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Chapter 15

CHAPTER XV.
THE QUEST OF THE SANGREAL.

"-The cup itself from which our Lord
Drank at the last sad supper with His own.
This from the blessed land of Aromat,
After the day of darkness, when the dead
Went wandering over Moriah- the good saint,
Arimathean Joseph, journeying, brought
To Glastonbury, where the winter thorn
Blossoms at Christmas, mindful of our Lord,
And there awhile abode; and if a man
Could touch or see it, he was healed at once,
By faith, of all his ills. But then the times
Grew to such evil that the holy cup
Was caught away to Heaven, and disappeared."
TENNYSON.

THE Sangreal was the cup from which our Saviour drank at his last
supper. He was supposed to have given it to Joseph of Arimathea, who
carried it to Europe, together with the spear with which the soldier
pierced the Saviour's side. From generation to generation one of the
descendants of Joseph of Arimathea had been devoted to the
guardianship of these precious relics; but on the sole condition of
leading a life of purity in thought, word, and deed. For a long time
the Sangreal was visible to all pilgrims, and its presence conferred
blessings upon the land in which it was preserved. But at length one
of those holy men to whom its guardianship had descended so far forgot
the obligation of his sacred office as to look with unhallowed eye
upon a young female pilgrim whose robe was accidentally loosened as
she knelt before him. The sacred lance instantly punished his frailty,
spontaneously falling upon him, and inflicting a deep wound. The
marvellous wound could by no means be healed, and the guardian of
the Sangreal was ever after called "Le Roi Pecheur,"- the Sinner King.
The Sangreal withdrew its visible presence from the crowds who came to
worship, and an iron age succeeded to the happiness which its presence
had diffused among the tribes of Britain.
We have told in the history of Merlin how that great prophet and
enchanter sent a message to King Arthur by Sir Gawain, directing him
to undertake the recovery of the Sangreal, informing him at the same
time that the knight who should accomplish that sacred quest was
already born, and of a suitable age to enter upon it. Sir Gawain
delivered his message, and the king was anxiously revolving in his
mind how best to achieve the enterprise, when, at the vigil of
Pentecost, all the fellowship of the Round Table being met together at
Camelot, as they sat at meat, suddenly there was heard a clap of
thunder, and then a bright light burst forth, and every knight, as
he looked on his fellow, saw him, in seeming, fairer than ever before.
All the hall was filled with sweet odors, and every knight had such
meat and drink as he best loved. Then there entered into the hall
the Holy Greal, covered with white samite, so that none could see
it, and it passed through the hall suddenly and disappeared. During
this time no one spoke a word, but when they had recovered breath to
speak, King Arthur said, "Certainly we ought greatly to thank the Lord
for what He hath showed us this day." Then Sir Gawain rose up, and
made a vow that for twelve months and a day he would seek the
Sangreal, and not return till he had seen it, if so he might speed.
When they of the Round Table heard Sir Gawain say so, they arose,
the most part of them, and vowed the same. When King Arthur heard this
he was greatly displeased, for he knew well that they might not
gainsay their vows. "Alas!" said he to Sir Gawain, "you have nigh
slain me with the vow and promise that ye have made, for ye have
bereft me of the fairest fellowship that ever was seen together in any
realm of the world; for when they shall depart hence, I am sure that
all shall never meet more in this world."

SIR GALAHAD.

