Howard Pyle's The Champions of the Round Table

Chapter First

How Percival departed into the world and how he found a fair damsel in a pavilion; likewise how he came before Queen Guinevere and how he undertook his first adventure.

   Now after Percival had ridden upon his way for a very long time, he came at last out of that part of the forest and unto a certain valley where were many osiers growing along beside a stream of water. So he gathered branches of the willow-trees and peeled them and wove them very cunningly into the likeness of armor such as he had seen those knights wear who had come into his forest. And when he had armed himself with wattled osiers he said unto himself, "Now am I accoutred as well as they." Whereupon he rode upon his way with an heart enlarged with joy.
   By and by he came out of the forest altogether and unto a considerable village where were many houses thatched with straw. And Percival said to himself: "Ha! how great is the world; I knew not that there were so many people in the world."
   But when the folk of that place beheld what sort of a saddle was upon the back of the pack-horse; and when they beheld what sort of armor it was that Percival wore--all woven of osier twigs; and when they beheld how he was armed with a javelin and with no other weapon, they mocked and laughed at him and jeered him. But Percival understood not their mockery, whereupon he said: "Lo! how pleasant and how cheerful is the world. I knew not it was so merry a place." So he laughed and nodded and gave them greeting who mocked him in that manner. And some of them said, "That is a madman." And others said, "Nay, he is a silly fool." And when Percival heard these he said to himself: "I wonder whether there are other sorts of knights that I have not yet heard tell of?"
   So he rode upon his way very happy, and whenever he met travellers, they would laugh at him; but he would laugh louder than they and give them greeting because of pure pleasure that the great world was so merry and kind.
   Now in the declining of the afternoon, he came to a certain pleasant glade, and there he beheld a very noble and stately pavilion in among the trees. And that pavilion was all of yellow satin so that it shone like to gold in the light of the declining sun.
   Then Percival said to himself: "Verily, this must be one of those churches concerning which my mother spake to me." So he descended from his horse and went to that pavilion and knelt down and said a pater-noster.
   And when he had ended that prayer, he arose and went into the pavilion, and lo! he beheld there a wonderfully beautiful young damsel of sixteen years of age who sat in the pavilion upon a carved bench and upon a cushion of cloth of gold, and who bent over a frame of embroidery, which she was busy weaving in threads of silver and gold. And the hair of that damosel was as black as ebony and her cheeks were like rose leaves for redness, and she wore a fillet of gold around her head, and she was clad in raiment of sky blue silk. And near by was a table spread with meats of divers sorts and likewise with several wines, both white and red. And all the goblets were of silver and all the pattens were of gold, and the table was spread with a napkin embroidered with threads of gold.
   Now you are to know that the young lady who sat there was the Lady Yvette the Fair, the daughter of King Pecheur.
   When Percival came to that pavilion the Lady Yvette looked up and beheld him with great astonishment, and she said to herself: "That must either be a madman or a foolish jester who comes hither clad all in armor of wattled willow twigs." So she said to him, "Sirrah, what dost thou here?" He said, "Lady, is this a church?" Upon that she was angered thinking that he had intended to make a jest and she said: "Begone, fool, for if my father, who is King Pecheur, cometh and findeth thee here, he will punish thee for this jest." But Percival replied, "Nay; I think he will not, lady."
   Then the damosel looked at Percival more narrowly and she beheld how noble and beautiful was his countenance and she said to herself: "This is no fool nor a jester, but who he is or what he is I know not."
   So she said to Percival, "Whence comest thou?" and he said, "From the mountains and the wilderness." Then he said: "Lady, when I left my mother she told me that whenever I saw good food and drink and was an-hungered, I was to take what I needed. Now I will do so in this case." Whereupon he sat him down to that table and fell to with great appetite.
