The Quest of the Holy Grail

Chapter I

   On the eve of Pentecost, when the companions of the Round Table had come to Camelot and had heard mass, and when the tables were about to be set at the noon hour, there entered the hall a very fair damsel on horseback. It was evident that she had come in great haste, for her horse was still all in a sweat. Dismounting, she came before the king and saluted him with God's blessing. "Sire," said she, "for God's sake, tell me if Lancelot is here." "Yes, truly," the king replied, "see him yonder." And he pointed him out to her. Then going directly up to him, she said: "Lancelot, in the name of King Pellés, I bid you to accompany me into the forest." And he asked her in whose service she was. "I belong," she said, "to him whose name I have just mentioned." "And what is your need of me?" he inquired. "That you shall soon see," she replied. "Then in God's name," he said, "I will gladly go."
   Then he bade a squire saddle his horse and bring him his arms; and the squire did so at once. And when the king and the others who were in the palace saw this, they were very sorry. Nevertheless, seeing that he would not tarry, they let him go. But the queen said: "How is it, Lancelot, that you leave us on the day of this high festival?" "My lady," the damsel then replied, "you may be sure that you will have him back here again to morrow before the dinner-hour." "Then let him go," the queen replied, "for were he not to return to-morrow, he would not have my sanction to go away to-day." Then he mounted his horse and the damsel hers.
   So they started away without other leave taking and without any company except a squire who had come with the damsel. And when they had gone forth from Camelot, they rode until they came into the forest. There they struck into the beaten highroad and continued half a league until they came into a valley and saw before them by the road an abbey of nuns, whither the damsel turned in. And when they came to the gate, the squire called, and the gate was opened. Then they dismounted and entered. And when those within knew that Lancelot had come, they all went to meet him and welcomed him joyfully. And when they had taken him to a chamber, and he was disarmed, he saw his two cousins, Bors and Lyonel, lying on their beds. Greatly delighted at the sight, he woke them; and when they saw him, they embraced him and kissed him. Then began a happy scene between the cousins. "Fair sire," said Bors to Lancelot, "what adventure has brought you here? We expected to find you at Camelot." Then he told them how a damsel had brought him here, but for what reason he did not know.
   And while they were conversing thus, three nuns came in bringing Galahad, so fair and shapely a youth that one could hardly find his equal in the world. Then she who was most high-born, gently weeping, took him by the hand, and standing before Lancelot, she said to him: "Sire, here I bring you our ward, our greatest joy, our comfort and our hope, that you may make him a knight. For to our thinking there is no more honourable man than you from whom he could receive the order of chivalry." He looked at the youth and saw him to be so marvellously endowed with every beauty that he thought he would never again see such a fine figure of a man. And from the modesty which he saw in him he hoped for so much that he was greatly pleased to make him a knight. So he replied to the ladies that he would not fail to perform this request, and that he would gladly make him a knight, since they wished it so. "Sire," said she who had brought him in, "we wish it to be done to-night or to-morrow." "In God's name," said he, "it shall be as you desire."
   Lancelot spent the night there and made the youth keep watch in the church throughout the night. In the morning at the hour of prime he made him a knight, he himself fastening one of his spurs and Bors the other. Then Lancelot girded him with the sword and gave him the accolade, and told him that God would make him an honourable man, seeing that he had not yet been found lacking in any good trait. And when he had done everything connected with this ceremonial, he said to him: "Fair sire, will you come with me to my lord King Arthur's court?" "Nay, sire," said he, "I will not go with you." Then Lancelot said to the abbess: "Lady, allow our new knight to come with us to the court of my lord the king. For he will make more progress there than if he stays here with you." "Sire," she replied, "he shall not go now; but as soon as we think that the time and the circumstances are favourable, we shall send him."
   Then Lancelot and his companions left and rode together until they came to Camelot at the hour of tierce, when the king had gone to hear mass with a great company of his noble men. Upon arrival the three dismounted in the court-yard and went upstairs to the great hall. Then they began to talk about the young man whom Lancelot had knighted, and Bors remarked that he had never seen any other man who so much resembled Lancelot. "Upon my word," said he, "I will never believe anything again, if he is not Galahad who was born of the fair daughter of the Fisher King; for he bears a marvellous resemblance to that family and to ours." "In truth, I believe that is who he is," Lyonel replied, "for he is much like my lord (Lancelot)." They spoke of this subject for a long time in hope of drawing something from Lancelot, but to all they said he answered never a word.
