world was she, and never was alms given to damsel to counsel her so well bestowed as it would be upon her, for that needs must she go to the most perilous place that is in the world, and that, save she might bring some one with her, never would that she had to do be done.
Perceval drew himself up when he heard the damsel bemoaning thus. He was in the shadow of the forest so that she saw him not. The damsel cried out all weeping, "Ha, King Arthur, great sin did you in forgetting to speak of my business to the knight that bare away the shield from your court, by whom would my mother have been succoured, that now must lose her castle presently save God grant counsel herein; and so unhappy am I, that I have gone through all the lands of Great Britain, yet may I hear no tidings of my brother, albeit they say that he is the Best Knight of the world. But what availeth us his knighthood, when we have neither aid nor succour thereof? So much the greater shame ought he to have of himself, if he love his mother, as she, that is the most gentle lady that liveth and the most loyal, hath hope that, and he knew, he would come thither. Either he is dead or he is in lands so far away that none may hear tidings of him. Ha, sweet Lady, Mother of Our Saviour, aid us when we may have no aid of any other! for if my lady mother loseth her castle, needs must we be forlorn wanderers in strange lands, for so have her brothers been long time; he that had the most power and valour lieth in languishment, the good King Fisherman that the King of Castle Mortal warreth on, albeit he also is my uncle, my mother's brother, and would fain reave my uncle, that is his brother, of his castle by his felony. Of a man so evil my lady mother looketh for neither aid nor succour. And the good King Pelles hath renounced his kingdom for the love of his Saviour, and hath entered into a hermitage. He likewise is brother of my mother, and behoveth him make war upon none, for the most worshipful hermit is he of the world. And all they on my father's side have died in arms. Eleven were there of them, and my father was the twelfth. Had they remained on live, well able would they have been to succour us, but the knight that was first at the Graal hath undone us, for through him our uncle fell in languishment, in whom should have been our surest succour."
At this word Perceval rode forward, and the damsel heareth him. She riseth up, and looketh backward and seeth the knight come, the shield at his neck banded argent and azure, with a red cross. She clasped her two hands toward heaven, and saith, "Ha, sweet Lady that didst bear the Saviour of the World, you have not forgotten me, nor never may be discounselled he nor she that calleth upon you with the heart. Here see I the knight come of whom we shall have aid and succour, and our Lord God grant him will to do His pleasure, and lend him courage and strength to protect us!"
She goeth to meet him, and holdeth his stirrup and would have kissed his foot, but he avoideth it and crieth to her: "Ill do you herein, damsel!" And therewith she melteth in tears of weeping and prayeth him right sweetly.
"Sir," saith she, "Of such pity as God had of His most sweet Mother on that day He took His death, when He beheld Her at the foot of the cross, have pity and mercy of my lady mother and of me. For, and your aid fail us, we know not to whom to fly for rescue, for I have been told that you are the Best Knight of the world. And for obtaining of your help went I to King Arthur's court. Wherefore succour us for pity's sake and God's and for nought beside, for, so please you, it is your duty so to do, albeit, had you been my brother that is also such a knight as you, whom I cannot find, I might have called upon you of a greater right. Sir," saith she, "Do you remember you of the brachet you had at the court waiting for you until such time as you should come for the shield, and that went away with you, how he would never make joy nor know any save me alone? By this know I well that if you knew the soreness of our need you would succour us. But King Arthur, that should have prayed you thereof, forgat it."
"Damsel," saith he, "so much hath he done that he hath not failed of his covenant with you, for he sent for me by the two best knights of his court, and. so I may speed, so much will I do herein as that God and he shall be well pleased thereof."
The damsel had right great joy of the knight that he should grant her his aid, but she knew not he was her brother, or otherwise she would have doubled her joy. Perceval knoweth well that she is his sister, but he would not yet discover himself and manifest his pity outwardly. He helpeth the damsel to mount again and they rode on together.
"Sir," saith the damsel, "Needs must I go to-night by myself to the Grave-yard Perilous."
"Wherefore go you thither?" saith Perceval.
