Frances Nimmo Greene.

Legends of King Arthur and his court online

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refuge in the desolate island of Britain.
Here the heathen prince, " Aviragus," granted
him a marshy spot in Glastonbury wherein
to dwell.


King Arthur and His Court

The day of miracles had not yet passed,
and the good Joseph asked for a sign from
God by which to know if here were a fitting
place to found a church of the true faith.
After much fasting and prayer, he planted his
dry and hardened pilgrim staff in the ground
one mid- winter night and lo! on the mor-
row it was crowned with leaves and flowers,
as a sign of how the faith of Christ would
blossom in this barren, heathen land. And
ever since that time the winter thorn blos-
soms at Christmas in memory of our Lord.

Now Joseph had brought the Holy Grail
to Britain with him, and for many years the
precious vessel remained on earth to bless
mankind. So potent was it for good, that
all who beheld or touched it were freed from
whatsoever ills afflicted them.

However, the times grew evil, and the
Holy Cup was snatched away to heaven;

and for many weary decades of sin and

The Holy Grail

suffering its healing powers were lost to
the world.

In the time of King Arthur, when
Arimathean Joseph had been sleeping under
the winter thorn at Glastonbury for four
hundred years, there awoke in the hearts of
the people the hope that the holy vessel
would return to earth to bless the high
efforts of their great and good King.

Chiefest among those who longed for the
return of the Grail, was the gentle sister of
Sir Percivale, a pure and spotless maiden
who had withdrawn from the world to the
sheltering peace of a convent. This sweet-
eyed nun had heard the story of the Holy
Grail from the priest to whom she confessed
her sins, and ever after spent her days in
prayer that it might come again.

" O Father, might it come to me by
prayer and fasting ? " she had asked. And
the priest had replied, " Nay, I know not."


King Arthur and His Court

But after many days her heart's wish was
granted. For one night as she lay sleeping
in her narrow convent cell, she was wakened
by a sound as of silver horns blown over the
far distant hills. At first she thought of
hunters; but as the mists of sleep cleared
from her brain, she realized that no harp or
horn or anything of mortal make could wake
those heavenly sounds. As she lay thus,
listening to the bugle call from Paradise,
there streamed through her cell a cold and
silver beam, adown whose radiance glided
the Holy Grail, uncovered. Rose-red it shone,
with a glory that was not of earth, and the
white walls and all around crimsoned in
reflection of its blessed light. Then the
music faded, the vision passed, and the rosy
quiverings died into the night.

On the morrow, the gentle nun spake to
her brother Percivale, saying, " The Holy
Thing is here again among us, brother; fast

The Holy Grail

thou too and pray, and tell thy brother knights
to fast and pray, that so perchance the vision
may be seen by thee and those, and all the
world be healed."

Very great was the wonder in Camelot when
Sir Percivale's sister told of her vision of the
Holy Grail. Far and wide the news was spread,
and there was much rejoicing that the blessed
cup had come down again to the children of

Now there had recently come into King
Arthur's court a bright boy-knight by the
name of Galahad. He had been reared by
the nuns in a convent hard by; but none
knew whence he came, and many were the
surmises concerning his origin.

Clad in white armor from top to toe, with
locks of gold and a face of angel sweetness,
Galahad moved among the Round Table
knights, a spirit of faith and purity.

"God make thee good as thou art beautiful"

King Arthur and His Court

King Arthur had said when he made him
knight; and the prayer was not in vain, for
the flawless purity of Galahad's beautiful face
was but the visible expression of a soul as fair.

Now it came to pass that when this nun
beheld Sir Galahad, she cut off her shin-
ing locks and braided therefrom a strong
sword-belt. And she bound it on him, say-
ing, " Go forth, for thou shalt see what
I have seen, and break thro' all, till one
will crown thee king, far in the spiritual
city." And the glorified light of her eyes
passed into his soul, and he believed in
her belief.

At the Round Table of King Arthur there
was one seat which no man dared to occupy.
" The Siege Perilous," Merlin had called it,
when he fashioned it with strange inscription
and device. Perilous because none but
the pure might sit therein in safety. Many,
who had deemed themselves above reproach,


Tfie Holy Grail

had come to grievous misfortune by attempt-
ing to occupy that "siege." The great
Merlin himself had once dared its powers,
and had been swallowed up for evermore.