   When they had ceased speaking of this, they surveyed the seats placed about the Round Table and found on each one written "This is the seat of such an one." And they examined each one until they came to the large seat called "the Perilous Seat." There they found letters which had been newly written, as it seemed to them. And they saw that the letters said "Four hundred and fifty-four years are accomplished since the Passion of Jesus Christ; and on the day of Pentecost this seat is to find its occupant." At the sight of these words, they said one to another: "In faith, here is some marvellous adventure!" "In God's name," said Lancelot, "were one to count up the time elapsed since the resurrection of Our Lord until now, he would find, I believe, that this seat is due to be occupied this very day; for this is Pentecost after four hundred and fifty-four years elapsed. And I wish that no one else should see these words before the arrival of him to whom this adventure is to fall." Then the others said that they would take good care that they should not be seen; so they ordered a silken cloth to be brought, and with it they covered the words on the chair.
   When the king had returned from church and saw that Lancelot was come with Bors and Lyonel, he showed great joy and bade them welcome. Then the festival began to be great and marvellous, for the companions of the Round Table were very happy over the arrival of the two brothers. My lord Gawain asked them how they had been since they left the court, and they replied: "Very well, thank God," for they had been hale and hearty all the time. "Certainly," said my lord Gawain, "I am glad to hear that." Joyous was the welcome that those of the court gave to Bors and Lyonel, for it had been some time since they had seen them.
   When the king thought it was time to eat, he had the tables laid. But Kay the seneschal said: "Sire, if you sit down now to dinner, it seems to me that you will be breaking our custom here. For we have always observed that on a high feast-day you do not sit down at table before some adventure should have come to court in the sight of all the knights of your household." "Kay, you are right," said the king, "in truth. I have always maintained this custom, and shall continue to do so as long as I can. But I was so glad to see Lancelot and his cousins safe and sound again at court that I forgot the custom." "Well, remember it now," said Kay.
   While they were talking thus, there entered a valet who said to the king: "Sire, I bring you strange news." "What?" said the king, "tell me quickly." "Sire, down below the palace yonder there is a great stone which I saw floating upon the water. Come and see it, for I am sure that it is some wonderful adventure." Then the king went down at once to see this wonder, and so did all the others. And when they had come to the bank, they found the stone which had emerged from the water, and was of red marble. In the stone there was affixed a sword of fair and rich appearance, and its pommel was a precious stone skilfully inlaid with letters of gold. The knights looked at the words, which ran thus: "no one shall remove me from here but the one at whose side I am destined to hang. And he shall be the best knight in the world." When the king saw these words, he said to Lancelot: "Fair sire, this sword is yours by right, for I am sure you are the best knight in the world." And he replied ill-humouredly: "Surely, sire, neither is it mine, nor would I be so bold or so imprudent as to set my hand to it; for I am neither sufficiently worthy nor adequate that I should take it. So I shall hold back and not touch it, for it would be madness on my part to seek to take it." "But try anyhow, and see if you can pull it out." "I will not, sire," said he, "for I know full well that if anyone tries and fails, he will receive a wound from it." "And how do you know that?" the king inquired. "Sire," he replied, "I know it well enough. And I will tell you still another thing; for I want you to know that this very day will begin the great adventures and marvels of the Holy Grail."
   When the king heard that Lancelot would not do it, he said to my lord Gawain: "Fair nephew, do you try it." "Sire," said he, "saving your grace, I will not, since my lord Lancelot will not make the attempt. It would be useless for me to touch it, for you know well that he is a better knight than I." "Nevertheless," the king replied, "you will try because I wish it, and not because of the sword." So he stretched forth his hand and seizing the sword by the hilt, gave a pull, but he could not draw it out. Then the king said at once: "Let it be, fair nephew, for you have done my bidding." "My lord Gawain," said Lancelot, "be sure that this sword will yet touch you so closely that you would wish not to have sought to possess it for the price of a castle." "Sire," replied my lord Gawain, "I could not help it; were I to die for it on the spot, I would do it to carry out my lord's command." And when the king heard these words he repented of what my lord Gawain had done.
   Then he told Perceval to try the sword. And he said he would gladly do so, to keep company with my lord Gawain. So he put his hand on the sword and pulled, but he could not get it loose. Then all the others present were persuaded that Lancelot had been right and that the words on the hilt were true. So there was no one else so bold as to dare to touch the sword. Then my lord Kay said to the king: "Sire, upon my word, you may surely now sit down to meat whenever you please; for you have had no lack of adventure before dinner, as it seems to me." "Let us go then," the king replied, "for it is indeed high time."
   Then the knights left the stone by the river's brim and went away. And the king ordered the horn to be blown for the washing of hands, then sat down on his raised seat, while each of the companions of the Round Table took his allotted seat. That day four crowned kings rendered the service, and along with them so many men of high degree that it was a wondrous sight to see. That day the king was seated on his high seat in the palace, and there was a great company of noble men to do his service. And it came about that when they were all seated, they found that all the companions of the Round Table were present and the seats occupied, except only the one called "the Perilous Seat."
