Thomas Bulfinch > The Age of Fable > Vol. III: The Age of Chivalry > XXI. The Sangreal (Continued)
Thomas Bulfinch (1796–1867).  Age of Fable: Vol. III: The Age of Chivalry.  1913.

King Arthur and His Knights
XXI.  The Sangreal (Continued)

WHEN Sir Bohort departed from Camelot he met with a religious man, riding upon an ass; and Sir Bohort saluted him. “What are ye?” said the good man. “Sir,” said Sir Bohort, “I am a knight that fain would be counselled in the quest of the Sangreal.” So rode they both together till they came to a hermitage; and there he prayed Sir Bohort to dwell that night with him. So he alighted, and put away his armor, and prayed him that he might be confessed. And they went both into the chapel, and there he was clean confessed. And they ate bread and drank water together. “Now,” said the good man, “I pray thee that thou eat none other till thou sit at the table where the Sangreal shall be.” “Sir,” said Sir Bohort, “but how know ye that I shall sit there?” “Yea,” said the good man, “that I know well; but there shall be few of your fellows with you.” Then said Sir Bohort, “I agree me thereto.” And the good man when he had heard his confession found him in so pure a life and so stable that he marvelled thereof.
  On the morrow, as soon as the day appeared, Sir Bohort departed thence, and rode into a forest unto the hour of midday. And there befell him a marvellous adventure. For he met, at the parting of two ways, two knights that led Sir Lionel, his brother, all naked, bound upon a strong hackney, and his hands bound before his breast; and each of them held in his hand thorns wherewith they went beating him, so that he was all bloody before and behind; but he said never a word, but, as he was great of heart, he suffered all that they did to him as though he had felt none anguish. Sir Bohort prepared to rescue his brother. But he looked on the other side of him, and saw a knight dragging along a fair gentlewoman, who cried out, “Saint Mary! succor your maid!” And when she saw Sir Bohort, she called to him, and said, “By the faith that ye owe to knighthood, help me!” When Sir Bohort heard her say thus he had such sorrow that he wist not what to do. “For if I let my brother be he must be slain, and that would I not for all the earth; and if I help not the maid I am shamed for ever.” Then lift he up his eyes and said, weeping, “Fair Lord, whose liegeman I am, keep Sir Lionel, my brother, that none of these knights slay him, and for pity of you, and our Lady’s sake, I shall succor this maid.”   2
  Then he cried out to the knight, “Sir knight, lay your hand off that maid, or else ye be but dead.” Then the knight set down the maid, and took his shield, and drew out his sword. And Sir Bohort smote him so hard that it went through his shield and habergeon, on the left shoulder, and he fell down to the earth. Then came Sir Bohort to the maid, “Ye be delivered of this knight this time.” “Now,” said she, “I pray you lead me there where this knight took me.” “I shall gladly do it,” said Sir Bohort. So he took the horse of the wounded knight, and set the gentlewoman upon it, and brought her there where she desired to be. And there he found twelve knights seeking after her; and when she told them how Sir Bohort had delivered her, they made great joy, and besought him to come to her father, a great lord, and he should be right welcomed. “Truly,” said Sir Bohort, “that may not be; for I have a great adventure to do.” So he commended them to God and departed.   3
  Then Sir Bohort rode after Sir Lionel, his brother, by the trace of their horses. Thus he rode seeking, a great while. Then he overtook a man clothed in a religious clothing, who said, “Sir Knight, what seek ye?” “Sir,” said Sir Bohort, “I seek my brother, that I saw within a little space beaten of two knights.” “Ah, Sir Bohort, trouble not thyself to seek for him, for truly he is dead.” Then he showed him a new-slain body, lying in a thick bush; and it seemed him that it was the body of Sir Lionel. And then he made such sorrow that he fell to the ground in a swoon, and lay there long. And when he came to himself again, he said, “Fair brother, since the fellowship of you and me is sundered, shall I never have joy again; and now He that I have taken for my Master, He be my help!” And when he had said thus he took up the body in his arms, and put it upon the horse. And then he said to the man, “Canst thou tell me the way to some chapel, where I may bury this body?” “Come on,” said the man, “here is one fast by.” And so they rode till they saw a fair tower, and beside it a chapel. Then they alighted both, and put the body into a tomb of marble.   4
