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Parsifals page, p.1
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       Parsifal's Page, p.1

           Gerald Morris
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Parsifal's Page

  Parsifal's Page

  Gerald Morris

  * * *

  Houghton Mifflin Company


  * * *

  This one is for William,

  and also for Katherine Paterson

  Copyright © 2001 by Gerald Morris

  All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce

  selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin

  Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

  www. houghtonmifflinbooks. com

  The text of this book is set in 12.5-point Horley Old Style.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Morris, Gerald, 1963–

  Parsifal's page / Gerald Morris,

  p. cm.

  Summary: In medieval England, eleven-year-old Piers's dream

  comes true when he becomes page to Parsifal, a peasant whose quest

  for knighthood reveals important secrets about both of their families.

  ISBN 0-618-05509-6

  1. Perceval (Legendary character)—Juvenile fiction. [1. Perceval

  (Legendary character)—Fiction. 2. Knights and knighthood—

  Fiction. 3. Pages, Medieval—Fiction. 4. Arthur, King—Fiction.

  5. Middle Ages—Fiction. 6. England—Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.M82785 Par 2001

  [Fic]—dc21 00-031894

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  QUM 10 9 8 7 6

  * * *


  'To whom? Who is there?'

  'I wish to enter your heart.'

  'Then you want too narrow a space.'

  'How is that? Can't I just squeeze in? I promise not to jostle you. I want to tell you marvels.'"

  —Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival

  * * *















  I. The Smith's Boy

  Piers worked the bellows slowly and steadily, the way his father was always nagging him to do it. The forge was hot, and his new scarlet hat with the long yellow plumes, already damp from the sweat on his forehead, only made him hotter. Piers wanted to take the hat off, but he couldn't. His father had called the hat foppish and unsuitable for man's work, and Piers would have cut his own hand off before admitting that his gauche and uncultured father was right. Piers's mother had given him the hat just this morning. Perhaps it was true that the hat really was better suited to a castle than a smith's workshop, but then, Piers reflected disgustedly, so was he.

  "Keep the bellows steady, Piers," his father said without looking up, giving all his attention to the long knife blade he was mending.

  Piers, who had slowed while he mused on his father's boorishness, resumed his chore, replying only, "My name isn't Piers. It's Pierre."

  Piers's father snorted but made no other answer until he had finished the knife blade. He plunged it in a bucket of water to cool, then examined it carefully. "Bah! And they call this steel," he muttered. '"Twill surely break again in a month." Laying the knife down on the bench, he looked at Piers critically. "'Twas well enough done, lad. Soon I should be teaching you the trade. We could start tomorrow, if you like. I've a batch of long nails to make. Rough work, nothing too hard. Should you like that?"

  Piers made no effort to hide his revulsion, and his father's expression darkened. Before he could speak, though, Piers's mother swept into the shop. "La! Look at you, my Pierre! But you've soot all over your clothes! And your hands! Mordieu! Shall I ever get them clean?" With a flutter of skirts and a flash of petticoats, she whisked Piers away from the forge and back into the neat cottage across the yard. Piers couldn't resist casting a triumphant look over his shoulder at his glowering father.

  While Piers watched his mother fuss over his smudged clothing, he wondered for the thousandth time what had possessed her, the beautiful Marie de Champagne, formerly a lady-in-waiting for a French noblewoman, to marry the rough and oafish blacksmith Giles. Piers could not doubt that they loved each other, for he could see how their faces softened when their eyes met, but all who knew them agreed that there was never a more mismatched pair. Marie was all energy and light and beauty, and she wore her homespun dresses with as much assurance as a great lady would wear a silken gown. Giles, for his part, was silent and brooding, a man of smoldering fires and heavy labor and unspoken thoughts. And yet, when they sat by the fire on winter evenings and smiled at each other, they were—in some way that Piers couldn't understand—one.