   When they had finished the first course there happened such a marvellous adventure that all the doors and windows of the palace where they were dining were closed of their own accord without anyone having touched them, and yet the hall was not darkened. At this the wise and foolish were alike amazed. And King Arthur, who spoke first, said: "By God, fair lords, we have seen strange things to-day both here and at the river. But I believe we shall see to-night still greater wonders."
   While the king was speaking thus, there entered a worthy old man with a white robe, but there was not a knight in the hall who saw where he came in. He came on foot and led by the hand a knight with scarlet armour, but having no sword or shield. And as soon as he was inside the hall, he said: "Peace be with you!" Then when he saw the king, he said:
   "King Arthur, I bring thee the Knight Desired, who is sprung from the high lineage of King David and from the family of Joseph of Arimathæa; it is he through whom the marvels of this country and of foreign lands will terminate. Behold him here!" Then the king, delighted with this news, said to the worthy man: "Sire, be welcome indeed if this news be true, and this knight be welcome too! For if it is he whom we have been awaiting to achieve the adventures of the Holy Grail, never was such a joyous reception given to any man as we shall give to him. But, whoever he be, whether the one you say or some other, I should wish him welcome, since he is such a gentle man and of such high lineage as you say." "Upon my word," the worthy man replied, "you shall soon have early evidence of what I say." Then he made the knight disarm, who was left clad in a jacket of red silk cloth; then he gave him a red mantle which he threw over his shoulder, all of heavy silk and furred inside with white ermine.
   When he had clothed and equipped him, he said to him. "Follow me, sir knight," and so he did. Then he led him straight to the Perilous Seat beside the one occupied by Lancelot, and he raised the silken cloth with which it was covered. And there he found the words which said: "This is the seat of Galahad." When the worthy man looked at the words he saw that they were apparently recently inscribed, and he recognised the name. So he said in the hearing of all present: "Sir knight, take your seat here, for it is your place." And he sat down confidently and said to the worthy man: "Now you can go, for you have done all that you were commanded. And greet for me all those in the holy hostel and my uncle King Pellés and my grandsire the rich Fisher King, and tell them from me that I shall go to see them as soon as I can and when I have the leisure." Then the worthy man took his leave and commended King Arthur and all the rest to God's keeping. But when they wished to ask him who he was, he vouchsafed them no satisfaction, but simply answered that he would not tell them now, for they should know in good time if they dared to ask. When he came to the main doorway of the palace which was closed, he opened it and went down into the court-yard, where he found as many as fifteen knights and squires who had come with him and were awaiting him. So he mounted and departed from the court without their knowing more of his identity for this time.
   Now when those in the hall saw the knight sitting in the seat which so many worthy men had feared and which had given rise to so many great adventures, they were all amazed, for they saw him to be so young a man that they did not know how such a favour could have come to him except by the will of Our Lord. Then the great festival began; and they all did great honour to the knight, for they thought it must be he who would bring to a conclusion the marvels of the Holy Grail; and they knew well that it was he by the test of the Seat, in which no one, excepting him, had tried to sit without some mischief befalling him. So they served and honoured him all they could as one whom they regarded as their master and lord above all those of the Round Table. And Lancelot who looked upon him with pleasure and surprise, knew that it was he whom he had that very day made a knight; and that gave him all the greater joy. So he did him all the honour he could, and while speaking with him of divers things, asked him to tell him something about himself. And he, who recognised him and dared not refuse his request, replied freely to his questions. But Bors who was as happy as he could be and knew well that it was Galahad, Lancelot's own son, who was destined to conclude the adventures, spoke to his brother Lyonel and said: "Fair brother, do you know who this knight is who occupies the Perilous Seat?" "I don't know much," said Lyonel, "except that he is the new knight whom Lancelot dubbed to-day with his own hand. Moreover, it is he of whom we have been speaking between ourselves and whom my lord Lancelot begot with the daughter of the rich Fisher King." "You are right," Bors replied, "for it is he, and he is our near cousin. And we ought to he very happy over this adventure; for there is no doubt that he will come to greater things than any knight I ever knew, and already we have a fine beginning."
