THE HIGH HISTORY OF THE HOLY GRAAL
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #19
Now is the story silent of Perceval and cometh back to King Arthur, the very matter thereof, like as testifieth the history, that in no place is corrupted and the Latin lie not. King Arthur was at Cardoil on one day of Whitsuntide that was right fair and clear, and many knights were in the hall. The King sate at meat and all the knights about him. The King looketh at the windows of the hall to right and left, and seeth that two sunbeams are shining within that fill the whole hall with light. Thereof he marvelleth much and sendeth without the hall to see what it might be. The messenger cometh back again and saith thereof that two suns appear to be shining, the one in the East and the other in the West. He marvelleth much thereat, and prayeth Our Lord that he may be permitted to know wherefore two suns should appear in such wise. A Voice appeared at one of the windows that said to him: "King, marvel not hereof that two suns should appear in the sky, for our Lord God hath well the power, and know well that this is for joy of the conquest that the Good Knight hath made that took away the shield from herewithin. He hath won the land that belonged to good King Fisherman from the evil King of Castle Mortal, that did away thence the good believe, and therefore was it that the Graal was hidden. Now God so willeth that you go thither, I and that you choose out the best knights of your court, for better pilgrimage may you never make, and what time you shall return hither, your faith shall be doubled and the people of Great Britain shall be better disposed and better taught to maintain the service of the Saviour."
Thereupon the Voice departed and well pleased was the King of that it had said. He sitteth at meat beside the Queen. Straightway behold you, a damsel that cometh of such beauty as never was greater, and clad right richly, and she beareth a coffer richer than ever you saw, for it was all of fine gold and set with precious stones that sparkled like fire. The coffer is not large. The damsel holdeth it between her hands. When she was alighted she cometh before the King and saluteth him the fairest she may and the Queen likewise. The King returneth her salute.
"Sir," saith she, "I am come to your court for that it is the sovran of all other, and so bring I you here this rich vessel that you see as a gift; and it hath within the head of a knight, but none may open the coffer save he alone that slew the knight. Wherefore I pray and beseech you, as you are the best king that liveth, that you first set your hand thereon, and in like manner afterwards make proof of your knights, and so the crime and the blood-wite thereof be brought home to you or to any knight that may be within yonder. I pray you that the knight who shall be able to open the coffer wherein the head of the knight lieth, and who therefore is he that slew him, shall have grace of forty days after that you shall be returned from the Graal."
"Damsel," saith the King, "How shall it be known who the knight was?"
"Sir," saith she, "Right eath, for the letters are sealed within that tell his name and the name of him that slew him."
The King granteth the damsel her will in such wise as she had asked of him. He hath received the coffer, then maketh her be set at meat and right richly honoured.
When the King had eaten, the damsel cometh before him.
"Sir," saith she, "Make your knights be summoned and ready for that which you have granted me, and you yourself first of all."
"Damsel," saith the King, "Right willingly."
He setteth his hand to the coffer, thinking to open it, but it was not right that it should open for him. As he set his hand thereon the coffer sweated through just as had it been sprinkled all over and was wet with water. The King marvelled greatly, and so made Messire Gawain set his hand to it and Lancelot and all those of the court, but he that might open it was not among them. Messire Kay the Seneschal had served at meat. He heard say that the King and all the others had essayed and proved the coffer but might not open it. He is come thither, all uncalled for.
"Now, then, Kay," saith the King, "I had forgotten you."
"By my head," saith Kay, "You ought not to forget me, for as good knight am I and of as much worth as they that you have called before me, and you ought not to have delayed to send for me. You have summoned all the others, and me not a whit, and yet am I as well able, or ought to be, to open the coffer as are they; for against as many knights have I defended me as they, and as many have I slain in defending my body as have they."
"Kay," saith the King, "Shall you be so merry and you may open the coffer, and if you have slain the knight whose head lieth therein? By my head, I that am King would fain that the coffer should not open for me, for never was no knight so poor as that he should have neither kinsman nor friend, for he is not loved of all the world that is hated by one man."
"By my head," saith Kay, "I would that all the heads of all the knights I have slain, save one only, were in the midst of this hall, and that there were letters sealed with them to say that they were slain by me. Then would you believe what you are not willing to believe for the envious ones that think they are better worth than I, and yet have not served you so well."