  Only regarding their son did they ever quarrel. Giles wanted Piers to be a lowly smith like him, but Marie dreamed of the day when Piers, too, would know the great courts of Europe. She would tell him tales of the courts where she had lived, of the sumptuous fashions there, of the rules of courtship and chivalry among the knights and ladies. Piers remembered every word, every detail, and his dreams were full of brocade and tapestry and plumed helms shining in the sun.

  But today, remembering his father's words about learning to make nails, Piers felt those dreams slipping away. "Maman," he said suddenly, "am I not old enough to be a squire?"

  His mother smiled affectionately at him. "But no, petit. You are but eleven years old. Even the youngest squire must be at least thirteen. You could be no more than a page until then."

  "Then can I be a page?" Piers demanded.

  She shook her head sadly. "You would be a charming page, my pet. Especially in the new hat I made for you. But it is different here in Britain than in France. The English knights use few pages. It is regrettable, but what is to be done?" Indignant, Piers opened his mouth to complain about the cruel injustice of having been born English, when there came the sound of hoofbeats outside, and Piers's mother, looking out the window, exclaimed, "Mordieu! A knight!"

  Crowding each other at the window, Piers and his mother watched as a knight rode a great sorrel stallion and led two other horses across the yard to the forge. He talked for several minutes with Piers's father, and then dismounted. Agog with curiosity and excitement, Piers slipped away from his mother and hurried across the yard to where the knight stood with the smith.

  "Mind you mar it not," the knight said, handing Piers's father his helm. "They told me in the village that you could do fine work, but I misdoubt it."

  '"Twould be hard to mar this," Giles said, surveying the helm with evident disgust. "Have you no better armor, sir? For this is trash."

  The knight stared at Giles, his mouth open. "I beg your pardon?"

  "Look," Giles said scornfully. "Fully six inches of leather strap showing here. One cut from a sword, and your helm is loose on your shoulders, bouncing off your ears every time you move."

  The knight started to reply indignantly, but then saw what the smith was pointing at and understood. "It ... I was told it was the very best."

  "I make no doubt you were," Giles said. "Well, I'll mend it for you, though I waste my time."

  The knight looked thoughtful. "Where could I get some other armor? Do you—" He looked sharply around the shop and then stopped as his eyes fell on a red suit of armor against the back wall. "That armor! Is it good?"

  "Ay, it's fair enough armor," Giles admitted. "But too large for you. I know another who has armor, in Chester."

  "I'll have no armor but that!" the knight declared grandly. "Never have I seen such beautiful arms."

  "Huh," Giles said, curling his lips. "Yes, very pretty. I was going to do more work on it, though. That red suit belonged to a knight down in Cornwall, a nasty fellow called the Knight of the Red Lands. He was killed by Sir Gareth, of Arthur's court, and one of the Red Knight's servants sold me the armor for food. I've knocked out the dents and fixed the holes, but as I say, it's the wrong size. The Red Knight must have been a strapping big fellow, and you aren't."

  "Then I must tighten the straps. That armor is perfect for my quest!"

  Piers, watching from the door to the shop, gaped with awe at the knight. His mother's tales were filled with stories of quests. Giles only looked amused. "On a quest, are you, then?"

  "No," the knight said, lifting his chin. "I am not on a quest. I am on the Quest."

  Giles stood completely still. "The Quest?" he repeated slowly. "What do you mean?"

  "I seek the highest prize of all. My quest is to save the land and restore the king."

  Piers felt his breast swell with the majesty of the knight's calling, and even Giles seemed moved. In a soft voice, he said, "Do you mean King Arthur?"

  The knight's lips curled scornfully. "No, I speak of a greater king than Arthur."

  Piers's father stared at the knight, his eyes searching the knight's face hopefully, but before he could speak again, Piers rushed into the room. "Sir!" he cried. "On this quest, do you ... do you need a page?"

