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Thence they
proceeded to the palace hall, where all took their seats at the table
for supper.

But as they sat eating, there came outside a terrible crash of thunder,
and a wind arose that seemed as if it would rend the great hall from its
foundations. In the midst of this blast the hall was lighted by a sudden
gleam seven times brighter than the midday light, in whose glare the
knights sat dumb, none daring to speak. But each looked at the others,
and it seemed to each that his fellows were fairer of visage than he
had ever seen them before.

Then the storm and the glare passed away as suddenly as they had come,
and there entered the hall the holy grail. None there saw it, for it was
covered with white samite, but the hall was filled with the rarest
odors, and each knight saw on the table before him the meats and drinks
that he loved best in the world.

When the holy vessel had passed through the hall, it suddenly vanished,
none knew how. And not till then dared any man speak.

"Certes," said the king, "we ought to thank God devoutly for what he has
shown us this day."

"We have enjoyed the richest of perfumes, and have before us the rarest
of food," said Gawaine; "and we have but one thing to regret, that the
sacred vessel was so preciously covered that no eye might behold it. But
this miracle has filled my soul with the warmest desire to see this holy
thing, and I therefore vow that to-morrow, without delay, I shall set
out in quest of the Sangreal, and shall not return hither till I have
seen it more openly, if it take me a twelvemonth or more. If I fail in
the end, I shall return as one who is not worthy to behold the holy
vessel."

On hearing these words the other knights arose as one man, and repeated
the vow which Gawaine had made.

Upon this, King Arthur sprang to his feet in deep displeasure, for there
came to his mind like a vision a host of evil consequences from this
inconsiderate vow.

"You are over-hasty, Gawaine," he said, sharply, "and have done me a
lifelong evil with your vow. For you have bereft me of the fairest
fellowship that ever came together in this world. When my knights depart
hence on that difficult search, well I know that they will never all
meet again in this world, for many shall die in the quest. Therefore it
distresses me deeply, for I have loved them as I loved my life, and I
would rather have my soul depart from my body than to lose their noble
fellowship. Long have we dwelt together in sorrow and in joy, but I fear
our happy days are at an end, and that trouble and suffering await us in
the time to come. What God wills must be, but my heart is sore at the
thought of it."

And men who looked upon the king could see tears of distress and grief
flowing from his eyes.




CHAPTER III.

HOW GALAHAD GOT HIS SHIELD.


When morning came the knights made ready for their departure, amid the
tears and lamentations of ladies, and with the deep sorrow of the king
and queen. For there were a hundred and fifty of them in all, comprising
the whole fellowship of the Table Round, and King Arthur had deep reason
for his fear that he would never gather all these gallant knights round
his festal board again. And so they mounted and rode through the streets
of Camelot, where was weeping of rich and poor, and the king turned away
and could not speak for grief, while Queen Guenever hid herself in her
chamber, to be alone with her bitter sorrow at the going of Lancelot.

Onward they rode in company until they came to a castle and town that
were named Vagon. There they stopped and were well entertained by the
lord of the castle, who was a man of great hospitality. But when morning
came it was decided between them that they should separate, each taking
his own course, so that the Sangreal might be sought in all quarters.
This they did with much sorrow and many fervent farewells, each knight
taking the way that he liked the best, and riding alone and afar on his
perilous quest.

First must we follow the young knight Galahad, who still rode without a
shield, and who passed onward for four days without an adventure. Near
eventide of the fourth day he came to a white abbey, where he was
received with great respect, and led to a chamber that he might lay off
his armor. And here, to his surprise, he met with two of the goodly
company from which he had lately parted, Sir Uwaine and King Bagdemagus.

"Sirs," said Galahad, "what adventure brought you hither?"

"We are told," they replied, "that within this place is a shield of
perilous significance. For he who bears it about his neck runs deep risk
of being slain within three days, or maimed forever. Yet," said
Bagdemagus, "I shall bear it to-morrow and try my fortune."

"In the name of God, try it," said Galahad. "Yet truly you take a great
risk."

"If I fail therein, you shall take the adventure. I am sure you will not
fail."

"I agree to that," said Galahad. "I have ridden far enough without a
shield."

Then they went to supper, and afterwards to sleep. When morning came
Bagdemagus asked of the abbot where the magic shield was, and a monk led
him behind an altar where hung a shield as white as snow, but with a red
cross in its centre.

