THE HIGH HISTORY OF THE HOLY GRAAL
Another branch that Josephus telleth us recounteth and witnesseth of the Holy Graal, and here beginneth for us in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Messire Gawain rode until he came to a forest, and seeth a land right fair and rich in a great enclosure of wall, and round the land and country-side within, the wall stretched right far away. Thitherward he cometh and seeth but one entrance thereinto, and he seeth the fairest land that ever he beheld and the best garnished and the fairest orchards. The country was not more than four leagues Welsh in length, and in the midst thereof was a tower on a high rock. And on the top was a crane that kept watch over it and cried when any strange man came into the country. Messire Gawain rode amidst the land and the crane cried out so loud that the King of Wales heard it, that was lord of the land. Thereupon, behold you, two knights that come after Messire Gawain and say to him: "Hold, Sir knight, and come speak with the king of this country, for no strange knight passeth through his land but he seeth him."
"Lords," saith Messire Gawain, "I knew not of the custom. Willingly will I go."
They led him thither to the hall where the King was, and Messire Gawain alighteth and setteth his shield and his spear leaning against a mounting stage and goeth up into the hall. The King maketh great joy of him and asketh him whither he would go?
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "Into a country where I was never."
"Well I know," saith the king, "where it is, for that you are passing through my land. You are going to the country of King Gurgalain to conquer the sword wherewith S. John was beheaded."
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "You say true. God grant me that I may have it!"
"That may not be so hastily," saith the King, "For you shall not go forth of my land before a year."
"Ha, Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "For God's sake, mercy!"
"None other mercy is here," saith the King. Straightway he maketh Messire Gawain be disarmed and afterward maketh bring a robe wherewith to apparel him, and showeth him much honour. But ill is he at ease, wherefore he saith to him: "Sir, wherefore are you fain to hold me here within so long?"
"For this, that I know well you will have the sword and will not return by me."
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "I pledge you my word that, so God give me to conquer it, I will return by you."
"And I will allow you to depart from me at your will. For nought is there that I so much desire to see."
He lay the night therewithin, and on the morrow departed thence and issued forth of the land right glad and joyful. And he goeth toward the land of King Gurgalain. And he entereth into a noisome forest at the lower part and findeth at the right hour of noon a fountain that was enclosed of marble, and it was overshadowed of the forest like as it were with leaves down below, and it had rich pillars of marble all round about with fillets of gold and set with precious stones. Against the master-pillar hung a vessel of gold by a silver chain, and in the midst of the fountain was an image so deftly wrought as if it had been alive. When Messire appeared at the fountain, the image set itself in the water and was hidden therewith. Messire Gawain goeth down, and would fain have taken hold on the vessel of gold when a voice crieth out to him: "You are not the Good Knight unto whom is served thereof and who thereby is made whole."
Messire Gawain draweth him back and seeth a clerk come to the fountain that was young of age and clad inú white garments, and he had a stole on his arm and held a little square vessel of gold, and cometh to the little vessel that was hanging on the marble pillar and looketh therein, and then rinseth out the other little golden vessel that he held, and then setteth the one that he held in the place of the other. Therewithal, behold, three damsels that come of right great beauty, and they had white garments and their heads were covered with white cloths, and they carried, one, bread in a little golden vessel, and the other wine in a little ivory vessel, and the third flesh in one of silver. And they come to the vessel of gold that hung against the pillar and set therein that which they have brought, and afterward they make the sign of the cross over the pillar and come back again. But on their going back, it seemed to Messire Gawain that only one was there. Messire Gawain much marvelled him of this miracle. He goeth after the clerk that carried the other vessel of gold, and saith unto him: "Fair Sir, speak to me."
"What is your pleasure?" saith the clerk.
"Whither carry you this golden vessel and that which is therein?"
"To the hermits," saith he, "that are in this forest, and to the Good knight that lieth sick in the house of his uncle King Hermit."
"Is it far from hence?" saith Messire Gawain.
"Yea, Sir," saith the clerk, "to yourself. But I shall be there sooner than will you."
"By God," saith Messire Gawain, "I would fain I were there now, so that I might see him and speak to him."
"That believe I well," saith the clerk, "But now is the place not here."
Messire Gawain taketh leave and goeth his way and rideth until he findeth a hermitage and seeth the hermit therewithout. He was old and bald and of good life.
"Sir," saith he to Messire Gawain, "Whither go you?"
"To the land of King Gurgalain, Sir; is this the way?"
"Yea," saith the hermit, "But many knights have passed hereby that hither have never returned."
"Is it far?" saith he.
"He and his land are hard by, but far away is the castle wherein is the sword."
Messire Gawain lay the night therewithin. On the morrow when he had heard mass, he departed and rode until he cometh to the land of King Gurgalain, and heareth the folk of the land making dole right sore. And he meeteth a knight that cometh a great pace to a castle.
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "Wherefore make the folk of this castle such dole, and they of all this land and all this country? For I hear them weep and beat their palms together on every side."
"Sir," saith he, "I will tell you. King Gurgalain had one only son of whom he hath been bereft by a Giant that hath done him many mischiefs and wasted much of his land. Now hath the King let everywhere be cried that to him that shall bring back his son and slay the Giant he will give the fairest sword of the world, the which sword he hath, and of all his treasure so much as he may be fain to take. As at this time, he findeth no knight so hardy that he durst go; and much more blameth he his own law than the law of the Christians, and he saith that if any Christian should come into his land, he would receive him."
Right joyous is Messire Gawain of these tidings, and departeth from the castle and rideth on until he cometh to the castle of King Gurgalain. The tidings come to the King that there is a Christian come into his castle. The King maketh great joy thereof, and maketh him come before him and asketh him of his name and of what land he is.