At that time there entered the hall a good old man, and with him
he brought a young knight, and these words he said: "Peace be with
you, fair lords." Then the old man said unto King Arthur, "Sir, I
bring you here a young knight that is of kings' lineage, and of the
kindred of Joseph of Arimathea, being the son of Dame Elaine, the
daughter of King Pelles, king of the foreign country." Now the name of
the young knight was Sir Galahad, and he was the son of Sir
Launcelot du Lac; but he had dwelt with his mother, at the court of
King Pelles, his grandfather, till now he was old enough to bear arms,
and his mother had sent him in the charge of a holy hermit to King
Arthur's court. Then Sir Launcelot beheld his son, and had great joy
of him. And Sir Bohort told his fellows, "Upon my life, this young
knight shall come to great worship." The noise was great in all the
court, so that it came to the queen. And she said, "I would fain see
him, for he must needs be a noble knight, for so is his father." And
the queen and her ladies all said that he resembled much unto his
father; and he was seemly and demure as a dove, with all manner of
good features, that in the whole world men might not find his match.
And King Arthur said, "God make him a good man, for beauty faileth him
not, as any that liveth."
Then the hermit led the young knight to the Siege Perilous; and he
lifted up the cloth, and found there letters that said, "This is the
seat of Sir Galahad, the good knight"; and he made him sit in that
seat. And all the knights of the Round Table marvelled greatly at
Sir Galahad, seeing him sit securely in that seat, and said, "This
is he by whom the Sangreal shall be achieved, for there never sat
one before in that seat without being mischieved."
On the next day the king said, "Now, at this quest of the Sangreal
shall all ye of the Round Table depart, and never shall I see you
again all together; therefore I will that ye all repair to the
meadow of Camelot, for to joust and tourney yet once more before ye
depart." But all the meaning of the king was to see Sir Galahad
proved. So then were they all assembled in the meadow. Then Sir
Galahad, by request of the king and queen, put on his harness and
his helm, but shield would he take none for any prayer of the king.
And the queen was in a tower, with all her ladies, to behold that
tournament. Then Sir Galahad rode into the midst of the meadow; and
there he began to break spears marvellously, so that all men had
wonder of him, for he surmounted all knights that encountered with
him, except two, Sir Launcelot and Sir Perceval. Then the king, at the
queen's request, made him to alight, and presented him to the queen;
and she said. "Never two men resembled one another more than he and
Sir Launcelot, and therefore it is no marvel that he is like him in
prowess."
Then the king and the queen went to the minster, and the knights
followed them. And after the service was done, they put on their helms
and departed, and there was great sorrow. They rode through the
streets of Camelot, and there was weeping of the rich and poor; and
the king turned away, and might not speak for weeping. And so they
departed, and every knight took the way that him best liked.
Sir Galahad rode forth without shield, and rode four days, and found
no adventure. And on the fourth day he came to a white abbey; and
there he was received with great reverence, and led to a chamber. He
met there two knights, King Bagdemagus and Sir Uwaine, and they made
of him great solace. "Sirs," said Sir Galahad, "what adventure brought
you hither?" "Sir," said they, "it is told us that within this place
is a shield, which no man may bear unless he be worthy; and if one
unworthy should attempt to bear it, it shall surely do him a
mischief." Then King Bagdemagus said, "I fear not to bear it, and that
shall ye see to-morrow."
So on the morrow they arose, and heard mass; then King Bagdemagus
asked where the adventurous shield was. Anon a monk led him behind
an altar, where the shield hung, as white as snow; but in the midst
there was a red cross. Then King Bagdemagus took the shield, and
bare it out of the minster; and he said to Sir Galahad, "If it
please you, abide here till ye know how I shall speed."
Then King Bagdemagus and his squire rode forth; and when they had
ridden a mile or two, they saw a goodly knight come towards them, in
white armor, horse and all; and he came as fast as his horse might
run, with his spear in the rest; and King Bagdemagus directed his
spear against him, and broke it upon the white knight, but the other
struck him so hard that he broke the mails, and thrust him through the
right shoulder, for the shield covered him not, and so he bare him
from his horse. Then the white knight turned his horse and rode away.
Then the squire went to King Bagdemagus, and asked him whether he
were sore wounded or not. "I am sore wounded," said he, "and full
hardly shall I escape death." Then the squire set him on his horse,
and brought him to an abbey; and there he was taken down softly, and
unarmed, and laid in a bed, and his wound was looked to, for he lay
there long, and hardly escaped with his life. And the squire brought
the shield back to the abbey.
The next day Sir Galahad took the shield, and within a while he came
to the hermitage, where he met the white knight, and each saluted
the other courteously. "Sir," said Sir Galahad, "can you tell me the
marvel of the shield?" "Sir," said the white knight, "that shield
belonged of old to the gentle knight, Joseph of Arimathea; and when he
came to die, he said, 'Never shall man bear this shield about his neck
but he shall repent it, unto the time that Sir Galahad, the good
knight, bear it, the last of my lineage, the which shall do many
marvellous deeds.'" And then the white knight vanished away.

SIR GAWAIN.

