The High History of the Holy Grail
THE HIGH HISTORY OF
THE HOLY GRAAL
Translated from the
Old French by
JAMES CLARKE & CO. LTD
Cambridge & London
This edition 1969
by arrangement with J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
Published by James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 7, All Saints Passage. Cambridge, England and distributed by Book Centre Ltd.. 110, North Circular Road, London, .N. W. 110.
PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN
UNWIN BROTHERS LIMITED
WOKING AND LONDON
This Book is translated from the first volume of Perceval le Gallois ou le conte du Graal; edited by M. Ch. Potvin for `La Societe des Bibliophiles Beiges' in 1866,1 from the MS. numbered 11,145 in the library of the Dukes of Burgundy at Brussels. This MS. I find thus described in M. F. J. Marchal's catalogue of that priceless collection: `Le Roman de Saint Graal, beginning Ores lestoires, in the French language; date, first third of the sixteenth century; with ornamental capitals.'2 Written three centuries later than the original romance, and full as it is of faults of the scribe, this manuscript is by far the most complete known copy of the Book of the Graal in existence, being defective only in Branch XXI. Titles 8 and 9, the substance of which is fortunately preserved elsewhere. Large fragments, however, amounting in all to nearly one-seventh of the whole, of a copy in handwriting of the thirteenth century, are preserved in six consecutive leaves and one detached leaf bound up with a number of other works in a MS. numbered 113 in the City Library at Berne. The volume is in folio on vellum closely written in three columns to the page, and the seven leaves follow the last poem contained in it, entitled Duremart le Gallois. The manuscript is well known, having been lent to M. de Sainte Palaye for use in the Monuments of French History issued by the Benedictines of the Congregation of St Maur. Selections from the poems it contains are given in Sinner's Extraits de Poésie du XIII. Siècle,3 and it is described, unfortunately without any reference to these particular leaves, by the same learned librarian in the Catalogus Codicum MSS. Bibl. Bernensis. J. R. Sinner.4
M. Potvin has carefully collated for his edition all that is preserved of the Romance in this manuscript, comprising all the beginning of the work as far as Branch III. Title 8, about the middle, and from Branch XVIII. Title 23, near the beginning, to Branch XIX. Title 5, in the middle. Making allowance for variations of spelling and sundry minor differences of reading, by no means always in favour of the earlier scribe, the Berne fragments are identical with the corresponding portions of the Brussels manuscript, and it is therefore safe to assume that the latter is on the whole an accurate transcript of the entire original Romance.
The only note of time in the book itself is contained in the declaration at the end. From this it appears that it was written by order of the Seingnor of Cambrein for Messire Jehan the Seingnor of Neele. M. Potvin, without giving any reason for so doing, assumes that this Lord of Cambrein is none other than the Bishop of Cambrai. If this assumption be correct, the person referred to was probably either John of Béthune, who held the see from 1200 till July 27, 1219, or his successor Godfrey of Fontaines (Condé), who held it till 1237. To me, however, it seems more likely that the personage intended was in reality the `Seingnor' of Cambrin, the chef-lieu of a canton of the same name, on a small hill overlooking the peat-marshes of Béthune, albeit I can find no other record of any such landed proprietor's existence.
Be this as it may, the Messire Jehan, Seingnor of Neele, can hardly be other than the John de Nesle who was present at the battle of Bouvines in 1214, and who in 1225 sold the lordship of Bruges to Joan of Flanders.5 These dates therefore may be regarded as defining that of the original Romance within fairly narrow limits.
This conclusion is confirmed by other evidence. An early Welsh translation of the story was published with an English version and a glossary by the Rev. Robert Williams in the first volume of his Selections from the Hengwrt MSS.6 The first volume of this work is entitled Y Seint Greal, being the adventures of King Arthur's knights of the Round Table, in the quest of the Holy Grail, and on other occasions. Originally written about the year I200. The volume, following the manuscript now in the library of W. W. E. Wynne, Esq., at Peniarth, is divided into two parts. The first, fol. 1-109 of the manuscript, represents the thirteenth to the seventeenth book of Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur. Of the second, which represents the Romance here translated, Mr Williams writes: `The second portion of the Welsh Greal, folios 110-280, contains the adventures of Gwalchmei Peredur and Lancelot, and of the knights of the Round Table; but these are not found in the Morte d'Arthur. The Peniarth MS. is beautifully written on vellum, and in perfect preservation, and its date is that of Henry VI., the early part of the fifteenth century. The orthography and style of writing agrees literally with that of the Mabinogion of the Llyvr Côch Hergest, which is of that date. This, of course, is a transcript of an earlier copy; but there is no certainty when it was first translated into Welsh, though Aneurin Owen in his Catalogue of the Hengwrt MSS. assigns it to the sixth year of Henry I. It is mentioned by Davydd ab Gwilym, who died in 1368.'
Whatever may be the date of the Welsh version, the translator had no great mastery of French, and is often at fault as to the meaning both of words and sentences, and when in a difficulty is only too apt to cut the knot by omitting the passage bodily. The book itself, moreover, is not entire. On page 275, all between Branch IX. Title 16 and Branch XI. Title 2, twenty-two chapters in all, is missing. Again, on page 355, Titles I0-16 in Branch XXI. are left out, while the whole of the last Branch, containing 28 Titles, is crumpled up into one little chapter, from which it would seem that the Welshman had read the French, but thought it waste of pains to translate it. In all, not to speak of other defects, there are fifty-six whole chapters in the present book, of which there is not a word in the Welsh.
In one matter, however, Mr Williams' English translation has stood me in good stead. In Branch XXI., as I have said, the French manuscript makes default of two Titles, but almost the whole of their substance is supplied by the Welsh version. By an unlucky accident, before the hiatus in the French is fully filled up, the Welsh version itself becomes defective, though the gap thus left open can hardly extend beyond a very few words. Without this supplement, incomplete as it is, it would have been impossible to give the full drift of one of the Romancer's best stories, which is equally unintelligible in both the French and Welsh texts in their present state.
As the Welsh version gives a number of names both of persons and places widely differing from those in the French, it may be useful here to note the principal changes made. Perceval in the Welsh is called Peredur, which is said to mean steel suit. The Welshman, however, adds that the name in French is Peneffresvo Galief, which, unless it be a misreading or miswriting for Perceval le Galois, is to me wholly unintelligible. Perceval's father, Alain li Gros, is in the Welsh Earl Evrawg, and his sister Dindrane, Danbrann. King Arthur is Emperor Arthur, his Queen Guenievre, Gwenhwyvar, and their son Lohot, Lohawt or Llacheu. Messire Gawain is Gwalchmei; Chaus, son of Ywain li Aoutres, Gawns, son of Owein Vrych; Messire Kay or Kex is Kei the Long; Ahuret the Bastard, Anores; Ygerne, wife of Uther Pendragon, Eigyr; Queen Jandree, Landyr; and King Fisherman for the most part King Peleur. Of places, Cardoil is Caerlleon on Usk, Pannenoisance, Penvoisins; Tintagel, Tindagoyl; and Avalon, Avallach.
By a double stroke of ill-luck, the complete and wholly independent Romance here translated has thus been printed by its two former editors as if it were only a part of some other story. M. Potvin describes it as the `First Part, the Romance in Prose,' of his Perceval le Gallois, and Mr Williams accepts it as the `Second Portion' of his Y Seint Greal. This unhappy collocation has led not a few of M. Potvin's readers to neglect his First Part, under the impression that the story is retold in the other volumes containing the Romance in verse; while not a few of Mr Williams' readers have neglected his Second Portion under the impression that there could be nothing of any special importance in an adjunct referred to by the Editor in so perfunctory a manner. In very truth, however, the Story of the Holy Graal here told is not only the most coherent and poetic of all the many versions of the Legend, but is also the first and most authentic.
This seems to be proved beyond doubt by a passage in the History of Fulke Fitz-Warine, originally written apparently between the years 1256 and 1264. The passage occurs at the end of the History, and is printed in verse of which I give a literal prose translation.
`Merlin saith that in Britain the Great a Wolf shall come from the White Launde. Twelve sharp teeth shall he have, six below and six above. He shall have so fierce a look that he shall chase the Leopard forth of the White Launde, so much force shall he have and great virtue. We now know that Merlin said this for Fulke the son of Waryn, for each of you ought to understand of a surety how in the time of the King Arthur that was called the White Launde which is now named the White Town. For in this country was the chapel of S. Austin that was fair, where Kahuz, the son of Ywein, dreamed that he carried off the candlestick and that he met a man who hurt him with a knife and wounded him in the side. And he, on sleep, cried out so loud that King Arthur hath heard him and awakened from sleep. And when Kahuz was awake, he put his hand to his side. There hath he found the knife that had smitten him through. So TELLETH US THE GRAAL, THE BOOK OF THE HOLY VESSEL. There the King Arthur recovered his bounty and his valour when he had lost all his chivalry and his virtue. From this country issued forth the Wolf as saith Merlin the Wise, and the twelve sharp teeth have we known by his shield. He bore a shield indented as the heralds have devised. In the shield are twelve teeth of gules and argent. By the Leopard may be known and well understood King John, for he bore in his shield the leopards of beaten gold.'7
The story of Kahuz or Chaus here indicated by the historian is told at length in the opening chapters of the present work and, so far as is known, nowhere else. The inference is therefore unavoidable that we have here `The Graal, the Book of the Holy Vessel' to which the biographer of Fulke refers. The use, moreover, of the definite article shows that the writer held this book to be conclusive authority on the subject. By the time he retold the story of Fulke, a whole library of Romances about Perceval and the Holy Graal had been written, with some of which it is hard to believe that any historian of the time was unacquainted. He nevertheless distinguishes this particular story as `The Graal,' a way of speaking he would scarce have adopted had he known of any other `Graals' of equal or nearly equal authority.
Several years later, about 1280, the trouveur Sarrazin also cites `The Graal' (li Graaus) in the same manner, in superfluous verification of the then-accepted truism that King Arthur was at one time Lord of Great Britain. This appeal to `The Graal' as the authority for a general belief shows that it was at that time recognised as a well-spring of authentic knowledge; while the fact that the trouveur was not confounding `The Graal' with the later version of the story is further shown by his going on presently to speak of `the Romance that Chrestien telleth so fairly of Perceval -- the adventures of the -Graal.'8
Perhaps, however, the most striking testimony to the fact that this work is none other than the original Book of the Graal is to be found in the Chronicle of Helinand, well known at the time the Romance was written not only as a historian but as a troubadour at one time in high favour at the court of Philip Augustus, and in later years as one of the most ardent preachers of the Albigensian Crusade. The passage, a part of which has been often quoted, is inserted in the Chronicle under the year 720, and runs in English thus:
`At this time a certain marvellous vision was revealed by an angel to a certain hermit in Britain concerning S. Joseph, the decurion who deposed from the cross the Body of Our Lord, as well as concerning the paten or dish in the which Our Lord supped with His disciples, whereof the history was written out by the said hermit and is called "Of the Graal" (de Gradali). Now, a platter, broad and somewhat deep, is called in French gradalis or gradale, wherein costly meats with their sauce are wont to be set before rich folk by degrees (gradatim) one morsel after another in divers orders, and in the vulgar speech it is called graalz, for that it is grateful and acceptable to him that eateth therein, as well for that which containeth the victual, for that haply it is of silver or other precious material, as for the contents thereof, to wit, the manifold courses of costly meats. I have not been able to find this history written in Latin, but it is in the possession of certain noblemen written in French only, nor, as they say, can it easily be found complete. This, however, I have not hitherto been able to obtain from any person so as to read it with attention. As soon as I can do so, I will translate into Latin such passages as are more useful and more likely to be true.'9
A comparison of this passage with the Introduction to the present work10 leaves no doubt that Helinand here refers to this Book of the Graal, which cannot therefore be of a later date than that at which he made this entry in his Chronicle. At the same time, the difficulty he experienced in obtaining even the loan of the volume shows that the work had at that time been only lately written, as in the course of a few years, copies of a book so widely popular must have been comparatively common. The date, therefore, at which Helinand's Chronicle was written determines approximately that of the Book of the Graal.
In its present state, the Chronicle comes to an end with a notice of the capture of Constantinople by the French in 1204, and it has been hastily assumed that Helinand's labours as a chronicler must have closed in that year. As a matter of fact they had not then even begun. At that time Helinand was still a courtly troubadour, and had not yet entered on the monastic career during which his Chronicle was compiled. He was certainly living as late as 1229, and preached a sermon, which assuredly shows no signs of mental decrepitude, in that year at a synod in Toulouse.11
Fortunately a passage in the Speculum Historiale of Vincent of Beauvais, himself a younger contemporary and probably a personal acquaintance of Helinand, throws considerable light on the real date of Helinand's Chronicle. After recounting certain matters connected with the early years of the thirteenth century, the last date mentioned being 1209, Vincent proceeds: --
`In those times, in the diocese of Beauvais, was Helinand monk of Froid-mont, a man religious and distinguished for his eloquence, who also composed those verses on Death in our vulgar tongue which are publicly read, so elegantly and so usefully that the subject is laid open clearer than the light. He also diligently digested into a certain huge volume a Chronicle from the beginning of the world down to his own time. But in truth this work was dissipated and dispersed in such sort that it is nowhere to be found entire. For it is reported that the said Helinand lent certain sheets of the said work to one of his familiars, to wit, Guarin, Lord Bishop of Senlis of good memory, and thus, whether through forgetfulness or negligence or some other cause, lost them altogether. From this work, however, as far as I have been able to find it, I have inserted many passages in this work of mine own also.'
It will thus be seen that about 1209, Helinand became a monk at Froid-mont, and it is exceedingly improbable that any portion of his Chronicle was written before that date. On the other hand, his `familiar' Guarin only became Bishop of Senlis in 1214, and died in 1227,12 so that it is certain Helinand wrote the last part of his Chronicle not later than the last-mentioned year. The limits of time, therefore, between which the Chronicle was written are clearly circumscribed; and if it is impossible to define the exact year in which this particular entry was made, it is not, I fancy, beyond the legitimate bounds of critical conjecture.
On the first page of the Romance, Helinand read that an Angel had appeared to a certain hermit in Britain and revealed to him the history of the Holy Graal. In transferring the record of this event to his Chronicle, he was compelled by the exigencies of his system, which required the insertion of every event recorded under some particular year, to assign a date to the occurrence. A vague `five hundred years ago' would be likely to suggest itself as an appropriate time at which the occurrence might be supposed to have taken place; and if he were writing in 1220, the revelation to the hermit would thus naturally be relegated to the year 720, the year under which the entry actually appears. This, of course, is pure guesswork, but the fact remains that the Chronicle was written in or about 1220, and the Book of the Graal not long before it.
The name of the author is nowhere recorded. He may possibly be referred to in the `Elucidation' prefixed to the rhymed version of Percival le Gallois under the name of `Master Blihis,' but this vague and tantalising pseudonym affords no hint of his real identity13 Whoever he may have been, I hope that I am not misled by a translator's natural partiality for the author he translates in assigning him a foremost rank among the masters of mediæval prose romance.
With these testimonies to its age and genuineness, I commend the Book of the Graal to all who love to read of King Arthur and his knights of the Table Round. They will find here printed in English for the first time what I take to be in all good faith the original story of Sir Perceval and the Holy Graal, whole and incorrupt as it left the hands of its first author.
Notes for this chapter:
1 6 vols. 8vo. Mons, 1866-1871.
2 Marchal Cat., 2 vols. Brussels, 1842. Vol i. p. 223.
3 Lausanne, 1759.
4 3 vols. 8vo. Berne, 1770, etc. Vol. ii., Introduc. viii. and p. 389 et seq.
5 Rigord. Chiron. 196, p. 288. Wm. le Breton, Phil. xi. 547. See also Birch-Hirschfeld, Die Gralsage, p. 143.
6 2 vols. 8vo. London, Richards, 5876-1892.
7 L'histoire de Foulkes Fitz-Warin. Ed. F. Michel, Paris, 1840; p. 110. Ed. T. Wright (Warton Club), London, 1855; p. 179. Ed. J. Stevenson (Roll, Pub. Chron. of R. Coggeshall), London, 1875; p. 412. The MS. containing the history (MS. Reg. 12. c. xii.) was first privately printed for the late Sir T. Duffus Hardy from a transcript by A. Berbrugger.
8 `Le Roman de Ham,' in the Appendix to F. Michel's Histoire des Ducs de Normandie. Soc. de l'Hist. de France, 1840, pp. 225, 230.
9 Helinandi Op. Ed. Migne. Patrol. Vol. ccxii. col 814. The former part of the passage is quoted with due acknowledgment by Vincent of Beauvais. Spec. Hist. B. xxiii. c. 147. Vincent, however, spells the French word `grail,' and, by turning Helinand's nec into nunc, makes him say that the French work can now easily be found complete. Vincent finished his Speculum Historiale in 1244 B. xxi. c. 105.
10 Vol. i. p. 1, etc.
11 Sermon xxvi., printed in Minge, u. s. col. 692. It has been doubted whether this sermon, preached in the church of S. Jacques, was addressed to the Council held at Toulouse in 1219, or to the one held in 1229, but a perusal of the sermon itself decides the question. It is wholly irrelevant to the topics discussed at the former gathering, while it is one continued commentary on the business transacted at the latter. See also Dom Brial, Hist. Litt. de la France, xviii. 92.
12 De Mas Latrie. Trés. de Chron., col. 1488.
13 Cf. Potvin, P. le G. ii. 1 and 7, with vol. i. p. 131 and vol. ii. p. 112 of the present work. (See also the Proceedings of the "Hon. Soc. of Cymmrodorion," 1908-9. Ed.)
- THE HIGH HISTORY OF THE
Hear ye the history of the most holy vessel that is called Graal, wherein the precious blood of the Saviour was received on the day that He was put on rood and crucified in order that He might redeem His people from the pains of hell. Josephus set it in remembrance by annunciation of the voice of an angel, for that the truth might be known by his writing of good knights, and good worshipful men how they were willing to suffer pain and to travail for the setting forward of the Law of Jesus Christ, that He willed to make new by His death and by His crucifixion.
The High Book of the Graal beginneth in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. These three Persons are one substance, which is God, and of God moveth the High Story of the Graal. And all they that hear it ought to understand it, and to forget all the wickednesses that they have in their hearts. For right profitable shall it be to all them that shall hear it of the heart. For the sake of the worshipful men and good knights of whose deeds shall remembrance be made, doth Josephus recount this holy history, for the sake of the lineage of the Good Knight that was after the crucifixion of Our Lord. Good Knight was he without fail, for he was chaste and virgin of his body and hardy of heart and puissant, and so were his conditions without wickedness. Not boastful was he of speech, and it seemed not by his cheer that he had so great courage; Natheless, of one little word that he delayed to speak came to pass so sore mischances in Greater Britain, that all the islands and all the lands fell thereby into much sorrow, albeit thereafter he put them back into gladness by the authority of his good knighthood. Good knight was he of right, for he was of the lineage of Joseph of Abarimacie. And this Joseph was his mother's uncle, that had been a soldier of Pilate's seven years, nor asked he of him none other guerdon of his service but only to take down the body of Our Saviour from hanging on the cross. The boon him seemed full great when it was granted him, and full little to Pilate seemed the guerdon; for right well had Joseph served him, and had he asked to have gold or land thereof, willingly would he have given it to him. And for this did Pilate make him a gift of the Saviour's body, for he supposed that Joseph should have dragged the same shamefully through the city of Jerusalem when it had been taken down from the cross, and should have left it without the city in some mean place. But the Good Soldier had no mind thereto, but rather honoured the body the most he might, rather laid it along in the Holy Sepulchre and kept safe the lance whereof He was smitten in the side and the most Holy Vessel wherein they that believed on Him received with awe the blood that ran down from His wounds when He was set upon the rood. Of this lineage was the Good Knight for whose sake is this High History treated. Yglais was his mother's name: King Fisherman was his uncle, and the King of the Lower Folk that was named Pelles, and the King that was named of the Castle Mortal, in whom was there as much bad as there was good in the other twain, and much good was there in them; and these three were his uncles on the side of his mother Yglais, that was a right good Lady and a loyal; and the Good Knight had one sister, that hight Dindrane. He that was head of the lineage on his father's side was named Nichodemus. Gais li Gros of the Hermit's Cross was father of Alain li Gros. This Alain had eleven brethren, right good knights, like as he was himself. And none of them all lived in his knighthood but twelve years, and they all died in arms, for their great hardiment in setting forward of the Law that was made new. There were twelve brethren. Alain li Gros was the eldest; Gorgalians was next; Bruns Brandalis was the third; Bertholez li Chauz the fourth; Brandalus of Wales was the fifth; Elinant of Escavalon was the sixth; Calobrutus was the seventh; Meralis of the Palace Meadow was the eighth; Fortunes of the Red Launde was ninth; Melaarmaus of Abanie was the tenth; Galians of the White Tower the eleventh; Alibans of the Waste City was the twelfth. All these died in arms in the service of the Holy Prophet that had renewed the Law by His death, and smote His enemies to the uttermost of their power. Of these two manner of folk, whose names and records you have heard, Josephus the good clerk telleth us was come the Good Knight of whom you shall well hear the name and the manner presently.
The authority of the scripture telleth us that after the crucifixion of Our Lord, no earthly King set forward the Law of Jesus Christ so much as did King Arthur of Britain, both by himself and by the good knights that made repair to his court. Good King Arthur after the crucifixion of Our Lord, was such as I tell you, and was a puissant King, and one that well believed in God, and many were the good adventures that befel at his court. And he had in his court the Table Round that was garnished of the best knights in the world. King Arthur after the death of his father led the highest life and most gracious that ever king led, in such sort that all the princes and all the barons took ensample of him in well-doing. For ten years was King Arthur in such estate as I have told you, nor never was earthly king so praised as he, until that a slothful will came upon him and he began to lose the pleasure in doing largesse that he wont to have, nor was he minded to hold court neither at Christmas-tide nor at Easter nor at Pentecost. The knights of the Table Round when they saw his well-doing wax slack departed thence and began to hold aloof from his court, insomuch as that of three hundred and three-score knights and six that he wont to have of his household, there were now not more than a five-and-twenty at most, nor did no adventure befal any more at his court. All the other princes had slackened of their well-doing for that they saw King Arthur maintain so feebly. Queen Guenievre was so sorrowful thereof that she knew not what counsel to take with herself, nor how she might so deal as to amend matters so God amended them not. From this time beginneth the history.
