The Celtic Literature Collective

Didot Perceval
Chapter Six: The Combat at the Ford

NOW THE BOOK SAYS that when Perceval had separated from the knight he traveled a very great deal of time and season through barrens and through castles, but he could never find the house of his grandfather. Yet he found many adventures, until he rode one day through a great forest, and looking before him he saw one of the most beautiful meadows in the world. And beside this meadow there was an excellent ford, and beyond the ford a pavilion was pitched. Then Perceval rode toward it at a swift pace, and he came to the ford, and wished to enter it and just as he thought to let his horse quench his thirst, a knight most nobly armed sprang from the pavilion and came riding rapidly toward Perceval, and he cried to him: "By God, sir knight, know that most unfortunately you entered there, and it will be necessary for you to pay to use the ford."

Thereupon he sped at him and wished to strike him with his lance but he perceived that the knight had neither spear nor shield, for Perceval had fought with a knight who had cut his shield into shreds. Then he turned back and came to a damsel who was at the door of the tent and asked her that she bear to the knight a lance and a shield which were hanging in the tent, for it would appear shameful to joust with him without a shield. And the damsel did as he commanded her and gave them into the hands of Perceval who rejoiced in his heart for this. And the knight cried to him to put himself on guard since unwisely he had entered the ford without leave, and he should guard himself well for he would make him pay for it if he could. Then they rushed together with great violence and they struck with great violence, and you may be sure that the lances flew into pieces, and Perceval struck him so harshly that he bore him down from the horse all full length on the meadow. And in the fall his helmet flew from his head because the laces were broken. Then Perceval put his feet to earth and got down from his horse, for it seemed shameful to strike a man on foot. Then he charged upon him with his sword and gave him so many blows that he overcame him, and he begged for mercy and surrendered himself to him. And Perceval told him that he would never have mercy upon him unless he would tell him first why he forbade one to water at the ford and why he jousted with knights and would harm them for such a thing. And he answered: "Sir, I will tell you.

"Know, sir, that I am named Urban and I am the son of the queen of the Noire Espine, and King Arthur made me knight in his hail at Carduel. And after he made me knight I wandered through the land and met many knights and contended with them, and I tell you truly I never found knight that I could not excel in arms. And thus I was riding one night just as chance might lead me, and, in truth, on that night it rained as hard as God sees fit to have it do, and it thundered and shattered the air and lightning flashed so fiercely that I did not know what might happen to me and I went so swiftly that it seemed that devils bore me. And my horse was so frightened I could not hold him in and he went his way in spite of me. Then know that at my back there came a din so great that it seemed the trees were uprooted behind me. And in this difficulty where I was, I saw come before me a damsel on a mule, the best I might ever see, and she was riding at a swift pace and as soon as I saw her I set out after her and endeavored mightily to overtake her. But it was so dark a night that I never could have perceived her except for the lightning in the sky. And I followed her until she entered one of the most beautiful castles in the world and I came after her, and as soon as she entered the hail I was with her. And when she saw me in the castle, she came to meet me and embraced me and made me put down my arms and gave me fine hostel for the night. And I emboldened myself so much that night that I loved her and sought her love, and she told me that she would love me willingly on one condition that she would require. And I told her that I would do anything she might wish whatever she might tell me, and she said that if I would stay there with her and not journey through the land she would be my love, and I said that I would do as she wished but that it would grieve me greatly to cease doing deeds of knighthood, and she said: 'Dear love, behold yonder a ford; you will pitch a pavilion there and no knight who goes through the land will see aught of this castle except the pavilion, and you will joust - with the knights who wish to water at the ford, and thus you will be able to have your happiness with me and yet maintain your knighthood.' And I granted her this and I have held this ford almost a year with my lady, and since then I have had whatever I desired. And the castle sits there behind the pavilion that you can see; but no one can see the castle except myself and my love and the damsels who are with her. And know that there are only eight days remaining of my year, and all these eight days had passed I might have been the best knight in the world, but God has not granted this to me. Now know that I am at your command to kill or let live, and if you wish you may stay here and guard the ford until a year has passed, and if you wish to stay a year you will have the prize of the world provided that you are not conquered by a knight."

