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The quest of the fair un.., p.5
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       The Quest of the Fair Unknown, p.5

           Gerald Morris
 
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  King Arthur looked at Galahad. "Is that your name?"

  "It is, sire."

  Then another voice spoke. "Did you say 'Galahad'?" Beaufils looked around to see a tall man with glossy black hair and very broad shoulders rising to his feet.

  "That is my name," Galahad asserted again.

  "What is it, Lancelot?" King Arthur asked, turning to the knight who had just stood.

  "Galahad is also one of my names," the knight replied. "A family name. Who is your father, Galahad?"

  "I do not know for sure. Like my friend Beaufils, I have come to this court to find him. He is a great knight who sixteen years ago was enchanted into believing that my mother was the woman he loved most in the world. When he woke and found that she was another, he rushed from the room and never discovered that he had begotten a son."

  The knight called Lancelot looked very sober. "What was your mother's name?"

  Galahad looked Lancelot in the eye and said, "Do you not know?"

  "Elaine?" Lancelot whispered. Galahad nodded slowly. Lancelot looked at him for a long moment, then said, "And are you indeed my son?"

  "If you are that knight, I am."

  King Arthur looked from Galahad to Lancelot, then smiled. "If this is so, then it is a cause for rejoicing. We came to discuss two marvels, and we discover a third."

  Immediately the room burst into sound, as all the knights exclaimed over the wonders they had seen. Beaufils smiled. It hadn't been hard for Galahad to find his father at all. When the hubbub died down, the king reached from his chair to Galahad's and formally welcomed him to his court. "I shall watch your future with interest," he said. "After all, few knights have come to my court so highly recommended as you."

  Bishop Baldwin said loudly, "This is indeed a mark of God's favor, that so young a knight should achieve his miraculous tests and sit in the Siege Perilous! Surely the Spirit's blessing is strong upon this great king and his court!"

  Just then, as if prompted by Bishop Baldwin's words, a strange light began filling the room. Beaufils looked around but could not see where the light was coming from. Indeed, it seemed to come from everywhere equally, because there were no shadows. It was as if light had reversed itself: instead of shining outward from one source, it was shining inward from everywhere at once. No one spoke.

  Then, as Beaufils breathed deeply of the strange light and the eerie silence, a new sight appeared: a golden platter, like one of the great dishes that had held food for the banquet, but empty. No one carried the platter; it appeared over the center of the table, floating like an airborn dandelion seed. Then, slowly, it began to move around the table, stopping in front of each knight for a moment before moving on, and everywhere it stopped, a plate of food appeared on the table before that knight. When it had gone all around the room, it returned to the center of the table, floated for a moment, then rose to the ceiling and disappeared, like a wisp of smoke.

  "A sign from God," whispered Bishop Baldwin.

  No one answered for a moment. Then the red-bearded knight, whom King Arthur had called Gawain, said quietly, "Out of curiosity, has everyone else been served the one food that he loves most in the world?" All the knights nodded.

  Then the room shook, and a great voice from everywhere said, "This is the Grail. He who finds it will find all he truly desires. It is a quest."

  IV. Questing

  For a very long time after the voice faded and the platter that the voice had called the "Grail" disappeared, no one spoke or moved. At last Beaufils, who had watched the apparition with wonder, said, "Well, that was certainly exciting. Does this sort of thing happen often here at Camelot?"

  No one answered, but his calm voice seemed to break the spell that had fallen over the room. The knights began blinking, rubbing their eyes, and shaking their heads, while beside Beaufils, Bishop Baldwin sank slowly to his knees, touching his forehead and shoulders and belly and muttering to himself, just as Sir Breunis Sans Pité had done in the woods. This evidently was a way to pray, but Bishop Baldwin didn't look very peaceful—in fact, he looked terrified. Galahad, on the other hand, was radiant. His eyes gazed at the ceiling where the Grail had disappeared, and his face glowed with wonder and excitement.

  King Arthur broke the restless silence. "Well, my friends, today has certainly been a day of wonders, each more astonishing than the last. I'm glad that we're already assembled, because I need your counsel." He paused, smiled lopsidedly and said, "To put it simply, my friends, what did all that mean?"