   Then when that damosel beheld what he did she laughed in great measure and clapped her hands together in sport. And she said: "If my father and brothers should return and find thee at this, they would assuredly punish thee very sorely, and thou couldst not make thyself right with them." Percival said, "Why would they do that, lady?" And she said: "Because that is their food and drink, and because my father is a king and my brethren are his sons." Then Percival said, "Certes, they would be uncourteous to begrudge food to a hungry man"; and thereat the damsel laughed again.
   Now when Percival had eaten and drunk his fill, he arose from where he sat. And he beheld that the damsel wore a very beautiful ring of carved gold set with a pearl of great price. So he said to her: "Lady, my mother told me that if I beheld a jewel or treasure and desired it for my own, I was to take it if I could do so without offence to anyone. Now I prithee give me that ring upon thy finger, for I desire it a very great deal." At this the maiden regarded Percival very strangely, and she beheld that he was comely beyond any man whom she had ever seen and that his countenance was very noble and exalted and yet exceedingly mild and gentle. So she said to him, speaking very gently, "Why should I give thee my ring?" Whereunto he made reply: "Because thou art the most beautiful lady whom mine eyes ever beheld and I find that I love thee more than I had thought possible to love anyone."
   At that the damosel. smiled upon him and said, "What is thy name?
   And he said, "It is Percival." She said, "That is a good name; who is thy father?" Whereunto he said: "That I cannot tell thee for my mother hath bidden me tell his name to no one yet whiles." She said, "I think he must be some very noble and worthy knight," and Percival said, "He is all that, for he too was a king."
   Then the damsel said, "Thou mayst have my ring," and she gave it to him. And when Percival had placed it upon his finger he said: "My mother also told me that I should give freely of what is mine own, wherefore I do give thee this ring of mine in exchange for thine, and I do beseech thee to wear it until I have proved myself worthy of thy kindness. For I hope to win a very famous knighthood and great praise and renown, all of which, if I so accomplish my desires, shall be to thy great glory. I would fain come to thee another time in that wise instead of as I am at this present."
   At that the damsel said: "I know not what thou art or whence thou comest who should present thyself in such an extraordinary guise as thou art pleased to do, but, certes, thou must be of some very noble strain. Wherefore I do accept thee for my knight, and I believe that I shall some time have great glory through thee."
   Then Percival said: "Lady, my mother said to me that if I met a damosel I was to salute her with all civility. Now have I thy leave to salute thee?" And she said, "Thou hast my leave." So Percival took her by the hand, and kissed her upon the lips (for that was the only manner in which he knew how to salute a woman) and, lo! her face grew all red like to fire. Thereupon Percival quitted that pavilion and mounted his horse and rode away. And it seemed to him that the world was assuredly a very beautiful and wonderful place for to live in.
   Yet he knew not what the world was really like nor of what a sort it was nor how passing wide, else had he not been so certainly assured that he would win him credit therein, or that he could so easily find that young damsel again after he had thus parted from her.

   That night Percival came to a part of the forest where were many huts of folk who made their living by gathering fagots. These people gave him harborage and shelter for the night, for they thought that he was some harmless madman who had wandered afar. And they told him many things he had never known before that time, so that it appeared to him that the world was still more wonderful than he had thought it to be at first.
   So he abided there for the night, and when the next morning had come he arose and bathed himself and went his way; and, as he rode upon his poor starved horse, he brake his fast with the bread and cheese that his mother had put into his wallet, and he was very glad at heart and rejoiced exceedingly in the wonderfulness and the beauty of the world in which he found himself to be.

   So Percival journeyed on into that forest, and he took such great delight in the beauty of the world in which he travelled that he was at times like to shed tears of pure happiness because of the joy he felt in being alive. For that forest path he travelled led beneath the trees of the woodland; and the trees at that time were in their early tender leaf, so that they appeared to shed showers of golden light everywhere down upon the earth. And the birds of the woodland sang in every bush and thicket; and, anon, the wood pigeon cooed so softly that the heart of Percival yearned with great passion for he knew not what.
