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The High History of the Holy Graal: Branch XVII


Here beginneth one of the master branches of the Graal in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.


Perceval had been with his mother as long as it pleased him. He hath departed with her good will and the good will of his sister, and telleth them he will return into the land as speedily as he may. He entereth into the great Lonely Forest, and rideth so far on his journeys that he cometh one day at the right hour of noon into a passing fair launde, and seeth a forest. He looketh amidst the launde and seeth a red cross. He looketh to the head of the launde and seeth a right comely knight sitting in the shadow of the forest, and he was clad in white garments and held a vessel of gold in his hand. At the other end of the launde he seeth a damsel likewise sitting, young and gentle and of passing great beauty, and she was clad in a white samite dropped of gold. Josephus telleth us by the divine scripture that out of the forest issued a beast, white as driven snow, and it was bigger than a fox and less than a hare. The beast came into the launde all scared, for she had twelve hounds in her belly, that quested within like as it were hounds in a wood, and she fled adown the launde for fear of the hounds, the questing whereof she had within her. Perceval rested on the shaft of his spear to look at the marvel of this beast, whereof he had right great pity, so gentle was she of semblance, and of so passing beauty, and by her eyes it might seem that they were two emeralds. She runneth to the knight, all affrighted, and when she hath been there awhile and the hounds rend her again, she runneth to the damsel, but neither there may she stay long time, for the hounds that are within her cease not of their questing, whereof is she sore adread.


She durst not venture herself in the forest. She seeth Perceval and so cometh toward him for protection. She maketh as though she would lie down on his horse's neck, and he holdeth forth his hands to receive her there so as that she might not hurt herself, and evermore the hounds quested. Howbeit the knight crieth out to him, "Sir Knight, let the beast go and hold her not, for this belongeth neither to you nor to other, but let her dree her weird."

The beast seeth that no protection hath she. She goeth to the cross, and forthwith might the hounds no longer be in her, but issued forth all as it were live hounds, but nought had they of her gentleness nor her beauty. She humbled herself much among them and crouched on the ground and made semblant as though she would have cried them mercy, and gat herself as nigh the cross as she might. The hounds had compassed her round about and ran in upon her upon all sides and tore her all to pieces with their teeth, but no power had they to devour her flesh, nor to remove it away from the cross.


When the hounds had all to-mangled the beast, they fled away into the wood as had they been raging mad. The knight and the damsel came there where the beast lay in pieces at the cross, and so taketh each his part and setteth the same on their golden vessels, and took the blood that lay upon the earth in like manner as the flesh, and kiss the place, and adore the cross, and then betake them into the forest. Perceval alighteth and setteth him on his knees before the cross and so hisseth and adoreth it, and the place where the beast was slain, in like manner as he had seen the knight and damsel do; and there came to him a smell so sweet of the cross and of the place, such as no sweetness may be compared therewith. He looketh and seeth coming from the forest two priests all afoot; and the first shouteth to him: "Sir Knight, withdraw yourself away from the cross, for no right have you to come nigh it.": Perceval draweth him back, and the priest kneeleth before the cross and adoreth it and boweth down and kisseth it more than a score times, and manifesteth the most joy in the world. And the other priest cometh after, and bringeth a great rod, and setteth the first priest aside by force, and beateth the cross with the rod in every part, and weepeth right passing sore.


Perceval beholdeth him with right great wonderment, and saith unto him, "Sir, herein seem you to be no priest! wherefore do you so great shame?"

"Sir," saith the priest, "It nought concerneth you of whatsoever we may do, nor nought shall you know thereof for us!"

Had he not been a priest, Perceval would have been right wroth with him, but he had no will to do him any hurt. Therewithal he departeth and mounteth his horse and entereth the forest again, all armed, but scarce had he ridden away in such sort or ever he met the Knight Coward, that cried out to him as far as he could see him, "Sir, for God's sake, take heed to yourself!"

