The Celtic Literature Collective

Didot Perceval
Chapter Eight: The Return to the Chessboard Castle

THEREUPON he parted from the damsel commending her to God, and she commended him to God weeping all the while. Then Perceval rode along the way that he believed should bring him to the house of his grandfather the Fisher King, but he had gone an unfortunately long way from there, and therefore he rode along pensively, and he rode two nights and two days without eating anything except the berries and fruits which he found within the forest. And he prayed to Our Lord that He would counsel him, and thus he rode one day without cease but had found no adventure at all, and then he looked before him and saw one of the most beautiful damsels in the world, and beside her there was tied one of the finest palfreys in the world. And above the palfrey he saw fixed to the branch of a tree the head of the stag that he had cut off. When Perceval saw it he was filled witfrgreat joy and he came there swiftly and took hold of it and tore it from the tree but not a word did he say to the damsel. And when the damsel saw him she cried out angrily and said to him: "Knight, put down the head that belongs to my lord, for be sure if you bear it away it will bring you shame. " When Perceval heard her he began to laugh and said: "Damsel, I will certainly not put it down for any reason that I can yet see, rather I shall give it to her to whom I have promised it."

Just as he spoke to her he saw a very frightened doe approaching and his brach followed after it very swiftly and grasped it by the thighs. And the doe was so frightened that it came to Perceval and to the damsel for help. And when Perceval saw his brach he was very happy and he took it upon his horse and petted it most gently, and as he held it he saw the knight coming who had taken it away; and as soon as he saw Perceval he was very doleful and cried loudly: "By God, false knight, in an evil hour for you have you taken my brach." And when Perceval heard this he held it for great folly and said:

"You are mad who claim this for yourself, for you stole it from me evilly."

When the knight heard this he challenged Perceval and Perceval did him the same. Then they separated from each other and galloped together with such ferocity that the woods resounded with their approach, and they struck each other so harshly that neither could keep from flying to the earth. Then they leaped up most swiftly and drew their swords with great fierceness and they fought all the while from noon until mid-afternoon. And, in truth, Perceval was very exhausted and the knight also; and then Perceval resummoned his strength and was ashamed of himself because the knight had lasted so long against him, and he lifted his sword and struck the knight through the shield so that it split right through the boss in two parts. And the blow was very fierce and strong and the sword came down on the helm but could not cut the steel and came down with such strength that it cut more than a hundred rings from the hauberk and it cut off the spur, and the sword drove two feet into the earth.

When the knight saw how great was the blow that Perceval had given, he was much afraid, for he saw well that if he gave him another such blow he would kill him. Therefore he drew back and cried for mercy in the name of God and that he would not kill him for anything that he had done. And Perceval said to him: "Then tell me why you bore away my brach and who the knight was with whom I was combating when you took it from me, and whether or not you know the old woman who informed me of the tomb. " And the knight answered: "All this I will tell you." And Perceval replied: "If you tell me this you will not have to fear your death."

Then the knight answered: "Know that he who came forth from the tomb was my blood brother and was one of the best knights that could be found, until a fairy who was very beautiful fell in love with him because of the prowess she recognized in him. And as soon as my brother saw her he was so overwhelmed with love for her that he was almost bereft of his senses whenever he was with her. And finally the damsel asked him if he would go with her there where she wished to lead him. And he said that he would willingly go wherever she might lead him provided that she would bring him to some place where he could continue to perform deeds of valor, and she told him that she would lead him to a place where he would be able to do so many deeds of arms that none could do more, for all the knights of Arthur's court went there where she would bring him. Then she led him into this forest and when they had reached it they found beside the road, which you saw when you passed by the tomb, one of the most beautiful meadows in the world, and the two of them dismounted there and arranged cloths and then ate with much pleasure. And when they had eaten, my brother lay down to sleep, and when he had slept so much as pleased him he awoke, and when he had awakened he found himself in one of the most beautiful castles of the world. And he saw within it knights and ladies and damsels all prepared to serve him. And this castle was situated beside the tomb, but none could see it, and from within it issued the knight when he went to meet you in combat. And know that the old woman who told you of the tomb is, when she wishes to be, the most beautiful damsel that you ever saw, and she is the same who created the tomb and who led my brother into the forest. Know too that I have told you the truth in this that I have related. "When Perceval heard him he was very happy and said to him: "May God witness, you have told me the strangest marvel that ever I may hear." And then Perceval asked him if he could tell him of the house of the rich Fisher King, and the knight answered him: "Before God, I know nothing of it nor have I ever heard speak of a knight who found it, and I have seen many of those who were seeking it."

