Gilbert's King Arthur's Knights

IX. HOW THE THREE GOOD KNIGHTS ACHIEVED THE HOLY GRAAL

   Now the time drew nigh which had been foretold by Merlin, before he had been snared by a greater wizardry than his, and buried alive beneath the great stone in the forest of Broceliande.
   He had prophesied that, with the coming of King Arthur, the island of Britain should grow in strength and fame, and her knights should be more valiant and more pure in word and deed than the knights of any other land. But that, in a little while, they would become proud, and finding that none could withstand them, they would use their strength evilly.
   To the court of King Arthur, as he sat in London, came tidings of how his barons warred with each other in remoter parts of his dominions, seizing the strong castles of each other, putting one another to death and forsaking the ways of the Holy Church of Christ and turning to the idolatry of the old British pagans.
   The heart of the king was heavy as he sat thinking, and he wondered why this evil was entering into the hearts of his knights and barons. He resolved to take good counsel, and therefore commanded his clerk to come to him and bade him write down all his thoughts.
   Then he gave the letter to a trusty knight, named Sir Brewis, and bade him take it to the Archbishop of Britain, where he sat, an old and feeble man, in his great cathedral of St. Asaph, far on the verge of the western sea. He was the king's kinsman, and already known for his great sanctity as St. David. In a month the knight brought back the answer, which was in these words:
   "The time draws nigh for the trial and testing of Britain. Three good knights shall come to you, and you must pray that their spirit shall spread like fire in the hearts of all your knights. You shall have all my prayers, dear kinsman, and I bid you say to all your knights, 'Watch and Pray."'
   A few days later, when the king sat in hall before the great fire, for it was passing cold and the wintry wind snarled at the windows, the great door was flung open, and into the hall came three men bearing a wounded knight in armour upon his shield. When they had set him down, the knights that were with the king knew him for Sir Kay the seneschal, and Sir Kay looked sourly about him, and bade those that carried him take him to his pallet and fetch a leech, and not stand gaping like fools.
   "How now," said Sir Gawaine, "who hath tumbled thee, Sir Kay?"
   "A fool whose head I will rase from his shoulders when I am hale again," snapped Sir Kay, as he was home away to his bed.
   Then into the hall came a troll, and after the troll came a man dressed all in white armour, who, going towards the king, knelt at his feet.
   "Sir," the man said, "I would that ye make me a knight."
   "Then what is your name? What have ye done to deserve knighthood?" asked the king, who was angry at the hurt his old friend and foster-brother Kay had received.
   "Sir, I am Perceval who slew the Dragon Knight, and I am not yet made a knight."
   All those that stood there cried out in joy, and King Arthur raised the young man from his knees and kissed him on both cheeks.
   "Fair young warrior, I knew ye not," said the king, "and I repent me my churlish speech. We all have heard your great deeds, and much have I longed to see ye, and many reproaches gave I to Sir Kay, whose churlish manner thrust you from my hall."
   "Sir," said Perceval, when he had clasped the hands of the knights, all of whom were eager to know him, "I vowed that I would not come to you until that I had avenged the blow which Sir Kay had given to my good friend Tod, who is my squire, and good fortune brought Sir Kay to me, or perhaps it was the will of Heaven. For as I came riding hitherwards this morning, I saw in the snow where a hawk had torn a thrush, and the blood lay on the whiteness of the ground. I stopped and gazed upon it, for I thought of the white life of Christ who gave His blood to save us all. As I thought thus, I sank deeper and deeper in my thoughts. Suddenly I felt one strike me on the arm with the flat of his sword. I turned and saw a knight, who asked me why I gaped like a mooncalf at the torn bird. I told him it was my pleasure so to do. He asked if it was my pleasure to have to do with him, but I said I would liefer pursue my thoughts again. Nevertheless, he would not let me in quiet, and I drew my sword and beat him in my anger to the ground. When my squire unlaced his helm he knew him for Sir Kay, and told some passing men to bear him unto the court.
   "So have I punished him both for the insult to my friend and squire and to myself."
   Men marvelled at the quiet speech and gentle looks and manners of one whose name for great deeds was in all men's mouths; and Sir Gawaine said:
   "Of a truth, young chieftain, it had served Sir Kay rightly if ye had slain him, and he should thank thee for sparing him."
   The other knights agreed that Sir Kay had done most unknightly in thus picking a quarrel with one who had not offended, and he had merited defeat.
