The High History of the Holy Graal/Branch III
Here beginneth another branch of the Graal in the name of the Father, and in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Ghost.
Here is the story silent of the three damsels and the Car and saith that Messire Gawain hath passed throughout the evil forest and is entered into the forest passing fair, the broad, the high, the plenteous of venison. And he rideth a great pace, but sore abashed is he of that the damsel had said to him, and misdoubteth him but he shall have blame thereof in many places. He rode hard the day long till that it was evensong and the sun was about to set. And he looketh before him and seeth the house of a hermit and the chapel in the thick of the forest; and a spring flowed forth in front of the chapel right clear and fresh, and above it was a tree full broad and tall that threw a shadow over the spring. A damsel sate under the tree and held a mule by the reins and at the saddle-bow had she the head of a knight hanging. And Messire Gawain cometh thitherward and alighteth.
"Damsel," saith he, "God give you good adventure!"
"Sir," saith she, "And you always."
When she was risen up over against him, "Damsel," saith he, "For whom are you a-waiting here?"
"Sir," saith she, "I am waiting for the hermit of this holy chapel, that is gone into the forest, and I would fain ask him tidings of a knight."
"Think you he will tell you them and he knoweth any?"
"Yea, sir, I think so, according to that I have been told."
Therewithal behold you the hermit that was coming, and saluteth the damsel and Messire Gawain and openeth the door of the house and setteth the two steeds within and striketh off the bridles and giveth them green-meat first and barley after, and fain would he have taken off the saddles when Messire Gawain leapeth before: "Sir," saith he, "Do not so! This business is not for you!"
"Hermit though I be," saith he, "yet well know I how to deal withal, for at the court of King Uther Pendragon have I been squire and knight two-score years, and a score or mort have I been in this hermitage."
And Messire Gawain looketh at him in wonderment. "Sir," saith he, "Meseemeth you are not of more than forty years."
"That know I well of a truth," saith the hermit, and Messire Gawain taketh off the saddles and bethinketh him more of the damsel's mule than of his own horse. And the hermit taketh Messire Gawain by the hand and the damsel and leadeth them into the chapel. And the place was right fair.
"Sir," saith the hermit to Messire Gawain, "You will disarm you not," saith he, "for this forest is passing adventurous, and no worshipful man behoveth be disgarnished."
He goeth for his spear and for his shield and setteth them within the chapel. He setteth before them such meat as he hath, and when they have eaten giveth them to drink of the spring.
"Sir," saith the damsel, "Of a knight that I go seek am I come to ask you tidings."
"Who is the knight?" saith the hermit.
"Sir, he is the Chaste Knight of most holy lineage. He hath a heart of gold, the look of a lion, the navel of a virgin maid, a heart of steel, the body of an elephant, and without wickedness are all his conditions."
"Damsel," saith the hermit, "Nought will I tell you concerning him, for I know not of a certainty where he is, save this, that he hath lain in this chapel twice, not once only, within this twelvemonth."
"Sir," saith she, "Will you tell me no more of him, nor none other witting?"
"In no wise," saith the hermit.
"And you, Messire Gawain?" saith she.
"Damsel," saith he, "As fainly would I see him as you, but none find I that may tell me tidings of him."
"And the damsel of the Car, Sir, have you seen her?"
"Yea, lady," saith he, "It is but just now sithence that I left her."
"Carried she still her arm slung at her neck?"
"Yea," saith Messire Gawain, "in such wise she carried it."
"Of a long while," saith the damsel, "hath she borne it thus."
"Sir," saith the hermit, "how are you named?"
"Sir," saith he, "Gawain am I called, King Arthur's nephew."
"Thereof I love you the better," saith the hermit.
"Sir," saith the damsel, "You are of kindred to the worst King that is."
"Of what King speak you?" saith Messire Gawain.
