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Stories from Le Morte D'Arthur and the Mabinogion online

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satin and velvet. Presently, it reached the land and out of it
there stepped a lady of marvellous beauty, who asked him how he
came there; "For know," said she, "ye are like to die here by
hunger or mischance." "He whom I serve will protect me," said Sir
Percivale. "I know well whom ye desire most to see," said the lady.
"Ye would meet with the Red Knight who bears the red-cross shield."
"Ah! lady, I pray you tell me where I may find him," cried Sir
Percivale. "With a good will," said the damsel; "if ye will but
promise me your service when I shall ask for it, I will lead you to
the knight, for I met him of late in the forest." So Sir Percivale
promised gladly to serve her when she should need him. Then the
lady asked him how long he had fasted. "For three days," answered
Sir Percivale. Immediately she gave orders to her attendants
forthwith to pitch a tent and set out a table with all manner of
delicacies, and of these she invited Sir Percivale to partake. "I
pray you, fair lady," said Sir Percivale, "who are ye that show me
such kindness?" "Truly," said the lady, "I am but a hapless damsel,
driven forth from my inheritance by a great lord whom I have
chanced to displease. I implore you, Sir Knight, by your vows of
knighthood, to give me your aid." Sir Percivale promised her all
the aid he could give, and then she bade him lie down and sleep,
and herself took off his helmet, and unclasped his sword-belt. So
Sir Percivale slept, and when he waked, there was another feast
prepared, and he was given the rarest and the strongest wines that
ever he had tasted. Thus they made merry and, when the lady begged
Percivale to rest him there awhile, promising him all that ever he
could desire if he would vow himself to her service, almost he
forgot the quest to which he was vowed, and would have consented,
but that his eye fell upon his sword where it lay. Now in the
sword-hilt there was set a red cross and, seeing it, Percivale
called to mind his vow, and, thinking on it, he signed him with the
cross on his forehead. Instantly, the tent was overthrown and
vanished in thick smoke; and she who had appeared a lovely woman
disappeared from his sight in semblance of a fiend.

Then was Sir Percivale sore ashamed that almost he had yielded to
the temptings of the Evil One, and earnestly, he prayed that his
sin might be forgiven him. Thus he remained in prayer far into the
night, bewailing his weakness; and when the dawn appeared, a ship
drew nigh the land. Sir Percivale entered into it, but could find
no one there; so commending himself to God, he determined to remain
thereon, and was borne over the seas for many days, he knew not



Among the knights vowed to the Quest of the Holy Grail was Sir
Bors, one of the kin of Sir Launcelot, a brave knight and pious. He
rode through the forest many a day, making his lodging most often
under a leafy tree, though once on his journey he stayed at a
castle, that he might do battle for its lady against a felon knight
who would have robbed and oppressed her.

So, on a day, as he rode through the forest, Sir Bors came to the
parting of two ways. While he was considering which he should
follow, he espied two knights driving before them a horse on which
was stretched, bound and naked, none other than Sir Bors' own
brother, Sir Lionel; and, from time to time, the two false knights
beat him with thorns so that his body was all smeared with blood,
but, so great was his heart, Sir Lionel uttered never a word. Then,
in great wrath, Sir Bors laid his lance in rest and would have
fought the felon knights to rescue his brother, but that, even as
he spurred his horse, there came a bitter cry from the other path
and, looking round, he saw a lady being dragged by a knight into
the darkest part of the forest where none might find and rescue
her. When she saw Sir Bors, she cried to him: "Help me! Sir Knight,
help me! I beseech you by your knighthood." Then Sir Bors was much
troubled, for he would not desert his brother; but bethinking him
that ever a woman must be more helpless than a man, he wheeled his
horse, rode upon her captor and beat him to the earth. The damsel
thanked him earnestly and told him how the knight was her own
cousin, who had that day carried her off by craft from her father's
castle. As they talked, there came up twelve knights who had been
seeking the lady everywhere; so to their care Sir Bors delivered
her, and rode with haste in the direction whither his brother had
been borne. On the way, he met with an old man, dressed as a
priest, who asked him what he sought. When Sir Bors had told him,
"Ah! Bors," said he, "I can give you tidings indeed. Your brother
is dead"; and parting the bushes, he showed him the body of a dead
man, to all seeming Sir Lionel's self. Then Sir Bors grieved
sorely, misdoubting almost whether he should not have rescued his
own brother rather than the lady; and at the last, he dug a grave
and buried the dead man; after which he rode sorrowfully on his

