High History of the Graal; Perlesvaus
Here the story is silent of Lancelot and Messire Gawain, and saith that Perceval is in the Turning Castle, whereof Joseus recounteth the truth, to wit, that Virgil founded it in the air by his wisdom in such fashion, when the philosophers went on the Quest of the Earthly Paradise, and it was prophesied that the castle should not cease turning until such time as the Knight should come thither that should have a head of gold, the look of a lion, a heart of steel, the navel of a virgin maiden, conditions without wickedness, the valour of a man and faith and belief of God; and that this knight should bear the shield of the Good Soldier that took down the Saviour of the World from hanging on the rood. It was prophesied, moreover, that all they of the castle and all other castles whereof this one was the guardian should hold the old law until such time as the Good Knight should come, by whom their souls should be saved and their death respited. For, so soon as he should be come, they should run to be baptized, and should firmly believe the new law. Wherefore was the joy great in the castle for that their death should now be respited, and that they should be released of all terror of the knight that was their foe, whom they dreaded even to the death, and of the sin of the false law whereof they had heretofore been attaint.
Right glad is Perceval when he seeth the people of the castle turn them to
the holy faith of the Saviour, and the damsel saith to him, "Sir, right
well have you speeded thus far on your way; nought is there now to be done save
to finish that which remaineth. For never may they that are within issue forth
so long as the Knight of the Dragon is on live. Here may you not tarry, for the
longer you tarry, the more lands will be desolate and the more folk will he
slay. Perceval taketh leave of them of the castle, that make much joy of him,
but sore misgiving have they of him on account of the knight with whom he goeth
to do battle, and they say that if he shall conquer him, never yet befell knight
so fair adventure. They have heard mass before that he departeth, and made rich
offerings for him in honour of the Saviour and His sweet Mother. The damsel
goeth before, for that she knew the place where the evil knight had his repair.
They ride until they come into the Island of Elephants. The Knight was alighted
under an olive tree, and had but now since slain four knights that were of the
castle of the Queen of the Golden Circlet. She was at the windows of her castle
and saw her Knights dead, whereof made she great dole.
Right joyous is Perceval of this that he
heareth her say. He crosseth and blesseth him, and commendeth him to God and His
sweet Mother; and is pricked of wrath and hardiment like a lion. He seeth the
Knight of the Dragon mounted, and looketh at him in wonderment, for that he was
so big that never had he seen any man so big of his body. He seeth the shield at
his neck, that was right black and huge and hideous. He seeth the Dragon's head
in the midst thereof, that casteth out fire and flame in great plenty, so foul
and hideous and horrible that all the field stank thereof. The damsel draweth
her toward the castle and leaveth the knight on the horsesaith.
"Sir," saith she to Perceval,
"On this level plot was slain your uncle's son whom here I leave, for I
have brought him far enough. Now avenge him as best you may, I render and give
him over to you, for so much have I done herein as that none have right to blame
When the Knight seeth that he hath not hurt
Perceval's shield, great marvel hath he thereof, for never aforetime had he
smitten knight but he had dealt him his death-blow. He turneth the head of the
Dragon towards Perceval's shield, but the flame that issued from the Dragon's
head turned back again as it had been blown of the wind, so that it might not
come nigh him. The Knight is right wroth thereof, and passeth beyond and cometh
to the bier of the dead knight and turneth his shield with the dragon's head
against him. He scorcheth and burneth all to ashes the bodies of the knight and
The damsel that had brought the knight was at
the windows of the palace beside the Queen. She crieth out. "Perceval, fair
sir," saith the damsel,"Now is the shame the greater and the harm the
greater, and you amend them not."
The dragon's head turneth it toward his lord
in great wrath, and scorcheth him and burneth him to dust, and thereafter
departed up into the sky like lightning. The Queen cometh to Perceval, and all
the knights, and see that he is sore hurt in his right shoulder. And the damsel
telleth him that never will he be healed thereof save he setteth thereon of the
dust of the knight that is dead. And they lead him up to the castle with right
great joy. Then they make him be disarmed, and have his wound washed and tended
and some of the knight's dust that was dead set thereon that it might have
healing. She maketh send to all the knights of her land: "Lords,"
saith she, "See here the knight that hath saved my land for me and
protected your lives. You know well how it hath been prophesied that the knight
with head of gold should come, and through him should you be saved. And now,
behold, hath he come hither. The prophecy may not be belied. I will that you do
"Sir," saith she, "May all they
that will not go to be baptized, nor accept your New Law, be slain of this your
sword, and hereof I make you the gift."