   Thus he rode, somewhiles all in a maze of green, and somewhiles out thence into an open glade where the light was wide and bright; and other whiles he came to some forest stream where was a shallow pool of golden gravel, and where the water was so thin and clear that you might not tell where it ended and the pure air began. And therethrough he would drive his horse, splashing with great noise, whilst the little silvery fish would dart away upon all sides, hither and thither, like sparks of light before his coming.
   So, because of the beauty of this forest land in its spring-time verdure and pleasantness, the heart of Percival was uplifted with so much joy and delight that he was like to weep for pure pleasure as aforesaid.
   Now it chanced at that time that King Arthur and several of his court had come into that forest ahawking; but, the day being warm, the Queen had grown weary of the sport, so she had commanded her attendants to set up a pavilion for her whilst the King continued his hawking. And the pavilion was pitched in an open glade of the forest whereunto Percival came riding.
   Then Percival perceived. that pavilion set up among the trees, and likewise he saw that the pavilion was of rose colored silk. Also he perceived that not far from him was a young page very gayly and richly clad.
   Now when the page beheld Percival and what a singular appearance he presented, he laughed beyond all measure, and Percival, not knowing that he laughed in mockery, laughed also and gave him a very cheerful greeting in return. Then Percival said to the page: "I prithee tell me, fair youth, whose is that pavilion yonder?" And the page said: "It belongeth to Queen Guinevere; for King Arthur is coming hither into the forest with his court."
   At this Percival was very glad, for he deemed that he should now find Sir Lamorack. So he said: "I pray thee tell me, is Sir Lamorack of Gales with the court of the King, for I come hither seeking that good worthy knight?"
   Then the page laughed a very great deal, and said: "Who art thou to seek Sir Lamorack? Art thou then a jester?" And Percival said, "What sort of a thing is a jester?" And the page said, "Certes, thou art a silly fool." And Percival said, "What is a fool?"
   Upon this the page fell alaughing as though he would never stint his mirth so that Percival began to wax angry for he said to himself: "These people laugh too much and their mirth maketh me weary." So, without more ado, he descended from his horse with intent to enter the Queen's pavilion and to make inquiry there for Sir Lamorack.
   Now when that page saw what Percival had a mind to do, he thrust in to prevent him, saying, "Thou shalt not go in!" Upon that Percival said, "Ha! shall I not so?" And thereupon he smote the page such a buffet that the youth fell down without any motion, as though he had gone dead.
   Then Percival straightway entered the Queen's pavilion.
   And the first thing he saw was a very beautiful lady surrounded by a court of ladies. And the Queen was eating a mid-day repast whilst a page waited upon her for to serve her, bearing for her refreshment pure wine in a cup of entire gold. And he saw that a noble lord (and the lord was Sir Kay the Seneschal), stood in the midst of that beautiful rosy pavilion directing the Queen's repast; for Sir Kay of all the court had been left in charge of the Queen and her ladies.
   Now when Percival entered the tent Sir Kay looked up, and when he perceived what sort of a figure was there, he frowned with great displeasure.
   "Ha!" he said, "what mad fool is this who cometh hitherward?"
   Unto him Percival made reply: "Thou tall man, I prithee tell me, which of these ladies present here is the Queen?" Sir Kay said, "What wouldst thou have with the Queen?" To this Percival said: "I have come hither for to lay my case before King Arthur, and my case is this: I would fain obtain knighthood, and meseems that King Arthur may best help me thereunto."
   When the Queen heard the words of Percival she laughed with great merriment. But Sir Kay was still very wroth, and he said: "Sirrah, thou certainly art some silly fool who hath come hither dressed all in armor of willow twigs and without arms or equipment of any sort save only a little Scots spear. Now this is the Queen's court and thou art not fit to be here."
   "Ha," said Percival, "it seems to me that thou art very foolish--thou tall man--to judge of me by my dress and equipment. For, even though I wear such poor apparel as this, yet I may easily be thy superior both in birth and station."
