Howard Pyle's The Champions of the Round Table

Chapter Third

How Sir Percival met two strange people in the forest, and how he succored a knight who was in very great sorrow and dole.

   Now after Sir Percival had left Joyous Gard he rode for several days seeking adventure but meeting none.
   Then one day he came to a very dark and wonderful forest which appeared to be so silent and lonely and yet so full of beauty that Sir Percival bethought him that this must surely be some forest of magic. So he entered into that forest with intent to discover if he might find any worthy adventure therein.
   (And that forest was a forest of magic; for you are to know that it was the Forest of Arroy, sometimes called the Forest of Adventure, which was several times spoken of in the book of King Arthur. For no one ever entered into that forest but some singular adventure befell him.)
   So Sir Percival rode through this wonderful woodland for a long time very greatly wondering, for everywhere about him was perfect silence, with not so much as a single note of a bird of the woodlands to lighten that stillness. Now, as Sir Percival rode through that silence, he presently became aware of the sound of voices talking together, and shortly thereafter he perceived a knight with a lady riding amid the thin trees that grew there. And the knight rode upon a great white horse, and the lady rode upon a red roan palfrey.
   These, when they beheld Sir Percival, waited for him, and as Sir Percival drew nigh to them he perceived that they were of a very singular appearance. For both of them were clad altogether in green, and both of them wore about their necks very wonderful collars of wrought gold inset with opal stones and emeralds. And the face of each was like clear wax for whiteness; and the eyes of each were very bright, like jewels set in ivory. And these two neither laughed nor frowned, but only smiled continually. And that knight whom Sir Percival beheld was Sir Pellias, and the lady was the Lady Nymue of the Lake.
   Now when Sir Percival beheld these two, he wist that they were fay, wherefore he dismounted very quickly, and kneeled down upon the ground and set his palms together. Then the Lady of the Lake smiled very kindly upon Sir Percival, and she said: "Sir Percival, arise, and tell me what you do in these parts?"
   Then Sir Percival arose and he stood before that knight and lady, and he said: "Lady, I wist not how you know who I am, but I believe you are fay and know many things. Touching my purpose in coming here, it is that I am in search of adventure. So if you know of any that I may undertake for your sake, I pray you to tell me of it."
   The lady said: "If so be thy desire is of that sort, I may, perchance be able to bring thee unto an adventure that is worthy for any knight to undertake. Go a little distance from this upon the way thou art following and by and by thou wilt behold a bird whose feathers shall shine like to gold for brightness. Follow that bird and it will bring thee to a place where thou shalt find a knight in sore need of thy aid."
   And Percival said: "I will do as thou dost advise."
   Then the lady said: "Wait a little, I have something for thee." Therewith she took from her neck a small golden amulet pendant from a silken cord very fine and thin. And she said: "Wear this for it will protect thee from all evil enchantments." Therewith saying, she hung the amulet about the neck of Sir Percival, and Sir Percival gave her thanks beyond measure for it.
   Then the knight and the lady saluted him and he saluted them, and they each went their separate ways.
   So Sir Percival travelled that path for some distance as the lady had advised him to do, and by and by he beheld the bird of which she had spoken. And he saw that the plumage of the bird glistered as though it was of gold so that he marvelled at it. And as he drew nigh the bird flew a little distance down the path and then lit upon the ground and he followed it. And when he had come nigh to it again it flew a distance farther and still he followed it. So it flew and he followed for a very great way until by and by the forest grew thin and Sir Percival beheld that there was an open country lying beyond the skirts thereof. And when the bird had brought him thus far it suddenly flew back into the forest again whence it had come, chirping very keenly and shrilly as it flew.
