Sir Galahad and the Sacred Cup
‘My strength is as the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure,’
sang Galahad gladly. He was only a boy, but he had just been made a knight by Sir Lancelot, and the old abbey, where he had lived all his life, rang with the echo of his song.
Sir Lancelot heard the boy’s clear voice singing in triumph. As he stopped to listen, he caught the words,
‘My strength is as the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure,’
and the great knight wished he were a boy again, and could sing that song too.
Twelve nuns lived in the quiet abbey, and they had taught Galahad lovingly and carefully, ever since he had come to them as a beautiful little child. And the boy had dwelt happily with them there in the still old abbey, and he would be sorry to leave them, but he was a knight now. He would fight for the King he reverenced so greatly, and for the country he loved so well.
Yet when Sir Lancelot left the abbey the next day, Galahad did not go with him. He would stay in his old home a little longer, he thought. He would not grieve the nuns by a hurried farewell.
Sir Lancelot left the abbey alone, but as he rode along he met two knights, and together they reached Camelot, where the King was holding a great festival.
King Arthur welcomed Sir Lancelot and the two knights. ‘Now all the seats at our table will be filled,’ he said gladly. For it pleased the King when the circle of his knights was unbroken.
Then all the King’s household went to service at the minster, and when they came back to the palace they saw a strange sight.
In the dining-hall the Round Table at which the King and his knights always sat seemed strangely bright.
The King looked more closely, and saw that at one place on this Round Table were large gold letters. And he read, ‘This is the seat of Sir Galahad, the Pure-hearted.’ But only Sir Lancelot knew that Sir Galahad was the boy-knight he had left behind him in the quiet old abbey.
‘We will cover the letters till the Knight of the Pure Heart comes,’ said Sir Lancelot; and he took silk and laid it over the glittering letters.
Then as they sat down to table they were disturbed by Sir Kay, the steward of the King’s kitchen.
‘You do not sit down to eat at this festival,’ Sir Kay reminded the King, ‘till you have seen or heard some great adventure.’ And the King told his steward that the writing in gold had made him forget his usual custom.
As they waited a squire came hastily into the hall. ‘I have a strange tale to tell,’ he said. ‘As I walked along the bank of the river I saw a great stone, and it floated on the top of the water, and into the stone there has been thrust a sword.’
Then the King and all his knights went down to the river, and they saw the stone, and it was like red marble. And the sword that had been thrust into the stone was strong and fair. The handle of it was studded with precious stones, and among the stones there were letters of gold.
The King stepped forward, and bending over the sword read these words: ‘No one shall take me away but he to whom I belong. I will hang only by the side of the best knight in the world.’
The King turned to Sir Lancelot. ‘The sword is yours, for surely there lives no truer knight.’
But Sir Lancelot answered gravely, ‘The sword is not mine. It will never hang by my side, for I dare not try to take it.’
The King was sorry that his great knight’s courage failed, but he turned to Sir Gawaine and asked him to try to take the sword.
And at first Sir Gawaine hesitated. But when he looked again at the precious stones that sparkled on the handle, he hesitated no longer. But he no sooner touched the sword than it wounded him, so that he could not use his arm for many days.
Then the King turned to Sir Percivale. And because Arthur wished it, Sir Percivale tried to take the sword; but he could not move it. And after that no other knight dared to touch the fair sword; so they turned and went back to the palace.
In the dining-hall the King and his knights sat down once more at the Round Table, and each knight knew his own chair. And all the seats were filled except the chair opposite the writing in gold.
It had been a day full of surprise, but now the most wonderful thing of all happened. For as they sat down, suddenly all the doors of the palace shut with a loud noise, but no one had touched the doors. And all the windows were softly closed, but no one saw the hands that closed them.
Then one of the doors opened, and there came in a very old man dressed all in white, and no one knew whence he came.
By his side was a young man in red armour. He had neither sword nor shield, but hanging by his side was an empty sheath.
There was a great silence in the hall as the old man said slowly and solemnly, ‘I bring you the young knight Sir Galahad, who is descended from a king. He shall do many great deeds, and he shall see the Holy Grail.’
‘He shall see the Holy Grail,’ the knights repeated, with awe on their faces.
For far back, in the days of their boyhood, they had heard the story of the Holy Grail. It was the Sacred Cup out of which their Lord had drunk before He died.
And they had been told how sometimes it was seen carried by angels, and how at other times in a gleam of light. But in whatever way it appeared, it was seen only by those who were pure in heart.
And as the old man’s words, ‘He shall see the Holy Grail,’ fell on their ears, the knights thought of the story they had heard so long ago, and they were sorry, for they had never seen the Sacred Cup, and they knew that it was unseen only by those who had done wrong.
