The Return?

By Rhonda Boynton

The mist swirled in circles, dancing over the water with its partner the wind. Droplets of water attached themselves to the already soaked wood, making the boat seem to sit a little heavier in the water. Drifting silently, the barge listed slightly starboard, then rolled larboard. The tilting boat attracted the attention of the misty dancers as they swept their way across the sea. The dance became a wave that poured into the wooden vessel. Curiously, the dancers peered into the foreign object, all but covering it with their gray gloominess. A long groan startled the silent sea.

The figure in the boat began to shiver as the cold wetness of the air engulfed him.

He awoke.

The mist swirled about him, creeping into the cracks in his armor and finding all the crevices in his rough clothing. The wetness seeped through the holes and saturated the gaping wound in his side, chilling the very marrow of his bones.

The man screamed in agony, his sinewy shoulders and taut neck muscles strained against his skin with the effort. He moved restlessly in the boat, as if trying to rekindle some inner fire that had been squelched.

Warmth and life began to return and the dancers sighed as they drew away; their job was finished.

Slowly, with careful movements, the man drew himself into a sitting position. He surveyed the situation with one long gaze, as a master tactician surveys a battlefield. Ahead, enshrouded in a sunlit mist, stood the Island. The man knew, and he waited.

The boat drew itself up on the island with the customary scratch, like a dull pencil running across dry, old paper. The man leapt from the boat, his feet splashing in the water as he ran towards the shore. He halted suddenly, a confused look spreading over his face. He moved left.... then quickly swung right. He stopped; a slow grin began to form on his face as he realized that his wound was healed.

"Yr Widdfa!"

The battle-cry came from deep within as he grabbed for his sword and at once became a whirling mass of motion. His muscles responded to his slightest command, with the returned vigor of youth and health. The man stopped and fell to his knees in the sand, laughing fully and loudly at the sun-dappled sky.

"I pray thee, good knight, wherefore hast thou come here, and by what name be ye called?"

The man sprang to his feet, his sword already clenched tightly in his hand and surveyed the stranger.

The stranger was tall. He might have been fair complected, but there was a looming shadow about him that seemed to forbid any close observation. His age was mighty and he looked wise, clothed in his shadow garb, but his voice held a questioning note that seemed to belie his appearance.

The man sheathed his sword and looked frankly at his visitor. "Men have called me many things, but among friends I am known as Artos the Bear."

"Ye are right welcome, Sir Artos. Bring ye news of Camelot? I would hear thy tale..."

"KING ARTHUR! OHHH KING ARTHUR!" The cry came from the woods, along with a crashing and thundering which sounded like a thousand horses charging through the bracken. Artos stiffened at the sound and put his hand on his hilt. King Arthur only rolled his shadowed eyes and lifted his hands in the age-old gesture of helplessness.

Chugging slowly out of the woods came the noise machine. It was a large contraption made of wood and metal which crashed and banged its way through bracken, bushes and trees and miraculously emerged unharmed on the beach. Artos drew his sword as the vehicle sputtered ever closer. With a HONK! and a WHEeEeze... and a BANG! the thing finally lurched to a halt about ten feet away. Artos observed the situation, planted his feet firmly in the sand, and held his ground. From somewhere inside the wild machine a thin, wiry little man scootched his way out, talking at great speeds the whole while.

"King Arthur, my liege, may I have a word with you? I'm sorry to interrupt your daily schedule, but I must ask you to consider the possibility of a communication link between Avilion and the main land. Now, if we use some of the simple tools that I've been putting together, along with the man-power of the others on this island, we will be able to let Camelot know that we are all right and will return soon. I need your help to explain to the others what we will be doing..."

King Arthur's eyes shone bright blue for one moment then, just as quickly, they retreated back to their shadows. By this time the strange, wiry man had come into King Arthur's presence and, in constant motion, he continued to speak until he was interrupted by the stately shadow.

"Sir Boss, thou knowest the rules of this fair island far better than I, and ye must wit well that such a thing never may be. I well must learn of my fair land from these, the travelers, and not by thy marvels. Sir Artos... wilt thou join with us and tell us thy tale by the fire light?"

Artos looked warily from one man to the other, watching the almost shivering motion of Sir Boss carefully, before he lowered his sword and cautiously accepted the arrangement. The Boss looked dismayed for a moment, but, just as quickly, another idea sparked in his mind and he propelled himself to his outlandish vehicle.