   Thereupon King Arthur knighted Perceval, and they made him great cheer and welcome; and the king knew in his heart that this was one of the three good knights whom St. David had spoken of, and he wondered who were the other two.
   It chanced that seven nights before, the good Sir Bors had fared forth from the court of Arthur to seek knightly adventures. And his spirit was joyful as he rode, for he felt that some great adventure was to come to him, howbeit he knew not why he felt this was to be.
   Northward he fared through the land, and the snow had not yet fallen, but so mild was the season that men's thoughts had stirred towards spring. For many days he journeyed and the ways were more lonely, the country more desolate, the rocky hills more bare. He wondered why it was that the land seemed so forsaken, as if the folk had long since left the fields to become solitary wastes.
   At length it befell that one evening he could find no place wherein to shelter for the night ; there was no hermit's cell nor castle nor knight's hold through all the way by which he had come that day. Towards twilight he came upon a wide moor, and the cold moon peered at him over the distant mountains. Far in the midst of the waste he saw a great pile, as of a castle, and pricked his horse towards it.
   It was indeed a castle, but its walls were broken and mossy, as if long years had passed since it housed fire and gay company. He rode over the drawbridge into the great courtyard, and the echo of his horse's hoof-beats was the only sound that greeted him.
   He sought the upper chambers, and found in one a rough bed of fern leaves, and, having supped from the scrip he carried with him, he composed himself to sleep, glad that at least a roof and thick walls shielded him from the freezing cold which now swept over the land.
   Forthwith he slept; but at midnight he awoke and found it was deeply dark, and looking to the arrow slit in the wall he sought some friendly star. As he looked a great red light burst through, and with that there thrusting fiercely, a great spear like a long flame, which darted at him, and then stayed just before him. The point of it burned blue and dazzling.
   As he lay marvelling, the spear went back a space; then he grasped his sword that lay beside him, but before he could defend himself the flaming spear dashed forward again and smote him in the shoulder.
   Then the spear went back and the chamber was deep dark again, and for very pain Sir Bors lay and groaned. Nor could he sleep more that night. When it was dawn he arose, thinking to ride forth, but when he went down into the courtyard to saddle his horse in the stable, he marvelled to see that where there had been an open ruined gateway the night before, was now a great black oaken door, spiked and bolted.
   For a long time he essayed by every means to get himself out of that castle, but he could not find a way. Yet never did he hear or see aught that showed that any one lived there. Many times he went throughout the place, but never found aught but ruin and emptiness, and the dust and darkness of long neglect everywhere.
   When three days had gone, Sir Bors was faint with the pain of his wound and the hunger with which he suffered. Then, as he sat beside his horse in its stall, he suddenly heard the clank of armour, and going forth into the courtyard saw a knight all armed, with his shield on his shoulder and his sword naked in his hand.
   Without a word the stranger darted at him, and hardly did Sir Bors have time to dress his shield; and then they lashed mightily at each other, and thrust and hewed sorely. Thus for half the day they fought, and so fiercely that soon Sir Bors had many wounds, so that blood oozed from the joints of his armour. But the other knight seemed to be unharmed, and never seemed to breathe heavily. Then Sir Bors became extremely wroth, and beat so fiercely upon the other that he pressed him always backward until the stranger was nigh to the door of a chamber which opened into the courtyard ; and suddenly he dashed backwards into the chamber and shut the door.
   Nor would he come forth, for all that Sir Bors called him coward and recreant. Nor would he answer one word, nor had he said one word since Sir Bors had seen him.
   After some time Sir Bors resolved to go back and rest himself beside his horse, for his great wounds burned him sorely; but as he turned, suddenly, without a sound, the stranger knight dashed forth, and struck a felon blow at the good knight's neck. But Sir Bors was aware of him in time and defended himself full well.
   So fiercely did Sir Bors lay on, that soon the other was beaten to his knees, and then the good knight rushed at him to hurl him headlong and to slay him. Suddenly the other knight seemed to fall together as if dead; but the armour sounded hollow as it fell, and Sir Bors marvelled.
   Swiftly he hacked the fastenings of the helm and tore it from the neck armour. Then a great fear seized and shook him. The armour was empty!
   He knew then that he had fought with a demon. He crossed himself and prayed, and weak with deadly fear and his wounds, he went into the stall and sat beside his horse, and marvelled how he could win with life from the fell power that seemed to hold him prisoner.