But Galahad, when he heard of Merlin's
doom, cried, " If I lose myself, I save my-
self ! " This came to pass on a summer
night when a great banquet had been pre-
pared in Arthur's hall, and the knights were
assembled for feasting. The bold Sir Gala-
had took his seat in the Siege Perilous. The
wondering company looked to see some
dread judgment smite him down, and mar-
veled much when no evil thing befell. Some-
thing wonderful did come to pass though
something so wonderful that all that knightly
company were stricken dumb as they beheld.
Scarcely had Sir Galahad taken seat, when
there came a dreadful sound as if the roof
above them were riven in pieces. A fearful

blast swept down upon the castle, and awful


King Arthur and His Court

thunders boomed along the sky ; and in that
pealing was a cry which no man might
interpret. Suddenly there streamed along
the hall a beam of light "seven times more
clear than day," and adown that clear beam
moved the Holy Grail. Not as to the pious
nun clear and uncovered did it come
to these men of might. A luminous cloud
veiled it from their eyes, and none might
see who bore it.

While yet the vision lingered, each knight
beheld his fellow's face as in a glory, and
they arose from their seats, staring dumbly
at each other.

When the Holy Thing passed from them
and the light faded and the thunder ceased,
they found their tongues again.

Sir Percivale was the first to lift up his
voice; and he sware before them all that,
because he had not seen the Grail uncovered,

he would ride a twelvemonth and a day in

TJie Holy Grail

quest of it. Then knight by knight the
others followed the example of Percivale;
and took his vow upon themselves.

Now, by a sad mischance, King Arthur was
not among his own when the vision of the
veiled cup passed before them and they sware
the solemn vow to ride a twelvemonth and a
day until they saw the Grail, uncovered. He
had journeyed to a remote part of his king-
dom to right some wrong, and returned Justin
time to find the vision passed and his strangely
excited knights in tumult some vowing,
some protesting. He spake to the nearest
knight, saying, " Percivale, what is this ? "

Then Percivale told him what had come
to pass, and how the knights had vowed their
vows because they wished to see the holy
vessel, uncovered.

But the King exclaimed,

" Woe is me, my knights ! Had I been
here, ye had not sworn the vow."

King Arthur and His Court

Then the bold Sir Percivale

" Had thyself been here, my King, thou
wouldst have sworn ! "

" Art thou so bold and has not seen
the Grail?" replied King Arthur. Percivale
answered him,

" Nay, lord, I heard the sound, I saw the
light, but since I did not see the Holy Thing,
I sware a vow to follow it till I saw."

The King then asked them, knight by
knight, if any had seen it ; but all replied,

" Nay, lord, and therefore have we sworn

our vows."

" Lo, now," said the King, " have ye seen a
cloud? What go ye into the wilderness to

Then on a sudden the clear voice of
Galahad rang from the other end of the hall :

"I, Sir Arthur, saw the Holy Grail. I
saw the Holy Grail and heard a cry 'O

Galahad, and O Galahad, follow me ! '


The Holy Grail

"Ah, Galahad, Galahad," said the King,
"for such as thou art is the vision, not for
these ! " And he spake to his knights at
length, and strove to show them how unfitted
were such men for such a quest ; how much
more necessary it was for them to be in their
places at his side quick to see the evil
everywhere and strong to strike it down
than abroad in the land, "following wander-
ing fires."

But he had ever taught his knights that
"man's word is God in man," and he ended
sadly, saying,

" Go, since your vows are sacred, being

On the morrow the knights prepared them
for their journeys, after holding a farewell
tournament, in which Sir Percivale and Sir
Galahad did many mighty deeds of arms.

Great was the mourning throughout Game-
lot when the people learned that their beloved


King Arthur and His Court

protectors and champions were to be lost
to them for many days. A great crowd
gathered to see the knights depart; and
Queen Guinevere cried aloud,

" This madness has come on us for our
sins ! " Alas, poor Queen ! It was into her
own heart that she looked; for she had not
proved a loving wife to Arthur, nor a good
queen to the land of Britain, nor a true
woman in the sight of God.

Then he who had built up the high order
of the Table Round who had redeemed a
broad kingdom from wild beasts and heathen
hordes who had struggled to revive in
man the image of his Maker sat in empty
halls. Misfortune and sorrow and treason
crept nearer and nearer to the blameless
King, and his Round Table knights were
abroad in the land, "following wandering


The Holy Grail


"... Sir Bors it was

Who spake so low and sadly at our board ;
And mighty reverent at our grace was he."