   Thus the two brothers spoke about Galahad, as did also the others who were present. The news travelled so quickly that the queen who was dining in her apartment heard it from a valet who said to her: "Lady, wondrous things are happening here." "How is that?" she inquired; "tell me about it." "Truly, lady," he replied, "a knight has come to court who has accomplished the adventure of the Perilous Seat, and he is such a young man that everyone is wondering whence the power to do so came to him." "Really." said she, "can this be true?" "Yes," he replied, "you may be sure of it." "In God's name," said she, "then he is welcome indeed; for no man has ever sought to accomplish this venture but he has died or been injured before achieving it." "Ah God!" the other ladies exclaimed, "in a good hour the knight was born. Never could any other man, whatever his prowess might be, accomplish what he has done. And from this adventure it may be inferred that he it is who will achieve the adventures of Great Britain and by whom the Cripple King shall receive his cure." "Fair friend," said the queen to the valet, "with God's help, tell me now what he is like." "Lady," he replied, "so help me God, he is one of the handsomest knights of the world. But he is wonderfully young and so strangely resembles Lancelot and the family of King Ban that they are all saying he must belong to it." Then the queen was more anxious to see him than she had been before. When she heard of the resemblance, she thought it must be Galahad whom Lancelot had begotten with the daughter of the rich Fisher King, in accordance with the story she had often been told of how he had been deceived; and that was why she was so angry with Lancelot, if the fault had been his.
   When the king and the companions of the Round Table had dined, they rose from their places. And the king himself came to the Perilous Seat and, raising the silken cloth, he found the name of Galahad of which he had greatly desired to be assured. Then he pointed it out to my lord Gawain, saying: "Fair nephew, now we have with us Galahad the good and perfect knight whom we and those of the Round Table have so much desired to see. Let us strive to honour and serve him so long as he is with us; for I know right well that he will not stay here long because of the great Quest of the Grail which I doubt not will soon commence. And Lancelot has already given us to understand that he would not have said so if he had not known something about it." "Sire," my lord Gawain replied, "you and we ought to serve him as the one whom God has sent us to deliver our country from the great marvels and the strange adventures which have been happening so often for a long time past."
   Then came the king to Galahad and said: "Welcome, sire, for we have greatly yearned to see you. Now at last we have you here, thanks be to God and also to you who have deigned to come." "Sire," he replied, "I have come because I was bound to do so; for all those who are to be companions in the Quest of the Holy Grail must start from here, and the Quest will soon begin." "Sire," said the king, "we had great need of your arrival for many reasons, both in order to terminate the great marvels of this land and to achieve an adventure which has this day come to us and in which the knights here have met defeat. But I know that you will not fail, for you are destined to succeed in the adventures where the others have failed. For this reason has God sent you to us, that you should accomplish what the others have had to leave undone." "Sire," said Galahad, "where is this adventure of which you speak? I should be glad to see it." "I will show it to you," the king replied; then he took him by the hand and they went down from the palace, followed by all the other knights to see how the adventure of the stone would turn out. They all ran thither so that there did not remain behind a single knight in the entire palace.
   The news of this quickly reached the queen. And as soon as she heard it, she had the food removed and said to four of the noblest ladies with her: "Fair ladies, come with me to the river, for I would not miss seeing the end of this adventure, if I can arrive in time." Then the queen went down from the palace and with her a great company of ladies and damsels.
   When the ladies had reached the water and the knights saw them approaching, they began to say: "Turn around, here is the queen!" And all those who stood nearest made way for her. Then the king said to Galahad: "Sire, here is the adventure of which I told you. Some of the most valued knights of my household have to day failed to draw this sword out of this stone: they have failed utterly in their attempt." "Sire," said Galahad in reply, "that is not surprising, for the adventure was reserved for me, and not for them. And because I was sure to get this sword, I did not bring any to court, as you can see." Then he stretched forth his hand and drew the sword from the stone as easily as if it had no hold there; then he took the scabbard and placed the sword in it. Then he girded it on him and said to the king: "Sire, now it is better placed than it was before. Now I lack nothing but a shield." "Fair sire," the king replied, "God will send you a shield from some source, as He has sent you a sword."
   Then they looked down the stream and saw a damsel riding rapidly toward them on a white palfrey. And when she had come up to them, she greeted the king and all the company and asked if Lancelot was there. As he was standing right before her, he himself replied: "Damsel, here I am." Then she looked at him and recognised him, and said to him in tears: "Ah, Lancelot, how changed is your situation since yesterday morning!" And when he heard that, he said to her: "How is that, damsel? Tell me." "Upon my word," she replied, "I will tell you in the presence of all who are here. Yesterday morning you were the best knight in the world. Anyone who should have called you then the best knight of all, would have said the truth, for then you were so. But whoever should say it now would be considered a liar; for there is one better than you, as is proved by the adventure of this sword on which you did not dare to lay your hand. Now such is the change and alteration in your position, which I have pointed out in order that you may not henceforth think that you are the best knight in the world." And he said that he would never more think so, after this adventure which made it impossible for him so to regard himself. Then the damsel turned to the king and said: "King Arthur, I bring thee word from Nascien the hermit that there shall come to thee this day the greatest honour that ever befell a knight of Brittany. And this will not be for thy sake, but for another's. Dost thou know what this honour is to be? It is the Holy Grail which will appear to-day in thy palace and will nourish the companions of the Round Table." Then as soon as she had said these words, she turned away and left by the same road as she had come. Now there were there many barons and knights who would fain have detained her in order to learn who she was and whence she came; but she would not tarry for any request that was made of her.