"What manner man are you?" saith Perceval.

"Sir," saith he, "My name is the Knight Coward, and I am man of the Damsel of the Car. Wherefore I pray you for God's sake and for your own valour that you touch me not."

Perceval looketh on him and seeth him tall and comely and well-shapen and adroit and all armed upon his horse, so he saith to him, "Sith that you are so coward, wherefore are you armed thus?"

"Sir," saith he, "Against the evil intent of any knight of whom I am adread, for such an one might haply meet me as would slay me forthwith."


"Are you so coward as you say?" saith Perceval.

"Yea," saith he, "And much more."

"By my head," saith he, "I will make you hardy. Come now along with me, for sore pity is it that cowardize should harbour in so comely a knight. I am fain that your name be changed speedily, for such name beseemeth no knight."

"Ha, Sir, for God's sake, mercy! Now know I well that you desire to slay me! No will have I to change neither my courage nor my name!"

"By my head," saith Perceval, "Then will you die therefor, betimes!"

He maketh him go before him, will he or nill he; and the knight goeth accordingly with right sore grudging. They had scarce ridden away, when he heard in the forest off the way, two damsels that bewailed them right sore, and prayed our Lord God send them succour betimes.


Perceval cometh towards them, he and the knight he driveth before him perforce, and seeth a tall knight all armed that leadeth the damsels all dishevelled, and smiteth them from time to time with a great rod, so that the blood ran down their faces.

"Ha, Sir Knight," saith Perceval, "What ask you of these two damsels that you entreat so churlishly?"

"Sir," saith he, "They have disherited me of mine own hold in this forest that Messire Gawain gave them."

"Sir," say they to Perceval, "This knight is a robber, and none other but he now wonneth in this forest, for the other robber- knights were slain by Messire Gawain and Lancelot and another knight that came with them, and, for the sore suffering and poverty that Messire Gawain and Lancelot saw in us aforetime, and in the house of my brother in whose castle they lay, were they fain to give us this hold and the treasure they conquered from the robber-knights, and for this doth he now lead us away to slay and destroy us, and as much would he do for you and all other knights, so only he had the power."

"Sir Knight," saith Perceval, "Let be these damsels, for well I know that they say true, for that I was there when the hold was given them."

"Then you helped to slay my kindred," saith the knight, "And therefore you do I defy!"

"Ha," saith the Knight Coward to Perceval, "Take no heed of that he saith, and wax not wroth, but go your way!"

"Certes," saith Perceval, "This will I not do: Rather will I help to challenge the honour of the damsels."


"Ha, Sir," saith the Knight Coward, "Never shall it be challenged of me!"

Perceval draweth him back. "Sir," saith he, "See here my champion that I set in my place."

The robber knight moveth toward him, and smiteth him so sore on the shield that he breaketh his spear, but he might not unseat the Coward Knight, that sate still upright as aforehand in the saddle-bows. He 1ooketh at the other knight that hath drawn his sword. The Knight Coward 1ooketh on the one side and the other, and would fain have fled and he durst. But Perceval crieth to him: "Knight, do your endeavour to save my honour and your own life and the honour of these two damsels!"

And the robber-knight dealeth him a great buffet of his sword so as that it went nigh to stun him altogether. Howbeit the Coward Knight moveth not. Perceval looketh at him in wonderment and thinketh him that he hath set too craven a knight in his place, and now at last knoweth well that he spake truth. The, robber- knight smiteth him all over his body and giveth him so many buffets that the knight seeth his own blood.

"By my head," saith he, "You have wounded me, but you shall pay therefor, for I supposed not that you were minded to slay me!"

He draweth his sword, that was sharp and strong, and smiteth his horse right sore hard of his spurs, and catcheth the knight with his sword right in the midst of his breast with a sweep so strong that he beareth him to the ground beside his horse. He alighteth over him, unlaceth his ventail and smiteth down his coif, then striketh off his head and presenteth it to Perceval.

