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 my joy, which is this child. Saw you ever so fair a child 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, "Whitherward 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 tail, 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-fer, 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, saluteth 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 tomorrow 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 prospered 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 stay would have pleased me well."
Therewithal Messire Gawain departeth and is remounted on his horse. Then he entereth into the forest.