  "The voice called that dish a Grail," one knight said. "What's a Grail?"

  A knight with a neat brown beard and a serious face leaned forward. "My liege?" he said.

  "Yes, Parsifal?"

  "I have some experience with this matter myself, and that did not look like what I know as the Grail."

  King Arthur looked surprised. "What experience is this, Parsifal?"

  Parsifal looked across the table at the red-bearded knight named Gawain, hesitated, then said, "It was a quest that I followed many years ago—a test that I failed once and then, by grace, was allowed to try again."

  "And you've never spoken of this quest at court?" asked the king.

  "No, sire. The test I speak of took place in an enchanted castle, in a ... in a different world from this one."

  Beside Beaufils, Bishop Baldwin rose slowly to his feet, and Beaufils heard him whisper, "Sorcery!"

  King Arthur asked, "And you encountered the Grail in this enchanted castle?"

  "Yes, sire. The Grail is a magical stone that provides food for every banquet in that castle."

  "A stone, you say? Not a serving dish?"

  "That's right, sire."

  The knights spoke in hushed tones to one another while the king frowned thoughtfully. Parsifal waited in silence.

  "Then do you say that this vision that we all saw is not the Grail?" the king asked.

  Before Parsifal could reply, Bishop Baldwin stepped forward. "This is nonsense, sire. We have all seen that the Grail is a serving dish, and the voice of God Himself has told us so. Even if Sir Parsifal believes he is speaking the truth, of which I am not at all certain, he is mistaken. Whatever foul, magical object he may have seen can have nothing to do with this holy Grail."

  This seemed so silly that Beaufils had to laugh. All eyes turned toward him, and King Arthur said, "Beaufils?"

  "I'm sorry to disturb your council," Beaufils said, still smiling. "But it did seem so funny."

  "What did you find funny?" asked the king.

  "The idea that this Grail had to be one thing or the other," Beaufils explained. "Well, doesn't it seem silly to you? Parsifal says that the Grail he knows provides food, and the Grail that we saw did the same thing. How many other things do you know that do that? The two Grails seem more alike than different, don't they? The only way they're different is how they look, and that can't be very important."

  King Arthur smiled, and Kai gave a rumbling laugh. "He's not just a pretty face, I see."

  Bishop Baldwin looked at Beaufils very sternly and seemed about to argue further, but then the scholar, Geoffrey, cleared his throat again.

  "Yes, Clerk Geoffrey?" King Arthur said.

  "Your Highness," Geoffrey said, bowing, "perhaps I may be able to help somewhat. The word 'Grail' is not entirely unknown among scholars."

  "What do you know of the Grail?" the king asked.

  "It is an ancient word, although its origin is still disputed by many. Some scholars, noting that in some documents it is spelled with a double 'a'—that is, g-r-a-a-1—suggest that its origin should be sought in some heathenish Germanic tongue, such as that spoken by the Alemanni or the Visigoths, of which the Roman historian Tacitus has given us so thorough a description. If so, it is proposed that the word should have the meaning 'bowl.' This, however, has been disputed by many other scholars who are themselves regrettably German, and whose objectivity must thereby be held to be in some question."

  Beaufils stared at Geoffrey, fascinated wi
th the droning sound of his meaningless words. It was like listening to a very repetitive night bird sing as you went to sleep. Kai lowered his chin into his hands and stared glumly at the table in front of him.

  "It should, however, be noted," Geoffrey said, "that a minority viewpoint considers the word to have sprung from a corrupted spelling of the French word grêle, which I hardly need say refers to a hailstorm or even a hailstone. I find Sir Parsifal's suggestion that the Grail is a stone to be a significant correlation to this reading."

  Beaufils met Gawain's eyes, and the knight grinned at him. "This is what I meant by education," the knight said.

  "Have you ever heard anyone say so little for so long?" muttered Kai.