"I hope you are well advised of what you do," said the monk. "No knight,
unless he be the worthiest in the world, can safely bear this shield."

"I know well that I am not the best of knights," said Bagdemagus; "and
yet I shall wear it and dare the danger."

Then he took it out of the monastery, and said to Galahad,--

"If it please you, await me here till you learn how I shall speed."

"I shall await tidings," said Galahad.

Bagdemagus now rode forward with a squire, that he might send back
tidings of his good or ill fortune, and passed onward for two miles,
when he found himself in a valley before a hermitage. Here he saw a
stalwart knight in white armor, horse and all, who, in seeing the
red-cross shield, rode upon him at the full speed of his charger.
Bagdemagus put his spear in rest and rode to meet him, but his spear
broke on the white knight, while he was wounded in the right shoulder
and borne from his horse, the treacherous shield refusing to cover him.
Then the victor knight alighted and took the white shield from him,
saying,--

"Sir knight, you have acted with more folly than wisdom, for you should
have known that only he who has no peer living can safely bear this
shield."

Then he went to the squire who had come with King Bagdemagus, and
said,--

"Bear this shield to the good knight Sir Galahad, whom you left in the
abbey, and greet him from me."

"What shall I tell him is your name?"

"Take no heed of my name. That is not for you to know, nor for any
earthly man. Content yourself with telling Sir Galahad that this shield
is for him, and for no other man to wear. And may God aid him to bear it
worthily and worshipfully."

But the squire went first to Bagdemagus and asked him if he were
seriously wounded.

"Forsooth, I am," he said. "I shall scarce escape from death."

The squire then conveyed him in great pain to the hermitage, and left
him in care of the hermit. And as the chronicle tells, he lay there
long, and barely escaped with life.

[Illustration: Copyright 1895 by E. A. Abbey; from a Copely print
copyright 1896 by Curtis and Cameron.

OATH OF KNIGHTHOOD.]

"Sir Galahad," said the squire, when he had returned to the abbey, "King
Bagdemagus has paid dearly for his venture. He lies at a hermitage
sorely wounded. As for you, the knight that overthrew him sends you
greeting, and bids you to bear this shield, through which marvellous
adventures shall come to you."

"Then blessed be God and fortune," said Galahad.

He now resumed his arms and mounted his horse, hanging the white shield
about his neck and commending himself to God. Uwaine offered to bear him
company, but this was not to be.

"Sir knight," said Galahad, "I thank you for your offer, but I must go
alone, save that this squire shall bear me fellowship."

With these words the youthful knight rode away, and soon came to where
the white knight abode by the hermitage. They saluted each other
courteously, and fell into a conversation in which the white knight told
Galahad the story of the magical shield.

"In the far past time," he said, "soon after Joseph of Arimathea took
down the body of our Lord from the holy cross, and bore it from
Jerusalem to a city named Sarras, there was a king of Sarras named
Evelake, who was then at war with the Saracens. This king, through the
teachings of Joseph, was converted from the old law to the new, and for
him this shield was made, in the name of Him who died on the cross.
Afterwards, when Evelake was in battle, the shield was covered with a
cloth, which was only removed in times of deadly peril, and then his
enemies saw the figure of a man on the cross, before which they fell
back discomfited. At times the cross of the shield would vanish away,
and at times stand out clear and bright; and such was its virtue that a
soldier whose hand was stricken off was made whole again by touching
the cross. The time came at length when Joseph left Palestine and
journeyed westward, and King Evelake with him, till they came to Great
Britain, where all the people had been pagans, but were then converted
to the Christian faith. Soon afterwards Joseph sickened and came near to
death, and while he lay in his bed he bade Evelake bring him the shield,
and on it he traced a red cross with his own blood. Then he said to
Evelake, 'No man hereafter shall bear this shield but he shall repent
it, until Galahad, the last of my lineage, shall come to seek it, and
with it he shall do marvellous deeds.' 'Where shall the shield await his
coming?' asked Evelake. 'You shall leave it in the abbey where Nancien
the hermit shall lie after his death, and thither the knight Galahad
shall come for it soon after he receives the order of knighthood.' This
is the story of the shield, and this day has the prediction been
fulfilled. Wear the shield worthily and well, young knight, for much
glory and renown shall come to you through it.



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