After Sir Gawain departed, he rode many days, both toward and
forward, and at last he came to the abbey where Sir Galahad took the
white shield. And they told Sir Gawain of the marvellous adventure
that Sir Galahad had done. "Truly," said Sir Gawain, "I am not happy
that I took not the way that he went, for, if I may meet with him, I
will not part from him lightly, that I may partake with him all the
marvellous adventures which he shall achieve." "Sir," said one of
the monks, "he will not be of your fellowship." "Why?" said Sir
Gawain. "Sir," said he, "because ye be sinful, and he is blissful."
Then said the monk, "Sir Gawain, thou must do penance for thy sins."
"Sir, what penance shall I do?" "Such as I will show," said the good
man. "Nay," said Sir Gawain, "I will do no penance, for we knights
adventurous often suffer great woe and pain." "Well," said the good
man; and he held his peace. And Sir Gawain departed.
Now it happened, not long after this, that Sir Gawain and Sir Hector
rode together, and they came to a castle where was a great tournament.
And Sir Gawain and Sir Hector joined themselves to the party that
seemed the weaker, and they drove before them the other party. Then
suddenly came into the lists a knight, bearing a white shield with a
red cross, and by adventure he came by Sir Gawain, and he smote him so
hard that he clave his helm and wounded his head, so that Sir Gawain
fell to the earth. When Sir Hector saw that, he knew that the knight
with the white shield was Sir Galahad, and he thought it no wisdom
to abide with him, and also for natural love, that he was his uncle.
Then Sir Galahad retired privily, so that none knew where he had gone.
And Sir Hector raised up Sir Gawain, and said, "Sir, me seemeth your
quest is done." "It is done," said Sir Gawain; "I shall seek no
further." Then Gawain was borne into the castle, and unarmed, and laid
in a rich bed, and a leech found to search his wound. And Sir Gawain
and Sir Hector abode together, for Sir Hector would not away until Sir
Gawain were whole.
Now Sir Galahad, after that the white knight had vanished away, rode
till he came to a waste forest, and there he met with Sir Launcelot
and Sir Perceval, but they knew him not for he was new disguised.
Right so, Sir Launcelot his father dressed his spear, and brake it
upon Sir Galahad, and Sir Galahad smote him so again, that he smote
down horse and man. And then he drew his sword, and dressed him to Sir
Perceval, and smote him so on the helm that it rove to the coif of
steel, and had not the sword swerved Sir Perceval had been slain,
and with the stroke he fell out of his saddle. This joust was done
before the hermitage where a recluse dwelled. And when she saw Sir
Galahad ride, she said, "God be with thee, best knight of the world.
Ah, certes," she said all aloud, that Launcelot and Perceval might
hear it, "and yonder two knights had known thee as well as I do,
they would not have encountered with thee." When Sir Galahad heard her
say so he was sore adread to be known: therewith he smote his horse
with his spurs, and rode at a great pace away from them. Then
perceived they both that he was Sir Galahad, and up they got on
their horses, and rode fast after him, but in a while he was out of
their sight. And then they turned again with heavy cheer. "Let us
spere some tidings," said Sir Perceval, "at yonder recluse." "Do as ye
list," said Sir Launcelot. When Sir Perceval came to the recluse,
she knew him well enough, and Sir Launcelot both.
But Sir Launcelot rode overthwart and endlong in a wild forest and
held no path, but as wild adventure led him. And at the last he came
to a stony cross, which departed two ways in waste land, and by the
cross was a stone that was of marble, but it was so dark that Sir
Launcelot might not wit what it was. Then Sir Launcelot looked by him,
and saw an old chapel, and there he thought to have found people.
And Sir Launcelot tied his horse to a tree, and there he did off his
shield, and hung it upon a tree. And then he went to the chapel
door, and found it waste and broken. And within he found a fair
altar full richly arrayed with cloth of clean silk, and there stood