  Geoffrey ignored them both. "And finally," he said with a flourish, "there is the late view, held by most reputable scholars to be spurious, that the Grail is a vessel of religious significance. Indeed, the monastery just over the hill from Camelot, at Glastonbury, claims to have been founded by none other than Joseph of Arimathea, he who gave a tomb for Our Lord in Jerusalem, and at Glastonbury they say that when Joseph came to our land he brought with him a vessel containing some of the holy blood of Christ. This vessel the monks of Glastonbury call the Holy Grail, or in the old French, the San Great Rearranging the letters of these words, though, one finds a secondary meaning: sang real, which is French for 'True Blood.'"

  Beaufils smiled broadly, "Oh, I get it," he said. "It's like a word game! How clever!"

  No one paid any attention to Beaufils, because Bishop Baldwin had grown very excited and was shouting, "At last we know! It is the Cup of Our Lord's Last Supper! Containing the Holy Blood!"

  Geoffrey looked pained and cleared his throat again. Beaufils wondered if his throat got sore from all that gurgling. "As I thought I had made plain, most scholars today find the religious interpretation of the word to be pure fiction. To put it bluntly, we think the Glastonbury monks made it up."

  "Nonsense! You saw it right here, didn't you?" Bishop Baldwin declared, dismissing the clerk with a peremptory wave of his hand. "My liege, God has sent this quest to you. You must send all your knights out at once, to find this Holy Grail!"

  A babble of voices followed this pronouncement, but one by one the knights grew silent and turned their eyes toward King Arthur, who did not appear to Beaufils to be very pleased. At last the king said, "What do you say, my knights?"

  Gawain rose to his feet. "Arthur, I don't know what this vision means, whether this Grail is holy or unholy or neither one, but this I know: we have received a call to adventure, and I have never refused that call before. I will seek this Grail."

  One by one other knights rose to their feet, until well over half of them stood with Gawain. As each new knight stood, King Arthur's face seemed to grow sadder. "I seem to be losing most of my knights," he said at last.

  "I'm staying here," announced Kai.

  "I, too," added Parsifal. "I've already found my Grail, after all."

  The other knights who had remained seated nodded. One of them was Galahad's father, Lancelot, who said, "I will stay with you as well, O king."

  "No!" exclaimed Galahad, shocked and disappointed. "Not you! Is my own father afraid of this quest?"

  Lancelot turned his head and looked at his son calmly. "If you wish to think it, my Galahad. But think what you will, I shall remain with my king. As for you, do what you think best."

  Once again, Galahad raised his eyes worshipfully toward the ceiling where the Grail had been. "I will seek the Grail," he said in a ringing voice. "With this sword I have drawn from the stone, I will seek it until either I have found it or have died in the attempt."

  In the silence that followed this grand declaration, Beaufils said, "That sounds nice, Galahad. I'll go with you."

  All the knights who had volunteered for the quest—"quest" means "search," Beaufils discovered after asking about—were to set off together the next morning. Alone in their room that night, Galahad and Beaufils agreed that Beaufils would act as Galahad's squire on their journey, which Galahad explained would involve helping out around their camp and taking care of Galahad's armor and sword and shield. Beaufils didn't mind doing that, but he pointed out to Galahad, "You don't have a shield, remember?"

  "God shall send one," Galahad said calmly. "Just as He sent a sword."

  There was no arguing with that, so Beaufils applied himself to learning how to care for armor.

  They set off the next morning with a grand fanfare, and all the questing knights stayed together at first. After an hour or so, Gawain rode a huge black horse up beside Beaufils, who was still on his old friend Clover the mule. "Good morning, lad," Gawain said, smiling. "I gather that you're now young Galahad's squire?"

  "That's right," Beaufils said. "Galahad says that all knights have squires, and I don't mind doing my bit for a friend." He glanced around. "Do you have a squire, Gawain?"

  Gawain nodded. "Ay, and I'm wishing he were here. His name's Terence, and I'd like him to meet you."

  "He's away now?"

  "Yes. He, um, has a home in another land, and he's gone to visit his father there."

  "Oh? Is his father a knight, too?"

  Gawain shook his head. "Nay, his father is ... well, it's a bit difficult to explain. Terence's father is a great man in that other place, and Terence has gone to ask his father if he has heard any important news."

  Gawain seemed to expect a reply, so Beaufils said, "That sounds nice."