"Sir," saith she, "I have made vow thereof, and moreover a holy hermit hath told me that the knight that warreth upon us may not be overcome of no knight, save I bring him not some of the cloth wherewith the altar in the chapel of the Grave-yard Perilous is covered. The cloth is of the most holiest, for our Lord God was covered therewith in the Holy Sepulchre, on the third day when He came back from death to life. Nor none may enter the holy grave-yard that bringeth another with him, wherefore behoveth me go by myself, and may God save my life this night, for the place is sore perilous, and so ought I greatly to hate him that hath procured me this dolour and travail. Sir," saith she, "You will go your way toward the castle of Camelot: there is the Widow Lady my mother, that awaiteth the return and the succour of the Good Knight, and may you remember to succour and aid us when you shall see how sore is our need of succour.
"Damsel," saith Perceval, "So God allow me I will aid you to the utmost of my power."
"Sir," saith she, "See, this is my way, that is but little frequented, for I tell you that no knight durst tread therein without great peril and great dread. And our Lord God have your body in keeping, for mine own this night shall be in sore jeopardy and hazard."
Perceval departeth from the damsel, his sister, and hath right great pity for that she goeth in so perilous place all alone. Natheless would he nor forbid her, for he knew well that she might not go thither with him nor with other, sith that such was the custom of the grave-yard that twain might not pass the entrance, wherefore needs must one remain without. Perceval was not willing that his sister should break her vow, for never none of his lineage did at any time disloyalty nor base deed knowingly, nor failed of nought that they had in covenant, save only the King of Castle Mortal, from whom he had as much evil as he had good of the others.
The damsel goeth her way all alone and all forlorn toward the grave-yard and the deep of the forest, all dark and shadowy. She hath ridden until the sun was set and the night draweth nigh. She looketh before her and seeth a cross, high and wide and thick. And on this cross was the figure of Our Lord graven, whereof is she greatly comforted. She draweth nigh the cross, and so kisseth and adoreth it, and prayeth the Saviour of the world that was nailed on Holy Rood that He would bring her forth of the burial-ground with honour. The cross was at the entrance of the grave-yard, that was right spacious, for, from such time as the land was first peopled of folk, and that knights began to seek adventure by the forest, not a knight had died in the forest, that was full great of breadth and length, but his body was borne thither, nor might never knight there be buried that had not received baptism and had repented him not of his sins at his death.
Thereinto entered the damsel all alone, and found great multitude of tombs and coffins. Nor none need wonder whether she had shuddering and fear, for such place must needs be dreadful to a lonely damsel, there where lay so many knights that had been slain in arms. Josephus the good clerk witnesseth us that within the grave-yard might no evil spirit meddle, for that Saint Andrew the apostle had blessed it with his hand. But never might no hermit remain within for the evil things that appeared each night all round about, that took the shapes of the knights that were dead in the forest, wherof the bodies lay not in the blessed burial-ground.
The damsel beholdeth their sepulchres all round about the grave- yard whereinto she was come. She seeth them surrounded of knights, all black, and spears had they withal, and came one against another, and made such uproar and alarm as it seemed all the forest resounded thereof. The most part held swords all red as of fire, and ran either upon other, and gashed one another's hands and feet and nose and face. And great was the clashing they made, but they could not come a-nigh the grave-yard. The damsel seeth them, and hath such affright thereof that she nigh fell to the ground in a swoon. The mule whereon she sate draweth wide his nostrils and goeth in much fear. The damsel signeth her of the cross and commendeth her to the Saviour and to His sweet Mother. She looketh before her to the head of the grave-yard, and seeth the chapel, small and ancient. She smiteth her mule with her whip, and cometh thitherward and alighteth. She entered therewithin and found a great brightness of light. Within was an image of Our Lady, to whom she prayeth right sweetly that She will preserve her senses and her life and enable her to depart in safety from this perilous place. She seeth above the altar the most holy cloth for the which she was come thither, that was right ancient, and a smell came thereof so sweet and glorious that no sweetness of the world might equal it. The damsel cometh toward the altar thinking to take the cloth, but it goeth up into the air as if the wind had lifted it, and was so high that she might not reach it above an ancient crucifix that was there within.
