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The High History of the Holy Graal: Branch XXII


Of Lancelot the story is here silent, and so beginneth another branch of the Graal in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.


You may well understand that King Arthur is no whit joyful. He maketh the white destrier go after him, and hath the crown of gold full near himself. They ride until they come to the castle that belonged to King Fisherman, and they found it as rich and fair as you have heard told many a time. Perceval, that was there within, made right great joy of their coming, as did all the priests and ancient knights. Perceval leadeth King Arthur, when he was disarmed, into the chapel where the Graal was, and Messire Gawain maketh present to Perceval of the Golden Circlet, and telleth him that the Queen sendeth it to him, and relateth also how Nabigant had seized it, and moreover, how Nabigant was dead. The King offereth the crown that had been Queen Guenievre's. When Perceval knew that she was dead, he was right sorrowful thereof in his heart, and wept and lamented her right sweetly. He showeth them the tomb of King Fisherman, and telleth them that none had set the tabernacle there above the coffin, but only the commandment of Our Lord, and he showeth them a rich pall that is upon the coffin, and telleth them that every day they see a new one there not less rich than is this one. King Arthur looketh. at the sepulchre and saith that never tofore hath he seen none so costly. A smell issueth therefrom full delicate and sweet of savour. The King sojourneth in the castle and is highly honoured, and beholdeth the richesse and the lordship and the great abundance that is everywhere in the castle, insomuch that therein is nought wanting that is needful for the bodies of noble folk. Perceval had made set the bodies of the dead knights in a charnel beside an old chapel in the forest, and the body of his uncle that had slain himself so evilly. Behind the castle was a river, as the history testifieth, whereby all good things came to the castle, and this river was right fair and plenteous. Josephus witnesseth us that it came from the Earthly Paradise and compassed the castle around and ran on through the forest as far as the house of a worshipful hermit, and there lost the course and had peace in the earth. All along the valley thereof was great plenty of everything continually, and nought was ever lacking in the rich castle that Perceval had won. The castle, so saith the history, had three names.


One of the names was Eden, the second, Castle of Joy, and the third, Castle of Souls. Now Josephus saith that none never passed away therein but his soul went to Paradise. King Arthur was one day at the castle windows with Messire Gawain. The King seeth coming before him beyond the bridge a great procession of folk one before another; and he that came before was all clad in white, and bare a full great cross, and each of the others a little one, and the more part came singing with sweet voices and bear candles burning, and there was one behind that carried a bell with the clapper and all at his neck.

"Ha, God," saith King Arthur, "What folk be these?"

"Sir," saith Perceval, "I know them all save the last. They be hermits of this forest, that come to chant within yonder before the Holy Graal, three days in the week."


When the hermits came nigh the castle, the King went to meet them, and the knights adore the crosses and bow their heads before the good men. As soon as they were come into the holy chapel, they took the bell from the last and smote thereon at the altar, and then set it on the ground, and then began they the service, most holy and most glorious. The history witnesseth us that in the land of King Arthur at this time was there not a single chalice. The Graal appeared at the sacring of the mass, in five several manners that none ought not to tell, for the secret things of the sacrament ought none to tell openly but he unto whom God hath given it. King Arthur beheld all the changes, the last whereof was the change into a chalice. And the hermit that chanted the mass found a brief under the corporal and declared the letters, to wit, that our Lord God would that in such vessel should His body be sacrificed, and that it should be set upon record. The history saith not that there were no chalices elsewhere, but that in all Great Britain and in the whole kingdom was none. King Arthur was right glad of this that he had seen, and had in remembrance the name and the fashion of the most holy chalice. Then he asked the hermit that bare the bell, whence this thing came?

"Sir," saith he to Messire Gawain, "I am the King for whom you slew the giant, whereby you had the sword wherewith St John was beheaded, that I see on this altar. I made baptize me before you and all those of my kingdom, and turn to the New Law, and thereafter I went to a hermitage by the sea, far from folk, where I have been of a long space. I rose one night at matins and looked under my hermitage and saw that a ship had taken haven there. I went thither when the sea was retreated, and found within the ship three priests and their clerks, that told me their names and how they were called in baptism. All three were named Gregory, and they came from the Land of Promise, and told me that Solomon had cast three bells, one for the Saviour of the World, and one for His sweet Mother, and one for the honour of His saints, wherefore they had brought this hither by His commandment into this kingdom for that we had none here. They told me that and I should bear it into this castle, they would take all my sins upon themselves, by Our Lord's pleasure, in such sort as that I should be quit thereof. And I in like manner have brought it hither by the commandment of God, who willeth that this should be the pattern of all those that shall be fashioned in the realm of this island where never aforetime have been none."

"By my faith," saith Messire Gawain to the hermit, "I know you right well for a worshipful man, for you held your covenant truly with me."

King Arthur was right glad of this thing, as were all they that were within. It seemed him that the noise thereof was like the noise that he had heard sound ever since he had moved from Cardoil. The hermits went their way each to his hermitage when they had done the service.


One day, as the King sate at meat in the hall with Perceval and Messire Gawain and the ancient knights, behold you therewithal one of the three Damsels of the Car that cometh, and she was smitten all through her right arm.

"Sir," saith she to Perceval, "Have mercy on your mother and your sister and on us. Aristor of Moraine, that is cousin to the Lord of the Moors that you slew, warreth upon your mother, and hath carried off your sister by force into the castle of a vavasour of his, and saith that he will take her to wife and will have all her land that your mother ought to hold of right, maugre your head. But never had knight custom so cruel as he, for when he shall have espoused the damsel, whomsoever she may be, yet will he never love her so well but that he shall cut off her head with his own hand, and so thereafter go seek for another to slay in like manner. Natheless in one matter hath he good custom, that never will he do shame to none until such time as he hath espoused her. Sir, I was with my Lady your sister when he maimed me in this manner. Wherefore your mother sendeth you word and prayeth you that you succour her, for you held her in covenant that so you would do and she should have need thereof and you should know it; for and you consent to her injury and loss, the shame will be your own."

Perceval heard these tidings, and sore sorrowful was he thereof.

"By my head," saith the King to Perceval, "I and my nephew, so please you, will go to help you."

"Sir," saith he, "Gramercy, but go and achieve your own affair also, for sore need have you thereof; wherefore I pray and beseech you that you be guardian of the castle of Camelot, if that my lady mother shall come thither, for thereof make I you lord and champion, and albeit the castle be far away from you, yet garnish it and guard it, for it is builded in a place right fair."


Lords, think not that it is this Camelot whereof these tellers of tales do tell their tales, there, where King Arthur so often held his court. This Camelot that was the Widow Lady's stood upon the uttermost headland of the wildest isle of Wales by the sea to the West. Nought was there save the hold and the forest and the waters that were round about it. The other Camelot, of King Arthur's, was situate at the entrance of the kingdom of Logres, and was peopled of folk and was seated at the head of the King's land, for that he had in his governance all the lands that on that side marched with his own.

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