Thus the poet 'describes the gentle cousin
of Launcelot. Of all the Round Table
knights, Sir Bors was the most quiet and
the most unassuming. He too had sworn to
follow the Holy Grail, but in such humble-
ness of spirit that he felt " if God would send
the vision, well; if not, the Quest and he
were in the hands of heaven."

Now it chanced that Sir Bors rode to the
" lonest tract of all the realm," and found there
among the crags a heathen people, whose tem-
ples were great circles of stone, and whose
wise men, by their magic arts, could trace
the wanderings of the stars in the heavens.

Much these strange people questioned
Bors of his coming ; and when he told them

King Arthur and His Court

of the Quest, and talked boldly of a God
they knew not, their priests became offended,
and caused him to be seized and bound and
cast into prison.

Now the cell into which he was cast was
loosely fashioned of huge stones, but so
massive were these rocks no human hand
could move them.

All day long he lay in utter darkness, but
when the silence of night came, one of the
great stones slipped from its place, as if by
miracle. Through the opening thus made,
Bors could behold the sky above him as he
lay bound on the floor. The seven clear
stars of Arthur's Round Table looked down
upon him "like the bright eyes of familiar
friends," and exceeding peace fell upon his
troubled spirit.

All at once, across the stars, a rosy color
passed, and in it glowed the Holy Grail, un-
covered! The vision faded; but its blessed

The Holy Grail

radiance lingered long in the heart of the man
who lay bound to the rocks for the truth's sake.
In a little while a maiden, who, among her
pagan kindred, held the true faith in secret,
stole in and loosed the cords which bound
him, and set him free.


Alas for the knight whom Arthur loved
and honored most! Evil came to Launce-
lot, and he opened his once pure and loyal
heart and let it in. Then came a long, dark
struggle between his baser and his better
self a fight so evenly waged and so des-
perate, that a mighty madness would some-
times seem to possess him, and he would fly
from the haunts of men, to return, wasted
and gaunt with the struggle.

While thus in secret Launcelot harbored

the sin that he both loved and hated, the

King Arthur and His Court

knights took upon themselves the quest of the
Holy Grail; and he sware with the others,
in the hope that he might find the Holy
Thing, and thus be healed of his grievous

So he too went forth ; but while he yearned
and strove and suffered, his madness came
upon him once again, and whipt him into
waste fields far away, where he was beaten
down by little men. Then he came in his
shame and sorrow to a naked shore, where a
fierce blast was blowing. He found there a
blackened bark, anchored. He entered it and
loosed the chains which fastened it, saying,

" I will embark and I will lose myself,
and in the great sea wash away my sin."
Seven days the vessel drove along the
stormy deep; but on the seventh night the
wind fell, and the boat grated on a rocky coast.

Looking up, Launcelot beheld the- en-
chanted towers of Castle Carbonek " like a


TIic Holy Grail

rock upon a rock" above him. He disem-
barked and entered the castle. Two great
lions guarded the way, and made as though
they would rend him in pieces, but a voice
said to him,

" Doubt not, go forward ! " And into the
sounding hall he passed, unharmed. And
always, as he moved about the lonely place, he
heard, clear as a lark and high above, a sweet
voice singing in the topmost tower. Then up
and up the steps he climbed and seemed
to climb forever. But at length he reached a
door: a light gleamed through the crannies,
and he heard in heavenly voices sung,
"Glory and joy and honor to our Lord,
And to the Holy Vessel of the Grail ! "

Then in his mad longing, he flung himself
against the door. It gave way, and for one
instant he thought he saw the Holy Grail,
veiled in red samite, with kneeling angels

King Arthur and His Court

But a heat as from a seven times heated
furnace smote him, and he swooned away.

When he returned to Camelot he knew
not how he sadly told the King,

" What I saw was veiled and covered ; this
Quest was not for me."


In that last tournament which was held
before the knights departed on the Quest,
Percivale had done many doughty deeds of
arms: so when he rode from Camelot, his
hopes were high and his spirit was proud.
" Never heaven appear'd so blue, nor earth so
green"; for in his pride and strength he was
sure that he would find the Holy Grail.

But as he rode, the King's dark prophecy
that most of them would follow wandering
fires, came to him, again and again, and

seemed to make the day less fair.

