The High History of the Holy Graal
Hear ye the history of the most holy vessel that is called Graal, wherein the precious blood of the Saviour was received on the day that He was put on rood and crucified in order that He might redeem His people from the pains of hell. Josephus set it in remembrance by annunciation of the voice of an angel, for that the truth might be known by his writing of good knights, and good worshipful men how they were willing to suffer pain and to travail for the setting forward of the Law of Jesus Christ, that He willed to make new by His death and by His crucifixion.
The High Book of the Graal beginneth in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. These three Persons are one substance, which is God, and of God moveth the High Story of the Graal. And all they that hear it ought to understand it, and to forget all the wickednesses that they have in their hearts. For right profitable shall it be to all them that shall hear it of the heart. For the sake of the worshipful men and good knights of whose deeds shall remembrance be made, doth Josephus recount this holy history, for the sake of the lineage of the Good Knight that was after the crucifixion of Our Lord. Good Knight was he without fail, for he was chaste and virgin of his body and hardy of heart and puissant, and so were his conditions without wickedness. Not boastful was he of speech, and it seemed not by his cheer that he had so great courage; Natheless, of one little word that he delayed to speak came to pass so sore mischances in Greater Britain, that all the islands and all the lands fell thereby into much sorrow, albeit thereafter he put them back into gladness by the authority of his good knighthood. Good knight was he of right, for he was of the lineage of Joseph of Abarimacie. And this Joseph was his mother's uncle, that had been a soldier of Pilate's seven years, nor asked he of him none other guerdon of his service but only to take down the body of Our Saviour from hanging on the cross. The boon him seemed full great when it was granted him, and full little to Pilate seemed the guerdon; for right well had Joseph served him, and had he asked to have gold or land thereof, willingly would he have given it to him. And for this did Pilate make him a gift of the Saviour's body, for he supposed that Joseph should have dragged the same shamefully through the city of Jerusalem when it had been taken down from the cross, and should have left it without the city in some mean place. But the Good Soldier had no mind thereto, but rather honoured the body the most he might, rather laid it along in the Holy Sepulchre and kept safe the lance whereof He was smitten in the side and the most Holy Vessel wherein they that believed on Him received with awe the blood that ran down from His wounds when He was set upon the rood. Of this lineage was the Good Knight for whose sake is this High History treated. Yglais was his mother's name: King Fisherman was his uncle, and the King of the Lower Folk that was named Pelles, and the King that was named of the Castle Mortal, in whom was there as much bad as there was good in the other twain, and much good was there in them; and these three were his uncles on the side of his mother Yglais, that was a right good Lady and a loyal; and the Good Knight had one sister, that hight Dindrane. He that was head of the lineage on his father's side was named Nichodemus. Gais li Gros of the Hermit's Cross was father of Alain li Gros. This Alain had eleven brethren, right good knights, like as he was himself. And none of them all lived in his knighthood but twelve years, and they all died in arms for their great hardiment in setting forward of the Law that was made new. There were twelve brethren. Alain li Gros was the eldest; Gorgalians was next; Bruns Brandnils was the third; Bertholez 1i Chauz the fourth; Brandalus of Wales was the fifth; Elinant of Escavalon was the sixth; Calobrutus was the seventh; Meralis of the Palace Meadow was the eighth; Fortunes of the Red Launde was ninth; Melaarmaus of Abanie was the tenth; Galians of the White Tower the eleventh; Alibans of the Waste City was the twelfth. All these died in arms in the service of the Holy Prophet that had renewed the Law by His death, and smote His enemies to the uttermost of their power. Of these two manner of folk, whose names and records you have heard, Josephus the good clerk telleth us was come the Good Knight of whom you shall well hear the name and the manner presently.
The authority of the scripture telleth us that after the crucifixion of Our Lord, no earthly King set forward the Law of Jesus Christ so much as did King Arthur of Britain, both by himself and by the good knights that made repair to his court. Good King Arthur after the crucifixion of Our Lord, was such as I tell you, and was a puissant King, and one that well believed in God, and many were the good adventures that befel at his court. And he had in his court the Table Round that was garnished of the best knights in the world. King Arthur after the death of his father led the highest life and most gracious that ever king led, in such sort that all the princes and all the barons took ensample of him in well-doing. For ten years was King Arthur in such estate as I have told you, nor never was earthly king so praised as he, until that a slothful will came upon him and he began to lose the pleasure in doing largesse that he wont to have, nor was he minded to hold court neither at Christmas-tide nor at Easter nor at Pentecost. The knights of the Table Round when they saw his well-doing wax slack departed thence and began to hold aloof from his court, insomuch as that of three hundred and three-score knights and six that he wont to have of his household, there were now not more than a five-and-twenty at most, nor did no adventure befal any more at his court. All the other princes had slackened of their well-doing for that they saw King Arthur maintain so feebly. Queen Guenievre was so sorrowful thereof that she knew not what counsel to take with herself, nor how she might so deal as to amend matters so God amended them not. From this time beginneth the history.
