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Then Percivale saw a ship approaching
with such speed as if all the winds in the world had driven it. On it
kept till it reached land at the beach below him. He hurried hopefully
to meet it, and saw that it was covered with black silk, while on the
deck stood a lady of great beauty, who was dressed in the richest
apparel.

"What brought you into this wilderness?" she cried to the knight. "Here
you are likely to die of hunger, for no man may cross yonder rocks and
escape."

"I serve the best master in the world," said Percivale. "He will not
suffer harm to come to me."

"Sir Percivale," said she, "know you who I am?"

"Who taught you my name?" he answered.

"I know you better than you deem," she replied, laughing. "This much I
may tell you, that not long since I was in the waste forest, where I saw
the red knight with the white shield."

"Ah! is that so? Fain would I meet with him."

"I shall bring you to him; but only on covenant that you will come to my
aid when I summon you."

"If it be in reason and uprightness, you may trust me," he replied.

"I saw him," she continued, "chase two knights into the stream that is
called Mortaise, and follow them into the water. But they passed over,
and his horse was drowned, and only by his great strength he got safe to
land again."

"That I am very glad to hear. It would have been a sad day had that good
knight been drowned."

"You look pale and thin," she remarked. "Have you eaten lately?"

"Not these three days," he answered. "Yet I spoke of late with a good
man, whose words refreshed me as if I had partaken of rich viands."

"Ah, sir knight," she said, "beware of that old man. I know him better
than you. He is a false enchanter, who seeks your harm. If you heed his
words shame will be your lot, and you will die on this rock and be
devoured by wild beasts. I am here to help you in your need, for I am
not content to see so good a knight come to harm and disgrace."

"Who are you," asked Percivale, "that proffer me so great a kindness?"

"Once I was the richest woman in the world," she answered. "Now I am
disinherited and in want."

"Then I pity you greatly. Who is it that has disinherited you?"

"I dwelt with the greatest man in the world," she answered, "and to him
I owe my beauty,--a beauty of which I was, alas! too proud. Then I said
that which offended him deeply, and he drove me away from him, and
robbed me of my heritage, and has never since had pity for me nor for my
friends. Since this has happened I have done my best to wean his men
from him, and many of them now cling to me, and I and they war against
him day and night. I know no good knight, nor good man, but that I
strive to win him to my side, and all such I repay well for their
services. For he against whom I wage war is strong, and I need all the
aid to be had. Therefore, since I know you for a valiant knight, I
beseech you to help me. A fellow of the Round Table cannot, under his
vow, fail any woman that is disinherited, and that seeks his aid."

"That is true, indeed," said Percivale, "and I shall do all I can for
you."

"You have my earnest thanks," she said.

Then, as the weather was hot, she called some of her attendants, and
bade them bring a pavilion and set it up on the gravel near the
sea-line.

"Sir knight," she said, "I pray you to rest here in the heat of the day,
while my attendants prepare food for you."

He thanked her and laid aside his helm and shield, and fell asleep
within the pavilion, where he slumbered long. When he awoke he asked her
if the food was ready.

"Yes," she answered; "I have worked while you slumbered."

Then a table was set within the pavilion, and covered with a rich array
of meats and drinks, of which Percivale ate with great appetite, while
the lady sat opposite him with a very gracious aspect. The wine he drank
was the strongest that had ever passed his lips, and its strength soon
got into his veins and heated his brain.

The lady now smiled graciously upon him, and it seemed to him that he
had never beheld so fair a creature. Her beauty so worked upon his
heated blood, indeed, that he proffered her his love, and prayed
earnestly for hers in return.

When she saw his loving ardor, and that the wine worked like fire in his
blood, she said, with a smile of witchery,--

"Sir Percivale, if I become yours, you must become mine. I shall not
grant you my love unless you swear that henceforth you will be my true
servant, and do nothing but what I shall command. Will you thus bind
yourself, as you are a true knight?"

"That will I, fair lady, by the faith of my body."

"Then this I will say, that of all the knights in the world you are he
whom I most love. And you may seal upon my lips the compact we have
made."

But when Percivale came towards her, to claim the proffered kiss, which
she offered with such bewitching grace, by chance or through God's aid
he saw his sword, which lay on the ground at his feet, and in its pommel
a red cross, with the sign of the crucifix therein. Then came to his
mind the promise he had made to the old man, and his knightly vows, and
with a pious impulse he raised his hand and made the sign of the cross
on his forehead, the while his eyes were fixed on the lovely face of the
tempter before him.