Then Perceval asked him if he could tell him who the damsel was that had given him the use of her brach, and the knight replied that indeed he knew well: "She is the sister of the damsel who loves my brother, and she gave you the brach because she knew well that her sister would lead you to her lover for combat; and know that the damsel who gave you the brach in keeping hates her sister deeply because of her lover, since it is the custom that no knights pass there whom he does not bring to shame, and the damsel who charged you with the brach knew well that a knight would come there who would avenge all the others."

Then Perceval asked him if he was far from the castle of the damsel, and the other said: "If you hold this road which goes to the left from here you will arrive there before nightfall." And when Perceval heard him he was very happy and thereupon set out again; but first he made the knight promise that he would deliver himself as prisoner to the rich King Arthur, and he agreed to do this willingly. So the knight left there and came to the court of King Arthur and delivered himself as prisoner to him in the name of Perceval li Galois. And the king retained him with gladness and gave him quittance of his captivity.

And Perceval when he had separated from the knight rode with great speed until he came to the castle where the damsel dwelt who had given him the brach in keeping. And as soon as the damsel who was at the windows of the tower saw him, she descended to meet him and gave him good welcome and received him most happily and called to him, saying: "Lord knight, know that I was almost angry with you and know too that not for a great deal would I have gone so long lacking if I could have remedied it."

And Perceval answered her: "Damsel, know I could not do better and that for the delaying there was good reason." Then he told her the adventure from beginning to end just as it had gone, of the old woman who had taken his brach, and of the tomb of which she told him, and how the knight fought with him, and how he overcame him, and how he had thrust himself back in his vault under the tomb, and how the knight had borne away his brach, and how he had sought it since he did not wish to return without it, and he told her how he had found it in the wood and how he had won it by arms; and he told from beginning to end just what had happened to him and all the difficulty he had had since he had departed from her.

And when the maiden heard him she was very glad and pardoned him most willingly. Then the damsel had him disarmed and led him with her and appeared for him as beautiful as she was able, and she said to him: "Since you have conquered him whom I hate most, who was the lover of my sister, I wish henceforth to be at your command, and you will be lord of this castle; and I wish that you may stay always with me." But when Perceval heard her he was very sad and excused himself as best he could, for he had no desire to stay there.

Therefore he said: "Damsel, know that I do not wish to do aught but what you desire until I have done all to your pleasure of this that you may wish rightfully to ask of me. But know that I have undertaken an engagement at the court of the rich King Arthur by which I may never lie but one night in a hostel until I shall have completed it, and I must place this above you." At this time it was customary that one would like better to have his head cut off than that he might break his vow; and when the damsel heard him she answered: "Sir, whoever would make you depart from your vow, you may be sure would scarcely love you, and contrary to this of which you have told me I would not dare to require or pray that you might do. But this much I do wish, that, if God allows you to succeed in your work, you will return straightway to me." And Perceval answered: "Damsel, know that for this it is not necessary to pray, for I desire nothing more, if God allows me to achieve my work, than to be with you without constraint."

Then Perceval prayed the maiden to give him leave to depart and asked for his arms, and when the maiden heard him she asked: "Sir, in God's name, what is this that you wish to do? Then will you not stay tonight with me?" And he answered:

"Lady, this cannot be, for then my vow would be broken, since I have lain here at another time. "When the damsel heard him she was very sad and saw clearly that she could do nothing more about it; therefore she commended him to God all weeping for she would have loved much better for him to stay than to go. But Perceval bad no desire to commit a sin, and Our Lord did not wish to allow him to do so.

This incident is very similar to one in the the Perceval Continuations, written after Chretien de Troyes' death; as the Didot Perceval is thought to be nearly as old as Chretien's "Perceval," it is likely that the writer of the Continuation borrowed from either this text, or possibly an early version of "Peredur" from The Mabinogion.

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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