It was one Ascension Day that the King was at Cardoil. He was risen from meat and went through the hall from one end to the other, and looked and saw the Queen that was seated at a window. The King went to sit beside her, and looked at her in the face and saw that the tears were falling from her eyes.
"Lady," saith the King, "What aileth you, and wherefore do you weep?"
"Sir," saith she, "And I weep, good right have I; and you yourself have little right to make joy."
"Certes, Lady, I do not."
"Sir," saith she, "You are right. I have seen on this high day, or on other days that were not less high than this, when you have had such throng of knights at your court that right uneath might any number them. Now every day are so few therein that much shame have I thereof, nor no more do no adventures befal therein. Wherefore great fear have I lest God hath put you into forgetfulness."
"Certes, Lady," saith the King, "No will have I to do largesse nor aught that turneth to honour. Rather is my desire changed into feebleness of heart. And by this know I well that I lose my knights and the love of my friends."
"Sir," saith the Queen, "And were you to go to the chapel of S. Augustine, that is in the White Forest, that may not be found save by adventure only, methinketh that on your back-repair you would again have your desire of well-doing, for never yet did none discounselled ask counsel of God but he would give it for love of him so he asked it of a good heart."
"Lady," saith the King, "And willingly will I go, forasmuch as that you say have I heard well witnessed in many places where I have been."
"Sir," saith she, "The place is right perilous and the chapel right adventurous. But the most worshipful hermit that is in the Kingdom of Wales hath his dwelling beside the chapel, nor liveth he now any longer for nought save only the glory of God."
"Lady," saith the King, "It will behove me go thither all armed and without knights."
"Sir," saith she, "You may well take with you one knight and a squire."
"Lady," saith the King, "That durst not I, for the place is perilous, and the more folk one should take thither, the fewer adventures there should he find."
"Sir," saith she, "One squire shall you take by my good will nor shall nought betide you thereof save good only, please God!"
"Lady," saith the King, "At your pleasure be it, but much dread I that nought shall come of it save evil only."
Thereupon the King riseth up from beside the Queen, and looketh before him and seeth a youth tall and strong and comely and young, that was hight Chaus, and he was the son of Ywain li Aoutres.
"Lady," saith he to the Queen, "This one will I take with me and you think well."
"Sir," saith she, "It pleaseth me well, for I have heard much witness to his valour."
The King calleth the squire, and he cometh and kneeleth down before him. The King maketh him rise and saith unto him, "Chaus," saith he, "You shall lie within to-night, in this hall, and take heed that my horse be saddled at break of day and mine arms ready. For I would be moving at the time I tell you, and yourself with me without more company."
"Sir," saith the squire, "At your pleasure."
And the evening drew on, and the King and Queen go to bed. When they had eaten in hall, the knights went to their hostels. The squire remained in the hall, but he would not do off his clothes nor his shoon, for the night seemed him to be too short, and for that he would fain be ready in the morning at the King's commandment. The squire was lying down in such sort as I have told you, and in the first sleep that he slept, seemed him the King had gone without him. The squire was sore scared thereat, and came to his hackney and set the saddle and bridle upon him, and did on his spurs and girt on his sword, as it seemed him in his sleep, and issued forth of the castle a great pace after the King. And when he had ridden a long space he entered into a great forest and looked in the way before him and saw the slot of the King's horse and followed the track a long space, until that he came to a launde of the forest whereat he thought that the King had alighted. The squire thought that the hoof-marks on the way had come to an end and so thought that the King had alighted there or hard by there. He looketh to the right hand and seeth a chapel in the midst of the launde, and he seeth about it a great graveyard wherein were many coffins, as it seemed him. He thought in his heart that he would go towards the chapel, for he supposed that the King would have entered to pray there. He went thitherward and alighted. When the squire was alighted, he tied up his hackney and entered into the chapel. None did he see there in one part nor another, save a knight that lay dead in the midst of the chapel upon a bier, and he was covered of a rich cloth of silk, and had around him waxen tapers burning that were fixed in four candlesticks of gold. This squire marvelled much how this body was left there so lonely, insomuch that none were about him save only the images, and yet more marvelled he of the King that he found him not, for he knew not in what part to seek him. He taketh out one of the tall tapers, and layeth hand on the golden candlestick, and setteth it betwixt his hose and his thigh and issueth forth of the chapel, and remounteth on his hackney and goeth his way back and passeth beyond the grave-yard and issueth forth of the launde and entereth into the forest and thinketh that he will not cease until he hath found the King.
So, as he entereth into a grassy lane in the wood, he seeth come before him a man black and foul-favoured, and he was somewhat taller afoot than was himself a-horseback. And he held a great sharp knife in his hand with two edges as it seemed him. The squire cometh over against him a great pace and saith unto him, "You, that come there, have you met King Arthur in this forest?"