"Hop in and I'll give you a ride back to The Circle."

The warrior and the shadow politely declined the invitation and followed the sputtering machine a good hundred paces behind.

They walked up the white, sandy beach and into a wooded glen. King Arthur lead Artos through the maze of trees. The coolness of the moist foliage surrounded them like a blanket. Presently, they arrived at a small clearing, four bare stumps the only evidence of the disturbance to the forest. The surrounding trees bent inward, filling up the missing space and forming a canopy above. Sunlight trickled in through the few bare patches and kept away the wetness that seemed to penetrate the rest of the island, but it was still cold. The ground in the center of the stumps was charred and black, evidence of the many fires built there.

King Arthur sat on the nearest stump, a look of impatience crossing his mainly placid face. The Boss stumbled in from the bushes where he had parked his contraption, making a lot of noise as he came. Artos stood off to the side, watching his companions closely. The sun sunk low across the horizon forming flaming bands of pink, red and orange that stretched from the east to the west. Soon they came.

The sketches arrived first. Looking like something out of an artist notebook, these were the tales out of which the Arthurian legend was made. Some were full drawings of the man while others were merely outlines, allowing the sun to gleam through them like a pane of glass.

There was a sudden flurry of movement and the sketches drew back as an overwhelmingly noble figure appeared in their midst. The man gleamed and shined in the setting sun. All of six feet tall, the man filled the clearing with his god-like presence. A purple cloak lay over his shoulders and the crown upon his head sat royally upon his kingly brow. He drifted into the circle and sat upon one of the old stumps as if it was a regal throne.

Silence filled The Circle. Artos studied the faces of these companions very carefully. He tried to imagine what had drawn such a strange lot together, but he was unable to see the connection, being too close to it himself. Suddenly the majestic voice spoke out:
"Sirs, what can be keeping our friend Arthur?
The sun has set and our time here grows short.
Some one should call him from his dusty books
and bring him here into our Circle round."

The deep voice boomed out through the glen and seemed to echo across the island. Then, as if he was summoned by the thundering voice, an older man with a graying beard and a care-worn face emerged from the woods. His blue eyes were pensive beneath a thatch of grayish-white hair that persisted in falling down across his forehead, giving him the appearance of a young boy at lessons.

"Oh, I am sorry for being late again. I've been trying to think once again over my ideas, but it is such a struggle to try to figure out where one went wrong."

The Circle was complete.

King Arthur clapped his hands together in one huge sweeping motion that drew the attention back to him.

"Sir Artos, ye are welcome here in the Circle Round on the Isle of Avilion. We here be required to wait for The Return.."

Artos drew himself into the circle and sat down in a grassy dip between Arthur and The Boss. He unconsciously stroked his clean-shaven face and then began to rub along the scars of his sword arm as a kind of consolation that he was still Artos.

"What is the return?"

The Boss leaned over to him conspiratorially. "All these men here believe themselves to be King Arthur, a great king of Britain who is supposed to return and save his country once again. Say... you're all right, kid, at least you don't believe you're going to return... or do you?"

"No. At least I didn't. What are you doing among this company? And what is this Circle?"

"The Circle is the name these guys call themselves. You see, since they all think they're King Arthur, they all believe they came up with the idea of the Round Table. So they had to come up with something different, or else they'd be fighting all the time among themselves. Actually, I came up with the Circle idea, to keep them from squabbling, and it works. As to why I'm here, I'm King Arthur's second in command. Hank Morgan's the name. I'm kind of a progress man. I've come up with several things to improve the quality of life around here. Of course, these guys don't realize all that I'm giving to them, but that's all right... for now. You see, all that book learning and deep thinking that Arthur over here is so interested in won't do him an ounce of good unless he can think on his feet. That's when the real miracles occur. For all of his deep thinking, his ideas didn't do him any good. He's here just like the rest of us."

The Boss punctuated his words by lighting a match and starting the fire in the middle of the circle.

Artos listened intently for a few minutes to this fast paced speech but soon gave up. The Boss didn't make any sense to him. Something else had caught his attention though. Artos shook his head as if to clear a vision from his sight. He peered closer in to the darkness. Yes, there was something coming from behind the tree. Artos rose to his feet and stood silently, waiting. A groaned whisper was torn from his throat. "Guenhumara." Artos was unable to move his feet forward; he just watched tacitly as "Guenhumara" walked into the center of the circle.

