Herewithal is the story silent of Briant and talketh of Perceval, that the ship beareth away right swiftly; but so long hath he held battle therein that every one hath he slain of them that were in the ship save only the pilot that steereth her, for him hath he in covenant that he will believe in God and renounce his evil Law. Perceval is far from land so that he seeth nought but sea only, and the ship speedeth onward, and God guideth him, as one that believeth in Him and loveth Him and serveth Him of a good heart. The ship ran on by night and by day as it pleased God, until that they saw a castle and an island of the sea. He asked his pilot if he knew what castle it was.
"Certes," saith he, "Not I, for so far have we run that I know not neither the sea nor the stars."
They come nigh the castle, and saw four that sounded bells at the four corners of the town, right sweetly, and they that sounded them were clad in white garments. They are come thither.
So soon as the ship had taken haven under the castle, the sea withdraweth itself back, so that the ship is left on dry land. None were therein save Perceval, his horse, and the pilot. They issued forth of the ship and went by the side of the sea toward the castle, and therein were the fairest halls and the fairest mansions that any might see ever. He Looketh underneath a tree that was tall and broad and seeth the fairest fountain and the clearest that any may devise, and it was all surrounded of rich pillars, and the gravel thereof seemed to be gold and precious stones. Above this fountain were two men sitting, their beards and hair whiter than driven snow, albeit they seemed young of visage. So soon as they saw Perceval they dressed them to meet him, and bowed down and worshipped the shield that he bare at his neck, and kissed the cross and then the boss wherein were the hallows.
"Sir," say they, "Marvel not of this that we do, for well knew we the knight that bare this shield tofore you. Many a time we saw him or ever God were crucified."
Perceval marvelleth much of this that they say, for they talk of a time that is long agone.
"Lords, know ye then how he was named?"
Say they, "Joseph of Abarimacie, but no cross was there on the shield before the death of Jesus Christ. But he had it set thereon after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ for the sake of the Saviour that he loved so well."
Perceval took off the shield from his neck, and one of the worshipful men setteth upon it as it were a posy of herbs that was blooming with the fairest flowers in the world. Perceval looketh beyond the fountain and seeth in a right fair place a round vessel like as it were ivory, and it was so large that there was a knight within, all armed. He looketh thereinto and seeth the knight, and speaketh unto him many times, but never the more willeth the knight to answer him. Perceval looketh at him in wonderment, and cometh back to the good men and asketh them who is this knight, and they tell him that he may know not as yet. They lead him to a great hall and bear his shield before him, whereof they make right great joy, and show thereunto great worship. He seeth the hall right rich, for hall so rich and so fair had he seen never. It was hung about with right rich cloths of silk, and in the midst of the hall was imaged the Saviour of the World so as He is in His majesty, with the apostles about Him, and within were great galleries that were full of folk and seemed to be of great holiness, and so were they, for had they not been good men they might not there have remained.
"Sir," say the two Masters to Perceval, "This house that you see here so rich, is the hall royal."
"By my faith," saith Perceval, "So ought it well to be, for never saw I none so much of worth."
He Looketh all around, and seeth the richest tables of gold and ivory that he saw ever. One of the Masters clappeth his hands thrice, and three and thirty men come into the hall all in a company. They were clad in white garments, and not one of them but had a red cross in the midst of his breast, and they seemed to be all of an age. As soon as they enter into the hall they do worship to God Our Lord and set out their cups. Then went they to wash at a great laver of gold, and then went to sit at the tables. The Masters made Perceval sit at the most master-table with themselves. They were served thereat right gloriously, and Perceval looked about him more gladlier than he ate.
And while he was thus looking, he seeth a chain of gold come down above him loaded with precious stones, and in the midst thereof was a crown of gold. The chain descended a great length and held on to nought save to the will of Our Lord only. As soon as the Masters saw it descending they opened a great wide pit that was in the midst of the hall, so that one could see the hole all openly. As soon as the entrance of this pit was discovered, there issued thence the greatest cry and most dolorous that any heard ever, and when the worshipful men hear it, they stretched out their hands towards Our Lord and all began to weep. Perceval heareth this dolour, and marvelleth much what it may be. He seeth that the chain of gold descendeth thither and is there stayed until they have well-nigh eaten, and then draweth itself again into the air and so goeth again aloft. But Perceval knoweth not what became thereof, and the Master covereth the pit again, that was right grisly to see, and pitiful to hear were the voices that issued therefrom.
The Good Men rose from the tables when they had eaten, and gave thanks right sweetly to Our Lord; and then returned thither whence they had come.
"Sir," saith the Master to Perceval, "The chain of gold that you have seen is right precious and the crown of gold likewise. But never may you issue forth from hence save you promise to return so soon as you shall see the ship and the sail crossed of a red cross; otherwise may you not depart hence."
"Tell me," saith he, "of the chain of gold and the crown, what it may be?"
"We will tell you not," saith one of the Masters, "Save you promise that which I tell you."
"Certes, Sir," saith Perceval, "I promise you faithfully, that so soon as I shall have done that I have to do for my lady my mother and one other, that I will return hither, so I be on live and I see your ship so marked as you say."