   Then Sir Kay was exceedingly wroth and would have made a very bitter answer to Percival, but at that moment something of another sort befell. For, even as Percival ceased speaking, there suddenly entered the pavilion a certain very large and savage knight of an exceedingly terrible appearance; and his countenance was very furious with anger. And this knight was one Sir Boindegardus le Savage, who was held in terror by all that part of King Arthur's realm. For Sir Boindegardus was surnamed the Savage because he dwelt like a wild man in the forest in a lonely dismal castle of the woodland; and because that from this castle he would issue forth at times to rob and pillage the wayfarers who passed by along the forest byways. Many knights had gone against Sir Boindegardus, with intent either to slay him or else to make him prisoner; but some of these knights he had overcome, and from others he had escaped, so that he was as yet free to work his evil will as he chose.
   So now this savage knight entered that pavilion with his helmet upon his hip and his shield upon his shoulder, and all those ladies who were there were terrified at his coming, for they wist that he came in anger with intent of mischief.
   As for Sir Kay (he being clad only in a silken tunic of green color and with scarlet hosen and velvet shoes, fit for the court of a lady) he was afraid, and he wist not how to bear himself in the presence of Sir Boindegardus. Then Sir Boindegardus said, "Where is King Arthur?" And Sir Kay made no reply because of fear. Then one of the Queen's damsels said, "He is hawking out beyond here in the outskirts of the forest." Then Sir Boindegardus said: "I am sorry for that, for I had thought to find him here at this time and to show challenge to him and his entire court, for I fear no one of them. But, as King Arthur is not here, I may, at least, affront his Queen."
   With that he smote the elbow of the page who held the goblet for the Queen, and the wine was splashed all in the Queen's face and over her stomacher.
   Thereupon the Queen shrieked with terror, and one of her maidens ran to her aid and others came with napkins and wiped her face and her apparel and gave her words of cheer.
   Then Sir Kay found courage to say: "Ha! thou art a churlish knight to so affront a lady."
   With that Sir Boindegardus turned very fiercely upon him and said: "And thou likest not my behavior, thou mayst follow me hence into a meadow a little distance from this to the eastward where thou mayst avenge that affront upon my person if thou art minded to do so."
   Then Sir Kay knew not what to reply for he wist that Sir Boindegardus was a very strong and terrible knight. Wherefore he said, "Thou seest that I am altogether without arms or armor." Upon that Sir Boindegardus laughed in great scorn, and therewith seized the golden goblet from the hands of the page and went out from the pavilion, and mounting his horse rode away bearing that precious chalice with him.
   Then the Queen fell aweeping very sorely from fright and shame, and when young Percival beheld her tears, he could not abide the sight thereof. So he cried out aloud against Sir Kay, saying: "Thou tall man I that was very ill done of thee; for, certes, with or without armor thou shouldst have taken the quarrel of this lady upon thee. For my mother told me I should take upon me the defence of all such as needed defence, but she did not say that I was to wait for arms or armor to aid me to do what was right. Now, therefore, though I know little of arms or of knighthood, I will take this quarrel upon myself and will do what I may to avenge this lady's affront, if I have her leave to do so."
   And Queen Guinevere said: "Thou hast my leave, since Sir Kay does not choose to assume my quarrel."
   Now there was a certain very beautiful young damsel of the court of the Queen hight Yelande, surnamed the "Dumb Maiden," because she would hold no commerce with any knight of the court. For in all the year she had been at the court of the King, she had spoken no word to any man, nor had she smiled upon any. This damsel perceiving how comely and noble was the countenance of Percival, came to him and took him by the hand and smiled upon him very kindly. And she said to him: "Fair youth, thou hast a large and noble heart, and I feel very well assured that thou art of a sort altogether different from what thine appearance would lead one to suppose. Now I do affirm that if thou art able to carry this adventure through with thy life, thou wilt some time become one of the greatest knights in all of the world. For never did I hear tell of one who, without arm or armor, would take up a quarrel with a well-approved knight clad in full array. But indeed thy heart is as brave as thy face is comely, and I believe that thou art as noble as thy speech and manner is gentle."