It was one Ascension Day that the King was at Cardoil. He was risen from meat and went through the hall from one end to the other, and looked and saw the Queen that was seated at a window. The King went to sit beside her, and looked at her in the face and saw that the tears were falling from her eyes. `Lady,' saith the King, `What aileth you, and wherefore do you weep?' `Sir,' saith she, `And I weep, good right have I; and you yourself have little right to make joy.' `Certes, Lady, I do not.' `Sir,' saith she, `You are right. I have seen on this high day, or on other days that were not less high than this, when you have had such throng of knights at your court that right uneath might any number them. Now every day are so few therein that much shame have I thereof, nor no more do no adventures befal therein. Wherefore great fear have I lest God hath put you into forgetfulness.' `Certes, Lady,' saith the King, `No will have I to do largesse nor aught that turneth to honour. Rather is my desire changed into feebleness of heart. And by this know I well that I lose my knights and the love of my friends.' `Sir,' saith the Queen, `And were you to go to the chapel of S. Augustine that is in the White Forest, that may not be found save by adventure only, methinketh that on your back-repair you would again have your desire of well-doing, for never yet did none discounselled ask counsel of God but he would give it for love of him so he asked it of a good heart.' `Lady,' saith the King, `And willingly will I go, forasmuch as that you say have I heard well witnessed in many places where I have been.' `Sir,' saith she, `The place is right perilous and the chapel right adventurous. But the most worshipful hermit that is in the Kingdom of Wales hath his dwelling beside the chapel, nor liveth he now any longer for nought save only the glory of God.' `Lady,' saith the King, `It will behove me go thither all armed and without knights.' `Sir,' saith she, `You may well take with you one knight and a squire.' `Lady,' saith the King, That durst not I, for the place is perilous, and the more folk one should take thither, the fewer adventures there should he find.' `Sir,' saith she, `One squire shall you take by my good will, nor shall nought betide you thereof save good only, please God!' `Lady,' saith the King, `At your pleasure be it, but much dread I that nought shall come of it save evil only.' Thereupon the King riseth up from beside the Queen, and looketh before him and seeth a youth tall and strong and comely and young, that was hight Chaus, and he was the son of Ywain li Aoutres. `Lady,' saith he to the Queen, `This one will I take with me and you think well.' `Sir,' saith she, `It pleaseth me well, for I have heard much witness to his valour.' The King calleth the squire, and he cometh and kneeleth down before him. The King maketh him rise and saith unto him, `Chaus,' saith he,'You shall lie within to-night, in this hall, and take heed that my horse be saddled at break of day and mine arms ready. For I would he moving at the time I tell you, and yourself with me without more company.' `Sir,' saith the squire, `At your pleasure.' And the evening drew on, and the King and Queen go to bed. When they had eaten in hall, the knights went to their hostels. The squire remained in the hall, but he would not do off his clothes nor his shoon, for the night seemed him to be too short, and for that he would fain be ready in the morning at the King's commandment. The squire was lying down in such sort as I have told you, and in the first sleep that he slept, seemed him the King had gone without him. The squire was sore scared thereat, and came to his hackney and set the saddle and bridle upon him, and did on his spurs and girt on his sword, as it seemed him in his sleep, and issued forth of the castle a great pace after the King. And when he had ridden a long space he entered into a great forest and looked in the way before him and saw the slot of the King's horse and followed the track a long space, until that he came to a launde of the forest whereat he thought that the King had alighted. The squire thought that the hoof-marks on the way had come to an end, and so thought that the King had alighted there or hard by there. He looketh to the right hand and seeth a chapel in the midst of the launde, and he seeth about it a great graveyard wherein were many coffins, as it seemed him. He thought in his heart that he would go towards the chapel, for he supposed that the King would have entered to pray there. He went thitherward and alighted. When the squire was alighted, he tied up his hackney and entered into the chapel. None did he see there in one part nor another, save a knight that lay dead in the midst of the chapel upon a bier, and he was covered of a rich cloth of silk, and had around him waxen tapers burning that were fixed in four candlesticks of gold. This squire marvelled much how this body was left there so lonely, insomuch that none were about him save only the images, and yet more marvelled he of the King that he found him not, for he knew not in what part to seek him. He taketh out one of the tall tapers, and layeth hand on the golden candlestick, and setteth it betwixt his hose and his thigh and issueth forth of the chapel, and remounteth on his hackney and goeth his way back and passeth beyond the grave-yard and issueth forth of the launde and entereth into the forest and thinketh that he will not cease until he hath found the King.
So, as he entereth into a grassy lane in the wood, he seeth come before him a man black and foul-favoured, and he was somewhat taller afoot than was himself a-horseback. And he held a great sharp knife in his hand with two edges as it seemed him. The squire cometh over against him a great pace and saith unto him, `You, that come there, have you met King Arthur in this forest?' `In no wise,' saith the messenger, `But you have I met, whereof am I right glad at heart, for you have departed from the chapel as a thief and a traitor. For you are carrying off thence the candlestick of gold that was in honour of the knight that lieth in the chapel dead. Wherefore I will that you yield it up to me and so will I carry it back, otherwise, and you do not this, you do I defy!' `By my faith,' saith the squire, `Never will I yield it you! rather will I carry it off and make a present thereof to King Arthur.' `By my faith,' saith the other, `Right dearly shall you pay for it, and you yield it not up forthwith.' Howbeit, the squire smiteth with his spurs and thinketh to pass him by, but the other hasteth him, and smiteth the squire in the left side with the knife and thrusteth it into his body up to the haft. The squire, that lay in the hall at Cardoil, and had dreamed this, awoke and cried in a loud voice: `Holy Mary! The priest! Help! Help, for I am a dead man!' The King and the Queen heard the cry, and the chamberlain leapt up and said to the King: `Sir, you may well be moving, for it is day!' The King made him be clad and shod. And the squire crieth with such strength as he hath: `Fetch me the priest, for I die!' The King goeth thither as fast as he may, and the Queen and the chamberlain carry great torches and candles. The King asketh him what aileth him, and he telleth him all in such wise as he had dreamed it. `Ha,' saith the King, `Is it then a dream?' `Yea, sir,' saith he, `But a right foul dream it is for me, for right foully hath it come true!' He lifted his left arm. `Sir,' saith he, `Look you there! Lo, here is the knife that was run into my side up to the haft!' After that, he setteth his hand to his hose where the candlestick was. He draweth it forth and showeth it to the King. `Sir,' saith he, `For this candlestick that I present to you, am I wounded to the death!' The King taketh the candlestick and looketh thereat in wonderment for none so rich had he never seen tofore. The King showeth it to the Queen. `Sir,' saith the squire, `Draw not forth the knife of my body until that I be shriven.' The King sent for one of his own chaplains that made the squire confess and do his houselling right well. The King himself draweth forth the knife of the body, and the soul departed forthwith. The King made do his service right richly and his shrouding and burial. Ywain li Aoutres that was father to the squire was right sorrowful of the death of his son. King Arthur, with the good will of Ywain his father, gave the candlestick to S. Paul in London, for the church was newly founded, and the King wished that this marvellous adventure should everywhere be known, and that prayer should be made in the church for the soul of the squire that was slain on account of the candlestick.
King Arthur armed himself in the morning, as I told you and began to tell, to go to the chapel of S. Augustine. Said the Queen to him: `Whom will you take with you?' `Lady,' saith he, `No company will I have thither, save God only, for well may you understand by this adventure that hath befallen, that God will not allow I should have none with me.' `Sir,' saith she, `God be guard of your body, and grant you return safely so as that you may have the will to do well, whereby shall your praise be lifted up that is now sore cast down.' `Lady,' saith he, `May God remember it.' His destrier was brought to the mounting-stage, and the King mounted thereon all armed. Messire Ywain li Aoutres lent him his shield and spear. When the King had hung the shield at his neck and held the spear in his hand, sword-girt, on the tall destrier armed, well seemed he in the make of his body and in his bearing to be a knight of great pith and hardiment. He planteth himself so stiffly in the stirrups that he maketh the saddlebows creak again and the destrier stagger under him that was right stout and swift, and he smiteth him of his spurs, and the horse maketh answer with a great leap. The Queen was at the windows of the hall, and as many as five-and-twenty knights were all come to the mounting-stage. When the King departed, `Lords,' saith the Queen, `How seemeth you of the King? Seemeth he not a goodly man?' `Yea, certes, Lady, and sore loss is it to the world that he followeth not out his good beginning, for no king nor prince is known better learned of all courtesy nor of all largesse than he, so he would do like as he was wont.' With that the knights hold their peace, and King Arthur goeth away a great pace. And he entereth into a great forest adventurous, and rideth the day long until he cometh about evensong into the thick of the forest. And he espied a little house beside a little chapel, and it well seemed him to be a hermitage. King Arthur rode thitherward and alighteth before this little house, and entereth thereinto and draweth his horse after him, that had much pains to enter in at the door, and laid his spear down on the ground and leant his shield against the wall, and hath ungirded his sword and unlaced his ventail. He looked before him and saw barley and provender, and so led his horse thither and smote off his bridle, and afterwards hath shut the door of the little house and locked it. And it seemed him that there was a strife in the chapel. The ones were weeping so tenderly and sweetly as it were angels, and the other spake so harshly as it were fiends. The King heard such voices in the chapel and marvelled much what it might be. He findeth a door in the little house that openeth on a little cloister whereby one goeth to the chapel. The King is gone thither and entereth into the little minster, and looketh everywhere but seeth nought there, save the images and the crucifixes. And he supposeth not that the strife of these voices cometh of them. The voices ceased as soon as he was within. He marvelleth how it came that this house and hermitage were solitary, and what had become of the hermit that dwelt therein. He drew nigh the altar of the chapel and beheld in front thereof a coffin all discovered, and he saw the hermit lying therein all clad in his vestments, and seeth the long beard down to his girdle, and his hands crossed upon his breast. There was a cross above him, whereof the image came as far as his mouth, and he had life in him yet, but he was nigh his end, being at the point of death. The King was before the coffin a long space, and looked right fainly on the hermit, for well it seemed him that he had been of a good life. The night was fully come, but within was a brightness of light as if a score of candles were lighted. He had a mind to abide there until that the good man should have passed away. He would fain have sate him down before the coffin, when a voice warned him right horribly to begone thence, for that it was desired to make a judgment within there, that might not be made so long as he were there. The King departed, that would willingly have remained there, and so returned back into the little house, and sate him down on a seat whereon the hermit wont to sit. And he heareth the strife and the noise begin again within the chapel, and the ones he heareth speaking high and the others low, and he knoweth well by the voices, that the ones are angels and the others devils. And he heareth that the devils are distraining on the hermit's soul, and that judgment will presently be given in their favour, whereof make they great joy. King Arthur is grieved in his heart when he heareth that the angels' voices are stilled. The King is so heavy, that no desire hall he neither to eat nor to drink. And while he sitteth thus, stooping his head toward the ground, full of vexation and discontent, he heareth in the chapel the voice of a Lady that spake so sweet and clear, that no man in this earthly world, were his grief and heaviness never so sore, but and he had heard the sweet voice of her pleading would again have been in joy. She saith to the devils: `Begone from hence, for no right have ye over the soul of this good man, whatsoever he may have done aforetime, for in my Son's service and mine own is he taken, and his penance hath he done in this hermitage of the sins that he hath done.' `True, Lady,' say the devils, `But longer had he served us than he hath served you and your Son. For forty years or more hath he been a murderer and robber in this forest, whereas in this hermitage but five years hath he been. And now you wish to thieve him from us.' `I do not. No wish have I to take him from you by theft, for had he been taken in your service in suchwise as he hath been taken in mine, yours would he have been, all quit.' The devils go their way all discomfit and aggrieved; and the sweet Mother of our Lord God taketh the soul of the hermit, that was departed of his body, and so commendeth it to the angels and archangels that they make present thereof to Her dear Son in Paradise. And the angels take it and begin to sing for joy Te Deum laudamus. And the Holy Lady leadeth them and goeth her way along with them. Josephus maketh remembrance of this history and telleth us that this worthy man was named Calixtus.
King Arthur was in the little house beside the chapel, and had heard the voice of the sweet Mother of God and the angels. Great joy had he, and was right glad of the good man's soul that was borne thence into Paradise. The King had slept right little the night and was all armed. He saw the day break clear and fair, and goeth his way toward the chapel to cry God mercy, thinking to find the coffin discovered there where the hermit lay; but so did he not! Rather, was it covered of the richest tomb-stone that any might ever see, and had on the top a red cross, and seemed it that the chapel was all incensed. When the King had made his orison therein, he cometh back again and setteth on his bridle and saddle and mounteth, and taketh his shield and spear and departeth from the little house and entereth into the forest and rideth a great pace, until he cometh at right hour of tierce to one of the fairest laundes that ever a man might see. And he seeth at the entrance a spear set bar-wise, and looketh to the right or ever he should enter therein, and seeth a damsel sitting under a great leafy tree, and she held the reins of her mule in her hand. The damsel was of great beauty and full seemly clad. The King turneth thither-ward and so saluteth her and saith: `Damsel,' saith he, `God give you joy and good adventure.' `Sir,' saith she, `So may He do to you!' `Damsel,' saith the King, Is there no hold in this launde?' Sir,' saith the damsel, `No hold is there save a most holy chapel and a hermit that is beside S. Augustine's chapel.' `Is this then S. Augustine's chapel?' saith the King. `Yea, Sir, I tell it you for true, but the launde and the forest about is so perilous that no knight returneth thence but he be dead or wounded; but the place of the chapel is of so great worthiness that none goeth thither, be he never so discounselled, but he cometh back counselled, so he may thence return on live. And Lord God be guard of your body, for never yet saw I none aforetime that seemed more like to be good knight, and sore pity would it be and you were not, and never more shall I depart me hence and I shall have seen your end.' `Damsel,' saith the King, `Please God, you shall see me repair back thence.' `Certes,' saith the damsel, `Thereof should I be right fain, for then should I ask you tidings at leisure of him that I am seeking.' The King goeth to the bar whereby one entereth into the launde, and looketh to the right into a combe of the forest and seeth the chapel of S. Augustine and the right fair hermitage. Thitherward goeth he and alighteth, and it seemeth him that the hermit is apparelled to sing the mass. He reineth up his horse to the bough of a tree by the side of the chapel and thinketh to enter thereinto, but, had it been to conquer all the kingdoms of the world, thereinto might he not enter, albeit there was none made him denial thereof, for the door was open and none saw he that might forbid him. Sore ashamed is the King thereof. Howbeit, he beholdeth an image of Our Lord that was there within and crieth Him of mercy right sweetly, and looketh toward the altar. And he looketh at the holy hermit that was robed to sing mass and said his Confiteor, and seeth at his right hand the fairest Child that ever he had seen, and He was clad in an alb and had a golden crown on his head loaded with precious stones that gave out a full great brightness of light. On the left hand side, was a Lady so fair that all the beauties of the world might not compare them with her beauty. When the holy hermit had said his Confiteor and went to the altar, the Lady also took her Son and went to sit on the right hand side towards the altar upon a right rich chair and set her Son upon her knees and began to kiss Him full sweetly and saith: `Sir,' saith she, `You are my Father and my Son and my Lord, and guardian of me and of all the world.' King Arthur heareth the words and seeth the beauty of the Lady and of the Child, and marvelleth much of this that She should call Him her Father and her Son. He looketh at a window behind the altar and seeth a flame come through at the very instant that mass was begun, clearer than any ray of sun nor moon nor star, and evermore it threw forth a brightness of light such that and all the lights in the world had been together it would not have been the like. And it is come down upon the altar. King Arthur seeth it who marvelleth him much thereof. But sore it irketh him of this that he may not enter therewithin, and he heareth, there where the holy hermit was singing the mass, right fair responses, and they seem him to be the responses of angels. And when the Holy Gospel was read, King Arthur looked toward the altar and saw that the Lady took her Child and offered Him into the hands of the holy hermit, but of this King Arthur made much marvel, that the holy hermit washed not his hands when he had received the offering. Right sore did King Arthur marvel him thereof, but little right would he have had to marvel had he known the reason. And when the Child was offered him, he set Him upon the altar and thereafter began his sacrament. And King Arthur set him on his knees before the chapel and began to pray to God and to beat his breast. And he looked toward the altar after the preface, and it seemed him that the holy hermit held between his hands a man bleeding from His side and in His palms and in His feet, and crowned with thorns, and he seeth Him in His own figure. And when he had looked on Him so long and knoweth not what is become of Him, the King hath pity of Him in his heart of this that he had seen, and the tears of his heart come into his eyes. And he looketh toward the altar and thinketh to see the figure of the man, and seeth that it is changed into the shape of the Child that he had seen tofore.
When the mass was sung, the voice of a holy angel said Ite, missa est. The Son took the Mother by the hand, and they evanished forth of the chapel with the greatest company and the fairest that might ever be seen. The flame that was come down through the window went away with this company. When the hermit had done his service and was divested of the arms of God, he went to King Arthur that was still without the chapel. `Sir,' saith he to the King, `Now may you well enter herein and well might you have been joyous in your heart had you deserved so much as that you might have come in at the beginning of the mass.' King Arthur entered into the chapel without any hindrance. `Sir,' saith the hermit to the King, `I know you well, as did I also King Uther Pendragon your father. On account of your sins and your deserts might you not enter here while mass was being sung. Nor will you to-morrow, save you shall first have made amends of that you have misdone towards God and towards the saint that is worshipped herewithin. For you are the richest King of the world and the most adventurous, wherefore ought all the world to take ensample of you in well-doing and in largesse and in honour; whereas you are now an ensample of evil-doing to all rich worshipful men that be now in the world. Wherefore shall right sore mishap betide you and you set not back your doing to the point whereat you began. For your court was the sovran of all courts and the most adventurous, whereas now is it least of worth. Well may he be sorry that goeth from honour to shame, but never may he have reproach that shall do him ill, that cometh from shame to honour, for the honour wherein he is found rescueth him to God, but blame may never rescue the man that hath renounced honour for shame, for the shame and wickedness wherein he is found declare him guilty.'
`Sir,' saith King Arthur, `To amend me have I come hither, and to be better counselled than I have been. Well do I see that the place is most holy, and I beseech you that you pray God that He counsel me and I will do my endeavour herein to amend me.' `God grant you may amend your life,' saith the holy hermit, `in such sort that you may help to do away the evil Law and to exalt the Law that is made new by the crucifixion of the Holy Prophet. But a great sorrow is befallen in the land of late through a young knight that was harboured in the hostel of the rich King Fisherman, for that the most Holy Graal appeared to him and the Lance whereof the point runneth of blood, yet never asked he to whom was served thereof nor whence it came, and for that he asked it not are all the lands commoved to war, nor no knight meeteth other in the forest but he runneth upon him and slayeth him and he may, and you yourself shall well perceive thereof or ever you shall depart of this launde.' `Sir,' saith King Arthur, `God defend me from the anguish of an evil death and from wickedness, for hither have I come for none other thing but to amend my life, and this will I do, so God bring me back in safety.' `Truly,' saith the hermit, `He that hath been bad for three years out of forty, he hath not been wholly good.' `Sir,' saith the King, `You speak truth.' The hermit departeth and so commendeth him to God. The King cometh to his horse and mounteth the speediest that ever he may, and setteth his shield on his neck, and taketh his spear in his hand and turneth him back a great pace. Howbeit, he had not gone a bowshot's length when he saw a knight coming disorderly against him, and he sate upon a great black horse and he had a shield of the same and a spear. And the spear was somewhat thick near the point and burned with a great flame, foul and hideous, and the flame came down as far as over the knight's fist. He setteth his spear in rest and thinketh to smite the King, but the King swerveth aside and the other passeth beyond. `Sir knight, wherefor hate you me?' `Of right ought I not to love you,' saith the knight. `Wherefore?' saith the King. `For this, that you have had my brother's candlestick that was foully stolen from him!' `Know you then who I am?' saith the King. `Yea,' saith the knight; `You are the King Arthur that aforetime were good and now are evil. Wherefore I defy you as my mortal enemy.' He draweth him back so that his onset may be the weightier. The King seeth that he may not depart without a stour. He setteth his spear in rest when he seeth the other come towards him with his own spear all burning. The King smiteth his horse with his spurs as hard as he may, and meeteth the knight with his spear and the knight him. And they melled together so stoutly that the spears bent without breaking, and both twain are shifted in their saddles and lose their stirrups. They hurtle so strongly either against other of their bodies and their horses that their eyes sparkle as of stars in their heads and the blood rayeth out of King Arthur by mouth and nose. Either draweth away from other and they take their breath. The King looketh at the Black Knight's spear that burneth, and marvelleth him right sore that it is not snapped in flinders of the great buffet he had received thereof, and him thinketh rather that it is a devil and a fiend. The Black Knight is not minded to let King Arthur go so soon, but rather cometh toward him a great career. The King seeth him come toward him and so covereth him of his shield for fear of the flame. The King receiveth him on the point of his spear and smiteth him with so sore a shock that he maketh him bend backward over his horse croup. The other, that was of great might, leapeth back into the saddle-bows and smiteth the King upon the boss of his shield so that the burning point pierceth the shield and the sleeve of his habergeon and runneth the sharp iron into his arm. The King feeleth the wound and the heat, whereof is he filled with great wrath, and the knight draweth back his spear to him, and hath great joy at heart when he feeleth the King wounded. The King was rejoiced not a whit, and looked at the spear that was quenched thereof and burned no longer. `Sir,' saith the knight, `I cry you mercy. Never would my spear have been quenched of its burning, save it were bathed in your blood.' `Now may never God help me,' saith King Arthur, `whenever I shall have mercy on you, and I may achieve!' He pricketh towards him a great run, and smiteth him in the broad of the breast and thrusted his spear half an ell into his body, and beareth him to the ground, both him and his horse all in a heap, and draweth his spear back to him and looketh at the knight that lay as dead and leaveth him in the launde, and draweth him towards the issue incontinent. And so as the King went, he heard a great clashing of knights coming right amidst the forest, so as it seemed there were a good score or more of them, and he seeth them enter the launde from the forest, armed and well horsed. And they come with great ado toward the knight that lay dead in the midst of the launde. King Arthur was about to issue forth, when the damsel that he had left under the tree cometh forward to meet him. `Sir,' saith she, `For God's sake, return back and fetch me the head of the knight that lieth there dead.' The King looketh back, and seeth the great peril and the multitude of knights that are there all armed. `Ha, damsel,' saith he, `You are minded to slay me.' `Certes, Sir, that I am not, but sore need will there be that I should have it, nor never did knight refuse to do the thing I asked nor deny me any boon I demanded of him. Now God grant you be not the most churlish.' `Ha, damsel, I am right sore wounded in the arm whereon I hold my shield.' `Sir,' saith she, `I know it well, nor never may you be heal thereof save you bring me the head of the knight.' `Damsel,' he saith, `I will essay it whatsoever may befal me thereof.'