   Suddenly, from a dark cavernous hole in the dungeons, came a great boar, with curving tusks keen as sword-blades, and rushed at Sir Bors full fiercely. Hardfly did the knight defend himself from the strength and the fierce rushes of the great beast. The boar with its long tusks tore the shield from the grasp of Sir Bors, and slashed his shield arm sorely, and then Sir Bors was wroth, and with a very fierce blow he smote off the boar's head. Immediately thereupon, with the pain of his many wounds and the weakness of his famine, Sir Bors fainted, and lay upon the frozen snow as one dead. For long he stayed thus ere he revived, and then he rose and dragged himself into the stall where lay his horse, half dead with hunger, before an empty manger.
   All that night Sir Bors lay in a sad pass, for he thought that now he would never see dawn again in life. He prayed and commended his soul to God, and confessed his sins and prepared himself for death as behoved a good knight; and thereafter he slept sweetly.
   At the dawn he awoke, exceeding hungry and looking forth into the court he had it in his mind to carve meat from the dead boar. But he was astounded beyond measure to find that it was not there. In its place was a great trencher of steaming hot collops of meat, and toasted bread, with hot milk in great plenty.
   Sir Bors ran towards the food, and so ravenous was his hunger that he would have devoured it instantly. But he bethought him before he had placed any of it to his lips, and dropping it he crossed himself and ran back into the stall and tried not to look forth. He knew that the food was placed there by some fell fiend or demon to tempt him, and if he ate of that unholy food his soul would be for ever lost.
   Anon sweet voices sounded in the courtyard as if to attract him forth, and the smell of the hot food was wafted strongly into the stable. The fiends themselves could not enter, for there was a horse-shoe hung in the proper way upon the lintel of the door, and, moreover, Sir Bors had stuck his sword-point in the ground, and the holy sign of the cross prevented the evil things from crossing the threshold.
   All that day did Sir Bors lie half dying, while the fiends tempted him, but the knight was too strong and manful of soul to yield, and would liefer die than become the slave of the powers of the Netherworld.
   Then in the twilight he commended his soul to God, for he felt near to death. When he had finished his prayer, he heard great and horrible cries in the court as of rage and disappointment. Then came an old man at the door of the stable, white of hair and very reverend; and he came and put his hand upon Sir Bor's head, and spoke mildly and said:
   "Good and faithful knight, sorely tried have ye been, and now you shall have no more adventures here. Full worshipfully have ye done, and better shall ye do here-after. And now your wounds shall be healed and ye shall have good cheer until to-morrow."
   Therewith there was all manner of sweetness and savour in the place, and Sir Bors saw as in a mist a shining vessel borne by a wondrous maiden. He knew that this was the Holy Graal; and he bowed his head, and forthwith he was whole of his wounds.
   On the morrow he departed after a night's sweet sleep, and rode to Arthur's court and told of his adventures.
   The king and queen and all the fellowship of the Round Table were passing glad to see Sir Bors whole and well, and they made much of him, for they felt that he would do things of great renown.
   Then at the feast of Pentecost went all the court to the minster to hear their service; and when they returned to the palace the king ordered that dinner should be prepared in the hall of the Round Table, for this was one of the days when he was wont to assemble all his knights at a great feast of knighthood.
   While they waited for the horn to sound, warning them that the meal was ready, one came running to the king, saying that a thing of marvel had happened. And Arthur went to the hall of the Round Table with his knights, and there in the seats about the great circular board they found letters of gold written, which said, "Here should sit Sir Bedevere," or "Here should sit Sir Gawaine," and thus was the name of a knight written on every seat.
   In the Siege, or Seat, Perilous, where twice or thrice a reckless knight had dared to sit, but only to be struck dead by a sudden flashing blow of mystery, there were written the words, "In the four hundredth and fourth and fiftieth year after the passion of our Lord, shall he that shall fill this seat come among ye."
All the knights marvelled and looked each at the other.
"It seemeth me," said Lancelot, "that this is the very day on which this seat shall be filled by him for whom it is appointed, for this is the four hundred and fifty-fourth winter since Christ died on the rood."
   It was seen that on each side of the Siege Perilous was written, on the right one, the name of Sir Perceval, and on the left one, the name of Sir Bors.
