Howard Pyle's The Champions of the Round Table

Prologue

   The father of Sir Percival was that king hight Pellinore who fought so terrible a battle with King Arthur as has been told in the Book of King Arthur. For it was after that fight that King Arthur obtained his famous sword Excalibur, as was therein told.
   Now, King Pellinore was one of those eleven kings who, in the beginning of King Arthur's reign, were in rebellion against King Arthur as hath been told in the book aforesaid, and he was one of the last of all those kings to yield when he was overcome. So King Arthur drove him from town to town and from place to place until, at last, he was driven away from the habitations of men and into the forests like to a wild beast.
   Now, King Pellinore took with him into the wilderness his wife and his four sons; to wit, Lamorack and Aglaval and Dornar and Percival. Of these, Percival was but three years of age; the others, excepting Dornar, being nigh to the estate of manhood. Thereafter that noble family dwelt in the forest like hunted animals, and that was a very great hardship for the lady who had been queen; and, likewise, it was greatly to the peril of the young child, Percival.
   Now, Percival was extraordinarily beautiful and his mother loved him above all her other sons. Wherefore she feared lest the young child should die of those hardships in the wilderness.
   So one day King Pellinore said: "Dear love, I am now in no wise prepared for to defend thee and this little one. Wherefore, for a while, I shall put ye away from me so that ye may remain in secret hiding until such time as the child shall have grown in years and stature to the estate of manhood and may so defend himself.
   "Now of all my one-time possessions I have only two left to me. One of these is a lonely castle in this forest (unto which I am now betaking my way), and the other is a solitary tower at a great distance from this, and in a very desolate part of the world where there are many mountains. Unto that place I shall send ye, for it will not be likely that mine enemies will ever find ye there.
   "So my will is this: that if this child groweth in that lonely place to manhood, and if he be weak in body or timid in spirit, thou shalt make of him a clerk of holy orders. But if when he groweth, he shall prove to be strong and lusty of frame and high of spirit, and shall desire to undertake deeds of knighthood, thou then shalt not stay him from his desires, but shall let him go forth into the world as he shall have a mind to do.
   "And if a time should come when he desireth to go thus into the world behold! here is a ring set with a very precious ruby; let him bring that ring to me or to any of our sons wheresoever he may find us, and by that ring we shall know that he is my son and their brother, and we will receive him with great gladness."
   And King Pellinore's lady said, "It shall be done as thou dost ordain."
   So it was that King Pellinore betook himself to that lonely castle where King Arthur found him and fought with him; and Percival's mother betook herself to that dwelling-place in the mountains of which King Pellinore had spoken--which was a single tower that reached up into the sky, like unto a finger of stone.
   There she abided with Percival for sixteen years, and in all that time Percival knew naught of the world nor of what sort it was, but grew altogether wild and was entirely innocent like to a little child.
   In the mean time, during those years, it happened very ill to the house of King Pellinore. For though King Arthur became reconciled to King Pellinore, yet there were in King Arthur's court many who were bitter enemies to that good, worthy knight. So it came about that first King Pellinore was slain by treachery, and then Sir Aglaval and Sir Dornar were slain in the same way, so that Sir Lamorack alone was left of all that noble family.
   (And it was said that Sir Gawaine and his brothers were implicated in those murders--they being enemies unto King Pellinore--and great reproach hath always clung to them for the treacherous, unknightly way in which those noble knights of the house of Pellinore were slain.)
   Now the news of those several deaths was brought to that lonely tower of the mountain wilderness and to Sir Percival's mother; and when she heard how her husband and two of her sons were dead she gave great outcry of grief, and smote her hands together and wept with great passion. And she cried out: "Mefeareth it will be the time of Lamorack next to be slain. As for Percival; never shall I be willing for him to go out into that cruel world of wicked murderers. For if he should perish also, my heart would surely break."
