Gateway to the Classics: The World's Story: England by Eva March Tappan
The World's Story: England by  Eva March Tappan

Galahad and the Quest of the Sangreal


AT the vigil of Pentecost when all the fellowship of the Round Table were come again unto Camelot, and the tables were set ready to the meat, there entered into the hall a fair gentlewoman on horseback. She had ridden fast, or her horse was all besweated. There she alighted, and came before the king and saluted him. Then she straightway went unto Launcelot and said, "Sir Launcelot, I salute you, and require you to come with me into a forest near by."

And though Sir Launcelot wist not why he should go with that lady, he bade his squire saddle his horse and bring his arms, and then departed he with the lady. And they rode until they came into a forest where they saw an abbey of nuns. And they entered, and a fair company of nuns came and led Sir Launcelot into the Abbess's chamber and unarmed him.

And presently therein came twelve nuns that brought with them Galahad, a youth so fair and so well-made, that in all the world men might scarcely find his match; and all those ladies wept. "Sir," said they all, "we bring you here this child whom we have nourished, and we pray you to make him a knight; for of a more worthy man's hand may he not receive the order of knighthood."

And Sir Launcelot beheld the young squire, and saw him seemly and pure as a dove, and he thought he had never seen so fair a man.

Then said Sir Launcelot, "Cometh this desire of himself?"

He and all they said, "Yea."

"Then shall he," said Sir Launcelot, "receive the high order of knighthood to-morrow at the celebration of the high feast." And on the morrow at dawn he made him knight, and said, "God make you a good man, for beauty faileth you not."


"Now, fair sir," said Sir Launcelot, "will ye come with me unto the court of King Arthur?"

"Nay," answered Galahad, "I will not go with you at this time."

Then Launcelot departed from the abbey, and so he came unto Camelot in the forenoon on Whitsunday. And when the king and all the knights were come unto the Round Table, the barons espied in the sieges all about, written with golden letters, the names of those knights to whom the sieges appertained. And thus they went until they came to the Siege Perilous, where they found letters which said:—

"Four hundred and fifty-four winters after our Lord Jesus Christ ought this siege to be fulfilled."

Then all they said, "This is a marvelous thing."

And Sir Launcelot said, "It seemeth to me this siege ought to be fulfilled this same day; for this is the feast of Pentecost after the four hundred and fifty-fourth year; and if it would please all parties, I would rather that none of these letters were seen this day, till he is come that ought to achieve this adventure."

Then ordained they that a cloth of silk be brought to cover these letters in the Siege Perilous.

Then the king bade them hasten unto dinner, but at that time in came a squire, and said unto the king, "Sir, I bring you marvelous tidings. There is beneath here at the river, a great stone floating above the water and therein I saw sticking a sword."

The king said, "I will see that marvel."

So all the knights went with him to the river, and there they found a stone floating, and therein stuck a fair sword; and in the pommel thereof were precious stones skillfully set in letters of gold. Then the barons read the letters, which said:—

"Never shall man take me hence except bim by whose sive I ought to hang, and he shall be the best knight in the world."

When the king had seen the letters, he said unto Sir Launcelot: "Fair sir, this sword ought to be yours, for I am sure you are the best knight in the world."

Then Sir Launcelot answered very soberly: "Truly, sir, it is not my sword; also, sir, wit ye well I have not the hardihood to set my hand to it, for it belongs not at my side. Also, he who essayeth to take the sword and faileth, shall receive such a wound by that sword that he shall not be whole long afterward. And I tell you that this same day shall the adventures of the Sangreal begin."

Then King Arthur bade Sir Gawaine essay to take the sword; and though Sir Gawaine was loath to do so, yet because King Arthur commanded him, he took the sword by the handles; but he could not move it. Then there were no more that durst be so hardy as to set their hands thereto. So then Sir Kay, the steward, bade King Arthur and all the knights go in to dinner; and every knight knew his own place, and set him therein.

And when all the sieges were fulfilled, save on'y the Siege Perilous, anon there befell a marvelous adventure: all the doors and windows of the palace shut by themselves, yet the hall was not greatly darkened; and thereupon they were all astonished. Then an old man came in, clothed all in white, and there was no knight knew whence he came. And with him he brought a young knight, in red arms, without sword or shield, save a scabbard hanging by his side. And these words the old man said unto Arthur: "Peace be with you, sir. I bring here a young knight, who is of kings' lineage, and of the kindred of Joseph of Arimathea, whereby the marvels of this court and of strange realms shall be fully accomplished."

Then the old man made the young man unarm himself. And anon he led him to the Siege Perilous, beside which sat Sir Launcelot. And the good man lifted up the cloth, and found there letters which said thus:—

"This is the siege of Galahad, the high price."

"Sir," said the old knight, "wot you well, that place is yours."

Then Galahad sat down in that place, and he said to the old man, "Sir, you may go your way, for you have done all that which you were commanded to do."

So the good man departed.