   Then the horn was sounded to dinner, and each knight took the seat appointed for him, and young knights served them. All the sieges round the table were filled except the Siege Perilous.
   Men ate and drank soberly, for they felt that an adventure strange and marvellous should happen that day, and so indeed it befell.
   For when they had eaten, and the priest was saying in a great silence the grace after meat, suddenly a shrill wind sounded without, and all the doors and windows shut fast. Men looked at each other in the twilight thus caused, and many a face was white with fear.
   Then the door opened and an old and reverend man entered, white of beard and head, and clothed also in white ; and Sir Bors knew him for the same who had come to him at the Castle of Fiends. By the right hand the ancient man brought a young knight, clad in red armour, with a sword at his side, but with no shield.
   "Peace be with you, fair lords," said the old man. Then turning to the king he said:
   " Sir, I bring here a young knight, the which is of king's lineage, whereby the marvels of this court shall be accomplished, and the trial of this thy kingdom shall be brought to a happy end, if that may be. And the name of him is Galahad."
   "Sir," said the king, "ye be right welcome, and the young knight with you."
   The old man made the young knight unarm him, and he was in a coat of red sendal, and bare a mantle that was furred with ermine. Then was the young man led by the reverend man to the Siege Perilous, and sat him thereon, and men marvelled to see that the death-stroke did not flash like lightning and slay him.
   "Sir," said the old man to him, "wit ye well that that is your seat. For you are he that shall surely achieve the Holy Graal, and such of these your fellows as are pure in heart and humble shall achieve it with you."
   "Sir," said the king, "if it may be that ye know, will ye tell us what my knights must do to achieve the Holy Vessel, and thus bring peace into my kingdom in place of war? For many of those that are kings and barons under me are warring with each other, and threaten to rend this island of Britain, and some are forsaking Christ and are turning, to the evil faith and cruel worship of the pagan gods of Britain. And it goeth to my heart to know this, and I have much dread."
   "Sir king," said the old white man, "none may tell u what shall be the end of this quest of the Holy Graal, but I can tell you and these your knights what they must do to save this land from the ruin which doth threaten it. Ye know that the Holy Vessel was that wherein Christ ate the lamb on the Thursday before he was hung upon the Cross. And Joseph of Arimathea did bring it here to Britain, and here hath it been for more than four hundred and fifty winters. And while ye and your kingdom did love Christ and did do His word, the Sangreal stayed within your borders. But now ye war with each other, and are evil livers and full of pride and mastery, and if ye do not repent and stay your dishonour, then shall the Holy Vessel pass from Britain, and ruin and death and civil war shall stalk through the land and leave it desolate."
   Having spoken thus, the old man went from the hall, and none stayed him; for too many there were who knew that they had been the evil livers at whom his words had pointed.
   Then uprose Sir Gawaine, who was a faithful knight and true man to his king, though a proud one and a hasty. He was filled with sorrow for the ruin that threatened his fair land.
   "Now I do here avow," he said, " that to-morrow, without fail, I shall set forth, and I shall labour with all the strength of my body and my soul to go in quest of the Holy Graal, so that if I be fit to see it and to bring it hither, this dear land may be saved from woe."
   So hot were his words that many of the better knights rose also, and raising their right hands did make a like avowal; and those that cared not for the quest felt that they must seem to do as the others did, and so made avowal also, though in their hearts they thought more of pride and earthly power.
   "Gawaine, Gawaine," cried the king, and the great tears stood in his eyes, "I know ye do right to avow this and to cause these others to avow also; but a great dread is upon ine, for I have great doubt that this my fellowship shall never meet again."
   "Fear not," said Lancelot, "for bethink ye, my lord, in no better adventure can we find death than in this quest, and of death we are all sure."
   On the morrow the knights armed themselves, and bade farewell to King Arthur and his queen, and there was much weeping and great sorrow. And as the knights rode through the streets of Camelot the crowds stood and wept, both rich and poor. All were full of dread to see so many brave knights depart that never more would return.
Having passed through the gates of the town, every knight took the way that he liked best.
   Now Sir Galahad was without a shield, and he rode four days without adventure. At evensong on the fourth day he came to an abbey of white monks, and there was given great cheer. He found two other knights of the Round Table at that abbey, the one King Bagdemagus and the other Sir Ulfin; and the three had supper together, and made great cheer one of the other, and spoke of the adventures each would desire to have.