   So she kept Percival always with her and in ignorance of all that concerned the world of knighthood. And though Percival waxed great of body and was beautiful and noble of countenance, yet he dwelt there among those mountains knowing no more of the world that lay beyond that place in which he dwelt than would a little innocent child. Nor did he ever see anyone from the outside world. saving only an old man who was a deaf-mute. And this old man came and went betwixt that tower where Percival and his mother dwelt and the outer world, and from the world he would come back with clothing and provisions loaded upon an old sumpter horse for Percival and his mother and their few attendants. Yet Percival marvelled many times whence those things came, but no one told him and so he lived in entire ignorance of the world.
   And Percival's mother would not let him touch any weapon saving only a small Scot's spear which same is a sort of javelin. But with this Percival played every day of his life until he grew so cunning in handling it that he could pierce with it a bird upon the wing in the air.
   Now it chanced upon a time when Percival was nineteen years of age that he stood upon a pinnacle of rock and looked down into a certain valley. And it was very early in the spring-time, so that the valley appeared, as it were, to be carpeted all with clear, thin green. There was a shining stream of water that ran down through the midst of the valley, and it was a very fair and peaceful place to behold.
   So Percival stood and gazed into that low-land, and lo! a knight rode up through that valley, and the sun shone out from behind a cloud of rain and smote upon his armor so that it appeared to be all ablaze as with pure light, and Percival beheld that knight and wist not what it was he saw. So, after the knight had gone away from the valley, he ran straightway to his mother, all filled with a great wonder, and he said: "Mother! Mother! I have beheld a very wonderful thing." She said, "What was it thou didst see?" Percival said: "I beheld somewhat that was like a man, and he rode upon a horse, and he shone very brightly and with exceeding splendor. Now, I prithee tell me what it was I saw?"
   Then Percival's mother knew very well what it was he had seen, and she was greatly troubled at heart, for she wist that if Percival's knightly spirit should be awakened he would no longer be content to dwell in those peaceful solitudes. Wherefore she said to herself: "How is this? Is it to be that this one lamb also shall be taken away from me and nothing left to me of all my flock?" Then she said to Percival: "My son, that which thou didst behold was doubtless an angel." And Percival said, "I would that I too were an angel!" And at that speech the lady, his mother, sighed very deeply.
   Now it chanced upon the next day after that that Percival and his mother went down into the forest that lay at the foot of the mountain whereon that tower stood, and they had intent to gather such early flowers of the spring-time as were then abloom. And whilst they were there, lo! there came five knights riding through the forest, and, the leaves being thin like to a mist of green, Percival perceived them a great way off. So he cried out in a loud voice: "Mother! Mother! Behold! Yonder is a whole company of angels such as I saw yesterday! Now I will go and give them greeting."
   But his mother said: "How now! How now! Wouldst thou make address unto angels!" And Percival said: "Yea; for they appear to be both mild of face and gentle of mien." So he went forward for to greet those knights.
   Now the foremost of that party of knights was Sir Ewaine, who was always both gentle and courteous to everybody. Wherefore, when Sir Ewaine saw Percival nigh at hand, he gave him greeting and said, "Fair youth, what is thy name?" Unto this Percival made reply: "My name is Percival." Sir Ewaine said: "That is a very good name, and thy face likewise is so extraordinarily comely that I take thee to be of some very high lineage. Now tell me, I prithee, who is thy father?" To this Percival said, "I cannot tell thee what is my lineage, for I do not know," and at that Sir Ewaine marvelled a very great deal. Then, after a little while, he said: "I prithee tell me, didst thou see a knight pass this way to-day or yesterday?" And Percival said, "I know not what sort of a thing is a knight." Sir Ewaine said, "A knight is such a sort of man as I am."
   Upon this Percival understood many things that he did not know before, and he willed with all his soul to know more than those. Wherefore he said: "If thou wilt answer several questions for me, I will gladly answer thine." Upon this Sir Ewaine smiled very cheerfully (for he liked Percival exceedingly), and he said: "Ask what thou wilt and I will answer thee in so far as I am able."