"In no wise," saith the messenger, "But you have I met, whereof am I right glad at heart, for you have departed from the chapel as a thief and a traitor. For you are carrying off thence the candlestick of gold that was in honour of the knight that lieth in the chapel dead. Wherefore I will that you yield it up to me and so will I carry it back, otherwise, and you do not this, you do I defy!"
"By my faith," saith the squire, "Never will I yield it you! rather will I carry it off and make a present thereof to King Arthur."
"By my faith," saith the other, "Right dearly shall you pay for it, and you yield it not up forthwith."
Howbeit, the squire smiteth with his spurs and thinketh to pass him by, but the other hasteth him, and smiteth the squire in the left side with the knife and thrusteth it into his body up to the haft. The squire, that lay in the hall at Cardoil, and had dreamed this, awoke and cried in a loud voice: "Holy Mary! The priest! Help! Help, for I am a dead man!"
The King and the Queen heard the cry, and the chamberlain leapt up and said to the King: "sir, you may well be moving, for it is day!"
The King made him be clad and shod. And the squire crieth with such strength as he hath: "Fetch me the priest, for I die!"
The King goeth thither as fast as he may, and the Queen and the chamberlain carry great torches and candles. The King asketh him what aileth him, and he telleth him all in such wise as he had dreamed it. "Ha," saith the King, "Is it then a dream?"
"Yea, sir," saith he, "But a right foul dream it is for me, for right foully hath it come true!" He lifted his left arm. "Sir," saith he, "Look you there! Lo, here is the knife that was run into my side up to the haft!" After that, he setteth his hand to his hose where the candlestick was. He draweth it forth and showeth it to the King. "Sir," saith he, "For this candlestick that I present to you, am I wounded to the death!"
The King taketh the candlestick, and looketh thereat in wonderment for none so rich had he never seen tofore. The King showeth it to the Queen. "Sir," saith the squire, "Draw not forth the knife of my body until that I be shriven."
The King sent for one of his own chaplains that made the squire confess and do his houselling right well. The King himself draweth forth the knife of the body, and the soul departed forthwith. The King made do his service right richly and his shrouding and burial. Ywain li Aoutres that was father to the squire was right sorrowful of the death of his son. King Arthur, with the good will of Ywain his father, gave the candlestick to S. Paul in London, for the church was newly founded, and the King wished that this marvellous adventure should everywhere be known, and that prayer should be made in the church for the soul of the squire that was slain on account of the candlestick.
King Arthur armed himself in the morning, as I told you and began to tell, to go to the chapel of S. Augustine. Said the Queen to him. "Whom will you take with you?"
"Lady," saith he, "No company will I have thither, save God only, for well may you understand by this adventure that hath befallen, that God will not allow I should have none with me."
"Sir," saith she, "God be guard of your body, and grant you return safely so as that you may have the will to do well, whereby shall your praise be lifted up that is now sore cast down."
"Lady," saith he, "May God remember it."
His destrier was brought to the mounting-stage, and the King mounted thereon all armed. Messire Ywain li Aoutres lent him his shield and spear. When the King had hung the shield at his neck and held the spear in his hand, sword-girt, on the tall destrier armed, well seemed he in the make of his body and in his bearing to be a knight of great pith and hardiment. He planteth himself so stiffly in the stirrups that he maketh the saddlebows creak again and the destrier stagger under him that was right stout and swift, and he smiteth him of his spurs, and the horse maketh answer with a great leap. The Queen was at the windows of the hall, and as many as five-and-twenty knights were all come to the mounting-stage. When the King departed, "Lords," saith the Queen, "How seemeth you of the King? Seemeth he not a goodly man?"