"Sir," saith he, "My name is Gawain and I am of the land of King Arthur."
"You are," saith he, "of the land of the Good Knight. But of mine own land may I find none that durst give counsel in a matter I have on hand. But if you be of such valour that you be willing to undertake to counsel me herein, right well will I reward you. A Giant hath carried off my son whom I loved greatly, and so you be willing to set your body in jeopardy for my son, I will give you the richest sword that was ever forged, whereby the head of S. John was cut off. Every day at right noon is it bloody, for that at that hour the good man had his head cut off."
The King made fetch him the sword, and in the first place showeth him the scabbard that was loaded of precious stones and the mountings were of silk with buttons of gold, and the hilt in likewise, and the pommel of a most holy sacred stone that Enax, a high emperor of Rome, made be set thereon. Then the King draweth it forth of the scabbard, and the sword came forth thereof all bloody, for it was the hour of noon. And he made hold it before Messire Gawain until the hour was past, and thereafter the sword becometh as clear as an emerald and as green. And Messire looketh at it and coveteth it much more than ever he did before, and he seeth that it is as long as another sword, albeit, when it is sheathed in the scabbard, neither scabbard nor sword seemeth of two spans length.
"Sir Knight," saith the King, "This sword will I give you, and another thing will I do whereof you shall have joy."
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "And I will do your need, if God please and His sweet Mother."
Thereupon he teacheth him the way whereby the Giant went, and the place where he had his repair, and Messire Gawain goeth his way thitherward and commendeth himself to God. The country folk pray for him according to their belief that he may back repair with life and health, for that he goeth in great peril. He hath ridden until that he cometh to a great high mountain that lay round about a land that the Giant had all laid waste, and the enclosure of the mountain went round about for a good three leagues Welsh, and therewithin was the Giant, so great and cruel and horrible that he feared no man in the world, and for a long time had he not been sought out by any knight, for none durst won in that quarter. And the pass of the mountain whereby he went to his hold was so strait that no horse might get through; wherefore behoveth Messire Gawain leave his horse and his shield and spear and to pass beyond the mountain by sheer force, for the way was like a cut between sharp rocks. He is come to level ground and looketh before him and seeth a hold that the Giant had on the top of a rock, and espieth the Giant and the lad where they were sitting on the level ground under a tree. Messire Gawain was armed and had his sword girt on, and goeth his way thitherward. And the Giant seeth him coming and leapeth up and taketh in hand a great axe that was at his side, and cometh toward Messire Gawain all girded for the fight and thinketh to smite him a two-handed stroke right amidst the head. But Messire Gawain swerveth aside and bestirreth him with his sword and dealeth him a blow such that he cut off his arm, axe and all. And the Giant returneth backward when he feeleth himself wounded, and taketh the King's son by the neck with his other hand and grippeth him so straitly that he strangleth and slayeth him. Then he cometh back to Messire Gawain and falleth upon him and grippeth him sore strait by the flanks, and lifteth him three foot high off the ground and thinketh to carry him to his hold that was within the rock. And as he goeth thither he falleth, Messire Gawain and all, and he lieth undermost. Howbeit, he thinketh to rise, but cannot, for Messire Gawain sendeth him his sword right through his heart and beyond. Afterward, he cut off the head and cometh there where the King's child lay dead, whereof is he right sorrowful. And he beareth him on his neck, and taketh the Giant's head in his hand and returneth there where he had left his horse and shield and spear, and mounteth and cometh back and bringeth the King's son before the King and the head of the Giant hanging.
The King and all they of the castle come to meet him with right great joy, but when they see the young man dead, their great joy is turned into right great dole thereby. And Messire Gawain alighteth before the castle and presenteth to the King his son and the head of the Giant.
"Certes," said he, "might I have presented him to you on live, much more joyful should I have been thereof."
"This believe I well," saith the King, "Howbeit, of so much as you have done am I well pleased, and your guerdon shall you have."
And he looketh at his son and lamenteth him right sweetly, and all they of the castle after him. Thereafter he maketh light a great show of torches in the midst of the city, and causeth a great fire to be made, and his son be set thereon in a brazen vessel all full of water, and maketh him be cooked and sodden over this fire, and maketh the Giant's head be hanged at the gate.
When his son was well cooked, he maketh him be cut up as small as he may, and biddeth send for all the high men of his land and giveth thereof to each so long as there was any left. After that he maketh bring the sword and giveth it to Messire Gawain, and Messire Gawain thanketh him much thereof.
"More yet will I do for you," saith the King. He biddeth send for all the men of his land to come to his hall and castle.
"Sir," saith he, "I am fain to baptize me."
"God be praised thereof," saith Messire Gawain. The King biddeth send for a hermit of the forest, and maketh himself be baptized, and he had the name of Archis in right baptism; and of all them that were not willing to believe in God, he commanded Messire Gawain that he should cut off their heads.
In such wise was this King baptized that was the lord of Albanie, by the miracle of God and the knighthood of Messire Gawain, that departeth from the castle with right great joy and rideth until he has come into the land of the King of Wales and bethought him he would go fulfil his pledge. He alighted before the hall, and the King made right great cheer when he saw him come. And Messire Gawain hath told him: "I come to redeem my pledge. Behold, here is the sword."
And the King taketh it in his hand and looketh thereon right fainly, and afterward maketh great joy thereof and setteth it in his treasury and saith: "Now have I done my desire."
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "Then have you betrayed me."
"By my head," saith the King, "That have I not, for I am of the lineage of him that beheaded S. John, wherefore have I better right to it than you."