King Arthur looketh amidst the launde and seeth that they that have come thither have cut the knight to pieces limb by limb, and that each is carrying off a foot or a thigh or an arm or a hand and are dispersing them through the forest. And he seeth that the last knight beareth on the point of his spear the head. The King goeth after him a great gallop and crieth out to him: `Ha, Sir knight, abide and speak to me!' `What is your pleasure?' saith the knight. `Fair Sir,' saith the King, `I beseech you of all loves that you deign to give me the head of this knight that you are carrying on the point of your lance.' `I will give it you,' saith the knight, `on condition.' `What condition?' saith the King. `That you tell me who slew the knight whose head I carry that you ask of me.' `May I not otherwise have it?' saith the King. `In no wise,' saith he. `Then will I tell you,' saith the King. `Know of a very truth that King Arthur slew him.' `And where is he?' saith the knight. `Seek him until you shall have found him,' saith King Arthur, `For I have told you the truth thereof. Give me the head.' `Willingly,' saith the knight. He lowereth his spear and the King taketh the head. The knight had a horn at his neck. He setteth it to his mouth and soundeth a blast right loud. The knights that were set within the forest hear the horn and return back a great gallop, and King Arthur goeth his way toward the oak-tree at the issue of the launde where the damsel is awaiting him. And the knights come presently to him that had given the head to the King and ask him wherefore he hath sounded the horn. `For this,' saith he, `That this knight that is going away yonder hath told me that King Arthur slew the Black Knight, and I was minded you should know it that we may follow him.' `We will not follow him,' say the knights, `For it is King Arthur himself that is carrying off the head, and no power have we to do evil to him nor other sith that he hath passed the bar. But you shall aby it that let him go when he was so nigh you!' They rush in upon him and slay him and cut him up, and each one carrieth off his piece the same as they had done with the other. King Arthur is issued forth of the bar, and cometh to the maiden that is waiting for him and presenteth her the head. `Sir,' saith the damsel, `Gramercy.' `Damsel,' saith he, `With a good will!' `Sir,' saith the damsel, `You may well alight, for nought have you to fear on this side the bar.' With that, the King alighteth. `Sir,' saith she, `Do off your habergeon heedfully and I will bind up the wound in your arm, for of none may you be made whole save of me only.' The King doeth off his habergeon, and the damsel taketh of the blood of the knight's head that still ran all warm, and therewith washeth King Arthur his wound, and thereafter maketh him do on his habergeon again. `Sir,' saith she, `Never would you have been whole save by the blood of this Black Knight. And for this carried they off the body piecemeal and the head, for that they well knew you were wounded; and of the head shall I have right sore need, for thereby shall a castle be yielded up to me that was reft from me by treason, so I may find the knight that I go seek, through whom it ought to be yielded up to me.' `Damsel,' saith the King, `And who is the knight?' `Sir,' saith she, `He was the son of Alain li Gros of the Valleys of Camelot, and is named Perlesvax.' `Wherefore Perlesvax?' saith the King. `Sir,' saith she, `When he was born, his father was asked how he should be named in right baptism, and he said that he would he should have the name Perlesvax, for the Lord of the Moors had reft him of the greater part of the Valleys of Camelot, and therefore he would that his son should by this name be reminded thereof, and God should so multiply him as that he should be knight. The lad was right comely and right gentle and began to go by the forests and launch his javelins, Welsh-fashion, at hart and hind. His father and his mother loved him much, and one day they were come forth of their hold, whereunto the forest was close anigh, to enjoy them. Now, there was between the hold and the forest, an exceeding small chapel that stood upon four columns of marble; and it was roofed of timber and had a little altar within, and before the altar a right fair coffin, and thereupon was the figure of a man graven. Sir,' saith the damsel to the King, `The lad asked his father and mother what man lay within the coffin. The father answered: "Fair son," saith he, "Certes, I know not to tell you, for the tomb hath been here or ever that my father's father was born, and never have I heard tell of none that might know who it is therein, save only that the letters that are on the coffin say that when the Best Knight in the world shall come hither the coffin will open and the joinings all fall asunder, and then will it be seen who it is that lieth therein."'
`Damsel,' saith the King, `Have many knights passed thereby sithence that the coffin was set there?' `Yea, sir, so many that neither I nor none other may tell the number. Yet natheless hath not the coffin removed itself for none. When the lad heareth his father and mother talking thus, he asketh what a knight may be?' "Fair son," saith his mother, "Of right ought you well to know by your lineage." She telleth the lad that he had eleven uncles on his father's side that had all been slain in arms, and not one of them lived knight but twelve years. Sir,' saith she to the King, `The lad made answer that this was not that he had asked, but how knights were made? And the father answered that they were such as had more valour than any other in the world. After that he said, "Fair son, they are clad in habergeons of iron to protect their bodies, and helms laced upon their heads, and shields and spears and swords girded wherewithal to defend their bodies."'
`Sir,' saith the damsel to the King, `When that the father had thus spoken to the lad, they returned together to the castle. When the morrow morning came, the lad arose and heard the birds sing and bethought him that he would go for disport into the forest for the day sith that it was fair. So he mounted on one of his father's horses of the chase and carried his javelins Welshman-fashion and went into the forest and found a stag and followed him a good four leagues Welsh, until that he came into a launde and found two knights all armed that were there doing battle, and the one had a red shield and the other a white. He left of tracking the stag to look on at the melly and saw that the Red Knight was conquering the White. He launched one of his javelins at the Red Knight so hard that he pierced his habergeon and made it pass through the heart. The knight fell dead. Sir,' saith the damsel, `The knight of the white shield made great joy thereof, and the lad asked him, "were knights so easy to slay? Methought," saith the lad, "that none might never pierce nor damage a knight's armour, otherwise would I not have run him through with my javelin," saith the lad. Sir, the lad brought the destrier home to his father and mother, and right grieved were they when they heard the tidings of the knight he had slain. And right were they, for thereof did sore trouble come to them thereafter. Sir, the squire departed from the house of his father and mother and came to the court of King Arthur. Right gladly did the King make him knight when he knew his will, and afterward he departed from the land and went to seek adventure in every kingdom. Now is he the Best Knight that is in the world. So go I to seek him, and full great joy shall I have at heart and I may find him. Sir, and you should meet him by any adventure in any of these forests, he beareth a red shield with a white hart. And so tell him that his father is dead, and that his mother will lose all her land so he come not to succour her; and that the brother of the knight of the Red shield that he slew in the forest with his javelin warreth upon her with the Lord of the Moors.' `Damsel,' saith the King, `And God grant me to meet him, right fain shall I be thereof, and right well will I set forth your message.' `Sir,' saith she, Now that I have told you him that I seek, it is your turn to tell me your name.' `Damsel,' saith the King, `Willingly. They that know me call me Arthur.' `Arthur? Have you indeed such name?' `Yea, damsel,' saith he. `So help me God,' saith she, `Now am I sorrier for you than tofore, tor you have the name of the worst King in the world, and I would that he were here in such sort as you are now. But never again will he move from Cardoil, do what he may, such dread hath the Queen lest any should take him from her, according as I have heard witness, for never saw I neither the one nor the other. I was moved to go to his court, but I have met full a score knights one after other, of whom I asked concerning him, and one told me the same tale as another, for each told me that the court of King Arthur is the vilest in the world, and that all the knights of the Table Round have renounced it for the badness thereof.
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- THE HIGH HISTORY OF THE
Now beginneth here the second branch of the Holy Graal in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
King Arthur was at Cardoil with the Queen and right few knights. By God's pleasure, the wish and the will had come back to him to win honour and to do largesse as most he might. He made seal his letters and sent them throughout all his lands and all the islands, and gave notice to the barons and knights that he would hold court at Pannenoisance, that is situate on the sea of Wales, at the feast of S. John after Whitsuntide. And he was minded to put it off until that day, for that Whitsuntide was already too nigh, and they that should be present thereat might not all come by the earlier day. The tidings went through all lands, so that knights come in great plenty thereunto, for well-doing had so waxed feeble in all the kingdoms, that every one had avoided King Arthur as one that should do nought more for ever. Wherefore all began now to marvel whence his new desire had come. The knights of the Table Round that were scattered through the lands and the forests, by God's will learnt the tidings and right great joy had they thereof, and came back to the court with great ado. But neither Messire Gawain nor Lancelot came thither on that day. But all the other came that were then on live. S. John's day came, and the knights were come from all parts, marvelling much that the King had not held the court at Whitsuntide, but they knew not the occasion thereof. The day was fair and clear and the air fresh, and the hall was wide and high and garnished of good knights in great plenty. The cloths were spread on the tables whereof were great plenty in the hall. The King and the Queen had washen and went to sit at the head of one table and the other knights sate them down, whereof were full five score and five as the story telleth. Kay the Seneschal and Messire Ywain the son of King Urien served that day at the tables at meat, and five-and-twenty knights beside. And Lucan the Butler served the golden cup before the King. The sun shone through the windows everywhere amidst the hall that was strown of flowers and rushes and sweet herbs and gave out a smell like as had it been sprinkled of balm. And straightway after the first meat had been served, and while they were yet awaiting the second, behold you three damsels where they enter into the hall! She that came first sate upon a mule white as driven snow and had a golden bridle and a saddle with a bow of ivory banded with precious stones and a saddle-cloth of a red samite dropped of gold. The damsel that was seated on the mule was right seemly of body but scarce so fair of face, and she was robed in a rich cloth of silk and gold and had a right rich hat that covered all her head. And it was all loaded of costly stones that flamed like fire. And great need had she that her head were covered, for she was all bald without hair, and carried on her neck her right arm slung in a stole of cloth of gold. And her arm lay on a pillow, the richest that ever might be seen, and it was all charged of little golden bells, and in this hand held she the head of a King sealed in silver and crowned with gold. The other damsel that came behind rode after the fashion of a squire, and carried a pack trussed behind her with a brachet thereupon, and at her neck she bore a shield banded argent and azure with a red cross, and the boss was of gold all set with precious stones. The third damsel came afoot with her kirtle tucked up like a running footman; and she had in her hand a whip wherewith she drove the two steeds. Each of these twain was fairer than the first, but the one afoot surpassed both the others in beauty. The first cometh before the King, there where he sitteth at meat with the Queen. `Sir,' saith she, `The Saviour of the world grant you honour and joy and good adventure and my Lady the Queen and all them of this hall for love of you! Hold it not churlishness and I alight not, for there where knights be may I not alight, nor ought I until such time as the Graal be achieved.' `Damsel,' saith the King, `Gladly would I have it so.' `Sir,' saith she, `That know I well, and may it not mislike you to hear the errand whereon I am come,' `It shall not mislike me,' saith the King, `Say your pleasure!' `Sir,' saith she, `The shield that this damsel beareth belonged to Joseph, the good soldier knight that took down Our Lord of hanging on the rood. I make you a present thereof in such wise as I shall tell you, to wit, that you keep the shield for a knight that shall come hither for the same, and you shall make hang it on this column in the midst of your hall, and guard it in such wise as that none may take it and hang at his neck save he only. And of this shield shall he achieve the Graal, and another shield shall he leave here in the hall, red, with a white hart; and the brachet that the damsel carrieth shall here remain, and little joy will the brachet make until the knight shall come.' `Damsel,' saith the King, `The shield and the brachet will we keep full safely, and right heartily we thank you that you have deigned to bring them hither.' `Sir,' saith the damsel, `I have not yet told you all that I have in charge to deliver. The best King that liveth on earth and the most loyal and the most righteous, sendeth you greeting; of whom is sore sorrow for that he hath fallen into a grievous languishment.' `Damsel,' saith the King, Sore pity is it and it be so as you say; and I pray you tell me who is the King?' `Sir,' saith she, `It is rich King Fisherman, of whom is great grief.' `Damsel' saith the King, `You say true; and God grant him his heart's desire!' `Sir,' saith she, `Know you wherefore he hath fallen into languishment?' `Nay, I know not at all, but gladly would I learn.' `And I will tell you,' saith she. `This languishment is come upon him through one that harboured in his hostel, to whom the most Holy Graal appeared. And, for that he would not ask unto whom one served thereof, were all the lands commoved to war thereby, nor never thereafter might knight meet other but he should fight with him in arms without none other occasion. You yourself may well perceive the same, for your well-doing hath greatly slackened, whereof have you had much blame, and all the other barons that by you have taken ensample, for you are the mirror of the world alike in well-doing and in evil-doing. Sir, I myself have good right to plain me of the knight, and I will show you wherefore.' She lifteth the rich hat from her head and showeth the King and Queen and the knights in the hall her head all bald without hair. `Sir,' saith she, `My head was right seemly garnished of hair plaited in rich tresses of gold at such time as the knight came to the hostel of the rich King Fisherman, but I became bald for that he made not the demand, nor never again shall I have my hair until such time as a knight shall go thither that shall ask the question better than did he, or the knight that shall achieve the Graal. Sir, even yet have you not seen the sore mischief that hath befallen thereof. There is without this hall a car that three white harts have drawn hither, and lightly may you send to see how rich it is. I tell you that the traces are of silk and the axletrees of gold, and the timber of the car is ebony. The car is covered above with a black samite, and below is a cross of gold the whole length, and under the cover-lid of the car are the heads of an hundred and fifty knights whereof some be sealed in gold, other some in silver and the third in lead. King Fisherman sendeth you word that this loss hath befallen of him that demanded not unto whom one serveth of the Graal. Sir, the damsel that beareth the shield holdeth in her hand the head of a Queen that is sealed in lead and crowned with copper, and I tell you that by the Queen whose head you here behold was the King betrayed whose head I bear, and the three manner of knights whose heads are within the car. Sir, send without to see the costliness and fashion of the car.' The King sent Kay the Seneschal to see. He looked straitly thereat within and without and thereafter returned to the King. `Sir,' saith he, `Never beheld I car so rich, and there be three harts withal that draw the car, the tallest and fattest one might ever see. But and you will be guided by me, you will take the foremost, for he is scarce so fat, and so might you bid make right good collops thereof.' `Avoid there, Kay!' saith the King. `Foul churlishness have you spoken! I would not such a deed were done for another such kingdom as is this of Logres!' `Sir,' saith the damsel, `He that hath been wont to do churlishness doth right grudgingly withdraw himself therefrom. Messire Kay may say whatsoever him pleaseth, but well know I that you will pay no heed to his talk. Sir,' saith the damsel, `Command that the shield be hung on this column and that the brachet be put in the Queen's chamber with the maidens. We will go on our way, for here have we been long enough.' Messire Ywain laid hold on the shield and took it off the damsel's neck by leave of the King, and hung it on the column in the midst of the hall, and one of the Queen's maidens taketh the brachet and carrieth him to the Queen's chamber. And the damsel taketh her leave and turneth again, and the King commendeth her to God. When the King had eaten in hall, the Queen with the King and the knights go to lean at the windows to look at the three damsels and the three white harts that draw the car, and the more part said that the damsel afoot that went after the two that were mounted should have the most misease. The bald damsel went before, and set not her hat on her head until such time as behoved her enter into the forest; and the knights that were at the windows might see them no longer. Then set she her hat again upon her head. The King, the Queen, and the knights when they might see them no more, came down from the windows, and certain of them said that never until this time had they seen bald-headed damsel save this one only.
Hereupon the story is silent of King Arthur, and turneth again to speak of the three damsels and the car that was drawn by the three white harts. They are entered into the forest and ride on right busily. When they had left the castle some seven leagues Welsh behind them, they saw a knight coming toward them on the way they had to go. The knight sat on a tall horse, lean and bony. His habergeon was all rusty and his shield pierced in more than a dozen places, and the colour thereon was so fretted away that none might make out the cognizance thereof. And a right thick spear bore he in his hand. When he came anigh the damsel, he saluted her right nobly. `Fair welcome, damsel, to you and your company.' `Sir,' saith she, `God grant you joy and good adventure!' `Damsel,' saith the knight, `Whence come you?' `Sir, from a court high-plenary that King Arthur holdeth at Pannenoisance. Go you thither, sir knight,' saith the damsel, `to see the King and the Queen and the knights that are there?' `Nay, not so!' saith he. `Many a time have I seen them, but right glad am I of King Arthur that he hath again taken up his well-doing, for many a time hath he been accustomed thereof.' `Whitherward have you now emprised your way?' saith the damsel. `To the land of King Fisherman, and God allow me.' `Sir,' saith she, `Tell me your name and bide awhile beside me.' The knight draweth bridle and the damsels and the car come to a stay. `Damsel,' saith he, `Well behoveth me tell you my name. Messire Gawain am I called, King Arthur's nephew.' `What? are you Messire Gawain? My heart well told me as much.' `Yea, damsel,' saith he, `Gawain am I.' `God be praised thereof, for so good knight as are you may well go see the rich King Fisherman. Now am I fain to pray you of the valour that is in you and the courtesy, that you return with me and convoy me beyond a certain castle that is in this forest whereof is some small peril.' `Damsel,' saith Messire Gawain, `Willingly, at your pleasure.' He returneth with the damsel through the midst of the forest that was tall and leafy and little haunted of folk. The damsel relateth to him the adventure of the heads that she carried and that were in the car, like as she did at the court of King Arthur, and of the shield and the brachet she had left there, but much it misliked Messire Gawain of the damsel that was afoot behind them. `Damsel,' saith Messire Gawain, `Wherefore doth not this damsel that goeth afoot mount upon the car?' `Sir,' saith she, `This shall she not, for behoveth her go not otherwise than afoot. But and you be so good knight as men say, betimes will she have done her penance.' `How so?' saith Gawain. `I will tell you,' saith she. `And it shall so be that God bring you to the hostel of rich King Fisherman, and the most Holy Graal appear before you and you demand unto whom is served thereof, then will she have done her penance, and I, that am bald, shall receive again my hair. And so you also make not demand thereof, then will it behove us suffer sore annoy until such time as the Good Knight shall come and shall have achieved the Graal. For on account of him that first was there and made not the demand, are all the lands in sorrow and warfare, and the good King Fisherman is yet in languishment.' `Damsel,' saith Messire Gawain, `God grant me courage and will herein that I may come to do this thing according to your wish, whereof may I win worship both of God and of the world.'
Messire Gawain and the damsels go on their way a great pace through the high forest, green and leafy, where the birds are singing, and enter into the most hideous forest and most horrible that any might ever see, and seemed it that no greenery never there had been, so bare and dry were all the branches and all the trees black and burnt as it had been by fire, and the ground all parched and black atop with no green, and full of great cracks. `Damsel,' saith Messire Gawain, Right loathly is this forest and right hideous. Goeth it on far like this?' `Sir,' saith she, `For nine leagues Welsh goeth it on the same, but we shall pass not through the whole thereof.' Messire Gawain looketh from time to time on the damsel that cometh afoot, and sore it irketh him that he may not amend her estate. They ride on until that they come to a great valley and Messire Gawain looketh along the bottom and seeth appear a black castle that was enclosed within a girdle of wall, foul and evil-seeming. The nigher he draweth to the castle the more hideous it seemeth him, and he seeth great halls appear that were right foully mis-shapen, and the forest about it he seeth to be like as he had found it behind. He seeth a water come down from the head of a mountain, foul and horrible and black, that went amidst the castle roaring so loud that it seemed to be thunder. Messire Gawain seeth the entrance of the gateway foul and horrible like as it had been hell, and within the castle heard he great outcries and lamentations, and the most part heard he saying: `Ha, God! What hath become of the Good Knight, and when will he come?' `Damsel,' saith Messire Gawain, `What is this castle here that is so foul and hideous, wherein is such dolour suffered and such weary longing for the coming of the Good Knight?' `Sir, this is the castle of the Black Hermit. Wherefore am I fain to pray you that you meddle not herein for nought that they within may do to me, for otherwise it may well be that your death is at hand, for against them will you have no might nor power.' They come anigh the castle as it were a couple of bow-shots, and behold, through the gateway come knights armed on black horses and their arms all black and their shields and spears, and there were a hundred and fifty and two, right parlous to behold. And they come a great gallop toward the damsel, and toward the car, and take the hundred and fifty-two heads, each one his own, and set them upon their spears and so enter into the castle again with great joy. Messire Gawain seeth the insolence that the knights have wrought, and right great shame hath he of himself that he hath not moved withal. `Messire Gawain,' saith the damsel, `Now may you know how little would your force have availed you herein.' `Damsel, an evil castle is this where folk are robbed on such wise.' `Sir, never may this mischief be amended, nor this outrage be done away, nor the evil-doer therein be stricken down, nor they that cry and lament within the prison there be set free until such time as the Good Knight shall come for whom are they yearning as you have heard but now.' `Damsel, right glad may the knight be that by his valour and his hardiment shall destroy so many evil folk!' `Sir, therefore is he the Best Knight in the world, and he is yet young enough of age, but right sorrowful am I at heart that I know not true tidings of him; for better will have I to see him than any man on live.' `Damsel, so also have I,' saith Messire Gawain, `For then by your leave would I turn me again.' `Not so, sir, but and you shall come beyond the castle, then will I teach you the way whereby you ought to go.'