"Yea, certes, Lady, and sore loss is it to the world that he followeth not out his good beginning, for no king nor prince is known better learned of all courtesy nor of all largesse than he, so he would do like as he was wont." With that the knights hold their peace, and King Arthur goeth away a great pace. And he entereth into a great forest adventurous, and rideth the day long until he cometh about evensong into the thick of the forest. And he espied a little house beside a little chapel, and it well seemed him to be a hermitage. King Arthur rode thitherward and alighteth before this little house, and entereth thereinto and draweth his horse after him, that had much pains to enter in at the door, and laid his spear down on the ground and leant his shield against the wall, and hath ungirded his sword and unlaced his ventail. He looked before him and saw barley and provender, and so led his horse thither and smote off his bridle, and afterwards hath shut the door of the little house and locked it. And it seemed him that there was a strife in the chapel. The ones were weeping so tenderly and sweetly as it were angels, and the other spake so harshly as it were fiends. The King heard such voices in the chapel and marvelled much what it might be. He findeth a door in the little house that openeth on a little cloister whereby one goeth to the chapel. The King is gone thither and entereth into the little minster, and looketh everywhere but seeth nought there, save the images and the crucifixes. And he supposeth not that the strife of these voices cometh of them. The voices ceased as soon as he was within. He marvelleth how it came that this house and hermitage were solitary, and what had become of the hermit that dwelt therein. He drew nigh the altar of the chapel and beheld in front thereof a coffin all discovered, and he saw the hermit lying therein all clad in his vestments, and seeth the long beard down to his girdle, and his hands crossed upon his breast. There was a cross above him, whereof the image came as far as his mouth, and he had life in him yet, but he was nigh his end, being at the point of death. The King was before the coffin a long space, and looked right fainly on the hermit, for well it seemed him that he had been of a good life. The night was fully come, but within was a brightness of light as if a score of candles were lighted. He had a mind to abide there until that the good man should have passed away. He would fain have sate him down before the coffin, when a voice warned him right horribly to begone thence, for that it was desired to make a judgment within there, that might not be made so long as he were there. The King departed, that would willingly have remained there, and so returned back into the little house, and sate him down on a seat whereon the hermit wont to sir. And he heareth the strife and the noise begin again within the chapel, and the ones he heareth speaking high and the others low, and he knoweth well by the voices, that the ones are angels and the others devils. And he heareth that the devils are distraining on the hermit's soul, and that judgment will presently be given in their favour, whereof make they great joy. King Arthur is grieved in his heart when he heareth that the angels' voices are stilled. The King is so heavy, that no desire hath he neither to eat nor to drink. And while he sitteth thus, stooping his head toward the ground, full of vexation and discontent, he heareth in the chapel the voice of a Lady that spake so sweet and clear, that no man in this earthly world, were his grief and heaviness never so sore, but and he had heard the sweet voice of her pleading would again have been in joy. She saith to the devils: "Begone from hence, for no right have ye over the soul of this good man, whatsoever he may have done aforetime, for in my Son's service and mine own is he taken, and his penance hath he done in this hermitage of the sins that he hath done."
"True, Lady," say the devils, "But longer had he served us than he hath served you and your Son. For forty years or more hath he been a murderer and robber in this forest, whereas in this hermitage but five years hath he been. And now you Wish to thieve him from us."
"I do not. No wish have I to take him from you by theft, for had he been taken in your service in suchwise as he hath been taken in mine, yours would he have been, all quit."
The devils go their way all discomfit and aggrieved; and the sweet Mother of our Lord God taketh the soul of the hermit, that was departed of his body, and so commendeth it to the angels and archangels that they make present thereof to Her dear Son in Paradise. And the angels take it and begin to sing for joy "Te Deum laudamus". And the Holy Lady leadeth them and goeth her way along with them. Josephus maketh remembrance of this history and telleth us that this worthy man was named Calixtus.
King Arthur was in the little house beside the chapel, and had heard the voice of the sweet Mother of God and the angels. Great joy had he, and was right glad of the good man's soul that was borne thence into Paradise. The King had slept right little the night and was all armed. He saw the day break clear and fair, and goeth his way toward the chapel to cry God mercy, thinking to find the coffin discovered there where the hermit lay; but so did he not! Rather, was it covered of the richest tomb-stone that any might ever see, and had on the top a red cross, and seemed it that the chapel was all incensed. When the King had made his orison therein, he cometh back again and setteth on his bridle and saddle and mounteth, and taketh his shield and spear and departeth from the little house and entereth into the forest and rideth a great pace, until he cometh at right hour of tierce to one of the fairest laundes that ever a man might see. And he seeth at the entrance a spear set bar-wise, and looketh to the right or ever he should enter therein, and seeth a damsel sitting under a great leafy tree, and she held the reins of her mule in her hand. The damsel was of great beauty and full seemly clad. The King turneth thitherward and so saluteth her and saith: "Damsel," saith he, "God give you joy and good adventure."
"Sir," saith she, "So may He do to you!"
"Damsel," saith the King, "Is there no hold in this launde?"
"Sir," saith the damsel, "No hold is there save a most holy chapel and a hermit that is beside S. Augustine's chapel."
"Is this then S. Augustine's chapel?" saith the King.
"Yea, Sir, I tell it you for true, but the launde and the forest about is so perilous that no knight returneth thence but he be dead or wounded; but the place of the chapel is of so great worthiness that none goeth thither, be he never so discounselled, but he cometh back counselled, so he may thence return on live. And Lord God be guard of your body, for never yet saw I none aforetime that seemed more like to be good knight, and sore pity would it be and you were not, and never more shall I depart me hence and I shall have seen your end."
"Damsel," saith the King, "Please God, you shall see me repair back thence."
"Certes," saith the damsel, "Thereof should I be! right fain, for then should I ask you tidings at leisure of him that I am seeking."