When he had ridden many days, he met with a yeoman whom he asked if
there were any adventures in those parts. "Sir," said the man, "at
the castle; hard by, they hold a great tournament." Sir Bors
thanked him and rode along the way pointed out to him; and
presently, as he passed a hermitage, whom should he see sitting at
its door but his brother, Sir Lionel, whom he had believed dead.
Then in great joy, he leaped from his horse, and running to Lionel,
cried: "Fair brother, how came ye hither?" "Through no aid of
yours," said Sir Lionel angrily; "for ye left me bound and beaten,
to ride to the rescue of a maiden. Never was brother so dealt with
by brother before. Keep you from me as ye may!" When Sir Bors
understood that his brother would slay him, he knelt before him
entreating his pardon. Sir Lionel took no heed, but mounting his
horse and taking his lance, cried: "Keep you from me, traitor!
Fight, or die!" And Sir Bors moved not; for to him it seemed a sin
most horrible that brother should fight with brother. Then Sir
Lionel, in his rage, rode his horse at him, bore him to the ground
and trampled him under the horse's hoofs, till Bors lay beaten to
the earth in a swoon. Even so, Sir Lionel's anger was not stayed;
for, alighting, he drew his sword and would have smitten off his
brother's head, but that the holy hermit, hearing the noise of
conflict, ran out of the hermitage and threw himself upon Sir Bors.
"Gentle knight," he cried, "have mercy upon him and on thyself; for
of the sin of slaying thy brother, thou couldst never be quit."
"Sir Priest," said Lionel, "if ye leave him not, I shall slay you
too." "It were a lesser sin than to slay thy brother," answered the
hermit. "So be it," cried Lionel, and with one blow, struck off the
hermit's head. Then he would have worked his evil will upon his
brother too, but that, even as he was unlacing Sir Bors' helm to
cut off his head, there rode up the good knight Sir Colgrevance, a
fellow of the Round Table. When he saw the dead hermit and was
aware how Lionel sought the life of Bors, he was amazed, and
springing from his horse, ran to Lionel and dragged him back from
his brother. "Do ye think to hinder me?" said Sir Lionel. "Let
come who will, I will have his life." "Ye shall have to do with me
first," cried Colgrevance. Therewith, they took their swords, and,
setting their shields before them, rushed upon each other. Now Sir
Colgrevance was a good knight, but Sir Lionel was strong and his
anger added to his strength. So long they fought that Sir Bors had
time to recover from his swoon, and raising himself with pain on
his elbow, saw how the two fought for his life; and as it seemed,
Sir Lionel would prevail, for Sir Colgrevance grew weak and weary.
Sir Bors tried to get to his feet, but, so weak he was, he could
not stand; and Sir Colgrevance, seeing him stir, called on him to
come to his aid, for he was in mortal peril for his sake. But even
as he called, Sir Lionel cut him to the ground and, as one
possessed, rushed upon his brother to slay him. Sir Bors entreated
him for mercy, and when he would not, sorrowfully he took his
sword, saying: "Now, God forgive me, though I defend my life
against my brother."

Immediately there was heard a voice saying, "Flee, Bors, and touch
not thy brother"; and at the same time, a fiery cloud burned
between them, so that their shields glowed with the flame, and both
knights fell to the earth. But the voice came again, saying, "Bors,
leave thy brother and take thy way to the sea. There thou shalt
meet Sir Percivale." Then Sir Bors made ready to obey, and, turning
to Lionel, said: "Dear brother, I pray you forgive me for aught in
which I have wronged you." "I forgive you," said Lionel, for he was
too amazed and terrified to keep his anger.

So Sir Bors continued his journey, and at the last, coming to the
sea shore, he espied a ship, draped all with white samite, and
entering thereon, he saw Sir Percivale, and much they rejoiced them
in each other's company.