   Then the king said to the barons of his household: "Fair sirs, thus we have had true evidence that you are soon to enter upon the Quest of the Holy Grail. And because I well know that I shall never again see you all together as you are now, I desire that in the meadow of Camelot there should now be held so well-contested a tournament that after our death our descendants who come after us shall still hold it in remembrance." To this they all agreed. So they came back to the city and got their arms; some taking weapons wherewith they might joust more securely, and some who took nothing but coverings and shields, for most of them trusted in their prowess. Now the king, who had planned all this, had done it only to see an example of Galahad's chivalry. For he thought he would not return for some time to court, when he once should have gone away.
   When all, both great and small, were assembled in the meadow of Camelot, Galahad at the request of the king and queen donned his hauberk and placed his helmet upon his head; but he would not take a shield for anything that they might say. And my lord Gawain, who was delighted at this, said that he would fetch him lances, and so said my lords Yvain and Bors de Gaunes. The queen had gone up on the walls with a great company of ladies and damsels. Then Galahad, who had come into the meadow with the others, began to break lances so lustily that all who beheld him considered him a marvel. He accomplished so much in a short time that every man and woman present who saw his chivalry regarded him as a marvel and the best of all. And those who had never seen him before said that he had begun well his knightly deeds, and it clearly appeared from what he had done that day that henceforth he could easily outstrip all the other knights in prowess. For when the tourney was concluded, they found that of all the companions of the Round Table who had taken part, there were only two whom he had not defeated, and they were Lancelot and Perceval.
   So the tourney continued until after three o'clock, and then concluded. For the king himself, fearing some anger might finally develop, had the contestants separated, and caused Galahad to unlace his helmet, and gave it to Bors de Gaunes to carry. Then they took him from the meadow into the city of Camelot through the main street with face uncovered, so that all might see him openly. And when the queen had gazed at him fixedly, she said that truly Lancelot had begotten him, for never did two men so marvellously resemble each other as did they two. Therefore it was no wonder if he was endowed with great chivalry, for otherwise he would be too degenerate a scion of his line. And a lady who had heard a part of what the queen said, replied to her at once: "Lady, in God's name, is he then destined by right to be so good a knight as you say?" "Yes verily," said the queen; "for he is on both sides descended from the best knights in the world and from the highest lineage known."
   Then the ladies came down to attend vespers because it was a high feast-day. And when the king had come out from the church and had come into the upper hall, he ordered the tables to be laid. Then the knights went to take their seats as they had done in the morning. When they were all seated in silence, there was heard such a great and marvellous peal of thunder that it seemed to them the palace must collapse. But at once there shone in upon them a ray of sunlight which made the palace seven-fold brighter than it was before. And straightway they were as if illumined with the grace of the Holy Spirit, and they began to look at one another; for they knew not whence this experience had befallen them. Yet, there was no man present who could speak or utter a word: for great and small alike were dumb. Then when they had remained for some time so that none of them had power to speak, but rather they gazed at each other like dumb beasts, there entered the Holy Grail covered with a white cloth; but no one was able to see who was carrying it. It entered by the great door of the hall, and as soon as it had come in, the hall was filled with odours as sweet as if all the spices of the earth were diffused there. And it passed down the middle of the hall and all around the high seats; and as it passed before the tables, they were straightway filled at each place with such viands as the occupant desired. When all were served, the Holy Grail departed at once so that they knew not what had become of it nor did they see which way it went. At once the power of speech was restored to those who before could not utter a word. And most of them gave thanks to Our Lord for the great honour he had done them in feeding them with the grace from the Holy Vessel. But more than all the others present, King Arthur was joyous and glad because Our Lord had shown him greater favour than to any king before him.
   Thus the familiars and the strangers at the court alike rejoiced, for it seemed to them that Our Lord had not forgotten them in showing them such a favour. And they continued to speak of it as long as the meal lasted. The king himself spoke of it to those who were seated nearest to him, and said: "Surely, my lords, we ought to be glad and rejoice greatly that Our Lord has given such evidence of His love that He has consented to feed us with His grace upon such a high festival as Pentecost." "Sire," replied my lord Gawain, "there is something else that you do not know: there is not a man here who has not been served with what he desired in his mind. And that is something that never happened in any court, unless it be in that of the Cripple King. But they are all so confounded that they could not see it openly, the true likeness being concealed from them. Wherefore, for my part I make this vow, to enter to-morrow without delay upon the Quest and to prosecute it for a year and a day, and longer yet if need be; and I will not return to court for any reason whatsoever until I have seen it more clearly than it has been manifested to me here, if peradventure it be destined that I can behold it. And if it be destined otherwise, I will return."