   Then Sir Kay was very angry with that damsel and he said: "Truly, thou art ill taught to remain for all this year in the court of King Arthur amid the perfect flower of chivalry and yet not to have given to one of those noble and honorable knights a single word or a smile such as thou hast bestowed upon this boor." So saying, he lifted his hand and smote that damsel a box on the ear so that she screamed out aloud with pain and terror.
   Upon this Percival came very close to Sir Kay and he said: "Thou discourteous tall man; now I tell thee, except that there are so many ladies here present, and one of these a Queen, I would have to do with thee in such a manner as I do not believe would be at all to thy liking. Now, first of all I shall follow yonder -uncivil knight and endeavor to avenge this noble Queen for the affront he hath put upon her, and when I have done with him, then will I hope for the time to come in which I shall have to do with thee for laying hands upon this beautiful young lady who was so kind to me just now. For, in the fulness of time, I will repay the foul blow thou gavest her, and that twenty-fold."
   Thereupon Percival straightway went out from that pavilion and mounted upon his sorry horse and rode away in the direction that Sir Boindegardus had taken with the golden goblet.
   Now after a long time, he came to another level meadow of grass, and there he beheld Sir Boindegardus riding before him in great state with the golden goblet hanging to the horn of his saddle. And Sir Boindegardus wore his helmet and carried his spear in his right hand and his shield upon his other arm, and he was in all ways prepared for an encounter at arms. And when he perceived Percival come riding out of the forest in pursuit of him, he drew rein and turned. And when Percival had come nigh enough Sir Boindegardus said, "Whence comest thou, fool?" Percival replied, "I come from Queen Guinevere, her pavilion." Then Sir Boindegardus said, "Does that knight who was there follow me hitherward?" Unto which Percival made reply: "Nay, but I have followed thee with intent to punish thee for the affront which thou didst put upon Queen Guinevere."
   Then Sir Boindegardus was very wroth and he said: "Thou fool; I have a very good intention for to slay thee." Therewith he raised his spear and smote Percival with it upon the back of the neck so terrible a blow that he was flung violently down from off his horse. Upon this Percival was so angry that the sky all became like scarlet before his eyes. Wherefore, when he had recovered from the blow he ran unto Sir Boindegardus and catched the spear in his hands and wrestled with such terrible strength that he plucked it away from Sir Boindegardus. And having thus made himself master of that spear, he brake it across his knee and flung it away.
   Then Sir Boindegardus was in furious rage, wherefore he drew his bright, shining sword with intent to slay Percival. But when Percival saw what he would be at, he catched up his javelin and, running to a little distance, he turned and threw it at Sir Boindegardus with so cunning an aim that the point of the javelin entered the ocularium of the helmet of Sir Boindegardus and pierced through the eye and the brain and came out of the back of the head. Then Sir Boindegardus pitched down from off his horse all into a heap upon the ground, and Percival ran to him and stooped over him and perceived that he was dead. Then Percival said: "Well, it would seem that I have put an end to a terribly discourteous knight to ladies."
   Now a little after Percival had quitted the pavilion of Queen Guinevere, King Arthur and eleven noble knights of the court returned thither from hawking, and amongst those knights was Sir Launcelot of the Lake and Sir Lamorack of Gales. Then those who were of the Queen's court told King Arthur what had befallen, and thereat the King felt great displeasure toward Sir Kay. And he said: "Kay, not only hast thou been very discourteous in not assuming this quarrel of the Queen's, but I believe that thou, a well-approved knight, hast in thy fear of Sir Boindegardus been the cause of sending this youth upon an adventure in which he will be subject to such great danger that it may very well be that he shall hardly escape with his life. Now I will that two of you knights shall follow after that youth for to rescue him if it be not too late; and those two shall be Sir Launcelot of the Lake and Sir Lamorack of Gales. So make all haste, Messires, lest some misfortune shall befall this brave, innocent madman."
   Thereupon those two knights mounted straightway upon their horses and rode away in that direction whither Percival had gone.

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