"Sir," say the knights to the King, "Right loyal and courteous knight is Messire Gawain, wherefore yield him that which he hath conquered, for sore blame will you have of evil-treating him."
"I will yield it," saith the King "on such condition that the first damsel that maketh request of him, what thing soever she may require and whatsoever it be shall not be denied of him."
And Messire Gawain agreeth thereto, and of this agreement thereafter did he suffer much shame and anguish and was blamed of many knights. And the King yielded him the Sword. He lay the night therewithin, and on the morrow so soon as he might, he departed and rode until he came without the city where the burgess gave him the horse in exchange for his own. And he remembered him of his covenant, and abideth a long space and leaneth him on the hilt of his sword until the burgess cometh. Therewithal made they great joy the one of the other, and Messire showeth him the sword, and the burgess taketh it and smiteth his horse with his spurs and goeth a great gallop toward the city. And Messire Gawain goeth after a great pace and crieth out that he doth great treachery.
"Come not after me into the city," saith the burgess, "for the folk have a commune."
Howbeit, he followeth after into the city for that he might not overtake him before, and therein he meeteth a great procession of priests and clerks that bore crosses and censers. And Messire Gawain alighteth on account of the procession, and seeth the burgess that hath gone into the church and the procession after.
"Lords," saith Messire Gawain, "Make yield me the sword whereof this burgess that hath entered your church hath plundered me."
"Sir," say the priests, "Well know we that it is the sword wherewith S. John was beheaded, wherefore the burgess hath brought it to us to set with our hallows in yonder, and saith that it was given him."
"Ha, lords!" saith Messire Gawain, "Not so! I have but shown it to him to fulfil my pledge. And he hath carried it off by treachery."
Afterward he telleth them as it had befallen him, and the priests make the burgess give it up, and with great joy Messire Gawain departeth and remounteth his horse and issueth forth of the city. He hath scarce gone far before he meeteth a knight that came all armed, as fast as his horse could carry him, spear in rest.
"Sir," saith he to Messire Gawain, "I have come to help you. We were told that you had been evil-entreated in the city, and I am of the castle that succoureth all strange knights that pass hereby whensoever they have need thereof."
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "Blessed be the castle! I plain me not of the trespass for that right hath been done me. And how is the castle named?"
"Sir, they call it the Castle of the Ball. Will you return back thither with me, since you are delivered, and lodge there the night with Messire, that is a right worshipful man, and of good conditions?"
Therewith they go together to the castle, that was right fair and well-seeming. They enter in, and when they were within, the Lord, that sate on a mounting-stage of marble, had two right fair daughters, and he made them play before him with a ball of gold, and looked at them right fainly. He seeth Messire Gawain alight and cometh to meet him and maketh him great cheer. Afterward, he biddeth his two daughters lead him into the hall.
When he was disarmed, the one brought him a right rich robe, and after meat the two maidens sit beside him and make him right great cheer. Thereupon behold you, a dwarf that issueth forth of a chamber, and he holdeth a scourge. And he cometh to the damsels and smiteth them over their faces and their heads.
"Rise up," saith he, "ye fools, ill-taught! Ye make cheer unto him whom you ought to hate! For this is Messire Gawain, King Arthur's nephew, by whom was your uncle slain!"
Thereupon they rise, all ashamed, and go into the chamber, and Messire Gawain remaineth there sore abashed. But their father comforteth him and saith: "Sir, be not troubled for aught that he saith, for the dwarf is our master: he chastiseth and teacheth my daughters, and he is wroth for that you have slain his brother, whom you slew the day that Marin slew his wife on your account, whereof we are right sorrowful in this castle."
"So also am I," saith Messire Gawain, "But no blame of her death have I nor she, as God knoweth of very truth."
Messire Gawain lay the night at the castle, and departed on the morrow, and rode on his journeys until he cometh to the castle at the entrance to the land of the rich King Fisherman, where he seeth that the lion is not at the entrance nor were the serjeants of copper shooting. And he seeth in great procession the priests and them of the castle coming to meet him, and he alighteth, and a squire was apparelled ready, that took his armour and his horse, and he showeth the sword to them that were come to meet him. It was the hour of noon. He draweth the sword, and seeth it all bloody, and they bow down and worship it, and sing `Te Deum laudamus'. With such joy was Messire Gawain received at the castle, and he set the sword back in his scabbard, and kept it right anigh him, and made it not known in all the places where he lodged that it was such. The priests and knights of the castle make right great joy, and pray him right instantly that so God should lead him to the castle of King Fisherman, and the Graal should appear before him, he would not be so forgetful as the other knights. And he made answer that he would do that which God should teach him.
"Messire Gawain," saith the master of the priests, that was right ancient: "Great need have you to take rest, for meseemeth you have had much travail."
"Sir, many things have I seen whereof I am sore abashed, nor know I what castle this may be."
"Sir," saith the priest, "This Castle is the Castle of Inquest, for nought you shall ask whereof it shall not tell you the meaning, by the witness of Joseph, the good clerk and good hermit through whom we have it, and he knoweth it by annunciation of the Holy Ghost."
"By my faith," saith Messire Gawain, "I am much abashed of the three damsels that were at the court of King Arthur. Two of them carried, the one the head of a king and the other of a queen, and they had in a car an hundred and fifty heads of knights whereof some were sealed in gold, other in silver, and the rest in lead."