  Giles frowned, but the knight only laughed. With one gauntleted hand, he reached out and touched Piers's new hat. "In sooth, thou lookst the part," he said. "And it is very true that I may be needing a page very soon. But you know it is not the fashion to have English boys as pages. It is the mode to have French pages or none at all."

  "Mais, c'est bon! Moi, je suis français. Vraiment! Ma mère est française," Piers exclaimed excitedly.


  "I said that I am French. My mother is a Frenchwoman. Will you take me with you? I know everything that a page does! My mother has taught me!"

  "But ... your parents..." the knight stammered.

  "Pierre." It was his mother's voice, behind him at the door.

  Piers whirled around. "Oh, mother, say I may! It is such a chance! You said that English knights do not use pages, but this one says he needs one. You can't say no!"

  Marie looked across the shop at Giles, and Piers's heart sank. His father would never permit it.

  "You say that you are on the Quest," Giles said to the knight.

  "I am."

  Giles nodded, his face sober. "Then my son may go with you."

  The next hour Piers spent in a daze of elation. He felt no sorrow, not even at leaving his mother, for he was already dreaming of the day when he would be a great courtier, perhaps in the service of King Arthur himself, and would come back to take his mother to the splendid castle where he lived. When all his things were packed, when his mother had used up her embarrassing tears, when the knight had been strapped into his new red armor, and when Piers was settled on one of the knight's spare horses, his father came from the smith's shop holding a long bundle.

  "Sir knight, we should know your name," Giles said steadily.

  "My name," said the knight, pausing dramatically, "is Ither Gahaviez, the nephew of King Uther Pendragon!"

  Piers gawked at the knight, unable to comprehend his good fortune. Uther was King Arthur's father. Piers was the new page to the king's cousin. But his father only nodded absently. "Then, Sir Ither, if you are truly on the Quest, you must have this." Unwrapping the bundle, he produced a long sword. The blade gleamed dully, and a few gems sparkled from the otherwise plain black haft.

  "It is very kind of you," Sir Ither said politely. "But as you see, I have a sword." With a flourish, he drew his own sword and held it out for Giles to see. Giles looked at it without expression, and then, in a move almost too swift for Piers's eyes, he swung his own sword down on Sir Ither's blade. Giles's sword cut through the other blade as if it were a twig, and Sir Ither gaped at the half-blade he held in his hand.

  "That will not happen with this sword, Sir Ither. It was forged over twenty years ago by a famous armorer from the land of the faeries. It was made for one reason: to be used on the Quest."

  "I'll buy it!" Sir Ither said eagerly.

  But Giles only shook his head impatiently. "No! If you buy it, it is worth nothing. Take it. It is a gift." The smith handed the sword to Sir Ither, then turned to Piers. "Go with God, my son," he said curtly, and then he turned his back and walked away.

  Piers watched him go and felt only shame at his father's lies. When Giles had handed the blade to Sir Ither, Piers had seen on the haft an ornate, writhing letter "T"—a mark that he had seen often on the old arms and armor in his father's shop. This blade was no faery sword. His father had been telling a silly children's story to make himself sound important.

  Piers rode dutifully behind Sir Ither, waiting eagerly for his new master to speak again. From time to time, Sir Ither would utter a deep, meaningful sentence that Piers would immediately commit to memory. Once he said, "The sky is as fair as my lady love, than whom there is nothing so fair." Another time Sir Ither sighed and said, "Ah, my love! I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honor more!" This saying sounded so grand that Piers almost wept. He hoped that someday he would be able to understand it.

  Once Piers ventured to ask Sir Ither the identity of his lady love, but from the way that Sir Ither turned sharply in his saddle, his brows drawn, it was clear that Piers had committed some horrible trespass. "Hear me, boy! A page may speak when spoken to, and may deliver messages, but he must never ask impertinent questions! What you need to know, I will tell you!" Piers began to stammer an apology, but Sir Ither waved his hand graciously and continued, "Remember this lesson and never commit it again, but you are young, and I forgive you."