   "There is within this abbey, as men tell me, a shield," said King Bagdemagus, "which no man may bear about his neck, but he is injured or slain withid three days. Yet to-morrow I will adventure to win it."
   In the morning, therefore, after they had heard mass, King Bagdemagus asked the abbot to show him where was the shield. Then was he led to the high altar in the church, and behind it was hung a shield which glowed with shining whiteness, and in the middle thereof was a red cross which seemed to quiver as if it were living.
   "Sir," said the abbot, "this shield ought not to hang about any knight's neck unless he be one of the three beest knights of the world, and I counsel you to beware."
   "No matter," said King Bagdemagus, "I will essay it, for though I am not Sir Lancelot, yet I am a good knight enough."
   This he said in his pride, and took the shield and put the strap about his neck, and bade good-bye to the other twain, and so went forth with his squire.
   They had not ridden but two miles or more, when at the opening to a wood Sir Bagdemagus saw a knight in white armour on a horse, riding up and down as if to do battle with any that should venture to go into the forest drive.
   When the white knight saw him he called out:
   "Who art thou? Thou bearest the shield of a knight peerless, but not the armour."
   "Who am I?" replied King Bagdemagus scornfully.
   "I am he that shall give a good account of myself with thee."
   With that he levelled his lance and ran furiously upon the knight. But the other stood still, and when the spear-head was nigh his shield, he lightly turned it aside, and as Sir Bagdemagus swept by, the knight, with a quick fierce stroke of his sword, smote him so hard that the blade bit through the mail even to the shoulder-bone; whereby Sir Bagdemagus fell to the ground in a swoon.
   The white knight called the squire to him and said:
   "Bear ye this shield to the young knight, Sir Galahad, who is at the white abbey. Greet him from me, and say that it is for him to wear this shield, and none other. And tell him that I shall meet him erelong, if God wills, and that we shall fare together to that which is appointed us."
   The squire did as he was bidden, and told Sir Galahad of the white knight's words. Sir Galahad asked him what was the device upon the shield of the white knight, and he answered, "A red heart." Then said the young knight, "It shall be even as he saith."
   Sir Galahad mounted his horse and rode alone, ever northward. Many days he rode without adventure, until on a day he came to an old and venerable wood, dark and thick and close, where the moss hung like thick beards from the hoary branches.
   There, in a laund or glade in the midmost part of the forest, he found an old and white dame, kneeling before a green cross beside the path, weeping piteously as she prayed and beat her breast.
   "What ails ye, lady?" asked Sir Galahad.
   "Ah, good knight," said the old dame, and as she rose it was well seen she was of gentle birth, "I weep for that I have lived to see the day when sons of mine shall slay each the other. Two are wasteful livers, and have taken from me all that whereby I lived; and ever hath my youngest boy, Sir Hewlin, withstood their evil ways. Wherefore they hated him. And yesterday did Sir Nulloth and Sir Dew, my elder sons, return, and did quarrel with my dear lad Hewlin. And now I fear they go about to slay him. Oh, if that they kill him, who is the prop and comfort of my old age, I shall surely die."
   "Sad it is, lady." said Sir Galahad, and mournful was his mind, "to think that in this dear land of Britain there should be knights that are given to such thoughts of evil as to slay their own kin. Lead me to them, I pray ye."
   He set the dame upon his saddle before him, and she led the way through the forest. When they had gone but a mile she started, and stopped the horse, and then they heard the sound of clashing steel. Sadly did that poor lady shriek and cry:
   "Ah! they slay him now! My dear son! My dear boy! "
   Swiftly Sir Galahad made his horse to leap forward, and in a little while they came upon a great meadow where two knights on foot were together fighting another single knight with swords. Forthwith Sir Galahad cried with a loud and a stem voice, "Hold, put up your swords, ye evil brothers, that would slay each other!"
   All turned at the cry. Then, seeing his mother, the young knight Sir Hewlin threw down his sword. And leaping from Sir Galahad's horse the reverend lady tottered to her youngest son and threw herself upon his breast, and he clasped his mother in his arms.
   But the two evil brothers laughed scornfully at Sir Galahad.
   "Who art thou, thou knight in red?" they cried.
   "Thinkest thou to frighten us with thy big words?"
   Quickly they mounted their horses and ran upon Sir Galahad together. But the lance of one he received upon his shield, and the weapon snapped in twain; and that of the other he thrust aside, and as the knight thundered by, he brought down his sword with so fierce and wrathful a stroke that the head of the knight flew from his shoulders.