"Sir," saith he, "Here give I you of my first joust."

"By my head," said Perceval, "Right dearly love I this present! Now take heed that you never again fall back into the cowardize wherein you have been. For it is too sore shame to a knight!"

"Sir," saith he, "I will not, but never should I have believed that one could become hardy so speedily, or otherwise long ago would I have become so, and so should I have had worship and honour thereof, for many a knight hath held me in contempt herein, that elsewise would have honoured me."

Perceval answereth that right and reason it is that worshipful men should be more honoured than the other.

"I commend these two damsels to your protection, and lead them to their hold in safety, and be at their pleasure and their will, and so say everywhere that you have for name the Knight Hardy, for more of courtesy hath this name than the other."

"Sir," saith he, "You say true, and you have I to thank for the name."

The damsels give great thanks to Perceval, and take leave of him, and so go their way with right good will toward the knight that goeth with them on account of the knight he had slain, so that thereof called they him the Knight Hardy.


Perceval departeth from the place where the knight lieth dead, and rideth until that he draweth nigh to Cardoil where King Arthur was, and findeth the country round in sore terror and dismay. Much he marvelleth wherefore it may be, and demandeth of some of the meaner sort wherefore they are in so sore affright.

"Doth the King, then, live no longer?"

"Sir," say the most part, "Yea, he is there within in this castle, but never was he so destroyed nor so scared as he is at this present. For a knight warreth upon him against whom no knight in the world may endure."

Perceval rideth on until he cometh before the master hall, and is alighted on the mounting-stage. Lancelot and Messire Gawain come to meet him and make much joy of him, as do the King and Queen and all they of the court; and they made disarm him and do upon him a right rich robe. They that had never seen him before looked upon him right fainly for the worship and valour of his knighthood. The court also was rejoiced because of him, for sore troubled had it been. So as the King sate one day at meat, there came four knights into the hall, and each one of them bore before him a dead knight. And their feet and arms had been stricken off, but their bodies were still all armed, and the habergeons thereon were all black as though they had been blasted of lightning. They laid the knights in the midst of the hall.

"Sir," say they to the King, "Once more is made manifest this shame that is done you that is not yet amended. The Knight of the Dragon destroyeth you your land and slayeth your men and cometh as nigh us as he may, and saith that in your court shall never be found knight so hardy as that he durst abide him or assault him."

Right sore shame hath the King of these tidings, and Messire Gawain and Lancelot likewise. Right sorrowful are they of heart for that the King would not allow them to go thither. The four knights turn back again and leave the dead knights in the hall, but the King maketh them be buried with the others.


A great murmuring ariseth amongst the knights in the hall, and the most part say plainly that they never heard tell of none that slew knights in such cruel sort, nor so many as did he; and that neither Messire Gawain nor Lancelot ought to be blamed for that they went not thither, for no knight in the world might conquer such a man and our Lord God did not, for he casteth forth fire and flame from his shield whensoever him listeth. And while this murmur was going on between the knights all round about the hall, behold you therewithal the Damsel that made bear the knight in the horse-bier and cometh before the King.

"Sir," saith she, "I pray and beseech you that you do me right in your court. See, here is Messire Gawain that was at the assembly in the Red Launde where were many knights, and among them was the son of the Widow Lady, that I see sitting beside you. He and Messire Gawain were they that won the most prize of the assembly. This knight had white arms, and they of the assembly said that he had better done than Messire Gawain, for that he had been first in the assembly. It had been granted me, before the assembly began, that he that should do best thereat, should avenge the knight. Sir, I have sought for him until I have now found him at your court. Wherefore I pray and beseech you that you bid him do so much herein as that he be not blamed, for Messire Gawain well knoweth that I have spoken true. But the knight departed so soon from the assembly, that I knew not what had become of him, and Messire Gawain was right heavy for that he had departed, for he was in quest of him, but knew him not."


