Stories of King Arthur and His Knights/Chapter 29
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Chapter XXIX. Sir Percivale's Temptation
|Chapter XXX. The Victory of Sir Bors Over Himself→|
When Sir Percivale departed from the recluse to seek Sir Galahad, he rode till the hour of noon, when he met in a valley about twenty men of arms. As they saw him they asked him whence he was, and he answered, "Of the court of King Arthur." Then they cried all at once, "Slay him." Then Sir Percivale smote the first to the earth, and his horse upon him. Thereupon 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 arms, come there by adventure into those parts. And when he saw all those knights upon one knight, he cried, "Save me that knight's life." Then he dressed him towards 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 hand, that it was marvel to see. At every stroke he smote one down, or put him to rebuke, so that they would fight no more, but fled to a thick forest, and Sir Galahad followed them.
When Sir Percivale saw him chase them so, he made great sorrow that his horse was away, for he wist well it was Sir Galahad. Then he cried aloud, "Ah, fair knight, abide and suffer me to do thankings unto thee, for much have ye done for me!"
But ever Sir Galahad rode so fast, that at the last he passed out of his sight, and Sir Percivale went after him on foot as fast as he might. Soon he met a yeoman riding upon a hackney, who led in his hand a great black steed, blacker than any bear.
"Ah, fair friend," said Sir Percivale, "as ever I may do for you and be your true knight in the first place ye will require me, I beg ye will lend me that black steed, that I may overtake a knight, the which rideth afore me."
"Sir knight," said the yeoman, "I pray you hold me excused of that, for that I may not do; for wit ye well, the horse belongs to a man that, if I lent it you or any other man, would slay me."
"Alas," said Sir Percivale, "I had never so great sorrow as I have for losing of yonder knight."
"Sir," said the yeoman, "I am right heavy for you, for a good horse would beseem you well, but I dare not deliver you this horse unless ye take it from me."
"That will I not do," said Sir Percivale.
So they departed, and Sir Percivale sat him down under a tree, and made sorrow out of measure. Anon the yeoman came pricking after as fast as ever he might, and asked Sir Percivale, "Saw ye, sir, any knight riding on my black steed? It hath been taken from me by force, wherefore my lord will slay me in what place he findeth me."
"Well," said Sir Percivale, "what wouldest thou that I did? Thou seest well that I am on foot, but had I a good horse I should bring him soon again."
"Sir," said the yeoman, "take my hackney and do the best ye can, and I shall follow you on foot, to wit how that ye shall speed."
Then Sir Percivale mounted upon that hackney, and rode as fast as he might. At the last he saw the knight on the black steed, and cried out to him to turn again. And he turned, and set his spear against Sir Percivale; and he smote the hackney in the midst of the breast, that he fell down dead to the earth. There Sir Percivale had a great fall, and the other rode his way.
Sir Percivale was very wroth, and cried, "Abide, wicked knight, coward and false-hearted knight, turn again and fight with me on foot."
He answered not, but passed on his way. When Sir Percivale saw he would not turn, he cast away his helm and sword, and thought himself unhappy above all other knights.
In this sorrow he abode all that day till it was night. Then he was faint, and laid him down and slept till it was midnight. Then he awaked, and saw afore him a woman which said unto him right fiercely, "Sir Percivale, abide here, and I shall go fetch you a horse, which shall bear you whither you will."
So she came soon again, and brought a horse with her that was inky black. When Sir Percivale beheld that horse, he marvelled that it was so great and so well apparelled. Courageously he leaped upon him, and took no heed of himself. As soon as ever he was mounted he thrust in the spurs, and so rode away by the forest, and the moon shone clear.
Within an hour, and less, the black steed bare him four day's journey thence, till he came to a rough water the which roared, and his horse would have borne him into it. And when Sir Percivale came nigh the brim, and saw the water so boisterous, he feared to overpass it. Then he made a sign of the cross in his forehead, whereupon the horse shook off Sir Percivale, and he fell into the water, crying and roaring, making great sorrow; and it seemed unto him that the water burned. Then Sir Percivale perceived the steed was a fiend, the which would have brought him unto his perdition. Then he commended himself unto God, and prayed our Lord to keep him from all such temptations.
So he prayed all that night till it was day. Then he saw that he was in a wild mountain the which was closed with the sea nigh all about, so that he might see no land about him which might relieve him. Then was Sir Percivale ware in the sea, and saw a ship come sailing towards him; and he went unto the ship, and found it covered within and without with white samite. At the board stood an old man clothed in a surplice in likeness of a priest.
"Sir," said Sir Percivale, "ye be welcome."
"God keep you," said the good man, "of whence be ye?"
"Sir," said Sir Percivale, "I am of King Arthur's court, and a knight of the Table Round, the which am in the quest of the Holy Grail. Here I am in great duress, and never likely to escape out of this wilderness."
"Doubt not," said the good man, "if ye be so true a knight as the order of chivalry requireth, and of heart as ye ought to be, ye need not fear that any enemy shall slay you."
"What are ye?" said Sir Percivale.