Then all the knights of the Round Table marveled greatly that Sir Galahad dare sit there in that Siege Perilous, when he was so tender of age, and they said, "This is he by whom the Sangreal shall be achieved; for never before sat one in that siege but that harm came to him."

Then came King Arthur unto Galahad, and said, "Sir, you are welcome; for you shall move many good knights unto the quest of the Sangreal." Then the king took him by the hand, and went down from the palace to show him the adventures of the stone.

"Sir," said the king unto Galahad, "here is a great marvel as ever I saw; for right good knights have essayed and failed."

"Sir," said Galahad, "that is no marvel, for this adventure is not theirs but mine. For the surety that I should achieve this sword, I brought none with me; for here by my side hangeth the scabbard." And anon he laid his hand upon the sword, and lightly drew it out of the stone, and put it in the sheath.

"Sir," said the king, "a shield God shall send you."

"Now," said Galahad, "have I that sword that sometime was Balin's, and he was a passing good man of his hands; and with this sword he slew his brother Balan, and that was great pity, for he was a good knight, and either slew other. And with this sword Balin smote my grandfather, King Pelles, a dolorous stroke of which he is not yet whole, nor shall be till I heal him."

Then the king espied a lady riding on a white palfrey toward them. And she saluted the king and queen and said, "Sir King, Nacien, the hermit, sendeth thee word that to thee shall befall the greatest worship that ever befell king in Britain; and I say you wherefore, for this day the Sangreal shall appear in thy house and feed thee and all thy fellowship of the Round Table."

So she departed and went the same way that she came.

"Now," said the king, "I am sure shall all ye of the Round Table depart on this quest of the Sangreal and never shall I see you again whole together; therefore I will see you all together in the meadow of Camelot to joust, that after your death men may tell how such good knights were wholly together such a day."

So at the king's request they accorded all, and took on their harness and went to the jousting. And the queen was in a tower with all her ladies to behold that tournament.

Now all this moving of the king was for this intent, that he might see Galahad proved; for the king deemed he should not lightly come again unto the court after his departing. So Galahad put upon him his helm, but shield would he take none for no prayer of the king. Then Galahad dressed him in the midst of the meadow, and began to break spears marvelously, so that all men wondered; for he there surmounted all other knights, and within a while he had defouled many good knights of the Round Table save twain, that were Sir Launcelot and Sir Percivale.


And then the king and all his estates went home unto Camelot, and so went to evensong in the great minster, and so after that to supper. Then anon they heard such cracking and crying of thunder that they thought the place would fall apart. In the midst of this blast entered a sunbeam, clearer by seven times than ever they saw day, and the grace of the Holy Ghost shone upon them all. And all those knights appeared fairer than ever they had before. And for a great while no knight could speak a word, and they looked at each other as though they were dumb. Then there entered into the hall the Holy Grail covered with white samite, but none could see it nor who bore it. And then was all the hall filled with good odors, and every knight had such meats and drinks as he best loved in this world. And when the Holy Grail had been borne through the hall, it departed so suddenly that they wist not what became of it. Then had they all breath to speak, and the king yielded thanks to God for His good grace that He had sent them.

"Now," said Sir Gawaine, "we have been served this day with what meats and drinks we liked best, but one thing disappointed us, we could not see the Holy Grail, it was so carefully covered. Wherefore I will make here my vow that to-morrow I shall begin the quest of the Sangreal; that I shall seek a twelvemonth and a day, or more if need be, and never shall I return again unto the court till I have seen it more openly than it bath been seen here; and if I may not succeed, I shall return again knowing that it is not the will of our Lord that I see it."

When those of the Round Table heard Sir Gawaine say this, they arose for the most part, and made such vows as he had made.

Anon as King Arthur heard this, he became very sad, for he wist well that they might not gainsay their vows.

"Alas," said King Arthur to Sir Gawaine, "ye have bereft me of the fairest fellowship and the truest of knighthood that were ever seen together in any realm of the world; for when they depart hence, I am sure they shall never all meet more in this world, for many shall die in the quest. I have loved them as well as my life, wherefore it grieves me right sore, the departing of this fellowship." And therewith the tears fell in his eyes.


When the queen, ladies, and gentlewomen wist these tidings, they had such sorrow and heaviness of heart that no tongue might tell it; for those knights had held those ladies in honor and love. And many of these ladies that loved knights would have gone with their lovers, had not an old knight come among them in religious clothing and he spake to all, and said, "Fair lords, who have sworn in the quest of the Sangreal, thus sendeth Nacien, the hermit, word to you, that none lead lady nor gentlewoman with him in this quest; for I warn you plain, he that is not clean of his sins, shall not see the mysteries of our Lord Jesus Christ." And for this cause they left those ladies and gentlewomen.

And as soon as it was day, the king arose, for he had no rest all that night for sorrow. And he and the queen and all the fellowship of the Round Table went unto the minster to hear their service. Then after the service was done, the king would wit how many had undertaken the quest of the Holy Grail. Then they found by tale an hundred and fifty, and all were knights of the Round Table. And then they put on their helms and departed, and there was weeping and great sorrow.

by Thomas Malory

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