Seeing this, the other, who was Sir Nulloth, made haste to throw himself from his horse, and came and kneeled before Sir Galahad, praying mercy.
   "I know who ye are," he said. "You are Sir Galahad, the stainless knight, who shall prevail in all thy deeds, and whom no weapon may wound until ye have fulfilled your high destiny. And I will do faithfully any behest ye may lay upon me."
   "I will then," said Sir Galahad sternly, "that thou makest peace with thy mother and thy brother here instantly; that thou seekest naught of them till thy dying day, which shall not be far from thee; and that thou goest this day and place thyself in the service of Sir Bedevere, or Sir Uriens upon the coasts, and help to thrust forth the hateful pagan from the land."
   The knight swore to do all this, and after he had made his peace with his kindred, he set forth to do Sir Galahad's bidding. And it was as the stainless knight had foretold, for in seven days Sir Nulloth had found death, bravely fighting the pagan pirates.
   Sir Galahad went forward, sore of heart to think that such evil was in the land and in men's minds, that any could be found to wish the death of a brother and to care naught for the sorrow of an old mother.
   Thus for many months Sir Galahad rode about the land, seeking out the knights who, with their bands of soldiers, fought to wrest from each other land and castles. And ever he strove to make peace between them, arid to show them how, while they fought with each other, Christian against Christian, the pagan hordes were let unhindered into the land, ravening, burning, and slaying.
   Some of the battling knights did forsake their evil ways, and went to Sir Bedevere and Sir Uriens, with whom they strove to push back the fierce pagans into their long black ships. But many others, so lost to honour and knightliness were they, performed not their promises, and continued to fight each with the other.
   The heart of Sir Galahad grew sick, seeing the evil which was come into the Iand, and he feared that soon the Holy Graal would be taken from the island of Britain, and that then ruin would stalk throughout the length and breadth of the realm.
   Once, at the dawning, Sir Galahad looked from the door of a little hermitage where he had passed the night, and was aware of a great company of men coming over the moor. They were all horsed, and were going towards the sea, which was on the right hand, where steep and fearful cliffs fell sheer to the thundering surf beneath. And in their midst he saw they held captive a full noble knight, who seemed wounded, and whose armour was all broken and cracked, as if he had fought valianyly before he had been overcome. Him they were going to hurl headlong down the cliffs.
   Sir Galahad began to arm himself full hastily to meet them. But as he dressed his armour he was aware of a knight coming swiftly from a little wood that lay towards the sea-edge. Then was the heart of Sir Galahad exceeding joyful when he saw that the knight was all in white armour, and that on his shield was the device of a heart for he knew that this was Sir Perceval.
   Sir Perceval spurred towards the band of knights, and in a loud voice called on them to release their captive.
   " Who art thou?" they cried.
   "I am a knight of the Pendragon of these islands, King Arthur," answered Perceval, "and thy captive is my friend, Sir Bors of Brittany."
   " Ha! Ha!" the others laughed, and spurred furiously towards him. "Slay him!" they shouted. "We own no Arthur here. We are our own lords."
   With spears in rest, seven of the knights thundered against Sir Perceval. But by this time Sir Galahad was upon his horse, and, making no outcry, he spurred on the others.
   Three knights he dashed to the ground with one lance-thrust; but then the spear broke. Therewith he drew his sword, and smote in the thick of them so furiously on the left and on the right that they could not abide him, but fled from about Sir Bors, who, wresting a sword from one of them, rode after the seven that were fighting Sir Perceval.
   So valiantly and hardily did the three knights lay about them that in a little while their enemies had fled, leaving more than half their number slain.
   Then did the three knights make great cheer and welcome of each other, and told each their adventures, and promised that now they were together they would never more part till death should summon them.
   So, together, they fared thereafter many months, doing noble deeds, and seeking earnestly to bring men's hearts to turn to friendship and union, so that, united, the lords of the northern lands should turn upon the pagans and destroy them utterly.
   It befell that, on a morn, they came to a castle on a great cliff that was in the marches of Scotland; and they heard a horn sound in that castle and much shouting. On the walls thereof were men of a savage aspect, peering and looking down at them. And those men had fair hair, with steel helms which had great homs or wings upon them. On their tall bodies were leather jerkins, with gold chains and many ornaments.
