Le Morte d'Arthur

7. Sir Peredur



At one time there was in the North of Britain a great Earl named Evrawc. A stout knight he was, and few were the tournaments at which he was not to be found in company with six of his sons; the seventh only, who was too young to bear arms, remaining at home with his mother. But at the last, after he had won the prize at many a tourney, Earl Evrawc was slain, and his six sons with him; and then the Countess fled with Peredur, her youngest, to a lonely spot in the midst of a forest, far from the dwellings of men; for she was minded to bring him up where he might never hear of jousts and feats of arms, that so at least one son might be left to her.

So Peredur was reared amongst women and decrepit old men, and even these were strictly commanded never to tell the boy aught of the great world beyond the forest, or what men did therein. None the less, he grew up active and fearless, as nimble and sure-footed as the goats, and patient of much toil.

Then, one day, when Peredur was grown a tall, strong youth, there chanced what had never chanced before; for there came riding through the forest, hard by where Peredur dwelt with his mother, a knight in full armour, none other, indeed, than the good knight, Sir Owain himself. And seeing him, Peredur cried out: "Mother, what is that, yonder?" "An angel, my son," said his mother. "Then will I go and become an angel with him," said Peredur; and before any one could stay him, he was gone.

When Sir Owain saw him approaching, he reined in his horse, and after courteous salutation, said: "I pray thee, fair youth, tell me, hast thou seen a knight pass this way?" "I know not what a knight may be," answered Peredur. "Why, even such an one as I," answered Sir Owain. "If ye will tell me what I ask you, I will tell you what ye ask me," said Peredur; and when Owain, laughing, consented, Peredur touched the saddle, demanding, "What is this?" "Surely, a saddle," replied Sir Owain; and, in like manner, Peredur asked him of all the parts of his armour, and Owain answered him patiently and courteously. Then when he had ended his questions, Peredur said: "Ride forward; for yesterday I saw from a distance such an one as ye are, ride through the forest."

Sir Peredur returned to his mother, and exclaimed: "Mother, that was no angel, but a noble knight"; and hearing his words, his mother fell into a swoon. But Peredur hastened to the spot where were tethered the horses that brought them firewood and food from afar, and from them he chose a bony piebald, which seemed the strongest and in the best condition. Then he found a pack and fastened it on the horse's back, in some way to resemble a saddle, and strove with twigs to imitate the trappings he had seen upon Sir Owain's horse. When his preparations were complete, he returned to the Countess, who, by then, was recovered from her swoon; and she saw that all her trouble had been in vain, and that the time was come when she must part with her son. "Thou wilt ride forth, my son?" she asked. "Yea, with your leave," he answered. "Hear, then, my counsel," said she; "go thy way to Arthur's court, for there are the noblest and truest knights. And wheresoever thou seest a church, fail not to say thy prayers, and whatsoever woman demands thy aid, refuse her not."

So, bidding his mother farewell, Peredur mounted his horse, and took in his hand a long, sharp-pointed stake. He journeyed many days till, at last, he had come to Caerleon, where Arthur held his court, and dismounting at the door, he entered the hall. Even as he did so, a stranger knight, who had passed in before him, seized a goblet and, dashing the wine in the face of Queen Guenevere, held the goblet aloft and cried: "If any dare dispute this goblet with me or venture to avenge the insult done to Arthur's Queen, let him follow me to the meadow without, where I will await him."