"Damsel," saith Messire Gawain, "Truth it is that he it was that did best at the assembly in the Red Launde, and moreover, please God, well will he fulfil his covenant towards you."

"Messire Gawain," saith Perceval, "Meseemeth you did best above all other."

"By my faith," saith Messire Gawain, "You speak of your courtesy, but howsoever I or other may have done, you had the prize therein by the judgment of the knights. Of so much may I well call upon the damsel to bear witness."

"Sir," saith she, "Gramercy! He ought not to deny me that I require of him. For the knight that I have so long followed about and borne on a bier was son of his uncle Elinant of Escavalon."


"Damsel," saith Perceval, "Take heed that you speak truth. I know well that Elinant of Escavalon was mine uncle on my father's side, but of his son know I nought."

"Sir," saith she, "Of his deeds well deserved he to be known, for by his great valour and hardiment came he by his death, and he had to name Alein of Escavalon. The Damsel of the Circlet of Gold loved him of passing great love with all her might. The comeliest knight that was ever seen of his age was he, and had he lived longer would have been one of the best knights known, and of the great love she had in him made she his body be embalmed when the Knight of the Dragon had slain him, he that is so cruel and maketh desolate all the lands and all the islands. The Damsel of the Circlet of Gold hath he defied in such sort that already hath he slain great part of her knights, and she is held fast in her castle, so that she durst not issue forth, insomuch that all the knights that are there say, and the Lady of the castle also, that he that shall avenge this knight shall have the Circlet of Gold, that never before was she willing to part withal, and the fairest guerdon will that be that any knight may have."


"Sir," saith she, "Well behoveth you therefore, to do your best endeavour to avenge your uncle's son, and to win the Circlet of Gold, for, and you slay the knight, you will have saved the land of King Arthur that he threateneth to make desolate, and all the lands that march with his own, for no King hateth he so much as King Arthur on account of the head of the Giant whereof he made such joy at his court."

"Damsel," saith Perceval, "Where is the Knight of the Dragon?"

"Sir," saith she, "He is in the isles of the Elephants that wont to be the fairest land and the richest in the world. Now hath he made it all desolate, they say, in such sort that none durst inhabit there, and the island wherein he abideth is over against the castle of the Damsel of the Golden Circlet, so that every day she seeth him carry knights off bodily from the forest that he slayeth and smiteth limb from limb, whereof hath she right sore grief at heart."


Perceval heareth this that the damsel telleth him, and marvelleth much thereat, and taketh thought within himself, sith that the adventure is thus thrown upon him, that great blame will he have thereof and he achieveth it not. He taketh leave of the King and Queen, and so goeth his way and departeth from the Court. Messire Gawain departeth and Lancelot with him, and say they will bear him company to the piece of ground, and they may go thither. Perceval holdeth their fellowship right dear. The King and Queen have great pity of Perceval, and say all that never until now no knight went into jeopardy so sore, and that sore loss to the world will it be if there he should die. They send to all the hermits and worshipful men in the forest of Cardoil and bid them pray for Perceval that God defend him from this enemy with whom he goeth forth to do battle. Lancelot and Messire Gawain go with him by the strange forests and by the islands, and found the forests all void and desolate and wasted in place after place. The Damsel followeth them together with the dead knight. And so far have they wandered that they come into the plain country before the forest. So they looked before them and saw a castle that was seated in the plain without the forest, and they saw that it was set in a right fair meadow-land, and was surrounded of great running waters and girdled of high walls, and had within great halls with windows. They draw nigh the castle and see that it turneth all about faster than the wind may run, and it had at the top the archers of crossbows of copper that draw their shafts so strong that no armour in the world might avail against the stroke thereof. Together with them were men of copper that turned and sounded their horns so passing loud that the ground all seemed to quake. And under the gateway were lions and bears chained, that roared with so passing great might and fury that all the ground and the valley resounded thereof. The knights draw rein and look at this marvel.