With that they go toward the castle all together. Just as they were about to pass beyond the castle wall, behold you where a knight cometh forth of a privy postern of the castle, and he was sitting upon a tall horse, his spear in his fist, and at his neck had he a red shield whereon was figured a golden eagle. `Sir knight,' saith he to Messire Gawain, `I pray you bide.' `What is your pleasure?' `You must needs joust with me,' saith he, `and conquer this shield, or otherwise I shall conquer you. And full precious is the shield, insomuch as that great pains ought you to take to have it and conquer it, for it belonged to the best knight of his faith that was ever, and the most puissant and the wisest.' `Who, then, was he?' saith Messire Gawain. `Judas Machabee was he, and he it was that first wrought how by one bird to take another.' `You say true,' saith Messire Gawain; `A good knight was he.' `Therefore right joyful may you be,' saith he, `and you may conquer the same, for your own is the poorest and most battered that ever saw I borne by knight. For hardly may a man know the colour thereof.' `Thereby may you well see,' saith the damsel to the knight, `that his own shield hath not been idle, nor hath the horse whereon he sitteth been stabled so well as yours.' `Damsel,' saith the knight, `No need is here of long pleading. Needs must he joust with me, for him do I defy.' Saith Messire Gawain, `I hear well that you say.' He draweth him back and taketh his career and the knight likewise, and they come together as fast as their horses may carry them, spear in rest. The knight smiteth Messire Gawain on the shield whereof he had no great defence, and passeth beyond, and in the by-pass the knight to-brake his spear; and Messire Gawain smiteth him with his spear in the midst of his breast and beareth him to the ground over the croup of his horse, all pinned upon his spear, whereof he had a good full hand's breadth in his breast. He draweth his spear back to him, and when the knight felt himself unpinned, he leaped to his feet and came straight to his horse and would fain set his foot in the stirrup when the damsel of the car crieth out: `Messire Gawain, hinder the knight! for and he were mounted again, too sore travail would it be to conquer him!' When the knight heard name Messire Gawain, he draweth him back: `How?' saith he; `Is this then the good Gawain, King Arthur's nephew?' `Yea,' saith the damsel, `He it is without fail!' `Sir,' saith the knight to Messire Gawain, `Are you he?' `Yea,' saith he, `Gawain I am!' `Sir, so please you,' saith he, `I hold me conquered, and right sorry am I that I knew you not or ever I had ado with you.' He taketh the shield from his neck and holdeth it to him. `Sir,' saith he, `Take the shield that belonged to the best knight that was in his time of his faith, for none know I of whom it shall be better employed than of you. And of this shield were vanquished all they that be in prison in this castle.' Messire Gawain taketh the shield that was right fair and rich. `Sir,' saith the knight, `Now give me yours, for you will not bear two shields.' `You say true,' saith Messire Gawain. He taketh the guige from his neck and would have given him the shield, when the damsel afoot: `Hold, sir knight, you that are named Messire Gawain! What would you do? And he bear your shield into the castle there, they of the castle will hold you recreant and conquered, and will come forth thence and carry you into the castle by force, and there will you be cast into his grievous prison; for no shield is borne thereinto save of a vanquished knight only.' `Sir knight,' saith Messire Gawain, `No good you wish me, according to that this damsel saith.' `Sir,' saith the knight, `I cry you mercy, and a second time I hold me conquered, and right glad should I have been might I have borne your shield within yonder, and right great worship should I have had thereof, for never yet hath entered there the shield of knight so good. And now ought I to be right well pleased of your coming, sith that you have set me free of the sorest trouble that ever knight had.' `What is the trouble?' saith Messire Gawain. `Sir,' saith he, `I will tell you. Heretofore many a time hath there been a passing by of knights both of hardy and of coward, and it was my business to contend and joust with them and do battle, and I made them present of the shield as did I you. The more part found I hardy and well able to defend themselves, that wounded me in many places, but never was knight so felled me to the ground nor dealt me so sore a buffet as have you. And sith that you are carrying away the shield and I am conquered, never hereafter shall knight that passeth before this castle have no dread of me nor of no knight that is herein.' `By my head,' saith Messire Gawain, `Now am I gladder of my conquest than I was before.' `Sir,' saith the knight, `By your leave will I go my way, for, and I may hide not my shame in the castle, needs must I show it openly abroad.' `God grant you do well!' saith Messire Gawain. `Messire Gawain,' saith the Damsel of the Car, `give me your shield that the knight would fain have carried off.' `Willingly, damsel,' saith he. The damsel that went afoot taketh the shield and setteth it in the car. Howbeit, the knight that was conquered mounted again upon his horse, and entered again into the castle, and when he was come thereinto, arose a noise and great outcry so loud that all the forest and all the valley began to resound thereof. `Messire Gawain,' saith the Damsel of the Car, `the knight is shamed and there cast in prison another time. Now haste, Messire Gawain! for now may you go!' With that they all set forward again upon their way together, and leave the castle an English league behind. `Damsel,' saith Messire Gawain, `When it shall please you, I shall have your leave to go.' `Sir,' saith she, `God be guard of your body, and right great thanks of your convoy.' `Lady,' saith he, `My service is always ready at your command.' `Sir,' saith the damsel, `Gramercy, and your own way see you there by yonder great cross at the entrance of yonder forest. And beyond that, will you and the fairest forest and most delightsome when you shall have passed through this that sore is wearisome.' Messire Gawain turneth him to go, and the damsel afoot crieth out to him: `Sir, not so heedful are you as I supposed.' Messire Gawain turneth his horse's head as he that was startled: `Wherefore say you so, damsel?' saith he. `For this,' saith she, `That you have never asked of my Damsel wherefore she carrieth her arm slung at her neck in this golden stole, nor what may be the rich pillow whereon the arm lieth. And no greater heed will you take at the court of the rich King Fisherman.' `Sweet, my friend,' saith the Damsel of the Car, `blame not Messire Gawain only, but King Arthur before him and all the knights that were in the court. For not one of them all that were there was so heedful as to ask me. Go your ways, Messire Gawain, for in vain would you now demand it, for I will tell you not, nor shall you never know it save only by the most coward knight in the world, that is mine own knight and goeth to seek me and knoweth not where to find me.' `Damsel,' saith Messire Gawain, `I durst not press you further.' With that the Damsel departeth, and Messire Gawain setteth him forward again on the way that she had taught him.
- THE HIGH HISTORY OF THE
Here beginneth another branch of the Graal in the name of the Father, and in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Ghost.
Here is the story silent of the three damsels and the Car and saith that Messire Gawain hath passed throughout the evil forest and is entered into the forest passing fair, the broad, the high, the plenteous of venison. And he rideth a great pace, but sore abashed is he of that the damsel had said to him, and misdoubteth him but he shall have blame thereof in many places. He rode hard the day long till that it was evensong and the sun was about to set. And he looketh before him and seeth the house of a hermit and the chapel in the thick of the forest; and a spring flowed forth in front of the chapel right clear and fresh, and above it was a tree full broad and tall that threw a shadow over the spring. A damsel sate under the tree and held a mule by the reins and at the saddle-bow had she the head of a knight hanging. And Messire Gawain cometh thitherward and alighteth. `Damsel,' saith he, `God give you good adventure!' `Sir,' saith she, `And you always.' When she was risen up over against him, `Damsel,' saith he, `For whom are you a-waiting here?' `Sir,' saith she, `I am waiting for the hermit of this holy chapel, that is gone into the forest, and I would fain ask him tidings of a knight.' `Think you he will tell you them and he knoweth any?' `Yea, sir, I think so, according to that I have been told.' Therewithal behold you the hermit that was coming, and saluteth the damsel and Messire Gawain and openeth the door of the house and setteth the two steeds within and striketh off the bridles and giveth them green-meat first and barley after, and fain would he have taken off the saddles when Messire Gawain leapeth before: `Sir,' saith he, `Do not so! This business is not for you!' `Hermit though I be,' saith he, `yet well know I how to deal withal, for at the court of King Uther Pendragon have I been squire and knight two-score years, and a score or more have I been in this hermitage.' And Messire Gawain looketh at him in wonderment. `Sir,' saith he, `Meseemeth you are not of more than forty years.' `That know I well of a truth,' saith the hermit, and Messire Gawain taketh off the saddles and bethinketh him more of the damsel's mule than of his own horse. And the hermit taketh Messire Gawain by the hand and the damsel and leadeth them into the chapel. And the place was right fair. `Sir,' saith the hermit to Messire Gawain, `You will disarm you not,' saith he, `for this forest is passing adventurous, and no worshipful man behoveth be disgarnished.' He goeth for his spear and for his shield and setteth them within the chapel. He setteth before them such meat as he hath, and when they have eaten giveth them to drink of the spring. `Sir,' saith the damsel, `Of a knight that I go seek am I come to ask you tidings.' `Who is the knight?' saith the hermit. `Sir, he is the Chaste Knight of most holy lineage. He hath a head of gold, the look of a lion, the navel of a virgin maid, a heart of steel, the body of an elephant, and without wickedness are all his conditions.' `Damsel,' saith the hermit, `Nought will I tell you concerning him, for I know not of a certainty where he is, save this, that he hath lain in this chapel twice, not once only, within this twelvemonth.' `Sir,' saith she, `Will you tell me no more of him, nor none other witting?' `In no wise,' saith the hermit. `And you, Messire Gawain?' saith she. `Damsel,' saith he, `As fainly would I see him as you, but none find I that may tell me tidings of him.' `And the damsel of the Car, Sir, have you seen her?' `Yea, lady,' saith he, `It is but just now sithence that I left her.' `Carried she still her arm slung at her neck?' `Yea,' saith Messire Gawain, `in such wise she carried it.' `Of a long while,' saith the damsel, `hath she borne it thus.' `Sir,' saith the hermit, `how are you named?' `Sir,' saith he, `Gawain am I called, King Arthur's nephew.' `Thereof I love you the better,' saith the hermit. `Sir,' saith the damsel, `You are of kindred to the worst King that is.' `Of what King speak you?' saith Messire Gawain. `I speak,' saith she, `of King Arthur, through whom is all the world made worser, for he began doing well and now hath become evil. For hatred of him hate I a knight that found me nigh S. Augustine's Chapel, and yet was he the comeliest knight that saw I ever. He slew a knight within the bar right hardily. I asked him for the head of the knight and he went back for the same and set himself in sore peril. He brought it me, and I made him great joy, but when he told me his name was Arthur I had no fainness of the bounty he had done me, for that he had the name of that evil King.'
`Damsel,' saith Messire Gawain, `You may say your pleasure. I tell you that King Arthur hath held the richest court that he hath held ever, and these evil conditions whereof you blame him is he minded to put away for evermore, and more will he do of good and more of largesse than was ever known aforetime, so long as he shall live; nor know I none other knight that beareth his name.' `You are right,' saith the damsel, `to come to his rescue, for that he is your uncle, but your rescue will scarce avail him and he deliver not himself.' `Sir,' saith the hermit to Messire Gawain, `The damsel will say her pleasure. May God defend King Arthur, for his father made me knight. Now am I priest, and in this hermitage ever sithence that I came hither have I served King Fisherman by the will of Our Lord and His commandment, and all they that serve him do well partake of his reward, for the place of his most holy service is a refuge so sweet that unto him that hath been there a year, it seemeth to have been but a month for the holiness of the place and of himself, and for the sweetness of his castle wherein have I oftentimes done service in the chapel where the Holy Graal appeareth. Therefore is it that I and all that serve him are so youthful of seeming.' `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `By what way may a man go to his castle?' `Sir,' saith the hermit, `None may teach you the way, save the will of God lead you therein. And would you fain go thither?' `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `It is the most wish that I have.' `Sir,' saith the hermit, `Now God give you grace and courage to ask the question that the others to whom the Graal hath appeared would ask not, whereof have many mischances sithence befallen much people.'
With that, they left of talking, and the hermit led Messire Gawain into his house to rest, and the damsel abode still in the chapel. On the morrow when dawn appeared, Messire Gawain that had lain all armed, arose and found his saddle ready and the damsel, and the bridles set on, and cometh to the chapel and findeth the hermit that was apparelled to sing mass, and seeth the damsel kneeling before an image of Our Lady, and she prayed God and the sweet Lady that they would counsel her of that whereof she had need, and wept right tenderly so that the tears ran down her face. And when she had prayed of a long space she ariseth, and Messire Gawain biddeth her God give her good day, and she returneth his salute. `Damsel,' saith he, `Meseemeth you are not over joyous.' `Sir,' saith she, I have right, for now am I nigh unto my desolation, sith that I may not find the Good Knight. Now must I needs go to the castle of the Black Hermit, and bear thither the head that hangeth at my saddle-bow, for otherwise shall I not be able to pass through the forest out my body should there be cast in prison or shamed, and this shall be the quittance for my passing. Then will I seek the Damsel of the Car and so shall I go in safety through the forest.' With that the hermit had begun the mass and Messire Gawain and the damsel heard it. When mass was sung, Messire Gawain took leave of the hermit and the damsel also. And Messire Gawain goeth one way and the damsel the other, and either biddeth other to God.
Hereupon the story is now silent of the damsel, and saith that Messire Gawain goeth through the high forest and rideth a great pace, and prayeth God right sweetly that He will set him in such way as that thereby he may go to the land of the rich King Fisherman. And he rideth until the hour of noon, and cometh into the fulness of the forest and seeth under a tree a squire alighted of a horse of the chase. Messire Gawain saluteth him, and the squire saith: `Sir, right welcome may you be!' `Fair sweet friend,' saith Messire Gawain, Whither go you?' `Sir, I go to seek the lord of this forest.' `Whose is the forest?' saith Messire Gawain. `Sir, it belongeth to the best knight in the world.' `Can you tell me tidings of him?' `He ought to bear a shield banded azure and argent with a red cross thereon and a boss of gold. I say that he is good knight, but little call have I to praise him, for he slew my father in this forest with a javelin. The Good Knight was squire what time he slew him, and fain would I avenge my father upon him and I may find him, for he reft me of the best knight that was in the realm of Logres when he slew my father. Well did he bereave me of him what time he slew him with his javelin without defiance, nor shall I never be at ease nor at rest until I shall have avenged him.' `Fair sweet friend,' saith Messire Gawain, `Sith that he is knight so good, take heed you increase not your wrong of your own act, and I would fain that you had found him, so as that no evil had befallen him thereof.'
`So would not I,' saith the squire, for never shall I see him in this place but I shall run upon him as my mortal enemy!' `Fair sweet friend,' saith Messire Gawain, `you may say your pleasure, but tell me, is there no hold in this forest wherein I may harbour me the night?' `Sir,' saith the squire, `No hold know I within twenty league of your way in any quarter. Wherefore no leisure have you to tarry, for it is high noon already.' So Messire Gawain saluteth the squire and goeth a great pace as he that knoweth neither highway nor byway save only as adventure may lead him. And the forest pleaseth him well for that it is so fair and that he seeth the deer pass by before him in great herds. He rode on until it drew toward evensong at a corner of the forest. The evening was fair and calm and the sun was about to set. And a score league Welsh had he ridden sithence that he parted from the squire, and sore he misdoubted him that he should find no hold. He found the fairest meadow-land in the world, and looked before him when he had ridden a couple of bow-shot lengths and saw a castle appear nigh the forest on a mountain. And it was enclosed of high walls with battlements, and within were fair halls whereof the windows showed in the outer walls, and in the midst was an ancient tower that was compassed round of great waters and broad meadow-lands. Thitherward Messire Gawain draweth him and looketh toward the gateway of the castle and seeth a squire issue forth a great pace upon a hackney, and he came the way that Messire Gawain was coming. And when the squire seeth him and hath drawn somewhat anigh, he saluteth him right nobly.
`Sir, right welcome may you be!' `Good adventure may you have!' saith Messire Gawain. `Fair sweet friend, what is this castle here, sir?' `Sir, it is the castle of the Widow Lady.' `What is the name thereof?' `Camelot; and it belonged to Alain li Gros, that was a right loyal knight and worshipful man. He is dead this long time, and my Lady hath remained without succour and without counsel. Wherefore is the castle warred upon of them that would fain reave her thereof by force. The Lord of the Moors and another knight are they that war upon her and would fain reave her of this castle as they have reft her of seven other already. Greatly desireth she the return of her son, for no counsel hath she save only of her one daughter and of five old knights that help her to guard the castle. Sir,' saith he, `The door is made fast and the bridge drawn up, for they guard the castle closely, but, so please you, you will tell me your name and I will go before and make the bridge be lowered and the gate unfastened, and will say that you will lodge within to-night.' `Gramercy,' saith Messire Gawain, `right well shall my name be known or ever I depart from the castle.' The squire goeth his way a great pace, and Messire Gawain rideth softly at a walk for he had yet a long way to go. And he found a chapel that stood between the forest and the castle, and it was builded upon four columns of marble and within was a right fair sepulchre. The chapel had no fence of any kind about it, so that he seeth the coffin within full clearly, and Messire Gawain hideth awhile to look thereon. And the squire is entered into the castle and hath made the bridge be lowered and the door opened. He alighteth and is come into the hall where was the Widow Lady and her daughter. Saith the Lady to the squire: `Wherefore have you returned from doing my message?' `Lady, for the comeliest knight that I have seen ever, and fain would he harbour within to-night, and he is garnished of all arms and rideth without company.' And what name hath he?' saith the Lady. `Lady, he told me you should know it well or ever he depart from this castle.' Therewithal the Lady gan weep for joy and her daughter also, and, lifting her hands towards heaven, `Fair Lord God!' saith the Widow Lady, `And this be indeed my son, never before have I had joy that might be likened to this! Now shall I not be disherited of mine honour, neither shall I lose my castle whereof they would fain reave me by wrong, for that no Lord nor champion have I!'
Thereupon the Widow Lady ariseth up and her daughter likewise, and they go over the bridge of the castle and see Messire Gawain that was yet looking on the coffin within the chapel. `Now haste!' saith the Lady; `At the tomb shall we be well able to see whether it be he!' They go to the chapel right speedily, and Messire Gawain seeth them coming and alighteth. `Lady,' saith he, `Welcome may you be, you and your company.' The Lady answereth never a word until that they are come to the tomb. When she findeth it not open she falleth down in a swoon. And Messire Gawain is sore afraid when he seeth it. The Lady cometh back out of her swoon and breaketh out into great lamentation. `Sir,' saith the damsel to Messire Gawain, `Welcome may you be! But now sithence my mother supposed that you had been her son and made great by thereof, and now seeth she plainly that you are not he, whereof is she sore sorrowful, for so soon as he shall return, this coffin behoveth open, nor until that hour shall none know who it is that lieth therein.' The Lady riseth up and taketh Messire Gawain by the hand. `Sir,' saith she, `What is your name?' `Lady,' saith he, I am called Gawain, King Arthur's nephew.' `Sir,' saith she, `You shall be he that is welcome both for the sake of my son and for your own sake.' The Lady biddeth a squire lead his horse into the castle and carry his shield and spear. Then they enter into the castle and lead Messire Gawain into the hall, and make disarm him. After that, they fetch him water to wash his hands and his face, for he was distained of the rust of his habergeon. The Lady maketh apparel him in a rich robe of silk and gold, and furred of ermine. The Widow Lady cometh forth of her chamber and maketh Messire Gawain sit beside her. `Sir,' saith she, `Can you tell me any tidings of my son that I have not seen of this long time past, and of whom at this present am I sore in need?'
`Lady,' saith he, `No tidings of him know I to tell you, and right heavy am I thereof, for he is the knight of the world that fainest I would see and he be your son as I am told. What name hath he?' `Sir,' saith she, `His name in right baptism is Perceval, and a right comely squire was he when he departed hence. Now as at this time is it said that he is the comeliest knight on live and the most hardy and the cleanest of all wickedness. And sore need have I of his hardiment, for what time that he departed hence he left me in the midst of a great warfare on behalf of the Knight of the Red Shield that he slew. Within the se'nnight thereafter he went away, nor never once have I seen him sithence, albeit a full seven year hath passed already. And now the brother of the knight that he slew and the Lord of the Moors are warring upon me and are fain to reave me of my castle and God counsel me not. For my brothers are too far away from me, and King Pelles of the Lower Folk hath renounced his land for God's sake and entered into a hermitage. But the King of Castle Mortal hath in him as much of wickedness and felony as these twain have in them of good, and enough thereof have they. But neither succour nor help may they give me, for the King of Castle Mortal challengeth my Lord King Fisherman both of the most Holy Graal and of the Lance whereof the point bleedeth every day, albeit God forbid he should ever have them.'
`Lady,' saith Messire Gawain, `There was at the hostel of King Fisherman a knight before whom the Holy Graal appeared three times, yet never once would he ask whereof it served nor whom it honoured.' `Sir,' saith the Widow Lady's daughter, `You say true, and the Best Knight is he of the world. This say I for love of my brother, and I love all knights for the love of him, but by the foolish wit of the knight hath mine uncle King Fisherman fallen into languishment.' `Sir,' saith the Lady, `Behoveth all good knights go see the rich King Fisherman. Will you not therefore go?' `Lady,' saith Messire Gawain, `Yea, that will I, so speedily as I may, for not else-whither have I emprised my way.' `Sir,' saith she, `Then are you going to see my son, wherefore tell my son, and you see him, of mine evil plight and my misease, and King Fisherman my brother. But take heed, Messire Gawain, that you be better mindful than was the knight.' `Lady,' saith Messire Gawain, `I shall do as God shall teach me.' In the meanwhile as they were speaking thus together, behold you therewithal the Widow Lady's five knights that were come in from the forest and make bring harts and hinds and wild swine. So they alighted and made great joy of Messire Gawain when they knew who he was.
