The Adventures of Perceval, Chapter 1: THE FEAST AT PENTECOST
AND YOU MAY BE CERTAIN that never did a king hold as great court or great festival as did Arthur. Nor ever was there a king who made himself so much loved by his nobles as he did; and he himself was the most handsome man and the best knight that one might know. And because he was so valiant a king and because of the beautiful gifts-- that he gave, he was so renowned that no one spoke throughout the whole world but of him only, so that all the knighthood took themselves to his court in order to behold and know him. And one did not value the knightly deeds that anyone might perform if he had not first been a year in the household of Arthur or if he had neither token nor pennon with his arms. And everywhere in the world one spoke of him.
And the news came of him there where Alain li Gros dwelt and he thought to himself that he would send Perceval his son there when he would be such that he would be able to bear arms. And he said to him many times: "My handsome son, when you are grown I will send you with all honors to the Court of King Arthur." These words he spoke many times until it pleased Our Lord that Alain li Gros should leave this world. And when he was dead, Perceval thought that he would go to the Court of King Arthur. One day he took arms and armed himself very nobly and mounted on a hunting horse and went away so quietly that his mother knew nothing of it. When his mother heard the news that Perceval was gone, she mourned greatly and thought in her heart that the wild beasts of the forest would eat him. And because she mourned so greatly she died of the worry. And Perceval rode until he came to the court of the noble King Arthur and he came before him and saluted him most boldly in the presence of the lords. And he said that if it pleased him he would dwell with him most willingly and would be of his household. And the king kept him there and made him a knight and there he learned much of wisdom and of courtesy, for, in truth, when he left the home of his mother he knew nothing. And he proved so worthy with the other knights that afterwards he was one of the Round Table and was much loved at the court by the nobles.
After this Saigremor came there and Yvain the son of the King Urien and another Yvain with the white hands and Dodiniaus the son of the lady of Malehaut and Mordret the nephew of Arthur who afterwards did the great evil just as you will be able to hear, and Guirres his brother and Garries and Gavain, and these four were sons of King Lot of Orkney; and King Arthur was their uncle. Afterwards there came Lancelot del Lac, who was of very high station. And so many other knights that I cannot repeat them; but this much I can certainly tell you, there were so many good knights at the court of the noble King Arthur that one spoke in all the world of nothing but the high knighthood of the Round Table that the noble King Arthur ruled, until Arthur bethought himself of that which Merlin had told him. Thereupon he came to his nobles and his knights and he said to them: "Lords, know that it is desirable that you all return at the Pentecost; for I shall wish to hold the greatest festival on this day that ever any king held in any land. And also I wish that each of you may bring his lady with him for I shall wish to honor the Round Table greatly that Merlin made in the days of Uther Pendragon my father. And also I wish to seat the twelve peers of my court in the twelve places. And know also that all those who will be at my festival and who will wish to dwell with me will always be of the Round Table and will have the greatest honor wherever they may come for each will have pennon or blazon of the Round Table."
Of these words there was much talk, and very happy were all the nobles of the court who greatly desired that they might be renowned of the Round Table. Thereupon they separated and each went into his country, and Arthur stayed in Logres pondering deeply how he might best exalt the Round Table. At Pentecost it happened that all the knights from all the lands of the earth gathered for the festival that King Arthur held. And in truth, King Arthur was of such great worth that they who held no fief of him might well consider themselves shameful, nor would they ever dare to come to a noble court nor to any place where a worthy man might see them, had they not come to the court of the noble King Arthur at Pentecost. Thither so many came from all parts of the world that no one could name them all, until the day of Pentecost it happened that King Arthur went to the Round Table. And he had Mass sung in the presence of all the people who were there. And when the Mass was sung the king brought his twelve peers and seated them in the twelve places, and the thirteenth remained empty, for it signified the place where Judas sat when he withdrew himself. And at the table of Uther Pendragon, Merlin had kept it empty, and for this reason the king did not dare to fill it.
It was an enormous festival which the king held on the day of Pentecost: for these of the Round Table clothed him in royal robes and also placed the crown upon his head and the king was thus honored as he ought to have been, for incense was spread by more than seven hundred censers wherever he went, and they threw gladioli and mint before him and paid him the greatest honors they could. Then the king commanded that all those who had come to the festival should be reclothed with robes and blazons, and you may be sure that as soon as he commanded, it was done. And so many knights and bachelors were there that the king gave robes and blazons of the Round Table to five thousand four hundred.