   When the knights of the Round Table heard these words, they all rose from their seats and made the same vow that my lord Gawain had made, and said they would not cease from their wandering until they should have sat at the high table where such sweet meat was daily served as that which they had just tasted. And when the king saw that they had made this vow, he was in sore distress; for he knew well that he could not turn them aside from this enterprise. So he said to my lord Gawain: "Alas. Gawain, this vow which you have made will be the death of me, for you have deprived me of the fairest and most loyal company that I have ever found the company of the Round Table. For when they shall have left me, whenever the time may come, I know well that they will never all come back; rather will most of them continue in this Quest which will not end so soon as you think. So I am not a little distressed. For I have prospered and raised them with all my power, and have always loved them and love them still as if they were my sons or brothers, and therefore their departure will sorely grieve me; for I had grown accustomed to see them often and to have their company." Thereupon the king grew very pensive and tears came to his eyes, as those present could plainly see. When he spoke again, it was so loudly that everyone there could easily hear him: "Gawain, Gawain, you have brought great sorrow to my heart, from which I can never recover until I know truly how this Quest is going to turn out. For I greatly fear that my earthly friends will never come back from it." "Ah, sire," Lancelot replied, "for God's sake, what is this you say? Such a man as you ought not to give place in his heart to fear, but to justice, courage and good hope. You ought to take comfort, for surely if we should all die on this Quest, it would be a greater honour for us than to die anywhere else." "Lancelot," the king replied, "the great love that I have always cherished for them makes me speak this way, and it is no wonder if I am distressed at their departure. For never did a Christian king have so many good knights and worthy men at his table as I have had this day; nor will it ever happen again after they have gone, nor will they ever again be gathered about my board as they have been this day; and this it is that troubles me most." My lord Gawain knew not how to reply to this, for he knew well that the king spoke the truth. So he would have gladly taken back the promise he had made, if he had dared; but it could not be, for it was already too well known.
   Soon it was announced through all the apartments of the palace how the Quest of the Holy Grail had been undertaken, and that all those who were to share in the Quest would leave court on the morrow. And many of those who heard the news were rather sorry than glad; for the prowess of the companions of the Round Table had made the household of King Arthur respected above all others. When the ladies and damsels who were seated with the queen in her apartments at supper heard this news, there were many who grieved and sorrowed, especially those who were wives or sweethearts of the companions of the Round Table. Nor was there cause for surprise in this: for they were honoured and held dear by those who they now feared would lose their lives on this Quest. So they began to make great lamentation. And the queen asked the valet who stood before her: "Tell me, valet," she said, "wast thou present when this Quest was pledged?" "Yes, lady, I was," said he. "And my lord Gawain, and Lancelot of the Lake, are they also to take part in it?" she inquired. "Yes, certainly, lady," he replied; "my lord Gawain was the first to take the vow, and after him Lancelot and all the rest, until none held back who was a companion of the Table." When she heard these words, she grieved so for Lancelot that she thought she would die of sorrow, and could not keep the tears from coming to her eyes. Then at last she replied as one whose cup of woe was full: "Surely," said she, "this is a great misfortune. This Quest will not be concluded without the death of many worthy men, since so many of them have undertaken it. I marvel greatly that my lord the king, who is so wise, has permitted it. For the better part of his lords will leave us now and the remainder will not be worth much." Then she began to weep tenderly, as did all the ladies and damsels who were with her.
   So all the court was troubled at the news of those who were about to leave. And when the tables were removed in the hall and in the apartments, and the ladies had gathered with the knights, then the grief broke out afresh. For each lady or damsel, whether wife or sweetheart, said to her knight that she would go with him on the Quest. And there were some present who would have easily agreed to this and who would have wished it well enough, had it not been for a worthy old man, dressed in the garb of religion, who entered there after supper was concluded. And when he came before the king he said so loudly that all could hear him: "Hear ye, lords of the Round Table who have sworn to enter upon the Quest of the Holy Grail! Nascien the hermit sends you word by me that no one shall take with him upon this Quest either lady or damsel lest he fall into mortal sin: let no one enter upon it who is not confessed or who will not go to confession, for no one ought to enter upon such a lofty service before being cleansed and purged of all villainy and mortal sins. This Quest is not a quest for earthly things, but is to be the search for the deep secrets and confidences of Our Lord and for the great mysteries which the High Master will show openly to that fortunate knight whom he has elected among all the other knights of earth to be his servant. To him he will reveal the great marvel of the Holy Grail and will show him what mortal heart could not conceive nor the tongue of earthly man utter." Because of these words it came about that no one took with him his wife or friend. And the king entertained the worthy man well and richly, and asked him much about himself; but his replies were brief, for his mind was occupied with other things than with the king.