"True," saith the priest, "For as by the queen was the king betrayed and killed, and the knights whereof the heads were in the car, so saith she truth as Joseph witnesseth to us, for he saith of remembrance that by envy was Adam betrayed, and all the people that were after him and the people that are yet to come shall have dole thereof for ever more. And for that Adam was the first man is he called King, for he was our earthly father, and his wife Queen. And the heads of the knights sealed in gold signify the new law, and the heads sealed in silver the old, and the heads sealed in lead the false law of the Sarrazins. Of these three manner of folk is the world stablished."
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "I marvel of the castle of the Black Hermit, there where the heads were all taken from her, and the Damsel told me that the Good Knight should cast them all forth when he should come. And the other folk that are therewithin are longing for him."
"Well know you," saith the priest, "that on account of the apple that Eve gave Adam to eat, all went to hell alike, the good as well as the evil, and to cast His people forth from hell did God become man, and cast these souls forth from hell of His bounty and of His puissance. And to this doth Joseph make us allusion by the castle or the Black Hermit which signifieth hell, and the Good Knight that shall thence cast forth them that are within. And I tell you that the Black Hermit is Lucifer, that is Lord of hell in like manner as he fain would have been Lord of Paradise."
"Sir," saith the priest, "By this significance is he fain to draw the good hermits on behalt of the new law wherein the most part are not well learned, wherefore he would fain make allusion by ensample."
"By God," saith Messire Gawain, "I marvel much of the Damsel that was all bald, and said that never should she have her hair again until such time as the Good Knight should have achieved the Holy Graal."
"Sir," saith the good man, "Each day full bald behoveth her to be, ever since bald she became when the good King fell into languishment on account of the knight whom he harboured that made not the demand. The bald damsel signifieth Joseu Josephus, that was bald before the crucifixion of Our Lord, nor never had his hair again until such time as He had redeemed His people by His blood and by His death. The car that she leadeth after her signifieth the wheel of fortune, for like as the car goeth on the wheels, doth she lay the burden of the world on the two damsels that follow her; and this you may see well, for the fairest followeth afoot and the other was on a sorry hackney, and they were poorly clad, whereas the third had costlier attire. The shield whereon was the red cross, that she left at the court of King Arthur, signifieth the most holy shield of the rood that never none durst lift save God alone."
Messire Gawain heareth these significances and much pleaseth him thereof, and thinketh him that none durst set his hand to nor lift the shield that hung in the King's hall, as he had heard tell in many places; wherefore day by day were they waiting for the Good Knight that should come for the shield.
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "By this that you tell me you do me to wit that whereof I was abashed, but I have been right sorrowful of a lady that a knight slew on my account albeit no blame had she therein, nor had I."
"Sir," saith the priest, "Right great significance was there in her death, for Josephus witnesseth us that the old law was destroyed by the stroke of a sword without recover, and to destroy the old law did Our Lord suffer Himself to be smitten in the side of a spear. By this stroke was the old law destroyed, and by His crucifixion. The lady signifieth the old law. Would you ask more of me?" saith the priest.
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "I met a knight in the forest that rode behind before and carried his arms upside down. And he said that he was the Knight Coward, and his habergeon carried he on his neck, and so soon as he saw me he set his arms to rights and rode like any other knight."
"The law was turned to the worse," saith the priest, "before Our Lord's crucifixion, and so soon as He was crucified, was again restored to right."
"Even yet have I not asked you of all," saith Messire Gawain, "For a knight came and jousted with me party of black and white, and challenged me of the death of the lady on behalf of her husband, and told me and I should vanquish him that he and his men would be my men. I did vanquish him and he did me homage."
"It is right," saith the priest, "On account of the old law that was destroyed were all they that remained therein made subject, and shall be for ever more. Wish you to enquire of aught further?" saith the priest.
"I marvel me right sore," saith Messire Gawain, "of a child that rode a lion in a hermitage, and none durst come nigh the lion save the child only, and he was not of more than six years, and the lion was right fell. The child was the son of the lady that was slain on my account."
"Right well have you spoken," saith the priest, "in reminding me thereof. The child signifieth the Saviour of the world that was born under the old law and was circumcised, and the lion whereon he rode signifieth the world and the people that are therein, and beasts and birds that none may govern save by virtue of Him alone."
"God!" saith Messire Gawain, "How great joy have I at heart of that you tell me! Sir, I found a fountain in a forest, the fairest that was ever seen, and an image had it within that hid itself when it saw me, and a clerk brought a golden vessel and took another golden vessel that hung at the column that was there, and set his own in place thereof. Afterward, came three damsels and filled the vessel with that they had brought thither, and straightway meseemed that but one was there."
"Sir, saith the priest, "I will tell you no more thereof than you have heard, and therewithal ought you to hold yourself well apaid, for behoveth not discover the secrets of the Saviour, and them also to whom they are committed behoveth keep them covertly."
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "I would fain ask you of a King. When I had brought him his son back dead, he made him be cooked and thereafter made him be eaten of all the folk of his land."
"Sir," saith the priest, "Already had he leant his heart upon Jesus Christ, and would fain make sacrifice of his flesh and blood to Our Lord, and for this did he make all those of his land eat thereof, and would fain that their thoughts should be even such as his own. And therefore was all evil belief uprooted from his land, so that none remained therein."
"Blessed be the hour," saith Messire Gawain, "that I came herewithin!"
"Mine be it!" saith the priest.
Messire Gawain lay therewithin the night, and right well lodged was he. The morrow, when he had heard mass, he departed and went forth of the castle when he had taken leave. And he findeth the fairest land of the world and the fairest meadow-grounds that were ever seen, and the fairest rivers and forests garnished of wild deer and hermitages. And he rideth until he cometh one day as evening was about to draw on, to the house of a hermit, and the house was so low that his horse might not enter therein. And his chapel was scarce taller, and the good man had never issued therefrom of forty years past. The Hermit putteth his head out of the window when he seeth Messire Gawain and saith, "Sir, welcome may you be," saith he.