"I speak," saith she, "of King Arthur, through whom is all the world made worser, for he began doing well and now hath become evil. For hatred of him hate I a knight that found me nigh S. Augustine's Chapel, and yet was he the comeliest knight that saw I ever. He slew a knight within the bar right hardily. I asked him for the head of the knight and he went back for the same and set himself in sore peril. He brought it me, and I made him great joy, but when he told me his name was Arthur I had no fainness of the bounty he had done me, for that he had the name of that evil King."
"Damsel," saith Messire Gawain, "You may say your pleasure. I tell you that King Arthur hath held the richest court that he hath held ever, and these evil conditions whereof you blame him is he minded to put away for evermore, and more will he do of good and more of largesse than was ever known aforetime so long as he shall live; nor know I none other knight that beareth his name."
"You are right," saith the damsel, "to come to his rescue, for that he is your uncle, but your rescue will scarce avail him and he deliver not himself."
"Sir," saith the hermit to Messire Gawain, "The damsel will say her pleasure. May God defend King Arthur, for his father made me knight. Now am I priest, and in this hermitage ever sithence that I came hither have I served King Fisherman by the will of Our Lord and His commandment, and all they that serve him do well partake of his reward, for the place of his most holy service is a refuge so sweet that unto him that hath been there a year, it seemeth to have been but a month for the holiness of the place and of himself, and for the sweetness of his castle wherein have I oftentimes done service in the chapel where the Holy Graal appeareth. Therefore is it that I and all that serve him are so youthful of seeming."
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "By what way may a man go to his castle?"
"Sir," saith the hermit, "None may teach you the way, save the will of God lead you therein. And would you fain go thither?"
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "It is the most wish that I have."
"Sir," saith the hermit, "Now God give you grace and courage to ask the question that the others to whom the Graal hath appeared would ask not, whereof have many mischances sithence befallen much people."
With that, they left of talking, and the hermit led Messire Gawain into his house to rest, and the damsel abode still in the chapel. On the morrow when dawn appeared, Messire Gawain that had lain all armed, arose and found his saddle ready and the damsel, and the bridles set on, and cometh to the chapel and findeth the hermit that was apparelled to sing mass, and seeth the damsel kneeling before an image of Our Lady, and she prayed God and the sweet Lady that they would counsel her that whereof she had need, and wept right tenderly so that the tears ran down her face. And when she had prayed of a long space she ariseth, and Messire Gawain biddeth her God give her good day, and she returneth his salute.
"Damsel," saith he, "Meseemeth you are not over joyous."
"Sir," saith she, "I have right, for now am I nigh unto my desolation, sith that I may not find the Good Knight. Now must I needs go to the castle of the Black Hermit, and bear thither the head that hangeth at my saddle-bow, for otherwise shall I not be able to pass through the forest but my body should there be cast in prison or shamed, and this shall be the quittance for my passing. Then will I seek the Damsel of the Car and so shall I go in safer through the forest."
With that the hermit had begun the mass and Messire Gawain and the damsel heard it. When mass was sung, Messire Gawain took leave of the hermit and the damsel also. And Messire Gawain goeth one way and the damsel the other, and either biddeth other to God.
Hereupon the story is now silent of the damsel, and saith that Messire Gawain goeth through the high forest and rideth a great pace, and prayeth God right sweetly that He will set him in such way as that thereby he may go to the land of the rich King Fisherman. And he rideth until the hour of noon, and cometh into the fulness of the forest and seeth under a tree a squire alighted of a horse of the chase. Messire Gawain saluteth him, and the squire saith: "Sir, right welcome may you be!"
"Fair sweet friend," saith Messire Gawain, "Whither go you?"
"Sir, I go to seek the lord of this forest."
"Whose is the forest?" saith Messire Gawain. "Sir, it belongeth to the best knight in the world."
"Can you tell me tidings of him?"