At the same time there were many other whispered responses throughout the circle. The King sat up straighter (if that could be possible) and spoke a stately serene acknowledgment, "Guinevere." King Arthur just shook his head in sad disbelief and peered intently at the ground. Arthur's blue eyes brightened, gleaming in the flickering fire-light with unshed tears. He leaned forward in boyish eagerness and whispered, "My love." The Boss's reaction went beyond them all. He slid from his stump-seat and landed on his knees almost at her feet. He look deep into her eyes for one moment before dropping his head in his hands and crying out in anguish, "Sandy....what have I done... Sandy...Hello-Central.....Sandy..."

The woman in the middle of the circle took in all their reactions with the same patient, all encompassing glance. "My Dear," she said in a soft, tender voice, "it is time. One of you must return."

"Forsooth, Queen Guenever, I pray thee, tell us which of these may returnest with thou?" King Arthur asked in an anxious, almost whiny voice.

"That is not for me to choose. You must decide. The barge is waiting for the chosen one on the south side of Avilion." She bestowed one more glance upon them all before being swallowed up by the misty woods.

The Boss looked up pitifully and glimpsed the last of her white skirts flowing into the darkness. "NOOOOOOOOOOOoooooo" His anguished wail broke the still night. Heedless of the fire in his path, he crawled to his feet and rushed to follow her, crying, "SANDY!" The King stood silently to his feet, the fire-light playing tag on his majestic face, he looked like an immovable wall. The Boss halted his wild rush before the collision and retreated to his stump.
"Now is the time to decide who must go,
King Arthur's return is inevitable.
Who among us is most worthy to go,
And what type of King is most needed now?"
Silence descended upon The Circle once more.

"Let me go. I at least know the nineteenth-century and the twentieth-century couldn't be that different. I know I made mistakes... there are so many things that I can change.... give me that chance." The Boss's eyes took on a wild, fevered glazed as he pleaded his case.

"I wit well thy doings, Sir Boss. Thee changeth things that ought not be touched. Ken thee well what thou asketh?"

"This world does not need any more changes." Arthur spoke slowly, carefully selecting his words. "It was the changes that I imposed that eventually trapped me. Although I still believe that the system of Might makes Right needed to be destroyed, I do not think that such drastic changes can occur in such a short time. My own exuberance for the ideas and thoughts brought the collapse of my kingdom. Mordred snared me in my own net. The world, and human nature, cannot handle such a drastic reversal of attitudes."

"That's why they need me, I know about changes... I know about progress... and change.... I know how to deal with change..." The Boss was becoming repetitive in his desperation.

Arthur reached over and touched The Boss's shoulder, forcing his fevered eyes to gaze into his compassionate blue ones. "Sandy won't be in the twentieth-century either...."
The Boss seemed to comprehend that logic and retreated from the conversation.

"The King shall returneth. For him alone wast the decree given that he should return to Camelot. Thou was ever an honourable knight, and thou hast performed thy duties most nobly. Honourable knight, wilt thou return to save thy peoples?"
"Most noble King Arthur, your gift I accept
and pledge my lot to do the best I can
for the people of Britain and Camelot."

"I've been thinking..." The company drew a collective breath of exasperation as Arthur began to speak. "I've been thinking that, although there is no doubt that The King is the best among us, the most perfect, pure, and honorable, is he the king who is most needed now? It seems to me that people need someone they can identify with. They crave characters and heroes that are as close to real as possible. Even though The King represents everything that is good and pure about Britain, I do not think that the people of Gramarye and Camelot will be able to accept him as Britain. He will be admired and respected for his goodness, but he will never be loved."

The group shifted uncomfortably on their hard stumps.
"No offense have I taken from your words,
you speak only the truth. People need a
King whom they can love, not a figurehead.
Mine is the knowledge of all things good and
right, not power to teach it to others."

A collective sigh emerged from the clearing and filled the night air, even the stumps seemed to relax and seemed for a moment not as hard.

"What about you, King Arthur? Why don't you return? Your age and wisdom make you the best choice." Artos finally spoke up.

"Nay, Sir Artos, mine is not this task. Truly thou hast spoken that I am an old man, but my wisdom is not for me to say, my knowledge lies alone in the life and friendships that were mine. I wit I have not strength for further campaigns. I am old and I pine for the days of yore, for my honourably and loyal knights of the Round Table.. for Sir Gawain, Sir Gareth, Sir Tristram, Sir Bors, Sir Pericival, Sir Galahad... and the knight that truly I loveth best, Sir Launcelot. I must abideth here... with mine memories." He paused a moment before continuing. "What hast thou to offer, young Sir Artos the Bear?"