"Sir, God give you joy, Will you give me lodging to-night?" saith Messire Gawain.
"Sir, herewithin none harboureth save the Lord God alone, for earthly man hath never entered herewithin but me this forty year, but see, here in front is the castle wherein the good knights are lodged."
"What is the castle?"
"Sir, the good King Fisherman's, that is surrounded with great waters and plenteous in all things good, so the lord were in joy. But behoveth them harbour none there save good knights only."
"God grant," saith Messire Gawain, "that I may come therein."
When he knoweth that he is nigh the castle, he alighteth and confesseth him to the hermit, and avoweth all his sins and repenteth him thereof right truly.
"Sir," saith the hermit, "Now forget not, so God be willing to allow you, to ask that which the other knight forgat, and be not afeard for ought you may see at the entrance of the castle, but ride on without misgiving and adore the holy chapel you will see appear in the castle, there where the flame of the Holy Spirit descendeth each day for the most Holy Graal and the point of the lance that is served there."
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "God teach me to do His will!"
He taketh leave, and goeth his way and rideth until the valley appeareth wherein the castle is seated garnished of all things good, and he seeth appear the most holy chapel. He alighteth, and then setteth him on his knees and boweth him down and adoreth right sweetly. Thereafter he remounteth and rideth until he findeth a sepulchre right rich, and it had a cover over, and it lay very nigh the castle, and it seemed to be within a little burial-ground that was enclosed all round about, nor were any other tombs therein. A voice crieth to him as he passeth the burial-ground: "Touch not the sepulchre, for you are not the Good Knight through whom shall it be known who lieth therein."
Messire Gawain passeth beyond when he had heard the voice and draweth nigh the entrance of the castle, and seeth that three bridges are there, right great and right horrible to pass. And three great waters run below, and him seemeth that the first bridge is a bowshot in length and in breadth not more than a foot. Strait seemeth the bridge and the water deep and swift and wide. He knoweth not what he may do, for it seemeth him that none may pass it, neither afoot nor on horse.
Thereupon, lo you, a knight that issueth forth of the castle and cometh as far as the head of the bridge, that was called the Bridge of the Eel, and shouteth aloud: "Sir Knight, pass quickly before it shall be already night, for they of the castle are awaiting us."
"Ha," saith Messire Gawain, "Fair sir, but teach me how I may pass hereby."
"Certes, Sir Knight, no passage know I to this entrance other than this, and if you desire to come to the castle, pass on without misgiving."
Messire Gawain hath shame for that he hath stayed so long, and forthinketh him of this that the Hermit told him, that of no mortal thing need he be troubled at the entrance of the castle, and therewithal that he is truly confessed of his sins, wherefore behoveth him be the less adread of death. He crosseth and blesseth himself and commendeth himself to God as he that thinketh to die, and so smiteth his horse with his spurs and findeth the bridge wide and large as soon as he goeth forward, for by this passing were proven most of the knights that were fain to enter therein. Much marvelled he that he found the bridge so wide that had seemed him so narrow. And when he had passed beyond, the bridge, that was a drawbridge, lifted itself by engine behind him, for the water below ran too swiftly for other bridge to be made. The knight draweth himself back beyond the great bridge and Messire Gawain cometh nigh to pass it, and this seemed him as long as the other. And he seeth the water below, that was not less swift nor less deep, and, so far as he could judge, the bridge was of ice, feeble and thin, and of a great height above the water, and he looked at it with much marvelling, yet natheless not for that would he any the more hold back from passing on toward the entrance. He goeth forward and commendeth himself to God, and cometh in the midst thereof and seeth that the bridge was the fairest and richest and strongest he had ever beheld, and the abutments thereof were all full of images. When he was beyond the bridge, it lifted itself up behind him as the other had done, and he looketh before him and seeth not the knight, and is come to the third bridge and nought was he adread for anything he might see. And it was not less rich than the other, and had columns of marble all round about, and upon each a knop so rich that it seemed to be of gold. After that, he beholdeth the gate over against him, and seeth Our Lord there figured even as He was set upon the rood, and His Mother of the one side and S. John of the other, whereof the images were all of gold, with rich precious stones that flashed like fire. And on the right hand he seeth an angel, passing fair, that pointed with his finger to the chapel where was the Holy Graal, and on his breast had he a precious stone, and letters written above his head that told how the lord of the castle was the like pure and clean of all evil-seeming as was this stone.
Thereafter at the entrance of the gate he seeth a lion right great and horrible, and he was upright upon his feet. So soon as he seeth Messire Gawain, he croucheth to the ground, and Messire Gawain passeth the entrance without gainsay and cometh to the castle, and alighteth afoot, and setteth his shield and his spear against the wall of the hall, and mounteth up a flight of marble steps and cometh into a hall right fair and rich, and here and there in divers places was it painted with golden images. In the midst thereof he findeth a couch right fair and rich and high, and at the foot of this couch was a chess-board right fair and rich, with an orle of gold all full of precious stones, and the pieces were of gold and silver and were not upon the board. Meanwhile, as Messire Gawain was looking at the beauty of the chess-board and the hall, behold you two knights that issue forth of a chamber and come to him.
"Sir," say the knights, "Welcome may you be."
"God give you joy and good. adventure," saith Messire Gawain.
They make him sit upon the couch and after that make him be disarmed. They bring him, in two basins of gold, water to wash his face and hands. After that, come two damsels that bring him a rich robe of silk and cloth of gold. Then they make him do on the same. Then say the two damsels to him, "Take in good part whatsoever may be done to you therewithin, for this is the hostel of good knights and loyal."
