High History of the Graal; Perlesvaus
Here the story is silent of Messire Gawain and beginneth to speak of
Lancelot, that entereth into a forest and rideth with right great ado and
meeteth a knight in the midst of the forest that was coming full speed and was
armed of all arms.
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "Whence come you?"
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "I come from the neighbourhood of King
"Ha, Sir, can you tell me tidings of a knight that beareth a green shield
such as I bear? If so, he is my brother."
"What name hath he?" saith Lancelot.
"Sir," saith he, "His name is Gladoens, and he is a good knight
and a hardy, and he hath a white horse right strong and swift."
"Be there other knights in your country that bear such arms as your shield
and his besides you and he?"
"Certes, Sir, none."
"And wherefore do you ask?" saith Lancelot.
"For this, that a certain man hath reft him of one of his castles for that
he was not there. Howbeit, I know well that he will have it again through his
"Is he so good knight?" saith Lancelot.
"Certes, Sir, yea! He is the best of the Isles of the Moors."
"Sir, of your mercy, lower your coif."
He quickly thereon lowereth his coif, and Lancelot looketh at him in the face.
"Certes, Sir Knight," saith he, "you very much resemble
"Ha, Sir," saith the knight, "Know you then any tidings of
"Certes, Sir," saith he, "Yea! and true tidings may I well say,
for he rode at my side five leagues Welsh, nor never saw I one man so like
another as are you to him."
"Good right hath he to resemble me," saith the knight, "for we
are twins, but he was born first and hath more sense and knighthood than I; nor
in all the Isles of the Moors is there damsel that hath so much worth and beauty
as she of whom he is loved of right true love, and more she desireth to see him
than aught else that liveth, for she hath not seen him of more than a year,
wherefore hath she gone seek her prize, my brother, by all the forests of the
world. Sir," saith the knight, "Let me go seek my brother, and tell me
where I may find him."
"Certes," saith Lancelot, "I will tell you though it grieve me
"Wherefore?" saith the knight, "Hath he done you any mis-deed?"
"In no wise," saith Lancelot, "Rather hath he done so much for me
that I love you thereof and offer you my service."
"Sir," saith the knight, "I am going my way, but for God's sake
tell me where I shall find my brother."
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "I will tell you. This morning did I bid
his body farewell and help to bury him."
"Ha, Sir," saith the knight, "Do you tell me true?"
"Certes," saith Lancelot, "True it is that I tell you."
"Is he slain then, my brother?" saith the knight.
"Yea, and of succouring me," saith Lancelot.
"Ha, sir," saith the knight, "For God's sake tell me nought that
is not right."
"By God, Sir," saith he, "Sore grieved am I to tell it you, for
never loved I knight so much in so brief a time as I loved him. He helped to
save me from death, and therefore will I do for you according to that he did for
"Sir," saith the knight, "If he be dead, a great grief is it to
myself, for I have lost my comfort and my life and my land without
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "He helped me to save my life, and yours
will I help to save henceforth for ever and so be that I shall know of your
The knight heareth that his brother is dead and well believeth Lancelot, and
beginneth to make dole thereof the greatest that was ever heard. And Lancelot
saith to him, "Sir Knight, let be this dole, for none recovery is there;
but my body do I offer you and my knighthood in any place you please, where I
may save your honour."
"Sir," saith the knight, "With good will receive I your help and
your love, sith that you deign to offer me the same, and now have I sorer need
of them than ever. Sir," saith the knight, "Sith that my brother is
dead, I will return back and bear with my wrong, though well would he have
amended it had he been on live."
"By my head," saith Lancelot, "I will go with you, that so may I
reward you of that he hath done for me. He delivered his body to the death for
me, and in like manner freely would I fain set mine own in jeopardy for love of
you and of him."
"Sir," saith the knight, "Right good will do I owe you of this
that you say to me, so your deeds be but the same herein."
"Yea, so help me God," saith Lancelot, "The same shall they be,
if God lend me the power."
With that, they go on their way together, and the knight comforteth him much of
that which Lancelot hath said to him, but of the death of his brother was he
right sorrowful. And they ride until they come to the land of the Moors; then
espy they a castle upon a rock, and below was a broad meadow-land.
"Sir," saith the Knight of the Green Shield to Lancelot, "This
castle was my brother's and is now mine, and much it misliketh me that it hath
fallen to me on this wise. And the knight that reft it of my brother is of so
great hardihood that he feareth no knight on live, and you will presently see
him issue forth of this castle so soon as he shall perceive you."