  Then Sir Bohort commended the good man unto God, and departed. And he rode all that day, and harbored with an old lady. And on the morrow he rode unto the castle in a valley, and there he met with a yeoman. “Tell me,” said Sir Bohort, “knowest thou of any adventure?” “Sir,” said he, “here shall be, under this castle, a great and marvellous tournament.” Then Sir Bohort thought to be there, if he might meet with any of the fellowship that were in quest of the Sangreal; so he turned to a hermitage that was on the border of the forest. And when he was come hither, he found there Sir Lionel his brother, who sat all armed at the entry of the chapel door. And when Sir Bohort saw him, he had great joy, and he alighted off his horse, and said, “Fair brother, when came ye hither?” As soon as Sir Lionel saw him he said, “Ah, Sir Bohort, make ye no false show, for, as for you, I might have been slain, for ye left me in peril of death to go succor a gentlewoman; and for that misdeed I now assure you but death, for ye have right well deserved it.” When Sir Bohort perceived his brother’s wrath he kneeled down to the earth and cried him mercy, holding up both his hands, and prayed him to forgive him. “Nay,” said Sir Lionel, “thou shalt have but death for it, if I have the upper hand; therefore leap upon thy horse and keep thyself, and if thou do not I will run upon thee there as thou standest on foot, and so the shame shall be mine, and the harm thine, but of that I reck not.” When Sir Bohort saw that he must fight with his brother or else die, he wist not what to do. Then his heart counselled him not so to do, inasmuch as Sir Lionel was his elder brother, wherefore he ought to bear him reverence. Yet kneeled he down before Sir Lionel’s horse’s feet, and said, “Fair brother, have mercy upon me and slay me not.” But Sir Lionel cared not, for the fiend had brought him in such a will that he should slay him. When he saw that Sir Bohort would not rise to give him battle, he rushed over him, so that he smote him with his horse’s feet to the earth, and hurt him sore, that he swooned of distress. When Sir Lionel saw this he alighted from his horse for to have smitten off his head; and so he took him by the helm, and would have rent it from his head. But it happened that Sir Colgrevance, a knight of the Round Table, came at that time thither, as it was our Lord’s will; and then he beheld how Sir Lionel would have slain his brother, and he knew Sir Bohort, whom he loved right well.   5
  Then leapt he down from his horse and took Sir Lionel by the shoulders, and drew him strongly back from Sir Bohort, and said, “Sir Lionel, will ye slay your brother?” “Why,” said Sir Lionel, “will ye stay me? If ye interfere in this I will slay you, and him after.” Then he ran upon Sir Bohort, and would have smitten him; but Sir Colgrevance ran between them, and said, “If ye persist to do so any more, we two shall meddle together.” Then Sir Lionel defied him, and gave him a great stroke through the helm. Then he drew his sword, for he was a passing good knight, and defended himself right manfully. So long endured the battle, that Sir Bohort rose up all anguishly, and beheld Sir Colgrevance, the good knight, fight with his brother for his quarrel. Then was he full sorry and heavy, and thought that if Sir Colgrevance slew him that was his brother he should never have joy, and if his brother slew Sir Colgrevance the shame should ever be his.   6
  Then would he have risen for to have parted them, but he had not so much strength to stand on his feet; so he staid so long that Sir Colgrevance had the worse; for Sir Lionel was of great chivalry and right hardy. Then cried Sir Colgrevance, “Ah, Sir Bohort, why come ye not to bring me out of peril of death, wherein I have put me to succor you?” With that, Sir Lionel smote off his helm and bore him to the earth. And when he had slain Sir Colgrevance he ran upon his brother as a fiendly man, and gave him such a stroke that he made him stoop. And he that was full of humility prayed him, “for God’s sake leave this battle, for if it befell, fair brother, that I slew you, or ye me, we should be dead of that sin.” “Pray ye not me for mercy,” said Sir Lionel. Then Sir Bohort, all weeping, drew his sword, and said, “Now God have mercy upon me, though I defend my life against my brother.” With that Sir Bohort lifted up his sword, and would have smitten his brother. Then he heard a voice that said, “Flee, Sir Bohort, and touch him not.” Right so alighted a cloud between them, in the likeness of a fire and a marvellous flame, so that they both fell to the earth, and lay there a great while in a swoon. And when they came to themselves, Sir Bohort saw that his brother had no harm; and he was right glad, for he dread sore that God had taken vengeance upon him. Then Sir Lionel said to his brother, “Brother, forgive me, for God’s sake, all that I have trespassed against you.” And Sir Bohort answered, “God forgive it thee, and I do.”   7