"Yea, be you faithful to the end herein, and you shall have the crown of gold upon your head so soon as you return, and so shall you be seated in the throne, and shall be king of an island that is near to this, right plenteous of all things good, for nought is there in the world that is there lacking that is needful for man's body. King Hermit was the king thereof that thus hath garnished it, and for that he approved himself so well in this kingdom, and that they who are in the island consented thereto, is he chosen to be king of a greater realm. Now they desire that another worshipful man be sent them for king, that shall do for them as much good as did he, but take you good heed, sith that you will be king therein, that the island be well garnished; for, and you garnish it not well, you will be put into the Poverty- stricken Island, the crying whereof you have but now since heard, and the crown thereof will again be reft from you. For they that have been kings of the Plenteous Island and have not well approved them, are among the folk that you saw in the Poverty- stricken Island, lacking in all things good. And so I tell you that King Hermit, whom you will succeed, hath sent thither a great part of his folk. There are the heads sealed in silver, and the heads sealed in lead, and the bodies whereunto these heads belonged; I tell you that you must make come thither the head both of the King and of the Queen. But of the other I tell you that they are in the Poverty-stricken Island. But we know not whether they shall ever issue forth thence."
"Sir," saith Perceval, "Tell me of the knight that is all armed in the ivory vessel, who he is, and what is the name of this castle?"
"You may not know," saith the Master, "until your return. But tell me tidings of the most Holy Graal, that you reconquered, is it still in the holy chapel that was King Fisherman's?"
"Yea, Sir," saith Perceval, "And the sword wherewith S. John was beheaded, and other hallows in great plenty."
"I saw the Graal," saith the Master, "or ever Joseph, that was uncle to King Fisherman, collected therein the blood or Jesus Christ. Know that well am I acquainted with all your lineage, and of what folk you were born. For your good knighthood and for your good cleanness and for your good valour came you in hither, for such was Our Lord's will, and take heed that you be ready when place shall be, and time shall come, and you shall see the ship apparelled."
"Sir," saith Perceval, "Most willingly shall I return, nor never would I have sought to depart but for my lady my mother, and for my sister, for never have I seen no place that so much hath pleased me."
He was right well harboured the night within, and in the morning, or ever he departed, heard a holy mass in a holy chapel the fairest that he had seen ever. The Master cometh to him after the mass and bringeth him a shield as white as snow. Afterwards, he saith, "You will leave me your shield within for token of your coming and will bear this."
"Sir," saith Perceval, "I will do your pleasure."
He hath taken leave, and so departeth from the rich mansion, and findeth the ship all apparelled, and heareth sound the bells at his forth-going the same as at his coming. He entereth into the ship and the sail is set. He leaveth the land far behind, and the pilot steereth the ship and Our Lord God guideth and leadeth him. The ship runneth a great speed, for far enough had she to run, but God made her speed as He would, for He knew the passing great goodness and worth of the knight that was within.
God hath guided and led the ship by day and by night until that she arrived at an island where was a castle right ancient, but it seemed not to be over-rich, rather it showed as had it been of great lordship in days of yore. They cast anchor, and Perceval is come toward the castle and entereth in all armed. He seeth the castle large, and the dwelling chambers fallen down and the house-place roofless, and he seeth a lady sitting before the steps of an old hall. She rose up as soon as she saw him, but she was right poorly clad. It seemed well by her body and her cheer and her bearing that she was a gentlewoman, and he seeth that two damsels come with her that are young of age and are as poorly clad as is the lady.
"Sir," saith she to Perceval, "Welcome may you be. No knight have I seen enter this castle of a long time."
"Lady," saith Perceval, "God grant you joy and honour!"
"Sir," saith she, "Need have we thereof, for none scarce have I had this long while past."
She leadeth him into a great ancient hall that was right poorly garnished.
"Sir," saith she, "Here will you harbour you the night, and you would take in good part that we may do and you knew the plight of this castle."
She maketh him be unarmed of a servant that was there within, and the damsels come before him and serve him right sweetly. The lady bringeth him a mantle to do on.
"Sir," saith she, "Within are no better garments wherewith to show you honour than this."
Perceval looketh on the damsels and hath great pity of them, for so well shapen were they of limb and body as that nature might not have better fashioned them, and all the beauty that may be in woman's body was in them, and all the sweetness and simpleness.
"Lady," saith Perceval, "Is this castle, then, not yours?"
"Sir," saith she, "So much is all that remaineth unto me of all my land, and you see there my daughters of whom is it right sore pity, for nought have they but what you see, albeit gentlewomen are they and of high lineage, but their kinsfolk are too far away, and a knight that is right cruel hath reft us of our land sithence that my lord was dead, and holdeth a son of mine in his prison, whereof I am right sorrowful, for he is one of the comeliest knights in the world. He had not been knight more than four years when he took him, and now may I aid neither myself nor other, but I have heard tell that there is a knight in the land of Wales that was the son of Alain li Gros of the Valleys of Camelot, and he is the Best Knight in the World, and this Alain was brother of Calobrutus, whose wife was I, and of whom I had my son and these two daughters. This know I well, that and the Good Knight that is so near akin to them were by any adventure to come into this island, I should have my son again, and my daughters that are disherited would have their lands again freely, and so should I be brought out of sore pain and poverty. I am of another lineage that is full far away, for King Ban of Benoic that is dead was mine uncle, but he hath a son that is a right good knight as I have been told, so that and one of these two should come nigh me in any of these islands right joyous should I be thereof."