"Ha, God!" saith the damsel, "It is for my sin and my disloyalty that this most holy cloth thus draweth itself away from me!"
"Fair Father God, never did I evil to none, nor never did I shame nor sinned deadly in myself, nor never wrought against your will, so far as in me lay, but rather do I serve you and love and fear you and your sweet Mother; and all the tribulation I receive, accept I in patience for your love, for well I know that such is your pleasure, nor have I no will to set myself against nought that pleaseth you.
"When it shall please you, you will release me and my mother of the grief and tribulation wherein we are. For well you know that they have reaved her of her castles by wrong, and of her land, for that she is a Widow Lady without help. Lord, you who have all the world at your mercy and do your commandment in all things, grant me betimes to hear tidings of my brother and he be on live, for sore need have we of him. And so lend force to the knight and power against all our enemies, that for your love and for pity is fain to succour and aid my mother that is sore discounselled. Lord, well might it beseem you to remember of your pity and the sweetness that is in you, and of compassion that she hath been unrighteously disherited, and that no succour nor aid nor counsel hath she, save of you alone. You are her affiance and her succour, and therefore ought you to remember that the good knight Joseph of Abarimacie, that took down your Body when it hung upon the rood, was her own uncle. Better loved he to take down your Body than all the gold and all the fee that Pilate might give him. Lord, good right of very truth had he so to do, for he took you in his arms beside the rood, and laid your Body in the holy sepulchre, wherein were you covered of the sovran cloth for the which have I come in hither. Lord, grant it be your pleasure that I may have it, for love of the knight by whom it was set in this chapel; sith that I am of his lineage it ought well to manifest itself in this sore need, so it come according to your pleasure."
Forthwith the cloth came down above the altar, and she straightway found taken away therefrom as much as it pleased Our Lord she should have. Josephus telleth us of a truth, that never did none enter into the chapel that might touch the cloth save only this one damsel. She set her face to it and her mouth or ever the cloth removed.
Thereafter, she took the piece that God would and set it near herself full worshipfully, but still the stout went on of the evil spirits round about the church-yard, and they dealt one another blows so sore that all the forest resounded thereof, and it seemed that it was all set on fire of the flame that issued from them. Great fear would the damsel have had of them, had she not comforted herself in God and in His dear, sweet Mother, and the most holy cloth that was within there. A Voice appeared upon the stroke of midnight from above the chapel, and speaketh to the souls whereof the bodies lie within the grave-yard: "How sore loss hath befallen you of late, and all other whose bodies lie in other hallowed church-yards by the forests of this kingdom! For the good King Fisherman is dead that made every day our service be done in the most holy chapel there where the most Holy Graal every day appeared, and where the Mother of God abode from the Saturday until the Monday that the service was finished. And now hath the King of Castle Mortal seized the castle in such sort that never sithence hath the Holy Graal appeared, and all the other hallows are hidden, so that none knoweth what hath become of the priests that served in the chapel, nor the twelve ancient knights, nor the damsels that were therein. And you, damsel, that are within, have no affiance in the aid of strange knight in this need, for succoured may you never be save of your brother only!"
With that the Voice is still, and a wailing and a lamentation goeth up from the bodies that lay in the church-yard, so dolorous that no man is there in the world but should have pity thereof, and all the evil spirits that were without departed groaning and making so mighty uproar at their going away that it seemed the earth trembled. The damsel heard the tidings of her uncle that was dead, and fell on the ground in a swoon, and when she raised herself, took on to lament and cried: "Ha, God! Now have we lost the most comfort and the best friend that we had, and hereof am I again discomforted that I may not be succoured in this my next need by the Good Knight of whom I thought to have succour and aid, and that was so fain to render it. Now shall I know not what to ask of him, for he would grant it right willingly, and may God be as pleased with him thereof as if he had done it."
The damsel was in sore misdoubting and dismay, for she knew not who the knight was, and great misgiving had she of her uncle's death and right sore sorrow. She was in the chapel until it was day, and then commended herself to God and departed and mounted on her mule and issued forth of the church-yard full speed, all alone.