But the old man was telling the boy-knight to follow him. He led him to the empty chair, and lifted the silk that covered the golden letters. ‘This is the seat of Sir Galahad, the Pure-hearted,’ he read aloud. And the young knight sat in the empty seat that belonged to him.
Then the old man left the palace, and twenty noble squires met him, and took him back to his own country.
When dinner was ended, the King went over to the chair where his boy-knight sat, and welcomed him to the circle of the Round Table. Afterwards he took Sir Galahad’s hand, and led him out of the palace to show him the strange red stone that floated on the river. When Sir Galahad heard how the knights could not draw the sword out of the stone, he knew that this adventure was his.
‘I will try to take the sword,’ said the boy-knight, ‘and place it in my sheath, for it is empty,’ and he pointed to his side. Then he laid his hand on the wonderful sword, and easily drew it out of the stone, and placed it in his sheath.
‘God has sent you the sword, now He will send you a shield as well,’ said King Arthur.
Then the King proclaimed that the next day there would be a tournament in the meadows of Camelot. For before his knights went out to new adventures, he would see Sir Galahad proved.
And in the morning the meadows lay bright in the sunshine. And the boy-knight rode bravely to his first combat, and overthrew many men; but Sir Lancelot and Sir Percivale he could not overthrow.
When the tournament was over the King and his knights went home to supper, and each sat in his own seat at the Round Table.
All at once there was a loud crashing noise, a noise that was louder than any peal of thunder. Was the King’s wonderful palace falling to pieces?
But while the noise still sounded a marvellous light stole into the room, a light brighter than any sunbeam.
As the knights looked at one another, each seemed to the other to have a new glory and a new beauty in his face.
And down the sunbeam glided the Holy Grail. It was the Sacred Cup they had all longed to see. But no one saw it, for it was invisible to all but the pure-hearted Sir Galahad.
As the strange light faded away, King Arthur heard his knights vowing that they would go in search of the Holy Grail, and never give up the quest till they had found it.
And the boy-knight knew that he too would go over land and sea, till he saw again the wonderful vision.
That night the King could not sleep, for his sorrow was great. His knights would wander into far-off countries, and many of them would forget that they were in search of the Holy Grail. Would they not have found the Sacred Cup one day if they had stayed with their King and helped to clear the country of its enemies?
In the morning the streets of Camelot were crowded with rich and poor. And the people wept as they watched the knights ride away on their strange quest. And the King wept too, for he knew that now there would be many empty chairs at the Round Table.
The knights rode together to a strange city and stayed there all night. The next day they separated, each going a different way.
Sir Galahad rode on for four days without adventure. At last he came to a white abbey, where he was received very kindly. And he found two knights there, and one was a King.
‘What adventure has brought you here?’ asked the boy-knight.
Then they told him that in this abbey there was a shield. And if any man tried to carry it, he was either wounded or dead within three days.
‘But to-morrow I shall try to bear it,’ said the King.
‘In the name of God, let me take the shield,’ said Sir Galahad gravely.
‘If I fail, you shall try to bear it,’ said the King. And Galahad was glad, for he had still no shield of his own.
Then a monk took the King and the young knight behind the altar, and showed them where the shield hung. It was as white as snow, but in the middle there was a red cross.
‘The shield can be borne only by the worthiest knight in the world,’ the monk warned the King.
‘I will try to bear it, though I am no worthy knight,’ insisted the King; and he took the shield and rode down into the valley.
And Galahad waited at the abbey, for the King had said he would send his squire to tell the young knight how the shield had protected him.
For two miles the King rode through the valley, till he reached a hermitage. And he saw a warrior there, dressed in white armour, and sitting on a white horse.
The warrior rode quickly towards the King, and struck him so hard that he broke his armour. Then he thrust his spear through the King’s right shoulder, as though he held no shield.
‘The shield can be borne only by a peerless knight. It does not belong to you,’ said the warrior, as he gave it to the squire, telling him to carry it back to the abbey and to give it to Sir Galahad with his greeting.
‘Then tell me your name,’ said the squire.
‘I will tell neither you nor any one on earth,’ said the warrior. And he disappeared, and the squire saw him no more.
‘I will take the wounded King to an abbey, that his wounds may be dressed,’ thought the squire.
And with great difficulty the King and his squire reached an abbey. And the monks thought his life could not be saved, but after many days he was cured.
Then the squire rode back to the abbey where Galahad waited. ‘The warrior who wounded the King bids you bear this shield,’ he said.
Galahad hung the shield round his neck joyfully, and rode into the valley to seek the warrior dressed in white.
And when they met they saluted each other courteously. And the warrior told Sir Galahad strange tales of the white shield, till the knight thanked God that now it was his. And all his life long the white shield with the red cross was one of his great treasures.