"Kay," saith the King, "Come forward, there is no need of this."
Messire Kay the Seneschal cometh to the dais before the King, whereon was the coffer, and taketh it right boldly and setteth one of his hands below it and the other above. The coffer opened as soon as he clapped hand thereon, and the head within could be seen all openly. A passing delicate-savoured smell and right sweet issued therefrom, so that not a knight in the hall but smelt it.
"Sir," saith Kay to the King, "Now may you know that some prowess and some hardiment have I done in your service, nor might none of your knights that you prize so highly open the coffer this day, nor would you have known this day who is therein for them! But now you know it by me, and therefore of so much ought you to be well pleased with me!"
"Sir," saith the damsel that had brought the coffer, "Let the letters be read that are within, so shall you know who the knight was and of what lineage, and what was the occasion of his death."
The King sitteth beside the Queen, and biddeth call one of his own chaplains. Then maketh he all the knights in the hall be seated and keep silence, and commandeth the chaplain that he should spell out the letters of gold all openly according as he should find them written. The chaplain looketh at them, and when he had scanned them down, began to sigh.
"Sir," saith he to the King and Queen, "hearken unto me, and all the other, your knights.
"These letters say that the knight whose head lieth in this vessel was named Lohot and he was son of King Arthur and Queen Guenievre. He had slain on a day that is past, Logrin the Giant, by his hardiment. Messire Kay the Seneschal was passing by there, and so found Lohot sleeping upon Logrin, for such was his custom that he went to sleep upon the man after that he had slain him. Messire Kay smote off Lohot's head, and so left the head and the body on the piece of ground. He took the head of the Giant and so bore it to the court of King Arthur. He gave the King and Queen and all the barons of the court to understand that he had slain him, but this did he not; rather, that he did was to slay Lohot, according to the writing and the witness of these letters."
When the Queen heareth these letters and this witting of her son that came thus by his death, she falleth in a swoon on the coffer. After that she taketh the head between her two hands, and knew well that it was he by a scar that he had on his face when he was a child. The King himself maketh dole thereof so sore that none may comfort him, for before these tidings he had thought that his son was still on live and that he was the Best Knight in the world, and when the news came to his court that the Knight of the Golden Circlet had slain the Knight of the Dragon, he supposed that it had been Lohot his son, for that none had named Perceval nor Gawain nor Lancelot. And all they of the court are right sorrowful for the death of Lohot, and Messire Kay hath departed, and if the damsel had nor respited the day until the fortieth after the King's return, vengeance would have been taken of Kay or ever he might have turned him thence. For never did no I man see greater dole made in the King's court than they of the Table Round made for the youth. King Arthur and the Queen were so stricken of sorrow that none durst call upon them to make cheer. The damsel that brought thither the coffer was well avenged of the shame that Messire Kay the Seneschal had done her on a day that was past, for this thing would not have been known so soon save it had been by her.
When the mourning for the King's son was abated, Lancelot and many others said unto him, "Sir, you know well that God willeth you should go to the castle that was King Fisherman's on pilgrimage to the most Holy Graal, for it is not right to delay a thing that one hath in covenant with God."
"Lords," saith the King, "right willingly will I go, and thereto am I right well disposed."
The King apparelleth himself for the pilgrimage, and saith that Messire Gawain and Lancelot shall go with him, without more knights, and taketh a squire to wait upon his body, and the Queen herself would he have taken thither but for the mourning she made for her son, whereof none might give her any comfort. But or ever the King departed he made the head be brought into the Isle of Avalon, to a chapel of Our Lady that was there, where was a worshipful holy hermit that was well loved of Our Lord. The King departed from Cardoil and took leave of the Queen and all the knights. Lancelot and Messire Gawain go along with him and a squire that carrieth their arms. Kay the Seneschal was departed from the court for dread of the King and his knights. He durst not abide in the Greater Britain, and so betook himself into the Lesser. Briant of the Isles was of great power in those times, a knight of great strength and hardiment, for all Great Britain had had many disputes between him and King Arthur. His land was full strong of castles and forests and right fruitful, and many good knights had he in his land. When he knew that Kay the Seneschal had departed in such sort from the court, and that he had crossed the sea, he sent for him and held him of his household, and said that he would hold him harmless against the King and against all men. When he knew that the King had departed he began to war upon the land and to slay his men and to challenge his castles.
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