Chapter Seven: The Castle of the Fisher King
THEN HE SET OUT from there and went his way thinking much of his endeavor, and very often he recollected the marvelous adventure which had happened to him. Thus he rode all the day but never drank nor ate, and it was necessary again for him to lie that night in the forest just as he had done the night before. And in the morning he departed and took his road wherever chance might lead him. Thus he rode all day but found no adventure nor hostel where he could shelter himself, and, in truth, he was much discomfited, for he found only hedges, thickets and heavy groves; therefore in his heart he grieved much. And thus as he rode along very mournful and very thoughtful, it passed nones and he looked before him and saw one of the most beautiful trees he had ever seen, and it was at the fork of four roads and right beside a very beautiful cross. And when Perceval saw this he turned toward it and stopped there for a long while. And as he was looking very closely at the tree, he saw two children all nude above him going from branch to branch, and each of them, it seemed to him, was about six years old, and each embraced the other and they played together. And when he had looked at them for a time he called them and besought them, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, if they were of God that they would speak to him.
And one of the two infants stopped and seated himself and said: "Knight, you who have besought us, know that we live for God. And know that from that terrestrial paradise from which Adam was driven we come to speak to you by permission of the Holy Ghost. You are entered upon the quest of the Grail that Bron your grandfather has in keeping, he who is called in many countries the Fisher King; and you will take this way which lies to the right hand before you, and know that before you depart from there you will see certain things by which you will complete your endeavor if you are the sort who ought to come there." And when Perceval had heard this he marveled much and thought on it a little and looked down, and when he looked up he did not see the tree nor the two children nor the cross which he had seen before. Then he marveled more than he ever had before, and he considered deeply in his heart and pondered and feared that these were only phantoms.
Just as he was considering that he knew not what to do or whether or not to go along the way that the two children had pointed out to him, he saw a very great shadow coming and going before him, and it went thus more than four times without ceasing. And the horse upon which Perceval sat became very frightened and snorted and trembled, and when Perceval saw this he was very much afraid, and he made the sign of the cross over himself and over his horse. Then there came a voice from the shadow and it said: "Perceval, Merlin, of whom you have heard so much spoken, makes known to you that you should not despise this that the two children have told you, for you may be sure that this information came from Jesus Christ, Our Savior, and if you are worthy know that before you have come from the road on the right hand, to which by the will of Our Lord you have been directed, you will have fulfilled the prophecy that Our Lord pronounced to Joseph." When Perceval heard this voice he was very glad and he called to it three times because he wished to speak further to it. But it did not answer, and when Perceval saw that it would speak no more to him, he directed himself along the road that the two children had pointed out to him which went across an open plain. And in truth, so far as the open way lasted he journeyed very uneasily, for he liked better to go through the forest than in the open plain.
As he rode onward, suddenly he came upon a very beautiful meadow, and at the end of this meadow there was a beautiful river with very rich mills. And he rode in that direction and saw m the middle of the river three men in a boat. Then Perceval approached them and saw within the boat a very old man lying upon coverings of the highest quality. And this worthy man was the Fisher King his grandfather, and he called to Perceval and prayed him to stay with him that night, and Perceval thanked him heartily. And the Fisher King said to him: "Good sir knight, go onward up the river and you will see my castle appear above you, and now I shall depart also and go there, since I wish to be there to meet you."
With that Perceval turned away and rode along the river and looked up and down but he caught no sign of the dwelling of the Fisher King, and when he saw that he could not find it he grieved deeply and cursed the fisher who had instructed him and said: "Worthy man, you who fish, cursed may you be who thus have made sport of me and led me to believe a thing which is not true."
Then he rode very sadly and pensively until he saw the top of a tower appear between two hills beside the forest where he had passed during the morning. And when he saw this he rejoiced greatly and rode toward it, and then he repented deeply for having cursed the king, nevertheless he did not know who he was. Thus he rode until he came to the fortress and saw the river which ran around a castle as rich and beautiful as can be imagined and saw the well-built galleries of its great hall. And when he looked upon it he thought that a worthy man must dwell there and it seemed to him that it was more like a king's castle than the dwelling of a fisherman, and the closer he came the better it appeared. And he came to the gate and found it open and the drawbridge lowered, and he came in and dismounted at the stone before the hall, and as soon as the youths of the court perceived him they came running to him and held his stirrup and helped him to disarm and bore his arms into the hall, and two youths led his horse away and stabled him most well. And Perceval came up into the hall, and a youth bore him a mantle of wool and fastened it on him, and then led him to a seat in the middle of the hall on a very rich bed.
Then four servants entered and they came into the chamber where the Fisher King was who had the keeping of the Holy Grail. And in truth, the Fisher King was so old and frail and full of great ills that he could stir neither hand nor foot. And then he asked the servants if the knight had come and they answered him: 'Yes, sire. " And Bron said: "I wish to go there." Then the four servants took him within their arms and bore him into the hail where Perceval his grandson was. And when he saw him come in, he rose to meet him and said: "Sire, it grieves me that you have given yourself the trouble of coming to meet me." And the king answered: "I would wish to honor you more if it could be." Then they reseated themselves on the bed and spoke to each other of many things, and the king asked him where he had come from today and where he had lain. And Perceval told him: "Sire, so God aid me, I lay last night in the forest where I had wretched hostel, for I was very uncomfortable, yet I was more grieved for my horse than for myself." And the king answered: "You had not, I think, any of those things of which you had need." Then he called two servants and asked them if food could be served and they answered: 'Yes, betimes." Then they set the tables in place and the king and Perceval seated themselves to eat.