  With that Sir Bohort heard a voice say, “Sir Bohort, take thy way anon, right to the sea, for Sir Perceval abideth thee there.” So Sir Bohort departed, and rode the nearest way to the sea. And at last he came to an abbey that was nigh the sea. That night he rested him there, and in his sleep there came a voice unto him and bade him go to the sea-shore. He started up, and made a sign of the cross on his forehead, and armed himself, and made ready his horse and mounted him, and at a broken wall he rode out, and came to the sea-shore. And there he found a ship, covered all with white samite. And he entered into the ship; but it was anon so dark that he might see no man, and he laid him down and slept till it was day. Then he awaked, and saw in the middle of the ship a knight all armed, save his helm. And then he knew it was Sir Perceval de Galis, and each made of other right great joy. Then said Sir Perceval, “We lack nothing now but the good knight Sir Galahad.”   8

IT befell upon a night Sir Launcelot arrived before a castle, which was rich and fair. And there was a postern that was opened toward the sea, and was open without any keeping, save two lions kept the entry; and the moon shined clear. Anon Sir Launcelot heard a voice that said, “Launcelot, enter into the castle, where thou shalt see a great part of thy desire.” So he went unto the gate, and saw the two lions; then he set hands to his sword, and drew it. Then there came suddenly as it were a stroke upon the arm, so sore that the sword fell out of his hand, and he heard a voice that said, “O man of evil faith, wherefore believest thou more in thy armor than in thy Maker?” Then said Sir Launcelot, “Fair Lord, I thank thee of thy great mercy, that thou reprovest me of my misdeed; now see I well that thou holdest me for thy servant.” Then he made a cross on his forehead, and came to the lions; and they made semblance to do him harm, but he passed them without hurt, and entered into the castle, and he found no gate nor door but it was open. But at the last he found a chamber whereof the door was shut; and he set his hand thereto, to have opened it, but he might not. Then he listened, and heard a voice which sung so sweetly that it seemed none earthly thing; and the voice said, “Joy and honor be to the Father of heaven.” Then Sir Launcelot kneeled down before the chamber, for well he wist that there was the Sangreal in that chamber. Then said he, “Fair, sweet Lord, if ever I did anything that pleased thee, for thy pity show me something of that which I seek.” And with that he saw the chamber door open, and there came out a great clearness, that the house was as bright as though all the torches of the world had been there. So he came to the chamber door, and would have entered; and anon a voice said unto him, “Stay, Sir Launcelot, and enter not.” And he withdrew him back, and was right heavy in his mind. Then looked he in the midst of the chamber, and saw a table of silver, and the holy vessel, covered with red samite, and many angels about it; whereof one held a candle of wax burning, and another held a cross, and the ornaments of the altar.
        “O, yet methought I saw the Holy Grail,
All pall’d in crimson samite, and around
Great angels, awful shapes, and wings and eyes.”
The Holy Grail.
Then for very wonder and thankfulness Sir Launcelot forgot himself and he stepped forward and entered the chamber. And suddenly a breath that seemed intermixed with fire smote him so sore in the visage that therewith he fell to the ground, and had no power to rise. Then felt he many hands about him, which took him up and bare him out of the chamber, without any amending of his swoon, and left him there, seeming dead to all the people. So on the morrow, when it was fair daylight, and they within were arisen, they found Sir Launcelot lying before the chamber door. And they looked upon him and felt his pulse, to know if there were any life in him. And they found life in him, but he might neither stand nor stir any member that he had. So they took him and bare him into a chamber, and laid him upon a bed, far from all folk, and there he lay many days. Then the one said he was alive, and the others said nay. But said an old man, “He is as full of life as the mightiest of you all, and therefore I counsel you that he be well kept till God bring him back again.” And after twenty-four days he opened his eyes; and when he saw folk he made great sorrow, and said, “Why have ye wakened me? for I was better at ease than I am now.” “What have ye seen?” said they about him. “I have seen,” said he, “great marvels that no tongue can tell, and more than any heart can think.” Then they said, “Sir, the quest of the Sangreal is achieved right now in you, and never shall ye see more of it than ye have seen.” “I thank God,” said Sir Launcelot, “of his great mercy, for that I have seen, for it sufficeth me.” Then he rose up and clothed himself; and when he was so arrayed they marvelled all, for they knew it was Sir Launcelot the good knight. And after four days he took his leave of the lord of the castle, and of all the fellowship that were there, and thanked them for their great labor and care of him. Then he departed, and turned to Camelot, where he found King Arthur and Queen Guenever; but many of the knights of the Round Table were slain and destroyed, more than half. Then all the court was passing glad of Sir Launcelot; and he told the king all his adventures that had befallen him since he departed.