Lancelot and the knight ride until they draw nigh the castle. And the knight
looketh in the way before him, and seeth a squire coming on a hackney, that was
carrying before him a wild boar dead. The Knight of the Green Shield asketh him
whose man he is, and the squire maketh answer: "I am man of the Lord of the
Rock Gladoens, that cometh there behind, and my lord cometh all armed, he and
others, for the brother of Gladoens hath defied him on behalf of his brother,
but right little recketh my lord of his defiance."
Lancelot heareth how he that is coming is the enemy of him to whom had he
been alive, his love most was due. The Knight of the Green Shield pointed him
out so soon as he saw him.
"Sir," saith he to Lancelot, "Behold him by whom I am disherited,
and yet worse would he do to me and he knew that my brother were dead."
Lancelot, without saving more, so soon as he had espied the Knight of the Rock,
smiteth his horse with his spurs and cometh toward him. The Lord of the Rock,
that was proud and hardy, seeth Lancelot coming and smiteth with his spurs the
horse whereon he sitteth. They come with so swift an onset either upon other
that they break their spears upon their shields, and hurtle together so sore
that the Knight of the Rock Gladoens falleth over the croup of his horse.
Lancelot draweth his sword and cometh above him, and he crieth him mercy and
asketh him wherefore he wisheth to slay him? Lancelot saith for the sake of
Gladoens from whom he hath reft his land and his castle. "And what is that
to you?" saith the knight. "Behoveth his brother challenge me
"As much it behoveth me as his brother," saith Lancelot.
"For this," saith Lancelot, "That as much as he did for me will I
do to you."
He cutteth off his head and giveth it incontinent to the Knight of the Green
"Now tell me," saith Lancelot, "Sith that he is dead, is he
purged of that whereof you appeached him?"
"Sir," saith the knight, "I hold him rightly quit thereof, for,
sith that he is dead, all claim on behalf of his kindred is abated by his
"And I pledge you my faith loyally," saith Lancelot, "as I am a
knight, that never shall you be in peril nor in jeopardy of aught wherein I may
help you, so I be in place and free, but my help shall you have for evermore,
for that your brother staked his life to help me."
Lancelot and the knight lay the night at the Rock
Gladoens, and the Knight of
the Green Shield had his land at his pleasure, and all were obedient to him. And
the upright and loyal were right glad, albeit when they heard the tidings of
Gladoens' death they were right sorrowful thereof. Lancelot departed from the
castle on the morrow, and the knight remained therein, sorrowful for his brother
that he had lost, and glad for the land that he had gotten again. Lancelot goeth
back right amidst the forest and rideth the day long, and meeteth a knight that
was coming, groaning sore. And he was stooping over the fore saddle-bow for the
pain that he had. He meeteth Lancelot and saith to him: "Sir, for God's
sake, turn back, for you will find there the most cruel pass in the world there
where I have been wounded through the body. Wherefore I beseech you not go
"What pass is it then?" saith Lancelot.
"Sir," saith he, "It is the pass of the Castle of Beards, and it
hath the name of this, that every knight that passeth thereby must either leave
his beard there or challenge the same, and in such sort have I challenged my
beard that meseemeth I shall die thereof."
"By my head," saith Lancelot, "I hold not this of cowardize, sith
that you were hardy to set your life in jeopardy to challenge your beard, but
now would you argue me of cowardize when you would have me turn back. Rather
would I be smitten through the body with honour, so and I had not my death
thereof, than lose with shame a single hair of my beard."
"Sir," saith the knight, "May God preserve you, for the castle is
far more cruel than you think, and God guide the knight that may destroy the
evil custom of the castle, for right shameful is the custom to strange knights
that pass thereby."
Lancelot departeth from the knight and cometh toward the castle. Just as he
had passed over a great bridge, he looketh about and seeth two knights come all
armed to the entrance of the castle, and they made hold their horses before
them, and their shields and spears are before them leaning against the wall.
Lancelot looketh at the gateway of the castle and seeth the great door all
covered with beards fastened thereon, and heads of knights in great plenty hung
thereby. So, as he was about to enter the gate, two knights issue therefrom over
"Sir," saith the one, "Abide and pay your toll!"
"Do knights, then, pay toll here?" saith Lancelot.