The Holy Grail

Then every evil word that he had spoken,
and every evil thought that he had harbored,
and every evil deed that he had done, rose
up within him, crying,

" This Quest is not for thee ! "

On he rode, and diverse and strange were
the adventures that befell him. For many a
weary day he seemed to be mocked by the
phantoms of a feverish dream. Hungry and
thirsty, he pressed toward flowing streams
beside which gorgeous apples grew ; but
when he put the fruit to his lips, it withered
and crumbled into dust. Homelike scenes
appeared before his tired eyes, only to fall into
dust as he approached. Then the vision of a

great armored horseman, splendid as the sun,

came riding down upon him and opened its

arms as if to clasp him, but it too fell away to

dust Again he heard a voice calling to him,

" Welcome, Percivale, thou mightiest and

thou purest among men ! " And, seeking


King Arthur and His Court

the voice, he rode on till he reached a splen-
did city on the summit of a great hill.

But when he gained the height, he found
the city deserted, with but one man there
aged and poor to welcome him. Alas !
Even the old man in greeting him fell
into dust and vanished from sight. Then
Percivale cried in despair,

" Lo, if I find the Holy Grail itself and
touch it, it will crumble into dust ! "

In his disappointment he rode down into
a quiet vale, deep as the hill was high, and
sought the advice of a holy man who dwelt in
a hermitage hard by a little chapel. When
the knight had told of all his distracting
visions, the good man said,

" O son, thou hast not true humility, the
highest virtue, mother of them all. Thou
hast not lost thyself to save thyself, as


77/6* Holy Grail


Though his arm had been strongest in the
farewell tournament, Galahad rode out of
Camelot'with his young heart fired by higher
glories than his own. Purer joys than all
earthly fame could give, were pulsing through
his heart; a flutter of wings was in the air,
and angel voices whispered,

" O just and faithful knight of God, ride
on! The prize is near."

And it was near. So near that through
all his earthly wanderings it went before him
like a guiding star, always visible to him.
In Arthur's hall he had seen the Grail,
uncovered. By night and day, on naked
mountain-top or in the sleeping mere below,
in blackened marsh or on crimson battle-
field, the cup of God shone before his eyes.

God did make him good as he was beauti-
ful ; and by the almighty power of goodness

King Arthur and His Court

he rode through all the land, shattering evil
customs as he went. He passed through
pagan realms and made them his ; he clashed
with heathen hordes and bore them down;
he broke through all, and in the strength of
faith, came forth victor.

Now it came to pass that while Percivale
yet abode in the Vale of Humility, Galahad
appeared before him in shining silver armor.
The two made great joy of each other, and
they and the old hermit went into the little
chapel to kneel in prayer and partake of the
Lord's Supper.

While they were yet kneeling, the Holy
Grail came down upon the shrine, and the
face of the Christ-child descended and dis-
appeared into the sacred elements. But
only Galahad's eyes were open to the

Then he told them that his time was

near at hand; that he would go thence, and


T/te Holy Grail

one would crown him king "far in the
spiritual city." And he said to the saddened

" Thou shalt see the vision when I go."
When the day began to wane, he and Per-
civale departed thence and climbed to the
top of a high hill. A fierce storm arose, and
lightnings lit and relit the shining armor of
Galahad and fired the dead trunks of trees
around. They passed on, and came at length
to a great marsh which ran out into the yet
greater sea. And behold ! there appeared a
seemingly endless bridge that stretched out,
pier after pier, into eternity.

Then lo, a wondrous thing! Galahad
leaped upon the bridge and sped along its
shining length ; and as he passed, span after
span of the bridge sprang into fire behind
him, so that the bold Sir Percivale, who fain
would have followed, could only stand and
behold. But glorious was the vision at

King ArtJmr and His Court

last vouchsafed to Percivale's aching eyes.
Thrice above the head of Galahad " the
heavens opened and blazed with thunder
such as seemed shoutings of all the sons of
God." His armor glistened like a silver
star above the great sea, and the Grail, now
all uncovered, hung like a burning jewel
o'er his head.

Then far in the distance, somewhere,
where sea and sky met, rose the spiritual
city ; and Galahad and the Holy Thing
passed in together, to be seen no more of

Only a tithe of the searchers returned to
Camelot to a saddened King in a decay-
ing city. Of those who did come back, the
greater number had grown cold, and careless
of the Quest.

