The Celtic Literature Collective

Didot Perceval
Chapter Three: The Adventure of the Chessboard Castle

AND PERCEVAL, when he left the knight, rode all day but found no adventure, and evening approached and he prayed Our Lord that He would send him hostel where he could have lodging for he had but poor the night before. And then he looked before him and he saw appear amidst the thickness of the forest the top of a tower which was both large and beautiful. And when Perceval saw it he was very joyous and rode toward it swiftly, and when he came there he saw that this was the most beautiful castle in the world, and he saw the drawbridge lowered and the gate open, so he entered still on horse. And he came to the stone before the hail and dismounted and tied his horse to a ring and went upward all armed, his sword at his waist. And when he had mounted into the great hail he looked up and down and saw no man nor woman, and he came to a chamber and entered within and looked all about, but he saw neither man nor woman there. And Perceval returned into the great hail and wondered much and said: "Before God, I marvel to see this hail thus freshly strewn and I know well that it can not have been long ago that people were here, and yet now I see no one. Then he returned into the middle of the hail and espied before the windows a chessboard of fine silver, and upon the chessboard were pieces of white ivory and of black, and they were set just as though to play. And when Perceval saw the beauty of the chess pieces he came toward them and looked at the pieces a long while. And when he had looked at them for a time he took the pieces and handled them, and then he pushed one forward, and a piece moved back against him.

When Perceval saw the pieces that moved against him he held it to be most marvelous, and he drew out another piece and another was moved against him. And when Perceval saw it, he seated himself and began to play, and he played so long that the set mated him three times. And when Perceval saw this, he was very angry and said: "By the faith that I owe to Our Lord, I see a marvelous thing, for I thought I knew so much of this game and it has mated me three times. And may I have ill fortune but never me nor any other knight will it mate or shame again." Then he took the chess pieces in the skirt of his hauberk and came to a window and wished to hurl them into the water that ran below. Then as he would have let go of them, a damsel cried to him who was above him at a window on high, and she said to him: "Knight, your heart has moved you to great villainy when you wish to throw the chess pieces into the water. And you may be sure that if you throw them there, you will do great ill."

And Perceval said to her: "Damsel, if you wish to come down you can be sure that I will throw none of them there." And she responded: "1 will not go there, but you put them back on the chessboard, thus you will be acting courteously." "What is this, damsel?" said Perceval. "You do not wish to do anything for me and you wish that I should do something for you? But, by Saint Nicholas, if you do not come down here I will throw them there. "And when the maiden heard him speak thus she said: "Sir knight, now put back the chess pieces, for I would rather descend than that you threw them there. " And when Perceval heard this he was very happy and came back to the chessboard and set the chess pieces upon it, and they themselves replaced themselves better than anyone could have put them back.

Then the damsel came through the door of a chamber and as many as ten maidens with her; and four servants before them who were very well trained, for as soon as they saw Perceval, they ran to disarm him, and they removed the helm from his head and removed the armor from his legs and drew the hauberk from his back, and his body was free from armor and you may be sure that this was the most handsome knight that one might know. And two servants ran to his horse and took it to the stables, and a maiden brought him a short woolen cloak and clasped it about him. And then she led him into the chamber with the damsel of the castle who received him with a seemly joy and in truth this was the most beautiful maiden in the world. And when Perceval saw her he loved her very deeply and he said in his heart that he would be mad if he did not request her love since he was with her in such great freedom. And just as he had thought, so he did, he sought it of her very ardently and tried in many ways, until the damsel said: "Sir, so may God aid me, you must know that I would willingly hear you in this which you seek of me if I might believe that you might be as desirous in deeds as you are in words. Nevertheless you may know I do not doubt you in this that you have said to me and, if you are willing to do this which I shall request of you, know that I would love you and make you lord of this castle."

When Perceval heard her he was very happy and said: "Damsel, there in nothing in this world which if you request it of me I would not do. But tell me now this which you desire And she responded: "If you can take for me the white stag that dwells in this forest and bear me his head, know that always henceforth I shall be your love. And know too that I will give you a brach that is most good and true, for as soon as you have loosened it, it will go straight there where the stag is. And you must go after with great speed and cut off the head and bear it to me." And Perceval answered: "Lady, willingly; and know if God gives me life, that I intend to do all this that you have told me." Thereupon the servants came before the lady and placed the tables and they seated themselves to eat and had enough of whatever they wished. After eating they arose and went down into the court, Perceval and the maiden, until it was time to go to bed. Then the servants came to Perceval and undressed him and brought him to a handsome bed that they had prepared. And Perceval went to bed, and you may be sure he slept very little that night for he thought much of the damsel and of her affairs.