"He ought to bear a shield banded azure and argent with a red cross thereon and a boss of gold. I say that he is good knight, but little call have I to praise him, for he slew my father in this forest with a javelin. The Good Knight was squire what time he slew him, and fain would I avenge my father upon him and I may find him, for he reft me of the best knight that was in the realm of Logres when he slew my father. Well did he bereave me of him what time he slew him with his javelin without defiance, nor shall I never be at ease nor at rest until I shall have avenged him."
"Fair sweet friend," saith Messire Gawain, "Sith that he is knight so good take heed you increase not your wrong of your own act, and I would fain that you had found him, so as that no evil had befallen him thereof."
"So would not I," saith the squire, "for never shall I see him in this place but I shall run upon him as my mortal enemy!"
"Fair sweet friend," saith Messire Gawain, "you may say your pleasure, but tell me is there no hold in this forest wherein I ú may harbour me the night?"
"Sir," saith the squire, "No hold know I within twenty league of your way in any quarter. Wherefore no leisure have you to tarry, for it is high noon already."
So Messire Gawain saluteth the squire and goeth a great pace as he that knoweth neither highway nor byway save only as adventure may lead him. And the forest pleaseth him well for that it is so fair and that he seeth the deer pass by before him in great herds. He rode on until it drew toward evensong at a corner of the forest. The evening was fair and calm and the sun was about to set. And a score league Welsh had he ridden sithence that he parted from the squire, and sore he misdoubted him that he should find no hold. He found the fairest meadow-land in the world, and looked before him when he had ridden a couple of bow-shot lengths and saw a castle appear nigh the forest on a mountain. And it was enclosed of high walls with battlements, and within were fair halls whereof the windows showed in the outer walls, and in the midst was an ancient tower that was compassed round of great waters and broad meadow-lands. Thitherward Messire Gawain draweth him and looketh toward the gateway of the castle and seeth a squire issue forth a great pace upon a hackney, and he came the way that Messire Gawain was coming. And when the squire seeth him, and hath drawn somewhat anigh, he saluteth him right nobly.
"Sir, right welcome may you be!"
"Good adventure may you have!" saith Messire Gawain. "Fair sweet friend, what is this castle here, sir?"
"Sir, it is the castle of the Widow Lady."
"What is the name thereof;"
"Camelot; and it belonged to Alain li Gros, that was a right loyal knight and worshipful man. He is dead this long time, and my Lady hath remained without succour and without counsel. Wherefore is the castle warred upon of them that would fain reave her thereof by force. The Lord of the Moors and another knight are they that war upon her and would fain reave her of this castle as they have reft he of seven other already. Greatly desireth she the return of her son, for no counsel hath she save only of her one daughter and of five old knights that help her to guard the castle. Sir," saith he, "The door is made fast and the bridge drawn up, for they guard the castle closely, but, so please you, you will tell me your name and I will go before and make the bridge be 1owered and the gate unfastened, and will say that you will lodge within to-night."
"Gramercy," saith Messire Gawain, "right well shall my name be known or ever I depart from the castle."
The squire goeth his way a great pace, and Messire Gawain tided softly at a walk for he had yet a long way to go. And he found a chapel that stood between the forest and the castle, and it was builded upon four columns of marble and within was a right fair sepulchre. The chapel had no fence of any kind about it so that he seeth the coffin within full clearly, and Messire Gawain bideth awhile to look thereon. And the squire entered into the castle and hath made the bridge be lowered and the door opened. He alighteth and is come into the hall when was the Widow Lady and her daughter. Saith the Lady to the squire: "Wherefore have you returned from doing my message? Lady, for the comeliest knight that I have seen ever, and fain would he harbour within to-night, and he is garnished of all arms and rideth without company."
"And what name hath he?" saith the Lady.
"Lady, he told me you should know it well or ever he depart from this castle."
Therewithal the Lady gan weep for joy and her daughter also, and, lifting her hands towards heaven, "Fair Lord God!" saith the Widow Lady, "And this be indeed my son, never before have I had joy that might be likened to this! Now shall I not be disherited of mine honour, neither shall I lose my castle whereof they would fain reave me by wrong, for that no Lord nor champion have I!"