"Yea!" say the knights, "All they that have beards, and they that
have none are quit. Sir, now pay us yours, for a right great beard it is, and
thereof have we sore need."
"For what?" saith Lancelot.
"I will tell you," saith the knight. "There be hermits in this
forest that make hair-shirts thereof."
"By my head," saith Lancelot, "Never shall they have hair-shirt
of mine, so I may help it."
"That shall they," say the knights, "Of yours as of the other, or
dearly shall you pay therefor!"
Right wroth waxeth Sir Lancelot, and cometh to the knight, and smiteth him
with his spear amidst the breast with such a thrust that it passeth half an ell
beyond, and overthroweth him and his horse together. The other knight seeth his
fellow wounded to the death, and cometh towards him with a great sweep and
breaketh his spear upon his shield. Howbeit, Lancelot beareth him to the ground
right over his horse-croup and maketh him fall so heavily that he breaketh one
of his legs. The tidings are come to the Lady of the Castle that a knight hath
come to the pass that hath slain one of her knights and wounded the other. The
Lady is come thither, and bringeth two of her damsels with her. She seeth
Lancelot that is fain to slay the knight that lieth wounded on the ground.
"Sir," saith the Lady to Lancelot, "Withdraw yourself back and
slay him not, but alight and speak to me in safety."
"Lady," saith one of the maidens, "I know him well. This is
Lancelot of the Lake, the most courteous knight that is in the court of King
He alighteth and cometh before the Lady. "Lady," saith he, "what
is your pleasure?"
"I desire," saith she, "that you come to my hostel to harbour,
and that you make me amends of the shame you have done me."
"Lady," saith Lancelot, "Shame have I never done you nor shall
do, but the knights took in hand too shameful a business when they were minded
to take the beards of stranger knights by force."
"Sir," saith she, "I will forego mine ill-will on condition that
you harbour herewithin to-night."
"Lady," saith Lancelot, "I desire not your ill-will, wherefore
will I gladly do your pleasure."
He setteth him within the castle and maketh his horse be led in after him, and
the Lady hath the dead knight brought into the chapel and buried. The other she
biddeth be disarmed and clothed and commandeth that his wounds be searched. Then
maketh she Lancelot be disarmed and clad right richly in a good robe, and
telleth him that she knoweth well who he is.
"Lady," saith Lancelot, "It is well for me."
Thereupon they sit to eat, and the first course is brought in by knights in
chains that had their noses cut off; the second by knights in chains that had
their eyes put out; wherefore they were led in by squires. The third course was
brought in by knights that had but one hand and were in chains. After that, came
other knights that had each but one foot and brought in the fourth course. At
the fifth course came knights right fair and tall, and each brought a naked
sword in his hand and presented their heads to the Lady.
Lancelot beheld the martyrdom of these knights, and sore misliking had he of
the services of such folk. They are risen from meat and the lady goeth to her
chamber and sitteth on a couch.
"Lancelot," saith the Lady, "you have seen the justice and the
lordship of my castle. All these knights have been conquered at the passing of
"Lady," saith Lancelot, "foul mischance hath befallen them."
"The like mischance would have befallen you had you not been knight so
good. And greatly have I desired to see you this long time past. And I will make
you lord of this castle and myself."
"Lady," saith he, "the lordship of this castle hold I of yourself
without mesne, and to you have I neither wish nor right to refuse it. Rather am
I willing to be at your service."
"Then," saith she, "you will abide with me in this castle, for
more do I love you than any other knight that liveth."
"Lady," saith Lancelot, "Gramercy, but in no castle may I abide
more than one night until I have been thither whither behoveth me to go."
"Whither are you bound?" saith she.
"Lady, saith he, "to the Castle of Souls."
"Well know I the castle," saith she. "The King hath the name
Fisherman, and lieth in languishment on account of two knights that have been at
his castle and made not good demand. Would you fain go thither?" saith the
"Yea," saith Lancelot.
"Then pledge me your faith that you will return by me to speak to me, so
the Graal shall appear to you and you ask whereof it serveth."
"Yea, truly, saith Lancelot, "were you beyond sea!"
"Sir," saith one of the damsels, "So much may you well promise,
for the Graal appeareth not to no knight so wanton as be ye. For you love the
Queen Guenievre, the wife of your lord, King Arthur, nor so long as this love
lieth at your heart may you never behold the Graal."