Perceval heareth that the two damsels are his uncle's daughters, and hath great pity thereof.
"Lady," saith he, "How is he named that is in prison?"
"Sir," saith she, "Galobruns, and he that holdeth him in prison is named Gohaz of the Castle of the Whale."
"Is his castle near this, Lady?" saith he.
"Sir, there is but an arm of the sea to cross, and in all these islands of the sea is there none that hath any puissance but he only, and so assured is he that no dread hath he of any. For none that is in this land durst offend against him. Sir, one thing hath he bid me do, whereof I am sore grieved, that and I send him not one of my daughters, he hath sworn his oath that he will reave me of my castle."
"Lady," saith Perceval, "An oath is not always kept. To the two damsels, please God, shall he do no shame, and right heavy am I of that he hath done already, for they were daughters of mine uncle. Alain li Gros was my father and Galobrutus my uncle, and many another good man that now is dead."
When the damsels heard this, they kneeled down before him, and began to weep for joy and kiss his hands, and pray him for God's sake have mercy on them and on their brother. And he saith that he will not depart from their land until he hath done all he may. He remaineth the night in the castle and his mariner likewise. The lady made great joy of Perceval, and did him all the honour she might. When the morrow came they showed him the land of the King that had reft them of their land, but the lady could not tell him where her son was in prison. He departeth and cometh back to his ship when he hath taken leave of the lady and the damsels, and right glad was he to know that the damsels were so nigh to him of kin. So he prayeth God grant him that he may be able to give them back their land and bring them out of the poverty wherein they are. He roweth until that he is come under a rock, wherein was a cave at top round and narrow and secure like as it were a little house. Perceval looketh on that side, and seeth a man sitting within. He maketh the ship draw nigh the rock, then looketh and seeth the cutting of a way that went upwards through the rock. He is come forth of the ship and goeth up the little path until he cometh into the little house. He findeth within one of the comeliest knights in the world. He had a ring at his feet and a collar on his neck with a chain whereof the other end was fixed by a staple into a great ledge of the rock. He rose up over against Perceval as soon as he saw him.
"Sir Knight," saith Perceval, "You are well made fast."
"Sir, that irketh me," saith the knight, "Better should I like myself elsewhere than here."
"You would be right," saith Perceval, "For you are in right evil plight in the midst of this sea. Have you aught within to eat or to drink?"
"Sir," saith he, "The daughter of the Sick Knight that dwelleth in the island hard by, sendeth me every day in a boat as much meat as I may eat, for she hath great pity of me. The King that hath imprisoned me here hath reft her castles like as he hath those of my lady my mother."
"May none remove you hence?"
"Sir, in no wise, save he that set me here, for he keepeth with him the key of the lock, and he told me when he departed hence that never more should I issue forth."
"By my head," saith Perceval, "but you shall! And you were the son of Galobrutus, you were the son of mine uncle," saith Perceval, "and I of yours, so that it would be a reproach to me for evermore and I left you in this prison."
When Galobruns heareth that he is his uncle's son, great joy hath he thereof. He would have fallen at his feet, but Perceval would not, and said to him, "Now be well assured, for I will seek your deliverance."
He cometh down from the rock, and so entereth the ship and roweth of a long space. He looketh before him and seeth a right rich island and a right plenteous, and on the other side he seeth in a little islet a knight that is mounted up in a tall tree that was right broad with many boughs. There was a damsel with him, that had climbed up also for dread of a serpent, great and evil- favoured that had issued from a hole in a mountain. The damsel seeth Perceval's ship coming, and crieth out to him.
"Ha, Sir," saith she, "Come to help this King that is up above, and me that am a damsel!"
"Whereof are you afeard, damsel?" saith Perceval.
"Of a great serpent, Sir," saith she, "that hath made us climb up, whereof ought I not to be sorry, for this King hath carried me off from my father's house, and would have done me shame of my body and this serpent had not run upon him."
"And what is the King's name, damsel?" saith Perceval.
"Sir, he is called Gohaz of the Castle of the Whale. This great land is his own that is so plenteous, and other lands enow that he hath reft of my father and of other."
The King had great shame of this that the damsel told him, and made answer never a word. Perceval understandeth that it was he that held his cousin in prison, and is issued from the ship forthwith, sword drawn. The serpent seeth him, and cometh toward him, jaws yawning, and casteth forth fire and flame in great plenty. Perceval thrusteth his sword right through the gullet.
"Now may you come down," saith he to the King.
"Sir," saith he, "The key of a chain wherewith a certain knight is bound hath fallen, and the serpent seized it."
Perceval rendeth open the throat and findeth the key forthwith, all red-hot with the fire of the serpent. The King cometh down, that hath no dread of aught, but cometh, rather, as he ought, to thank Perceval of the goodness he had done him, and Perceval seizeth him between his arms and beareth him away to the ship.
"Sir Knight," saith Gohaz, "Take heed what you do, for I am King of this land."
"Therefore," saith Perceval, "I do it. For, had it been another I should do it not."
"Ha, Sir," saith the damsel, "Leave me not here to get forth as I may, but help me until that I shall be in the house of my father, the Sick Knight, that is sore grieved on my account."