The King goeth to the bar whereby one entereth into the launde, and looketh to the right into a combe of the forest and seeth the chapel of S. Augustine and the right fair hermitage. Thitherward goeth he and alighteth, and it seemeth him that the hermit is apparelled to sing the mass. He reineth up his horse to the bough of a tree by the side of the chapel and thinketh to enter thereinto, but, had it been to conquer all the kingdoms of the world, thereinto might he not enter, albeit there was none made him denial thereof, for the door was open and none saw he that might forbid him. Sore ashamed is the King thereof. Howbeit, he beholdeth an image of Our Lord that was there within and crieth Him of mercy right sweetly, and looketh toward the altar. And he looketh at the holy hermit that was robed to sing mass and said his "Confiteor", and seeth at his right hand the fairest Child that ever he had seen, and He was clad in an alb and had a golden crown on his head loaded with precious stones that gave out a full great brightness of light. On the left hand side, was a Lady so fair that all the beauties of the world might not compare them with her beauty. When the holy hermit had said his "Confiteor" and went to the altar, the Lady also took her Son and went to sit on the right hand side towards the altar upon a right rich chair and set her Son upon her knees and began to kiss Him full sweetly and saith: "Sir," saith she, "You are my Father and my Son and my Lord, and guardian of me and of all the world."
King Arthur heareth the words and seeth the beauty of the Lady and of the Child, and marvelleth much of this that She should call Him her Father and her Son. He looketh at a window behind the altar and seeth a flame come through at the very instant that mass was begun, clearer than any ray of sun nor moon nor star, and evermore it threw forth a brightness of light such that and all the lights in the world had been together it would not have been the like. And it is come down upon the altar. King Arthur seeth it who marvelleth him much thereof. But sore it irketh him of this that he may not enter therewithin, and he heareth, there where the holy hermit was singing the mass, right fair responses, and they seem him to be the responses of angels. And when the Holy Gospel was read, King Arthur looked toward the altar and saw that the Lady took her Child and offered Him into the hands of the holy hermit, but of this King Arthur made much marvel, that the holy hermit washed not his hands when he had received the offering. Right sore did King Arthur marvel him thereof, but little right would he have had to marvel had he known the reason. And when the Child was offered him, he set Him upon the altar and thereafter began his sacrament. And King Arthur set him on his knees before the chapel and began to pray to God and to beat his breast. And he looked toward the altar after the preface, and it seemed him that the holy hermit held between his hands a man bleeding from His side and in His palms and in His feet, and crowned with thorns, and he seeth Him in His own figure. And when he had looked on Him so long and knoweth not what is become of Him, the King hath pity of Him in his heart of this that he had seen, and the tears of his heart come into his eyes. And he looketh toward the altar and thinketh to see the figure of the man, and seeth that it is changed into the shape of the Child that he had seen tofore.
When the mass was sung, the voice of a holy angel said "Ite, missa est". The Son took the Mother by the hand, and they evanished forth of the chapel with the greatest company and the fairest that might ever be seen. The flame that was come down through the window went away with this company. When the hermit had done his service and was divested of the arms of God, he went to King Arthur that was still without the chapel. "Sir," saith he to the King, "Now may you well enter herein and well might you have been joyous in your heart had you deserved so much as that you might have come in at the beginning of the mass."
King Arthur entered into the chapel without any hindrance. "Sir," saith the hermit to the King, "I know you well, as did I also King Uther Pendragon your father. On account of your sins and your deserts might you not enter here while mass was being sung. Nor will you to-morrow, save you shall first have made amends of that you have misdone towards God and towards the saint that is worshipped herewithin. For you are the richest King of the world and the most adventurous, wherefore ought all the world to take ensample of you in well-doing and in largesse and in honour; whereas you are now an ensample of evil-doing to all rich worshipful men that be now in the world. Wherefore shall right sore mishap betide you and you set nor back your doing to the point whereat you began. For your court was the sovran of all courts and the most adventurous, whereas now is it least of worth. Well may he be sorry that goeth from honour to shame, but never may he have reproach that shall do him ill, that cometh from shame to honour, for the honour wherein he is found rescueth him to God, but blame may never rescue the man that hath renounced honour for shame, for the shame and wickedness wherein he is found declare him guilty."
"Sir," saith King Arthur, "To amend me have I come hither, and to be better counselled than I have been. Well do I see that the place is most holy, and I beseech you that you pray God that He counsel me and I will do my endeavour herein to amend me."
"God grant you may amend your life," saith the holy hermit, "in such sort that you may help to do away the evil Law and to exalt the Law that is made new by the crucifixion of the Holy Prophet. But a great sorrow is befallen in the land of late through a young knight that was harboured in the hostel of the rich King Fisherman, for that the most Holy Graal appeared to him and the Lance whereof the point runneth of blood, yet never asked he to whom was served thereof nor whence it came, and for that he asked it not are all the lands commoved to war, nor no knight meeteth other in the forest but he runneth upon him and slayeth him and he may, and you yourself shall well perceive thereof or ever you shall depart of this launde."