There was a rush of stillness that encompassed the glen, even the wind that had played a whispering game with the leaves had stilled itself for a moment. All eyes shifted to look at the form of Artos leaning against a tree, outlined by the dying fire light.

"Myself." His voice held the confidence of a hundred battles. "I fight and die for Britain... the land and the people. I fight for the living, breathing, and dying people who live in my country, not for some idea of freedom like The Boss. I could not kill my enemies because they were alive. I could have killed Cerdic, oh yes, but he was a person, a young boy alive with passion, and even if it meant my life in the end, I could not kill him for the idea of freedom, even freedom from the Sea-Wolves." Artos' words came fast and furious, like the motion of his dog Cabal during battle. "I could have killed Medraut." His tone softened. "Bedwyr offered, but when I saw him shaking in front of me, trying to regain the passion of a stolen youth, I couldn't do it. When we use the tactics of our enemies, that is when our freedom is lost. It is for the Britons, for the people that I fight and die... and it is myself that I offer to my country."

"Is a sacrifice what is necessary in the twentieth-century? Do people need a leader who gives all to them but is unable to sustain it? Your passion is admirable and very much needed, but I do not know how people would respond, there are already so many figures who have passion and drive and are willing to give themselves to their cause, but that drive can leave gaps when the leader leaves. There is nothing to sustain the passion when the leader is gone. We need a combination of this passion and life with knowledge and experience. In this way we can create compassion - an passionate understanding of how people live and think so that we can help them."

"Sir Arthur, I pray thee, tell us who shall return?"

"It shall not be one of us. Even though together we embody a great and glorious ideal, separated we cannot help Britain. We must wait for another, for the one who says he is coming soon. The boat shall be waiting for him."

An owl hooted far off in the distance, eerily echoing its call throughout the glen. The plaintive cry of a flock of geese winging their way far above replied to the proclamation. The soft breeze stirred the leaves, leaving a soft rustling noise as they settled back to their places. Nature saw the wisdom of these words.

The embers of the fire were glowing softly and soon would add to the charred remains of the pit. Over the horizon came the glow of morning and the men slowly stirred from their hard seats. The Circle was broken for another night.

The Fisher King

by Michael Heerema


Once there was a time when there existed a tie between a king and his kingdom that could not be severed. The two were joined in all things. When the king prospered, the kingdom prospered also. When the king suffered, so to did his kingdom. One could not exist without the other, and each shared the other's fate. It was this reality that nearly destroyed the realm of King Bran.

The King was ill. The disease was rooted in a sin committed years before when the King was a younger and more foolish man. Bran was brother to Joseph of Arimathea, a devout Christian who had brought with him to England the Sangrail, the cup used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. When Joseph died, he entrusted the Sangrail to his brother for safe keeping. Bran accepted this task, but did so for his own glory, not out of devotion to the Lord. This sin resulted in the wounding of King Bran in a tournament.

This wound occurred while King Bran was jousting. His saddle had broken and his opponents lance had pierced through each of his legs, crippling him. Despite the many years that had passed since, the wound still had not healed and it was doubtful that it ever would. It had left him lame and unable to sire offspring. Bran's only hope of being made whole again lay in the Sangrail, but the cup had mysteriously disappeared on the same day as Bran was wounded.

Bran's wound did not affect only him. His kingdom suddenly fell victim to a great drought, and the land began to whither away. It was speculated that whatever prevented Bran's wound from healing was also the reason that the land suffered so. The situation grew worse every year, as Bran's kingdom slowly deteriorated into a wasteland.

Under these conditions one might have expected the King to become bitter and hopeless, but this was not so. Bran had learned from his tragedy and grown into a good man and a worthy king. his wounds had left him unable to participate in nearly any activity, yet he developed a love of fishing, and would often have his servants row him out onto the great lake near the castle so that he could fish. The people saw this, and gave him the nickname, "The Fisher King" as a term of affection for their lord. The King became a symbol of hope for the people, and every time they spied Bran out on the water they knew that the Fisher King had not given up.

The years passed and many servants of the Fisher King were sent out after the Sangrail, though none returned successful. It happened one day that as Bran was returning from an afternoon out on the water he saw an unknown knight waiting at the docks. The boat pulled slowly up to anchor next to the docks and Bran was given a good look at the stranger. He was a large man, clothed in fine armor. On his shield he bore the sigil of the Round Table, indicating his status as a knight of King Arthur's realm.