When Perceval was whole, he departed from the castle of the Queen of the Golden Circlet, all of whose land was at his commandment. The Queen told him that she would keep the Golden Circlet until he should will otherwise, and in such sort he left it there, for he would not carry it with him, sith that he knew not whitherward he might turn. The history telleth us that he rode on until one day he came to the Castle of Copper. Within the castle were a number of folk that worshipped the bull of copper and believed not in any other God. The bull of copper was in the midst of the castle upon four columns of copper, and bellowed so loud at all hours of the day that it was heard for a league all round about, and there was an evil spirit within that gave answers concerning whatsoever any should ask of it.
At the entrance to the gateway of the castle were two men made of copper by art of nicromancy, and they held two great mallets of iron, and they busied themselves striking the one after the other, and so strongly they struck that nought mortal is there in the world that might pass through amongst their blows but should be all to-crushed thereby. And on the other side was the castle so fast enclosed about that nought might enter thereinto.
Perceval beholdeth the fortress of the castle, and the entrance that was so perilous, whereof he marvelleth much. He passeth a bridge that was within the entry, and cometh nigh them that guard the gate. A Voice began to cry aloud above the gate that he might go forward safely, and that he need have no care for the men of copper that guarded the gate nor be affrighted of their blows, for no power had they to harm such a knight as was he. He comforteth himself much of that the Voice saith to him. He cometh anigh the serjeants of copper, and they cease to strike at once, and hold their iron mallets quite still. And he entereth into the castle, where he findeth within great plenty of folk that all were misbelievers and of feeble belief. He seeth the bull of copper in the midst of the castle right big and horrible, that was surrounded on all sides by folk that all did worship thereunto together round about.
The bull bellowed so passing loud that right uneath was it to hear aught else within the castle besides. Perceval was therewithin, but none was there that spake unto him, for, so intent were they upon adoring the bull that, and any had been minded to slay them what time they were yet worshipping the same, they would have allowed him so to do, and would have thought that they were saved thereby; and save this had they none other believe in the world. It was not of custom within there to be armed, for the entrance of the fortress was so strong that none might enter but by their will and commandment, save it were the pleasure of our Lord God. And the devil that had deceived them, and in whom they believed, gave them such great abundance therewithin of everything they could desire, that nought in the world was there whereof they lacked. When he perceived that they held no discourse with him, he draweth himself on one side by a great hall, and so called them around him. The more part came thither, but some of them came not. The Voice warneth him that he make them all pass through the entrance of the gateway there where the men with the iron mallets are, for there may he well prove which of them are willing to believe in God and which not. The Good Knight draweth his sword and surroundeth them all and maketh them all go in common before him, would they or nould they. And they that would not go willingly and kindly might be sure that they should receive their death. He made them pass through the entrance there where the serjeants of copper were striking great blows with their iron mallets. Of one thousand five hundred that there were, scarce but thirteen were not all slain and brained of the iron mallets. But the thirteen had firmly bound their belief in Our Lord, wherefore the serjeants took no heed of them.
The evil spirit that was in the bull of copper issued forth thereof as it had been lightning from heaven, and the bull of copper melted all in a heap so as that nought remained in that place thereof. Then the thirteen that remained sent for a hermit of the forest and so made themselves be held up and baptized. After that, they took the bodies of the misbelievers and made cast them into a water that is called the River of Hell. This water runneth into the sea, so say many that have seen it, and there where it spendeth itself in the sea is it most foul and most horrible, so that scarce may ship pass that is not wrecked.
Josephus maketh record that the hermit that baptized the thirteen had the name of Denis, and that the castle was named the Castle of the Trial. They lived within there until the New Law was assured and believed in throughout all the kingdoms, and a right good life led they and a holy. Nor never might none enter with them thereinto but was slain and crushed save he firmly believed in God. When the thirteen that were baptized in the castle issued forth thereof they scattered themselves on every side among strange forests, and made hermitages and buildings, and put their bodies to penance for the false law they had maintained and to win the love of the Saviour of the World.