"Damsels," saith Messire Gawain, "So will I do. Gramercy of your service."
He seeth well that albeit the night were dark, within was so great brightness of light without candles that it was marvel. And it seemed him the sun shone there. Wherefore marvelled he right sore whence so great light should come.
When Messire Gawain was clad in the rich robe, right comely was he to behold, and well seemed he to be a knight of great valour. "Sir," say the knights, "May it please you come see the lord of this castle?"
"Right gladly will I see him," saith he, "For I would fain present him with a rich sword."
They lead him into the chamber where lay King Fisherman, and it seemed as it were all strown and sprinkled of balm, and it was all strown with green herbs and reeds. And King Fisherman lay on a bed hung on cords whereof the stavs were of ivory; and therein was a mattress of straw whereon he lay, and above a coverlid of sables whereof the cloth was right rich. And he had a cap of sables on his head covered with a red samite of silk, and a golden cross, and under his head was a pillow all smelling sweet of balm, and at the four corners of the pillow were four stones that gave out a right great brightness of light; and over against him was a pillar of copper whereon sate an eagle that held a cross of gold wherein was a piece of the true cross whereon God was set, as long as was the cross itself; the which the good man adored. And in four tall candle sticks of gold were four tall wax tapers set as often as was need. Messire Gawain cometh before the King and saluteth him. And the King maketh him right great cheer, and biddeth him be welcome.
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, I present you with the sword whereof John was beheaded."
"Gramercy." saith the King: "Certes, I knew well that you would bring it, for neither you nor other might have come in hither without the sword, and if you had not been of great valour you would not have conquered it."
He taketh the sword and setteth it to his mouth and so kisseth it right sweetly and maketh right great joy thereof. And a damsel cometh to sit at the head of the bed, to whom he giveth the sword in keeping. Two others sit at his feet that look at him right sweetly.
"What is your name?" saith the King.
"Sir, my name is Gawain."
"Ha, Messire Gawain," saith he, "This brightness of light that shineth there within cometh to us of God for love of you. For every time that a knight cometh hither to harbour within this castle it appeareth as brightly as you see it now. And greater cheer would I make you than I do were I able to help myself, but I am fallen into languishment from the hour that the knight of whom you have heard tell harboured herewithin. On account of one single word he delayed to speak, did this languishment come upon me. Wherefore I pray you for God's sake that you remember to speak it, for right glad should you be and you may restore me my health. And see here is the daughter of my sister that hath been plundered of her land and disinherited in such wise that never can she have it again save through her brother only whom she goeth to seek; and we have been told that he is the Best Knight of the world, but we can learn no true tidings of him."
"Sir," saith the damsel to her uncle the King, "Thank Messire Gawain of the honour he did to my lady-mother when he came to her hostel. He stablished our land again in peace, and conquered the keeping of the castle for a year, and set my lady-mother's five knights there with us to keep it. The year hath now passed, wherefore will the war be now renewed against us and God succour us not, and I find not my brother whom we have lost so long."
"Damsel," saith Messire Gawain, "I helped you so far as I might, and so would I again and I were there. And fainer am I to see your brother than all the knights of the world. But no true tidings may I hear of him, save so much, that I was at a hermitage where was a King hermit and he bade me make no noise for that the Best Knight of the world lay sick therewithin, and he told me that name was Par-lui-fet. I saw his horse being led by a squire before the chapel, and his arms and shield whereon was a sun figured."
"Sir," saith the damsel, "My brother's name is not Par-lui-fet, but Perlesvax in right baptism, and it is said of them that have seen him that never comelier knight was known."
"Certes," saith the King, "Never saw I comelier than he that came in hither nor better like to be good knight, and I know of a truth that such he is, for otherwise never might he have entered hereinto. But good reward of harbouring him had I not, for I may help neither myself nor other. For God's sake, Messire Gawain, hold me in remembrance this night, for great affiance have I in your valour."
"Certes, Sir, please God, nought will I do within yonder, whereof I may be blamed of right."
Thereupon Messire Gawain was led into the hall and findeth twelve ancient knights, all bald, albeit they seemed not to be so old as they were, for each was of a hundred year of age or more and yet none of them seemed as though he were forty. They have set Messire Gawain to eat at a right rich table of ivory and seat themselves all round about him.
"Sir," saith the Master of the Knights, "Remember you of that the good King hath prayed of you and told you this night as you have heard."
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "God remember it!"
With that bring they larded meats of venison and wild-boar's flesh and other in great plenty, and on the table was rich array of vessels of silver and great cups of gold with their covers, and the rich candlesticks where the great candles were burning, albeit their brightness was hidden of the great light that appeared within.
Thereon, lo you, two damsels that issue forth of a chapel, whereof the one holdeth in her hands the most Holy Graal, and the other the Lance whereof the point bleedeth thereinto. And the one goeth beside the other in the midst of the hall where the knights and Messire Gawain sat at meat, and so sweet a smell and so holy came to them therefrom that they forgat to eat. Messire Gawain looketh at the Graal, and it seemed him that a chalice was therein, albeit none there was as at this time, and he seeth the point of the lance whence the red blood ran thereinto, and it seemeth him he seeth two angels that bear two candlesticks of gold filled with candles. And the damsels pass before Messire Gawain, and go into another chapel. And Messire Gawain is thoughtful, and so great a joy cometh to him that nought remembereth he in his thinking save of God only. The knights are all daunted and sorrowful in their hearts, and look at Messire Gawain. Thereupon behold you the damsels that issue forth of the chamber and come again before Messire Gawain, and him seemeth that he seeth three there where before he had seen but two, and seemeth him that in the midst of the Graal he seeth the figure of a child. The Master of the Knights beckoneth to Messire Gawain. Messire Gawain looketh before him and seeth three drops of blood fall upon the table. He was all abashed to look at them and spake no word.
