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Book Of Sir Percivale

( Originally Published A Long Time Ago )



I.

Now, saith the tale, that when Sir Launcelot was ridden after Sir Galahad, his son, the which had all these adventures here rehearsed, Sir Percivale returned again unto the recluse, where he deemed to have tidings of that knight which Sir Launcelot followed : and so he kneeled at her window, and anon the recluse opened it, and asked Sir Percivale what he would. "Madam," said he, "I am a knight of King Arthur's court, and my name is Sir Percivale de Galis." So when the recluse heard his name, she made passing great joy of him, for greatly she loved him before all other knights of the world : for so of right she ought to do, for she was his aunt. And then she commanded that the gates should be opened to him, and there Sir Percivale had all the cheer that she might make him, and all that was in her power was at his commandment. So on the morrow Sir Percivale went unto the recluse, and asked her if she knew that knight with the white shield. "Sir," said she, "why would ye wit?" "Truly, madam," said Sir Percivale, "I shall never be well at ease till that I know of that knight's fellowship, and that I may fight with him : for I may not leave him so lightly, for I have the shame yet." "Ah! Sir Percivale," said she, "would ye fight with him? I see well ye have great will to be slain, as your father was through outrageousness." "Madam," said Sir Percivale, "it seemeth by your words that ye know me." "Yea," said she, "I will ought to know you, for I am your aunt, although I be in a priory place : for I was sometime called the Queen of the Waste Lands, and I was called the Queen of most riches in the world ; and it pleased me never so much my riches as doth my poverty." Then Sir Percivale wept for very great pity, when he knew she was his aunt. "Ah ! fair nephew," said she, "when heard you any tidings from your mother?" "Truly," said he, "I heard not of her in a great while, but I have dreamed of her much in my sleep, and therefore I wot not whether she be dead or alive." "Certainly, fair nephew," said she, "your mother is dead; for after your departing from her she took such a sorrow, that anon, after she was confessed, she died." "Now God have mercy upon her soul," said Sir Percivale, "it sore forethinketh me : but all we must change our life. Now, fair aunt, tell me what is the knight? I deem it be he that bear the red arms on Whit Sunday." "Wit ye well," said his aunt, "that is he for other-wise he ought not to do but to go in red arms, and that same knight hath no peer, for he worketh all by miracle : and he shall never be overcome of no earthly man's hands.

II.

"Also," said his aunt, "Merlin made the Round Table in token of the roundness of the world: for by the Round Table is the world signified by right. For all the world, Christian and heathen, resort unto the Round Table; and when they are chosen to be of the fellowship of the Round Table, they think them more blessed, and more in worship, than if they had gotten half the world, and ye have seen that they have lost their fathers and their mothers, and all their kin, and their wives and their children, for to be of your fellowship, it is well seen by you; for sith ye departed from your mother, ye would never see her, ye found such a fellowship at the Round Table. W hen Merlin had ordained the Round Table, he said, by them that should be fellows of the Round Table the truth of the Sancgreal shall be well known. And men asked him how men might know them that should best do to the achieving of the Sancgreal. Then said he, there should be three white bulls that should achieve it : and the two should be maidens, and the third should be chaste; and that one of the three should pass the father, as much as the lion passeth his leopard, both of strength and of hardiness. They which heard Merlin say so, said thus unto Merlin : Since there shall be such a knight, thou shouldst ordain by thy craft a siege that no man should sit thereto, but he only which shall pass all other knights. And then Merlin answered that he would do so; and then he made the Siege Perilous, in which Sir Galahad sat at his meat upon Whit Sunday last past." "Now, madam," said Sir Percivale, "so much have I heard of you, that by my good will I will never have to do with Sir Galahad, but by way of kindness. And for God's love, fair aunt, can ye teach me some way where I may find him, for much would I love the fellowship of him ?" "Fair nephew," said she, "ye must ride unto a castle the which is called Goothe, where he hath a cousin-german, and there may ye be lodged this night. And as he teacheth you, sue after as fast as ye can, and if he can tell you no tidings of him, ride straight unto the castle of Carbonek, where the maimed King is there lying, for there shall ye hear true tidings of him."

III.

