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    Chapter 14

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    Chapter 14
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    CHAPTER XIV.
    THE STORY OF PERCEVAL.

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

    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
    lifeless.

    * 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.

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