Perceval understandeth that it is the damsel of whom Galobruns spake such praise. He goeth to bring her down from the tree, then bringeth her into the ship, and so goeth back toward the rock where his cousin was.
"Sir Knight," saith Gohaz, "Where will you put me?"
"I will put you," saith he, "as an enemy, there, where you have put the son of mine uncle in prison; so shall I avenge me of you, and he also at his will."
When the King heard this, he was glad thereof not a whit, and the damsel was loath not a whit, whom he had thus disherited. They row until they come to the rock. Perceval issueth forth of the ship, and bringeth Gohaz up maugre his head. Galobruns seeth him coming and maketh great joy thereof, and Perceval saith to him: "Behold here your mortal enemy! Now do your will of him!"
He taketh the key and so looseth him of the irons wherein he was imprisoned.
"Galobruns," saith Perceval, "Now may you do your pleasure of your enemy?"
"Sir," saith he, "Right gladly!"
He maketh fast the irons on his feet that he had upon his own, and afterward setteth the collar on his neck.
"Now let him be here," saith he, "in such sort and in such prison as he put me; for well I know that he will be succoured of none."
After that, he flingeth the key into the sea as far as he might, and so seemed it to Galobruns that he well avenged himself in such wise, and better than if he had killed him. Perceval alloweth him everything therein at his will. They enter into the ship and leave Gohaz all sorrowing on the rock, that never thereafter are nor drank. And Perceval bringeth his cousin and the damsel, and they row until that they come into their land, and Perceval maketh send for all the folk of King Gohaz and maketh all the more powerful do sure homage to Galobruns and his sisters in such sort that the land was all at their will. He sojourned there so long as it pleased him, and then departed and took leave of the damsel and Galobruns, that thanked him much for the lands that he had again through him.
Perceval hath rowed until that he is come nigh a castle that was burning fiercely with a great flame, and seeth a hermitage upon the sea hard by. He seeth the hermit at the door of the chapel, and asketh him what the castle is that hath caught fire thus.
"Sir," saith the hermit, "I will tell you. Joseus, the son of King Pelles, slew his mother there. Never sithence hath the castle stinted of burning, and I tell you that of this castle and one other will be kindled the fire that shall burn up the world and put it to an end."
Perceval marvelleth much, and knew well that it was the castle of King Hermit his uncle. He departeth thence in great haste, and passeth three kingdoms and saileth by the wastes and deserts on one side and the other of the sea, for the ship ran somewhat a-nigh the land. He looketh and seeth on an island twelve hermits sitting on the seashore. The sea was calm and untroubled, and he made cast the anchor so as to keep the ship steady. Then he saluteth the hermits, and they all bow down to him in answer. He asketh them where have they their repair, and they tell him that they have not far away twelve chapels and twelve houses that surround a grave-yard wherein lie twelve dead knights that we keep watch over. They were all brothers-german, and right worshipful men, and none thereof lived more than twelve years knight save one only, and none of them was there but won much land and broad kingdoms from the misbelievers, and they all died in arms; and the name of the eldest was Alain li Gros, and he came into this country from the Valleys of Camelot to avenge his brother Alibans of the Waste City that the Giant King had slain, and he took vengeance on him thereof, but he died thereafter of a wound that the Giant had given him."
"Sir," saith one of the hermits, "I was at his death, but nought was there he so longed after as a son of his, and he said that his name was Perceval. He was the last of the brothers that died."
When Perceval heard this he had pity thereof, and issued forth of the ship and came to land, and his mariner with him. He prayed the hermits that they would lead him to the graveyard where the knights lay, and gladly did they so. Perceval is come thither and seeth the coffins right rich and fair, and the chapels full fairly dight, and every coffin lay over against the altar in each chapel.
"Lords, which coffin is that of the Lord of Camelot?"
"This, the highest," say the hermits, "and the most rich, for that he was eldest of all the brethren."
Perceval kneeleth down before it, then embraceth the coffin and prayeth right sweetly for the soul of his father, and in like manner he went to all the other coffins. He harboured the night with the hermits, and told them that Alain li Gros was his father and all the other his uncles. Right joyous were the hermits for that he was come thither, and the morrow, or ever he departed, he heard mass in the chapel of his father and in the others where he might. He entered into the ship and sped full swift, and so far hath the ship run that he draweth nigh the islands of Great Britain. He arriveth at the head of a forest under the Red Tower whereof he had slain the lord, there where Meliot delivered Messire Gawain. He is issued forth of the ship and leadeth forth his horse and is armed, and commendeth the pilot to God. He mounteth on his destrier, all armed, and goeth amidst the land that was well-nigh void of people, for he himself had slain the greater part thereof, albeit he knew it not. He rideth so long, right amidst the country, that he cometh toward evensong to a hold that was in a great forest, and he bethought him that he would go into the hermitage, and he cometh straight into the hold, and seeth a knight lying in the entrance of the gate on a straw mattress, and a damsel sate at the bed's head, of passing great beauty, and held his head on her lap.
The knight reviled her from time to time, and said that he would make cut of her head and he had not that he desired to have, for that he was sick. Perceval looked at the lady that held him and served him full sweetly, and deemed her to be a good lady and a loyal. The Sick Knight called to Perceval.
