This is a chapter of King Arthur and His Knights by Blanche Winder.
Long before Merlin was born, there lived, in an Eastern country, a good and holy man called Joseph, who had, for many years, been the guardian of a wonderful cup.
Nobody quite knew where his cup had first come from, nor what it was that gave it the lovely radiance which always surrounded it. But all Joseph’s friends knew that the cup was a great treasure and that only a good and faithful man could have been chosen as its guardian.
This cup was called the Grail Cup, and sometimes Joseph would summon his children and his grandchildren (for he was quite an old man), and the best-loved of his friends, to take their seats at a silver table, which he had himself made, in the middle of which he would set the Grail Cup. Then, while everybody looked at the shining mist in which the cup was half hidden, Joseph would tell another good man whom he loved very dearly, called Alan, to go to a certain stream and catch a silver fish that he would see swimming about in the clear water. Alan would go willingly; and, however often he went, he always saw the silver fish gleaming and flashing among the singing bubbles of the stream. He would catch the fish and bring it to the bright table to show to Joseph, who would then tell him to take it and broil it on a fire of clear embers. When this was done, Alan served the fish to the people who sat about the silver table.
However many there were to feed, the fish always went around, and, when the feast was over, everybody who had shared in it felt happy, content, and joyful, strong to do what was right and to resist what was wrong. They would go away glad and grateful, wondering how it was that Alan could always catch so magical and marvelous a fish, and they gave him the name of the Rich Fisher.
But wicked men ruled the country in which Joseph lived, and they were plotting against him, when, one day, as he worked in his garden, he was visited by a beautiful spirit, who told him that he must take the Grail to a distant country, called West-over-the-Sea.
Joseph asked how this could be done, “For,” said he, “I have no ship in which to voyage.”
The bright spirit, however, bade him have faith. He was just to set off with his children and his friends, and they were to carry the silver table and the Shining Cup with them. Then the vision faded and Joseph, sending for the Rich Fisher, told him, and everybody else, to make ready for the journey.
Well, they set off as soon as they could. They carried the silver table carefully, and Joseph bore the Shining Cup. After traveling for many days, they reached the seashore. Joseph stood at the edge of the water, perplexed and wondering; and then a voice suddenly floated across the shore.
“Take off your white underrobe, Joseph, and spread it upon the sea.”
Joseph heard the voice, and, while his people gazed in wonder, he took off his white underrobe, and spread the soft hand-sewn linen out upon the water. It floated like a beautiful raft, and Joseph heard the voice a second time.
“Take your stand upon it, and let your people follow you.”
Joseph moved forward and, lifting high the casket which held the Grail Cup, stepped upon this strange white boat. The linen garment was firm to his feet and rocked up and down like a strong ship at anchor. He stood there, fearless and upright, and called to all his people to join him. In twos and threes, they came, amazed but trustful, bringing with them the silver table. Room was found for everyone, and, in a few minutes, the strange boat was traveling smoothly across the ocean.
The sun sank, the moon rose, and still the white linen robe sailed, faster than any ship, over the starlit water. Then, by and by, the moon set, too, and the sun came up again into the sky behind the travelers. As it rose Joseph cried out, joyfully, that he could see the sandy beaches, the high cliffs, and the distant mountains of West-over-the-Sea.
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Surely enough, there lay the land, sparkling and beautiful. But, as the travelers drew nearer, they saw that, while they had left warmth, and flowers, and fruiting trees behind them, they had come to a country where winter reigned. All was cold and snow-covered. The outspread robe floated into a little bay, and one by one the voyagers’ hurried to the shore.
Joseph came last of all, and, as he left his strange ship, the voice came again, down from the mountains, telling him to lift his robe and put it once more upon his shoulders. He did so, and, behold! it was quite warm and dry. Then he and the Rich Fisher led all the people up a narrow pathway which climbed the cliffside. And still Joseph bore the Grail, while some of the others willingly carried the silver table.
They reached the top of the cliff, and then they traveled onwards, over mountains and through valleys, until they reached a place called Glastonbury. And Joseph knew that here he was meant to build a little church of wood. He leaned on his staff for a long time, looking around. It seemed to him a wonderful thing that he was to build a church in the island of Britain, which was the real name of West-over-the-Sea.
Then, as he leaned on his staff, he felt it move and tremble strangely under his hand. He glanced down, and lo! he saw little twigs and stems sprouting out on all sides of it, laden with green leaves and pale whitethorn flowers. It had rooted in the frost-bound earth! Then the staff shot upward, and great boughs, all covered with blossom, branched above his head. In a few minutes, he was standing, amazed, under a spreading thorn tree, laden with sweet-smelling, snow-white bloom!
Then Joseph told them to set down the silver table under the flowering tree. They did so, and the Rich Fisher went to a half-frozen stream close by and caught a little silver fish quickly, and, making a fire of sticks, roasted it upon the clear embers; and there, under the blossoming thorn tree, the children and followers of Joseph and the Rich Fisher ate their first banquet at West-over-the-Sea, while the snow fell thickly.
Now, while they were feasting, an old man dressed in a long robe, who was called a druid, passed by, and paused, amazed at what he saw. Even while he watched, the banquet came to an end. The strangers stood up, and, unaware that they were seen by the old druid, they all swept away, in a radiant procession, towards the inland forests, leaving the blossoming tree standing, mysterious and beautiful, under the falling snow.
Then the druid went back to the grove of oaks in which he lived and wrote down all that he had seen in a parchment book with gold clasps to it. This book he locked up, and it was kept hidden for many years; but Merlin heard of it, and, one day, long, long afterward, he came to Glastonbury, found it, and read it. What he did after he had read the book, you will be told in another story. But meanwhile, Joseph, and the Rich Fisher, and their friends, sought the king of the country, and he gave them the piece of land where the thorn tree was blossoming, for their own. So they built a little wooden church.