THEN departed Sir Percivale from his aunt, either making great sorrow. And so he rode till even-song time. And then he heard a clock smite. And then he was ware of a house closed well with walls and deep ditches, and there he knocked at the gate, and was let in, and he alight, and was led unto a chamber, and soon he was unarmed. And there he had right good cheer all that night, and on the morn he heard his mass, and in the monastery he found a priest ready at the altar. And on the right side he saw a pew closed with iron, and behind the altar he saw a rich bed and a fair, as of cloth of silk and gold. Then Sir Percivale espied that therein was a man or a woman, for the visage was covered. Then he left off his looking, and heard his service. And when it came to the sacring, he that lay within that perclose dressed him up, and uncovered his head, and then him beseemed a passing old man, and he had a crown of gold upon his head, and his shoulders were naked and uncovered unto his middle. And then Sir Percivale espied his body was full of great wounds, both on the shoulders, arms, and visage. And ever he held up his hands unto our Lord's body, and cried, "Fair sweet Father Jesu Christ, forget not me," and so he lay down, but always he was in his prayers and orisons : and him seemed to be of the age of three hundred winters. And when the mass was done, the priest took our Lord's body, and bare it to the sick King. And when he had used it, he did off his crown, and commanded the crown to be set on the altar. Then Sir Percivale asked one of the brethren what he was. "Sir," said the good man, "ye have heard much of Joseph of Arimathy, how he was sent by Jesu Christ into this land, for to teach and preach the holy Christian faith, and therefore he suffered many persecutions, the which the enemies of Christ did unto him. And in the city of Sarras he coverted a King whose name was Evelake. And so this King came with Joseph into this land : and always he was busy to be there as the Sancgreal was, and on a time he nighed it so nigh that our Lord was displeased with him, but ever he followed it more and more, till God struck 'him almost blind. Then this King cried mercy, and said, 'Fair Lord, let me never die till the good knight of my blood of the ninth degree be come, that I may see him openly that he shall achieve the Sancgreal, that I may kiss him.

IV.

"When the King had thus made his prayers, he heard a voice that said, 'Heard be thy prayers, for thou shalt not die till he have kissed thee : and when that knight shall come, the clearness of your eyes shall come again, and thou shalt see openly, and thy wounds shall be healed, and erst shall they never close.' And this befell of King Evelake : and this same King hath lived this three. hundred winters this holy life. And men say the knight is in the court that shall heal him." "Sir," said the good man, "I pray you tell me what knight that ye be, and if ye be of King Arthur's court and of the Table Round?" "Yea, forsooth," said he, "and my name is Sir Percivale de Galis." And when the good man understood his name, he made great joy of him. And then Sir Percivale departed, and rode till the hour of noon. And he met in a valley about twenty men of arms, which bear in a bier a knight deadly slain. And when they saw Sir Percivale, they asked him of 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. And 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 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." And 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. And at every stroke he smote one down, or put him to a rebuke, so that they would fight no more, but fled to a thick forest, and Sir Galahad followed them. And when Sir Percivale saw him chase them so, he made great sorrow that his horse was away. And then he wist well it was Sir Galahad. And 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 as fast as Sir Percivale might he went after him on foot crying. And then he met with a yeoman riding upon an hackney, the which led in his hand a great black steed, blacker than any bier. "Ah, fair friend," said Sir Percivale, "as ever I may do for you, and to be your true knight in the first place ye will require me, that ye will lend me that black steed, that I might 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 is such a man's horse, that, and I lent it you or any other man, that he would slay me." "Alas," said Sir Percivale, "I had never so great sorrow as I have had 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, but if ye would take him from me.' "That will I not do," said Sir Percivale, and so they parted. And Sir Percivale sat him down under a tree, and made sorrow out of measure; and, as he was there, there came a knight riding on the horse that the yeoman led, and he was clean armed.

V.

AND anon the yeoman came riding after as fast as ever he might, and asked Sir Percivale "if he saw any knight riding on his black steed?" "Yea, forsooth," said he, "why ask ye that of me?" "Ah! sir," said the yeoman, "that steed he hath taken from me by strength, wherefore my lord will slay me in what place soever he findeth me." "Well," said Sir Percivale, "what wouldst thou that I should do? thou seest well that I am on foot : but, and I had a good horse, I should bring him soon again." "Sir," said the yeoman, "take mine hackney, and do the best ye can, and I shall follow you on foot, to wit how ye shall speed." Then Sir Percivale mounted upon that hackney, and rode as fast as he might; and at the last he saw that knight, and then he cried, "Knight, 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, and there he had a great fall ; and the other rode his way. And then Sir Percivale was waxed wrath, and cried, "Abide thou wicked knight, coward, and false-hearted knight, turn again and fight with me on foot." But he answered not, but passed forth his way. When Sir Percivale saw he would not turn, he cast away his helm and his sword and said, "Now am I a very wretch ; cursed and most unhappy above all other knights." So in this sorrow he abode all that day until it was night, and then he was faint, and laid him down and slept till it was midnight; and then he awaked, and saw before him a woman, that said unto him right fiercely, "Sir Percivale, what doest thou here?" He answered and said, "I do neither good nor evil." If thou wilt ensure me," said she, "that thou wilt fulfill my will when I shall summon thee, I shall lend thee mine own horse, which shall bear thee whither thou wilt." Sir Percivale was glad of her proffer, and ensured her to fulfil all her desire. "Then abide ye here," said she, "and I shall go and fetch you a horse." And so she came soon again and brought a horse with her that was black. When Sir Percivale beheld that horse, he marvelled that he was so great and so well apparelled, and then he was so hardy that he leapt upon him, and took no heed to himself. And so anon as he was upon him, he thrust to him with his spurs, and so rode by a forest, and the moon shone clear, and within an hour and less he bore him four days' journey thence, till he came to a rough water that roared, and his horse would have borne him into it.