"Sir," saith he, "Are you come in hither to harbour?"
"Sir," saith Perceval, "So please you, I will harbour here."
"Then blame me not," saith the knight, "of that you shall see me do unto my wife."
"Sir," saith Perceval, "Sith that she is yours, you have a right to do your pleasure, but in all things ought one to be heedful on one's way."
The knight made him be carried back into the dwelling, for that he had been in the air as long as pleased him, and commanded his wife that she do much honour to the knight that is come to lodge within.
"But take heed," saith he, "that you be not seen at the table, but eat, as you are wont, at the squire's table, for, until such time as I have the golden cup I desire, I will not forego my despite against you."
Perceval unarmed him. The lady had brought him a surcoat of scarlet for him to do on, and he asked her wherefore her lord reviled her and rebuked her in such sort, and she told him all the story how Lancelot had married her to him, and how her lord ever sithence had dishonoured her.
"Sir," saith she, "Now hath he fallen into misease, sithence then, and he hath a brother as sick as he is, and therefore hath Gohaz of the Castle of the Whale reft him of his land, whereof is he right sorry, and my lord hath never been heal since that he heard thereof. And well you know that such folk wax wroth of a little, and are overjoyed when they have a little thing that pleaseth them, for they live always in desire of somewhat. My lord hath heard tell of a cup of gold that a damsel beareth, that is right rich and of greater worth than aught he hath seen this long time, and a knight goeth with the damsel that beareth the cup, and saith that none may have it save he be the Best Knight in the World. My lord hath told me many times, sithence he heard tidings thereof, that never shall the despite he hath toward me be forgone, until that he shall have the cup. But he is so angry withal with his brother that hath lost his land, that I aby it right dear, for I do all his will and yet may I have no fair treatment of him. Howbeit, for no ill that he may do, nor no churlishness that he may say, will I be against him in nought that he hath set his mind on. For I would have him, and I had him, blessed be Lancelot through whom it was so. As much as I loved him in health, so much love I him in his sickness, and more yet, for I desire to deserve that God shall bring him to a better mind."
"Lady," saith Perceval, "Great praise ought you to have of this that you say; but you may well tell him of a truth that the sick King his brother hath all his land freely and his daughter, for I was at the reconquering thereof, and know the knight well that gave it back unto him. But of the golden cup can I give you no witting"
"Sir," saith she, "The damsel is to bear it to an assembly of knights that is to be held hard by this, under the White Tower. There hath she to give it to the best knight, and him that shall do best at the assembly, and the knight that followeth the damsel is bound to carry it whither he that shall win it may command, and if he would fain it should be given to another rather than to himself."
"Lady," saith Perceval, "Well meseemeth that he who shall win the cup by prize of arms will be right courteous and he send it to you, and God grant that he that hath it may do you such bounty as you desire."
"Sir," saith she, "Methinketh well, so Lancelot were there, either he or Messire Gawain, that, and they won it, so they remembered them of me, and knew how needful it were to me, they would promise me the cup."
"Lady," saith Perceval, "By one of these Ywain ought you well to have it, for greater prize now long since have they won."
She goeth to her lord and saith to him: "Sir," saith she, "Now may you be more joyous than is your wont, for that your brother hath his land again all quit. For the knight that is within was at the reconquering."
The Sick Knight heard her and had great joy thereof.
"Go!" saith he to his wife, "and do great honour to the knight, but take heed you sit not otherwise than you are wont."
"Sir," saith she, "I will not."
The damsel maketh Perceval sit at meat. When he had washen, he thought that the lady should have come to sit beside him, but she would not disobey her lord's commandment. When Perceval was set at the table and he had been served of the first meats, thereupon the lady went to sit with the squires. Perceval was much shamed that she should sit below, but he was not minded to speak, for she had told him somewhat of her lord's manner. Howbeit, he lay the night in the hold, and, on the morrow when he had taken leave, he departed, and bethought him in his courage that the knight would do good chivalry and great aims that should do this sick knight his desire as concerning the cup, in such sort as that his wife should be freed of the annoy that she is in, for that all knights that knew thereof ought to have pity of her. Perceval goeth his way as he that hath great desire to accomplish that he hath to do, and to see the token of his going again to the castle where the chain of gold appeared to him, for never yet saw he dwelling that pleased him so much. He hath ridden so far that he is come into the joyless forest of the Black Hermit, that is so loathly and horrible that no leaves nor greenery are there by winter nor by summer, nor was song of bird never heard therein, but all the land is gruesome and burnt, and wide are the cracks therein. He hath scarce gone thereinto or ever he hath overtaken the Damsel of the Car, that made full great joy of him.
"Sir," saith she, "Bald was I the first time I saw you; now may you see that I have my hair."
"Certes, yea!" saith Perceval, "And, as methinketh, hair passing beautiful."