Thereupon the Widow Lady ariseth up and her daughter likewise, and they go over the bridge of the castle and see Messire Gawain that was yet looking on the coffin within the chapel.
"Now haste!" saith the Lady; "At the tomb shall we be well able to see whether it be he!"
They go to the chapel right speedily, and Messire Gawain seeth them coming and alighteth. "Lady, saith he, "Welcome may you be, you and your company."
The Lady answereth never a word until that they are come to the tomb. When she findeth it not open she falleth down in a swoon. And Messire Gawain is sore afraid when he seeth it. The Lady cometh back out of her swoon and breaketh out into great lamentation.
"Sir," saith the damsel to Messire Gawain, "Welcome may you be! But now sithence my mother supposed that you had been her son and made great joy thereof, and now seeth she plainly that you are not he, whereof is she sore sorrowful, for so soon as he shall return, this coffin behoveth open, nor until that hour shall none know who it is that lieth therein."
The Lady riseth up and taketh Messire Gawain by the hand. "Sir," saith she, "What is your name?"
"Lady," saith he, "I am called Gawain, King Arthur's nephew."
"Sir," saith she, "You shall be he that is welcome both for the sake of my son and for your own sake."
The Lady biddeth a squire lead his horse into the castle and carry his shield and spear. Then they enter into the castle and lead Messire Gawain into the hall, and make disarm him. After that, they fetch him water to wash his hands and his face, for he was distained of the rust of his habergeon. The Lady maketh apparel him in a rich robe of silk and gold, and furred of ermine. The Widow Lady cometh forth of her chamber and maketh Messire Gawain sit beside her. "Sir," saith she, "Can you tell me any tidings of my son that I have not seen of this long time past, and of whom at this present am I sore in need?"
"Lady," saith he, "No tidings of him know I to tell you, and right heavy am I thereof, for he is the knight of the world that fainest I would see and he be your son as I am told. What name hath he?"
"Sir," saith she, "His name in right baptism is Perceval, and a right comely squire was he when he departed hence. Now as at this time is it said that he is the comeliest knight on live and the most hardy and the cleanest of all wickedness. And sore need have I of his hardiment, for what time that he departed hence he left me in the midst of a great warfare on behalf of the Knight of the Red Shield that he slew. Within the se'nnight thereafter he went away, nor never once have I seen him sithence, albeit a full seven year hath passed already. And now the brother of the knight that he slew and the Lord of the Moors are warring upon me and are fain to reave me of my castle and God counsel me not. For my brothers are too far away from me, and King Pelles of the Lower Folk hath renounced his land for God's sake and entered into a hermitage. But the King of Castle Mortal hath in him as much of wickedness and felony as these twain have in them of good, and enough thereof have they. But neither succour nor help may they give me, for the King of Castle Mortal challengeth my Lord King Fisherman both of the most Holy Graal and of the Lance whereof the point bleedeth every day, albeit God forbid he should ever have them."
"Lady," saith Messire Gawain, "There was at the hostel of King Fisherman a knight before whom the Holy Graal appeared three times, yet never once would he ask whereof it served nor whom it honoured."
"Sir," saith the Widow Lady's daughter, "You say true, and the Best Knight is he of the world. This say I for love of my brother, and I love all knights for the love of him, but by the foolish wit of the knight hath mine uncle King Fisherman fallen into languishment."
"Sir," saith the Lady, "Behoveth all good knights go see the rich King Fisherman. Will you not therefore go?"
"Lady," saith Messire Gawain, "Yea, that will I, so speedily as I may, for not elsewhither have I emprised my way."
"Sir," saith she, "Then are you going to see my son, wherefore tell my son, and you see him, of mine evil plight and my misease, and King Fisherman my brother. But take heed, Messire Gawain, that you be better mindful than was the knight."