As he did so her smile changed to a look of deadly hate, and the
loveliness of her face to a hideous aspect, while in the same moment the
pavilion fell as before a great wind, and then vanished in smoke and
cloud.

Over the sea the wind rose and roared, and as he looked he saw the ship
battling with heaving waves, while the water seemed to burn behind it.
On the deck stood the lady, who cried,--

"Sir Percivale, you have betrayed me! Beware, proud knight, I shall have
my revenge." Then the ship drove out to sea, and vanished from his
sight.

But in a passion of remorse Percivale snatched up the sword that lay
before him, and crying, "Since my flesh has been my master I will punish
it," he drove the naked blade through his thigh, till the blood spouted
out like a fountain.

"Wretch that I am, how nearly was I lost!" he cried, in a torment of
conscience. "Fair sweet Father, Jesus Christ my Lord, let me not be
shamed, as I would now have been but for thy good grace. Take this wound
in recompense for what I have done against thee, and forgive me my deep
transgression, I humbly pray thee."

But as he lay moaning and bleeding the wild winds went down and the sea
grew smooth, while he saw coming from the Orient the ship with the good
man, on board, on beholding whom he fell into a swoon.

When he awoke he found that his wound had been dressed and the bleeding
stopped. Beside him sat the good man, who asked him,--

"How hast thou done since I departed?"

"Weakly and wickedly enough," he answered. "A witch beguiled me, and I
nearly fell a victim to her wiles."

"Knew you her not?"

"Only that I deem the foul fiend sent her here to shame me."

"Worse than that, good knight. Your victory is greater than you deem.
That seeming woman who deceived you was no less an adversary than the
master-fiend of hell, who has power over all the lesser devils, and, had
you yielded you had been lost forever. For this is the mighty champion
against whom you were forwarned; he who was once the brightest angel of
heaven, and was driven out by our Lord Christ for his sins, and thus
lost his heritage. But that the grace of God was on your side you would
have fallen before this champion of evil. Take this, Sir Percivale, as a
warning and an example."

With these words the good man vanished away. Then the mariners carried
the wounded knight on board their ship, and set sail, bearing him
rapidly away from that scene of temptation and victory.




CHAPTER V.

THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF SIR BORS.


When Sir Bors parted from his companions, on the quest of the Sangreal,
not far had he gone when he met a religious man riding on an ass, whom
he courteously saluted.

"Who are you?" asked the good man.

"I am one of those knights who have set out in quest of the Sangreal,"
said Bors. "I would fain have your counsel in this high duty, for great
honor shall come to him who succeeds therein."

"That is true," said the good man. "He that wins the Sangreal will be
counted the best knight and the purest soul among men. None can hope to
attain it except through cleanness of spirit."

Then they rode together till they came to a hermitage. Here Bors went
into the chapel with his companion, and confessed to him, and ate bread
and drank water with him.

"Now," said the good man, "I charge you that you take no other food than
bread and water till you sit at the table where the Sangreal shall be."

"To that I agree. But how know you that I shall ever sit there?"

"I know it, let that suffice; but few of your comrades shall have that
honor."

"All that God sends me will be welcome," said Bors.

"Also, instead of a shirt, and in token of chastisement, you shall wear
this garment," and the good man produced a scarlet coat, which Bors
promised to wear next his skin till the Sangreal should be won.

Then, after further wholesome advice, he resumed his armor and departed.
He had gone but a little way from the hermitage when he passed a tree
that was little more than an old and leafless trunk, and on one of its
boughs he saw a great bird, surrounded by young that were nearly dead
with hunger. As, he continued to look at this strange sight, the bird
smote itself in the breast with its sharp beak, and bled till it died
among its young. Then the young birds fed on their mother's blood, and
were revived thereby.

This to Bors seemed full of deep significance, and he pondered deeply
upon it as he rode onward. By even-song he found himself near a strong
and high tower, where he asked shelter for the night, and was hospitably
welcomed.

When he had disarmed he was led to a richly furnished apartment, where
he found a young and fair lady, who welcomed him gladly to her tower,
and invited him to take supper with her.

The table was set with rich meats and many dainties, but Bors forgot not
the hermit's charge, and bade an attendant to bring him water.



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