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Chapter 14


"-Sir Percivale,
Whom Arthur and his knighthood called the Pure."

THE father and two elder brothers of Perceval had fallen in battle
or tournaments, and hence, as the last hope of his family, his
mother retired with him into a solitary region, where he was brought
up in total ignorance of arms and chivalry. He was allowed no weapon
but "a lyttel Scots spere," which was the only thing of all "her
lordes faire gere" that his mother carried to the wood with her. In
the use of this he became so skilful that he could kill with it not
only the animals of the chase for her table, but even birds on the
wing. At length, however, Perceval was roused to a desire of
military renown by seeing in the forest five knights who were in
complete armor. He said to his mother, "Mother, what are those
yonder?" "They are angels, my son," said she. "By my faith, I will
go and become an angel with them." And Perceval went to the road and
met them. "Tell me, good lad," said one of them, "sawest thou a knight
pass this way either to-day or yesterday?" "I know not," said he,
"what a knight is." "Such an one as I am," said the knight. "If thou
wilt tell me what I ask thee, I will tell thee what thou askest me."
"Gladly will I do so," said Sir Owain, for that was the knight's name.
"What is this?" demanded Perceval, touching the saddle. "It is a
saddle," said Owain. Then he asked about all the accoutrements which
he saw upon the men and the horses, and about the arms, and what
they were for, and how they were used. And Sir Owain showed him all
those things fully. And Perceval in return gave him such information
as he had.
Then Perceval returned to his mother, and said to her, "Mother,
those were not angels, but honorable knights." Then his mother swooned
away. And Perceval went to the place where they kept the horses that
carried firewood and provisions for the castle, and he took a bony,
piebald horse, which seemed to him the strongest of them. And he
pressed a pack into the form of a saddle, and with twisted twigs he
imitated the trappings which he had seen upon the horses. When he came
again to his mother the countess had recovered from her swoon. "My
son," said she, "desirest thou to ride forth?" "Yes, with thy
leave," said he. "Go forward then," she said, "to the court of Arthur,
where there are the best and the noblest and the most bountiful of
men, and tell him thou art Perceval, the son of Pelenore, and ask of
him to bestow knighthood on thee. And whenever thou seest a church,
repeat there thy paternoster; and if thou see meat and drink, and hast
need of them, thou mayest take them. If thou hear an outcry of one
in distress, proceed toward it, especially if it be the cry of a
woman, and render her what service thou canst. If thou see a fair
jewel, win it, for thus shalt thou acquire fame; yet freely give it to
another, for thus thou shalt obtain praise. If thou see a fair
woman, pay court to her, for thus thou wilt obtain love."
After this discourse Perceval mounted the horse, and, taking a
number of sharp-pointed sticks in his hand, he rode forth. And he rode
far in the woody wilderness without food or drink. At last he came
to an opening in the wood, where he saw a tent, and as he thought it
might be a church he said his pater-noster to it. And he went toward
it; and the door of the tent was open. And Perceval dismounted and
entered the tent. In the tent he found a maiden sitting, with a golden
frontlet on her forehead and a gold ring on her hand. And Perceval
said, "Maiden, I salute you, for my mother told me whenever I met a
lady I must respectfully salute her." Perceiving in one corner of
the tent some food, two flasks full of wine, and some boar's flesh
roasted, he said, "My mother told me, whenever I saw meat and drink to
take it." And he ate greedily, for he was very hungry. "Sir, thou
hadst best go quickly from here, for fear that my friends should come,
and evil should befall you." But Perceval said, "My mother told me
wheresoever I saw a fair jewel to take it," and he took the gold
ring from her finger, and put it on his own; and he gave the maiden
his own ring in exchange for hers; then he mounted his horse and
rode away.
Perceval journeyed on till he arrived at Arthur's court. And it so
happened that just at that time an uncourteous knight had offered
Queen Guenever a gross insult. For when her page was serving the queen
with a golden goblet, this knight struck the arm of the page and
dashed the wine in the queen's face and over her stomacher. Then he
said, "If any have boldness to avenge this insult to Guenever, let him
follow me to the meadow." So the knight took his horse and rode to the
meadow, carrying away the golden goblet. And all the household hung
down their heads, and no one offered to follow the knight to take
vengeance upon him. For it seemed to them that no one would have
ventured on so daring an outrage unless he possessed such powers,
through magic or charms, that none could be able to punish him. Just
then, behold, Perceval entered the hall upon the bony, piebald
horse, with his uncouth trappings. In the centre of the hall stood Kay
the seneschal. "Tell me, tall man," said Perceval, "is that Arthur
yonder?" "What wouldst thou with Arthur?" asked Kay. "My mother told
me to go to Arthur and receive knighthood from him." "By my faith,"
said he, "thou art all too meanly equipped with horse and with
arms." Then all the household began to jeer and laugh at him. But
there was a certain damsel who had been a whole year at Arthur's
court, and had never been known to smile. And the king's fool* had
said that this damsel would not smile till she had seen him who
would be the flower of chivalry. Now this damsel came up to Perceval
and told him, smiling, that, if he lived, he would be one of the
bravest and best of knights. "Truly," said Kay, "thou art ill taught
to remain a year at Arthur's court, with choice of society, and
smile on no one, and now before the face of Arthur and all his knights
to call such a man as this the flower of knighthood;" and he gave
her a box on the ear, that she fell senseless to the ground. Then said
Kay to Perceval, "Go after the knight who went hence to the meadow,
overthrow him and recover the golden goblet, and possess thyself of
his horse and arms, and thou shalt have knighthood." "I will do so,
tall man," said Perceval. So he turned his horse's head toward the
meadow. And when he came there, the knight was riding up and down,
proud of his strength and valor and noble mien. "Tell me," said the
knight, "didst thou see any one coming after me from the court?"
"The tall man that was there," said Perceval, "told me to come and
overthrow thee, and to take from thee the goblet and thy horse and
armor for myself." "Silence!" said the knight; "go back to the
court, and tell Arthur either to come himself, or to send some other
to fight with me; and unless he do so quickly, I will not wait for
him." "By my faith," said Perceval, "choose thou whether it shall be
willingly or unwillingly, for I will have the horse and the arms and
the goblet." Upon this the knight ran at him furiously, and struck him
a violent blow with the shaft of his spear, between the neck and the
shoulder. "Ha, ha, lad!" said Perceval, "my mother's servants were not
used to play with me in this wise; so thus will I play with thee." And
he threw at him one of his sharp-pointed sticks, and it struck him
in the eye, and came out at the back of his head, so that he fell down