   So Percival came out of the forest into the open country, the like of which he had never before seen, for it was a very desolate barren waste of land. And in the midst of this desolate plain there stood a castle of a very wonderful appearance; for in some parts it was the color of ultramarine and in other parts it was of crimson; and the ultramarine and the crimson were embellished with very extraordinary devices painted in gold. So because of all those extraordinary colors, that castle shone like a bright rainbow against the sky, wherefore Sir Percival sat his horse for some while and marvelled very greatly thereat.
   Then, by and by Sir Percival perceived that the road that led to the castle crossed a bridge of stone, and when he looked at the bridge he saw that midway upon it was a pillar of stone and that a knight clad all in full armor stood chained with iron chains to that stone pillar, and at that sight Sir Percival was very greatly astonished. So be rode very rapidly along that way and so to the bridge and upon the bridge to where the knight was. And when Sir Percival came thus upon the bridge he perceived that the knight who was bound with chains was very noble and haughty of appearance, but that he seemed to be in great pain and suffering because of his being thus bound to that pillar. For the captive knight made continual moan so that it moved the heart of Sir Percival to hear him.
   So Sir Percival said: "Sir Knight, this is a sorrowful condition thou art in." And the knight said: "Yea, and I am sorrowful; for I have stood here now for three days and I am in great torment of mind and body."
   Sir Percival said, "Maybe I can aid thee," and thereupon he got down from off his horse's back and approached the knight. And he drew his sword so that it flashed in the sun very brightly.
   Upon this the knight said: "Messire, what would you be at?" And Sir Percival said: "I would cut the chains that bind thee."
   To this the knight said: "How could you do that? For who could cut through chains of iron such as these?"
   But Sir Percival said: "I will try what I may do."
   Thereupon he lifted up his sword and smote so terribly powerful a blow that the like of it had hardly ever been seen before. For that blow cut through the iron chains and smote the hauberk of the knight so smart a buffet that he fell down to the ground altogether deprived of breath.
   But when Sir Percival saw the knight fall down in that wise, he cried out: "Woe is me! Have I slain this good, gentle knight when I would but do him service?" Thereupon he lifted the knight up upon his knee and eased the armor about his throat. But the knight was not dead, and by and by the breath came back to him again, and he said: "By my faith, that was the most wonderful stroke that ever I beheld any man strike in all of my life."
   Thereafter, when the knight had sufficiently recovered, Sir Percival helped him to stand upon his feet; and when he stood thus his strength presently came back to him again in great measure.
   And the knight was athirst and craved very vehemently to drink. So Sir Percival helped him to descend a narrow path that led to a stream of water that flowed beneath the bridge; and there the knight stooped and slaked his thirst. And when he had drunk his fill, his strength came altogether back to him again, and he said: "Messire, I have to give thee all thanks that it is possible for me to do, for hadst thou not come unto mine aid, I would else have perished very miserably and at no very distant time from this."
   Then Sir Percival said: "I beseech you, Messire, to tell me how you came into that sad plight in which I found you."
   To this the knight said: "I will tell you; it was thus: Two days ago I came thitherward and past yonder castle, and with me were two excellent esquires--for I am a knight of royal blood. Now as we went past that castle there came forth a lady clad all in red and so exceedingly beautiful that she entirely enchanted my heart. And with this lady there came a number of esquires and pages, all of them very beautiful of face, and all clad, as she was, in red. Now when this lady had come nigh to me she spoke me very fair and tempted me with kind words so that I thought I had never fallen upon anyone so courteous as she. But when she had come real close to me, she smote me of a sudden across the shoulders with an ebony staff that she carried in her hand, and at the same time she cried out certain words that I remember not. For immediately a great darkness like to a deep swoon fell upon me and I knew nothing. And when I awakened from that swoon lo! I found myself here, chained fast to this stone pillar. And hadst thou not come hither I would else certainly have died in my torment. And as to what hath become of my esquires, I know not; but as for that lady, methinks she can be none other than a certain enchantress, hight Vivien, who hath wrought such powerful spells upon Merlin as to have removed him from the eyes of all mankind."
