CONTE DEL GRAAL
(by Chretien de Troyes)
hus [Perceval] traveled along the bank until he approached a rocky cliff
whose base was washed by the water so that he could proceed no farther.
He looked up the rushing river and saw a boat coming downstream. Inside
the boat were two men, one of them rowing while the other fished with his
hook. He stopped and waited for them, excepting them to come down to him.
The pair stopped and dropped anchor securely where they were in the middle
of the river. The man in the bow was fishing with his hook, baiting the
hook with a small fish scarcely larger than a minnow. The youth, not
knowing what to do or where to find a crossing, greeted them. "Instruct
me, sirs, if there is a ford or bridge across this river," he addressed
And the man fishing answered him. "No, dear brother, by my faith.
Nor is there for twenty leagues upstream or down, believe me, a boat
larger than the one we are in, and this would not carry five men. It is
impossible, then, to cross on horseback. There is no ferry, bridge, or
"In God's name, tell me now where I may find lodging," he asked.
"You will need that and more, I believe," he answered him. "I
shall lodge you tonight. Ride up there by that cleft in the rock. When
you reach the top, you will see in the valley ahead of you, near rivers
and woods, a house where I live."
At once he rode off and reached the top. And when he came to the
summit of the hill, he looked out beyond and saw nothing by sky and earth.
"What did I come in search of? Folly and nonsense!" he said. "God today
give evil mishap to the man who sent me here! He set me certainly on a
good route when he told me that I would see a house once I was here at the
top. Fisherman who told me that, you were too deceitful if you spoke to
me with evil intent."
In a valley ahead of him, he then caught sight of the top of a
tower emerging. From here to Beirut could be found no tower so beautiful
or so well situated. Constructed of grey stone, it was square and flanked
by turrets. The great hall stood in front of the tower, and the living
quarters in front of the hall. The youth rode down in that direction,
declaring that the man who had sent him there had set him on a good route.
Thus he proceeded toward the gate.
Before the gateway he found a drawbridge lowered. As he rode
across the drawbridge, four young attendants came to meet him. Two
relieved him of his armor; the third led his horse off to give it hay and
oats; the fourth placed on him a new cloak of fresh rich wool. They then
led him to the living quarters. From here to Limoges, be certain, anyone
in search of living quarters would find or see none so splendid. The
youth stayed there until the lord sent two attendants for him. He
accompanied them into the hall, which was square, being as long as it was
In the center of the hall he saw, seated on a bed, a man of worth,
handsome and with greying hair. A sable cap, black as a mulberry with a
silk band around the top, covered the man's head, and his robe was of the
same material. Before the man, in the middle of four columns, brightly
blazed a great fire of dry logs. Four hundred men could have been
comfortably seated around the fire. The high and wide solid columns that
supported the hood of the chimney were made of heavy bronze. Before the
lord came the attendants, one on each side, leading the guest to him. The
moment the lord saw his guest approaching, he greeted him. "Friend," he
said, "take no offense if I do not rise to meet you, for I cannot move
"In God's name, sir, do not speak of it." he answered. "God grant
me joy and health, I take no offense."
The worthy man made such an effort for the youth that he managed
to lift himself up. "Friend, have no fear. Come near me," he said.
"Take a seat here at my side, as I bid you."
The youth seated himself next to him, and the worthy man asked
him: "Friend, where did you come from today?"
"Sir," he replied, "this morning I left Beaurepaire, as it is
"So help me God, you traveled a long distance today," exclaimed
the worthy man. "You must have left this morning before the watchman had
blown his horn to mark the dawn."
"No, the six o'clock bell had already rung, I assure you," replied
While they thus talked, a young attendant entered at the door, a
sword hanging by the rings from his neck. He handed it to the wealthy
man. The latter, drawing it out halfway, clearly saw where it had been
made, this being engraved on the blade. He also noticed that it was made
of such fine steel that it could not break into pieces except by a
singular peril known only to the man who had forged it. The attendant who
had brought it spoke. "Sir, the blonde maiden, your niece who is so
beautiful, sends you this gift. You have never seen so noble a sword of
its length and width. Bestow it on whomever you please. But my lady
would be most happy if it were given to one who would use it well. The
man who forged the sword made only three, and since he is about to die, he
can never again forge another sword like this one."
The lord invested the young stranger with the sword, holding it by
the rings, which were worth a treasure. The sword's hilt was of the
finest gold of Arabia or of Greece, the scabbard of gold brocade from
Venice. The sword, thus richly decked, the lord presented to the youth.
"Dear sir, this sword was appointed and destined for you. And I wish you
to have it. Buckle it on and test it," he said.
The youth thanked him for it and buckled it on, not fastening it
too tight. He then unsheathed the naked blade and, after holding it a
little, put it back into its scabbard. You can be certain that it greatly
suited him at his side and, even more, in his grasp. In time of need, it
surely seemed, he would use it as a nobleman might.
Behind him, around the brightly blazing fire, he noticed a knight
bachelor, and recognized him as the one guarding his armor. He entrusted
him with his sword, and the knight kept it for him. The youth then took
his seat again at the side of the lord, who showed him great honor. And
about them was light as bright as candles may furnish in a hall.