VI.

AND when Sir Percivale came nigh the brim, and saw the water so boisterous, he doubted to pass over it; and then he made the sign of the cross on his forehead. When the fiend felt him so charged, he shook off Sir Percivale, and he went into the water crying and roaring, and making great sorrow, and it seemed to him that the water burnt. Then Sir Percivale perceived that it was a fiend, 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 ; and so he prayed all that night, till on the morrow that it was day. Then saw he that he was on a wild mountain, which was closed with the sea nigh all about, that he might see no land about him which might relieve him, but wild beasts. And then he went in a valley, and there he saw a young serpent bring a young lion by the neck, and so he came by Sir Percivale : with that there came a lion crying and roaring after the serpent; and as soon as Sir Percivale saw this, he marvelled and hied him thither. But anon the lion had overtaken the serpent, and began battle with him; and then Sir Percivale thought to help the lion, for he was the most natural beast of the two, and there gave the serpent such a buffet, that he had a deadly wound. When the lion saw that, he made no semblance to fight with him, but made him all the cheer that a beast might make a man. When Sir Percivale perceived that, he cast down his shield, the which was broken, and then he put off his helm for to gather wind, for he was greatly chafed with the serpent, and the lion went alway about him fawning like a spaniel ; and then he stroked him with his hand upon the neck, and upon the shoulders, and gave thanks unto God of the fellowship of the beast. And, about noon, the lion took his little whelp and trussed him, and bear him unto the place that he came from. And then was Sir Percivale alone ; and, as the story telleth, he was one of the men of the world, at that time, that most believed in our Lord Jesu Christ. For in those days there were but few folk that believed perfectly in Almighty God, our Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ : for in those days the son spared not the father, no more in consideration than a stranger. And so the noble knight Sir Percivale comforted himself in our Lord Jesus Christ, and besought God that no temptation should bring him, nor pervert him out of God's service, but for to endure and persevere as his true champion. Thus, when Sir Percivale had prayed, he saw the lion come toward him, and then he couched down at his feet ; and all that night the lion and he slept together. And when Sir Percivale slept, he dreamed a marvellous dream : that there met with him two ladies, and the one sat upon a lion, and that other sat upon a serpent; and the one of them was young, and the other was old, and the youngest he thought said, "Sir Percivale, my lord saluteth thee, and sendeth thee word that thou array thee and make the ready, for to-morrow thou must fight with the strongest champion of the world; and if thou be overcome, thou shalt not be quit for losing of any of thy members, but thou shalt be ashamed to the world's end." And then he asked her who was her lord? and she said, "The greatest lord of the world." And so she departed suddenly, and wist not where she became.

VII.