Perceval, as you may hear, was soldier of Our
Lord, and well did God show him how He loved his knighthood, for the Good Knight
had much pain and sore travail and pleased Him greatly. He was come one day to
the house of King Hermit that much desired to see him, and made much joy of him
when he saw him, and rejoiced greatly of his courage. Perceval relateth to him
all the greater adventures that have befallen him at many times and in many
places sithence that he departed from him, and King Hermit much marvelleth him
"God, that seeth and knoweth all things, knew well their thought. He withdrew from them the manna from heaven that had come to them in such abundance, and which they had bestowed in caverns underground, thinking to find there the manna they had set aside, but it was changed by the will of God into efts and adders and worms and vermin, and when they saw that they had done evil, they scattered themselves over strange lands. Fair, sweet nephew," saith the Hermit, "These twelve hounds that bayed in the beast are the Jews that God had fed, and that were born in the Law that He established, nor never would they believe on Him, nor love Him, but rather crucified Him and tore His Body after the shamefullest sort they might, but in no wise might they destroy His flesh. The knight and damsel that set the pieces of flesh in vessels of gold signify the divinity of the Father, which would not that His flesh should be minished. The hounds fled to the forest and became savage what time they had torn the beast to pieces, so in like manner are the Jews that were and ever shall be savage, subject to them of the New Law henceforth for ever."
"Fair uncle," saith Perceval,
"Good right and reason is it that they should have shame and tribulation
and evil reward sith that they slew and crucified Him that had created and made
them and deigned to be born as a man in their Law. But two priests came after,
whereof the one kissed the cross and worshipped it right heartily and made great
joy thereof, and the other did violence thereunto and bear it with a great rod,
and wept right sore and made the greatest dole in the world. With this last was
I right sore wrath, and willingly would I have run upon him had he not been a
Willingly heareth Perceval this that his uncle
telleth and recordeth him. He relateth how he did battle with the devil- knight
that bare in his shield the head of a dragon that cast forth fire and flame, and
how the dragon burnt up his lord at the last.
"Fair nephew, in the time of your knighthood have you much advanced the Law of the Saviour, for you have destroyed the falsest believe in the world, and this was of them that believed on the bull of copper and the devil that was therein. If this folk had remained, and had failed of you, never would it have been destroyed until the end of the world. Wherefore marvel not that you have travail in serving God, but endure it willingly, for never had worshipful man honour without pains. But now behoveth you achieve another matter. All they of the land of King Fisherman your uncle have abandoned the New Law, and returned to that which God hath forbidden. But the most part do so rather perforce and for fear of the King that hath seized the land, who is my brother and your uncle, than on account of aught else. Wherefore behoveth you set counsel therein, for this thing may not be achieved by any earthly man save by you only. For the castle and land should be yours of right, and sore mischief is it when one that cometh of lineage so high and so holy is traitor to God, and disloyal to the world.
"Fair nephew," saith the good man, "The castle hath been much strengthened, for there are now nine bridges newly made, and at each bridge are there three knights tall and strong and hardy, whereof hath he much defence, and your uncle is there within that keepeth the castle. But never sithence, none of the knights of King Fisherman nor of his priests have there appeared, nor knoweth any what hath befallen them. The chapel wherein the most Holy Graal appeared is all emptied of its sacred hallows; the hermits that are by the forest are fain of your coming, for never see they there a knight pass by that believeth in God. And so you shall have achieved this enterprise, it is a thing whereof shall God be well pleased."
"Fair uncle," saith Perceval,
"Thither will I go, sith that you commend it to me, for no reason is it
that he should have the castle that hath entered thereinto. Of better right
ought my mother to have it, that was the next-born to King Fisherman, of whose
death am I right sorrowful."
Perceval hearkeneth unto his uncle's discourse
and his chastening, and layeth fast hold on all that he saith, wherewith is he
pleased full well, for great affiance hath he in his words.
Perceval departeth from the hermitage, and
carrieth away the banner, according to his uncle's counsel, and the white mule
followeth after. He goeth his way toward the land that was the land of King
Fisherman, and findeth a hermit that was issued forth of his hermitage and was
going at a great pace through the forest. He abideth so soon as he beholdeth the
cross on Perceval's shield.