After Sir Launcelot had parted from his fellows at the Castle of
Vagon, he rode many days through the forest without adventure, till
he chanced upon a knight close by a little hermitage in the wood.
Immediately, as was the wont of errant knights, they prepared to
joust, and Launcelot, whom none before had overthrown, was borne
down, man and horse, by the stranger knight. Thereupon a nun, who
dwelt in the hermitage, cried: "God be with thee, best knight in
all this world," for she knew the victor for Sir Galahad. But
Galahad, not wishing to be known, rode swiftly away; and presently
Sir Launcelot got to horse again and rode slowly on his way, shamed
and doubting sorely in his heart whether this quest were meant for

When night fell, he came to a great stone cross which stood at the
parting of the way and close by a little ruined chapel. So Sir
Launcelot, being minded to pass the night there, alighted, fastened
his horse to a tree and hung his shield on a bough. Then he drew
near to the little chapel, and wondered to see how, all ruinous
though it was, yet within was an altar hung with silk and a great
silver candlestick on it; but when he sought entrance, he could
find none and, much troubled in his mind, he returned to his horse
where he had left it, and unlacing his helm and ungirding his
sword, laid him down to rest.

Then it seemed to Sir Launcelot that, as he lay between sleeping
and waking, there passed him two white palfreys bearing a litter
wherein was a sick knight, who cried: "Sweet Lord, when shall I be
pardoned all my transgressions, and when shall the holy vessel come
to me, to cure me of my sickness?" And instantly it seemed that the
great candlestick came forth of itself from the chapel, floating
through the air before a table of silver on which was the Holy
Grail. Thereupon the sick knight raised himself, and on his bended
knees he approached so nigh that he kissed the holy vessel; and
immediately he cried: "I thank Thee, sweet Lord, that I am healed
of my sickness." And all the while Sir Launcelot, who saw this
wonder, felt himself held that he could not move. Then a squire
brought the stranger knight his weapons, in much joy that his lord
was cured. "Who think ye that this knight may be who remains
sleeping when the holy vessel is so near?" said the knight. "In
truth," said the squire, "he must be one that is held by the bond
of some great sin. I will take his helm and his sword, for here
have I brought you all your armour save only these two." So the
knight armed him from head to foot, and taking Sir Launcelot's
horse, rode away with his squire. On the instant, Sir Launcelot
awoke amazed, not knowing whether he had dreamed or not; but while
he wondered, there came a terrible voice, saying: "Launcelot, arise
and leave this holy place." In shame, Sir Launcelot turned to obey,
only to find horse and sword and shield alike vanished. Then,
indeed, he knew himself dishonoured. Weeping bitterly, he made the
best of his way on foot, until he came to a cell where a hermit was
saying prayer. Sir Launcelot knelt too, and, when all was ended,
called to the hermit, entreating him for counsel. "With good will,"
said the hermit. So Sir Launcelot made himself known and told the
hermit all, lamenting how his good fortune was turned to
wretchedness and his glory to shame; and truly, the hermit was
amazed that Sir Launcelot should be in such case. "Sir," said he,
"God has given you manhood and strength beyond all other knights;
the more are ye bounden to his service." "I have sinned," said Sir
Launcelot; "for in all these years of my knighthood, I have done
everything for the honour and glory of my lady and naught for my
Maker; and little thank have I given to God for all his benefits to
me." Then the holy man gave Sir Launcelot good counsel and made him
rest there that night; and the next day he gave him a horse, a
sword and a helmet, and bade him go forth and bear himself knightly
as the servant of God.



For many days after he had left the hermitage, Sir Launcelot rode
through the forest, but there came to him no such adventures as had
befallen him on other quests to the increase of his fame. At last,
one night-tide, he came to the shores of a great water and there he
lay down to sleep; but as he slept, a voice called on him:
"Launcelot, arise, put on thine armour and go on thy way until thou
comest to a ship. Into that thou shalt enter." Immediately, Sir
Launcelot started from his sleep to obey and, riding along the
shore, came presently to a ship beached on the strand; no sooner
had he entered it, than the ship was launched - how, he might not
know. So the ship sailed before the wind for many a day. No mortal
was on it, save only Sir Launcelot, yet were all his needs
supplied. Then, at last, the ship ran ashore at the foot of a great
castle; and it was midnight. Sir Launcelot waited not for the dawn,
but, his sword gripped in his hand, sprang ashore, and then, right
before him, he saw a postern where the gate stood open indeed, but
two grisly lions kept the way. And when Sir Launcelot would have
rushed upon the great beasts with his sword, it was struck from his
hand, and a voice said: "Ah! Launcelot, ever is thy trust in thy
might rather than thy Maker!" Sore ashamed, Sir Launcelot took his
sword and thrust it back into the sheath, and going forward, he
passed unhurt through the gateway, the lions that kept it falling
back from his path. So without more adventure, Launcelot entered
into the castle; and there he saw how every door stood open, save
only one, and that was fast barred, nor, with all his force, might
he open it. Presently from the chamber within came the sound of a
sweet voice in a holy chant, and then in his heart Launcelot knew
that he was come to the Holy Grail. So, kneeling humbly, he prayed
that to him might be shown some vision of that he sought. Forthwith
the door flew open and from the chamber blazed a light such as he
had never known before; but when he made to enter, a voice cried:
"Launcelot, forbear," and sorrowfully he withdrew. Then where he
knelt, far even from the threshold of the wondrous room, he saw a
silver table and, on it, covered with red samite, the Holy Grail.
At sight of that which he had sought so long, his joy became so
great that, unmindful of the warning, he advanced into the room and
drew nigh even to the Table itself. Then on the instant there burst
between him and it a blaze of light, and he fell to the ground.
There he lay, nor might he move nor utter any sound; only he was
aware of hands busy about him which bore him away from the chamber.

