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The High History of the Holy Graal: Branch IV


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 through, out the body and slew her, and then turneth him again so fast as his horse might carry him toward his hold. Messire Gawak seeth the damsel dead and the dwarf that fleeth full speed after his lord. He overtaketh him and trampleth him under his horses 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 nor," 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, should have fled away forthwith, or elsewise I should hay 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 saw 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 serve 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 withholden 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 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-sheer 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.

Next: The High History of the Holy Graal: Branch V