Among the extrinsic evidences that the Welsh non-Graal quest of Peredur contains the fibrous roots of a legend which was earlier than the Graal period of literature, there is the analogical story of Syr Percyvelle, which belongs in its present form to the fifteenth century, being therefore far later than the Mabinogion, though there is an Italian story which is even later still. Among the intrinsic evidences are the wild elements which characterise the Mabinogion generally of the Red Book of Hergest, suggesting an archaic state. I do not know that the last word has been said upon either testimony, but I do know that the Peredur is not a Graal story, and if its roots could be traced to Atlantis it would still be nothing to our purpose. When the bells began to ring at the outset, of our great speculation, we said in our hearts: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus. We look, therefore, for the elevation of the Graal on our high altar of research, and our password is, Sanctum Graal.
There is very little question that this poem is in the position described by scholarship--that is to say, it is a fifteenth-century presentation of a legend which may be far older than any of the Graal quests in which Perceval is the hero. Its elements are simple and primitive. They are much simpler and perhaps far more primitive than are those of the Welsh Peredur, while they are less disconcerting and aimless. The poem is
in perfect harmony with itself; it has a conclusion proper to its beginning and intervening incidents which so work that the term indicated at the start is brought logically about.
It is the antithesis of any of the Graal romances--there is scarcely any quest at all; secondly, there is no question; there are no hallows of any kind, either Lance or Sword or Cup; finally, there is no enchantment of Britain. It is a savage story--naked and not ashamed; it calls on the kingdom of blood to be manifested about the hero, and he ensures its coming.
The mere skeleton of the poem will exhibit its points of contact with the Welsh Perceval and those of its divergence therefrom. The father of Perceval, who had also the same name, was for his valiant deeds married to the sister of King Arthur. She bore him only the one son, for a great tourney was held to celebrate the birth, and thereat the father was slain by a knight in red armour. As in the previous story, his widow fled into the wilderness, taking the child with her, so that he should know nothing of deeds of arms. He was brought up in the wild wood, with the wild beasts for his companions. However, as the boy grew up the mother gave him a small Scotch spear, and with this he became so dexterous that nothing could escape him. He was clothed in skins, and for a long time seems to have been reared as a heathen; but it came about at length that the lady taught him some prayers to the Son of God, and shortly after he met with three knights of King Arthur's court, one of them being Gawain and another Kay. He inquired which of them was the great God about whom his mother had taught him, and threatened to slay them if they refused to answer. He was told who they were, and then asked whether King Arthur would knight him also. He obtained a sorry horse, took leave of his mother, and rode to court clothed in his skins of beasts, and nourishing a firm resolution to slay the king if he would not grant his request. At
parting the mother gave him a ring to be kept as a token, and she promised that she would await his return. On his road he reached a pavilion wherein was a lady asleep. He kissed her and exchanged a certain ring which she wore for the one that had been given to himself. He arrived at the court of all chivalry, add King Arthur recognised the boy's likeness to that older Perceval who had received his own sister as wife. The king, however, and apparently the whole chivalry had been reduced to recurring distress through fear of the Red Knight, who came regularly to rob the king of the cup out of which he was drinking. Perceval's arrival was coincident with another visitation of this kind, being the fifth during as many years. The Cup was of red gold, and it was seized while the king was in the act of putting it to his lips. Perceval, who was a witness, offered to bring back the vessel if the king would knight him, and the king promised to do so on his return. He went to fetch armour for the child, but Perceval in the meantime departed. The Red Knight did not wish to do battle with so sorry an opponent, but in the end there was a momentary combat, Perceval slaying the champion by throwing his dart, which passed through one of his eyes. For what it is worth, we have here an instance of that vengeance legend of which folk-lore traces examples in the Graal literature. It is true that Perceval slays the Red Knight, but, as in the Welsh Peredur, he does so without knowing that his victim was responsible for his father's death; his sole and simple object is to wipe out the affront offered to the king. After the encounter Perceval, with the assistance of Gawain, who had followed and come upon the scene, stripped the body of the armour, and the youth was clothed therein. He did not return to claim the promised reward of knighthood, and Gawain was the bearer of the Cup to the king. His next office was to destroy a witch who was the mother of the Red Knight, and on account of his armour he was taken then and subsequently for that personage himself. He arrived
at a castle, to which there came presently from the Maiden Land a messenger who was on his way to King Arthur entreating assistance for his mistress, the Lady Lufamour. She was being oppressed by a sultan who desired her for his wife, and because of her refusal he had slain her father and brother and had wasted her lands, so that she had only one castle left in which to take refuge. To this castle Perceval asked the way of the messenger, with the intention of destroying the Saracen, but the messenger preferred to continue his own road and get help from the king. Perceval, on his part, determined to discover it for himself, and the three sons of his host insisted on accompanying him, which they did for a certain distance, after which he contrived to shake them off. Meanwhile the messenger reached the court and had a very indifferent answer from the king, who, together with his knights, appears in rather a pitiful light throughout all the early portion of the story. The king, in fact, tells him that there is no lord in his land who is worthy to be called a knight. However, on hearing of the description of the chivalrous youth who was seen by the messenger from the castle on his road to court, the king concluded that this was Perceval, and called for horses, arms and companions of his table to follow in quest of the hero, fearing that he might be slain before they could reach him. By this time Perceval had arrived at the Maiden Land, and found a host of tents marshalled about a city. He set to and slew many, his ingenuous warcry being apparently that he had come to destroy a soldan. He slept in the open field, with his dead round him. The Lady Lufamour came to survey the slaughter from the height of her walls, and descried the knight whom she supposed to have effected it. She sent her chamberlain to bring him into the city; therein she made him good cheer, and fell in love at first sight. He returned to do battle in her cause, she promising herself and the kingdom if he destroyed the soldan. He behaved in a manner which
recalls the worst combats in the Spanish romances of chivalry, wherein one knight scatters a thousand paynims. Meanwhile, King Arthur and his companions arrived, but were mistaken by Perceval for enemies, and he fought with Gawain. However, ultimately they recognised each other and embraced. All proceeded to the castle, and Arthur recounted to the lady the early history of Perceval. The next morning he was knighted by the king, and again went forth against the soldan, whom he slew finally. He was made king of the country, and wedded Lufamour. He was still in the first year of his marriage when he remembered his mother, and rode away to find her. This is the quest of the story, and on the way he had to champion the lady of the pavilion, who had fallen into the hands of her husband for the business of the ring. He reconciled them vi et armis, and learned that the ring which he had borrowed had such virtues that the wearer could be neither slain nor wounded. He proposed to exchange again, but the husband had given that which was Perceval's to the lord of the land, a giant of whom none would dare to ask it: he was, indeed, the brother of the soldan, but there is no need to say that Perceval in due course not only defeated but dismembered him. He recovered his ring at the giant's castle, and learned from the seneschal that his master had offered it to a lady whom he besought in marriage; that she recognised it as her son's ring, and, supposing that he had been slain by the giant, she fled distracted into the forest hard by. Perceval was now close on the track of his quest-object; he assumed a garment of skins, that she might know him the more easily; and it was not long before the mother and son met and were henceforth reunited. They repaired to the giant's castle, till the lady was restored to health and sanity. In fine, he carried her home, where she was welcomed by his queen and the great lords. This was the good end of Perceval's mother, and in this way the story describes its perfect circle. The end of Perceval himself was in the Holy Land.