The story saith that the damsel went her way toward her mother's castle as straight as she might, but sore dismayed was she of the Voice that had told her she might not be succoured save of her brother alone. She hath ridden so far of her journeys that she is come to the Valley of Camelot, and seeth her mother's castle that was surrounded of great rivers, and seeth Perceval, that was alighted under the shadow of a tree at the top of the forest in order that he might behold his mother's castle, whence he went forth squire what time he slew the Knight of the Red Shield. When he had looked well at the castle and the country round about, much pleasure had he thereof, and mounted again forthwith. Thereupon, behold you, the damsel cometh.
"Sir," saith she, "In sore travail and jeopardy have I been sithence that last I saw you, and tidings have I heard as bad as may be, and right grievous for my mother and myself. For King Fisherman mine uncle is dead, and another of my uncles, the King of Castle Mortal, hath seized his castle, albeit my lady mother ought rather to have it, or I, or my brother."
"Is it true " saith Perceval, "that he is dead?"
"Yea, certes, Sir, I know it of a truth."
"So help me God!" saith he, "This misliketh me right sore. I thought not that he would die so soon, for I have not been to see him of a long time."
"Sir," saith she, "I am much discomforted as concerning you, for I have likewise been told that no force nor aid of any knight may avail to succour nor aid me from this day forward save my brother's help alone. Wherefore, and it be so, we have lost all, for my lady mother hath respite to be in her castle only until the fifteenth day from to-day, and I know not where to seek my brother, and the day is so nigh as you hear. Now behoveth us do the best we may and abandon this castle betimes, nor know I any refuge that we now may have save only King Pelles in the hermitage. I would fain that my lady mother were there, for he would not fail us."
Perceval is silent, and hath great pity in his heart of this that the damsel saith. She followeth him weeping, and pointeth out to him the Valleys of Camelot and the castles that were shut in by combes and mountains, and the broad meadow-lands and the forest that girded them about.
"Sir," saith she, "All this hath the Lord of the Moors reaved of my lady mother, and nought coveteth he so much as to have this castle, and have it he will, betimes."
When they had ridden until that they drew nigh the castle, the Lady was at the windows of the hall and knew her daughter.
"Ha, God!" saith the Lady, "I see there my daughter coming, and a knight with her. Fair Father God, grant of your pleasure that it be my son, for and it be not he, I have lost my castle and mine heirs are disherited."
Perceval cometh nigh the castle in company with his sister, and knoweth again the chapel that stood upon four columns of marble between the forest and the castle, there where his father told him how much ought he to love good knights, and that none earthly thing might be of greater worth, and how none might know yet who lay in the coffin until such time as the Best Knight of the world should come thither, but that then should it be known. Perceval would fain have passed by the chapel, but the damsel saith to him: "Sir, no knight passeth hereby save he go first to see the coffin within the chapel."
He alighteth and setteth the damsel to the ground, and layeth down his spear and shield and cometh toward the tomb, that was right fair and rich. He set his hand above it. So soon as he came nigh, the sepulchre openeth on one side, so that one saw him that was within the coffin. The damsel falleth at his feet for joy. The Lady had a custom such that every time a knight stopped at the coffin she made the five ancient knights that she had with her in the castle accompany her, wherein they would never fail her, and bring her as far as the chapel. So soon as she saw the coffin open and the joy her daughter made, she knew that it was her son, and ran to him and embraced him and kissed him and began to make the greatest joy that ever lady made.
"Now know I well," saith she, "that our Lord God hath not forgotten me. Sith that I have my son again, the tribulations and the wrongs that have been done me grieve me not any more. Sir," saith she to her son, "Now is it well known and proven that you are the Best Knight of the world! For otherwise never would the coffin have opened, nor would any have known who he is that you now see openly."
She maketh her chaplain take certain letters that were sealed with gold in the coffin. He looketh thereat and readeth, and then saith that these letters witness of him that lieth in the coffin that he was one of them that helped to un-nail Our Lord from the cross. They looked beside him and found the pincers all bloody wherewith the nails were drawn, but they might not take them away, nor the body, nor the coffin, according as Josephus telleth us, for as soon as Perceval was forth of the chapel, the coffin closed again and joined together even as it was before. The Widow Lady led her son with right great joy into her castle, and recounted to him all the shame that had been done her, and also how Messire Gawain had made safe the castle for a year by his good knighthood.