While they talked of this and that, a young attendant entered the
room, holding a shining lance by the middle of its shaft. He passed
between the fire and those seated on the bed, and all present saw the
shining lance with its shining head. A drop of blood fell from the tip of
the lance, and that crimson drop ran all the way down to the attendant's
hand. The youth who had come there that night beheld this marvel and
refrained from asking how this could be. He remembered the warning of the
man who had made him a knight, he who had instructed and taught him to
guard against speaking too much. The youth feared that if he asked a
question, he would be taken for a peasant. He therefore asked nothing.
Two more attendants then entered, bearing in their hands
candelabra of fine gold inlaid with niello. Handsome indeed were the
attendants carrying the candelabra. On each candelabrum then candles, at
the very least, were burning. Accompanying the attendants was a
beautiful, gracious, and elegantly attired young lady holding between her
two hands a bowl. When she entered holding this serving bowl, such
brilliant illumination appeared that the candles lost their brightness
just as the stars and the moon do with the appearance of the sun.
Following her was another young lady holding a silver carving platter.
The bowl, which came first, was of fine pure gold, adorned with many kinds
of precious jewels, the richest and most costly found on sea or land,
those on the bowl undoubtedly more valuable than any others. Exactly as
the lance had done, the bowl and the platter passed in front of the bed
and went from one room into another.
The youth watched them pass and dared not ask who was served from
the bowl, for always he took to heart the words of the wise and worthy
man. I fear harm may result, for I have often heard it said that there
are times when too much silence is the same as too much speech. Whether
for good or ill, he did not ask them any questions.
The lord ordered the attendants to spread the tablecloths and
offer water for washing. Those whose duty and practice it was to perform
such service obeyed. While the lord and the youth washed their hands in
warm water, two attendants carried in a wide ivory table, which, as the
story relates, was of one solid piece. They held it for a moment before
the lord and the youth; then two more attendants came with two trestles.
The wood of the trestles had two virtues that caused the pieces to last
forever: since they were made of ebony, no one ever feared the wood's
rotting or burning; these two dangers did not affect this wood. The table
top was positioned on the trestles, and the tablecloth laid. What can I
say of the tablecloth? No legate, cardinal, or pope ever ate on one so
The first course was a haunch of venison peppered and cooked in
fat. There was no scarcity of clear wines of varied quality to drink from
gold cups. An attendant who had brought out the peppered haunch of
venison carved it before them on the silver platter, and placed the slices
on a large piece of flat bread for the two men.
Meanwhile the bowl passed before them again, and the youth did not
ask who was served from the bowl. He was afraid because of the worthy
man, who had gently warned him against speaking too much, and, remembering
this, had his heart always set on it. But he kept silent longer than was
necessary. As each course was served, he saw the bowl pass before them
completely uncovered, but did not know who was served from it, and he
would have liked to know. Yet he would definitely inquire of one of the
court attendants, he said to himself, before his departure, although he
would wait until morning, when he took leave of the lord and his entire
household. The matter was thus postponed, and he set about drinking and
Pleasing and delicious courses and wines were brought to the
table. The meal was sumptuous and splendid. That evening both the worthy
man and the youth with him were served with food usually on the table of
counts, kings, and emperors. After supper the two passed the evening in
conversation, while the attendants readied the beds and prepared some very
costly fruit for the night: dates, figs, and nutmegs, pears and
pomegranates, and, for the end, sweet digestives and Alexandrian ginger.
Later they drank many fine drafts of sweet wine made without honey or
pepper, good mulberry wine, and clear syrup. The youth, unaccustomed to
all this, was astonished.
"Friend, it is time this evening to go to bed," the worthy man
said to him. "I shall, if you don't mind, go and lie in my chamber. And
you will lie down outside here when you wish. I do not have use of my
body; and so must be carried."
Thereupon four strong and agile servants came from one chamber,
took hold of the corners of the bedspread where the worthy man lay, and
carried him where they were told, into his chamber. Other attendants had
stayed with the youth to attend his needs and serve him. When he wished,
they removed his leggings, undressed him, and placed him on a bed fitted
with delicate white linen sheets.
The youth slept until daybreak the next morning, by which time the
household had risen. He opened his eyes and looked about, and seeing no
one there, had to get up alone. However upset he was, he rose, having no
alternative. Without waiting for aid from anyone, he put on his leggings,
then went to fetch his arms, which he found at the head of the table where
they had been brought for him. When he had donned all his armor, he
walked toward the doors of the chambers he had seen open the night before.
But he set out in vain, for he found them firmly shut. He shouted and
knocked hard; no one opened up for him or made reply. After all his
shouts, he walked to the door of the great hall, discovered it open, and
went all the way down the stairs. He found his horse saddled, and saw his
lance and his shield leaning against the wall. They he mounted and rode
all about, not meeting or seeing squire, attendant, or servant. He went
straight to the gateway, where he found the drawbridge lowered. It had
been left in this position so that nothing would stop him from crossing
unhindered when he arrived there....
to Text Listing