"Good day, Sir Knight!" Bran called out from the boat. "What service may I do you this day?" The sun was behind Bran, so the king could see the knight better than the knight could see him. The Knight spoke, and his voice as light and easy.

"Good day to you my dear man. My name is Sir Perceval. I rather hoped you could direct me towards a place of lodging for tonight."

"Certainly,Sir Perceval." Responded Bran, "If it pleases you, take this road up over the first hill towards the sunrise. There you will find a castle. The lord of the manor is a gracious man and will see to your needs." Bran knew he was being somewhat duplicitous, but he was curious to know how this knight treated common people and noble people alike. Sir Perceval responded with a courteous nod.

"I thank you, dear fellow. I will journey to this castle. I wish you good fortune on your way." The knight turned his horse and trotted off in the direction that Bran had instructed him. Bran then had his servants take him back to the castle by a quicker route, so as to be there when Sir Perceval arrived.

Sir Perceval found his way to castle just as the king had directed him. He counted himself lucky to have found probably lodging with such ease, as this was a part of the country nearly devoid of habitation. It was truly the saddest land he had ever crossed. All around him he saw barren fields and burned out farms. The people who inhabited this land were poor and hungry, even more so than the common people he had seen in the other lands he had visited. Yet in each of them there seemed to burn some form of determination that could never be quenched by the troubles of this world. It tore his heart to see such good people living in such conditions. He resolved to offer whatever aid he could to the lord of the near castle.

As he entered the castle he noted that it was well crafted, though it showed signs of wear and lack of repairs in some areas. He supposed that it was another result of whatever blight had been brought upon this land. Again he was surprised to find the people good natured and courteous, as the servants who met him led him to the king's main audience hall. The hall was richly decorated in all manners of tapestries and banners. Each piece showed the signs of a different creator. It was a testament to the esteem in which the people held their lord that they had gone to such great pains to ensure that he had a hall worthy of his status. This further ensured Perceval that his host was a good man. He approached the throne with all the dignity expected of a knight of the Round Table. He was surprised when the king did not rise to greet him as is often the custom. He found himself wondering if his initial impression might have been mistaken and this king was a man too concerned with his own pride to think of courtesy. The thought was immediately dismissed. Perceval knew he had no right to make quick decisions about a man he didn't know, though the thought was not completely forgotten. He bowed low and introduced himself. "My lord, I am Sir Perceval of the Round Table of King Arthur. I am traveling home after a long and difficult quest and would humble entreat upon you to grant me stay for the evening."

"Sir Perceval, I bid you rise." The king began, "It is not necessary that a noble knight such as yourself should kneel in my presence." Sir Perceval stood and looked into the king's face. The expression he found there was of good humor and a few traces of hidden excitement. He also found that the king looked familiar, as if they had met before. Both these thoughts puzzled him, but he decided to think on them later. The king continued speaking. "I would be honored if you would stay at my home for as long as you require, and share some of the happiness you bring. I should also be pleased if you would join me for dinner after you have rested and had a chance to recover yourself." Sir Perceval accepted this offer graciously and was led to the guest quarters, where he found a room already prepared and a hot bath drawn. Perceval wondered to himself if the king had somehow known he was coming before he had arrived, and again the memory of some previous acquaintances sprung up for just a second and disappeared again.

Perceval had always been one to keep to himself, so he sent the eager servants of King Bran out with request that he not be disturbed. As he was in the process of removing the last of his armor he heard a strange sound coming from the hallway. In his curiosity he walked over and opened the door. He was greeted with the sight of a strange procession making its way down the hall. There were perhaps twelve men in all, each cloaked in shimmering white roves and enveloped in an aura of light. One of them carried a spear, blood trailing in a curving path down the handle. Perceval noted that though the blood was dripping off the strange weapon, it made no mark on the stone floor beneath it. Perceval felt the urge to stop the procession and inquire about their purpose and the existence of the spear, but held his voice instead. At the end of the procession came two men bearing a basket between them. In the basket, atop a purple velvet cushion sat a golden chalice. It too was surrounded by an aura of light which reflected off the smooth surface, coating the hallway in a kind of unearthly glow. Again Perceval wanted to stop the man and ask them how they came by such a marvelous piece of work, and what exactly it signified. However, as Perceval was a private man, and not one to interfere in the matters of others without strong cause, he made no motion to stop them. At the end of the hall they did not turn to follow the passage, but instead seemed to fade out of existence. Perceval was astonished and had to shake his head a few times for fear he was being accosted by visions brought on by lack of sleep. He went back to his room still wondering at the marvelous things he had seen.

