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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter XVIII. Perceval
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The Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter XVIII. Perceval Post by :busymike Category :Nonfictions Author :Thomas Bulfinch Date :January 2011 Read :924

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The Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter XVIII. Perceval

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 the 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 today 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 pater-
noster; 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 towards 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. The maiden said, "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 (Footnote: 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.) 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.

"Verily," said Sir Owain, the son of Urien, to Kay the Seneschal,
"thou wast ill-advised to send that madman after the knight, for
he must either be overthrown or flee, and either way it will be a
disgrace to Arthur and his warriors; therefore will I go to see
what has befallen him." So Sir Owain went to the meadow, and he
found Perceval trying in vain to get the dead knight's armor off,
in order to clothe himself with it. Sir Owain unfastened the
armor, and 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 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." And the hoary-headed man said to
him, "I am thy uncle, thy mother's brother; I am called King
Pecheur.(Footnote: The word means both FISHER and SINNER.) 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 forebore 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.

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 whom best he 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 towards
Caerleon.

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