"Sir," saith she, "I was wont to carry my arm at my neck in a scarf of gold and silk, for that I thought the service I did you in the hostel of King Fisherman your uncle. had been ill bestowed; but now well I see that it was not; wherefore now carry I the one arm in the same manner as the other; and the damsel that wont to go a-foot now goeth a-horseback; and blessed be you that have so approved you in goodness by the good manner of your heart, and by your likeness to the first of your lineage, whom you resemble in all good conditions. Sir," saith she, "I durst not come nigh the castle, for there be archers there that shoot so sore that none may endure their strokes, and hereof will they stint not, they say, until such time as you be come thither. But well know I wherefore they will cease then, for they will come to shut you up within to slay and to destroy. Natheless all they that are within will have no power, nor will they do you evil, save only the lord of the castle; but he will do battle against you right gladly."
Perceval goeth toward the castle of the Black Hermit, and the Damsel of the Car after. The archers draw and shoot stoutly. Perceval goeth forward a great gallop, but they know him not on account of the white shield. They think rather that it is one of the other knights, and they lodge many arrows in his shield. He came nigh a drawbridge over a moat right broad and foul and horrible, and the bridge was lowered so soon as he came, and all the archers left of shooting. Then knew they well that it was Perceval who came. The door was opened to receive him, for they of the gate and they of the castle within thought to have power to slay him. But so soon as they saw him, they lost their will thereof and were all amared and without strength, and said that they would set this business on their lord that was strong enough and puissant enough to slay one man. Perceval entered all armed into a great hall, and found it filled all around with a great throng of folk that was right foul to look on. He that was called the Black Hermit was full tall and Seemed to be of noble lordship, and he was in the midst of the hall, all armed.
"Sir," say his men, "And you have not defence of yourself, never no counsel nor aid may you have of us!"
"We are yours to guard, to protect, and oftentimes have we defended you; now defend us in this sore need."
The Black Hermit sate upon a tall black horse, and was right richly armed. So soon as Perceval espieth him, he cometh with such a rush against him that he maketh all the hall resound, and the Black Hermit cometh in like sort. They mell together with such force that the Black Hermit breaketh his spear upon Perceval, but Perceval smiteth him so passing stoutly on the left side upon the shield, that he beareth him to the ground beside his horse, so that in the fall he made he to-frushed two of the great ribs in the overturn. And when they that were therein saw him fall, they opened the trap-door of a great pit that was in the midst of the hall. So soon as they had opened it, the foulest stench that any smelt ever issued thereout. They take their lord and cast him into this abysm and this filth. After that, they come to Perceval, and so yield the castle and put them at his mercy in everything. Thereupon, behold you, the Damsel of the Car that cometh. They deliver up to her the heads sealed in gold, both the head of the King and of the Queen, and she departeth forthwith, for well knoweth she that Perceval will achieve that he hath to do without her. She departeth from the castle and goeth the speediest she may toward the Valleys of Camelot. And all they of the castle that had been the Black Hermit's are obedient to Perceval to do his will, and they have him in covenant that never more shall knights be harassed there in such sort as they had been theretofore, but rather that they should receive gladly any knights that should pass that way, like as in other places. Perceval departed from the castle rejoicing for that he had drawn them to the believe of Our Lord, and every day was His service done therein in holy wise, like as it is done in other places.
Hereof ought the good knight to be loved that by the goodness of his heart and the loyalty of his knighthood hath achieved all the emprises he undertook, without reproach and without blame. Perceval hath ridden until he hath overtaken the damsel that carried the rich cup of gold and the knight that was along with her. Perceval saluteth him, and the knight maketh answer, may he be blessed of God and of His sweet Mother.
"Fair Sir," saith Perceval, "Is this damsel of your company?"
Saith the knight, "Rather am I of hers. But we are going to an assembly of knights that is to be under the White Tower to the intent to prove which knight is most worth, and to him that shall have the prize of the assembly shall be delivered this golden cup."
"By my head," saith Perceval, "That will be fair to see!"
He departeth from the knight and the damsel, and goeth his way a great pace amidst the meadows under the White Tower, whither the knights were coming from all parts, and many of them were already armed to issue forth. So soon as it was known that the damsel with the cup was come thither, the fellowships assembled on all sides, and great was the clashing of arms. Perceval hurleth into the assembly in such sort that many a knight he smiteth down and overthroweth at his coming, and he giveth so many blows and so many receiveth that all they that behold marvel much how he may abide. The assembly lasted until evensong, and when it came to an end the damsel came to the knights and prayed and required that they would declare to her by right judgment of arms which had done the best. The more part said that he of the white shield had surpassed them all in arms, and all agreed thereto. The damsel was right glad, for well she knew that they spake truth. She cometh to Perceval; "Sir," saith she, "I present you this cup of gold for your good chivalry, and therefore is it meet and right you should know whence the cup cometh. The elder Damsel of the Tent where the evil custom was wont to be, sent it to Messire Gawain, and Messire Gawain made much joy thereof. And it came to pass on such wise that Brundans, the son of the sister of Briant of the Isles, slew Meliot of Logres, the most courteous knight and the most valiant that was in the realm of Logres, and thereof was Messire Gawain so sorrowful that he knew not how to contain himself. For Meliot had twice rescued him from death, and King Arthur once. He was liegeman of Messire Gawain. Wherefore he prayeth and beseecheth you on his behalf that you receive not the cup save you undertake to avenge him. For he was loved of all the court, albeit he had haunted it but little. Brundans slew him in treason when Meliot was unawares of him."