By that Sir Percivale had abidden there till mid-day, he saw a ship come rowing in the sea; as all the wind of the world had driven it. And so it drove under that rock; and when Sir Percivale saw this, he hied him thither, and found the ship covered with silk more blacker than any bier ; and therein was a gentlewoman of great beauty, and she was richly beseen, that none might be better. And when she saw Sir Percivale, she said, "Who brought you into 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 in the world, and in his service he shall not suffer me to die; for who that knocketh shall enter, and who that asketh shall have, and who that seeketh him he hideth him not." And then she said, "Sir Percivale, wot ye what I am." "Yea," said Sir Percivale. "Now, who told ye my name?" said she. "Damsel," said Sir Percivale, "I know you better than ye ween." "And I come out of the vast 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 fair." "Sir," said she, "and ye will ensure me, by the faith ye owe unto knighthood, that ye shall do my will what time I shall summon you, I bring you to that knight." "Yea," said he, "I shall promise you your desire." "Well," said she, "I shall tell you : I saw him in the forest chasing two knights to a water, the which is called Mortraise, and he drove them into the water for dread of death. And the two knights passed over, and the red knight passed after, and there was his horse drowned, and he with great strength escaped unto the land." Thus she told him, and Sir Percivale was passing glad thereof. Then she asked him if he had eaten any meat lately: "Nay, truly madam," said he; "I have eaten no meat nigh these three days, but late here I spake with a good man that fed me with his good and holy words, and refreshed me greatly." "Ah! sir knight," said she, "that same man is an enchanter and a multiplier of words, for ye believe him ye shall plainly be ashamed, and die in this rock for pure hunger, and be eaten by wild beasts : and ye be a young man and a goodly knight, and I shall help you, and ye will." "What are ye," said Sir Percivale, "that proffereth me this great kindness?" "I am," said she, "a gentlewoman that am disinherited, which was sometime the richest woman of the world." "Damsel," said Sir Percivale, "who hath disinherited you? for I have great pity of you." "Sir," said she, "I dwelled with the greatest man of the world, and he made me so fair and so clean, that there was none like me ; 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, and so drove me from mine heritage, and so disinherited me; and he had never no pity of me, nor of none of my counsel, nor of my court; and since, sir knight, it hath befallen me so, through me and mine I have taken from him many of his men, and made them become my men, for they ask never nothing of me but I give it them, that and much more. Thus I and all my servants war against him night and day ; therefore I know now no good knight, nor no good men, but I get them on my side and I may : and, because I know that thou art a good knight, I beseech thee to help me, and for ye be a fellow of the Round Table, wherefore ye ought not to fail no gentlewoman that is disinherited, and if she besought you of help."

VIII.

THEN Sir Percivale promised her all the help that he might, and then she thanked him : and at that time the weather was hot, and then she called unto her a gentlewoman, and bade her to bring forth a pavilion; and so she did, 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. And then he awoke, and asked her if she had any meat; and she said, "Yea, ye shall have meat enough.", And so there was set upon the table much meat ; and there was so great plenty, that Sir Percivale had great marvel thereof, for there was all manner of meats that he could think on ; also, he drank there the strangest wine that ever he drank, as him thought, and therewithal he was a little chafed 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. And then Sir Percivale proffered her love, and prayed her that she would be his love; and then she refused him in a manner when he required her, for because he should be the more ardent on her; and he ceased not to pray her of love. And when she saw him well chafed, then she said, "Sir Percivale, wit ye well that I shall not fulfil your will, but if ye swear from henceforth ye shall be my true servant, and to do nothing but that I shall command you : will ye ensure me this, as ye be a true knight ?" "Yea, fair lady," said he, "by the faith of my body." "Well," said she, "now shall ye do with me whatsoever shall please you : and now wit ye well that ye are the knight in the world that I most desired." But then by adventure and grace Sir Percivale saw his sword lie upon the ground all naked, in whose pommel was a red cross, and the sign of the cross therein, and he bethought him of his knighthood, and on his promise made beforehand unto the good man. Then he made a sign of the cross on his forehead, and therewithal the pavilion turned upside down ; and then it changed unto a smoke and a black cloud, and then he was dread, and cried out aloud.

IX.

"FAIR sweet Father, Jesu Christ, let me not be shamed, that was near lost, had not thy grace been." And then he looked into the ship, and saw her enter therein, which said, "Sir Percivale, ye have betrayed me." And so she went, with the wind roaring and crying, that it seemed that all the water burnt 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," and therewith he rove himself through the thigh, that the blood started about him, and he said, "Oh, good Lord, take this in compensation of that I have done against thee, my good Lord." So then he clothed him, and armed him, and called himself wretch, saying, "How nigh I had lost that which I should never have gotten again, which is my virginity; for that may never be recovered after it be once lost." And then he stopped his bleeding wound with a piece of his shirt. And thus, as he made his moan, he saw the same ship from the Orient come, that the good man was in the day before ; and then was the noble knight ashamed with himself, and there-with he fell into a swoon ; and when he awoke he went unto him weakly, and there he saluted this good man. And then he asked Sir Percivale how he had done since he departed from him. "Sir," said he, "here was a gentlewoman, that led me into deadly sin," and told him all. "Know ye not her?" said the old man. "Nay," said he, "but well I wot the fiend sent her hither, to shame me." "Oh, good knight," said he, "thou art a fool ; for that gentlewoman was the master fiend of hell ; the which hath power over all devils, and that was the old lady that thou saweth in thy vision, riding upon a serpent." Then he told Sir Percivale how our Lord Jesu Christ beat him out of heaven for his sin, the which was the most brightest angel of heaven; and therefore he lost his heritage, "and that was the champion that thou foughtest withal, the which had overcome thee, had not the grace of God been. Now, beware, Sir Percivale, and take this for an example." And then the good man vanished away. Then Sir Percivale took his armour, and entered into the ship, and so departed from thence.



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