a fair, clean candlestick which bare six great candles, and the
candlestick was of silver. And when Sir Launcelot saw this light, he
had great will for to enter into the chapel, but he could find no
place where he might enter: then was he passing heavy and dismayed.
And he returned and came again to his horse, and took off his saddle
and his bridle, and let him pasture; and unlaced his helm, and
ungirded his sword, and laid him down to sleep upon his shield
before the cross.
And as he lay, half waking and half sleeping, he saw come by him two
palfreys, both fair and white, which bare a litter, on which lay a
sick knight. And when he was nigh the cross, he there abode still. And
Sir Launcelot heard him say, "O sweet Lord, when shall this sorrow
leave me, and when shall the holy vessel come by me whereby I shall be
healed?" And thus a great while complained the knight, and Sir
Launcelot heard it. Then Sir Launcelot saw the candlestick, with the
lighted tapers, come before the cross, but he could see no body that
brought it. Also there came a salver of silver and the holy vessel
of the Sangreal; and therewith the sick knight sat him upright, and
held up both his hands, and said, "Fair, sweet Lord, which is here
within the holy vessel, take heed to me, that I may be whole of this
great malady." And therewith, upon his hands and upon his knees, he
went so nigh that he touched the holy vessel and kissed it. And anon
he was whole. Then the holy vessel went into the chapel again, with
the candlestick and the light, so that Sir Launcelot wist not what
became of it.
Then the sick knight rose up and kissed the cross; and anon his
squire brought him his arms, and asked his lord how he did. "I thank
God right heartily," said he, "for, through the holy vessel, I am
healed. But I have great marvel of this sleeping knight, who hath
had neither grace nor power to awake during the time that the holy
vessel hath been here present." "I dare it right well say," said the
squire, "that this same knight is stained with some manner of deadly
sin, whereof he was never confessed." So they departed.
Then anon Sir Launcelot waked, and set himself upright, and
bethought him of what he had seen, and whether it were dreams or
not. And he was passing heavy, and wist not what to do. And he said:
"My sin and my wretchedness hath brought me into great dishonor. For
when I sought worldly adventures and worldly desires, I ever
achieved them, and had the better in every place, and never was I
discomfited in any quarrel, were it right or wrong. And now I take
upon me the adventure of holy things, I see and understand that mine
old sin hindereth me, so that I had no power to stir nor to speak when
the holy blood appeared before me." So, thus he sorrowed till it was
day, and heard the fowls of the air sing. Then was he somewhat
comforted.
Then he departed from the cross into the forest. And there he
found a hermitage, and a hermit therein, who was going to mass. So
when mass was done, Sir Launcelot called the hermit to him, and prayed
him for charity to hear his confession. "With a good will"' said the
good man. And then he told that good man all his life, and how he
had loved a queen unmeasurably many years. "And all my great deeds
of arms that I have done, I did the most part for the queen's sake,
and for her sake would I do battle, were it right or wrong, and
never did I battle all only for God's sake, but for to win worship,
and to cause me to be better beloved; and little or naught I thanked
God for it. I pray you counsel me."
"I will counsel you," said the hermit, "if ye will insure me that ye
will never come in that queen's fellowship as much as ye may forbear."
And then Sir Launcelot promised the hermit, by his faith, that he
would no more come in her company. "Look that your heart and your
mouth accord," said the good man, "and I shall insure ye that ye shall
have more worship than ever ye had."
Then the good man enjoined Sir Launcelot such penance as he might
do, and he assoiled Sir Launcelot, and made him abide with him all
that day. And Sir Launcelot repented him greatly.