   Then the queen came and sat down beside Galahad, and began to ask him about his origins, his country and his family. And he told her a good deal, as one who was well informed, but he never said anything about being the son of Lancelot. However, from what the queen heard she learned well enough that he was the son of Lancelot and that he had been born to the daughter of King Pellés, of whom she had often heard. But because she was determined to learn this from his own mouth, if possible, she asked him for the truth about his father. He replied, however, that he was not sure whose son he was. "Ah, sire!" said she, "you are concealing the truth from me. Why do you do that? So help me God, you need never be ashamed of hearing your father's name. For he is the handsomest knight in the world, and he is descended on all sides from kings and queens and from the highest lineage known, and has had until now the reputation of being the best knight in the world; wherefore you too ought to surpass all those in the world. And certainly you resemble him so wonderfully that there is no man here so foolish as to fail to notice it, if he should take heed." When Galahad heard these words he was filled with embarrassment. But he replied at once: "Lady, since you know him so well, you will be able to tell me who he is. And if it is he whom I think to be my father, I shall know that you speak the truth; and if it is not he, I should not be able to agree with you, whatever you might say." "In God's name," she replied, "since you will not mention his name, I will. He who begot you is my lord Lancelot of the Lake, the handsomest, best and most gracious knight, the most desired and best beloved of any born in our time. So it seems to me that you ought not to conceal the fact either from me or anyone else; for you could not be sprung from a more honourable man or a better knight." "Lady," he replied, "since you know it so well, why should I tell you? In time it will be known well enough."
   The queen and Galahad continued their conversation until night fell. And when the time had come to retire, the king took Galahad to his own room and put him in his own bed where he himself was wont to lie, thus paying all honour and respect to him. Then the king retired and Lancelot and the other knights who were there. That night the king was very pensive and troubled because of the love he bore the worthy men who were to leave on the morrow and go to a place where he thought they would tarry long. His heart was filled with grief at the thought that many of them would die on the Quest, and this it was that made him sad. All night the noble barons and the people of the kingdom of Logres were in sorrow and distress. And when it pleased Our Lord to end the shadows of the night by the light of the breaking day, all the knights whose minds were intent upon their business arose and dressed and equipped themselves. When the day was fully come, the king too rose from his bed. When he was dressed he came into the room of my lord Gawain and Lancelot, who had slept together. When he entered, he found them dressed and accoutred to go and to hear mass. Then the king, who loved them both as if they were his sons, greeted them with and embrace, while they stood up and welcomed him. Bidding them be seated, he sat down with them, and looking at Gawain he began to speak: "Gawain, Gawain,you have betrayed me! your presence never enhanced my court so much as your departure now will work it harm. For it will never be honoured by such a noble and valiant company as that of which your action is depriving it. Yet I am not so much distressed for the others as I am for you two. For I have loved you with all the love one man can have for another, and not just now for the first time, but ever since I first recognised the excellent qualities you possess." When the king had spoken these words, he was silent and turned very pensive while the tears flowed down his face. And they seeing this, and being themselves as sad as possible, dared not reply when they saw him so miserable. After being for a long time plunged in grief, he said sadly: "Alas, God! I never thought to see myself separated from this company which fortune had bestowed upon me!" Then he added to Lancelot: "Lancelot, on the faith and on the oath which you and I have exchanged, I charge you to help me with counsel in this affair." "Tell me, sire," said he, "how I may do so." "I would fain have this Quest put off if possible," the king replied. "Sire," said Lancelot, "I have heard the oath of so many noble men that I do not believe they would renounce it for any cause. For every one of them would be a perjurer, and it would be a disloyal act to ask them to renounce their pledge." "Indeed, I know you speak the truth," the king replied. "But the great love I bear you and the others makes me speak this way. And if it were only a proper and fitting thing, I could wish so, for I shall be sorely grieved by their departure."