   Then Sir Galahad and his friends were aware that on the topmost pinnacle of the castle was a banner, floating and flapping in the morning wind. Black was that banner, and in the midmost part thereof was a golden raven, with beaks open as if it croaked, and its wings were wide thrown, as if it flew over a field of slain men.
They knew that this was a horde of pagans who had wrested this castle from its rightful lord, and that full fierce would be the battle.
   Then from a hole or cave beneath a tree near by came a maiden, richly dressed, but sad and pitiable of face and thin of form, as if from long pining.
   "Fair lords," said she, "for God His love turn again if ye may, or else here ye will come unto your death."
   "Nay," said Sir Galahad, "we will not turn again, for He shall help us in whose service we be entered in. Who are ye, fair damsel, in such painful guise?"
   "Fair lords, I am Issyllt," said the maiden, and the tears filled her eyes. "My father is Earl Hernox, the lord of this castle. And whether he be dead by torture at the hands of his hateful enemies and these fiends, or whether he be still alive against a time when they have more leisure to torture him, I know not. But three nights ago came certain knights with a horde of these evil pagans, and stormed this castle, and for all my dear father's valiant deeds, and the prowess of my three dear brothers, they overcame our people, and my three brothers I saw slain before my eyes. When they rushed upon my father, my nurse dragged me away, and we fled hither. But I cannot go away, not knowing whether my father is dead. And if he be dead I care not whether the pagan fiends catch and slay me."
   "Fair maiden," said Sir Galahad, "be of good heart, for your father may yet be delivered unto you."
   "Ha, fair lord, I know not how that may be," said the maiden. Then, glancing at the castle, she saw the portcullis yawn, and some ten knights rush forth, with pagans besides on foot. Whereat she clasped her hands in terror.
   "Now God be with ye, fair lords," she cried. "You have my prayers, and may Heaven grant ye victory. But dread is on me for your deaths, brave knights."
   Full wrathful were the three good knights to hear the girl's sad tale, and hard was their rage to hear that Christian knights had leagued themselves with the heathen Saxons so as to get their aid in a private quarrel with the Earl Hernox. Therefore, very joyously did Galahad and Perceval leap forward, lances in rest, against the traitorous knights that rushed towards them from the castle.
   Marvellous indeed was it to see the deeds of those three stainless knights that day; for when their lances were broken, they drew their swords, and their wrath, their fierceness and their valour, none could withstand.
   While Sir Bors smote with deadly blows the pagans that swarmed about him, Sir Galahad and Sir Perceval dealt death among the traitorous knights, so that not one was left alive. And seeing this, the fair-haired fierce pagans lost heart. Turning, they wished to flee into the castle and pull down the portcullis.
   But swiftly on their heels dashed the three brave knights, and the pagans, never stopping, heard the hoofs of their horses thunder over the drawbridge close behind them. The horde of Saxons took flight into the hall, and there they stood and got breath. But the knights, leaping from their horses, rushed in on foot, and back to back they met the onslaught of the yelling heathens.
   Very fierce was the anger in the hearts of the three knights, so that they stayed not their hands even when the pirates gave way and fled from the dreadful place of slaughter. But the knights pursued them wheresoever they tried to hide, and hither and thither about the castle they ran, and in and out the chambers, up and down the stairs, until for very weariness they had perforce to cease.
   Then when they beheld the great multitude of pagans they had slain, they were sobered and sad, thinking themselves great sinners.
   Then from out a secret chamber came a priest, white with great age, and with a countenance that shone marvellously bright; and when he saw how many were slain in that hall, he was abashed. Sir Galahad put off his helm, and the two knights with him, and all three kneeled down and confessed the madness of their sin which had slain even those that craved for quarter.
   "Ye have done more than ye wist, brave knights," said the priest, when he had absolved them; "for the evil knights that led these pagan thieves had plotted to gain this castle because of the great and holy treasures that are hidden here. And by a prophecy I know that ye are the three good knights, peerless among all, who should achieve this deed. Therefore, when ye have ordered these slain to be removed, and when the hall shall be garnished and your harness shall be cleaned of the signs of battle, ye shall see that which hath been ordained for ye."
   When all had been done as they had commanded, and the place well cleansed and fresh rushes laid along the floor the three knights sat on a bench, and the Earl Hernox and the maid Issyllt with them, and there was much cheer and rejoicing between them all.