For four-and-twenty days, Sir Launcelot lay as in a trance. At the
end of that time, he came to himself, and found those about him
that had tended him in his swoon. These, when they had given him
fresh raiment, brought him to the aged King - Pelles was his
name - that owned that castle. The King entertained him right
royally, for he knew of the fame of Sir Launcelot; and long he
talked with him of his quest and of the other knights who followed
it, for he was of a great age and knew much of men. At the end of
four days, he spoke to Sir Launcelot, bidding him return to
Arthur's court; "For," said he, "your quest is ended here, and all
that ye shall see of the Holy Grail, ye have seen." So Launcelot
rode on his way, grieving for the sin that hindered him from the
perfect vision of the Holy Grail, but thanking God for that which
he had seen. So in time he came to Camelot, and told to Arthur all
that had befallen him.



After he had rescued Sir Percivale from the twenty knights who
beset him, Sir Galahad rode on his way till night-fall, when he
sought shelter at a little hermitage. Thither there came in the
night a damsel who desired to speak with Sir Galahad; so he arose
and went to her, "Galahad," said she, "arm you and mount your horse
and follow me, for I am come to guide you in your quest." So they
rode together until they had come to the sea-shore, and there the
damsel showed Galahad a great ship into which he must enter. Then
she bade him farewell, and he, going on to the ship, found there
already the good knights Sir Bors and Sir Percivale, who made much
joy of the meeting. They abode in that ship until they had come to
the castle of King Pelles, who welcomed them right gladly. Then, as
they all sat at supper that night, suddenly the hall was filled
with a great light, and the holy vessel appeared in their midst,
covered all in white samite. While they all rejoiced, there came a
voice saying: "My Knights whom I have chosen, ye have seen the
holy vessel dimly. Continue your journey to the city of Sarras and
there the perfect Vision shall be yours."

Now in the city of Sarras had dwelt long time Joseph of Arimathea,
teaching its people the true faith, before ever he came into the
land of Britain; but when Sir Galahad and his fellows came there
after long voyage, they found it ruled by a heathen king named
Estorause, who cast them into a deep dungeon. There they were kept
a year, but at the end of that time, the tyrant died. Then the
great men of the land gathered together to consider who should be
their king; and, while they were in council, came a voice bidding
them take as their king the youngest of the three knights whom
Estorause had thrown into prison. So in fear and wonder they
hastened to the prison, and releasing the three knights, made
Galahad king as the voice had bidden them.

Thus Sir Galahad became King of the famous city of Sarras, in far
Babylon. He had reigned a year when, one morning early, he and the
other two knights, his fellows, went into the chapel, and there
they saw, kneeling in prayer, an aged man, robed as a bishop, and
round him hovered many angels. The knights fell on their knees in
awe and reverence, whereupon he that seemed a bishop turned to them
and said: "I am Joseph of Arimathea, and I am come to show you the
perfect Vision of the Holy Grail." On the instant there appeared
before them, without veil or cover, the holy vessel, in a radiance
of light such as almost blinded them. Sir Bors and Sir Percivale,
when at length they were recovered from the brightness of that
glory, looked up to find that the holy Joseph and the wondrous
vessel had passed from their sight. Then they went to Sir Galahad
where he still knelt as in prayer, and behold, he was dead; for it
had been with him even as he had prayed; in the moment when he had
seen the vision, his soul had gone back to God.