Lancelot heard the damsel and blushed of despite.
"Ha, Lancelot," saith the Lady, "Love you other than me?"
"Lady," saith he, "the damsel may say her pleasure."
Lancelot lay the night at the castle, and right wroth was he of the damsel that
calleth the love of him and the Queen disloyal. And the morrow when he had heard
mass, he took leave of the Lady of the Castle, and she besought him over and
over to keep his covenant, and he said that so would he do without fail.
Therewithal he issueth forth of the castle and entereth into a tall and ancient
forest, and rideth the day long until he cometh to the outskirt of the forest,
and seeth a tall cross at the entrance of a burying-ground enclosed all round
about with a hedge of thorns. And the way lay through the burying ground.
Lancelot entered therein and the night was come. He seeth the graveyard full of
tombs and sepulchres. He looketh behind and seeth a chapel wherein were candles
burning. Thitherward goeth he, and passeth beyond without saying aught more by
the side of a dwarf that was digging a grave in the ground.
"Lancelot," saith the dwarf, "you are right not to salute me, for
you are the man of all the world that most I hate; and God grant me vengeance of
your body. So will He what time you are stricken down here within!"
Lancelot heard the dwarf, but deigned not to answer him of nought. He is come to
the chapel, and alighteth and maketh fast the bridle of his horse to a tree, and
leaneth his shield and spear without. After that he entereth into the chapel,
and findeth a damsel laying out a knight in his winding-sheen. As soon as
Lancelot was entered therewithin the wounds of the knight were swollen up and
began to bleed afresh.
"Ha, Sir Knight, now see I plainly that you slew him that I am wrapping in
Thereupon, behold you, two knights that are carrying other two knights dead.
They alight and then set them in the chapel. And the dwarf crieth out to them:
"Now shall it be seen how you avenge your friends of the enemy that fell
The knight that had fled from the forest when Messire Gawain came thither where
the three lay dead, was come therewithin and knew Lancelot, whereupon saith he:
"Our mortal enemy are you, for by you were these three knights slain."
"Well had they deserved it," saith Lancelot, "and in this chapel
am I in no peril of you, wherefore as at this time will I depart not hence, for
I know not the ways of the forest."
He was in the chapel until the day broke, when he issued forth thereof, and sore
it weighed upon him that his horse was still fasting. He taketh his arms and is
mounted. The dwarf crieth out aloud: "What aileth you?" saith he to
the two knights, "Will you let your mortal enemy go thus?"
With that the two knights mount their horses and go to the two issues of the
grave-yard, thinking that Lancelot is fain to flee therefrom; but no desire hath
he thereof, wherefore he cometh to the knight that was guarding the entrance
whereby he had to issue out, and smiteth him so stiffly that he thrusteth the
point of his spear right through his body. The other knight that was guarding
the other entrance, that had fled out of the forest before, had no mind to
avenge his fellow, and fled incontinent so fast as he might. And Lancelot taketh
the horse of the knight he had slain and driveth him before him, for he thinketh
that some knight may haply have need thereof. He rideth on until he cometh to a
hermitage in the forest where he alighteth and hath his horses stabled, and the
Hermit giveth them of the best he hath. And Lancelot heard mass, and afterward
are a little and fell on sleep. Thereafter, behold you, a knight that cometh to
the Hermit and seeth Lancelot that was about to mount.
"Sir," saith he, "Whither go you?"
"Sir Knight," saith Lancelot, "thither shall I go where God may
please; but you, whitherward are you bound to go?"
"Sir, I go to see one of my brethren and my two sisters, for I have been
told that he hath fallen on such mishap as that he is called the Poor Knight,
whereof am I sore sorrowful."
"Certes," saith Lancelot, "poor he is, the more the pity!
Howbeit, will you do him a message from me?"
"Sir," saith the knight, "Right willingly!"
"Will you present him with this horse on my behalf, and tell him how
Lancelot that harboured with him hath sent it?"
"Sir," saith the knight, "Right great thanks, and blessed may you
be, for he that doth a kindness to a worshipful man loseth it not."
"Salute the two damsels for me," saith Lancelot.
"Sir, right willingly!"
The knight delivereth the horse to his squire, and taketh leave of Lancelot.