Now Galahad rode back to the abbey, and the monks were glad to see him again. ‘We have need of a pure knight,’ they said, as they took Sir Galahad to a tomb in the churchyard.
A pitiful noise was heard, and a voice from the tomb cried, ‘Galahad, servant of God, do not come near me.’ But the young knight went towards the tomb and raised the stone.
Then a thick smoke was seen, and through the smoke a figure uglier than any man leaped from the tomb, shouting, ‘Angels are round thee, Galahad, servant of God. I can do you no harm.’
The knight stooped down and saw a body all dressed in armour lying there, and a sword lay by its side.
‘This was a false knight,’ said Sir Galahad. ‘Let us carry his body away from this place.’
‘You will stay in the abbey and live with us,’ entreated the monks. But the boy-knight could not rest. Would he see the light that was brighter than any sunbeam again? Would his adventures bring him at last to the Holy Grail?
Sir Galahad rode on many days, till at last he reached a mountain. On the mountain he found an old chapel. It was empty and very desolate. Galahad knelt alone before the altar, and asked God to tell him what to do next.
And as he prayed a voice said, ‘Thou brave knight, go to the Castle of Maidens and rescue them.’
Galahad rose, and gladly journeyed on to the Castle of Maidens.
There he found seven knights, who long ago had seized the castle from a maiden to whom it belonged. And these knights had imprisoned her and many other maidens.
When the seven knights saw Sir Galahad they came out of the castle. ‘We will take this young knight captive, and keep him in prison,’ they said to each other, as they fell upon him.
But Sir Galahad smote the first knight to the ground, so that he almost broke his neck. And as his wonderful sword flashed in the light, sudden fear fell on the six knights that were left, and they turned and fled.
Then an old man took the keys of the castle to Galahad. And the knight opened the gates of the castle, and set free many prisoners. He gave the castle back to the maiden to whom it belonged, and sent for all the knights in the country round about to do her homage.
Then once again Sir Galahad rode on in search of the Holy Grail. And the way seemed long, yet on and on he rode, till at last he reached the sea.
There, on the shore, stood a maiden, and when she saw Sir Galahad, she led him to a ship and told him to enter.
The wind rose and drove the ship, with Sir Galahad on board, between two rocks. But when the ship could not pass that way, the knight left it, and entered a smaller one that awaited him.
In this ship was a table, and on the table, covered with a red cloth, was the Holy Grail. Reverently Sir Galahad sank on his knees. But still the Sacred Cup was covered.
At last the ship reached a strange city, and on the shore sat a crippled man. Sir Galahad asked his help to lift the table from the ship.
‘For ten years I have not walked without crutches,’ said the man.
‘Show that you are willing, and come to me,’ urged the knight.
And the cripple got up, and when he found that he was cured, he ran to Sir Galahad, and together they carried the wonderful table to the shore.
Then all the city was astonished, and the people talked only of the great marvel. ‘The man that was a cripple for ten years can walk,’ each said to the other.
The King of the city heard the wonderful tale, but he was a cruel King and a tyrant. ‘The knight is not a good man,’ he said to his people, and he commanded that Galahad should be put in prison. And the prison was underneath the palace, and it was dark and cold there.
But down into the darkness streamed the light that had made Galahad so glad long ago at Camelot. And in the light Galahad saw the Holy Grail.
A year passed and the cruel King was very ill, and he thought he would die. Then he remembered the knight he had treated so unkindly, and who was still in the dark, cold prison. ‘I will send for him, and ask him to forgive me,’ murmured the King.
And when Galahad was brought to the palace, he willingly forgave the tyrant who had put him in prison.
Then the King died, and there was great dismay in the city, for where would they find a good ruler to sit on the throne?
As they wondered, they heard a voice that told them to make Sir Galahad their King, and in great joy the knight was crowned.
Then the new King ordered a box of gold and precious stones to be made, and in this box he placed the wonderful table he had carried away from the ship. ‘And every morning I and my people will come here to pray,’ he said.
For a year Sir Galahad ruled the country well and wisely.
‘A year ago they crowned me King,’ thought Galahad gravely, as he woke one morning. He would get up early, and go to pray at the precious table.
But before the King reached the table he paused. It was early. Surely all the city was asleep. Yet some one was already there, kneeling before the table on which, uncovered, stood the Sacred Cup.
The man kneeling there looked holy as the saints look. Surrounding him was a circle of angels. Was it a saint who kneeled, or was it the Lord Himself?
When the man saw Sir Galahad, he said, ‘Come near, thou servant of Jesus Christ, and thou shalt see what thou hast so much longed to see.’
And with joy Sir Galahad saw again the Holy Grail. Then as he kneeled before it in prayer, his soul left his body and was carried by angels into heaven.
Sir Galahad and the Sacred Cup – Stories of King Arthur’s Knights