So the two knights buried him in that far city, themselves mourning
and all the people with them. And immediately after, Sir Percivale
put off his arms and took the habit of a monk, living a devout and
holy life until, a year and two months later, he also died and was
buried near Sir Galahad. Then Sir Bors armed him, and bidding
farewell to the city, sailed away until, after many weeks, he came
again to the land of Britain. There he took horse, and stayed not
till he had come to Camelot. Great was the rejoicing of Arthur and
all his knights when Sir Bors was once more among them. When he had
told all the adventures which had befallen him and the good
knights, his companions, all who heard were filled with amaze. But
the King, he caused the wisest clerks in the land to write in great
hooks this Quest of the Holy Grail, that the fame of it should
endure unto all time.





At last, the Quest of the Holy Grail was ended, and by ones and
twos the knights came back to Camelot, though many who had set out
so boldly were never seen again about the Round Table.

Great was the joy of King Arthur when Sir Launcelot and Sir Bors
returned, for, so long had they been away, that almost he had
feared that they had perished. In their honour there was high
festival for many days in London, where Arthur then had his court;
and the King made proclamation of a great tournament that he would
hold at Camelot, when he and the King of Northgalis would keep the
lists against all comers.

So, one fair morning of spring, King Arthur made ready to ride to
Camelot and all his knights with him, save Launcelot, who excused
himself, saying that an old wound hindered him from riding. But
when the King, sore vexed, had departed, the Queen rebuked Sir
Launcelot, and bade him go and prove his great prowess as of old.
"Madam," said Sir Launcelot, "in this, as in all else, I obey you;
at your bidding I go, but know that in this tournament I shall
adventure me in other wise than ever before."

The next day, at dawn, Sir Launcelot mounted his horse, and, riding
forth unattended, journeyed all that day till, as evening fell, he
reached the little town of Astolat, and there, at the castle,
sought lodgement for that night. The old Lord of Astolat was glad
at his coming, judging him at once to be a noble knight, though he
knew him not, for it was Sir Launcelot's will to remain unknown.

So they went to supper, Sir Launcelot and the old lord, his son,
Sir Lavaine, and his daughter Elaine, whom they of the place called
the Fair Maid of Astolat. As they sat at meat, the Baron asked Sir
Launcelot if he rode to the tournament. "Yea," answered Launcelot;
"and right glad should I be if, of your courtesy, ye would lend me
a shield without device." "Right willingly," said his host; "ye
shall have my son, Sir Tirre's shield. He was but lately made
knight and was hurt in his first encounter, so his shield is bare
enough. If ye will take with you my young son, Sir Lavaine, he will
be glad to ride in the company of so noble a knight and will do you
such service as he may." "I shall be glad indeed of his
fellowship," answered Sir Launcelot courteously.

Now it seemed to the fair Elaine that never had she beheld so noble
a knight as this stranger; and seeing that he was as gentle and
courteous as he was strong, she said to him: "Fair Knight, will ye
wear my favour at this tournament? For never have I found knight
yet to wear my crimson sleeve, and sure am I that none other could
ever win it such honour." "Maiden," said Sir Launcelot, "right
gladly would I serve you in aught; but it has never been my custom
to wear lady's favour." "Then shall it serve the better for
disguise," answered Elaine. Sir Launcelot pondered her words, and
at last he said: "Fair maiden, I will do for you what I have done
for none, and will wear your favour." So with great glee, she
brought it him, a crimson velvet sleeve embroidered with great
pearls, and fastened it in his helmet. Then Sir Launcelot begged
her to keep for him his own shield until after the tournament, when
he would come for it again and tell them his name.

The next morn, Sir Launcelot took his departure with Sir Lavaine
and, by evening, they were come to Camelot. Forthwith Sir Lavaine
led Sir Launcelot to the house of a worthy burgher, where he might
stay in privacy, undiscovered by those of his acquaintance. Then,
when at dawn the trumpets blew, they mounted their horses and rode
to a little wood hard by the lists, and there they abode some
while; for Sir Launcelot would take no part until he had seen which
side was the stronger. So they saw how King Arthur sat high on a
throne to overlook the combat, while the King of Northgalis and all
the fellowship of the Round Table held the lists against their

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Online LibraryBeatrice ClayStories from Le Morte D'Arthur and the Mabinogion → online text (page 9 of 12)