And for sheer amazement at this insolence, none moved save Peredur, who cried aloud: "I will seek out this man and do vengeance upon him." Then a voice exclaimed: "Welcome, goodly Peredur, thou flower of knighthood"; and all turned in surprise to look upon a little misshapen dwarf, who, a year before, had craved and obtained shelter in Arthur's court, and since then had spoken no word. But Kay the Seneschal, in anger that a mere boy, and one so strangely equipped as Peredur, should have taken up the Queen's quarrel when proven knights had remained mute, struck the dwarf, crying: "Thou art ill-bred to remain mute a year in Arthur's court, and then to break silence in praise of such a fellow." Then Peredur, who saw the blow, cried, as he left the hall: "Knight, hereafter ye shall answer to me for that blow." Therewith, he mounted his piebald and rode in haste to the meadow. And when the knight espied him, he cried to him: "Tell me, youth, saw'st thou any coming after me from the court?" "I am come myself," said Peredur. "Hold thy peace," answered the knight angrily, "and go back to the court and say that, unless one comes in haste, I will not tarry, but will ride away, holding them all shamed." "By my faith," said Peredur, "willingly or unwillingly, thou shalt answer to me for thine insolence; and I will have the goblet of thee, ay, and thy horse and armour to boot." With that, in a rage, the knight struck Peredur a violent blow between the neck and the shoulder with the butt-end of his lance. "So!" cried Peredur, "not thus did my mother's servants play with me; and thus will I play with thee"; and drove at him with his pointed stake that it entered the eye of the knight, who forthwith fell dead from his horse. Then Peredur dismounted and began wrenching at the fastenings of the dead man's armour, for he saw in the adventure the means of equipping himself as a knight should ride; but knowing not the trick of the fastenings, his efforts were in vain. While he yet struggled, there rode up Sir Owain who had followed in hot haste from the court; and when he saw the fallen knight, he was amazed that a mere lad, unarmed and unskilled in knightly exercises, should thus have prevailed. "Fair youth," said he, "what would ye?" "I would have this knight's iron coat, but I cannot stir it for all my efforts." "Nay, young Sir," said Sir Owain, "leave the dead his arms, and take mine and my horse, which I give you right gladly; and come with me to the King to receive the order of knighthood, for, by my faith, ye have shown yourself worthy of it." "I thank you, noble Sir," answered Peredur, "and gladly I accept your gift; but I will not go with you now. Rather will I seek other adventures and prove me further first; nor will I seek the King's presence until I have encountered with the tall knight that so misused the dwarf, and have called him to account. Only, I pray you, take this goblet to Queen Guenevere, and say to my lord, King Arthur, that, in all places and at all times, I am his true vassal, and will render him such service as I may." Then, with Sir Owain's help, Peredur put on the armour, and mounting his horse, after due salutation, rode on his way.

So, for many days, Peredur followed his adventures, and many a knight he met and overthrew. To all he yielded grace, requiring only that they should ride to Caerleon, there to give themselves up to the King's pleasure, and say that Peredur had sent them. At last he came to a fair castle that rose from the shores of a lake, and there he was welcomed by a venerable old man who pressed him to make some stay. So, as they sat at supper, the old man asked Peredur many questions of himself and his adventure, gazing earnestly on him the while; and, at last, he said: "I know thee who thou art. Thou art my sister's son. Stay now with me, and I will teach thee the arts and courtesy and noble bearing of a gentle knight, and give thee the degree when thou art accomplished in all that becomes an honourable knight." Thereto Peredur assented gladly, and remained with his uncle until he had come to a perfect knowledge of chivalry; after that, he received the order of knighthood at the old man's hands, and rode forth again to seek adventures. Presently he came to the city of Caerleon, but though Arthur was there with all his court, Sir Peredur chose to make himself known to none; for he had not yet avenged the dwarf on Sir Kay. Now it chanced, as he walked through the city, he saw at her casement a beautiful maiden whose name was Angharad; and at once he knew that he had seen the damsel whom he must love his life long. So he sought to be acquainted with her, but she scorned him, thinking him but some unproved knight, since he consorted not with those of Arthur's court; and, at last, finding he might in no wise win her favour at that time, he made a vow that never would he speak to Christian man or woman until he had gained her love, and forthwith rode away again. After long journeyings, he came one night to a castle, and, knocking, gained admittance and courteous reception from the lady who owned it. But it seemed to Sir Peredur that there hung over all a gloom, none caring to talk or make merry, though there was no lack of the consideration due to a guest. Then when the evening hour was come, they took their places at the board, Peredur being set at the Countess' right hand; and two nuns entered and placed before the lady a flagon of wine and six white loaves, and that was all the fare. Then the Countess gave largely of the food to Sir Peredur, keeping little for herself and her attendants; but this pleased not the knight, who, heedless of his oath, said: "Lady, permit me to fare as do the others," and he took but a small portion of that which she had given him. Then the Countess, blushing as with shame, said to him: "Sir Knight, if we make you poor cheer, far otherwise is our desire, but we are in sore straits." "Madam," answered Peredur courteously, "for your welcome I thank you heartily; and, I pray you, if there is aught in which a knight may serve you, tell me your trouble." Then the Countess told him how she had been her father's one child, and heir to his broad lands; and how a neighbouring baron had sought her hand; but she, misliking him, had refused his suit, so that his wrath was great. Then, when her father died, he had made war upon her, overrunning all her lands till nothing was left to her but the one castle. Long since, all the provision stored therein was consumed, and she must have yielded her to the oppressor but for the charity of the nuns of a neighbouring monastery, who had secretly supplied her with food when, for fear, her vassals had forsaken her. But that day the nuns had told her that no longer could they aid her, and there was naught left save to submit to the invader. This was the story that, with many tears, the Countess related to Peredur. "Lady," said he, "with your permission, I will take upon me your quarrel, and to-morrow I will seek to encounter this felon." The Countess thanked him heartily and they retired to rest for that night.