* A fool was a common appendage of the courts of those days when
this romance was written. A fool was the ornament held in next
estimation to a dwarf. He wore a white dress with a yellow bonnet, and
carried a bell or bawble in his hand. Though called a fool, his
words were often weighed and remembered as if there were a sort of
oracular meaning in them.

But at the court of Arthur, Sir Owain said to Kay, "Verily, thou
wert ill advised when thou didst send that madman after the knight.
For one of two things must befall him. He must either be overthrown or
slain. If he is overthrown by the knight, he will be counted by him to
be an honorable person of the court, and an eternal disgrace will it
be to Arthur and his warriors. And if he is slain, the disgrace will
be the same, and moreover his sin will be upon him; therefore will I
go to see what has befallen him." So Sir Owain went to the meadow, and
he found Perceval dragging the man about. "What art thou doing
thus?" said Sir Owain. "This iron coat," said Perceval, "will never
come from off him; not by my efforts, at any rate." And Sir Owain
unfastened his armor and his clothes. "Here, my good soul," said he,
"is a horse and armor better than thine. Take them joyfully, and
come with me to Arthur to receive the order of knighthood, for thou
dost merit it." And Owain helped Perceval to put it on, and taught him
how to put his foot in the stirrup, and use the spur; for Perceval had
never used stirrup nor spur, but rode without saddle, and urged on his
horse with a stick. Then Owain would have had him return to the
court to receive the praise that was his due; but Perceval said, "I
will not come to the court till I have encountered the tall man that
is there, to revenge the injury he did to the maiden. But take thou
the goblet to Queen Guenever, and tell King Arthur that, wherever I
am, I will be his vassal, and will do him what profit and service I
can." And Sir Owain went back to the court, and related all these
things to Arthur and Guenever, and to all the household.
And Perceval rode forward. And as he proceeded, behold a knight
met him. "Whence comest thou?" said the knight. "I come from
Arthur's court," said Perceval. "Art thou one of his men?" asked he.
"Yes, by my faith," he answered. "A good service, truly, is that of
Arthur." "Wherefore sayest thou so?" said Perceval. "I will tell
thee," said he. "I have always been Arthur's enemy, and all such of
his men as I have ever encountered I have slain." And without
further parlance they fought, and it was not long before Perceval
brought him to the ground, over his horse's crupper. Then the knight
besought his mercy. "Mercy thou shalt have," said Perceval, "if thou
wilt make oath to me that thou wilt go to Arthur's court and tell
him that it was I that overthrew thee, for the honor of his service;
and say that I will never come to the court until I have avenged the
insult offered to the maiden. The knight pledged him faith of this,
and proceeded to the court of Arthur and said as he had promised,
and conveyed the threat to Sir Kay.
And Perceval rode forward. And within that week he encountered
sixteen knights, and overthrew them all shamefully. And they all
went to Arthur's court, taking with them the same message which the
first knight had conveyed from Perceval, and the same threat which
he had sent to Sir Kay. And thereupon Sir Kay was reproved by
Arthur; and Sir Kay was greatly grieved thereat.
And Perceval rode forward. And he came to a lake, on the side of
which was a fair castle, and on the border of the lake he saw a
hoary-headed man sitting upon a velvet cushion, and his attendants
were fishing in the lake. When the hoary-headed man beheld Perceval
approaching, he arose and went into the castle. Perceval rode to the
castle, and the door was open, and he entered the hall. And the
hoary-headed man received Perceval courteously, and asked him to sit
by him on the cushion. When it was time, the tables were set, and they
went to meat. And when they had finished their meat, the
hoary-headed man asked Perceval if he knew how to fight with the
sword. "I know not," said Perceval, "but were I to be taught,
doubtless I should." "Whoever can play well with the cudgel and shield
will also be able to fight with a sword." And the man had two sons;
the one had yellow hair and the other auburn. "Arise, youths," said
the old man, "and play with the cudgel and the shield." And so did
they. "Tell me, my son," said the man, "which of the youths thinkest
thou plays best?" "I think," said Perceval, "that the yellow-haired
youth could draw blood if he chose." "Arise thou, then, and take the
cudgel and the shield from the hand of the youth with the auburn hair,
and draw blood from the yellow-haired youth if thou canst." So
Perceval arose, and he lifted up his arm, and struck him such a mighty
blow that he cut his forehead open from one side to the other. "Ah, my
life," said the old man, "come, now, and sit down, for thou wilt
become the best fighter with the sword of any in this island; and I am
thy uncle, thy mother's brother; I am called King Pecheur.* Thou shalt
remain with me a space, in order to learn the manners and customs of
different countries, and courtesy and noble bearing. And this do
thou remember: if thou seest aught to cause thy wonder, ask not the
meaning of it; if no one has the courtesy to inform thee. the reproach
will not fall upon thee, but upon me that am thy teacher." While
Perceval and his uncle discoursed together, Perceval beheld two youths
enter the hall, bearing a golden cup and a spear of mighty size,
with blood dropping from its point to the ground. And when all the
company saw this, they began to weep and lament. But for all that, the
man did not break off his discourse with Perceval. And as he did not
tell him the meaning of what he saw, he forbore to ask him
concerning it. Now the cup that Perceval saw was the Sangreal, and the
spear the sacred spear; and afterwards King Pecheur removed with those
sacred relics into a far country.