"Damsel," saith Perceval, "Were there no cup at all, yet natheless should I be fain to do the will of Messire Gawain, for never might I love the man that had deserved his hatred." He taketh the cup in his hand. "Damsel," saith he, "I thank you much hereof, and God grant I may reward you for the same."
"Sir," saith she, "Brundans is a right proud knight, and beareth a shield party of vert and argent. He is minded never to change his cognisance, for that his father bore the same."
Perceval called the knight that was of the damsel's company. "I beseech you," saith he, "of guerdon and of service, that you bear this cup for me to the hold of the Sick Knight, and tell his wife that the Knight of the White Shield that was harboured there within hath sent it her by you."
"Sir," saith the knight, "This will I do gladly to fulfil your will."
He taketh the cup to furnish out the conditions of the message, and so departeth forthwith.
Perceval lay the night in the castle of the White Tower, and departed thence on the morrow as he that would fain do somewhat whereof he might deserve well of Messire Gawain. Many a time had he heard tell of Meliot of Logres and of his chivalry and of his great valour. He was entered into a forest, and had heard mass of a hermit, from whom he had departed. He came to the Castle Perilous that was hard by there where Meliot lay sick, lay wounded, when Lancelot brought him the sword and the cloth wherewith he touched his wounds. He entered into the castle and alighted. The damsel of the castle, that made great dole, came to meet Perceval. "Damsel," saith he, "Wherefore are you so sorrowful?"
"Sir," saith she, "For a knight that I tended and healed herewithin, whom Brundans hath killed in treason, and God thereof grant us vengeance yet, for so courteous knight saw I never."
While she was speaking in this manner, forthwith behold you a damsel that cometh.
"Ha, Sir," saith she to Perceval, "Mount you again and come to aid us, for none other knight find I in this land nor in this forest but only you all alone!"
"What need have you of my aid?" saith Perceval.
"A knight is carrying off my lady by force, that was going to the court of King Arthur."
"Who is your lady?" saith Perceval.
"Sir, she is the younger Damsel of the Tent where Messire Gawain overthrew the evil customs. For God's sake, hasten you, for he revileth her sore for her love of the King and of Messire Gawain."
Perceval remounteth forthwith and issueth forth of the castle on the spur. The damsel bringeth him on as fast as the knight can go. They had not ridden far before they came a-nigh, and Perceval heard the damsel crying aloud for mercy, and the knight said that mercy upon her he would not have, and so smote her on the head and neck with the fiat of his sword.
Perceval espied the knight and saw that the cognisance of his shield was such as that which had been set forth to him.
"Sir," saith he, "Too churlishly are you entreating this damsel! What wrong hath she done you?"
"What is it to you of me and of her?"
"I say it" saith Perceval, "for that no knight ought to do churlishly to damsel."
"He will not stint for you yet!" saith Brundans. He raiseth his sword and dealeth the damsel a buffet with the fiat so passing heavy that it maketh her stoop withal so that the blood rayeth out at mouth and nose.
"By my head," saith Perceval, "On this buffet I defy thee, for the death of Meliot and for the shame you have done this damsel."
"Neither you nor none other may brag that you have heart to attack me, but you shall aby it right dear!"
"That shall you see presently," saith Perceval and so draweth back the better to let drive at him, and moveth towards him as fast as his horse may run, and smiteth him so passing sore that he pierceth his shield and bursteth his habergeon and then thrusteth his spear into his body with such force that he overthroweth him all in a heap, him and his horse, in such sort that he breaketh both legs in the fall.
Then he alighteth over him, lowereth his coif, unlaceth the ventail, and smiteth off his head.
"Damsel," saith he, "Take it, I present it to you. And, sith that you are going to King Arthur's court, I pray and beseech you that you carry it thither and so salute him first for me, and tell Messire Gawain and Lancelot that this is the last present I look ever to make them, for I think never to see them more. Howbeit, wheresoever I may be, I shall be their well-wisher, nor may I never withdraw me of my love, and I would fain I might make them the same present of the heads of all their enemies, but that I may do nought against God's will."
The damsel giveth him thanks for that he hath delivered her from the hands of the knight, and saith that she shall praise him much thereof to the King and Messire Gawain. She goeth her way and carrieth off the head, and Perceval biddeth her to God. He returned back to Castle Perilous, and the damsel made great joy thereof when she understood that he had slain Brundans. Perceval lay there that night, and departed on the morrow after that he had heard mass. When he came forth of the castle he met the knight by whom he had sent the cup to the Sick Knight's wife. Perceval asketh how it is with him.
"Sir, saith he, "I have carried out your message right well, for never was a thing received with such good will. The Sick Knight hath forgone his grudge against his wife. She eateth at his table, and the household do her commandment."
"This liketh me right well," saith Perceval, "and I thank you of doing this errand."
"Sir," saith the knight, "No thing is there I would not do for you, for that you made my brother Knight Hardy there where you first saw him Knight Coward."
"Sir," saith Perceval, "Good knight was your brother and a right good end he made, but a little it forthinketh me that he might have still been living had he abided in his cowardize."
"Sir," saith he, "Better is he dead, sith that he died with honour, than that he should live with shame. Yet glad was I not of his death, for a hardy knight he was, and yet more would have been, had he lived longer."