In the morning when dawn had broken Perceval arose and took his arms and armed himself. And two squires led his horse to him and he mounted. And the damsel came forth and gave him her brach and commanded him that as dearly as he loved her he should take care of it. And Perceval answered "Damsel, by God, there is not anything that I would not rather lose than the brach." And he put it on the neck of his horse in front of him and took leave of the damsel and departed from there at a great speed until he came into the forest, then he put the brach down and let it go. And the brach found the track of the stag and went along until it came to a thicket where it moved about excitedly, and the stag, which was white as snow and great and wide-antlered, fled from within. And when Perceval saw it he was very happy and struck the horse with his spurs. And the horse bore him so fiercely that the whole forest resounded from it. And why should I make you a long story? The brach chased it so much that it overcame it and held it by the two thighs all motionless, and Perceval who was most joyous descended swiftly and cut off the head, saying to himself that he would hang it on his saddle. But while he was tending to the tying up of the head, there came an old woman riding swiftly on a palfrey, and she took the brach and went from there with it. And when Perceval saw her he was very angry and mounted swiftly and spurred after her at a gallop until he overtook her, and he held her by the shoulders and stopped her and said: "Lady, for love give me my brach, for it is most villainous that you thus go away with it."

When the old woman who was most evil heard Perceval she said to him: "Good sir knight, accursed be he who stops me and who says that the brach was ever yours; for I believe rather that you have stolen it. And know that I will give it to him whose it is, for you have no right to it." And when Perceval heard her he said: "Lady, know that if you do not give it to me for love I shall become angry and you will bear away naught and things will only be worse then than they are now." And she answered: "Good sir, force is not right, and certainly you can use force upon me. But if you wish to do this that I will tell you I will give it to you without argument." And Perceval said: "Now say what this is and I will do it if I can, for know that I have no desire to begin a struggle with you." And she answered: "Farther along this road you will find a tomb and upon it a knight is painted. And you must go before it and say that false was he who painted him there. And then when you have done this, you may come to me and I will give you your brach." And Perceval answered: "By this I will not lose it.

Then from there he went to the tomb and he said: "Sir knight false was he who painted you there." And when he had said this and was returning he heard such a great noise behind him that he looked back and saw a knight coming most swiftly upon a horse so large and black that it seemed a great wonder, and he was all armed and all his arms were blacker than ink ever was.

When Perceval saw the knight he was frightened and crossed himself as soon as he saw him, for he was so large that he filled one with terror. But after he had made the sign of the true cross upon himself, he gathered strength and courage and quickly turned back the head of his horse and they came together at a great pace. And they struck so severely that they shattered both spears and shields, and they met each other with bodies and breasts and helms so harshly that their hearts were crushed in their bodies, and their sight was so darkened that they knew not what had happened. And they lost both reins and shield straps and fell to earth so roughly that their hearts almost broke within them, and you might have gone two arpents before they knew what had happened and before the one knew where the other had gone. And when sense and memory had returned to them, they arose and drew their swords and took up their shields and returned each toward the other.

The knight of the tomb attacked Perceval with great violence and struck him with the sword upon the helm; but it was so hard that he could not hurt it. And Perceval attacked him most sharply and followed him so closely that he made him give ground and he struck him with his sword on the helm so that he cut through it and the coif as well and wounded him in the head on the left side, and he struck him so hard that he made him stagger, and in truth if the sword had not turned in his fist, he would have killed him. But the knight caught up his shield strap and charged upon him with great anger, and Perceval defended himself. Then while they were there in the middle of the meadow there came a knight toward them well armed with all arms, and he took the head of the stag and the brach that the old woman held and then departed without saying a word.

When Perceval saw this he was much annoyed, for he could not follow him because of the knight who assaulted him most severely. Then in Perceval the strength and fierceness in creased, and he charged upon the knight with such great violence that the knight could not withstand him and feared him much and turned toward his tomb with great swiftness. And the tomb opened itself up, and the knight threw himself therein. And Perceval thought to leap alter the knight but he could not, for the tomb slammed shut behind the knight with such force that the earth shook around Perceval who marveled greatly at what he had seen, and he went to the tomb and shouted three times to the knight, but he did not answer. And when Perceval saw that he would not speak, he went back to his horse and mounted and followed swiftly alter the knight who had carried away his head and his brach, and he said that he would never cease until he found them again. Just as he rode forth he saw the old woman before him who had informed him of the vault, and Perceval spurred toward her and asked her who the knight of the tomb was and if she knew him who had borne away his brach. And when the old woman heard him she said: "Sir knight, evilly cursed may he be who asks me of this about which I know nothing. But if you have lost it then seek until you find it again, for your affair matters nothing to me." And when Perceval heard that he would find out nothing from her, he commended her to the devil and turned after the knight who had borne away his head and his brach. And he rode a great part of the season, but never did he hear news of the knight.

Now, gwyddbwll shows up in the Mabinogion, and is often translated as "chessboard," and was a game similar to chess; could this be a more native element of the tale, and not a French addition to Welsh legend? Not sure.

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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