"Fair son," saith she, "Now is the term drawn nigh when I should have lost my castle and you had not come. But now know I well that it shall be safe-guarded of you. He that coveteth this castle is one of the most outrageous knights on live. And he hath reaved me of my land and the Valleys of Camelot without reasonable occasion. But, please God, you shall well repair the harm he hath done you, for nought claim I any longer of the land since you are come. But so avenge your shame as to increase your honour, for none ought to allow his right to be minished of an evil man, and the mischiefs that have been done me for that I had no aid, let them not wax cold in you, for a shame done to one valiant and strong ought not to wax cold in him, but rankle and prick in him, so ought he to have his enemies in remembrance without making semblant, but so much as he shall show in his cheer and making semblant and his menaces, so much ought he to make good in deed when he shall come in place. For one cannot do too much hurt to an enemy, save only one is willing to let him be for God's sake. But truth it is that the scripture saith, that one ought not to do evil to one's enemies, but pray God that He amend them. I would fain that our enemies were such that they might amend toward us, and that they would do as much good to us without harming themselves as they have done evil, on condition that mine anger and yours were foregone against them. Mine own anger I freely forbear against them so far forth as concerneth myself, for no need have I to wish evil to none, and Solomon telleth how the sinner that curseth other sinner curseth himself likewise.
"Fair son, this castle is yours, and this land round about whereof I have been reft ought to be yours of right, for it falleth to you on behalf of your father and me. Wherefore send to the Lord of the Moors that hath reft it from me, that he render it to you. I make no further claim, for I pass it on to you; for nought have I now to do with any land save only so much as will be enough wherein to bury my body when I die, nor shall I now live much longer since King Fisherman my brother is dead, whereof right sorrowful am I at heart, and still more sorrowful should I be were it not for your coming. And, son, I tell you plainly that you have great blame of his death, for you are the knight through whom he fell first into languishment, for now at last I know well that and if you had afterwards gone back and so made the demand that you made not at the first, he would have come back to health. But our Lord God willed it so to be, wherefore well beseemeth us to yield to His will and pleasure."
Perceval hath heard his mother, but right little hath he answered her, albeit greatly is he pleased with whatsoever she hath said. His face is to-flushed of hardiment, and courage hath taken hold on him. His mother looketh at him right fainly, and hath him disarmed and apparelled in a right rich robe. So comely a knight was he that in all the world might not be found one of better seeming nor better shapen of body. The Lord of the Moors, that made full certain of having his mother's castle, knew of Perceval's coming. He was not at all dismayed in semblant, nor would he stint to ride by fell nor forest, and every day he weened in his pride that the castle should be his own at the hour and the term he had set thereof. One of the five knights of the Widow Lady was one day gone into the Lonely Forest after hart and hind, and had taken thereof at his will. He was returning back to the castle and the huntsmen with him, when the Lord of the Moors met him and told him he had done great hardiment in shooting with the bow in the forest, and the knight made answer that the forest was not his of right, but the Lady's of Camelot and her son's that had repaired thither.
The Lord of the Moors waxed wroth. He held a sword in his hand and thrust him therewith through the body and slew him. The knight was borne dead to the castle of Camelot before the Widow Lady and her son.
"Fair son," saith the Widow Lady, "More presents of such-like kind the Lord of the Moors sendeth me than I would. Never may he be satisfied of harming my land and shedding the blood of the bodies of my knights. Now may you well know how many a hurt he hath done me sithence that your father hath been dead and you were no longer at the castle, sith that this hath he done me even now that you are here. You have the name of Perceval on this account, that tofore you were born, he had begun to reave your father of the Valleys of Camelot, for your father was an old knight and all his brethren were dead, and therefore he gave you this name in baptism, for that he would remind you of the mischief done to him and to you, and that you might help to retrieve it and you should have the power."