Thereupon, Lancelot departeth from the hermitage and rideth on until he
cometh forth of the forest, and findeth a waste land, a country broad and long
wherein wonned neither beast nor bird, for the land was so poor and parched that
no victual was to be found therein. Lancelot looketh before him and seeth a city
appear far away. Thither rideth he full speed and seeth that the city is so
great that it seemeth him to encompass a whole country. He seeth the walls that
are falling all around, and the gates ruined with age. He entereth within and
findeth the city all void of folk, and seeth the great palaces fallen down and
waste, and the great grave-yards full of sepulchres, and the tall churches all
lying waste, and the markets and exchanges all empty. He rideth amidst the
streets, and findeth a great palace that seemeth him to be better and more
ancient than all the others. He bideth awhile before it and heareth within how
knights and ladies are making great dole. And they say to a knight: "Ha,
God, sore grief and pity is this of you, that you must needs die in such manner,
and that your death may not be respited! Sore hatred ought we to bear toward him
that hath adjudged you such a death."
The knights and ladies swoon over him as he departeth. Lancelot hath heard all
this and much marvelleth he thereof, but nought thereof may he see.
Thereupon, lo you, the knight that cometh down into the midst of the hall,
clad in a short red jerkin; and he was girt with a rich girdle of gold, and had
a rich clasp at his neck wherein were many rich stones, and on his head had he a
great cap of gold, and he held great axe. The knight was of great comeliness and
young of age. Lancelot seeth him coming, and looketh upon him right fainly when
he seeth him appear. And the knight saith to him, "Sir, alight!"
"Certes," saith Lancelot, "Willingly."
He alighteth and maketh his horse fast to a ring of silver that was on the
mounting-stage, and putteth his shield from his neck and his spear from his
"Sir," saith he to the knight, "What is your pleasure?"
"Sir, needs must you cut me off my head with this axe, for of this weapon
hath my death been adjudged, but and you will not, I will cut off your own
"Hold, Sir," saith Lancelot, "What is this you tell me?"
"Sir," saith the knight, "you must needs do even as I say, sith
that you are come into this city."
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "Right foolish were he that in such a
jeopardy should not do the best for himself, but blamed shall I be thereof and I
shall slay you when you have done me no wrong."
"Certes," saith the Knight, "In no otherwise may you go
"Fair Sir," saith Lancelot, "So gentle are you and so well
nurtured, how cometh it that you take your death so graciously? You know well
that I shall kill you before you shall kill me, sith that so it is."
"This know I well for true," saith the Knight, "But you will
promise me before I die, that you will return into this city within a year from
this, and that you will set your head in the same jeopardy without challenge, as
I have set mine."
"By my head," saith Lancelot, "Needeth no argument that I shall
choose respite of death to dying here on the spot. But I marvel me of this that
you are so fairly apparelled to receive your death."
"Sir," saith the Knight, "He that would go before the Saviour
of the World ought of right to apparel him as fairly as he may. I am by
confession purged of all wickedness and of all the misdeeds that ever I have
committed, and do repent me truly thereof, wherefore at this moment am I fain to
Therewithal he holdeth forth the axe, and Lancelot taketh it and seeth that it
is right keen and well whetted.
"Sir," saith the Knight, "Hold up your hand toward the minster
that you see yonder."
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "Willingly."
"Thus, then, will you swear to me upon the holy relics that are within this
minster, that on this day year at the hour that you shall have slain me, or
before, you yourself will come back here and place your head in the very same
peril as I shall have placed mine, without default?"
"Thus," saith Lancelot, "do I swear and give you thereto my
With that, the Knight kneeleth and stretcheth his neck as much as he may, and
Lancelot taketh the axe in his hands, and then saith to him, "Sir Knight,
for God's sake, have mercy on yourself!"
"Let cut off my head!" saith the Knight, "For otherwise may I not
have mercy upon you!"
"In God's name," saith Lancelot, "fain would I deny you!"
With that, he swingeth the axe and cutteth off the head with such a sweep that
he maketh it fly seven foot high from the body. The Knight fell to the ground
when his head was cut off, and Lancelot flung down the axe, and thinketh that he
will make but an ill stay there for himself. He cometh to his horse, and taketh
his arms and mounteth and looketh behind him, but seeth neither the body of the
Knight nor the head, neither knoweth he what hath become of them all, save only
that he heard much dole and a great cry far off in the city of knights and
ladies, saying that he shall be avenged, please God, at the term set, or before.
Lancelot hath heard and understood all that the knights say and the ladies, and
issueth forth of the city.