The mightiest of King Arthur's knights
had seen the Grail, but not unveiled, and

scarce could say he saw ; two of the truest

Ttie Holy Grail

and bravest had beheld the holy cup in fleet-
ing visions and from afar off; but Galahad
had been crowned king, far in the spiritual

Verily, King Arthur knew his knights
when he cried,

"Ah, Galahad, Galahad, for such as thou
art is the vision, not for such as these ! "



My good blade carves the casques of men,

My tough lance thrusteth sure,
My strength is as the strength of ten,

Because my heart is pure.
The shattering trumpet shrilleth high,

The hard brands shiver on the steel,
The splinter'd spear-shafts crack and fly,

The horse and rider reel ;
They reel, they roll in clanging lists,

And when the tide of combat stands,
Perfume and flowers fall in showers,

That lightly rain from ladies' hands.

King Arthur and His Court

How sweet are looks that ladies bend

On whom their favors fall !
For them I battle till the end,

To save from shame and thrall :
But all my heart is drawn above,

My knees are bow'd in crypt and shrine
I never felt the kiss of love,

Nor maiden's hand in mine.
More bounteous aspects on me beam,

Me mightier transports move and thrill ;
So keep I fair thro' faith and prayer

A virgin heart in work and will.

When down the stormy crescent goes,

A light before me swims.
Between dark stems the forest glows,

I hear a noise of hymns :
Then by some secret shrine I ride ;

I hear a voice, but none are there ;
The stalls are void, the doors are wide,

The tapers burning fair.
Fair gleams the snowy altar cloth,

The silver vessels sparkle clean
The shrill bell rings, the censer swings,

And solemn chants resound between.


T/ic Holy Grin I

Sometimes on lonely mountain-meres

I find a magic bark ;
I leap on board : no helmsman steers :

I float till all is dark.
A gentle sound, an awful light !

Three angels bear the Holy Grail :
With folded feet, in stoles of white,

On sleeping wings they sail.
Ah, blessed vision ! blood of God !

My spirit beats her mortal bars,
As down dark tides the glory slides,

And star-like mingles with the stars.

When on my goodly charger borne

Thro' dreaming towns I go,
The cock crows ere the Christmas morn,

The streets are dumb with snow.
The tempest crackles on the leads,

And, ringing, springs from brand and mail;
But o'er the dark a glory spreads,

And gilds the driving hail.
I leave the plain, I climb the height ;

No branchy thicket shelter yields;
But blessed forms in whistling storms

Fly o'er waste fens and windy fields.

King Arthur and His Court

A maiden knight to me is given

Such hope, I know not fear ;
I yearn to breathe the airs of heaven

That often meet me here.
I muse on joy that will not cease,

Pure spaces clothed in living beams,
Pure lilies of eternal peace,

Whose odors h^unt my dreams ;
And, stricken by an angel's hand

This mortal armor that I wear,
This weight and size, this heart and eyes,

Are touch'd, are turn'd to finest air.

The clouds are broken in the sky,

And thro' the mountain-walls
A rolling organ-harmony

Swells up, and shakes and falls.
Then move the trees, the copses nod,

Wings flutter, voices hover clear :
"O just and faithful knight of God!

Ride on ! the prize is near."
So pass I hostel, hall, and grange ;

By bridge and ford, by park and pale.
All-arm'd I ride, whate ? er betide,

Until I find the Holy Grail.



THE King raised to knighthood others to
fill the places left vacant by the Holy Quest,
but the new knights were not the old ; and
even some of those who were first to take
the vows fell away from their faith and their
loyalty to the King.

Though King Arthur was a " selfless man
and stainless gentleman," his character was a
standard not too lofty for any man ; yet there
were those of his knights whose hearts were
made of baser stuff, and who complained
that the King expected too much of them,
thus excusing to themselves their own short-
comings. Some grew quickly tired of the
strict bonds in which the oath of knighthood
held them; others waged long and bitter

King Arthur and His Court

war with the evil in their own hearts, to fail
at last; while a few a very few followed
the King to the end, faithful even unto

Disaffection crept among them like a
silent, dread disease, till Modred, Arthur's
own nephew, turned traitor. Ambitious,
keen-eyed, cruel, this Modred had long
planned to make himself king in Arthur's
stead, but had masked his disloyalty with a
fawning smile, biding his time.
. His opportunity for open revolt came with
the failure of the Holy Quest ; for many of
the knights had come back discouraged, and

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Online LibraryFrances Nimmo GreeneLegends of King Arthur and his court → online text (page 4 of 5)