   Thus they conversed until the day was bright and clear and the sun had dried the dew. Then the palace began to fill with the barons of the realm. And the queen, having arisen, came to the king and said: "Sire, the knights are awaiting you below to hear mass." Then he arose and wiped his eyes in order that those who saw him might not know what sorrow he had felt. My lord Gawain gave orders to bring his arms, as also did Lancelot. And when they were accoutred, except for their shields, they came into the hall and found their companions prepared like themselves for the start. When they had been to the chapel and had heard mass, they returned to the hall, and those who were pledged to pursue the Quest sat down beside one another. Then King Bademagus said: "Sire, since this affair has been undertaken so seriously that it cannot be allowed to drop, I recommend that the sacred relics be brought in. Then the companions will take such an oath as is fitting for those who are starting on a quest." "I consent to that, since it pleases you, and since it cannot be otherwise," King Arthur made reply. Then the priests bade the relics to be brought in, on which the oaths of the court were wont to be sworn. And when they were carried in before the high table, the king called my lord Gawain and said: "You who first assumed this Quest, come forward and be the first to take the oath which should be taken by those who engage in it." "Sire," said King Bademagus, "saving your grace, he shall not be the first, but that one shall do it before us all whom we are bound to regard as lord and master of the Round Table: that is my lord Galahad. And after he has sworn, the rest of us without dissent will all take the same oath, as is fitting." Then Galahad was called; and he came forward and, kneeling before the relics, swore as a loyal knight that he would pursue this Quest for a year and a day, or longer if need be, and would never return to court until he had learned the truth concerning the Holy Grail, if he could in any way do so. Then Lancelot swore to the same effect, and following him my lord Gawain and Perceval and Bors and Lyonel and Helains li Blans. Then all the companions of the Round Table took the oath in turn. And when all who had engaged themselves had sworn, it was found by those who kept the list that they numbered one hundred and fifty, and they were such worthy men that there was not a coward among them all. After taking some breakfast at the king's request, they donned their helmets and it became evident that they would not tarry long. So with tears and sadness they commended the queen to God.
   When she saw that they were about to start without more delay, she began to grieve sorely, as though she already saw all her friends dead before her; and in order that the others might not see how deeply she was moved, she went to her room and threw herself upon her bed. Then she began to make such moan that there was no man in the world so hard-hearted but, on seeing her, would have pitied her. And when Lancelot was all prepared to mount, being extremely grieved for the sorrow of his lady the queen, he went to the room where he had seen her withdraw, and entered. And when the queen saw him come in all armed, she cried out to him: "Ah, Lancelot! you have betrayed me even to death in leaving the household of my lord the king in order to go into strange lands from which you will never return unless God restores you." "Lady," said he, "I shall come back much sooner than you think." "Ah, God!" said she, "not so speaks my heart which drives me to such anxiety and fear as never gentle lady felt for a man." "Lady," he replied, "I must go now, if it please you to give me leave." "You would never go, if I could help it," she made answer. "But since go you must, go in the keeping of Him who consented to suffer on the true Cross to deliver man from eternal death. May He conduct you in safety wherever you go!" "Lady," said he, "may God do so in His great pity!"
   Then Lancelot left the queen and came down into the courtyard where he found his companions already mounted and waiting only for him to start. So he went to his horse and mounted. But the king seeing Galahad without a shield and about to start like the others on the Quest, came up to him and said: "Sire, methinks you are not adequately equipped in starting without such a shield as your companions have." "Sire," said he, "it would be wrong for me to take one. I will take none until some adventure brings me one." "Well, God help you," the king replied. "I will hold my peace, since it must be so."
   Then the barons and knights got to horse, and riding forth from the castle passed down through the town. You never saw such sorrow and weeping as that of the citizens as they watched the companions leave for the Quest of the Holy Grail. There was not a man, poor or rich, of all those who were to stay behind, who did not weep bitterly: they were so sad at this leave taking.
   But those who were to go away showed no signs of any concern; rather you would have thought, if you had seen them, that they were more than happy at the prospect, as indeed they were.
   Now when they had come near the castle of Vagan in the forest, they stopped at a cross, and my lord Gawain said to the king: "Sire, you have come far enough; go back now, as must needs be, for it is not for you to convoy us farther." Then the king said: "It is much harder for me to turn back than to come thus far: for I am loth to part with you. But since I see that it must be done, I will return." Then my lord Gawain took his helmet from his head, as did the other companions; then he ran to embrace the king, and the other barons did so after him. Then, when they had relaced their helmets, with tears in their eyes they commended each other to God. After their separation, the king returned to Camelot, and the companions rode on through the forest until they came to the castle of Vagan.
   This Vagan was a worthy man of exemplary life who had been in his youth one of the world's good knights. And when he saw that the companions were entering his castle, he had the gates closed on all sides, saying that since God had done him such honour as to place them in his power, they should not go forth until he had served them to the extent of his ability. So he detained them, as it were, by force, disarmed them, and served them so richly and royally that night that they all wondered where he could have got such wealth.
   That night they took counsel how they should next proceed. And on the morrow they decided that each should go off by himself, because it would be a shame for them to travel in company. So as soon as it was light, the companions arose and, taking their arms, went to hear mass in a chapel there. Then they mounted and commended the lord of the place to God and thanked him warmly for the honour he had done them. Sallying forth from the castle they took leave of each other as had been agreed, and entered the forest at divers places where they saw it to be thickest and wherever they saw there was no road or path. At the moment of parting many wept who thought their hearts were hard and insensible. But for the present the story will take leave of them and turn to speak of Galahad, because he had initiated the Quest.