Just as they seated themselves and the first course was brought to them, they saw come from a chamber a damsel very richly dressed who had a towel about her neck and bore in her hands two little silver platters. After her came a youth who bore a lance, and it bled three drops of blood from its head; and they entered into a chamber before Perceval. And after this there came a youth and he bore between his hands the vessel that Our Lord gave to Joseph in the prison, and he bore it very high between his hands. And when the king saw it he bowed before it saying his "mea culpa" and all the others of the household did the same. When Perceval saw this he marveled much and he might willingly have asked concerning it if he had not feared to annoy his host. And he pondered much on it throughout the evening, but he remembered his mother who had told him that he ought not to speak too much and should not inquire too much about things. And therefore he restrained himself and did not ask of it, and the king in many different phrases hinted that he might ask about this, but he said nothing for he was so oppressed from the two nights before when he had been awake that he almost fell asleep over the table.
Thereupon the youth who bore the Grail returned and re-entered the chamber where he had been and whence he had come, and the youth who bore the lance also; and the damsel followed them. Yet never did Perceval ask anything. When Bron the Fisher King saw that he would ask nothing concerning it he was very sad. And thus it was borne before all the knights who had hostel there because Our Lord Jesus Christ had told him that he would never be cured until a knight would ask what one served with this, and it was necessary that this knight be the best in the world. And Perceval himself ought to have succeeded in this, and if he had asked it the king would have been cured.
When the Fisher King saw that Perceval wished to sleep he bad the table removed and an excellent bed prepared for Perceval. And then he called four servants and said that he wished to rest and sleep in his chamber, and he took leave of Perceval and asked him that he might not have annoyance with him for he was an old man and therefore could not sit longer. And Perceval answered that he had none and commended him to God. And then he went into his chamber, and Perceval remained in the hall and thought much of the vessel that he had seen borne so nobly and to which the king had so deeply bowed and all those of the hostel as well; and even more he marveled at the lance that had bled from its point three drops of blood, and he thought that he would ask about it of the youths of the court on the morrow before he departed. And when he had thought long about it, three servants came who helped him to undress, and they put him to bed very nobly.
And after he had gone to bed he was very weary and slept until morning. And when morning arrived he arose and when he was clothed and groomed, he went down from the house and through the court, but he saw neither man nor woman, and he returned into the house but found no one there, and when he saw this he felt very sorrowful, and as he looked about himself he espied his arms and so he armed himself. And then he came to the stable and found it unlocked and saw his horse all freshly rubbed, and the saddle and bridle had been placed upon him. And when Perceval saw this he marveled greatly, and then he mounted swiftly and departed from the stable, and he looked and saw the gate open. And then he thought that the youths had gone into the wood to gather herbs and other things of which they might have need; and then he thought that he would follow alter them and if he found anyone he would ask him what this vessel signified that he had seen borne there and why they bowed so deeply and by what miracle the lance bled from the point of iron.
Thereupon he turned from there and rode through the forest a long way and until the hour of prime he found neither man nor woman with whom he could speak, and therefore he was very sad. And thus he rode a long way and pondered so deeply that he almost fell from his horse. And he rode until he saw a damsel in the midst of the forest, and she was as lovely a woman as one might ever find, and she wept most tenderly and made great mourning. And as soon as she saw Perceval she cried out as loud as she could and said: "Perceval the wretched, accursed may you be; you are so unfortunate that no good should ever come to you; for you have been in the house of the rich Fisher King your grandfather and have seen pass before you the vessel in which is the blood of Our Lord-that which is called the Grail-and you have seen it pass before you three times, but you never inquired about it. Now know that God hates you, and the wonder is that God did not make you die an evil death."
And when Perceval heard her he rode toward her and prayed in the name of God that she would tell him the truth of this that he had seen. And she said: "Then did you not lie last night in the house of Bron your grandfather who is of such high ancestry, and see the Grail and the other relics pass before you? Now know," said the damsel, "that if you had asked what one served with it, the king your grandfather would have been cured of the infirmity that he has and would have returned to health and you would have fulfilled the prophecy that Our Lord delivered to Joseph, and you would have had the grace of your grandfather and the fulfillment of your heart's desire, and you would have had under your guard the blood of Jesus Christ. Alter your death you would have been in the company of those who have kept the commandment of Jesus Christ, and the enchantment and the wickedness which are now in the land of Britain would have been undone; but I know well why you have failed.
"Know that you have failed because you are not nearly wise enough, nor worthy, nor have you performed enough deeds of arms or of strength or of good that you may have the keeping of the precious vessel. " And when Perceval had heard what the damsel had told him he marveled much and felt such deep sorrow because of it that he began to weep and said that he would never stop until he found the house of his grandfather and asked about all this of which the damsel had reminded him.
On to The Return to the Chessboard Castle