"Sir," said the old man, "I am of a strange country, and hither I come to comfort you, and to warn you of your great battle that shall befall you."
"With whom," said Sir Percivale, "shall I fight?"
"With the most champion of the world," said the old man, "but, if ye quit you well, ye shall lose no limb, even though vanquished and seemingly shamed to the world's end."
Then the good man leaped over the board, and the ship and all went away, Sir Percivale wist not whither. He abode there till midday, when he saw a ship come rowing in the sea as if all the winds of the world had driven it. It drove under the rock on which he sat; and when he hied thither he found the ship covered with silk blacker than any bier, and therein was a gentlewoman of great beauty, and she was clothed richly that none might be better.
When she saw Sir Percivale, she said, "Who brought you in this wilderness where ye be never like to pass hence? for ye shall die here for hunger and mischief."
"Damsel," said Sir Percivale, "I serve the best man of the world, and in His service He will not suffer me to die, for who that knocketh shall enter, and who that asketh shall have, and from the man that seeketh Him, He hideth Him not."
"And I came out of the waste forest where I found the red knight with the white shield," said the damsel.
"Ah, damsel," said he, "with that knight would I meet passing fain."
"Sir," said she, "if ye will ensure me, by the faith that ye owe unto knighthood, that ye will do my will what time I summon you, I shall bring you unto that knight."
"Yea," said he, "I shall promise you to fulfil your desire. But what are ye that proffereth me thus great kindness?"
"I am," said she, "a gentlewoman that am disherited, which was sometime the richest woman of the world."
"Damsel," said Sir Percivale, "who hath disherited you? for I have great pity of you."
"Sir," said she, "I dwell with the greatest man of the world, and he made me so fair and so clear that there was none like me, and of that great beauty I had a little pride, more than I ought to have had. Also I said a word that pleased him not, and then he would not suffer me to be any longer in his company. He drove me from mine heritage, and so disowned me, and he had never pity for me, and would none of my council nor of my court. Since, sir knight, it hath befallen me so, I and mine have taken from him many of his men, and have made them to become my men, for they ask never anything of me, but I give it them, that and much more. Therefore I and my servants war against him night and day. I know now no good knight and no good man but I get on my side, if I may. And since I know that ye are a good knight I beseech you to help me; and since ye are a fellow of the Round Table, ye ought not to fail any gentlewoman which is disherited, if she beseech you of help."
Then Sir Percivale promised her all the help that he might. She thanked him, and since the weather was at that time hot, she bade a gentlewoman bring a pavilion. So she did, and pitched it there upon the gravel. He slept a great while there in the heat of the day; and when he awoke, there was set before him upon a table all manner of meats that he could think of. Also he drank there the strongest wine that ever he drank, him thought, and therewith he was a little heated more than he ought to be. With that he beheld the gentlewoman, and him thought that she was the fairest creature that ever he saw.
When she saw him well refreshed, then she said, "Sir Percivale, wit ye well, I shall not fulfil your will, but if ye swear from henceforth to be my true servant, and do nothing but that I shall command you. Will ye ensure me this as ye be a true knight?"
Sir Percivale was on the point of promising her all, when by adventure and grace he saw his sword lie upon the ground, all naked, in whose pommel was a red cross. Then he bethought him of his knighthood and the warning spoken toforehand by the good man, and he made the sign of the cross in his forehead. Thereupon the pavilion turned up-so-down, and changed unto a smoke and a black cloud.
Sir Percivale was adread at this, and cried aloud, "Fair sweet Father, Jesu Christ, let me not be shamed, that was nigh lost, had not Thy good grace been!"
Then he looked upon the ship, and saw the damsel enter therein, which said, "Sir Percivale, ye have betrayed me." So she went with the wind roaring and yelling, that it seemed that all the water burned after her.
Then Sir Percivale made great sorrow, and drew his sword unto him saying, "Since my flesh will be my master, I shall punish it." Therewith he stabbed himself through the thigh so that the blood started, and he said, "O good Lord, take this in recompensation of that I have done against Thee, my Lord." Then he clothed him and armed him, and called himself a wretch, saying, "How nigh was I lost, and to have lost that I should never have gotten again, my honour as a pure man and worthy knight, for that may never be recovered after it is once lost."
As he thus made his moan, he saw the same ship come from the Orient that the good man was in the day before, and the noble knight was ashamed with himself, and therewith he fell in a swoon. When he awoke he went unto this good man weakly, and saluted him. Then he asked Sir Percivale, "How hast thou done since I departed?"
"Sir," said he, "here was a gentlewoman that led me into deadly sin," and there he told him all his temptation.
"Knew ye not the maid?" said the good man.
"Sir," said he, "nay; but well I wot the fiend sent her hither to shame me."
"Oh, good knight," said he, "that gentlewoman was the master fiend of hell, the champion that thou foughtest withal, the which would have overcome thee, had it not been for the grace of God. Now, beware, Sir Percivale, and take this for an ensample."
Then the good man vanished away, and Sir Percivale took his arms, and entered into the ship and so departed from thence.