Thereupon the king had the water for washing announced by a hundred trumpets, and all the knights seated themselves to eat. And know, in truth, that Arthur served with the crown on his head and clad in a robe of gold; and he was closely observed by those who had never before seen him, and he was held in marvelously high esteem by all those who saw him. After they had eaten the king had the tables removed and they went out to the fields to joust. One then might have seen the ladies and the damsels mount within these towers and lean on the crenels of these walls in order to behold the jousting of the knights and the festival that was made. For in truth, upon that day those of the Round Table would joust with those who had come from outside, and they were much watched by the ladies and the damsels; and for this reason they strove much more, for there was hardly a knight who did not have there a sister or wife or lady love. And indeed those of the Round Table bore off the prize of arms that day, for Sir Gavain the son of King Lot jousted there most fiercely and Keu the seneschal who was the son of Ector and Urgans a bold knight and Saigremor and Lancelot del Lac and Erec who was very chivalrous. So well they jousted there that they overwhelmed those from the outside and with the evening they had won the prize. And King Arthur who was most valiant sat that day upon a palfrey and held a staff in his hands and went between the ranks to keep the peace that none there might enter into combat. And with him was Perceval the son of Alain li Gros who was very sad because he had not jousted, but he was wounded in his hand so he could not joust there at all, and he went all the day with Arthur, and with Guirres and Garries who were the brothers of Sir Gavain and sons of King Lot. These three were all day with the king and went to see the ladies and damsels and watched the jousts that were made that day. And the daughter of King Lot of Orkney, the sister of Sir Gavain, who was named Elaine and was the most beautiful damsel of her time, saw Perceval li Galois and loved him most deeply in her heart. And how could she help herself, for he was the most handsome knight of all the household of Arthur the king.
At evening the tourney was dispersed and the knights and the damsels began to carol and to hold great festival. But Elaine the sister of Sir Gavain thought much of Perceval ii Galois whom she loved most deeply. And when it became night the knights went to their hostels and to their tents. But Elaine did not become tranquil; instead she called a squire and sent him to Perceval il Galois to tell him that Elaine the sister of Sir Gavain greeted him most nobly and that she desired greatly to see him joust with the Round Table, and she asked that by the faith he owed her he might joust tomorrow before her and that he might be armed with vermilion arms that she would send him. And when Perceval heard this he marveled much and had great joy in his heart, because so noble a damsel as the daughter of King Lot had sent him word that for her love he should arm himself and should go to joust with the Round Table. Then he told the messenger that there was nothing that the damsel asked of him that he would not do for her love, "and I will joust willingly."
When the messenger had heard him he was very glad and returned to his damsel and told her all that Perceval had sent her in answer. And the damsel, who because of this was very happy, brought the arms and sent them to Perceval who for this was most deeply joyous. And you may be certain that he slept very little that night. In the morning the king arose and went to hear the Mass, and the nobles went with him. And when Mass was said the twelve peers went to the Round Table to eat and were well served there and Arthur honored them as much as he could. Then he had the horn for washing blown and the knights seated themselves to eat throughout the room and were well served, but of their dishes or of what they ate the story does not tell. But this much I can tell you for sure, they had whatever they might wish to devise. After they had eaten, the king had the tables removed. And the dames and the damsels went out to the fields to see the jousting and the festival of the Round Table.
Elaine the sister of Sir Gavain came there and she desired most greatly that she might see Perceval armed with the arms which she had sent him. Then the knights who wished to joust and to have the prize went out from Carduel and they came to those of the Round Table and began to joust, and then again began the festival greater than ever any had been before. And, in truth, Lancelot del Lac surpassed all those from outside, and Gavain and Sir Yvain the son of King Urien. Then Perceval li Galois came there, well armed with the arms that the damsel bad sent him, and went full force to strike the shield of Saigremor. And when Saigremor saw him he came out against him, and they let their horses go as fast as they were able to run, and they gave each other such great blows on the shields that the lances shattered. And Perceval ii Galois who knew much of such works struck him so hard with body and with horse that Saigremor was stunned so that he did not know what had happened and he flew into the middle of the meadow so hard that all those who saw him believed that he was dead. And Perceval took the horse and presented it to Elaine who made great joy of it, and, in truth, Perceval performed so many feats of arms that day, that he surpassed all those of the Round Table, and overthrew Keu the seneschal and Yvain the son of Urien and Lancelot del Lac. And they said that certainly he ought to fill the place at the Round Table. And the king who was very valiant and wise went to Perceval and said to him: "Sir knight, henceforth I wish that you would be of my household and of the Round Table and that you would stay with me, and know that I wish to honor you greatly in the future. " And Perceval answered him, "Sire, I thank you."
Then Perceval removed his helm and the king recognized him. And it came to him as a great marvel and he asked why this was that he had armed himself since yesterday and why he was disguised. And Perceval answered: "Sire, this by concealing I will help you to conceal, but so much I can well say, that I have done this that I have for love; and know that, even though I might have been able to have avoided it, still I would have come here. "And when the king had heard him and understood, he began to laugh and pardoned him very willingly and told him that whatever one did for love ought to be quickly pardoned, and so also said Gavain and Yvain and Lancelot and all those of the Round Table. And then Perceval said to the king that he wished to go to see the Round Table and those who sat there. And the king said to him: "Good friend, tomorrow you can see it. " And Perceval said: "Sire, I would most willingly see them sit there."