"Lady," saith Messire Gawain, "I shall do as God shall teach me."
In the meanwhile as they were speaking thus together, behold you therewithal the Widow Lady's five knights that were come in from the forest and make bring harts and hinds and wild swine. So they alighted and made great joy of Messire Gawain when they knew who he was.
When the meat was ready they sate to eat, and full plenteously were they provided and right well were they served. Thereupon, behold, cometh the squire that had opened the door for Messire Gawain, and kneeleth before the Widow Lady.
"And what tidings?" saith she.
"Lady, there is to be a right great assembly of tourney in the valleys that aforetime were ours. Already have they spread the Welsh booths, and thither are come these two that are warring upon you and great store other knights. And they have ordained that he which shall do best at the assembly shall undertake the garrison of this castle in such sort as that he shall hold it for his own alone against all other."
The Widow Lady beginneth to weep: "Sir," saith she to Messire Gawain, "Now may you understand that the castle is not mine own, sith that these knights say it is theirs as you hear."
"Certes, Lady," saith he, "Herein do they great dishonour and a sin."
When the table was removed the damsel fell at Messire Gawain's feet, weeping. He raiseth her forthwith and saith to her, "Damsel, herein do you ill."
"For God's sake, Sir, take pity on my Lady mother and me!"
"Certes, damsel, great pity have I of you."
"Sir, now shall it be seen in this strait whether you be good knight, for good is the knighthood that doeth well for God's sake."
The Widow Lady and her daughter go into the chamber, and Messire Gawain's bed was made in the midst of the hall. So he went and lay down as did also the five knights. All the night was Messire Gawain in much thought. The morrow, when he was risen, he went to hear mass in a chapel that was within and ate thereafter three sops in wine and then armed him, and at the same time asked the five knights that were there in the hall whether they would go see the assembly.
"Yea, Sir," say they, "and you be going thither."
"In faith, thither verily will I go!" saith Messire Gawain.
The knights are armed forthwith, and their horses brought and Messire Gawain's, and he goeth to take leave of the Widow Lady and her daughter. But great joy make they of this that they have heard say that he will go with their knights to the assembly.
Messire Gawain and the five knights mounted and issued forth of the castle and rode a great gallop before a forest. Messire Gawain looketh before him about the foreclose of the forest, and seeth the fairest purlieus that he had seen ever, and so broad they be that he may not see nor know the fourth part thereof. They are garnished of tall forests on one hand and on the other, and there are high rocks in the midst with wild deer among.
"Sir," say the knights, "Lo, these be the Valleys of Camelot whereof my Lady and her daughter have been bereft, and bereft also hath she been of the richest castles that be in Wales to the number of seven."
"A wrong is it and a sin!" saith Messire Gawain.
So far have they ridden that they see the ensigns and the shields there where the assembly is to be held, and they see already mounted the more part of the knights all armed and running their horses down the meadow-land. And they see the tents stretched on the one hand and on another. And Messire Gawain bideth, and the five knights under a tree, and see the knights assembling on one hand and on another. One of the five knights that were with him gave him witting of the Lord of the Moors and the brother of the knight of the Red Shield that had to name Chaos the Red. So soon as the tournament was assembled, Messire Gawain and the knights come to the assembly, and Messire Gawain goeth to a Welsh knight and beareth him to the ground, both him and his horse, all in a heap. And the five come after at a great gallop and each overthroweth his own, and greatly pride they themselves of Messire Gawain. Chaos the Red seeth Messire Gawain but knoweth him not. He goeth toward him a full career, and Messire Gawain receiveth him on the point of his spear and hurtleth against him so sore that he all to-brast his collarbone and maketh the spear fly from his fist. And Messire Gawain searcheth the fellowships of one part and the other, and findeth not nor encountereth no knight before him in his way but he putteth him off his horse or woundeth him, either by himself or by one of the five knights, that make right great joy of that they see him do. They show him the Lord of the Moors that was coming with a full great fellowship of