When the meat was ready they sate to eat, and full plenteously were they provided and right well were they served. Thereupon, behold, cometh the squire that had opened the door for Messire Gawain, and kneeleth before the Widow Lady. `And what tidings?' saith she. `Lady, there is to be a right great assembly of tourney in the valleys that aforetime were ours. Already have they spread the Welsh booths, and thither are come these two that are warring upon you and great store other knights. And they have ordained that he which shall do best at the assembly shall undertake the garrison of this castle in such sort as that he shall hold it for his own alone against all other.' The Widow Lady beginneth to weep: `Sir,' saith she to Messire Gawain, `Now may you understand that the castle is not mine own, sith that these knights say it is theirs as you hear.' `Certes, Lady,' saith he, Herein do they great dishonour and a sin.'
When the table was removed the damsel fell at Messire Gawaine's feet, weeping. He raiseth her forthwith and saith to her, `Damsel, herein do you ill.' `For God's sake, Sir, take pity on my Lady mother and me!' `Certes, damsel, great pity have I of you.' `Sir, now shall it be seen in this strait whether you be good knight, for good is the knighthood that doeth well for God's sake.' The Widow Lady and her daughter go into the chamber, and Messire Gawain's bed was made in the midst of the hall. So he went and lay down as did also the five knights. All the night was Messire Gawain in much thought. The morrow, when he was risen, he went to hear mass in a chapel that was within and ate thereafter three sops in wine and then armed him, and at the same time asked the five knights that were there in the hall whether they would go see the assembly. `Yea, Sir,' say they, `and you be going thither.' `In faith, thither verily will I go!' saith Messire Gawain. The knights are armed forthwith, and their horses brought and Messire Gawain's, and he goeth to take leave of the Widow Lady and her daughter. But great joy make they of this that they have heard say that he will go with their knights to the assembly.
Messire Gawain and the five knights mounted and issued forth of the castle and rode a great gallop before a forest. Messire Gawain looketh before him about the foreclose of the forest, and seeth the fairest purlieus that he had seen ever, and so broad they be that he may not see nor know the fourth part thereof. They are garnished of tall forests on one hand and on the other, and there are high rocks in the midst with wild deer among. `Sir,' say the knights, `Lo, these be the Valleys of Camelot whereof my Lady and her daughter have been bereft, and bereft also hath she been of the richest castles that be in Wales to the number of seven.' `A wrong is it and a sin!' saith Messire Gawain. So far have they ridden that they see the ensigns and the shields there where the assembly is to be held, and they see already mounted the more part of the knights all armed and running their horses down the meadow-land. And they see the tents stretched on the one hand and on another. And Messire Gawain bideth, and the five knights under a tree, and see the knights assembling on one hand and on another. One of the five knights that were with him gave him witting of the Lord of the Moors and the brother of the knight of the Red Shield that had to name Chaos the Red. So soon as the tournament was assembled, Messire Gawain and the knights come to the assembly, and Messire Gawain goeth to a Welsh knight and beareth him to the ground, both him and his horse, all in a heap. And the five come after at a great gallop and each overthroweth his own, and greatly pride they themselves of Messire Gawain. Chaos the Red seeth Messire Gawain but knoweth him not. He goeth toward him a full career, and Messire Gawain receiveth him on the point of his spear and hurtleth against him so sore that he all to-brast his collarbone and maketh the spear fly from his fist. And Messire Gawain searcheth the fellowships of one part and the other, and findeth not nor encountereth no knight before him in his way but he putteth him off his horse or woundeth him, either by himself or by one of the five knights, that make right great joy of that they see him do. They show him the Lord of the Moors that was coming with a full great fellowship of folk. He goeth thitherward a great gallop. They mell together either upon other of their spears that they bent and all to-brast in flinders, and hurtle together so stoutly both of their horses and their bodies that the Lord of the Moors loseth his stirrups and hath the hinder saddlebow to-frushed, and falleth down to the ground over his horse croup in such sort that the peak of his helm dinteth a full palm's breadth into the turf. And Messire Gawain taketh the horse that was right rich and good, maugre all of his fellowship, and giveth it to one of the five knights that maketh it be led to Camelot of a squire. Messire Gawain searcheth the ranks on the one hand and on the other, and doeth such feats of arms as never no knight might do the same again. The five knights also showed great hardiment, and did more of arms that day than ever had they done tofore, for not one of them but had overthrown at least a single knight and won his horse. The Lord of the Moors was mounted again on another rich horse and had great shame for that Messire Gawain had overthrown him. He espieth Messire Gawain and goeth toward him a great gallop and thinketh to avenge his shame. They come together either on other with a great shock, and Messire Gawain smiteth him with the truncheon of his spear that he had still left, in the midst of his breast, so that it was all to-splintered. The Lord of the Moors likewise again to-brast his spear upon him. Messire Gawain draweth his sword and flingeth the truncheon to the ground. The Lord of the Moors doth likewise and commandeth his folk not to mell betwixt them twain, for never yet had he found no knight that he had not conquered. They deal them great buffets on the helms, either upon other, in such sort that the sparks fly thereout and their swords are blunted. The buffets of Messire Gawain are heavier than the other's, for he dealeth them so mighty and horrible that the blood rayeth out from the Lord of the Moors by the mouth and the nose so that his habergeon is all bloody thereof and he may no more endure. Thereupon he yieldeth him prisoner to Messire Gawain, that is right glad thereof and his five knights likewise. The Lord of the Moors goeth to his tent to alight, and Messire Gawain with him and alighteth. And Messire Gawain taketh the horse and saith to one of the knights, `Keep this for me.' And all the knights are repaired to their tents, and with one accord say they all that the knight of the Red Shield with the eagle of gold thereon hath done better than we, and they ask the Lord of the Moors whether he accordeth with them, and he saith `Aye.' `Sir,' saith he to Messire Gawain, `You, then, are the warden of this castle of Camelot.' `Gramercy, lord!' saith Messire Gawain. He calleth the five knights and saith unto them: `Lords, my will is that you be there on my behalf and that you shall safeguard the same by consent of the knights that are here present.' `Sir, right gladly do we agree thereto.' `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain to the Lord of the Moors, `I give you moreover as my prisoner to the Widow Lady that harboured me last night.' `Sir,' saith he, `This have you no right to do. Assembly of tourney is not war. Hence have you no right to imprison my body in castle, for well am I able to pay my ransom here. But tell me, what is your name?' `I am called Gawain.' `Ha, Messire Gawain, many a time have I heard tell of you albeit never tofore have I seen you. But sith that the castle of Camelot is in your keeping, I promise you loyally that before a year and a day neither the castle nor none of the Lady's land need fear nought from me nor from any other so far forth as I may hinder him, and hereto do I pledge me in the presence of all these knights that are here. And, so you would have of me gold or silver, thereof will I give you at your will.' `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `Gramercy! I consent freely to as much as you have said.' Messire Gawain taketh leave and turneth him again toward the castle of Camelot, and sendeth by a squire the horse of the Lord of the Moors to the daughter of the Widow Lady, that made great joy thereof. And the five knights drive before them the horses they have taken booty. Whereof great also was the joy. No need to wonder whether Messire Gawain were well harboured that night at the castle. He recounted to the Lady how the castle was in the keeping of these knights. When it came to morning-tide, Messire Gawain took leave and departed from the castle, but not before he had heard mass, for such was his custom. The Widow Lady and her daughter commend him to God, and the castle remaineth in better keeping than he had found it.
- THE HIGH HISTORY OF THE
Here beginneth another branch of the Graal in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
And the story is silent here of the mother of the Good Knight, and saith that Messire Gawain goeth so as God and adventure lead him toward the land of the rich King Fisherman. And he entereth into a great forest, all armed, his shield at his neck and his spear in his hand. And he prayeth Our Lord that He counsel him of this holy errand he hath emprised so as that he may honourably achieve it. He rode until that he came at evensong to a hold that was in the midst of the forest. And it was compassed about of a great water, and had about it great clumps of trees so as that scarce with much pains might he espy the hall, that was right large. The river that compassed it about was water royal, for it lost not its right name nor its body as far as the sea. And Messire Gawain bethought him that it was the hold of a worshipful man, and draweth him thitherward to lodge. And as he drew anigh the bridge of the hold, he looketh and seeth a dwarf sitting on a high bench. He leapeth up: Messire Gawain,' saith he, `Welcome may you be!' `Fair, sweet friend,' saith Messire Gawain, `God give you good adventure! You know me, then?' saith he. `Well do I know you,' saith the dwarf, `For I saw you at the tournament. At a better moment could you not have come hither, for my lord is not here. But you will find my lady, the fairest and most gentle and most courteous in the realm of Logres, and as yet is she not of twenty years.' `Fair friend,' saith Messire Gawain, `What name hath the lord of the hold?' `Sir, he is called of Little Gomeret. I will go tell my lady that Messire Gawain is come, the good knight, and bid her make great joy.' Howbeit, Messire Gawain marvelleth much that the dwarf should make him such cheer, for many knaveries hath he found in many places within the bodies of many dwarfs. The dwarf is come into the chamber where the lady was. `Now, haste, Lady!' saith he, `Make great joy, for Messire Gawain is come to harbour with you.' `Certes,' saith she, `Of this am I right glad and right sorry; glad, for that the good knight will lie here to-night, sorry, for that he is the knight that my lord most hateth in the world. Wherefore he warneth me against him for love of him, for oftentimes hath he told me that never did Messire Gawain keep faith with dame nor damsel but he would have his will of them.' `Lady,' saith the dwarf, `It is not true albeit it is so said.'
Thereupon Messire Gawain entereth into the courtyard and alighteth, and the lady cometh to meet him and saith to him: `May you be come to joy and good adventure.' `Lady,' saith he, `May you also have honour and good adventure.' The lady taketh him by the hand and leadeth him into the hall and maketh him be seated on a cushion of straw. And a squire leadeth his horse to stable. And the dwarf summoneth two other squires and doeth Messire Gawain be disarmed, and helpeth them right busily, and maketh fetch water to wash his hands and his face. `Sir,' saith the dwarf, `Your fists are still all swollen of the buffets you gave and received at the tournament.' Messire Gawain answered him nought. And the dwarf entereth into the chamber and bringeth a scarlet robe furred of ermine and maketh it be done on Messire Gawain. And meat was made ready and the table set, and the lady sate to eat. Many a time looked he upon the lady by reason of her great beauty, and, had he been minded to trust to his heart and his eyes, he would have all to-changed his purpose; but so straitly was his heart bound up, and so quenched the desires thereof, that nought would he allow himself to think upon that might turn to wickedness, for the sake of the high pilgrimage he had emprised. Rather `gan he withdraw his eyes from looking at the lady, that was held to be of passing great beauty. After meat Messire Gawain's bed was made, and he apparelled himself to lie down. The lady bade him God give him good adventure, and he made answer the like. When the lady was in her chamber, the dwarf said to Messire Gawain: `Sir, I will lie before you, so as to keep you company until you be asleep.' `Gramercy,' saith he, And God allow me at some time to reward you of the service.' The dwarf laid himself down on a mattress before Messire Gawain, and when he saw that he slept, he ariseth as quickly as he may, and cometh to a boat that was on the river that ran behind the hall, and entereth thereinto and roweth up-stream of the river. And he cometh to a fishery, where was a right fair hall on a little eyot enclosed by a marshy arm of the river. The jealous knight was come thither for disport, and lay in the midst of the hall upon a couch. The dwarf cometh forth of his boat thereinto, and lighteth a great candle in his fist and cometh before the couch. `What ho, there!' saith the dwarf, `Are you sleeping?' And the other waketh up sore startled, and asketh what is the matter and wherefore is he come? `In God's name,' saith he, `You sleep not so much at your ease as doth Messire Gawain!' `How know you that?' saith he. `Well know I,' saith the dwarf, `For I left him but now in your hall, and methinketh he and your lady are abed together arm to arm.' `How?' saith he, `I forbade her she should ever harbour Messire Gawain.' `In faith,' said the dwarf, `She hath made him greater cheer than ever saw I her make to none other! But haste you and come, for great fear have I lest he carry her away!' `By my head!' saith the knight; `I will go not, howsoever it be! But she shall pay for it, even though she go!' `Then of wrong will it be!' saith the dwarf, `as methinketh!'
Messire Gawain lay in the hall that was ware of nought of this. He seeth that day hath broken fair and clear, and ariseth up. The lady cometh to the door of the hall and seeth not the dwarf, whereby well she understandeth his treachery. She saith to Messire Gawain, `Sir, for God's sake have pity upon me, for the dwarf hath betrayed me! And you withdraw yourself forth of our forest and help not to rescue me from the smart that my lord will make me suffer, great sin will you have thereof. For well know you that of right ought I not to be held guilty toward my lord nor toward any other, for aught that you have done toward me or I toward you.' `You say true,' saith Messire Gawain. Thereupon is he armed, and taketh leave of the lady and issueth forth of the fair hold and setteth him in an ambush in the forest nigh thereby. Straightway behold the jealous knight where he cometh, he and his dwarf. He entereth into the hall. The lady cometh to meet him. `Sir,' saith she, `Welcome may you be!' `And you,' saith he,' `Shame and evil adventure may you have, as the most disloyal dame on live, for that this night have you harboured in my hostel and in my bed him that most have I warned you against!' `Sir,' saith she, `In your hostel did I harbour him, but never hath your bed been shamed by me, nor never shall be!' `You lie!' saith he, like a false woman!' He armeth himself all incontinent and maketh his horse be armed, then maketh the lady go down and despoil her to her shirt, that crieth him mercy right sweetly and weepeth. He mounteth his horse and taketh his shield and his spear, and maketh the lady be taken of the dwarf by her tresses and maketh her be led before him into the forest. And he bideth above a pool where was a spring, and maketh her enter into the water that flowed forth full cold, and gathereth saplings in the forest for rods and beginneth to smite and beat her across upon her back and her breast in such sort that the stream from the spring was all bloody therewithal. And she began to cry out right loud, until at last Messire Gawain heareth her and draweth forth of the ambush wherein he was, and cometh thitherward a great gallop. `By my faith,' saith the dwarf, `Look you here where Messire Gawain cometh!' `By my faith,' saith the knight, `Now know I well that nought is there here but treachery, and that the matter is well proven!' By this time, Messire Gawain is come, and saith: `Avoid, Sir knight! Wherefore slay you the best lady and most loyal that ever have I seen? Never tofore have I found lady that hath done me so much honour, and this ought you to be well pleased to know, for neither in her bearing, nor in her speech, nor in herself found I nought save all goodness only. Wherefore I pray you of franchise and of love that you forbear your wrath and that you set her forth of the water. And so will I swear on all the sacred hallows in this chapel that never did I beseech her of evil nor wantonness nor never had I no desire thereof.' The knight was full of great wrath when he saw that Messire Gawain had not gone his way thence, and an anguish of jealousy burneth him heart and body and overburdeneth him of folly and outrage, and Messire Gawain that is still before him moveth him to yet further transgression. Natheless, for the fear that he hath of him he speaketh to him: `Messire Gawain,' saith he, `I will set her forth thence on one condition, that you joust at me and I at you, and, so you conquer me, quit shall she be of misdoing and of blame, but and if I shall conquer you, she shall be held guilty herein. Such shall be the judgment in this matter.' `I ask no better,' saith Messire Gawain.
Thereupon, the knight biddeth the dwarf make set the lady forth of the pool of the spring and make her sit in a launde whereas they were to joust. The knight draweth him back the better to take his career, and Messire Gawain cometh as fast as his horse may carry him toward Marin the Jealous. And when Marin seeth him coming, he avoideth his buffet and lowereth his spear and cometh to his wife that was right sore distraught, and wept as she that suffered blameless, and smote her throughout the body and slew her, and then turneth him again so fast as his horse might carry him toward his hold. Messire Gawain seeth the damsel dead and the dwarf that fleeth full speed after his lord. He overtaketh him and trampleth him under his horse's feet so that he bursteth his belly in the midst. Then goeth he toward the hold, for he thinketh to enter therein. But he found the bridge shut up and the gate barred. And Marin crieth out upon him. `This shame and misadventure hath befallen me along of you, but you shall pay for it yet and I may live.' Messire Gawain hath no mind to argue with him, but rather draweth him back and cometh again to where the lady lay dead, and setteth her on the neck of his horse all bleeding, and then beareth her to a chapel that was without the entrance of the hold. Then he alighted and laid her within the chapel as fairly as most he might, as he that was sore grieved and wrathful thereof. After that, he shut the door of the chapel again as he that was afeared of the body for the wild beasts, and bethought him that one should come thither to set her in her shroud and bury her after that he was departed.
Thereupon Messire Gawain departeth, sore an-angered, for it seemed him that never had no thing tofore befallen him that weighed so heavy on his heart. And he rideth thoughtful and down-cast through the forest, and seeth a knight coming along the way he came. And in strange fashion came he. He bestrode his horse backwards in right outlandish guise, face to tail, and he had his horse's reins right across his breast and the base of his shield bore he topmost and the chief bottommost, and his spear upside down and his habergeon and chausses of iron trussed about his neck. He seeth Messire Gawain coming beside the forest, that hath great wonderment of him when he seeth him. Natheless, when they draw nigh, he turneth him not to look at Messire Gawain, but crieth to him aloud: `Gentle knight, you that come there, for God's sake do me no hurt, for I am the Knight Coward.' `By God,' saith Messire Gawain, `You look not like a man to whom any ought to do hurt!' And, but for the heaviness of his heart and the sore wrath that he had, he would have laughed at his bearing with a right good will. `Sir Knight,' saith Messire Gawain, `nought have you to be afeard of from me!' With that he draweth anigh and looketh on him in the face and the Knight Coward on him. `Sir,' saith he, `Welcome may you be!' `And you likewise!' saith Messire Gawain. `And whose man are you, Sir knight?' `The Damsel's man of the Car.' `Thereof I love you the better,' saith Messire Gawain. `God be praised thereof,' saith the Knight Coward, `For now shall I have no fear of you.' `Nay, truly,' saith Messire Gawain, `Thereof be well assured!' The Knight Coward seeth Messire Gawain's shield and knoweth it. `Ha, Sir,' saith he, `Now know I well who you are. Now will I alight and ride the right way and set my arms to rights. For you are Messire Gawain, nor hath none the right to claim this shield but only you.' The knight alighteth and setteth his armour to rights, and prayeth Messire Gawain abide until he be armed. So he abideth right willingly, and helpeth him withal. Thereupon behold you a knight where he cometh a great gallop athwart the forest like a tempest, and he had a shield party black and white. `Abide, Messire Gawain!' saith he, `For on behalf of Marin the Jealous do I defy you, that hath slain his wife on your account.' `Sir knight,' saith Messire Gawain, `Thereof am I right heavy of heart, for death had she not deserved.' `That availeth not,' saith the Party Knight, `For I hold you to answer for the death. So I conquer you, the wrong is yours; but, and you conquer me, my lord holdeth his blame and shame for known, and will hold you to forfeit and you allow me to escape hence on live.' `To this will I not agree,' saith Messire Gawain, `For God well knoweth that no blame have I herein.' `Ha, Messire Gawain,' saith the Knight Coward, Fight him not as having affiance in me, for of me will you have neither succour nor help!' `Heretofore,' saith Messire Gawain, have I achieved adventures without you, and this also, and God help me, will I yet achieve.' They come together a full career and break their lances on their shields, and Messire Gawain hurtleth against the horse and passeth beyond and overthroweth him and his horse together. Then draweth he his sword and runneth upon him. And the knight crieth out: `Hold, Messire Gawain! Are you minded to slay me? I yield me conquered, for no mind have I to die for another's folly, and so I cry you mercy hereof.' Messire Gawain thinketh that he will do him no further harm, for that of right behoveth him do his lord's bidding. Messire Gawain holdeth his hands, and he doth him homage on behalf of his lord for his hold and all of his land, and becometh his man.
Thereupon the knight departeth and Messire Gawain remaineth there.'Sir,' saith the Knight Coward to Messire Gawain, `I have no mind to be so hardy as are you; for, so God help me, had he defied me in such-wise as he defied you, I should have fled away forthwith, or elsewise I should have fallen at his feet and cried him of mercy.' `You wish for nought but peace,' saith Messire Gawain. `By S. James,' saith the Coward, `Therein are you quite right, for of war cometh nought but evil; nor never have I had no hurt nor wound save some branch of a tree or the like gave it me, and I see your face all seamed and scarred in many places. So God help me, of such hardiesse make I but small account, and every day I pray God that He defend me. And so to God I commend you, for I am going after my Damsel of the Car.' `Not thus shall you go,' saith Messire Gawain, `save you tell me first wherefore your Damsel of the Car beareth her arm slung to her neck in such-wise.' `Sir, this may I will tell you. With this hand served she of the most Holy Graal the knight that was in the hostel of King Fisherman that would not ask whereof the Graal served; for that she held therein the precious vessel whereinto the glorious blood fell drop by drop from the point of the lance, so that none other thing is she minded to hold therein until such time as she shall come back to the holy place where it is. Sir,' saith the Knight Coward, `Now, so please you, may I well go hence, and see, here is my spear that I give you, for nought is there that I have to do therewithal.' Messire Gawain taketh it, for his own was broken short, and departeth from the knight and commendeth him to God. And he goeth his way a great pace, and Messire Gawain also goeth amidst the forest, and full weary is he and forspent with travail. And he rode until the sun was due to set. And he meeteth a knight that was coming athwart the forest and came toward Messire Gawain a great gallop like as he were smitten through the body, and crieth over all the forest: `What is your name, Sir knight?' `My name is Gawain.' `Ha, Messire Gawain,' saith the other, `In your service am I wounded thus!' `How in my service?' saith Messire Gawain. `Sir, I was minded to bury the damsel that you bare into the chapel, and Marin the Jealous ran upon me and wounded me in many places in such manner as you see. And I had already dug a grave with my sword to bury the body when he seized it from me and abandoned it to the wild beasts. Now go I hence yonder to the chapel of a hermit that is in this forest to confess me, for well know I that I have not long to live for that the wound lieth me so nigh my heart. But I shall die the more easily now that I have found you and shown you the hurt that hath been done me for your sake.' `Certes,' saith Messire Gawain, `this grieveth me.'