  "Th-thank you, sir."

  "I shall even answer your question. I have, alas, no lady love at this time, but rather I dream of the perfect lady whom I have yet to meet!"

  Piers nodded sagely, pretending that he understood and trying to stifle his disappointment. Sir Ither's grand statements lost some of their luster, being directed at a woman who existed only in Sir Ither's imagination. Piers realized he had much to learn about courtly love.

  They made camp by a stream, and Piers hurried about, doing everything he could think of to make his master comfortable, and he was rewarded with a gracious word of approval that left him in transports. The next day, shortly before noon, Sir Ither stopped suddenly.

  "Unless I be mistaken, boy, we are there!"

  Piers started to ask where, but caught himself just in time.

  Sir Ither smiled with satisfaction. "I had heard that he would be in this country. It is truly a good omen for the success of my quest that we should come to his camp so quickly. It is far better to meet him here than in his castle at Camelot!"

  Piers felt almost faint. Camelot! The court of King Arthur himself! Did Sir Ither mean that they had come to a royal encampment? Through the trees ahead, Piers saw a meadow, and at the far side, several tents in a circle.

  "There is Arthur's insignia! We are here!" Ither declared, and Piers had never felt so happy.

  "Are you a knight?"

  Piers almost fell from his horse at the strange voice that had spoken not three feet away. He had heard no other sound and seen no movement, but there at his side was a tall, amazingly muscular young man with shaggy hair and no beard. He wore ill-fitting homespun clothes and no shoes. Several hunting spears hung loosely from a strap over his shoulder. Sir Ither, who had also jumped in surprise, whirled about and glared at the man. "Begone, yokel!"

  The young man cocked his head curiously. "What is a yokel?"

  "You are!"

  "Oh. Are you a knight?"

  Sir Ither scowled. "As you see!" he snapped.

  "I want to be a knight."

  Sir Ither laughed harshly. "Well, you can't be. So go away."

  "Is that armor?"

  "Go away, knave, or feel my whip."

  "Why is your armor red?"

  With a muffled oath, Sir Ither snatched a riding whip from his saddle and flicked it at the young man's face. Piers did not see how it happened, but the young man moved ever so slightly, and the whip missed him. "I want to be a knight," the young man repeated placidly. "And I want red armor."

  Angrily, jerking his head away from the young man, Sir Ither placed his helm on his head and booted his horse sharply. Eyes straight ahead, Piers followed his master into the meadow. A movement at his left, though, made him peek from the corners of his eyes. The youth was trotting easily beside them, faster than most men could run but showing no sign of exertion. Piers wished he would go away, before Sir Ither really hurt him.

  They crossed the long meadow and approached the neat circle of tents. There was an enclosure for horses, empty now, and several wagons behind the tents. Piers saw many signs of knights—pennants and scattered arms and armor—but no knights until they were almost at the edge of the camp. Then a large man with a heavy black beard, gray at the corners of his mouth, stepped out of the largest tent and barred their way.

  "Help you?" the large man said gruffly.

  "I seek Arthur, who styles himself king!" Sir Ither said.

  "I want to be a knight," said the young rustic.

  The large man grinned mockingly. "I'm afraid you're both doomed to be disappointed. Arthur's not here, and he doesn't need any more knights."

  The large man turned away, but Sir Ither rode his horse up to him. "Hold, my good man!"

  "I'm not your good man," the large man said quietly.

  "This is Arthur's camp, is it not?"

  "It is. But Arthur's off hunting with a batch of clodpoles who, as you might say, style themselves knights."

  "Who art thou, varlet?"

  "My name's Kai."

  Sir Ither caught his breath and looked sharply at the man. Piers did, too. He knew from his mother's stories about King Arthur's foster brother Kai, who had defeated two kings single-handedly in the Battle of the Five Kings, and who now served as seneschal for King Arthur. The rustic stepped between Piers and Sir Kai. "I do want to be a knight. And I need armor."

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