Perceval is come with the hermit to the cross where the good men had assembled them together, and findeth Joseus, the young man that was King Pelles' son, of whom he maketh right great joy, and he maketh the hermits turn back again with him, saying that he will defend them and make them sate, by God's help, in the kingdom, and prayeth them right sweetly that they make prayer for him to our Lord that He grant him to win back that which of right is his own. He is come forth of the forest and the hermits with him. He draweth nigh to the castle of King Fisherman, and strong was the defence at the entrance thereof. Some of the knights well knew that Perceval would conquer him, for long since had it been prophesied that he who bare such shield should win the Graal of him that sold God for money.
The knights saw Perceval coming and the
company of hermits with him right seemly to behold, and much marvel had they
thereof. About a couple of bowshots above the bridge was a chapel fashioned like
the one at Camelot, wherein was a sepulchre, and none knew who lay therein.
Perceval abideth thereby and his company. He leaneth his shield and spear
against the chapel, and maketh fast his horse and mule by the reins. He
beholdeth the sepulchre, that was fight fair, and forthwith the sepulchre
openeth and the joinings fall apart and the stone lifteth up in such wise that a
man might see the knight that lay within, of whom came forth a smell of so sweet
savour that it seemed to the good men that were looking on that it had been all
embalmed. They found a letter which testified that this knight was named
Josephus. So soon as the hermits beheld the sepulchre open, they said to
Perceval: "Sir, now at last know we well that you are the Good Knight, the
chaste, the holy."
Perceval was armed upon his horse. The hermits make the sign of the cross over him, and bless him and commend him to God. And he holdeth his spear in rest and cometh toward the three knights that guard the first bridge. They all set upon him at once and break their spears upon his shield. One of them he smiteth with such force that he maketh him topple over into the river that runneth under the bridge, both him and his horse. Of him was he quit, for the river was wide and deep and swift. The others held out against him a much longer bout with sharp sword-play, but he vanquished them and smote them to pieces, and flung their bodies into the water. They of the second bridge came forward, that were right good knights, and many a tough bout had he of them and many a felon onslaught. Joseus that was his uncle's son was there, and said to the other hermits that right fainly would he go help him, but that he deemed it might be sin, and they bade him take no heed of that, for that great work of mercy would it be to destroy the enemies of Our Lord. He doeth off his grey cape and fettleth him in his frock, and taketh one of them that were doing battle with Perceval and trusseth him on his neck and so flingeth him into the river all armed, and Perceval slayeth the other twain and hurleth them into the river in like manner as the other.
By the time he had won the two bridges he was full spent and weary, wherefore he bethinketh him of the lion, the manner whereof his uncle had told him. Then looketh he toward the entrance of the gateway and seeth the white lion, that stood upright on his two hinder feet, for that he was fain to see him. Perceval looketh him full between the two eyes, and understandeth that the lion is minded by the will of God to do him to wit that the knights of the third bridge are so hardy and of such strength that they may not be overcome of a single knight and our Lord God of his holy bounty open not the way, but that he must fain take the mule and carry the banner if he would conquer them. Perceval understandeth the white lion's intent, and giveth God thanks thereof and draweth him back, and Joseus the young man likewise. As soon as they look back, they see that the first bridge is already lifted up behind them.
Perceval cometh to where the white mule was, and she was starred on the forehead with a red cross. He mounteth thereupon, and taketh the banner and holdeth his sword drawn. So soon as the white lion seeth him coming, he unchaineth himself and runneth incontinent to the bridge that was lifted, right amidst the knights, and lowereth it forthwith. The King of Castle Mortal was on the battlements of the greater fortress of the castle, and crieth to the knights that warded the bridge, "Lords," saith he, "You are the most chosen knights of my land and the hardiest, but no hardiment is it to lift the bridges on account of a single knight whom you durst not abide body to body, whereof meseemeth it great cowardize and not hardiment. But the lion is hardier than you all, that of his hardiment hath lowered the bridge. Wherefore now know I well that had I set him to ward the first bridge, he would have warded it better than these that have allowed themselves to be slain."