   Then the old priest called the earl and his daughter from the room, and left the three knights together. Suddenly, as they sat talking, the doors were shut and the windows were darkened, and a great wind arose with a sad sound, wailing and piping. Then the darkness suddenly went away, and they saw a great light shining in the midmost part of the hall, so bright and strong that hardly could their eyes suffer it. Soon through the light they could see a table of silver, whereon was a wide dish also of silver, marvellously and delicately wrought.
   Then the doors opened and they saw angels entering; and two bare candles of wax, and the third held a towel, and in the hand of the fourth was a spear which bled marvelously from the point thereof. Going to the table the angels set the candles and the towel upon it, and the spear was placed beside the shining vessel.
   Of a sudden the knights were aware that there sat one beside the table who was marvelously old and white; and he was dressed in the habit of a bishop, and his face was very winning, and a great brightness flowed from it.
   On the breast of his robe were words in the Latin tongue, which said, "Lo, I am Joseph, the first bishop of Christendom, who did take our Lord's body down from the cruel rood."
   The three marvelled greatly, for that bishop had been dead more than four hundred years. Seeing their looks of perplexity, the bishop smiled sweetly upon them, and said:
   "Marvel not, 0 knights, for though I am now a spirit, I know thy weakness, and have come to aid thee."
   Then the bishop took up the shining vessel from the table, and came to Galahad ; and the knight kneeled down and took of the food that was within the holy dish. And after that the other two received it. Of marvellous savour was the food, and like none that they had ever eaten or thought of at any time before.
   Then the bishop said to Galahad:
   "Son, knowest thou what is this vessel I hold in my hands?"
   "Nay, holy man, I know not," replied Galahad.
   "It is the holy vessel which men call the Sangreal, out of which our Lord ate the lamb at the feast before He was betrayed to that death upon the rood whereby He redeemed the world, if men would but choose His gentle law."
   "It is what we have most desired to see, holy father," said Sir Galahad.
   "And it is what, alas, no others in this realm shall ever see," said the bishop; and his countenance, which before had been sweet and gentle, now saddened and was dark. "For this night it shall depart from this land of Logres, so that it shall never more be seen here."
   Hearing these words of doom, Sir Galahad and Sir Perceval wept full piteously for the fate of their country. When they had moumed greatly, they asked if there was no hope of turning the land from its evil ways.
   "There is none," said the bishop sorrowfully. "Have ye three not tried manfully these last two years since ye have sought that which ye now see? And all thy labours, thy battling, thy griefs, have they availed aught? No, it is the will of God that in due time this land and this people shall be put into the rnelting-pot. And when the season appointed shall come, sorrow and death, rebellion and treachery, shall stalk through the land, and naught shall stand of its present kingdoms; the pagans shall blot out the holy memory of God and Christ, and shall turn the fanes of prayer into the lairs of wolves, and owls shall rest where hymns of praise have been sung. And no wars of goodly knights may hinder these things of dreadful doom. But I have this message for ye two, Galahad and Perceval; that inasmuch as ye have seen this which you craved to see, and have lived purely and unspotted from pride or evil, thy souls shall go with me when I shall depart. But you, my son," he said, looking at Sir Bors, "still find in your heart the love of kin, and a longing for battle, and so you shall remain, to fight for Christ while yet you are alive."
   Suddenly a fierce light came where they sat, so that Sir Bors kneeled as one blinded for a time. When it had passed, he looked and saw where Sir Galahad and Sir Perceval still kneeled, with their hands lifted as if in prayer. But there was naught to see of the holy vessel or the spear, nor was Joseph there.
   Then, going to the two knights, he found that they were dead.
   Then Sir Bors made great sorrow for his two fellows, and knew that never more would he be as joyful or as careless as he had been. With right heavy mood he craved of Earl Hernox to have a grave dug deep in the living rock whereon the castle was builded. This the earl gladly did, and very solemnly the two good knights were buried, and long did Sir Bors mourn over the grave.
   In a little while thereafter Sir Bors armed himself and departed, and after many adventures rode southwards till he came to Camelot. And there he told the king and such knights as there were, how the two stainless knights had achieved the Holy Graal, and how their souls had been taken up with the sacred vessel.
   All the court mourned for the two knights, and the king commanded a history to be written of what Sir Bors had told. It was so done, and the book, richly adorned with many coloured letters, was kept in the great treasure-chest in the castle of Sarum.