And with that he left him and they made great festival that night, and the next day the nobles assembled and heard the Mass; and when the Mass was said they all came there where the Round Table sat. And the king made them be seated, and when they were seated, the empty place remained. And Perceval asked the king what this empty place signified and the king told him: "Good friend, it signifies a great thing, for there ought to sit the best knight in the world. "And Perceval thought in his heart that he would sit there and he said to the king "Sire, grant me the boon that I may seat myself there." And the king responded that certainly he should not sit there, for he would certainly come to harm because of it, for in the empty place anon sat a false disciple who, as soon as he was seated was smitten into the earth, "and if I granted you this boon, you ought not to sit there." And when Perceval heard him he was angry and said: "Sir King, so God aid me, if you do not give me permission I tell you certainly I will no longer be of your household. "When Gavain heard this he was very sorrowful because he loved Perceval much, and he said: "Sire, give him leave to do it." And then Lancelot beseeched the king, and all the twelve peers. And so much they besought it of the king that with great hesitancy he granted it and said: "I give you your boon."
When Perceval heard him he was very glad and came forward and crossed himself by the Holy Ghost and seated him self in the place. And as soon as he was seated the stone split beneath him and broke with such an agonizing sound that it seemed to all those who were there that the world might sink into the abyss. And with the sound that the earth made, there issued such a great shadowy cloud that for more than a league they could not see each other. After this there came a voice which said:
"King Arthur, you have done the greatest wrong that ever a king of Britain might have committed, for you have trespassed the commandment of which Merlin taught you. And know now that this Perceval has performed the rashest act that ever did any man, and for this he will fall into the sharpest anguish of the world, both he and all those of the Round Table. And well you may know that if it were not for the merit of Alain li Gros his father and for the merit of Bron his grandfather who is called the Fisher King, he would have been hurled into the abyss and would have died the same grievous death that Moys died when he sat falsely in the place where Joseph had forbidden him to sit. And know, King Arthur, that Our Lord declares to - you that the vessel that Our Lord gave to Joseph in the prison is in this land and is called the Grail. The Fisher King has fallen into a great sickness and into great infirmity, and know that this king will never have cure nor will the stone be reunited at the place at the Round Table where Perceval sat until a knight from among these who are seated at this table has done many deeds of arms, of bounty, and of nobility. And when this knight will be so exalted beyond all men, and will have the prize for chivalry in the world, when he will have done this much, then God will direct him to the house of the rich Fisher King, and then when he will have asked what one does and whom one serves with the Grail, the Fisher King will be cured and the stone will be reunited in this place at the Round Table and the enchantments will fall which at present are in the land of Britain."
When the king and those who were seated at the Round Table had heard this they marveled greatly and all said that they would never cease until they had found the dwelling of the rich Fisher King and had asked of what the Grail serves. And Perceval ii Galois swore that he would never lie one night where he had lain a night before until he had found it. And thus also said Sir Gavain and Erec and Saigremor, and all those who sat at the Round Table. When Arthur heard them he was very sorrowful; however, he granted permission to them.
Thereupon Arthur dismissed his court, and many went back into their own countries, and many remained in their hostels and with the king. And Perceval and those of the Round Table prepared themselves in order to go and armed themselves in their hostels. When they were equipped, they came all mounted to the king, before the nobles of the court; and Sir Gavain said, before the nobles of the court: "Lords, it is fitting that we should go as the voice of Our Lord has taught us, but we know not where nor in what direction until Our Lord will bring us to find it." When the king and the nobles heard him they began to weep for they did not believe that they would ever see a one of them again.
Then the nobles parted from the king and they rode all day together but never
found an adventure,
and the next day until noon,
and they rode until they came upon a cross.
Then they stopped there and worshiped the cross and prayed God's mercy;
and then Perceval
said to his companions: "Lords, if we ride together we shall not thus gain
much. Instead I pray you that we separate and each go his way by himself."
responded: "If we did it thus our work would be poorly performed; rather
let us do it as Perceval has counseled us." And they all answered: 'We too
would have it thus." Thereupon they separated and each went the way that
best suited him, and they entered upon the quest of the
Grail. However I cannot tell of the adventures they found nor of the
difficulties they had, neither Gavain
nor his companions, except as it appears in the book.
I | II | III | IV | V
VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI
SOURCE: Didot Perceval, or, The Romance of Perceval in Prose. ed. and trans. Dell Skeels. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1966.
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