SIR PERCEVAL.

Sir Perceval departed, and rode till the hour of noon; and he met in
a valley about twenty men of arms. And when they saw Sir Perceval,
they asked him whence he was; and he answered, "Of the court of King
Arthur." Then they cried all at once, "Slay him." But Sir Perceval
smote the first to the earth, and his horse upon him. Then seven of
the knights smote upon his shield all at once, and the remnant slew
his horse, so that he fell to the earth. So had they slain him or
taken him, had not the good knight Sir Galahad, with the red cross,
come there by adventure. And when he saw all the knights upon one,
he cried out, "Save me that knight's life." Then he rode toward the
twenty men of arms as fast as his horse might drive, with his spear in
the rest, and smote the foremost horse and man to the earth. And
when his spear was broken, he set his hand to his sword, and smote
on the right hand and on the left, that it was marvel to see; and at
every stroke he smote down one, or put him to rebuke, so that they
would fight no more, but fled to a thick forest, and Sir Galahad
followed them. And when Sir Perceval saw him chase them so, he made
great sorrow that his horse was slain. And he wist well it was Sir
Galahad. Then he cried aloud, "Ah, fair knight, abide, and suffer me
to do thanks unto thee; for right well have ye done for me." But Sir
Galahad rode so fast, that at last he passed out of his sight. When
Sir Perceval saw that he would not turn, he said, "Now am I a very
wretch, and most unhappy above all other knights." So in this sorrow
he abode all that day till it was night; and then he was faint, and
laid him down and slept till midnight; and then he awaked, and saw
before him a woman, who said unto him, "Sir Perceval, what dost thou
here?" He answered, "I do neither good, nor great ill." "If thou
wilt promise me," said she, "that thou wilt fulfil my will when I
summon thee, I will lend thee my own horse, which shall bear thee
whither thou wilt." Sir Perceval was glad of her proffer, and
insured her to fulfil all her desire. "Then abide me here, and I
will go fetch you a horse." And so she soon came again, and brought
a horse with her that was inky black. When Perceval beheld that horse,
he marvelled, it was so great and so well apparelled. And he leapt
upon him, and took no heed of himself. And he thrust him with his
spurs, and within an hour and less he bare him four days' journey
thence, until he came to a rough water, which roared, and his horse
would have bare him into it. And when Sir Perceval came nigh the brim,
and saw the water so boisterous, he doubted to overpass it. And then
he made the sign of the cross on his forehead. When the fiend felt him
so charged, he shook off Sir Perceval, and went into the water
crying and roaring; and it seemed unto him that the water burned. Then
Sir Perceval perceived it was a fiend that would have brought him unto
his perdition. Then he commended himself unto God, and prayed our Lord
to keep him from all such temptations; and so he prayed all that night
till it was day. Then he saw that he was in a wild place, that was
closed with the sea nigh all about. And Sir Perceval looked forth over
the sea and saw a ship come sailing toward him; and it came and
stood still under the rock. And when Sir Perceval saw this, he hied
him thither, and found the ship covered with silk; and therein was a
lady of great beauty, and clothed so richly that none might be better.
And when she saw Sir Perceval she saluted him, and Sir Perceval
returned her salutation. Then he asked her of her country and her
lineage. And she said, "I am a gentlewoman that am disinherited, and
was once the richest woman of the world." "Damsel," said Sir Perceval,
"who hath disinherited you? for I have great pity of you." "Sir," said
she, "my enemy is a great and powerful lord, and aforetime he made
much of me, so that of his favor and of my beauty I had a little pride
more than I ought to have had. Also I said a word that pleased him
not. So he drove me from his company and from mine heritage. Therefore
I know no good knight nor good man but I get him on my side if I
may. And, for that I know that thou art a good knight, I beseech
thee to help me."
Then Sir Perceval promised her all the help that he might, and she
thanked him.
And at that time the weather was hot and she called to her a
gentlewoman, and bade her bring forth a pavilion. And she did so,
and pitched it upon the gravel. "Sir," said she, "now may ye rest
you in this heat of the day." Then he thanked her, and she put off his
helm and his shield, and there he slept a great while. Then he
awoke, and asked her if she had any meat, and she said yea, and so
there was set upon the table all manner of meats that he could think
on. Also he drank there the strongest wine that ever he drank, and
therewith he was a little chafed more than he ought to be. With that
he beheld the lady, and he thought she was the fairest creature that
ever he saw, And then Sir Perceval proffered her love, and prayed
her that she would be his. Then she refused him in a manner, for the
cause he should be the more ardent on her, and ever he ceased not to
pray her of love. And when she saw him well enchafed, then she said,
"Sir Perceval, wit ye well I shall not give ye my love unless you
swear from henceforth you will be my true servant, and do no thing but
that I shall command you. Will you insure me this, as ye be a true
knight?" "Yea," said he, "fair lady, by the faith of my body." And
as he said this, by adventure and grace, he saw his sword lie on the
ground naked, in whose pommel was a red cross, and the sign of the
crucifix thereon. Then he made the sign of the cross upon his
forehead, and therewith the pavilion shrivelled up, and changed into a
smoke and a black cloud. And the damsel cried aloud, and hasted into
the ship, and so she went with the wind roaring and yelling that it
seemed all the water burned after her. Then Sir Perceval made great
sorrow, and called himself a wretch, saying, "How nigh was I lost!"
Then he took his arms, and departed thence.

Thomas Bulfinch