"Lords," saith the damsel, "Now may you see the Castle of Great Endeavour. Messire Gawain and Lancelot, draw you back, and come not nigher the archers, for otherwise ye be but dead men. And you, sir," saith she to Perceval, "And you would enter into this castle, lend me your spear and shield, and so will I bear them before for warranty, and you come after me and make such countenance as good knight should, and so shall you pass through into the castle. But your fellows may well draw back, for now is not the hour for them to pass. None may pass thither save only he that goeth to vanquish the knight and win the Golden Circlet and the Graal, and do away the false law with its horns of copper."


Perceval is right sorrowful when he heareth the damsel say that Messire Gawain and Lancelot may not pass in thither with him albeit they be the best knights in the world. He taketh leave of them full sorrowfully, and they also depart sore grudgingly; but they pray him right sweetly, so Lord God allow him escape alive from the place whither he goeth, that he will meet them again at some time and place, and at ease, in such sort as that they may see him without discognisance. They wait awhile to watch the Good Knight, that hath yielded his shield and spear to the damsel. She hath set his shield on the bier in front, then pointeth out to them of the castle all openly the shield that belonged to the Good Soldier; after that she maketh sign that it belongeth to the knight that is there waiting behind her. Perceval was without shield in the saddle-bows, and holdeth his sword drawn and planteth him stiffly in the stirrups after such sort as maketh them creak again and his horse's chine swerve awry. After that, he looketh at Lancelot and Messire Gawain.

"Lords," saith he, "To the Saviour of the World commend I you."

And they answer, "May He that endured pain of His body on the Holy True Cross protect him in his body and his soul and his life."

With that he smiteth with his spurs and goeth his way to the castle as fast as his horse may carry him, -- toward the Turning Castle. He smiteth with his sword at the gate so passing strongly that he cut a good three fingers into a shaft of marble. The lions and the beast that were chained to guard the gate slink away into their dens, and the castle stoppeth at once. The archers cease to shoot. There were three bridges before the castle that uplifted themselves so soon as he was beyond.


Lancelot and Messire Gawain departed thence when they had beholden the marvel, but they were fain to go toward the castle when they saw it stop turning. But a knight cried out to them from the battlements, "Lords, and you come forward, the archers will shoot and the castle will turn, and the bridges be lowered again, wherefore you would be deceived herein."

They draw back, and hear made within the greatest joy that ever was heard, and they hear how the most part therewithin say that now is he come of whom they shall be saved in twofold wise, saved as of life, and saved as of soul, so God grant him to vanquish the knight that beareth the spirit of the devil. Lancelot and Messire Gawain turn them back thoughtful and all heavy for that they may not pass into the castle, for none other passage might they see than this. So they ride on, until that they draw nigh the Waste City where Lancelot slew the knight.

"Ha," saith he to Messire Gawain, "Now is the time at hand that behoveth me to die in this Waste City, and God grant not counsel herein."

He told Messire Gawain all the truth of that which had befallen him therein. So, even as he would have taken leave of him, behold you, the Poor Knight of the Waste Castle!


"Sir," saith he to Lancelot, "I have taken respite of you in the city within there, of the knight that you slew, until forty days after that the Graal shall be achieved, nor have I issued forth of the castle wherein you harboured you until now, nor should I now have come forth had I not seen you come for fulfilling of your pledge, nor never shall I come forth again until such time as you shall return hither on the day I have named to you. And so, gramercy to you and Messire Gawain for the horses you sent me, that were a right great help to us, and for the treasure and the hold you have given to my sisters that were sore poverty- stricken. But I may not do otherwise than abide in my present poverty until such time as you shall be returned, on the day whereunto I have taken respite for you, sore against the will of your enemies, for the benefits you have done me. Wherefore I pray yon forget me not, for the saving of your loyalty."

"By my head," saith Lancelot, "That will I not, and gramercy for having put off the day for love of me."

They depart from the knight and come back again toward Cardoil where King Arthur was.

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