  Gawain grinned. "You're not even curious about what sort of news he wants?"

  "Not really," Beaufils said. "You see, nearly everything's news to me."

  Gawain chuckled. "Yes, I imagine so. But I'd like to tell you all the same. Do you mind?"

  "Not at all."

  Gawain said, "You see, King Arthur is the greatest king this land has ever seen—or ever will see, I imagine—but not everyone wants a great king. A great king protects the humble and suppresses the proud, and that irritates the proud. So the king has powerful enemies who wish him gone, and every year there are revolts against him. Just this past month, word has come of such a plot. Terence's father is a knowledgeable sort of person, so Terence has gone to ask him." Gawain watched Beaufils's face in silence for a moment, then said, "You may be wondering why I'm telling you this."

  This question hadn't occurred to Beaufils, but it seemed that Gawain wanted to tell him, so Beaufils asked, "Why?"

  "Because, my boy, there is something in your face and the way you move that reminds me of Terence, as if you've come from the same place he does. I was wondering if you'd had any contacts from the people of that world. Tell me, Le Beau Desconus, have you ever met someone who seemed to you to be strange?"

  "Everyone's strange to me," Beaufils pointed out.

  "I mean someone who looked different from other people and who seemed to know things that other people didn't know and who only appeared to you when you were alone?"

  Beaufils hesitated, frowning. Scotus, the old man who had told him about Galahad's dream, had said not to tell others about him.

  Gawain was watching Beaufils's face closely, and now he smiled. "Never mind. I think I have my answer. How long have you known Galahad?"

  "Just a few days," Beaufils replied. "We met on the way to court."

  "He seems a fine lad, though a bit young to be 'the best knight in the world.' He can't be much more than sixteen. Even Lancelot wasn't called that until he was—"

  At that moment Galahad himself rode up and joined them. "Beaufils," Galahad said, interrupting Gawain, "I've been asking the other knights and have learned that there is a church off to the east of us."

  "Is there?" Beaufils replied agreeably. "Fancy that."

  "I was shocked to see how few of Arthur's great knights joined me for early services this morning before we set out," Galahad said, his lips set disapprovingly. Gawain looked amused but said nothing. Galahad continued. "It is clear that this quest for the Holy Grail can only be achieved by a knight of utter purity, and s
o it behooves us to make confession as often as we can. Let us turn off this path and go to the church."

  Gawain's smile grew. "You confessed before we left this morning and now you want to go confess again? Just what have you been up to over there?"

  Galahad scowled but did not look at Gawain. "Come, Beaufils."

  "Very well," Beaufils said. "Goodbye, Gawain. I hope we have a chance to talk again."

  "I hope so too, lad."

  Then Beaufils followed Galahad down a narrow track that led away from the other questing knights and into a thick wood. After nearly two hours, they came to a wooden building. It was small and roughly made, but on its roof was the pointy tower that seemed to be the mark of a church. Murmuring a prayer of thanks, Galahad dismounted and headed for the building. As he approached it, the door opened and two men appeared. One was a knight and the other a priest. Both men stopped, and Galahad bowed deeply to the priest. "Greetings, Father," he said. "I am a knight errant seeking absolution and spiritual guidance from your hand."

  The priest looked momentarily flustered but after a moment said, "You are welcome, my son. I shall see to you as soon I bless Sir Brandegoris on his quest."

  The knight, Sir Brandegoris, said abruptly, "Who are you? We haven't met, have we?"

  "I am Galahad, son of Sir Lancelot," Galahad replied.

  "Son of Lancelot? First I've heard of it!"

  Beaufils chuckled and commented, "It was the first Lancelot had heard of it, too."

  Galahad frowned, making Beaufils wonder if he had said something wrong, but Galahad didn't explain. He said, "I left my noble father at Camelot this morning that I might join the rest of Arthur's knights on the great quest."

  "Great quest?" exclaimed Sir Brandegoris. "Dash it all, you leave court for a few days and everybody goes off on a quest. Say, they aren't after the Holy Shield of Evelake, are they?"

  "Holy shield?" Galahad repeated, his eyes bright.

  "Because if they are, they can all just go home again. I'm going to get that one myself."

 
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