   So Percival said, "I prithee tell me what is this thing?" And he laid his hand thereon. And Sir Ewaine said, "That is a saddle." And Percival said, "What is this thing?" And Sir Ewaine said, "That is a sword." And Percival said, "What is this thing?" And Sir Ewaine said, "That is a shield." And so Percival asked him concerning all things that appertained to the accoutrements of a knight, and Sir Ewaine answered all his questions. Then Percival said: "Now I will answer thy question. I saw a knight ride past this way yesterday, and he rode up yonder valley and to the westward."
   Upon this Sir Ewaine gave gramercy to Percival and saluted him, and so did the other knights, and they rode their way.
   After they had gone Percival returned to his mother, and he beheld that she sat exactly where he had left her, for she was in great travail of soul because she perceived that Percival would not now stay with her very much longer. And when Percival came to where she sat he said to her: "Mother, those were not angels, but very good, excellent knights." And upon this the lady, his mother, burst into a great passion of weeping, so that Percival stood before her all abashed, not knowing why she wept. So by and by he said, "Mother, why dost thou weep?" But she could not answer him for a while, and after a while she said, "Let us return homeward." And so they walked in silence.
   Now when they had come to the tower where they dwelt, the lady turned of a sudden unto Percival and she said to him, "Percival, what is in thy heart?" And he said, "Mother, thou knowest very well what is there." She said, "Is it that thou wouldst be a knight also?" And he said, "Thou sayst it." And upon that she said, "Thou shalt have thy will; come with me."
   So Percival's mother led him to the stable and to where was that poor pack-horse that brought provisions to that place, and she said: "This is a sorry horse but I have no other for thee. Now let us make a saddle for him." So Percival and his mother twisted sundry cloths and wisps of hay and made a sort of a saddle thereof. And Percival's mother brought him a scrip with bread and cheese for his refreshment and she hung it about his shoulder. And she brought him his javelin which he took in his hand. And then she gave him the ring of King Pellinore with that precious ruby jewel inset into it, and she said: "Take thou this, Percival, and put it upon thy finger, for it is a royal ring. Now when thou leavest me, go unto the court of King Arthur and make diligent inquiry for Sir Lamorack of Gales. And when thou hast found him, show him that ring, and he will see that thou art made a very worthy knight; for, Percival, Sir Lamorack is thy brother. One time thou hadst a father alive, and thou hadst two other brothers. But all they were slain by treachery of our enemies, and only thou and Lamorack are left; so look to it that thou guard thyself when thou art in the world and in the midst of those enemies; for if thou shouldst perish at their hands, I believe my heart would break."
   Then she gave Percival advice concerning the duty of one who would make himself worthy of knighthood, and that advice was as follows: "In thy journeying thou art to observe these sundry things: When thou comest to a church or a shrine say a pater-noster unto the glory of God; and if thou hearest a cry of anyone in trouble, hasten to lend thine aid--especially if it be a woman or a child who hath need of it; and if thou meet a lady or a damosel, salute her in seemly fashion; and if thou have to do with a man, be both civil and courageous unto him; and if thou art an-hungered or athirst and findest food and wine, eat and drink enough to satisfy thee, but no more; and if thou findest a treasure or a jewel of price and canst obtain those things without injustice unto another, take that thing for thine own--but give that which thou hast with equal freedom unto others. So, by obeying these precepts, thou shalt become worthy to be a true knight and, haply, be also worthy of thy father, who was a true knight before thee."
   And Percival said, "All these things will I remember and observe to do."
   And Percival's mother said, "But thou wilt not forget me, Percival?" And he said: "Nay, mother; but when I have got me power and fame and wealth, then will I straightway return thitherward and take thee away from this place, and thou shalt be like to a Queen for all the glory that I shall bestow upon thee." Upon this the lady, his mother, both laughed and wept; and Percival stooped and kissed her upon the lips. Then he turned and left her, and he rode away down the mountain and into the forest, and she stood and gazed after him as long as she could see him. And she was very lonely after he had gone.
   So I have told you how it came that Percival went out into the world for to become a famous knight.

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