This is a chapter of King Arthur and His Knights by Blanche Winder.
All the knights of the Round Table were at supper one evening when the adventure of Sir Galahad began. It began with a lady on a white horse, who rode in at the open doorway, calling for Sir Lancelot of the Lake. King Arthur pointed him out, and she beckoned to him with a queenly hand and told him to follow her. So away they rode into the forest, the lady in front and Sir Lancelot a little way behind.
She reminded him of his own fairy of long ago, as she moved on, pale and beautiful, among the shadowy trees. Presently they came to a great building, and the lady dismounted and gave her horse to a page who hastened out to meet them. Sir Lancelot dismounted, too, and the lady waved him goodbye (he was almost sure, now, it was his own fairy) and disappeared into the building. Then, after a few moments, came a sound of singing, and a procession of women, in white hoods, swept out through the gates. In the middle of the procession walked a youth, slim, upright, and very fair.
“And who may you be?” asked Sir Lancelot, taking his hand.
The good women made answer for him. They all spoke together, and their voices rustled through the trees like a soft wind.
“His name is Galahad!” said they. “His mother, the princess Elaine, gave him long ago into our care. We have brought him up among everything that is fair and innocent. He is as beautiful as the young thorn tree that grew from Joseph’s staff and as pure as the snow that lies on its branches on Christmas Day. Take him to Arthur’s court and ask Sir Bors if he remembers the baby in the Castle of the Hidden Grail!”
Then Sir Lancelot looked at Galahad, and the boy met his glance with quiet frank eyes. The good women said goodbye to him and, sighing a little, went back into the castle, two and two together. And, all through the night, Sir Lancelot and Galahad rested under the forest trees. At dawn, Sir Lancelot drew his sword and made the youth a knight under the shining of the morning star, saying:
“May you be good forever, Sir Galahad, for you are the most beautiful knight I have ever seen.”
Sir Galahad lifted his face to the dawn and smiled. But when Sir Lancelot would have taken him straight to Camelot, he shook his head.
“Not yet,” said he. “I will come at Whitsuntide.”
So he went away through the brightening morning, and Sir Lancelot watched until he was out of sight. Then the older knight rode back to Arthur’s court, reaching Camelot just as the evening shadows were falling, and the knights were gathering together, as usual about the Round Table.
Then, before they all sat down, the same thing happened that had happened at the king’s wedding banquet many, many years ago. Every seat began to glow with letters of shining gold, which spelled out the name of the knight who always sat there. And upon the Seat Perilous, the letters flamed brightest and purest of all. But they read differently from the old mysterious warning, and the knights and barons, reading, spoke to each other in grave whispers.
“The many, many years that Merlin told us were to pass before this seat might be filled have passed away.“
King Arthur drew near and looked at the letters for a long, long time. He remembered many things that Merlin had told him before the great wizard fell asleep in Broceliande. At last, he turned to his own place at the Round Table.
“Cover the Seat Perilous with a silken covering,” he commanded. “Let no one touch it nor go too near. Something is about to happen to our great company that will be beautiful and strange.”
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Even as he spoke, a rider galloped up to the door and, springing from his horse, clanked in among the knights, crying breathlessly: “Sirs! Sirs! A great adventure is awaiting you all.” When they asked what it was, he answered that on the waters of the river was floating a vast stone that looked like red marble and that in it was stuck a fair rich sword with a handle of precious stones. And where was the knight for whom the sword was intended if not among those who sat at the Round Table at Camelot?
Then all the knights, and the king, and the queen, went down to the river, and, sure enough, there was the red stone floating, with the bright sword in the middle of it. Sir Lancelot, Sir Bors, Sir Geraint, Sir Gawaine, Sir Perceval, all tried to draw the sword out, but in vain. Even Sir Perceval failed. So they went back to the darkening banqueting hall, where they seemed to hear strange voices whispering about the doors and windows. These, as the company entered, closed off themselves. As they closed, a bright light, like a summer morning, filled the hall, and a smell of hawthorn blossoms drifted through it, with the song of merry birds. Then, before the knights had recovered from their wonder, they saw standing among them an old man with a long white beard, who had two strange bright snakes twisting around his neck, and a harp in his hands. By his side stood Sir Galahad, dressed all in crimson satin, with a mantle of ermine hanging from his shoulders and an empty scabbard swinging at his side.
The old man stood close by the Seat Perilous, and now he raised the silken covering with his frail white hand. Then everybody saw that the golden letters had changed a third time. “This is the place of Sir Galahad, the High prince,” ran the beautiful writing. And the old man took Sir Galahad’s hand and drew him to the wonderful seat.
As the young fair knight took his place, a long murmur of admiration and gladness ran around the table, and King Arthur cried out, aloud:
“It is for Sir Galahad that the sword is waiting — the sword which is fastened to the red marble stone that floats upon the stream! Old man, you have Merlin’s look — Merlin’s long white beard — Merlin’s wonderful wise eyes! Tell us, is this not so?”
The old man bowed his head, struck his harp, and began to sing. He sang the story of Joseph, of the Rich Fisher, of the Silver Table, and of the Shining Cup. He sang of all that the Round Table meant, and of the new adventure to which the knights must vow themselves from that day — an adventure not of lovely ladies, nor cruel giants, nor strange fairy hunts, but a search, a quest, for the treasure which had once been hidden in the strange grey castle where Sir Galahad was born. This young pure knight —so sang the old man— was the first knight of the Grail. Now all the other knights of the Round Table must follow in his steps. Only the pure, the true, the good, could ever find the lost treasure. Sir Bors had had a glimpse of it — so, too, had Sir Perceval, Sir Lancelot, and others. But to Sir Galahad alone had it been a beautiful thing that was just part of his daily life.
All the time the old man sang, Sir Galahad sat quietly in the Seat Perilous, his hand on his empty scabbard. By and by he rose and went out of the banqueting hall, and down to the river, which flowed black and silver through the night. The stone rocked softly on it, and the handle of the sword glowed above. Sir Galahad drew it from the red marble and went back.
Then the knights all sprang to their feet and acclaimed him, for they saw the fairy sword in his hand. As they shouted their joy in him, the hall went quite dark again, and everybody was, all at once, very quiet, for, among the shadows, a flame like the flame of a candle could be seen.
The slim flame grew and grew until it became a great soft light. In the red heart of it moved a spirit who looked like the dumb maiden. She floated through the hall, and her feet made no sound. In her hands she held aloft the Shining Cup of the Grail.
The vision lasted only a minute before it faded. Then everything was dark again. But, in the hush, the old man began to sing once more, and the moon, suddenly shining through the window, showed Sir Galahad, all in silver armor; the queer bright snakes that twisted about the old minstrel’s neck, and the great company of shadowy knights seated at the Round Table, listening to the song of the Holy Grail.