Therewith the damsels pass forth and the knights are all adread and look one at the other. Howbeit Messire Gawain may not withdraw his eyes from the three drops of blood, and when he would fain kiss them they vanish away, whereof he is right sorrowful, for he may not set his hand nor aught that of him is to touch thereof. Therewithal behold you the two damsels that come again before the table and seemeth to Messire Gawain that there are three, and he looketh up and it seemeth him to be the Graal all in flesh, grid he seeth above, as him thinketh, a King crowned, nailed upon a rood, and the spear was still fast in his side. Messire Gawain seeth it and hath great pity thereof, and of nought doth he remember him save of the pain that this King suffereth. And the Master of the Knights summoneth him again by word of mouth, and telleth him that if he delayeth longer, never more will he recover it. Messire Gawain is silent, as he that heareth not the knight speak, and looketh upward. But the damsels go back into the chapel and carry back the most Holy Graal and the Lance, and the knights make the tablecloths be taken away and rise from meat and go into another hall and leave Messire Gawain all alone. And he looketh all around and seeth the doors all shut and made fast, and looketh to the foot of the hall and seeth two candlesticks with many candles burning round about the chessboard, and he seeth that the pieces are set, whereof the one sort are silver and the other gold. Messire Gawain sitteth at the game, and they of gold played against him and mated him twice. At the third time, when he thought to revenge himself and saw that he had the worse, he swept the pieces off the board. And the damsel issued forth of a chamber and made a squire take the chess-board and the pieces and so carry them away. And Messire Gawain, that was way-worn of his wanderings to come thither where he now hath come, slept upon the couch until the morrow when it was day, and he heard a horn sound right shrill.
Thereupon he armeth him and would fain go to take leave of King Fisherman, but he findeth the doors bolted so that he may not get forth. And right fair service seeth he done in a chapel, and right sorrowful is he for that he may not hear the mass. A damsel cometh into the hall and saith to him: "Sir, now may you hear the service and the joy that is made on account of the sword you presented to the good King, and right glad at heart ought you to have been if you had been within the chapel. But you lost entering therein on account of a right little word. For the place of the chapel is so hallowed of the holy relics that are therein that man nor priest may never enter therein from the Saturday at noon until the Monday after mass."
And he heard the sweetest voices and the fairest services that were ever done in chapel. Messire Gawain answereth her not a word so is he abashed. Howbeit the damsel saith to him: "Sir, God be guardian of your body, for methinketh that it was not of your own default that you would not speak the word whereof this castle would have been in joy."
With that the damsel departeth and Messire Gawain heareth the horn sound a second time and a voice warning him aloud: "He that is from without, let him go hence! for the bridges are lowered and the gate open, and the lion is in his den. And thereafter behoveth the bridge be lifted again on account of the King of the Castle Mortal, that warreth against this castle, and therefore of this thing shall he die."
Thereupon Messire Gawain issueth forth of the hall and findeth his horse all made ready at the mounting-stage, together with his arms. He goeth forth and findeth the bridges broad and long, and goeth his way a great pace beside a great river that runneth in the midst of the valley. And he seeth in a great forest a mighty rain and tempest, and so strong a thunderstorm ariseth in the forest that it seemeth like all the trees should be uprooted. So great is the rain and the tempest that it compelleth him set his shield over his horse's head lest he be drowned of the abundance of rain. In this mis-ease rideth he down beside the river that runneth in the forest until he seeth in a launde across the river a knight and a damsel right gaily appointed riding at pleasure, and the knight carrieth a bird on his fist, and the damsel hath a garland of flowers on her head. Two brachets follow the knight. The sun shineth right fair on the meadow and the air is right clear and fresh. Messire Gawain marvelleth much of this, that it raineth so heavily on his way, whereas, in the meadow where the knight and the damsel are riding, the sun shineth clear and the weather is bright and calm. And he seeth them ride joyously. He can ask them naught for they are too far away. Messire Gawain looketh about and seeth on the other side the river a squire nearer to him than is the knight.
"Fair friend" saith Messire Gawain, "How is this that it raineth upon me on this side the river, but on the other raineth it not at all?"
"Sir," saith the squire, "This have you deserved, for such is the custom of the forest."
"Will this tempest that is over me last for ever?" saith Messire Gawain.
"At the first bridge you come to will it be stayed upon you," saith the squire.
Therewith the squire departeth, and the tempest rageth incontinent until he is come to the bridge; and he rideth beyond and cometh to the meadow, and the storm is stayed so that he setteth his shield to rights again upon his neck. And he seeth before him a castle where was a great company of folk that were making great cheer. He rideth until he cometh to the castle and seeth right great throng of folk, knights and dames and damsels. Messire Gawain alighteth, but findeth in the castle none that is willing to take his reins, so busied are they making merry. Messire Gawain presenteth himself on the one side and the other, but all of them avoid him, and he seeth that he maketh but an ill stay therewithin for himself, wherefore he departeth from the castle and meeteth a knight at the gate.
"Sir," saith he, "What castle is this?"
"And see you not," saith the knight, "that it is a castle of joy?"
"By my faith" saith Messire Gawain, "They of the castle be not over-courteous, for all this time hath none come to take my reins."
