This is a chapter of King Arthur and His Knights by Blanche Winder.
Sir Perceval was the seventh son of King Pellinore, and, because he was the youngest, his mother loved him best. She was very glad that he was too young to go to the wars with his father and brothers. She always wanted him to stay in the meadows near the castle, playing among the flowers. But little Perceval was active and vigorous. He taught himself skill and strength by running in the forest, by breaking sticks from the strong trees, and by throwing them cleverly at targets which he invented. And one day he saw three of the shining knights of the Round Table riding through the wood.
He watched them pass, in breathless excitement, and then ran to his mother and, describing these bright strangers, asked her who they could be. Now, the queen knew that they were knights, but she told him they must be angels, hoping he would forget about them. But young Perceval squared his shoulders.
“If those are angels, then I will be an angel, too,” said he, and he set off after the knights.
He found them resting in a green glade, with their horses tethered to the trees, and they told him they were no angels, but knights from Arthur’s court. Then the boy examined their armor and watched them wistfully when they saddled their steeds again and rode away. He was determined to join them, so he took a queer old piebald horse from a field hard by, pressed a pack into the form of a saddle, and twisted some supple twigs into the shape of a bit and bridle. Then, looking the funniest rider you ever saw, he trotted off to his mother, told her that the shining visitors were not angels, but knights, and that, as he was now nearly very grown-up, he meant to join them.
His mother wept bitterly, but, when she saw he was determined, she said that no king’s son could go to Arthur’s court in that pickle, and she gave him a suit of armor and a good horse, with as royal a saddle and bridle as he could wish. Then she kissed him goodbye and watched him set off — quite alone.
He rode for several days, through the deep forests and over high granite hills. And presently he saw the towers of Camelot in a valley.
Now, wonderful things were happening in Arthur’s kingdom just then. Strange fires were seen, at night, burning on the tops of the mountains, and sometimes flickering deep in the forest glades. Voices, and the music of harps, were heard when the moon was full. In the evenings, when Arthur’s knights gathered about the Round Table, a radiance would sometimes fall upon the Perilous Seat, and the fiery letters that spelled its name would show again, as they had shown in Merlin’s time. And sometimes other writing glimmered there as well-writing which said that the time was coming when the Seat Perilous would be filled. All these things made the people of the court wonder and talk in whispers together, asking what signs so strange could mean.
Well, among the ladies of the court was a beautiful maiden who had been born quite dumb. Her lips were red, and sweet, and soft, but they had never formed a single word. She sat all day over her embroidery, with quiet eyes and drooping head. But she always seemed to be listening — listening for somebody who did not come.
She was seated by the castle window when young Perceval rode through the gate. As her quick ears heard his horse’s hoofs she raised her head swiftly. A great flush of joy swept her pale face, and she laid her embroidery down. Then she rose and, going into the hall, hid herself behind a curtain near the door.
Perceval was met in the courtyard by a knight, who, when he heard the young rider’s name, led him straight to Arthur and told the king that Pellinore’s son had come to ask for knighthood. Arthur summoned Perceval, but almost laughed to see him so young. He knighted him, however, for his father’s sake. But, when the time came for the feast to be held at the Round Table that evening, the king bade Perceval go and sit with the young unproved knights at the end of the hall. “For,” said he, “you are not yet old enough nor strong enough to sit at the Round Table and to join in the great vow.”
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Then Perceval was very downcast. He walked slowly down the great hall and seated himself among the lesser knights. But, all at once, he heard a murmur run through the banqueting room. Out from behind the tapestry came the beautiful dumb girl, and, as she walked towards him, she spoke aloud.
“Rise up from your seat, Sir Perceval, the noble and chosen knight, and come with me!”
She took him by the hand, and he rose and walked with her up the long hall, while everybody watched in amazed silence. She led him to the seat at the right of the Seat Perilous and pointed with her slender finger.
“Fair knight, take here your seat!” said she. “For that seat belongs to you and to none other.”
Then she went away as quickly as she had come and disappeared from the palace forever. As for Sir Perceval, he stood by the seat shy and hesitating. But King Arthur himself rose and, going to the young knight, took him by the hand.
“Do not be afraid, Sir Perceval,” he said. “We, the king and the knights of the Round Table, have watched the dumb maiden sitting day by day and hour by hour. We knew that she waited for somebody. And now, as everyone has heard, her lips have opened at last. Who is there who shall not listen and believe when the dumb speak? Take your place next to the Seat Perilous!”
Then Sir Perceval sat down next the Seat Perilous and, as he did so, the far-off fires on the hills appeared again, and leaped into higher flames, and seemed to reach up to the very stars. The singing that people heard in the sky swept down to the roofs of Camelot and around the windows of the banqueting hall. The voices of the knights as they stood shoulder to shoulder and hand to hand rang out in the words of the great vow and came to a sudden stop. It seemed to them as if something ought to be added to the vow today, but what it was they did not yet understand.
The time was coming, however, when everything was to be made plain.