Thereupon, behold you Perceval come upon his white mule, sword drawn all naked in his fist, and cometh toward them of the third bridge, whereof he smiteth the first so sore that he overthroweth him into the water. Joseus the hermit cometh forward and would fain have seized the other twain, but they cry mercy of Perceval, and say that they will be at his will in all things, and so will believe on God and His sweet Mother and abandon their evil lord. And they of the fourth bridge say likewise. On such condition he alloweth them to live by the counsel of Joseus, and they cast away their arms and yield up the bridges at his will. Perceval thinketh within himself that God's virtue hath right great power, but that knight who hath force and power ought well to approve his prowess for God's sake. For of all that he shall do or suffer for Him, shall God be well pleased. For, were all the world against our Lord God, and He should grant to any single one that should be His champion all His power and might, he would conquer them all in one hour of the day. But He willeth that a man should travail for Him, even as He Himself suffered travail for His people.
Perceval cometh again back and alighteth of the white mule and delivereth the banner to Joseus, and then mounteth again on his destrier and cometh back to them of the fifth bridge, and these defend themselves right stoutly, for that hardy knights are they, and do battle against Perceval full sturdily. Joseus the hermit cometh thither and assaulteth them with passing great lustihood, that had the Lord God not saved him they would have overthrown and slain him. Howbeit, he holdeth the banner and grappleth them when he may lay hold, and grippeth them so straight that they may not help themselves. Perceval slayeth them and crusheth them and maketh them topple over into the water that ran swiftly beneath the bridge. When they of the sixth bridge saw that these were conquered, they cried mercy of Perceval and yielded themselves to him and delivered up their swords to him, and they of the seventh bridge likewise. When the red lion saw that the seventh bridge was Won, and that the knights of the two bridges had yielded themselves up to Perceval, he leapt up with such fury that he burst his chain as had he been wood mad. He came to one of the knights and bit him and slew him, whereof the white lion was full wroth, and runneth upon the other lion and teareth him to pieces with his claws and teeth.
Straightway thereafter he raiseth himself up on his two hinder feet and looketh at Perceval, and Perceval at him. Perceval understandeth well the lion's intent, to wit, that they of the last bridge are worse to conquer than the others, and that they may not be conquered at all save by the will of God and by him that is the lion. And the lion warned him that he go not against them with the banner, holy though it were, nor receive them into mercy what surety soever they might make, for that they are traitors, but that he must fain mount upon the white mule, for that she is a beast on God's side, and that Joseus should bring the banner and all the hermits go before, that are worshipful men and of good life, so as to dismay the traitor King, and so shall the end and the conquest of the castle be brought nigh. Of all this the lion made signs to Perceval, for speak he could not. Great affiance hath Perceval in the lion's warning. He alighteth of his destrier and remounteth on the mule, and Joseus holdeth the banner. The company of twelve hermits was there, right seemly and holy. They draw nigh the castle. The knights on the last bridge see Perceval coming towards them and Joseus the hermit holding the banner, by whom they had seen their other fellows wrestled withal and put to the worse.
The virtue of Our Lord and the dignity of the banner and the goodness of the white mule and the holiness of the good hermits that made their orisons to Our Lord so struck the knights that they lost all power over themselves, but treason might not go forth of their hearts, wherefore right heavy were they of their kinsmen that they had seen slain before them. They bethought them that and if by mercy they might escape thence, they would never end until they had slain Perceval. They come to meet him and so cry him mercy passing sweetly in semblance, and say that they will do his will for ever and ever, so only he will let them depart safe and sound. Perceval looketh at the lion to know what he shall do; he seeth that the lion thinketh them traitors and disloyal, and that so they were destroyed and dead the King that was in the castle would have lost his force; and that, so Perceval will run upon them, the lion will help him slay them. Perceval telleth the knights that never will he have mercy upon them, and forthwith runneth upon them, sword drawn, and sorely it misliked him that they defended not themselves, insomuch that he all but left to slay them for that no defence found he in them. But the lion is so far from holding them in the like disdain, that he runneth upon them and biteth and slayeth them, and then casteth forth their limbs and bodies into the water. Perceval alloweth that this is well and seemly, and pleaseth him much of that he seeth the lion do, nor never before had he seen any beast that he might love and prize so highly as this one.