   Unto all this Sir Percival listened in great wonder, and when the knight had ended his tale he said: "What is thy name?" And the knight said: "My name is Percydes and I am the son of King Pecheur--so called because he is the king of all the fisher-folk who dwell upon the West coast. And now I prithee tell me also thy name and condition, for I find I love thee a very great deal."
   And Sir Percival said: "My name is Percival, but I may not at this present tell thee my condition and of whom I am born; for that I must keep secret until I have won me good credit as a knight. But now I have somewhat to do, and that is to deal with this lady Vivien as she shall deserve."
   Upon that Sir Percydes cried out: "Go not near to that sorceress, else she will do some great harm to thee with her potent spells as she did to me."
   But Sir Percival said: "I have no fear of her."
   So Sir Percival arose and crossed the bridge and went toward that wonderful enchanted castle; and Sir Percydes would have gone with him, but Sir Percival said: "Stay where thou art." And so Sir Percydes stayed and Sir Percival went forward alone.
   Now as he drew nigh to the castle the gate thereof was opened, and there came forth thence an extraordinarily beautiful lady surrounded by a court of esquires and pages all very beautiful of countenance. And this lady and all of her court were clad in red so that they shone like to several flames of fire. And the lady's hair was as red as gold, and she wore gold ornaments about her neck so that she glistered exceedingly and was very wonderful to behold. And her eyebrows were very black and fine and were joined in the middle like two fine lines drawn together with a pencil, and her eyes were narrow and black, shining like those of a snake.
   Then when Sir Percival beheld this lady how singularly beautiful she was he was altogether enchanted so that he could not forbear to approach her. And, lo! she stood still and smiled upon him so that his heart stirred within his bosom like as though it pulled at the strings that held it. Then she said to Sir Percival, speaking in a very sweet and gentle voice: "Sir Knight, thou art welcome to this place. It would pleasure us very greatly if thou wouldst consider this castle as though it were thine own and would abide within it with me for a while." Therewith speaking she smiled again upon Sir Percival more cunningly than before and reached out her hand toward him.
   Then Sir Percival came toward her with intent to take her hand, she smiling upon him all the while so that he could not do otherwise than as she willed.
   Now in the other hand this lady held an ebony staff of about an ell in length, and when Sir Percival had come close enough to her, she lifted this staff of a sudden and smote him with it very violently across the shoulders, crying out at the same time, in a voice terribly piercing and shrill: "Be thou a stone!"
   Then that charm that the Lady of the Lake had hung around the neck of Sir Percival stood him in good stead, for, excepting for it, he would that instant have been transformed into a stone. But the charm of the sorceress did not work upon him, being prevented by the greater charm of that golden amulet.
   But Sir Percival knew very well what the sorceress Vivien had intended to do to him, and he was filled with a great rage of indignation against her because she had meant to transform him into a stone. Therefore he cried out with a loud voice and seized the enchantress by her long golden hair, and drew her so violently forward that she fell down upon her knees. Then he drew his shining sword with intent to sever her long neck, so slender and white like alabaster. But the lady shrieked with great vehemence of terror and besought him mercy. And at that Sir Percival's heart grew soft for pity, for he bethought him that she was a woman and he beheld how smooth and beautiful was her neck, and how her skin was like white satin for smoothness. So when he heard her voice--the voice of a woman beseeching mercy--his heart grew soft, and he could not find strength within him to strike that neck apart with his sword.
   So he bade her to arise--though he still held her by the hair (all warm, it was, and as soft as silk and very fragrant) and the lady stood up, trembling before him.
   Then Sir Percival said to her: "If thou wouldst have thy life I command thee to transform back to their own shape all those people whom thou hast bewitched as thou wouldst have bewitched me."
   Then the lady said: "It shall be done." Whereupon she smote her hands very violently together crying out: "All ye who have lost your proper shapes, return thereunto."