The Dame maketh shroud the knight, for whom she is full sorrowful, and on the morrow hath mass sung and burieth him. Perceval made arm two of the old knights with him, then issued forth of the castle and entered the great dark forest. He rode until he came before a castle, and met five knights that issued forth all armed. He asked whose men they were. They answer, the Lord's of the Moors, and that he goeth seek the son of the Widow Lady that is in the forest.
"If we may deliver him up to our lord, good guerdon shal we have thereof."
"By my faith," saith Perceval, "You have not far to seek. I am here!
Perceval smiteth his horse of his spurs and cometh to the first in such sort that he passeth his spear right through his body and beareth him to the ground dead. The other two knights each smote his man so that they wounded them in the body right sore. The other two would fain have fled, but Perceval preventeth them, and they gave themselves up prisoners for fear of death. He bringeth all four to the castle of Camelot and presenteth them to his lady mother.
"Lady," saith he, "see here the quittance for your knight that was slain, and the fifth also remaineth lying on the piece of ground shent in like manner as was your own."
"Fair son," saith she, "I should have better loved peace after another sort, and so it might be."
"Lady," saith he, "Thus is it now. One ought to make war against the warrior, and be at peace with the peaceable."
The knights are put in prison. The tidings are come to the Lord of the Moors that the son of the Widow Lady hath slain one of his knights and carried off four to prison. Thereof hath he right great wrath at heart, and sweareth and standeth to it that never will he be at rest until he shall have either taken or slain him, and that, so there were any knight in his land that would deliver him up, he would give him one of the best castles in his country. The more part are keen to take Perceval. Eight came for that intent before him all armed in the forest of Camelot, and hunted and drove wild deer in the purlieus of the forest so that they of the castle saw them.
Perceval was in his mother's chapel, where he heard mass; and when the mass was sung, his sister said: "Fair brother, see here the most holy cloth that I brought from the chapel of the Grave-yard Perilous. Kiss it and touch it with your face, for a holy hermit told me that never should our land be conquered back until such time as you should have hereof."
Perceval kisseth it, then toucheth his eyes and face therewith. Afterward he goeth to arm him, and the four knights with him; then he issueth forth of the chamber and mounteth on his horse, then goeth out of the gateway like a lion unchained. He sitteth on a tall horse all covered. He cometh nigh the eight knights that were all armed, man and horse, and asketh them what folk they be and what they seek, and they say that they are enemies of the Widow Lady and her son.
"Then you do I defy!" saith Perceval.
He cometh to them a great run, and the four knights with him, and each one overthroweth his own man so roughly that either he is wounded in his body or maimed of arm or leg. The rest held the melly to the utmost they might endure. Perceval made take them and bring to the castle, and the other five that they had overthrown. The Lord of the Moors was come to shoot with a bow, and he heard the noise of the knights, and cometh thitherward a great gallop all armed.
"Sir," saith one of the old knights to Perceval, "Look! here is the Lord of the Moors coming, that hath reft your mother of her land and slain her men. Of him will it be good to take vengeance. See, how boldly he cometh."
Perceval looketh on him as he that loveth him not, and cometh toward him as hard as his horse may carry him, and smiteth him right through the breast so strongly that he beareth to the ground him and his horse together all in a heap. He alighteth to the ground and draweth his sword.
"How?" saith the Lord of the Moors, "Would you then slay me and put me in worse plight than I am?"
"By my head," saith Perceval, "No, nor so swiftly, but I will slay you enough, betimes!"
"So it seemeth you," saith the Lord of the Moors, "But it shall not be yet!"
He leapeth up on his feet and runneth on Perceval, sword drawn, as one that fain would harm him if he might. But Perceval defendeth himself as good knight should, and giveth such a buffet at the outset as smiteth off his arm together with his sword. The knights that came after fled back all discomfited when they saw their lord wounded. And Perceval made lift him on a horse and carry him to the castle and presenteth him to his mother.
"Lady," saith he, "See here the Lord of the Moors! Well might you expect him eftsoons, sith that you were to have yielded him up your castle the day after to-morrow!"