. . . . . . . . .

* The word means both fisher and sinner.

One evening Perceval entered a valley, and came to a hermit's
cell; and the hermit welcomed him gladly, and there he spent the
night. And in the morning he arose, and when he went forth, behold!
a shower of snow had fallen in the night, and a hawk had killed a
wild-fowl in front of the cell. And the noise of the horse had
scared the hawk away, and a raven alighted on the bird. And Perceval
stood and compared the blackness of the raven and the whiteness of the
snow and the redness of the blood to the hair of the lady that best he
loved, which was blacker than jet, and to her skin, which was whiter
than the snow, and to the two red spots upon her cheeks, which were
redder than the blood upon the snow.
Now Arthur and his household were in search of Perceval, and by
chance they came that way. "Know ye," said Arthur, "who is the
knight with the long spear that stands by the brook up yonder?"
"Lord," said one of them, "I will go and learn who he is." So the
youth came to the place where Perceval was, and asked him what he
did thus, and who he was. But Perceval was so intent upon his
thought that he gave him no answer. Then the youth thrust at
Perceval with his lance; and Perceval turned upon him and struck him
to the ground. And when the youth returned to the king, and told how
rudely he had been treated, Sir Kay said, "I will go myself." And when
he greeted Perceval, and got no answer, he spoke to him rudely and
angrily. And Perceval thrust at him with his lance, and cast him
down so that he broke his arm and his shoulder-blade. And while he lay
thus stunned, his horse returned back at a wild and prancing pace.
Then said Sir Gawain, surnamed the Golden-Tongued, because he was
the most courteous knight in Arthur's court: "It is not fitting that
any should disturb an honorable knight from his thought unadvisedly;
for either he is pondering some damage that he has sustained, or he is
thinking of the lady he best loves. If it seem well to thee, lord, I
will go and see if this knight has changed from his thought, and if he
has, I will ask him courteously to come and visit thee."
And Perceval was resting on the shaft of his spear, pondering the
same thought, and Sir Gawain came to him, and said, "If I thought it
would be as agreeable to thee as it would be to me, I would converse
with thee. I have also a message from Arthur unto thee, to pray thee
to come and visit him. And two men have been before on this errand."
"That is true," said Perceval, "and uncourteously they came. They
attacked me, and I was annoyed thereat." Then he told him the
thought that occupied his mind, and Gawain said, "This was not an
ungentle thought, and I should marvel if it were pleasant for thee
to be drawn from it." Then said Perceval, "Tell me, is Sir Kay in
Arthur's court?" "He is," said Gawain; "and truly he is the knight who
fought with thee last." "Verily," said Perceval, "I am not sorry to
have thus avenged the insult to the smiling maiden." Then Perceval
told him his name, and said, "Who art thou?" And he replied, "I am
Gawain." "I am right glad to meet thee," said Perceval, "for I have
everywhere heard of thy prowess and uprightness; and I solicit thy
fellowship." "Thou shalt have it, by my faith; and grant me thine,"
said he. "Gladly will I do so," answered Perceval.
So they went together to Arthur, and saluted him. "Behold, lord,"
said Gawain, "him whom thou hast sought so long." "Welcome unto
thee, chieftain," said Arthur. And hereupon there came the queen and
her handmaidens, and Perceval saluted them. And they were rejoiced
to see him, and bade him welcome. And Arthur did him great honor and
respect, and they returned toward Caerleon.

Thomas Bulfinch