   Then, lo! upon the instant, a great multitude of round stones that lay scattered about became quick, like to eggs; and they moved and stirred as the life entered into them. And they melted away and, behold! there arose up a great many knights and esquires and several ladies to the number of four score and eight in all.
   And certain other stones became quickened in like manner, and as Percival looked, lo! there rose up the horses of those people, all caparisoned as though for travel.
   Now when those people who had been thus bewitched beheld the Lady Vivien, how Sir Percival held her by the hair of her head, they made great outcry against her for vengeance, saying: "Slay her! Slay her!" And therewith several made at her as though to do as they said and to slay her. But Percival waved his sword before her and said: "Not so! Not so! For this lady is my prisoner and ye shall not harm her unless ye come at her through me."
   Thereat they fell silent in a little while, and when he had thus stilled them, he turned to the Lady Vivien and said: "This is my command that I lay upon thee: that thou shalt go into the court of King Arthur and shalt confess thyself to him and that thou shalt fulfil whatever penance he may lay upon thee to perform because of thy transgressions. Now wilt thou do this for to save thy life?"
   And the Lady Vivien made reply: "All shall be done according to thy command."
   Therewith Sir Percival released his hold upon her and she was free.
   Then, finding herself to be thus free, she stepped back a pace or two and looked into Sir Percival his face, and she laughed. And she said:
   "Thou fool, didst thou think that I would do so mad a thing as that which thou hast made me promise? For what mercy could I expect at the hands of King Arthur seeing that it was I who destroyed the Enchanter Merlin, who was the right adviser of King Arthur! Go to King Arthur thyself and deliver to him thine own messages."
   So saying, in an instant, she vanished from the sight of all those who stood there. And with her vanished that castle of crimson and ultramarine and gold--and nothing was left but the bare rocks and the barren plain.
   Then when those who were there recovered from their astonishment, upon beholding that great castle so suddenly disappear, they turned to Sir Percival and gave him worship and thanks without measure, saying to him: "What shall we do in return for saving us from the enchantment of this sorceress?"'
   And Percival said: "Ye shall do this: ye shall go to the court of King Arthur and tell him how that young knight, Percival, whom he made a knight a year ago, hath liberated you from the enchantment of this sorceress. And you shall seek out Sir Kay and shall say to him that, by and by, I shall return and repay him in full measure, twenty times over, that blow which he gave to the damosel Yelande, the Dumb Maiden because of her kindness to me."
   So said Sir Percival, and they said: "It shall be done as thou dost ordain."
   Then Sir Percydes said: "Wilt thou not come to my castle and rest thyself there for the night? For thou must be aweary with all thy toil." And Sir Percival said, "I will go with thee." So Sir Percydes and Sir Percival rode away together to the castle of Sir Percydes.
   Now while Sir Percival and Sir Percydes sat at supper in the castle of Sir Percydes, Sir Percival chanced to lay his hand in love upon the sleeve of Sir Percydes's arm, and that moment Sir Percydes saw the ring upon Sir Percival's finger which the young damosel of the pavilion had given unto him in exchange for his ring. When Sir Percydes saw that ring he cried out in great astonishment, "Where didst thou get that ring?"
   Sir Percival said, "I will tell thee"; and therewith he told Sir Percydes all that had befallen him when he first came down into the world from the wilderness where he had aforetime dwelt, and how he had entered the yellow pavilion and had discovered the damosel who was now his chosen lady. When Sir Percydes heard that story he laughed in great measure, and then he said: "But how wilt thou find that young damosel again when thou hast a mind for to go to her once more?" To the which Sir Percival made reply: "I know not how I shall find her, nevertheless, I shall assuredly do so. For though the world is much wider and greater than I had thought it to be when I first came down into it, yet I know that I shall find that lady when the fit time cometh for me to seek her."
   Then Sir Percydes said: "Dear friend, when thou desireth to find that damosel to whom belongeth the ring, come thou to me and I will tell thee where thou mayst find her; yet I know not why thou dost not go and find her now."