"Sir," saith King Arthur, "God defend me from the anguish of an evil death and from wickedness, for hither have I come for none other thing but to amend my life, and this will I do, so God bring me back in safety."
"Truly," saith the hermit, "He that hath been bad for three years out of forty, he hath not been wholly good."
"Sir," saith the King, "You speak truth."
The hermit departeth and so commendeth him to God. The King cometh to his horse and mounteth the speediest that ever he may, and setteth his shield on his neck, and taketh his spear in his hand and turneth him back a great pace. Howbeit, he had not gone a bowshot's length when he saw a knight coming disorderly against him, and he sate upon a great black horse and he had a shield of the same and a spear. And the spear was somewhat thick near the point and burned with a great flame, foul and hideous, and the flame came down as far as over the knight's fist. He setteth his spear in rest and thinketh to smite the King, but the King swerveth aside and the other passeth beyond. "Sir knight, wherefor hate you me?"
"Of right ought I not to love you," saith the knight.
"Wherefore?" saith the King.
"For this, that you have had my brother's candlestick that was foully stolen from him!"
"Know you then who I am?" saith the King.
"Yea," saith the knight; "You are the King Arthur that aforetime were good and now are evil. Wherefore I defy you as my mortal enemy."
He draweth him back so that his onset may be the weightier. The King seeth that he may not depart without a stour. He setteth his spear in rest when he seeth the other come towards him with his own spear all burning. The King smiteth his horse with his spurs as hard as he may, and meeteth the knight with his spear and the knight him. And they melled together so stoutly that the spears bent without breaking, and both twain are shifted in their saddles and lose their stirrups. They hurtle so strongly either against other of their bodies and their horses that their eyes sparkle as of stars in their heads and the blood rayeth out of King Arthur by mouth and nose. Either draweth away from other and they take their breath. The King looketh at the Black Knight's spear that burneth, and marvelleth him right sore that it is not snapped in flinders of the great buffet he had received thereof, and him thinketh rather that it is a devil and a fiend. The Black Knight is not minded to let King Arthur go so soon, but rather cometh toward him a great career. The King seeth him come toward him and so covereth him of his shield for fear of the flame. The King receiveth him on the point of his spear and smiteth him with so sore a shock that he maketh him bend backward over his horse croup. The other, that was of great might, leapeth back into the saddle-bows and smiteth the King upon the boss of his shield so that the burning point pierceth the shield and the sleeve of his habergeon and runneth the sharp iron into his arm. The King feeleth the wound and the heat, whereof is he filled with great wrath, and the knight draweth back his spear to him, and hath great joy at heart when he feeleth the King wounded. The King was rejoiced not a whit, and looked at the spear that was quenched thereof and burned no longer.
"Sir," saith the knight,"I cry you mercy. Never would my spear have been quenched of its burning, save it were bathed in your blood."
"Now may never God help me," saith King Arthur, "whenever I shall have mercy on you, and I may achieve!"
He pricketh towards him a great run, and smiteth him in the broad of the breast and thrusted his spear half an ell into his body, and beareth him to the ground, both him and his horse all in a heap, and draweth his spear back to him and looketh at the knight that lay as dead and leaveth him in the launde, and draweth him towards the issue incontinent. And so as the King went, he heard a great clashing of knights coming right amidst the forest, so as it seemed there were a good score or more of them, and he seeth them enter the launde from the forest, armed and well horsed. And they come with great ado toward the knight that lay dead in the midst of the launde. King Arthur was about to issue forth, when the damsel that he had left under the tree cometh forward to meet him.
"Sir," saith she, "For God's sake, return back and fetch me the head of the knight that lieth there dead."
The King looketh back, and seeth the great peril and the multitude of knights that are there all armed. "Ha, damsel," saith he, "You are minded to slay me."
"Certes, Sir, that I am not, but sore need will there be that I should have it, nor never did knight refuse to do the thing I asked nor deny me any boon I demanded of him. Now God grant you be not the most churlish."
"Ha, damsel, I am right sore wounded in the arm whereon I hold my shield."
"Sir," saith she, "I know it well, nor never may you be heal thereof save you bring me the head of the knight."
"Damsel," he saith, "I will essay it whatsoever may befal me thereof."
King Arthur looketh amidst the launde and seeth that they that have come thither have cut the knight to pieces limb by limb, and that each is carrying off a foot or a thigh or an arm or a hand and are dispersing them through the forest. And he seeth that the last knight beareth on the point of his spear the head. The King goeth after him a great gallop and crieth out to him: "Ha, Sir knight, abide and speak to me!"
"What is your pleasure?" saith the knight.
"Fair Sir," saith the King, "I beseech you of all loves that you deign to give me the head of this knight that you are carrying on the point of your lance."
"I will give it you," saith the knight, "on condition."
"What condition?" saith the King.