Therewithal the knights depart asunder, and Messire Gawain rode on until he found in the forest a castle right fair and rich, and met an ancient knight that was issued forth of the castle for disport, and held a bird on his fist. He saluteth Messire Gawain and he him again, and he asked him what castle is this that he seeth show so fair? And he telleth him it is the castle of the Proud Maiden that never deigned ask a knight his name. `And we, that are her men, durst not do it on her behalf. But right well will you be lodged in the castle, for right courteous is she otherwise and the fairest that ever any may know. Nor never hath she had any lord, nor deigned to love no knight save she heard tell that he was the best knight in the world. And I will go to her with you of courtesy.' `Gramercy, Sir,' saith Messire Gawain. They enter into the castle both twain together, and alight at the mounting-stage before the hall. The knight taketh Messire Gawain by the hand and leadeth him up, and maketh disarm him, and bringeth him a surcoat of scarlet purfled of vair and maketh him do it on. Then leadeth he the lady of the castle to Messire Gawain, and he riseth up to meet her. `Lady,' saith he, Welcome may you be!' `And you, Sir, be welcome!' saith she, `Will you see my chapel?' `Damsel,' saith he, `At your pleasure.' And she leadeth him and taketh Messire Gawain by the hand, and he looketh at the chapel and it well seemeth him that never before had he come into none so fair nor so rich, and he seeth four tombs within, the fairest that he had seen ever. And on the right hand side of the chapel were three narrow openings in the wall that were wrought all about with gold and precious stones, and beyond the three openings he seeth great circlets of lighted candles that were before three coffers of hallows that were there, and the smell thereof was sweeter than balm. `Sir knight,' saith the damsel, `See you these tombs?' `Yea, damsel,' saith Messire Gawain. `These three are made for the three best knights in the world and the fourth for me. The one hath for name Messire Gawain and the second Lancelot of the Lake. Each of them do I love for love's sake, by my faith! And the third hath for name Perceval. Him love I better than the other two. And within these three openings are the hallows set for love of them. And behold what I would do to them and their three heads were therein; and so I might not do it to the three together, yet would I do it to two, or even to one only.' She setteth her hand toward the openings and draweth forth a pin that was fastened into the wall, and a cutting blade of steel droppeth down, of steel sharper than any razor, and closeth up the three openings. Even thus will I cut off their heads when they shall set them into those three openings thinking to adore the hallows that are beyond. Afterward will I make take the bodies and set them in the three coffins, and do them be honoured and enshrouded right richly, for joy of them in their life may I never have. And when the end of my life shall be come as God will, even so will I make set me in the fourth coffin, and so shall I have company of the three good knights.' Messire Gawain heard the word, whereof he marvelled right sore, and would right fain that the night were overpassed. They issue forth of the chapel. The damsel maketh Messire Gawain be greatly honoured that night, and there was great company of knights within that served him and helped guard the castle. They show Messire Gawain much worship, but they knew not that it was he, nor did none ask him, for such was the custom of the castle. But well she knew that he oftentimes passed to and fro amidst the forest, and four of the knights that watched the forest and the passers-by had she commanded that and if any of these three knights should pass they should bring him to her without gainsay, and she would increase the land of each for so doing.
Messire Gawain was in the castle that night until the morrow, and went to hear mass in the chapel or ever he removed thence. Afterward, when he had heard mass and was armed, he took leave of the damsel and issued forth of the castle as he that had no desire to abide there longer. And he entereth into the forest and rideth a long league Welsh and findeth two knights sitting by a narrow path in the forest. And when they see him coming they leap up on their horses all armed and come against Messire Gawain, shields on sides and spears in fists. `Bide, Sir knight!' say they, `And tell us your name without leasing!' `Lords,' saith he, `Right willingly! never hath my name been with-holden when it hath been asked for. I am called Gawain, King Arthur's nephew.' `Nay, then, Sir, welcome may you be! One other demand have we to make of you. Will you come with us to the lady in the world who most desireth you, and will make much joy of you at Castle Orguelleux where she is?' `Lord,' saith Messire Gawain, `No leisure have I at this time, for I have emprised my way else-whither.' `Sir,' say they, `Needs must you come thither without fail, for in such wise hath she commanded us that we shall take you thither by force an you come not of your own good-will.' `I have told you plainly that thither will I not go,' saith Messire Gawain. With that, they leap forward and take him by the bridle, thinking to lead him away by force. And Messire Gawain hath shame thereof, and draweth his sword and smiteth one of them in such wrath that he cutteth off his arm. And the other letteth the bridle go and turneth him full speed; and his fellow with him that was maimed. And away go they toward Castle Orguelleux and the Proud Maiden of the castle and show her the mischief that hath befallen them. `Who hath mis-handled you thus?' saith she. `Certes, lady, Messire Gawain.' `Where found you him?' `Lady,' say they, In the forest, where he came toward us a full gallop, and was minded to pass by the narrows of the way, when we bade him abide and come to you. But come he would not. We offered him force, and he smote my fellow's arm off.' She biddeth a horn be sounded incontinent, and the knights of the castle arm, and she commandeth them follow Messire Gawain, and saith that she will increase the land and the charge of him that shall bring him to her. They were a good fifteen knights armed. Just as they were about to issue out of the castle, behold you forthwith two keepers of the forest where they come, both twain of them smitten through the body. The damsel and the knights ask who hath done this to them, and they say it was Messire Gawain that did it, for that they would have brought him to the castle. `Is he far away?' saith the damsel. `Yea,' say they, Four great leagues Welsh.' `Wherefore the greater folly would it be to follow him,' saith one of the sixteen knights, `For nought should we increase thereby save only our own shame and hurt, and my Lady hath lost him through her own default, for well know we that he it was that lay within, for that he beareth a shield sinople with a golden eagle.' `Yea,' saith the wounded knight, `Without fail.' `Is this then he?' saith the damsel. `I know him well now that I have lost him by my pride and by my outrage; nor never more will knight lie in my hostel sith that he will be estranged for that I ask not his name. But it is too late! Herein have I failed of this one for ever and ever save God bring him back to me, and through this one shall I lose the other two!'
Herewithal cometh to a stay the pursuit of Messire Gawain, that goeth his way and prayeth God that He send him true counsel of that he hath emprised, and that He allow him to come into some place where he may hear true witting of the hostel of King Fisherman. And while he was thus thinking, he heareth a brachet questing, and he cometh toward him a great pace. When he is come anigh Messire Gawain he setteth his nose to the ground and findeth a track of blood through a grassy way in the forest, and when Messire Gawain was minded to leave the way where the track of blood was, the brachet came over against him and quested. Messire Gawain is minded not to abandon the track, wherefore he followeth the brachet a great pace until he cometh to a marish in the midst of the forest, and seeth there in the marish a house, ancient and decayed. He passeth with the brachet over the bridge, that was right feeble, and there was a great water under it, and cometh to the hall, that was wasted and old. And the brachet leaveth of his questing. Messire Gawain seeth in the midst of the house a knight that was stricken right through the breast unto the heart and there lay dead. A damsel was issuing forth of the chamber and bare the winding-sheet wherein to enshroud him. `Damsel,' saith Messire Gawain, `Good adventure may you have!' The damsel that was weeping right tenderly, saith to him: `Sir, I will answer you not.' She cometh toward the dead knight, thinking that his wounds should have begun to bleed afresh, but they did not. `Sir,' saith she to Messire Gawain, `Welcome may you be!' `Damsel,' saith he, `God grant you greater joy than you have!' And the damsel saith to the brachet: `It was not this one I sent you back to fetch, but him that slew this knight.' `Know you then, damsel, who hath slain him?' saith Messire Gawain. `Yea,' saith she, `well! Lancelot of the Lake slew him in this forest, on whom God grant me vengeance, and on all them of King Arthur's court, for sore mischief and great hurt have they wrought us! But, please God, right well shall this knight yet be avenged, for a right fair son hath he whose sister am I, and so hath he many good friends withal.' `Damsel, to God I commend you!' saith Messire Gawain. With that, he issueth forth of the Waste Manor and betaketh him back to the way he had abandoned, and prayeth God grant he may find Lancelot of the Lake.
- THE HIGH HISTORY OF THE
Here beginneth again another branch of the Graal in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Messire Gawain goeth his way and evening draweth on; and on his right hand was there a narrow pathway that seemed him to be haunted of folk. Thitherward goeth he, for that he seeth the sun waxeth low, and findeth in the thick of the forest a great chapel, and without was a right fair manor. Before the chapel was an orchard enclosed of a wooden fence that was scarce so high as a tall man. A hermit that seemed him a right worshipful man was leaning against the fence, and looked into the orchard and made great cheer from time to time. He seeth Messire Gawain, and cometh to meet him, and Messire Gawain alighteth. `Sir,' saith the hermit, `Welcome may you be.' `God grant you the joy of Paradise,' saith Messire Gawain. The hermit maketh his horse be stabled of a squire, and then taketh him by the hand and maketh him sit beside him to look on the orchard. `Sir,' saith the hermit, `Now may you see that whereof I was making cheer.' Messire Gawain looketh therewithin and seeth two damsels and a squire and a child that were guarding a lion. `Sir,' saith the hermit, `Here see you my joy, which is this child. Saw you ever so fair a child of his age?' `Never,' saith Messire Gawain. They go into the orchard to sit, for the evening was fair and calm. He maketh disarm him, and thereupon the damsel bringeth him a surcoat of right rich silk furred of ermine. And Messire Gawain looketh at the child that rode upon the lion right fainly. `Sir,' saith the hermit, `None durst guard him or be master over him save this child only, and yet the lad is not more than six years of age. Sir, he is of right noble lineage, albeit he is the son of the most cruel man and most felon that is. Marin the Jealous is his father, that slew his wife on account of Messire Gawain. Never sithence that his mother was dead would not the lad be with his father, for well knoweth he that he slew her of wrong. And I am his uncle, so I make him be tended here of these damsels and these two squires, but no one thing is there that he so much desireth to see as Messire Gawain. For after his father's death ought he of right to be Messire Gawain's man. Sir, if any tidings you know of him, tell us them.' `By my faith, Sir,' saith he, `Tidings true can I give you. Lo, there is his shield and his spear, and himself shall you have this night for guest.' `Fair sir, are you he?' saith the hermit. `So men call me,' saith Messire Gawain, `And the lady saw I slain in the forest, whereof was I sore an-angered.'
`Fair nephew,' saith the hermit, `See here your desire. Come to him and make him cheer.' The lad alighteth of the lion and smiteth him with a whip and leadeth him to the den and maketh the door so that he may not issue forth, and cometh to Messire Gawain, and Messire Gawain receiveth him between his arms. `Sir,' saith the child, `Welcome may you be!' `God give you growth of honour!' saith Messire Gawain. He kisseth him and maketh cheer with him right sweetly. `Sir,' saith the hermit, `He will be of right your man, wherefore ought you to counsel him and help him, for through you came his mother by her death, and right sore need will he have of your succour.' The child kneeleth before him and holdeth up his joined hands. `Look, Sir,' saith the hermit, `Is he not right pitiful? He offereth you his homage.' And Messire Gawain setteth his hands within his own: `Certes,' saith Messire Gawain, `Both your honour and your homage receive I gladly, and my succour and my counsel shall you have so often as you shall have need thereof. But fain would I know your name?' `Sir, I am called Meliot of Logres.' `Sir,' saith the hermit, `He saith true, for his mother was daughter of a rich earl of the kingdom of Logres.'
Messire Gawain was well harboured the night and lay in a right fair house and right rich. In the morning, when Messire Gawain had heard mass, the hermit asked him, `Whither ward go you?' and he said, `Toward the land of King Fisherman, and God allow me.' `Messire Gawain,' saith the hermit, `Now God grant you speed your business better than did the other knight that was there before you, through whom are all the lands fallen into sorrow, and the good King Fisherman languisheth thereof.' `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `God grant me herein to do His pleasure.' Thereupon he taketh his leave and goeth his way, and the hermit commendeth him to God. And Messire Gawain rideth on his journeys until he hath left far behind the forest of the hermitage, and findeth the fairest land in the world and the fairest meadowlands that ever had he seen, and it lasted a good couple of great leagues Welsh. And he seeth a high forest before him, and meeteth a squire that came from that quarter, and seeth that he is sore downcast and right simple. `Fair friend,' saith Messire Gawain, `Whence come you?' `Sir,' saith he, `I come from yonder forest down below.' `Whose man are you?' saith Messire Gawain. `I belong to the worshipful man that owneth the forest.' `You seem not over joyful,' saith Messire Gawain. `Sir, I have right to be otherwise,' saith the squire, `For he that loseth his good lord ought not to be joyful.' `And who is your lord?' `The best in the world.' `Is he dead?' saith Messire Gawain. `Nay, of a truth, for that would be right sore grief to the world, but in joy hath he not been this long time past.' `And what name hath he?' `They call him Parlui there where he is.' `And where then, is he, may I know?' `In no wise, Sir, of me; but so much may I well tell you that he is in this forest, but I ought not to learn you of the place more at large, nor ought I to do any one thing that may be against my master's will.' Messire Gawain seeth that the squire is of passing comeliness and seeth him forthwith bow his head toward the ground and the tears fall from his eyes. Thereupon he asketh what aileth him. `Sir,' saith he, `Never may I have joy until such time as I be entered into a hermitage to save my soul. For the greatest sin that any man may do have I wrought; for I have slain my mother that was a Queen, for this only that she told me I should not be King after my father's death, for that she would make me monk or clerk, and that my other brother, who is younger-born than I, should have the kingdom. When my father knew that I had slain my mother, he withdrew himself into this forest, and made a hermitage and renounced his kingdom. I have no will to hold the land for the great disloyalty that I have wrought, and therefore am I resolved that it is meeter I should set my body in banishment than my father.' `And what is your name?' saith Messire Gawain. `Sir, my name is Joseus, and I am of the lineage of Joseph of Abarimacie. King Pelles is my father, that is in this forest, and King Fisherman mine uncle, and the King of Castle Mortal, and the Widow Lady of Camelot my aunt, and the Good Knight Par-lui-fet is of this lineage as near akin as I.'
With that, the squire departeth and taketh leave of Messire Gawain, and he commendeth him to God and hath great pity of him, and entereth into the forest and goeth great pace, and findeth the stream of a spring that ran with a great rushing, and nigh thereunto was a way that was much haunted. He abandoneth his high-way, and goeth all along the stream from the spring that lasteth a long league plenary, until that he espieth a right fair house and right fair chapel well enclosed within a hedge of wood. He looketh from without the entrance under a little tree and seeth there sitting one of the seemliest men that he had ever seen of his age. And he was clad as a hermit, his head white and no hair on his face, and he held his hand to his chin, and made a squire hold a destrier right fair and strong and tall, and a shield with a sun thereon; and he was looking at a habergeon and chausses of iron that he had made bring before him. And when he seeth Messire Gawain he dresseth him over against him and saith: `Fair sir,' saith he, `Ride gently and make no noise, for no need have we of worse than that we have.' And Messire Gawain draweth rein, and the worshipful man saith to him: `Sir, for God's sake take it not of discourtesy; for right fainly would I have besought you to harbour had I not good cause to excuse me, but a knight lieth within yonder sick, that is held for the best knight in the world. Wherefore fain would I he should have no knight come within this close, for and if he should rise, as sick as he is, none might prevent him nor hold him back, but presently he should arm him and mount on his horse and joust at you or any other; and so he were here, well might we be the worse thereof. And therefore do I keep him so close and quiet within yonder, for that I would not have him see you nor none other, for and he were so soon to die, sore loss would it be to the world.' `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, What name hath he?' `Sir,' saith he, `He hath made him of himself, and therefore do I call him Par-lui-fet, of dearness and love.' `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `May it not be in any wise that I may see him?' `Sir,' saith the hermit, `I have told you plainly that nowise may it not be. No strange man shall not see him within yonder until such time as he be whole and of good cheer.' `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `Will you in nowise do nought for me whatsoever I may say? ` `Certes, sir, no one thing is there in the world that I would tell him, save he spake first to me.' Hereof is Messire Gawain right sorrowful that he may not speak to the knight. `Sir,' saith he to the hermit, `Of what age is the knight, and of what lineage?' `Of the lineage of Joseph of Abarimacie the Good Soldier.'
Thereupon behold you a damsel that cometh to the door of the chapel and calleth very low to the hermit, and the hermit riseth up and taketh leave of Messire Gawain, and shutteth the door of the chapel; and the squire leadeth away the destrier and beareth the arms within door and shutteth the postern door of the house. And Messire abideth without and knoweth not of a truth whether it be the son of the Widow Lady, for many good men there be of one lineage. He departeth all abashed and entereth again into the forest. The history telleth not all the journeys that he made. Rather, I tell you in brief words that he wandered so far by lands and kingdoms that he found a right fair land and a rich, and a castle seated in the midst thereof. Thitherward goeth he and draweth nigh the castle and seeth it compassed about of high walls, and he seeth the entrance of the castle far without. He looketh and seeth a lion chained that lay in the midst of the entrance to the gate, and the chain was fixed in the wall. And on either side of the gate he seeth two serjeants of beaten copper that were fixed to the wall, and by engine shot forth quarrels from their cross-bows with great force and great wrath. Messire Gawain durst not come anigh the gate for that he seeth the lion and these folk. He looketh above on the top of the wall and seeth a sort of folk that seemed him to be of holy life, and saw there priests clad in albs and knights bald and ancient that were clad in ancient seeming garments. And in each crenel of the wall was a cross and a chapel. Above the wall, hard by an issue from a great hall that was in the castle, was another chapel, and above the chapel was a tall cross, and on either side of this cross another that was somewhat lower, and on the top of each cross was a golden eagle. The priests and the knights were upon the walls and knelt toward this chapel, and looked up to heaven and made great joy, and well it seemed him that they beheld God in Heaven with His Mother. Messire Gawain looketh at them from afar, for he durst not come anigh the castle for these that shoot their arrows so strongly that none armour might defend him. Way seeth he none to right nor left save he go back again. He knoweth not what to do. He looketh before him and seeth a priest issue forth of the gateway. `Fair sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `Welcome may you be! ` `Good adventure to you also,' saith the good man, `What is your pleasure?' `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `So please you, I would fain ask you to tell me what castle is this?' `It is,' saith he, `the entrance to the land of the rich King Fisherman, and within yonder are they beginning the service of the Most Holy Graal.' `Allow me then,' saith Messire Gawain, `that I may pass on further, for toward the land of King Fisherman have I emprised my way.' `Sir,' saith the priest, `I tell you of a truth that you may not enter the castle nor come nigher unto the Holy Graal, save you bring the sword wherewith S. John was beheaded.' `What?' saith Messire Gawain, `Shall I be evilly entreated and I bring it not?' `So much may you well believe me herein,' saith the priest, `And I tell you moreover that he who hath it is the fellest misbelieving King that lives. But so you bring the sword, this entrance will be free to you, and great joy will be made of you in all places wherein King Fisherman hath power.' `Then must I needs go back again,' saith Messire Gawain, `Whereof I have right to be sore sorrowful.' `So ought you not to be,' saith the priest, `For, so you bring the sword and conquer it for us, then will it be well known that you are worthy to behold the Holy Graal. But take heed you remember him who would not ask whereof it served.' Thereupon Messire Gawain departeth so sorrowful and full of thought that he remembereth not to ask in what land he may find the sword nor the name of the King that hath it. But he will know tidings thereof when God pleaseth.
The history telleth us and witnesseth that he rode so far that he came to the side of a little hill, and the day was right fair and clear. He looketh in front of him before a chapel and seeth a tall burgess sitting on a great destrier that was right rich and fair. The burgess espieth Messire Gawain and cometh over against him, and saluteth him right courteously and Messire Gawain him. `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `God give you joy.' `Sir,' saith the goodman, `Right sorrowful am I of this that you have a horse so lean and spare of flesh. Better would it become so worshipful man as you seem to be that he were better horsed.' `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `I may not now amend it, whereof am I sorry; another shall I have when it shall please God.' `Fair sir,' saith the burgess, `Whither are you bound to go?' `I go seek the sword wherewith the head of S. John Baptist was cut off.' `Ha, sir,' saith the burgess, `You are running too sore a peril. A King hath it that believeth not in God, and is sore fell and cruel. He is named Gurgalain, and many knights have passed hereby that went thither for the sword, but never thence have they returned. But, and you are willing to pledge me your word that so God grant you to conquer the sword, you will return hither and show it me on your return, I will give you this destrier, which is right rich, for your own.' `Will you?' saith Messire Gawain, `Then are you right courteous, for you know me not.' `Certes, sir,' saith he, `So worshipful man seem you to be, that you will hold well to this that you have covenanted with me.' `And to this do I pledge you my word,' saith Messire Gawain, `that, so God allow me to conquer it, I will show it to you on my return.'
Thereupon the burgess alighteth and mounteth upon Messire Gawain's horse, and Messire Gawain upon his, and taketh leave of the burgess and goeth his way and entereth into a right great forest beyond the city, and rideth until sundown and findeth neither castle nor city. And he findeth a meadow in the midst of the forest, right broad, and it ran on beyond, like as there were the stream of a spring in the midst. He looketh toward the foot of the meadow close by the forest, and seeth a right large tent, whereof the cords were of silk and the pegs of ivory fixed in the ground, and the tops of the poles of gold and upon each was a golden eagle. The tent was white round about, and the hanging above was of the richest silk, the same as red samite. Thitherward goeth Messire Gawain and alighteth before the door of the tent, and smiteth off the bridle of his horse, and letteth him feed on the grass, and leaneth his spear and his shield without the tent, and looketh narrowly within and seeth a right rich couch of silk and gold, and below was a cloth unfolded as it were a feather-bed, and above a coverlid of ermine and vair without any gold, and at the head of the couch two pillows so rich that fairer none ever saw, and such sweet smell gave they forth that it seemed the tent was sprinkled of balm. And round about the couch were rich silken cloths spread on the ground. And at the head of the couch on the one side and the other were two seats of ivory, and upon them were two cushions stuffed with straw, right rich, and at the foot of the couch, above the bed, two candlesticks of gold wherein were two tall waxen tapers. A table was set in the midst of the tent, that was all of ivory banded of gold, with rich precious stones, and upon the table was the napkin spread and the basin of silver and the knife with an ivory handle and the rich set of golden vessels. Messire Gawain seeth the rich couch and setteth him down thereon all armed in the midst, and marvelleth him wherefore the tent is so richly apparelled and yet more that therein he seeth not a soul. Howbeit, he was minded to disarm him.