When Perceval had heard him he answered: "Friend, know that I would not stay here for any reason, but I wish that you cease guarding the ford and that you never again bother a knight I who may come to this place." And the knight answered: "I will do your pleasure, no matter how I may feel about it, for I see clearly that you have the upper hand of me." Then, just as Perceval spoke to the knight and forbade him to guard the Ford Perilous, there was heard so great a tumult that it seemed that the whole forest crashed into an abyss. And from this noise which was so loud there issued a smoke and a shadow so huge that one could not see another person if he were a half league away. And from this shadow a voice issued that was very strong and very dolorous and it said: "Perceval li Galois, accursed may you be by whatever we women can contrive, for you have caused us the greatest sorrow today that we could ever have, and know that of it much suffering will come to you." And when it had said this, the voice cried to the knight who was there beside Perceval, "No more delaying!" He could no longer stay there and it said: "If you stay there longer you will lose me." And when the knight heard the voice he was all dismayed and came to Perceval and cried to him more than a hundred times that in the name of God he might have mercy. And when Perceval saw him cry for mercy thus he marveled much and asked him why he cried so much for mercy. And the knight responded: "Ha, sir knight, for God's sake, allow me to depart from here and give me your dismissal. "And then Perceval was silent and marveled much at the voice; and the knight ran to his horse and wished to mount, but Perceval seized him by the flap of his hauberk and said to him: "Knight, by my head, you shall certainly not escape me thus."

When the knight heard this he was greatly dismayed and returned towards him and cried more than a hundred times for mercy and that for God's sake he would not stop him and that if he stayed more he would kill himself. And then the voice was heard again which said to him: "Urban, haste you or you will have Lost me forever." And when the knight heard these words he fainted, and Perceval was all amazed and looked at him marveling. And then he saw around him so many birds that all the air about him was full of them and they were blacker than anything he had ever seen. And they wished to tear the eyes from his head right through his helm, and when Perceval saw them he was most deeply amazed. And then the knight recovered from his swoon and looked around Perceval and saw the birds, and then he leaped up and began to rejoice greatly and to laugh harshly and he said: "May I be cursed if I do not aid you." Then he took his shield by the strap and his sword in his hand and rushed back upon Perceval, and when Perceval saw this he was greatly angered and cried: "Sir knight, wish you then to begin fighting again?" And the knight said: "I defy you!"

Then they ran upon each other most fiercely with bared swords. But Perceval had the worst of it for the birds oppressed him so closely that they almost threw him to the earth. And when Perceval saw this he felt a great rage, and he grasped the sword in his right fist and struck one of the birds that pressed him most closely right through the body so that the bowels sprang out of it, and it fell to the ground. And as soon as it fell it became a dead woman, and she had the most beautiful appearance that he had ever seen. And when Perceval saw her he felt great sorrow for her whom he saw dead, and the birds that were around him drew back and hurried toward the body and bore it into the air. And when Perceval saw that he was free from them he ran toward the knight, and the knight begged him for mercy in the name of God and that he might not kill him. And Perceval answered: "Then tell me what is this marvel that I have seen." And the other said: "Sir, I will tell you gladly.

"Know that the noise that you heard and the great tumult, this was the castle of my damsel that she shattered for love of me. And the voice that you heard was she who called to me, and when she saw that I could not escape from you she changed herself and her damsels into the semblance of birds and they came here to oppress you and to help me. And when I saw them I could not prevent myself from going to help them that we might kill you, but I realize now that no one can harm you, and I know certainly that you are a worthy and godly man and one of the best knights of the world. And this one whom you wounded, she was the sister of my lady, but she will suffer no harm, for within the moment she is in Avalon. But, in the name of God, I wish to pray that you will let me go to my damsel who still awaits me."

And when Perceval had heard him he began to laugh and courteously gave him permission to depart. And when the knight heard him he rejoiced greatly and set off from there on foot at a great speed, for he felt such joy because he had been given permission to leave that he did not remember his horse at all. And he had not gone more than two arpents from Perceval when Perceval looked after him and saw that one bore him away with the greatest joy in the world. And he came to his horse and mounted for he thought he would overtake them, but he had hardly mounted when he could no longer see the damsels nor him nor even the horse which was beside him. And when Perceval saw this he thought it most marvelous, and he turned from there and said that it would be folly to pursue him.

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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