"That you tell me who slew the knight whose head I carry that you ask of me."
"May I not otherwise have it?" saith the King.
"In no wise," saith he.
"Then will I tell you," saith the King. "Know of a very truth that King Arthur slew him."
"And where is he?" saith the knight.
"Seek him until you shall have found him," saith King Arthur, "For I have told you the truth thereof. Give me the head."
"Willingly," saith the knight. He lowereth his spear and the King taketh the head. The knight had a horn at his neck. He setteth it to his mouth and soundeth a blast right loud. The knights that were set within the forest hear the horn and return back a great gallop, and King Arthur goeth his way toward the oak-tree at the issue of the launde where the damsel is awaiting him. And the knights come presently to him that had given the head to the King and ask him wherefore he hath sounded the horn.
"For this," saith he, "That this knight that is going away yonder hath told me that King Arthur slew the Black Knight, and I was minded you should know it that we may follow him."
"We will not follow him," say the knights, "For it is King Arthur himself that is carrying off the head, and no power have we to do evil to him nor other sith that he hath passed the bar. But you shall aby it that let him go when he was so nigh you!"
They rush in upon him and slay him and cut him up, and each one carrieth off his piece the same as they had done with the other. King Arthur is issued forth of the bar, and cometh to the maiden that is waiting for him and presenteth her the head.
"Sir," saith the damsel, "Gramercy."
"Damsel," saith he, "With a good will!"
"Sir," saith the damsel, "You may well alight, for nought have you to fear on this side the bar." With that, the King alighteth.
"Sir," saith she, "Do off your habergeon heedfully and I will bind up the wound in your arm, for of none may you be made whole save of me only."
The King doeth off his habergeon, and the damsel taketh of the blood of the knight's head that still ran all warm, and therewith washeth King Arthur his wound, and thereafter maketh him do on his habergeon again.
"Sir," saith she, "Never would you have been whole save by the blood of this Black Knight. And for this carried they off the body piecemeal and the head, for that they well knew you were wounded; and of the head shall I have right sore need, for thereby shall a castle be yielded up to me that was reft from me by treason, so I may find the knight that I go seek, through whom it ought to be yielded up to me."
"Damsel," saith the King, "And who is the knight?"
"Sir," saith she, "He was the son of Alain li Gros of the Valleys of Camelot, and is named Perlesvax."
"Wherefore Perlesvax?" saith the King.
"Sir," saith she, "When he was born, his father was asked how he should be named in right baptism, and he said that he would he should have the name Perlesvax, for the Lord of the Moors had reft him of the greater part of the Valleys of Camelot, and therefore he would that his son should by this name be reminded thereof, and God should so multiply him as that he should be knight. The lad was right comely and right gentle and began to go by the forests and launch his javelins, Welsh-fashion, at hart and hind. His father and his mother loved him much, and one day they were come forth of their hold, whereunto the forest was close anigh, to enjoy them. Now, there was between the hold and the forest, an exceeding small chapel that stood upon four columns of marble; and it was roofed of timber and had a little altar within, and before the altar a right fair coffin, and thereupon was the figure of a man graven. Sir," saith the damsel to the King, "The lad asked his father and mother what man lay within the coffin. The father answered: `Fair son,' saith he, `Certes, I know not to tell you, for the tomb hath been here or ever that my father's father was born, and never have I heard tell of none that might know who it is therein, save only that the letters that are on the coffin say that when the Best Knight in the world shall come hither the coffin will open and the joinings all fall asunder, and then will it be seen who it is that lieth therein.'"
"Damsel," saith the King, "Have many knights passed thereby sithence that the coffin was set there?"
"Yea, sir, so many that neither I nor none other may tell the number. Yet natheless hath not the coffin removed itself for none. When the lad heareth his father and mother talking thus, he asketh what a knight may be? `Fair son,' saith his mother, `Of right ought you well to know by your lineage.' She telleth the lad that he had eleven uncles on his father's side that had all been slain in arms, and not one of them lived knight but twelve years. Sir," saith she to the King, "The lad made answer that this was nor that he had asked, but how knights were made? And the father answered that they were such as had more valour than any other in the world. After that he said, `Fair son, they are clad in habergeons of iron to protect their bodies, and helms laced upon their heads, and shields and spears and swords girded wherewithal to defend their bodies.'"
"Sir," saith the damsel to the King, "When that the father had thus spoken to the lad, they returned together to the castle. When the morrow morning came, the lad arose and heard the birds sing and bethought him that he would go for disport into the forest for the day sith that it was fair. So he mounted on one of his father's horses of the chase and carried his javelins Welshman-fashion and went into the forest and found a stag and followed him a good four leagues Welsh, until that he came into a launde and found two knights all armed that were there doing battle, and the one had a red shield and the other a white. He left of tracking the stag to look on at the melly and saw that the Red Knight was conquering the White. He launched one of his javelins at the Red Knight so hard that he pierced his habergeon and made it pass through the heart. The knight fell dead.