Thereupon, behold you, a dwarf that entereth the tent and saluteth Messire Gawain. Then he kneeleth before him and would fain disarm him. Then Messire Gawain remembereth him of the dwarf through whom the lady was slain. `Fair sweet friend, withdraw yourself further from me, for as at this time I have no mind to disarm.' `Sir,' saith the dwarf, `Without misgiving may you do so, for until to-morrow have you no occasion to be on your guard, and never were you more richly lodged than to-night you shall be, nor more honourably.' With that Messire Gawain began to disarm him, and the dwarf helpeth him. And when he was disarmed, he setteth his arms nigh the couch and his spear and sword and shield lying within the tent, and the dwarf taketh a basin of silver and a white napkin, and maketh Messire Gawain wash his hands and his face. Afterward, he unfasteneth a right fair coffer, and draweth forth a robe of cloth of gold furred of ermine and maketh Messire Gawain be clad therewithal. `Sir,' saith the dwarf, `Be not troubled as touching your destrier, for you will have him again when you rise in the morning. I will lead him close hereby to be better at ease, and then will I return to you.' And Messire Gawain giveth him leave. Thereupon, behold you, two squires that bear in the wine and set the meats upon the table and make Messire Gawain sit to eat, and they have great torches lighted on a tall cresset of gold and depart swiftly. Whilst Messire Gawain was eating, behold you, thereupon, two damsels that come into the tent and salute him right courteously. And he maketh answer, the fairest he may. `Sir,' say the damsels, `God grant you force and power to-morrow to destroy the evil custom of this tent.' `Is there then any evil custom herein, damsel?' saith he. `Yea, sir, a right foul custom, whereof much it grieveth me, but well meseemeth that you are the knight to amend it by the help of God.'
Therewith he riseth from the table, and one of the squires was apparelled to take away the cloths. And the two damsels take him by the hand and lead him without the tent, and they set them down in the midst of the meadow. `Sir,' saith the elder damsel, `What is your name?' `Damsel,' saith he, `Gawain is my name.' `Thereof do we love you the better, for well we know that the evil custom of the tent shall be done away on condition that you choose to-night the one of us two that most shall please you.' `Damsel, gramercy,' saith he. Thereupon he riseth up, for he was weary, and draweth him toward the couch, and the damsels help him and wait upon his going to bed. And when he was lien down, they seated themselves before him and lighted the taper and leant over the couch and proffered him much service. Messire Gawain answered them naught save `Gramercy,' for he was minded to sleep and take his rest. `By God,' saith the one to the other, `And this were Messire Gawain, King Arthur's nephew, he would speak to us after another sort, and more of disport should we find in him than in this one. But this is a counterfeit Gawain, and the honour we have done him hath been ill bestowed. Who careth? To-morrow shall he pay his reckoning.'
Thereupon, lo you, the dwarf where he cometh. `Fair friend,' say they, `Keep good watch over this knight that he flee not away, for he goeth a-cadging from hostel to hostel and maketh him be called Messire Gawain, but Messire Gawain meseemeth is he not. For, and it were he, and we had been minded to watch with him two nights, he would have wished it to be three or four.' `Damsel,' saith the dwarf, `He may not flee away save he go afoot, for his horse is in my keeping.' And Messire Gawain heareth well enough that which the damsels say, but he answereth them never a word. Thereupon they depart, and say: `God give him an ill night, for an evil knight and a vanquished and recreant, and command the dwarf that he move not on any occasion. Messire Gawain slept right little the night, and so soon as he saw the day, arose and found his arms ready and his horse that had been led all ready saddled before the tent. He armed himself as swiftly as he might, and the dwarf helpeth him and saith to him: `Sir, you have not done service to our damsels as they would fain you should, wherefore they make sore complaint of you.' `That grieveth me,' saith Messire Gawain, `if that I have deserved it.' `It is great pity,' saith the dwarf, `when knight so comely as be you is so churlish as they say.' `They may say their pleasure,' saith he, `for it is their right. I know not to whom to render thanks for the good lodging that I have had save to God, and if I shall see the lord of the tent or the lady I shall con them much thanks thereof.'
Thereupon, lo you, where two knights come in front of the tent on their horses, all armed, and see Messire Gawain that was mounted and had his shield on his neck and his spear in his fist, as he that thinketh to go without doing aught further. And the knights come before him: `Sir,' say they, `Pay for your lodging! Last night did we put ourselves to misease on your account and left you the tent and all that is therein at your pleasure, and now you are fain to go in this fashion.' `What pleaseth it you that I should do?' saith Messire Gawain. `It is meet I should requite you of my victual and the honour of the tent.' Thereupon, lo you, where the two damsels come that were of right great beauty. `Sir Knight,' say they, `Now shall we see whether you be King Arthur's nephew!' `By my faith,' saith the dwarf, `Methinketh this is not he that shall do away the evil custom whereby we lose the coming hither of knights! Albeit if he may do it, I will forego mine ill will toward him.' Messire Gawain thus heard himself mocked by day as well as by night and had great shame thereof. He seeth that he may not depart without a fight. One of the knights drew to backward and was alighted; the other was upon his horse all armed, his shield on his neck and grasping his spear in his fist. And he cometh toward Messire Gawain full career and Messire Gawain toward him, and smiteth him so wrathfully that he pierceth his shield and pinneth his shield to his arm and his arm to his rib and thrusteth his spear into his body, and hurtleth against him so sore that he beareth him to the ground, him and his horse together at the first blow. `By my head! Look at Messire Gawain the counterfeit! Better doth he to-day than he did last night!' He draweth back his spear, and pulleth forth his sword and runneth upon him, when the knight crieth him mercy and saith that he holdeth himself vanquished. Messire Gawain bethinketh him what he shall do and whether the damsels are looking at him. `Sir knight,' saith the elder, `Need you not fear the other knight until such time as this one be slain, nor will the evil custom be done away so long as this one is on live. For he is the lord of the other and because of the shameful custom hath no knight come hither this right long space.' `Hearken now,' saith the knight, `the great disloyalty of her! Nought in the world is there she loved so well in seeming as did she me, and now hath she adjudged me my death!' `Again I tell you plainly,' saith she, `that never will it be done away unless he slay you.' Thereupon Messire Gawain lifteth the skirt of his habergeon and thrusteth his sword into his body. Thereupon, lo you, the other knight, right angry and sorrowful and full of wrath for his fellow that he seeth dead, and cometh in great rage to Messire Gawain and Messire Gawain to him, and so stoutly they mell together that they pierce the shields and pierce the habergeons and break the flesh of the ribs with the points of their spears, and the bodies of the knights and their horses hurtle together so stiffly that saddle-bows are to-frushed and stirrups loosened and girths to-brast and fewtres splintered and spears snapped short, and the knights drop to the ground with such a shock that the blood rayeth forth at mouth and nose. In the fall that the knight made, Messire Gawain brake his collar-bone in the hurtle. Thereupon the dwarf crieth out: `Damsel, your counterfeit Gawain doth it well!' `Our Gawain shall he be,' say they, `so none take him from us!' Messire Gawain draweth from over the knight and cometh toward his horse, and right fain would he have let the knight live had it not been for the damsels. For the knight crieth him mercy and Messire Gawain had right great pity of him. Howbeit the damsels cry to him; `And you slay him not, the evil custom will not be overthrown.' `Sir,' saith the younger damsel, `And you would slay him, smite him in the sole of his foot with your sword, otherwise will he not die yet.' `Damsel,' saith the knight, `Your love of me is turned to shame! Never more ought knight to set affiance nor love on damsel. But God keep the other that they be not such as you!' Messire Gawain marvelleth at this that the damsel saith to him, and draweth him back, and hath great pity of the knight, and cometh to the other side whither the horses were gone, and taketh the saddle of the knight that was dead and setteth it on his own horse and draweth him away. And the wounded knight was remounted, for the dwarf had helped him, and fleeth toward the forest a great gallop. And the damsels cry out, `Messire Gawain, your pity will be our death this day! For the Knight without Pity is gone for succour, and if he escape, we shall be dead and you also!'
Thereupon Messire Gawain leapeth on his horse and taketh a spear that was leaning against the tent and followeth the knight in such sort that he smiteth him to the ground. Afterward he saith to him: `No further may you go!' `That grieveth me,' saith the knight, `For before night should I have been avenged of you and of the damsels.' And Messire Gawain draweth his sword and thrusteth it into the sole of his foot a full palm's breadth, and the knight stretcheth himself forth and dieth. And Messire Gawain returneth back, and the damsels make great joy of him and tell him that never otherwise could the evil custom have been done away. For, and he had gone his way, all would have been to begin over again, for he is of such kind seeing that he was of the kindred of Achilles, and that all his ancestors might never otherwise die. And Messire Gawain alighteth, and the damsels would have searched the wound in his side, and he telleth them that he taketh no heed thereof. `Sir,' say they, `Again do we proffer you our service, for well we know that you are a good knight. Take for your lady-love which of us you will.' `Gramercy, damsel,' saith Messire Gawain, `Your love do I refuse not and to God do I commend you.' `How?' say the damsels, `Will you go your way thus? Certes, meeter were it to-day for you to sojourn in this tent and be at ease.' `It may not be,' saith he, `for leisure have I none to abide here.' `Let him go!' saith the younger, `for the falsest knight is he of the world.' `By my head,' saith the elder, `it grieveth me that he goeth, for his stay would have pleased me well.' Therewithal Messire Gawain departeth and is remounted on his horse. Then he entereth into the forest.
- THE HIGH HISTORY OF THE
Another branch that Josephus telleth us recounteth and witnesseth of the Holy Graal, and here beginneth for us in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Messire Gawain rode until he came to a forest, and seeth a land right fair and rich in a great enclosure of wall, and round the land and country-side within, the wall stretched right far away. Thitherward he cometh and seeth but one entrance thereinto, and he seeth the fairest land that ever he beheld and the best garnished and the fairest orchards. The country was not more than four leagues Welsh in length, and in the midst thereof was a tower on a high rock. And on the top was a crane that kept watch over it and cried when any strange man came into the country. Messire Gawain rode amidst the land and the crane cried out so loud that the King of Wales heard it, that was lord of the land. Thereupon, behold you, two knights that come after Messire Gawain and say to him: `Hold, Sir Knight, and come speak with the king of this country, for no strange knight passeth through his land but he seeth him.' `Lords,' saith Messire Gawain, `I knew not of the custom. Willingly will I go.' They led him thither to the hall where the King was, and Messire Gawain alighteth and setteth his shield and his spear leaning against a mounting stage and goeth up into the hall. The King maketh great joy of him and asketh him whither he would go? `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `Into a country where I was never.' `Well I know,' saith the king, `where it is, for that you are passing through my land. You are going to the country of King Gurgalain to conquer the sword wherewith S. John was beheaded.'
`Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `You say true. God grant me that I may have it!' `That may not be so hastily,' saith the King, `For you shall not go forth of my land before a year.' `Ha, Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `For God's sake, mercy!' `None other mercy is here,' saith the King. Straightway he maketh Messire Gawain be disarmed and afterward maketh bring a robe wherewith to apparel him, and showeth him much honour. But ill is he at ease, wherefore he saith to him: `Sir, wherefore are you fain to hold me here within so long?' `For this, that I know well you will have the sword and will not return by me.' `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `I pledge you my word that, so God give me to conquer it, I will return by you.' `And I will allow you to depart from me at your will. For nought is there that I so much desire to see.' He lay the night therewithin, and on the morrow departed thence and issued forth of the land right glad and joyful. And he goeth toward the land of King Gurgalain. And he entereth into a noisome forest at the lower part and findeth at the right hour of noon a fountain that was enclosed of marble, and it was overshadowed of the forest like as it were with leaves down below, and it had rich pillars of marble all round about with fillets of gold and set with precious stones. Against the master-pillar hung a vessel of gold by a silver chain, and in the midst of the fountain was an image so deftly wrought as if it had been alive. When Messire appeared at the fountain, the image set itself in the water and was hidden therewith. Messire Gawain goeth down, and would fain have taken hold on the vessel of gold when a voice crieth out to him: `You are not the Good Knight unto whom is served thereof and who thereby is made whole.' Messire Gawain draweth him back and seeth a clerk come to the fountain that was young of age and clad in white garments, and he had a stole on his arm and held a little square vessel of gold, and cometh to the little vessel that was hanging on the marble pillar and looketh therein, and then rinseth out the other little golden vessel that he held, and then setteth the one that he held in the place of the other.
Therewithal, behold, three damsels that come of right great beauty, and they had white garments and their heads were covered with white cloths, and they carried, one, bread in a little golden vessel, and the other wine in a little ivory vessel, and the third flesh in one of silver. And they come to the vessel of gold that hung against the pillar and set therein that which they have brought, and afterward they make the sign of the cross over the pillar and come back again. But on their going back, it seemed to Messire Gawain that only one was there. Messire Gawain much marvelled him of this miracle. He goeth after the clerk that carried the other vessel of gold, and saith unto him: `Fair Sir, speak to me.' `What is your pleasure?' saith the clerk. `Whither carry you this golden vessel and that which is therein?' `To the hermits,' saith he, `that are in this forest, and to the Good Knight that lieth sick in the house of his uncle King Hermit.' `Is it far from hence?' saith Messire Gawain. `Yea, Sir,' saith the clerk, `to yourself. But I shall be there sooner than will you.' `By God,' saith Messire Gawain, `I would fain I were there now, so that I might see him and speak to him.' `That believe I well,' saith the clerk, `But now is the place not here.' Messire Gawain taketh leave and goeth his way and rideth until he findeth a hermitage and seeth the hermit therewithout. He was old and bald and of good life. `Sir,' saith he to Messire Gawain, `Whither go you?' `To the land of King Gurgalain, Sir; is this the way?' `Yea,' saith the hermit, `But many knights have passed hereby that hither have never returned.' `Is it far?' saith he. `He and his land are hard by, but far away is the castle wherein is the sword.' Messire Gawain lay the night therewithin. On the morrow when he had heard mass, he departed and rode until he cometh to the land of King Gurgalain, and heareth the folk of the land making dole right sore. And he meeteth a knight that cometh a great pace to a castle.
`Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `Wherefore make the folk of this castle such dole, and they of all this land and all this country? For I hear them weep and beat their palms together on every side.' `Sir,' saith he, `I will tell you. King Gurgalain had one only son of whom he hath been bereft by a Giant that hath done him many mischiefs and wasted much of his land. Now hath the King let everywhere be cried that to him that shall bring back his son and slay the Giant he will give the fairest sword of the world, the which sword he hath, and of all his treasure so much as he may be fain to take. As at this time, he findeth no knight so hardy that he durst go; and much more blameth he his own law than the law of the Christians, and he saith that if any Christian should come into his land, he would receive him.' Right joyous is Messire Gawain of these tidings, and departeth from the castle and rideth on until he cometh to the castle of King Gurgalain. The tidings come to the King that there is a Christian come into his castle. The King maketh great joy thereof, and maketh him come before him and asketh him of his name and of what land he is. `Sir,' saith he, `My name is Gawain and I am of the land of King Arthur.' `You are,' saith he, `of the land of the Good Knight. But of mine own land may I find none that durst give counsel in a matter I have on hand. But if you be of such valour that you be willing to undertake to counsel me herein, right well will I reward you. A Giant hath carried off my son whom I loved greatly, and so you be willing to set your body in jeopardy for my son, I will give you the richest sword that was ever forged, whereby the head of S. John was cut off. Every day at right noon is it bloody, for that at that hour the good man had his head cut off.' The King made fetch him the sword, and in the first place showeth him the scabbard that was loaded of precious stones and the mountings were of silk with buttons of gold, and the hilt in likewise, and the pommel of a most holy sacred stone that Enax, a high emperor of Rome, made be set thereon. Then the King draweth it forth of the scabbard, and the sword came forth thereof all bloody, for it was the hour of noon. And he made hold it before Messire Gawain until the hour was past, and thereafter the sword becometh as clear as an emerald and as green. And Messire looketh at it and coveteth it much more than ever he did before, and he seeth that it is as long as another sword, albeit, when it is sheathed in the scabbard, neither scabbard nor sword seemeth of two spans length.
`Sir Knight,' saith the King, `This sword will I give you, and another thing will I do whereof you shall have joy.' `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `And I will do your need, if God please and His sweet Mother.' Thereupon he teacheth him the way whereby the Giant went, and the place where he had his repair, and Messire Gawain goeth his way thitherward and commendeth himself to God. The country folk pray for him according to their belief that he may back repair with life and health, for that he goeth in great peril. He hath ridden until that he cometh to a great high mountain that lay round about a land that the Giant had all laid waste, and the enclosure of the mountain went round about for a good three leagues Welsh, and therewithin was the Giant, so great and cruel and horrible that he feared no man in the world, and for a long time had he not been sought out by any knight, for none durst won in that quarter. And the pass of the mountain whereby he went to his hold was so strait that no horse might get through; wherefore behoveth Messire Gawain leave his horse and his shield and spear and to pass beyond the mountain by sheer force, for the way was like a cut between sharp rocks. He is come to level ground and looketh before him and seeth a hold that the Giant had on the top of a rock, and espieth the Giant and the lad where they were sitting on the level ground under a tree. Messire Gawain was armed and had his sword girt on, and goeth his way thitherward. And the Giant seeth him coming and leapeth up and taketh in hand a great axe that was at his side, and cometh toward Messire Gawain all girded for the fight and thinketh to smite him a two-handed stroke right amidst the head. But Messire Gawain swerveth aside and bestirreth him with his sword and dealeth him a blow such that he cut off his arm, axe and all. And the Giant returneth backward when he feeleth himself wounded, and taketh the King's son by the neck with his other hand and grippeth him so straitly that he strangleth and slayeth him. Then he cometh back to Messire Gawain and falleth upon him and grippeth him sore strait by the flanks, and lifteth him three foot high off the ground and thinketh to carry him to his hold that was within the rock. And as he goeth thither he falleth, Messire Gawain and all, and he lieth undermost. Howbeit, he thinketh to rise, but cannot, for Messire Gawain sendeth him his sword right through his heart and beyond. Afterward, he cut off the head and cometh there where the King's child lay dead, whereof is he right sorrowful. And he beareth him on his neck, and taketh the Giant's head in his hand and returneth there where he had left his horse and shield and spear, and mounteth and cometh back and bringeth the King's son before the King and the head of the Giant hanging.
The King and all they of the castle come to meet him with right great joy, but when they see the young man dead, their great joy is turned into right great dole thereby. And Messire Gawain alighteth before the castle and presenteth to the King his son and the head of the Giant. `Certes,' said he, `might I have presented him to you on live, much more joyful should I have been thereof.' `This believe I well,' saith the King, `Howbeit, of so much as you have done am I well pleased, and your guerdon shall you have.' And he looketh at his son and lamenteth him right sweetly, and all they of the castle after him. Thereafter he maketh light a great show of torches in the midst of the city, and causeth a great fire to be made, and his son be set thereon in a brazen vessel all full of water, and maketh him be cooked and sodden over this fire, and maketh the Giant's head be hanged at the gate.
When his son was well cooked, he maketh him be cut up as small as he may, and biddeth send for all the high men of his land and giveth thereof to each so long as there was any left. After that he maketh bring the sword and giveth it to Messire Gawain, and Messire Gawain thanketh him much thereof. `More yet will I do for you,' saith the King. He biddeth send for all the men of his land to come to his hall and castle. `Sir,' saith he, `I am fain to baptize me.' `God be praised thereof,' saith Messire Gawain. The King biddeth send for a hermit of the forest, and maketh himself be baptized, and he had the name of Archis in right baptism; and of all them that were not willing to believe in God, he commanded Messire Gawain that he should cut off their heads.