"Not for this lose they their courtesy," saith the knight, "For this is no more than you have deserved. They take you to be as slothful of deed as you are of word, and they saw that you were come through the Forest Perilous whereby pass all the discomfited, as well appeareth by your arms and your horse."
Therewith the knight departeth, and Messire Gawain hath ridden a great space sorrowful and sore abashed, until he cometh to a land parched and poor and barren of all comfort, and therein findeth he a poor castle, whereinto he cometh and seeth it much wasted, but that within was there a hall that seemed haunted of folk. And Messire Gawain cometh thitherward and alighteth, and a knight cometh down the steps of the hall right poorly clad.
"Sir," saith the knight to Messire Gawain, "Welcome may you be!"
After that, he taketh him by the hand and leadeth him upward to the hall, that was all waste. Therewithal issue two damsels from a chamber, right poorly clad, that were of passing great beauty, and make great cheer to Messire Gawain. So, when he was fain to disarm, behold you thereupon a knight that entereth into the hall, and he was smitten with the broken end of a lance through his body. He seeth Messire Gawain, whom he knoweth.
"Now haste!" saith he, "and disarm you not! Right joyful am I that I have found you! I come from this forest wherein have I left Lancelot fighting with four knights, whereof one is dead, and they think that it is you, and they are of kindred to the knight that you slew at the tent where you destroyed the evil custom. I was fain to help Lancelot, when one of the knights smote me as you may see."
Messire Gawain goeth down from the hall and mounteth all armed upon his horse.
"Sir," saith the knight of the hall, "I would go help you to my power, but I may not issue forth of the castle until such time as it be replenished of the folk that are wont to come therein and until my land be again given up to me through the valour of the Good Knight."
Messire Gawain departeth from the castle as fast as horse may carry him, and entereth the forest and followeth the track of the blood along the way the knight had come, and rideth so far in the forest as that he heareth the noise of swords, and seeth in the midst of the launde Lancelot and the three knights, and the fourth dead on the ground. But one of the knights had drawn him aback, for he might abide the combat no longer, for the knight that brought the tidings to Messire Gawain had sore wounded him. The two knights beset Lancelot full sore, and right weary was he of the buffets that he had given and received. Messire Gawain cometh to one of the knights and smiteth him right through the body and maketh him and his horse roll over all of a heap.
When Lancelot perceiveth Messire Gawain, much joy maketh he thereof. In the meanwhile as the one held the other, the fourth knight fled full speed through the midst of the forest, and he that the knight had wounded fell dead. They take their horses, and Messire Gawain telleth Lancelot he hath the most poverty- stricken host that ever he hath seen, and the fairest damsels known, but that right poorly are they clad. "Shall we therefore take them of our booty?"
"I agree," saith Lancelot, "But sore grieveth me of the knight that hath thus escaped us."
"Take no heed," saith Messire Gawain, "We shall do well enough herein."
Thereupon they return back toward the poor knight's hostel and alight before the hall, and the Poor Knight cometh to meet them, and the two damsels, and they deliver to them the three horses of the three knights that were dead. The knight hath great joy thereof, and telleth them that now is he a rich man and that betimes will his sisters be better clad than are they now, as well as himself.
Thereupon come they into the hall. The knight maketh one of his own squires stable the horses and the two damsels help disarm Lancelot and Messire Gawain.
"Lords," saith the knight, "So God help me, nought have I to lend you wherewith to clothe you, for robe have I none save mine own jerkin."
Lancelot hath great pity thereof and Messire Gawain, and the two damsels take off their kirtles that were made like surcoats of cloth that covered their poor shirts, and their jackets that, were all to-torn and ragged and worn, and present them to the knights to clothe them. They were fain not to refuse, lest the damsels should think they held them not in honour, and did on the two kirtles right poor as they were. The damsels had great joy thereof that so good knights should deign wear garments so poor.
"Lords," saith the Poor Knight, "The knight that brought the tidings hither, and was stricken through of a lance-shaft, is dead and lieth on a bier in a chapel within the castle, and he confessed himself right well to a hermit and bade salute you both, and was right fain you should see him after that he were dead, and he prayed me instantly that I would ask you to be to-morrow at his burial, for better knights than be ye might not be thereat, so he told me."
"Certes," saith Lancelot, "A good knight was he, and much mischief is it of his death; and sore grieveth me that I know not his name nor of what country he was."
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "He said that you should yet know it well."
The two good knights lay the night at the castle, and the Poor Knight lodged them as well as he might. When it cometh to morning, they go to the chapel to hear mass and to be at the burial of the body. After that they take leave of the Poor Knight and the two damsels and depart from the castle all armed.
"Messire Gawain," saith Lancelot, "They know not at court what hath become of you, and they hold you for dead as they suppose."
"By my faith," saith Messire Gawain, "thitherward will I go, for I have had sore travail, and there will I abide until some will shall come to me to go seek adventure."
He recounteth to Lancelot how the Graal hath appeared to him at the court of King Fisherman: "And even as it was there before me, I forgat to ask how it served and of what?"
"Ha, Sir," saith Lancelot, "Have you then been there?"
"Yea," saith he, "And thereof am I right sorry and glad: glad for the great holiness I have seen, sorry for that I asked not that whereof King Fisherman prayed me right sweetly."
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "Right sorely ill have you wrought, nor is there not whereof I have so great desire as I have to go to his castle."
"By my faith," saith Messire Gawain, "Much shamed was I there, but this doth somewhat recomfort me, that the Best Knight was there before me that gat blame thereof in like manner as I."
Lancelot departeth from Messire Gawain, and they take leave either of other. They issue forth of a forest, and each taketh his own way without saying a word.