"Sir," saith the damsel, "The knight of the white shield made great joy thereof, and the lad asked him, `were knights so easy to slay? Methought,' saith the lad, `that none might never pierce nor damage a knight's armour, otherwise would I not have run him through with my javelin,' saith the lad. Sir, the lad brought the destrier home to his father and mother, and right grieved were they when they heard the tidings of the knight he had slain. And right were they, for thereof did sore trouble come to them thereafter. Sir, the squire departed from the house of his father and mother and came to the court of King Arthur. Right gladly did the King make him knight when he knew his will, and afterward he departed from the land and went to seek adventure in every kingdom. Now is he the Best Knight that is in the world. So go I to seek him, and full great joy shall I have at heart and I may find him. Sir, and you should meet him by any adventure in any of these forests, he beareth a red shield with a white hart. And so tell him that his father is dead, and that his mother will lose all her land so he come not to succour her; and that the brother of the knight of the Red shield that he slew in the forest with his javelin warreth upon her with the Lord of the Moors."
"Damsel," saith the King, "And God grant me to meet him, right fain shall I be thereof, and right well will I set forth your message."
"Sir," saith she, "Now that I have told you him that I seek, it is your turn to tell me your name."
"Damsel," saith the King, "Willingly. They that know me call me Arthur."
"Arthur? Have you indeed such name?"
"Yea, damsel," saith he.
"So help me God," saith she, "Now am I sorrier for you than tofore, for you have the name of the worst King in the world, and I would that he were here in such sort as you are now. But never again will he move from Cardoil, do what he may, such dread hath the Queen lest any should take him from her, according as I have heard witness, for never saw I neither the one nor the other. I was moved to go to his court, but I have met full a score knights one after other, of whom I asked concerning him, and one told me the same tale as another, for each told me that the court of King Arthur is the vilest in the world, and that all the knights of the Table Round have renounced it for the badness thereof."
"Damsel," saith the King, "Hereof may he well be sorry, but at the beginning I have heard say he did right well."
"And who careth," saith the damsel, "for his good beginning when the end is bad? And much it misliketh me that so seemly knight and so worshipful man as are you should have the name of so evil a king."
"Damsel," saith the King, "A man is not good by his name, but by his heart."
"You say true," saith the damsel, "But for the King's name have I despite of yours. And whitherward are you going?"
"I shall go to Cardoil, where I shall find King Arthur when I shall come thither."
"Go to, then, and bestir!" saith she.
"One bad man with another! No better hope have I of you, sith that you go thither!"
"Damsel, you may say your pleasure, for thither I go! God be with you!"
"And may never God guide you," saith she, "and you go the court of King Arthur!"
With that the King mounted again and departed, and left the damsel under the tree and entered into the deep forest and rode with much ado as fast as he might to come to Cardoil. And he had ridden a good ten leagues Welsh when he heard a Voice in the thick of the forest that began to cry aloud: "King Arthur of Great Britain, right glad at heart mayst thou be of this that God hath sent me hither unto thee. And so He biddeth thee that thou hold court at the earliest thou mayst, for the world, that is now made worse of thee and of thy slackness in well-doing, shall thereof be greatly amended!"
With that the Voice is silent, and the King was right joyous in his heart of that he had heard. The story speaketh no more here of other adventure that befel King Arthur in his returning nor on his arriving. Anyway, he hath ridden so long that he is come back to Cardoil. The Queen and the knights made great feast of him and great joy. The King was alighted on the mounting-stage and went up into the hall and made him be disarmed. And he showed the Queen the wound that he had on his arm, that had been right great and painful, but it was healing full fairly. The King goeth into the chamber and the Queen with him, and doeth the King be apparelled in a robe of cloth of silk all furred of ermine, with coat, surcoat and mantle.
"Sir," saith the Queen, "Sore pain and travail have you had."
"Lady, in such wise behoveth worshipful man to suffer in order that he may have honour, for hardly shall none without travail come to honour." He recounteth to the Queen all the adventures that have befallen him sithence that he was departed, and in what manner he was wounded in the arm, and of the damsel that had so blamed him of his name.
"Sir," saith the queen, "Now may you well know how meet it is that a man high and rich and puissant should have great shame of himself when he becometh evil."
"Lady," saith the King, "So much did the damsel do me well to wot, but greatly did a Voice recomfort me that I heard in the forest, for it told me that God bade me hold court presently, and that I shall see there the fairest adventure befal that ever I may see."
"Sir," saith she, "Right joyous ought you to be that your Saviour hath had you in remembrance. Now, therefore, fulfil His commandment."
"Certes, Lady, so will I do. For never had none better desire of well-doing than have I as at this time, nor of honour nor of largesse."
"Sir," saith she, "God be praised thereof."
Back to the Introduction
Forward to Branch II