In such wise was this King baptized that was the lord of Albanie, by the miracle of God and the knighthood of Messire Gawain, that departeth from the castle with right great joy and rideth until he has come into the land of the King of Wales and bethought him he would go fulfil his pledge. He alighted before the hall, and the King made right great cheer when he saw him come. And Messire Gawain hath told him: `I come to redeem my pledge. Behold, here is the sword.' And the King taketh it in his hand and looketh thereon right fainly, and afterward maketh great joy thereof and setteth it in his treasury and saith: `Now have I done my desire.' `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `Then have you betrayed me.' `By my head,' saith the King, `That have I not, for I am of the lineage of him that beheaded S. John, wherefore have I better right to it than you.' `Sir,' say the knights to the King, `Right loyal and courteous knight is Messire Gawain, wherefore yield him that which he hath conquered, for sore blame will you have of evil-treating him.' `I will yield it,' saith the King, `on such condition that the first damsel that maketh request of him, what thing soever she may require and whatsoever it be shall not be denied of him.' And Messire Gawain agreeth thereto, and of this agreement thereafter did he suffer much shame and anguish and was blamed of many knights. And the King yielded him the sword. He lay the night therewithin, and on the morrow so soon as he might, he departed and rode until he came without the city where the burgess gave him the horse in exchange for his own. And he remembered him of his covenant, and abideth a long space and leaneth him on the hilt of his sword until the burgess cometh. Therewithal made they great joy the one of the other, and Messire showeth him the sword, and the burgess taketh it and smiteth his horse with his spurs and goeth a great gallop toward the city. And Messire Gawain goeth after a great pace and crieth out that he doth great treachery. `Come not after me into the city,' saith the burgess, `for the folk have a commune.' Howbeit, he followeth after into the city for that he might not overtake him before, and therein he meeteth a great procession of priests and clerks that bore crosses and censers. And Messire Gawain alighteth on account of the procession, and seeth the burgess that hath gone into the church and the procession after. `Lords,' saith Messire Gawain, `Make yield me the sword whereof this burgess that hath entered your church hath plundered me.' `Sir,' say the priests, `Well know we that it is the sword wherewith S. John was beheaded, wherefore the burgess hath brought it to us to set with our hallows in yonder, and saith that it was given him.' `Ha, lords!' saith Messire Gawain, `Not so! I have but shown it to him to fulfil my pledge. And he hath carried it off by treachery.' Afterward he telleth them as it had befallen him, and the priests make the burgess give it up, and with great joy Messire Gawain departeth and remounteth his horse and issueth forth of the city. He hath scarce gone far before he meeteth a knight that came all armed, as fast as his horse could carry him, spear in rest. `Sir,' saith he to Messire Gawain, `I have come to help you. We were told that you had been evil-entreated in the city, and I am of the castle that succoureth all strange knights that pass hereby whensoever they have need thereof.' `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `Blessed be the castle! I plain me not of the trespass for that right hath been done me. And how is the castle named?' `Sir, they call it the Castle of the Ball. Will you return back thither with me, since you are delivered, and lodge there the night with Messire, that is a right worshipful man, and of good conditions?' Therewith they go together to the castle, that was right fair and well-seeming. They enter in, and when they were within, the Lord, that sate on a mounting-stage of marble, had two right fair daughters, and he made them play before him with a ball of gold, and looked at them right fainly. He seeth Messire Gawain alight and cometh to meet him and maketh him great cheer. Afterward, he biddeth his two daughters lead him into the hall.
When he was disarmed, the one brought him a right rich robe, and after meat the two maidens sit beside him and make him right great cheer. Thereupon behold you, a dwarf that issueth forth of a chamber, and he holdeth a scourge. And he cometh to the damsels and smiteth them over their faces and their heads. `Rise up,' saith he, `ye fools, ill-taught! Ye make cheer unto him whom you ought to hate! For this is Messire Gawain, King Arthur's nephew, by whom was your uncle slain!' Thereupon they rise, all ashamed, and go into the chamber, and Messire Gawain remaineth there sore abashed. But their father comforteth him and saith: `Sir, be not troubled for aught that he saith, for the dwarf is our master: he chastiseth and teacheth my daughters, and he is wroth for that you have slain his brother, whom you slew the day that Marin slew his wife on your account, whereof we are right sorrowful in this castle.' `So also am I,' saith Messire Gawain, `But no blame of her death have I nor she, as God knoweth of very truth.'
Messire Gawain lay the night at the castle, and departed on the morrow, and rode on his journeys until he cometh to the castle at the entrance to the land of the rich King Fisherman, where he seeth that the lion is not at the entrance nor were the serjeants of copper shooting. And he seeth in great procession the priests and them of the castle coming to meet him, and he alighteth, and a squire was apparelled ready, that took his armour and his horse, and he showeth the sword to them that were come to meet him. It was the hour of noon. He draweth the sword, and seeth it all bloody, and they bow down and worship it, and sing Te Deum laudamus. With such joy was Messire Gawain received at the castle, and he set the sword back in his scabbard, and kept it right anigh him, and made it not known in all the places where he lodged that it was such. The priests and knights of the castle make right great joy, and pray him right instantly that so God should lead him to the castle of King Fisherman, and the Graal should appear before him, he would not be so forgetful as the other knights. And he made answer that he would do that which God should teach him.
`Messire Gawain,' saith the master of the priests, that was right ancient: `Great need have you to take rest, for meseemeth you have had much travail.' `Sir, many things have I seen whereof I am sore abashed, nor know I what castle this may be.' `Sir,' saith the priest, `This Castle is the Castle of Inquest, for nought you shall ask whereof it shall not tell you the meaning, by the witness of Joseph, the good clerk and good hermit through whom we have it, and he knoweth it by annunciation of the Holy Ghost.' `By my faith,' saith Messire Gawain, `I am much abashed of the three damsels that were at the court of King Arthur. Two of them carried, the one the head of a king and the other of a queen, and they had in a car an hundred and fifty heads of knights whereof some were sealed in gold, other in silver, and the rest in lead.' `True,' saith the priest, `For as by the queen was the king betrayed and killed, and the knights whereof the heads were in the car, so saith she truth as Joseph witnesseth to us, for he saith of remembrance that by envy was Adam betrayed, and all the people that were after him and the people that are yet to come shall have dole thereof for ever more. And for that Adam was the first man is he called King, for he was our earthly father, and his wife Queen. And the heads of the knights sealed in gold signify the new law, and the heads sealed in silver the old, and the heads sealed in lead the false law of the Sarrazins. Of these three manner of folk is the world stablished.' `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `I marvel of the castle of the Black Hermit, there where the heads were all taken from her, and the Damsel told me that the Good Knight should cast them all forth when he should come. And the other folk that are therewithin are longing for him.' `Well know you,' saith the priest, `that on account of the apple that Eve gave Adam to eat, all went to hell alike, the good as well as the evil, and to cast His people forth from hell did God become man, and cast these souls forth from hell of His bounty and of His puissance. And to this doth Joseph make us allusion by the castle or the Black Hermit, which signifieth hell, and the Good Knight that shall thence cast forth them that are within. And I tell you that the Black Hermit is Lucifer, that is Lord of hell in like manner as he fain would have been Lord of Paradise.' `Sir,' saith the priest, `By this significance is he fain to draw the good hermits on behalf of the new law wherein the most part are not well learned, wherefore he would fain make allusion by ensample.' `By God,' saith Messire Gawain, `I marvel much of the Damsel that was all bald, and said that never should she have her hair again until such time as the Good Knight should have achieved the Holy Graal.' `Sir,' saith the good man, `Each day full bald behoveth her to be, ever since bald she became when the good King fell into languishment on account of the knight whom he harboured that made not the demand. The bald damsel signifieth Joseu Josephus, that was bald before the crucifixion of Our Lord, nor never had his hair again until such time as He had redeemed His people by His blood and by His death. The car that she leadeth after her signifieth the wheel of fortune, for like as the car goeth on the wheels, doth she lay the burden of the world on the two damsels that follow her; and this you may see well, for the fairest followeth afoot and the other was on a sorry hackney, and they were poorly clad, whereas the third had costlier attire. The shield whereon was the red cross, that she left at the court of King Arthur, signifieth the most holy shield of the rood that never none durst lift save God alone.' Messire Gawain heareth these significances and much pleaseth him thereof, and thinketh him that none durst set his hand to nor lift the shield that hung in the King's hall, as he had heard tell in many places; wherefore day by day were they waiting for the Good Knight that should come for the shield.
`Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `By this that you tell me you do me to wit that whereof I was abashed, but I have been right sorrowful of a lady that a knight slew on my account albeit no blame had she therein, nor had I.' `Sir,' saith the priest, `Right great significance was there in her death, for Josephus witnesseth us that the old law was destroyed by the stroke of a sword without recover, and to destroy the old law did Our Lord suffer Himself to be smitten in the side of a spear. By this stroke was the old law destroyed, and by His crucifixion. The lady signifieth the old law. Would you ask more of me?' saith the priest. `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `I met a knight in the forest that rode behind before and carried his arms upside down. And he said that he was the Knight Coward, and his habergeon carried he on his neck, and so soon as he saw me he set his arms to rights and rode like any other knight.' `The law was turned to the worse,' saith the priest, `before Our Lord's crucifixion, and so soon as He was crucified, was again restored to right.' `Even yet have I not asked you of all,' saith Messire Gawain, `For a knight came and jousted with me party of black and white, and challenged me of the death of the lady on behalf of her husband, and told me and I should vanquish him that he and his men would be my men. I did vanquish him and he did me homage.' `It is right,' saith the priest, `On account of the old law that was destroyed were all they that remained therein made subject, and shall be for ever more. Wish you to enquire of aught further?' saith the priest. `I marvel me right sore,' saith Messire Gawain, `of a child that rode a lion in a hermitage, and none durst come nigh the lion save the child only, and he was not of more than six years, and the lion was right fell. The child was the son of the lady that was slain on my account.' `Right well have you spoken,' saith the priest, `in reminding me thereof. The child signifieth the Saviour of the world that was born under the old law and was circumcised, and the lion whereon he rode signifieth the world and the people that are therein, and beasts and birds that none may govern save by virtue of Him alone.' `God!' saith Messire Gawain, `How great joy have I at heart of that you tell me! Sir, I found a fountain in a forest, the fairest that was ever seen, and an image had it within that hid itself when it saw me, and a clerk brought a golden vessel and took another golden vessel that hung at the column that was there, and set his own in place thereof. Afterward, came three damsels and filled the vessel with that they had brought thither, and straightway meseemed that but one was there.' `Sir,' saith the priest, `I will tell you no more thereof than you have heard, and therewithal ought you to hold yourself well apaid, for behoveth not discover the secrets of the Saviour, and them also to whom they are committed behoveth keep them covertly.'
`Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `I would fain ask you of a King. When I had brought him his son back dead, he made him be cooked and thereafter made him be eaten of all the folk of his land.' `Sir,' saith the priest, `Already had he leant his heart upon Jesus Christ, and would fain make sacrifice of his flesh and blood to Our Lord, and for this did he make all those of his land eat thereof, and would fain that their thoughts should be even such as his own. And therefore was all evil belief uprooted from his land, so that none remained therein.' `Blessed be the hour,' saith Messire Gawain, `that I came herewithin!' `Mine be it!' saith the priest. Messire Gawain lay therewithin the night, and right well lodged was he. The morrow, when he had heard mass, he departed and went forth of the castle when he had taken leave. And he findeth the fairest land of the world and the fairest meadow-grounds that were ever seen, and the fairest rivers and forests garnished of wild deer and hermitages. And he rideth until he cometh one day as evening was about to draw on, to the house of a hermit, and the house was so low that his horse might not enter therein. And his chapel was scarce taller, and the good man had never issued therefrom of forty years past. The Hermit putteth his head out of the window when he seeth Messire Gawain and saith, `Sir, welcome may you be,' saith he. `Sir, God give you joy, Will you give me lodging to-night?' saith Messire Gawain. `Sir, herewithin none harboureth save the Lord God alone, for earthly man hath never entered herewithin but me this forty year, but see, here in front is the castle wherein the good knights are lodged.' `What is the castle?' `Sir, the good King Fisherman's, that is surrounded with great waters and plenteous in all things good, so the lord were in joy. But behoveth them harbour none there save good knights only.' `God grant,' saith Messire Gawain, `that I may come therein.'
When he knoweth that he is nigh the castle, he alighteth and confesseth him to the hermit, and avoweth all his sins and repenteth him thereof right truly. `Sir,' saith the hermit, `Now forget not, so God be willing to allow you, to ask that which the other knight forgat, and be not afeard for ought you may see at the entrance of the castle, but ride on without misgiving and adore the holy chapel you will see appear in the castle, there where the flame of the Holy Spirit descendeth each day for the most Holy Graal and the point of the lance that is served there.' `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `God teach me to do His will!' He taketh leave, and goeth his way and rideth until the valley appeareth wherein the castle is seated garnished of all things good, and he seeth appear the most holy chapel. He alighteth, and then setteth him on his knees and boweth him down and adoreth right sweetly. Thereafter he remounteth and rideth until he findeth a sepulchre right rich, and it had a cover over, and it lay very nigh the castle, and it seemed to be within a little burial-ground that was enclosed all round about, nor were any other tombs therein. A voice crieth to him as he passeth the burial-ground: `Touch not the sepulchre, for you are not the Good Knight through whom shall it be known who lieth therein.' Messire Gawain passeth beyond when he had heard the voice and draweth nigh the entrance of the castle, and seeth that three bridges are there, right great and right horrible to pass. And three great waters run below, and him seemeth that the first bridge is a bowshot in length and in breadth not more than a foot. Strait seemeth the bridge and the water deep and swift and wide. He knoweth not what he may do, for it seemeth him that none may pass it, neither afoot nor on horse.
Thereupon, lo you, a knight that issueth forth of the castle and cometh as far as the head of the bridge, that was called the Bridge of the Eel, and shouteth aloud: `Sir Knight, pass quickly before it shall be already night, for they of the castle are awaiting us.' `Ha,' saith Messire Gawain, `Fair sir, but teach me how I may pass hereby.' `Certes, Sir Knight, no passage know I to this entrance other than this, and if you desire to come to the castle, pass on without misgiving.' Messire Gawain hath shame for that he hath stayed so long, and forthinketh him of this that the Hermit told him, that of no mortal thing need he be troubled at the entrance of the castle, and therewithal that he is truly confessed of his sins, wherefore behoveth him be the less adread of death. He crosseth and blesseth himself and commendeth himself to God as he that thinketh to die, and so smiteth his horse with his spurs and findeth the bridge wide and large as soon as he goeth forward, for by this passing were proven most of the knights that were fain to enter therein. Much marvelled he that he found the bridge so wide that had seemed him so narrow. And when he had passed beyond, the bridge, that was a drawbridge, lifted itself by engine behind him, for the water below ran too swiftly for other bridge to be made. The knight draweth himself back beyond the great bridge and Messire Gawain cometh nigh to pass it, and this seemed him as long as the other. And he seeth the water below, that was not less swift nor less deep, and, so far as he could judge, the bridge was of ice, feeble and thin, and of a great height above the water, and he looked at it with much marvelling, yet natheless not for that would he any the more hold back from passing on toward the entrance. He goeth forward and commendeth himself to God, and cometh in the midst thereof and seeth that the bridge was the fairest and richest and strongest he had ever beheld, and the abutments thereof were all full of images. When he was beyond the bridge, it lifted itself up behind him as the other had done, and he looketh before him and seeth not the knight, and is come to the third bridge and nought was he adread for anything he might see. And it was not less rich than the other, and had columns of marble all round about, and upon each a knop so rich that it seemed to be of gold. After that, he beholdeth the gate over against him, and seeth Our Lord there figured even as He was set upon the rood, and His Mother of the one side and S. John of the other, whereof the images were all of gold, with rich precious stones that flashed like fire. And on the right hand he seeth an angel, passing fair, that pointed with his finger to the chapel where was the Holy Graal, and on his breast had he a precious stone, and letters written above his head that told how the lord of the castle was the like pure and clean of all evil-seeming as was this stone.
Thereafter at the entrance of the gate he seeth a lion right great and horrible, and he was upright upon his feet. So soon as he seeth Messire Gawain, he croucheth to the ground, and Messire Gawain passeth the entrance without gainsay and cometh to the castle, and alighteth afoot, and setteth his shield and his spear against the wall of the hall, and mounteth up a flight of marble steps and cometh into a hall right fair and rich, and here and there in divers places was it painted with golden images. In the midst thereof he findeth a couch right fair and rich and high, and at the foot of this couch was a chess-board right fair and rich, with an orle of gold all full of precious stones, and the pieces were of gold and silver and were not upon the board. Meanwhile, as Messire Gawain was looking at the beauty of the chess-board and the hall, behold you two knights that issue forth of a chamber and come to him. `Sir,' say the knights, `Welcome may you be.' `God give you joy and good adventure,' saith Messire Gawain. They make him sit upon the couch and after that make him be disarmed. They bring him, in two basins of gold, water to wash his face and hands. After that, come two damsels that bring him a rich robe of silk and cloth of gold. Then they make him do on the same. Then say the two damsels to him, `Take in good part whatsoever may be done to you therewithin, for this is the hostel of good knights and loyal.' `Damsels,' saith Messire Gawain, `So will I do. Gramercy of your service.' He seeth well that albeit the night were dark, within was so great brightness of light without candles that it was marvel. And it seemed him the sun shone there. Wherefore marvelled he right sore whence so great light should come.
When Messire Gawain was clad in the rich robe, right comely was he to behold, and well seemed he to be a knight of great valour. `Sir,' say the knights, `May it please you come see the lord of this castle?' `Right gladly will I see him,' saith he, `For I would fain present him with a rich sword.' They lead him into the chamber where lay King Fisherman, and it seemed as it were all strown and sprinkled of balm, and it was all strown with green herbs and reeds. And King Fisherman lay on a bed hung on cords whereof the stays were of ivory; and therein was a mattress of straw whereon he lay, and above a coverlid of sables whereof the cloth was right rich. And he had a cap of sables on his head covered with a red samite of silk, and a golden cross, and under his head was a pillow all smelling sweet of balm, and at the four corners of the pillow were four stones that gave out a right great brightness of light; and over against him was a pillar of copper whereon sate an eagle that held a cross of gold wherein was a piece of the true cross whereon God was set, as long as was the cross itself, the which the good man adored. And in four tall candlesticks of gold were four tall wax tapers set as often as was need. Messire Gawain cometh before the King and saluteth him. And the King maketh him right great cheer, and biddeth him be welcome. `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `I present you with the sword whereof John was beheaded.' `Gramercy,' saith the King: `Certes, I knew well that you would bring it, for neither you nor other might have come in hither without the sword, and if you had not been of great valour you would not have conquered it.' He taketh the sword and setteth it to his mouth and so kisseth it right sweetly and maketh right great joy thereof. And a damsel cometh to sit at the head of the bed, to whom he giveth the sword in keeping. Two others sit at his feet that look at him right sweetly. `What is your name?' saith the King. `Sir, my name is Gawain.' `Ha, Messire Gawain,' saith he, `This brightness of light that shineth there within cometh to us of God for love of you. For every time that a knight cometh hither to harbour within this castle it appeareth as brightly as you see it now. And greater cheer would I make you than I do were I able to help myself, but I am fallen into languishment from the hour that the knight of whom you have heard tell harboured herewithin. On account of one single word he delayed to speak, did this languishment come upon me. Wherefore I pray you for God's sake that you remember to speak it, for right glad should you be and you may restore me my health. And see here is the daughter of my sister that hath been plundered of her land and disinherited in such wise that never can she have it again save through her brother only whom she goeth to seek; and we have been told that he is the Best Knight of the world, but we can learn no true tidings of him.' `Sir,' saith the damsel to her uncle the King, `Thank Messire Gawain of the honour he did to my lady-mother when he came to her hostel. He stablished out land again in peace, and conquered the keeping of the castle for a year, and set my lady-mother's five knights there with us to keep it. The year hath now passed, wherefore will the war be now renewed against us and God succour us not, and I find not my brother whom we have lost so long.' `Damsel,' saith Messire Gawain, `I helped you so far as I might, and so would I again and I were there. And fainer am I to see your brother than all the knights of the world. But no true tidings may I hear of him, save so much, that I was at a hermitage where was a King hermit, and he bade me make no noise for that the Best Knight of the world lay sick therewithin, and he told me that his name was Par-lui-fet. I saw his horse being led by a squire before the chapel, and his arms and shield whereon was a sun figured.' `Sir.' saith the damsel, `My brother's name is not Par-lui-fet, but Perlesvax in right baptism, and it is said of them that have seen him that never comelier knight was known.' `Certes,' saith the King, `Never saw I comelier than he that came in hither nor better like to be good knight, and I know of a truth that such he is, for otherwise never might he have entered hereinto. But good reward of harbouring him had I not, for I may help neither myself nor other. For God's sake, Messire Gawain, hold me in remembrance this night, for great affiance have I in your valour.' `Certes, Sir, please God, nought will I do within yonder, whereof I may be blamed of right.'
Thereupon Messire Gawain was led into the hall and findeth twelve ancient knights, all bald, albeit they seemed not to be so old as they were, for each was of a hundred year of age or more and yet none of them seemed as though he were forty. They have set Messire Gawain to eat at a right rich table of ivory and seat themselves all round about him. `Sir,' saith the Master of the Knights, `Remember you of that the good King hath prayed of you and told you this night as you have heard.' `Sir,' saith Messire Gawain, `God remember it!' With that bring they larded meats of venison and wild-boar's flesh and other in great plenty, and on the table was rich array of vessels of silver and great cups of gold with their covers, and the rich candlesticks where the great candles were burning, albeit their brightness was hidden of the great light that appeared within.
Thereon, lo you, two damsels that issue forth of a chapel, whereof the one holdeth in her hands the most Holy Graal, and the other the Lance whereof the point bleedeth thereinto. And the one goeth beside the other in the midst of the hall where the knights and Messire Gawain sat at meat, and so sweet a smell and so holy came to them therefrom that they forgat to eat. Messire Gawain looketh at the Graal, and it seemed him that a chalice was therein, albeit none there was as at this time, and he seeth the point of the lance whence the red blood ran thereinto, and it seemeth him he seeth two angels that bear two candlesticks of gold filled with candles. And the damsels pass before Messire Gawain, and go into another chapel. And Messire Gawain is thoughtful, and so great a joy cometh to him that nought remembereth he in his thinking save of God only. The knights are all daunted and sorrowful in their hearts, and look at Messire Gawain. Thereupon behold you the damsels that issue forth of the chamber and come again before Messire Gawain, and him seemeth that he seeth three there where before he had seen but two, and seemeth him that in the midst of the Graal he seeth the figure of a child. The Master of the Knights beckoneth to Messire Gawain. Messire Gawain looketh before him and seeth three drops of blood fall upon the table. He was all abashed to look at them and spake no word.
Therewith the damsels pass forth and the knights are all adread and look one at the other. Howbeit Messire Gawain may not withdraw his eyes from the three drops of blood, and when he would fain kiss them they vanish away, whereof he is right sorrowful, for he may not set his hand nor aught that of him is to touch thereof. Therewithal behold you the two damsels that come again before the table and seemeth to Messire Gawain that there are three, and he looketh up and it seemeth him to be the Graal all in flesh, and he seeth above, as him thinketh, a King crowned, nailed upon
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- I'lll be darned, this classic is online all over the web, not only at the location below, but also at Wikisource: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_High_History_of_the_Holy_Graal - another excellent online library. I'll do a more thorough check next time.