NOW, when Sir Galahad had rescued Perceval from the twenty knights, he rode into a vast forest, wherein he abode many days. Then he took his way to the sea, and it befell him that he was benighted in a hermitage. And the good man was glad when he saw he was a knight-errant. And when they were at rest, there came a gentlewoman knocking at the door; and the good man came to the door to wit what she would. Then she said, “I would speak with the knight which is with you.” Then Galahad went to her, and asked her what she would. “Sir Galahad,” said she, “I will that ye arm you, and mount upon your horse, and follow me; for I will show you the highest adventure that ever knight saw.” Then Galahad armed himself and commended himself to God, and bade the damsel go before, and he would follow where she led.
  So she rode as fast as her palfrey might bear her, till she came to the sea; and there they found the ship where Sir Bohort and Sir Perceval were, who cried from the ship, “Sir Galahad, you are welcome; we have waited you long.” And when he heard them, he asked the damsel who they were. “Sir,” said she, “leave your horse here, and I shall leave mine, and we will join ourselves to their company.” So they entered into the ship, and the two knights received them both with great joy. For they knew the damsel, that she was Sir Perceval’s sister. Then the wind arose and drove them through the sea all that day and the next, till the ship arrived between two rocks, passing great and marvellous; but there they might not land, for there was a whirlpool; but there was another ship, and upon it they might go without danger. “Go we thither,” said the gentlewoman, “and there we shall see adventures, for such is our Lord’s will.” Then Sir Galahad blessed him, and entered therein, and then next the gentlewoman, and then Sir Bohort and Sir Perceval. And when they came on board they found there the table of silver, and the Sangreal, which was covered with red samite. And they made great reverence thereto, and Sir Galahad prayed a long time to our Lord, that at what time he should ask to pass out of this world he should do so; and a voice said to him, “Galahad, thou shalt have thy request; and when thou askest the death of thy body, thou shalt have it, and then shalt thou find the life of thy soul.”  11
  And anon the wind drove them across the sea, till they came to the city of Sarras. Then took they out of the ship the table of silver, and Sir Perceval and Sir Bohort took it before, and Sir Galahad came behind, and right so they went to the city. And at the gate of the city they saw an old man, a cripple.
        “And Sir Launfal said, ’I behold in thee
An image of Him who died on the tree.
Thou also hast had thy crown of thorns,
Thou also hast had the world’s buffets and scorns;
And to thy life were not denied
The wounds in thy hands and feet and side.
Mild Mary’s son, acknowledge me;
Behold, through Him I give to thee!’”
Lowell’s Holy Grail.
Then Galahad called him, and bade him help to bear this heavy thing. “Truly,” said the old man, “it is ten years since I could not go but with crutches.” “Care thou not,” said Sir Galahad, “but arise up, and show thy good will.” Then the old man rose up, and assayed, and found himself as whole as ever he was; and he ran to the table, and took one part with Sir Galahad.
  When they came to the city it chanced that the king was just dead, and all the city was dismayed, and wist not who might be their king. Right so, as they were in counsel, there came a voice among them, and bade them choose the youngest knight of those three to be their king. So they made Sir Galahad king, by all the assent of the city. And when he was made king, he commanded to make a chest of gold and of precious stones to hold the holy vessel. And every day the three companions would come before it and make their prayers.  13
  Now at the year’s end, and the same day of the year that Sir Galahad received the crown, he got up early, and, with his fellows, came to where the holy vessel was; and they saw one kneeling before it that had about him a great fellowship of angels; and he called Sir Galahad, and said, “Come, thou servant of the Lord, and thou shalt see what thou hast much desired to see.” And Sir Galahad’s mortal flesh trembled right hard when he began to behold the spiritual things. Then said the good man, “Now wottest thou whom I am?” “Nay,” said Sir Galahad. “I am Joseph of Arimathea, whom our Lord hath sent here to thee, to bear thee fellowship.” Then Sir Galahad held up his hands toward heaven, and said, “Now, blessed Lord, would I not longer live, if it might please thee.” And when he had said these words, Sir Galahad went to Sir Perceval and to Sir Bohort and kissed them, and commended them to God. And then he kneeled down before the table, and made his prayers, and suddenly his soul departed, and a great multitude of angels bare his soul up to heaven, so as the two fellows could well behold it. Also they saw come from heaven a hand, but they saw not the body; and the hand came right to the vessel and bare it up to heaven. Since then was there never one so hardy as to say that he had seen the Sangreal on earth any more.  14


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