folk. He goeth thitherward a great gallop. They mell together either upon other of their spears that they bent and all to-brast in flinders, and hurtle together so stoutly both of their horses and their bodies that the Lord of the Moors loseth his stirrups and hath the hinder saddlebow to-frushed, and falleth down to the ground over his horse croup in such sort that the peak of his helm dinteth a full palm's breadth into the turf. And Messire Gawain taketh the horse that was right rich and good, maugre all of his fellowship, and giveth it to one of the five knights that maketh it be led to Camelot of a squire. Messire Gawain searcheth the ranks on the one hand and on the other, and doeth such feats of arms as never no knight might do the same again. The five knights also showed great hardiment, and did more of arms that day than ever had they done tofore, for not one of them but had overthrown at least a single knight and won his horse. The Lord of the Moors was mounted again on another rich horse and had great shame for that Messire Gawain had overthrown him. He espieth Messire Gawain and goeth toward him a great gallop and thinketh to avenge his shame. They come together either on other with a great shock, and Messire Gawain smiteth him with the truncheon of his spear that he had still left, in the midst of his breast, so that it was all to-splintered. The Lord of the Moors likewise again to-brast his spear upon him. Messire Gawain draweth his sword and flingeth the truncheon to the ground. The Lord of the Moors doth likewise and commandeth his folk not to mell betwixt them twain, for never yet had he found no knight that he had not conquered. They deal them great buffets on the helms, either upon other, in such sort that the sparks fly thereout and their swords are blunted. The buffets of Messire Gawain are heavier than the other's, for he dealeth them so mighty and horrible that the blood rayeth out from the Lord of the Moors by the mouth and the nose so that his habergeon is all bloody thereof and he may no more endure. Thereupon he yieldeth him prisoner to Messire Gawain, that is right glad thereof and his live knights likewise. The Lord of the Moors goeth to his tent to alight, and Messire Gawain with him and alighteth. And Messire Gawain taketh the horse and saith to one of the knights, "Keep this for me."
And all the knights are repaired to their tents, and with one accord say they all that the knight of the Red Shield with the eagle of gold thereon hath done better than we, and they ask the Lord of the Moors whether he accordeth with them, and he saith "Aye."
" Sir," saith he to Messire Gawain, "You, then, are the warden of this castle of Camelot."
"Gramercy, lord!" saith Messire Gawain. He calleth the five knights and saith unto them: "Lords, my will is that you be there on my behalf and that you shall safeguard the same by consent of the knights that are here present."
"Sir, right gladly do we agree thereto."
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain to the Lord of the Moors, "I give you moreover as my prisoner to the Widow Lady that harboured me last night."
"Sir," saith he, "This have you no right to do. Assembly of tourney is not war. Hence have you no right to imprison my body in castle, for well am I able to pay my ransom here. But tell me, what is your name?"
"I am called Gawain."
"Ha, Messire Gawain, many a time have I heard tell of you albeit never tofore have I seen you. But sith that the castle of Camelot is in your keeping, I promise you loyally that before a year and a day neither the castle nor none of the Lady's land need fear nought from me nor from any other so far forth as I may hinder him, and hereto do I pledge me in the presence of all these knights that are here. And, so you would have of me gold or silver, thereof will I give you at your will."
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "Gramercy! I consent freely to as much as you have said."
Messire Gawain taketh leave and turneth him again toward the castle of Camelot, and sendeth by a squire the horse of the Lord of the Moors to the daughter of the Widow Lady, that made great joy thereof. And the five knights drive before them the horses they have taken booty. Whereof great also was the joy. No need to wonder whether Messire Gawain were well harboured that night at the castle. He recounted to the Lady how the castle was in the keeping of these knights. When it came to morning-tide, Messire Gawain took leave and departed from the castle, but not before he had heard mass, for such was his custom. The Widow Lady and her daughter commend him to God, and the castle remaineth in better keeping than he had found it.