   Unto this Sir Percival made reply: "I do not seek her immediately because I am yet so young and so unknown to the world that I could not be of any credit to her should I find her; so first I will seek to obtain credit as a knight, and then I will seek her."
   Sir Percydes said: "Well, Percival, I think thou hast great promise of a very wonderful knighthood. Nor do I think thou wilt have difficulty in finding plenty of adventures to undertake. For even to-day I know of an adventure, which if thou couldst perform it successfully, would bring thee such worship that there are very few knights in all the world who will have more worship than thou."
   Then Sir Percival said: "I prithee, dear friend, tell me what is that adventure."
   Then Sir Percydes told Sir Percival what that adventure was as followeth:
   "Thou art to know," quoth he, "that somewhat more than a day's journey to the north of this there is a fair plain, very fertile and beautiful to the sight. In the midst of that plain is a small lake of water, and in that lake is an island, and upon the island is a tall castle of very noble size and proportions. That castle is called Beaurepaire, and the lady of that castle is thought to be one of the most beautiful damosels in the world. And the name of the lady is Lady Blanchefleur.
   Now there is a very strong and powerful knight hight Sir Clamadius, otherwise known as the King of the Isles; and he is one of the most famous knights in the world. Sir Clamadius hath for a long while loved the Lady Blanchefleur with such a passion of love that I do not think that the like of that passion is to be found anywhere else in the world. But the Lady Blanchefleur hath no love for Sir Clamadius, but ever turneth away from him with a heart altogether cold of liking.
   "But Sir Clamadius is a wonderfully proud and haughty King, wherefore he can ill brook being scorned by any lady. Wherefore he hath now come against the castle of Beaurepaire with an array of knights of his court, and at present layeth siege to that castle aforesaid.
   "Now there is not at that castle any knight of sufficient worship to serve as champion thereof, wherefore all they of Beaurepaire stay within the castle walls and Sir Clamadius holds the meadows outside of the castle so that no one enters in or goeth out thereof.
   "If thou couldst liberate the Lady Blanchefleur from the duress which Sir Clamadius places upon her, I believe thou wouldst have as great credit in courts of chivalry as it is possible to have. For, since Sir Tristram is gone, Sir Clamadius is believed by many to be the best knight in the world except Sir Launcelot of the Lake; unless it be that Sir Lamorack of Gales is a better knight than he."
   Then Sir Percival said: "What thou tellest me gives me great pleasure, for it would be a very good adventure for any young knight to undertake. For if he should lose there would be no shame in losing, and if he should win there would be great glory in winning. So to-morrow I will enter upon that adventure, with intent to discover what fortune I may have therein."

   So I have told you how Sir Percival performed his first adventures in the world of chivalry after he had perfected himself in the mysteries of knighthood under the teaching of Sir Launcelot of the Lake, and I have told you how he achieved that adventure with great credit to himself and with great glory to the order of knighthood to which he now truly belonged as a most worthy member.
   That night he abided in the castle of Sir Percydes with great comfort and rest to his body, and when the next morning had come he arose, much refreshed and strengthened in spirit. And he descended to the hall where was set a fair and generous breakfast for his further refreshment, and thereat he and Sir Percydes sat themselves down and ate with hearty appetite, discoursing with great amity of spirit as aforetold.
   After he had broken his fast he bade farewell to Sir Percydes and mounted his horse and rode away through the bright sunlight toward Beaurepaire and those further adventures that awaited him thereat.

   And, as it was with Sir Percival in that first adventure, so may you meet with a like success when you ride forth upon your first undertakings after you have entered into the glory of your knighthood, with your life lying before you and a whole world whereinto ye may freely enter to do your devoirs to the glory of God and your own honor.
   So now it shall be told how it fared with Sir Percival in that adventure of the Castle of Beaurepaire.

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