The King of Castle Mortal was on the battlements of the wall, and seeth how his knights are dead, and how the lion helpeth to slay the last. He setteth himself on the highest place of the walls, then lifteth the skirt of his habergeon and holdeth his sword all naked, that was right keen and well-tempered, and so smiteth himself right through the body, and falleth all adown the walls into the water, that was swift and deep, in such sort that Perceval saw him, and all the good hermits likewise, that marvelled much of a King that should slay himself in such manner; but they say according to the judgment of the scripture, that by right of evil man should the end be evil. On such wise was the end of this King of whom I tell you. Josephus relateth us how none ought to marvel that of three brothers, even though they be sons of the same father and mother, one brother should be evil; and the real marvel, saith he, is when one evil corrupteth not the two that are good, for that wickedness is so hard and keen and beguiling, and goodness so kindly and simple and humble. Cain and Abel were brothers-german, yet Cain slew his brother Abel, the one flesh betrayed the other. But great sorrow is it, saith Josephus, when the flesh that ought to be one becometh twain, and the one flesh goeth about by wickedness to deceive and destroy the other. Josephus recordeth us by this evil king that was so traitorous and false and yet was of the lineage of the Good Soldier Joseph of Abarimacie. This Joseph, as the scripture witnesseth, was his uncle, and this evil king was brother-german of King Fisherman, and brother of the good King Pelles that had abandoned his land, in order that he might serve God, and brother of the Widow Lady that was Perceval's mother, the most loyal that was ever in Great Britain. All these lineages were in the service of Our Lord from the beginning of their lives unto the end, save only this evil King that perished so evilly as you have heard.
You have heard how the King that had seized the castle that had been King Fisherman's slew himself in such wise, and how his knights were discomfited. Perceval entered into the castle and the worshipful hermits together with him. It seemed them when they were come within into the master hall, that they heard chant in an inner chapel `Gloria in excelsis Deo', and right sweet praising of Our Lord. They found the hails right rich and seemly and fairly adorned within. They found the chapel open where the sacred hallows were wont to be. The holy hermits entered therein and made their orisons, and prayed the Saviour of the World that He would swiftly restore to them the most Holy Graal and the sacred hallows that wont to be therewithin whereby they might be comforted.
The good men were there within with Perceval, that much loved their company. Josephus witnesseth us that the ancient knights that were of the household of King Fisherman, and the priests and damsels, departed so soon as the King that slew himself had seized the castle, for that they would not be at his court, and the Lord God preserved them from him and made them go into such a place as that they should be in safety. The Saviour of the World well knew that the Good Knight had won the castle by his valour that should have been his own of right, and sent back thither all them that had served King Fisherman. Perceval made right great joy of them when he saw them, and they of him. They seemed well to be a folk that had come from some place where God and His commandments were honoured, and so indeed had they.
The High History witnesseth us that when the conquest of the castle was over, the Saviour of the World was right joyous and well pleased thereof. The Graal presented itself again in the chapel, and the lance whereof the point bleedeth, and the sword wherewith St John was beheaded that Messire Gawain won, and the other holy relics whereof was right great plenty. For our Lord God loved the place much. The hermits went back to their hermitages in the forest and served Our Lord as they had been wont. Joseus remained with Perceval at the castle as long as it pleased him, but the Good Knight searched out the land there where the New Law had been abandoned and its maintenance neglected. He reft the lives of them that would not maintain it and believe. The country was supported by him and made safe, and the Law of Our Lord exalted by his strength and valour. The priests and knights that repaired to the castle loved Perceval much, for, so far from his goodness minishing in ought, they saw from day to day how his valour and his faith in God increased and multiplied. And he showed them the sepulchre of his uncle King Fisherman in the chapel before the altar. The coffin was rich and the tabernacle costly and loaded of precious stones. And the priests and knights bear witness that as soon as the body was placed in the coffin and they were departed thence, they found on their return that it was covered by the tabernacle all dight as richly as it is now to be seen, nor might they know who had set it there save only the commandment of Our Lord. And they say that every night was there a great brightness of light as of candles there, and they knew not whence it should come save of God. Perceval had won the castle by the command of God. The Graal was restored in the holy chapel, and the other hallows as you have heard. The evil believe was done away from the kingdom, and all were assured again in the New Law by the valour of the Good Knight.