"Lady," saith the Lord of the Moors, "Your son hath wounded me and taken my knights and myself likewise. I will yield you up your castle albeit I hold it mine as of right, on condition you cry me quit."
"And who shall repay her," saith Perceval, "for the shame that you have done her, for her knights that you have slain, whereof never had you pity? Now, so help me God, if she have mercy or pity upon you, never hereafter will I trouble to come to her aid how sore soever may be her need. Such pity and none other as you have had for her and my sister will I have for you. Our Lord God commanded in both the Old Law and the New, that justice should be done upon man-slayers and traitors, and justice will I do upon you that His commandment be not transgressed."
He hath a great vat made ready in the midst of the court, and maketh the eleven knights be brought. H e maketh their heads be stricken off into the vat and bleed therein as much blood as might come from them, and then made the heads and the bodies be drawn forth so that nought was there but blood in the vat. After that, he made disarm the Lord of the Moors and be brought before the vat wherein was great abundance of blood. He made bind his feet and his hands right strait, and after that saith: "Never might you be satisfied of the blood of the knights of my lady mother, now will I satisfy you of the blood of your own knights!"
He maketh hang him by the feet in the vat, so that his head were in the blood as far as the shoulders, and so maketh him be held there until that he was drowned and quenched. After that, he made carry his body and the bodies of the other knights and their heads, and made them be cast into an ancient charnel that was beside an old chapel in the forest, and the vat together with the blood made he be cast into the river, so that the water thereof was all bloody. The tidings came to the castles that the son of the Widow Lady had slain the Lord of the Moors and the best of his knights. Thereof were they in sore misgiving, and the most part said that the like also would he do to them save they held themselves at his commandment. They brought him the keys of all the castles that had been reft of his mother, and all the knights that had before renounced their allegiance returned thereunto and pledged themselves to be at his will for dread of death. All the land was assured in safety, nor was there nought to trouble the Lady's joy save only that King Fisherman her brother was dead, whereof she was right sorrowful and sore afflicted.
One day the Widow Lady sate at meat, and there was great plenty of knights in the hall. Perceval sate him beside his sister. Thereupon, behold you the Damsel of the Car that came with the other two damsels before the Widow Lady and her son, and saluted them right nobly.
"Damsel," saith Perceval, "Good adventure may you have!"
"Sir," saith she, "You have speeded right well of your business here, now go speed it elsewhere, for thereof is the need right sore. King Hermit, that is your mother's brother, sendeth you word that, and you come not with haste into the land that was King Fisherman's your uncle, the New Law that God hath stablished will be sore brought low. For the King of Castle Mortal, that hath seized the land and castle, hath made be cried throughout all the country how all they that would fain maintain the Old Law and abandon the New shall have protection of him and counsel and aid, and they that will not shall be destroyed and outlawed."
"Ha, fair son," saith the Widow Lady, "Now have you heard the great disloyalty of the evil man that is my brother, whereof am I right sorrowful, for that he is of my kindred."
"Lady," saith Perceval, "Your brother nor my uncle is he no longer, sith that he denieth God! Rather is he our mortal enemy that we ought of right to hate more than any stranger!"
"Fair son," saith the Widow Lady, "I pray and beseech you that the Law of the Saviour be not set aside in forgetfulness and neglect there where you may exalt it, for better Lord in no wise may you serve, nor one that better knoweth how to bestow fair guerdon. Fair son, none may be good knight that serveth Him not and loveth Him. Take heed that you be swift in His service nor delay not for no intent, but be ever at His commandment alike at eventide as in the morning, so shall you not bely your lineage. And the Lord God grant you good intent therein and good will to go on even as you have begun."
The Widow Lady, that much loved her son, riseth up from the tables, and all the other knights, and seemeth it that she is Lady of her land in such sort as that never was she better. But full often doth she give thanks to the Saviour of the World with her whole heart, and prayeth Him of His pleasure grant her son length of life for the amendment both of soul and body. Perceval was with his mother of a long space, and with his sister, and was much feared and honoured of all the knights of the land, alike for his great wisdom and great pains-taking, as well as for the valour of his knighthood.
Go to Branch XVI