In the morning betimes, Sir Peredur arose, donned his armour and, seeking the Countess, desired that the portcullis might be raised, for he would sally forth to seek her oppressor. So he rode out from the castle and saw in the morning light a plain covered with the tents of a great host. With him he took a herald to proclaim that he was ready to meet any in fair fight, in the Countess' quarrel. Forthwith, in answer to his challenge, there rode forward the baron himself, a proud and stately knight mounted on a great black horse. The two rushed together, and, at the first encounter, Sir Peredur unhorsed his opponent, bearing him over the crupper with such force that he lay stunned, as one dead. Then, Peredur, drawing his sword, dismounted and stood over the fallen knight, who, when he was recovered a little, asked his mercy. "Gladly will I grant it," answered Peredur, "but on these conditions. Ye shall disband this host, restore to the Countess threefold all of which ye have deprived her, and, finally, ye shall submit yourself unto her as her vassal." All this the baron promised to do, and Peredur remained with the Countess in her castle until she was firmly established in that which was rightfully hers. Then he bade her farewell, promising his aid if ever she should need his services, and so rode forth again.

And as he rode, at times he was troubled, thinking on the scorn with which the fair Angharad had treated him, and reproaching himself bitterly for having broken his vow of silence. So he journeyed many days, and at length, one morn, dismounting by a little woodland stream, he stood lost in thought, heedless of his surroundings. Now, as it chanced, Arthur and a company of his knights were encamped hard by; for, returning from an expedition, the King had been told of Peredur and how he had taken upon him the Queen's quarrel, and forthwith had ridden out in search of him. When the King espied Sir Peredur standing near the brook, he said to the knights about him: "Know ye yonder knight?" "I know him not," said Sir Kay, "but I will soon learn his name." So he rode up to Sir Peredur and spoke to him, demanding his name. When Peredur answered not, though questioned more than once, Sir Kay in anger, struck him with the butt-end of his spear. On the instant, Sir Peredur caught him with his lance under the jaw, and, though himself unmounted, hurled Kay from the saddle. Then when Kay returned not, Sir Owain mounted his horse and rode forth to learn what had happened, and by the brook he found Sir Kay sore hurt, and Peredur ready mounted to encounter any who sought a quarrel. But at once Sir Owain recognised Sir Peredur and rejoiced to see him; and when he found Sir Peredur would speak no word, being himself an honourable knight, he thought no evil, but urged him to ride back with him to Arthur's camp. And Sir Peredur, still speaking never a word, went with Sir Owain, and all respected his silence save Kay, who was long healing of the injuries he had received, and whose angry words none heeded. So they returned to Caerleon and soon, through the city, were noised the noble deeds of Sir Peredur, each new-comer bringing some fresh story of his prowess. Then when Angharad learnt how true and famous was the knight whom she had lightly esteemed, she was sore ashamed; and seeing him ever foremost in the tournament and courteous to all in deed, though speaking not a word; she thought that never had there been so noble a knight, or one so worthy of a lady's love. Thus in the winning of her favour, Sir Peredur was released from his vow, and his marriage was celebrated with much pomp before the King and Queen. Long and happily he lived, famed through all Britain as one of the most valiant and faithful knights of King Arthur's Round Table.