Perceval departeth from the knight and commendeth him to God. He hath wandered so far one day and another that he is returned to his own most holy castle, and findeth therein his mother and his sister that the Damsel of the Car had brought thither. The Widow Lady had made bear thither the body that lay in the coffin before the castle of Camelot in the rich chapel that she had builded there. His sister brought the cerecloth that she took in the Waste Chapel, and presented there where the Graal was. Perceval made bring the coffin of the other knight that was at the entrance of his castle within the chapel likewise, and place it beside the coffin of his uncle, nor never thereafter might it be removed. Josephus telleth us that Perceval was in this castle long time, nor never once moved therefrom in quest of no adventure; rather was his courage so attorned to the Saviour of the World and His sweet Mother, that he and his sister and the damsel that was therein led a holy life and a religious. Therein abode they even as it pleased God, until that his mother passed away and his sister and all they that were therein save he alone. The hermits that were nigh the castle buried them and sang their masses, and came every day and took counsel of him for the holiness they saw him do and the good life that he led there. So one day whilst he was in the holy chapel where the hallows were, forthwith, behold you, a Voice that cometh down therein: "Perceval," saith the Voice, "Not long shall you abide herein; wherefore it is God's will that you dispart the hallows amongst the hermits of the forest, there where these bodies shall be served and worshipped, and the most Holy Graal shall appear herein no more, but within a brief space shall you know well the place where it shall be."
When the Voice departed, all the coffins that were therein crashed so passing loud that it seemed the master-hall had fallen. He crosseth and blesseth him and commendeth him to God. On a day the hermits came to him. He disparted the holy relics among them, and they builded above them holy churches and houses of religion that are seen in the lands and in the islands. Joseus the son of King Hermit, remained therein with Perceval, for he well knew that he would be departing thence betimes.
Perceval heard one day a bell sound loud and high without the manor toward the sea. He came to the windows of the hall and saw the ship come with the white sail and the Red Cross thereon, and within were the fairest folk that ever he might behold, and they were all robed in such manner as though they should sing mass. When the ship was anchored under the hall they went to pray in the most holy chapel. They brought the richest vessels of gold and silver that any might ever see, like as it were coffins, and set therein one of the three bodies of knights that had been brought into the chapel, and the body of King Fisherman, and of the mother of Perceval. But no savour in the world smelleth so sweet. Perceval took leave of Joseus and commended him to the Saviour of the World, and took leave of the household, from whom he departed in like manner. The worshipful men that were in the ship signed them of the cross and blessed them likewise. The ship wherein Perceval was drew far away, and a Voice that issued from the manor as she departed commended them to God and to His sweet Mother. Josephus recordeth us that Perceval departed in such wise, nor never thereafter did no earthly man know what became of him, nor doth the history speak of him more. But the history telleth us that Joseus abode in the castle that had been King Fisherman's, and shut himself up therein so that none might enter, and lived upon that the Lord God might send him. He dwelt there long time after that Perceval had departed, and ended therein. After his end, the dwelling began to fall. Natheless never was the chapel wasted nor decayed, but was as whole thereafter as tofore and is so still. The place was far from folk, and the place seemed withal to be somewhat different. When it was fallen into decay, many folk of the lands and islands that were nighest thereunto marvel them what may be in this manor. They dare a many that they should go see what was therein, and sundry folk went thither from all the lands, but none durst never enter there again save two Welsh knights that had heard tell of it. Full comely knights they were, young and joyous hearted. So either pledged him to other that they would go thither by way of gay adventure; but therein remained they of a long space after, and when again they came forth they led the life of hermits, and clad them in hair shirts, and went by the forest and so ate nought save roots only, and led a right hard life; yet ever they made as though they were glad, and if that any should ask whereof they rejoiced in such wise, "Go," said they to them that asked, "thither where we have been, and you shall know the wherefore."
In such sort made they answer to the folk. These two knights died in this holy life, nor were none other tidings never brought thence by them. They of that land called them saints.
Here endeth the story of the most Holy Graal. Josephus, by whom it is placed on record, giveth the benison of Our Lord to all that hear and honour it. The Latin from whence this history was drawn into Romance was taken in the Isle of Avalon, in a holy house of religion that standeth at the head of the Moors Adventurous, there where King Arthur and Queen Guenievre lie, according to the witness of the good men religious that are therein, that have the whole history thereof, true from the beginning even to the end. After this same history beginneth the story how Briant of the Isles renounced King Arthur on account of Lancelot whom he loved not, and how he assured King Claudas that reft King Ban of Benoic of his land. This story telleth how he conquered him and by what means, and how Galobrus of the Red Launde came to King Arthur's court to help Lancelot, for that he was of his lineage. This story is right long and right adventurous and weighty, but the book will now forthwith be silent thereof until another time.
THE AUTHOR'S CONCLUSION
For the Lord of Neele made the Lord of Cambrein this book be written, that never tofore was treated in Romance but one single time besides this; and the book that was made tofore this is so ancient that only with great pains may one make out the letter. And let Messire Johan de Neele well understand that he ought to hold this story dear, nor ought he tell nought thereof to ill- understanding folk, for a good thing that is squandered upon bad folk is never remembered by them for good.
EXPLICIT THE ROMANCE OF PERCEVAL THE NEPHEW OF KING FISHERMAN.
[End of "The High History of the Holy Graal"]