At the time Perceval was witnessing the unearthly procession, King Bran was in front of a fire in his private quarters. His mind was racing with a thought that had occurred to him earlier. Sir Perceval was a good a man as Bran had heard. Bran knew full well the insult he had dealt Sir Perceval by not standing to receive him. It was unlikely that the knight had heard yet of his being crippled, and so could not have known that the king was unable to stand. Yet he had remained gracious despite the discourtesy. There was an air of honesty about the young man, thought there was also the sense that he held back a great deal from the eyes of the world. That was hardly unusual in a knight, but Perceval seemed to keep his own counsel more than most. Bran reflected that this could be either beneficial trait of a hindrance, though it did not matter much. What mattered was Perceval's goodness, his purity. Legend had it that only a pure knight could quest for the Sangrail, and the king knew that without it his land would be lost forever. He was unable to attain the grail himself, but perhaps this brave young knight of King Arthur just might be able to retrieve it for him. It was a slim hope, but the only one he had. Had his concern been only for himself, Bran never would have considered asking the young knight to undertake the quest, but he was worried about his kingdom and the people that he cared for so greatly. They were worth any risk. Bran resolved to set the matter before Sir Perceval at dinner, and then let the choice be his.

As the dinner hour approached, Sir Perceval was making himself ready back in his chambers. A quiet knock sounded at the door and when he opened it he found one of the castle's servant maids standing there. She had a look of purpose on her face that would not be denied.

"Milord, I apologize for disturbing you in your quarters this way, but there is a matter I must make known to you." Her tone of voice indicated her apology was a matter of courtesy only. Perceval was slightly taken aback.

"It is all right." He said, "I am not disturbed. Speak of this matter, and I will do whatever I can to see that it is resolved." He beckoned her into the room and she entered.

"Sir Perceval, it is rumored that you are a true knight, and such a man is sorely needed in this land. years ago the Fisher King was wounded in a tournament, and dealt a crippling blow."

"Pardon me a moment" interrupted Perceval, "but who is this "Fisher King" of whom you speak?"

"The Fisher King is what many of the people of this land call King Bran. He was given this name because he has a deep love for fishing, being one of the only things he can do without use of his legs. We mean no disrespect by it and he seems not to mind." Perceval instantly realized two things. First was that the fisherman he had met earlier was in fact King Bran, and second that the reason the king had not stood to greet him was that he was unable to. Perceval was ashamed of himself for thinking poorly of the king earlier. The girl continued now, faster and with even more emphasis. "This wound is not of the normal variety, as it has yet to heal, despite the many years since it was incurred. For whatever reason this is, it is also the source of the troubles in this land. I am sure you have noticed the poor conditions we live in." Perceval nodded, intent on the girl's words. "Sir Knight, the only way the king can be cured is by the Sangrail, the Holy Chalice. So far no one has retrieved it, and the rumors tell us that only a knight pure of mind, body, and heart will win it. Please, milord, I only tell you this because I fear the Fisher King will not, if only so as not to impose on you, but you must help us!"

At this point Perceval cut the girl off with a gesture. "Please, child, quiet yourself a minute. I believe I have seen the Sangrail not two hours ago and in this very castle. Earlier this day I was interrupted by a sound at my door. When I went to investigate I saw some manner of mystical procession in which two wondrous items were carried. One was a spear which bled from the tip, the other a golden chalice that shone with it's own light. I would have stopped to ask what they were about, but I held my tongue." When she heard this the girl became flushed with anger.

"Why did you not? You might have saved the Fisher King and all of us by simply asking a question. Were you afraid of a simple bit of knowledge? You are a fool, and you may have doomed us all!"

"My dear girl, please calm down." Sir Perceval tried to touch a hand to her shoulder in reassurance, but she pulled away. " I can fault no one but myself for my earlier failure. It is true that I should have inquired of the Sangrail when I had the chance but there is no changing that now. Instead, I pledge that I shall do all within my power to find the Sangrail and bring it back here. Now I ask you to pardon me, The Fisher King is expecting my company at dinner." This seemed to quiet her a little, but Perceval was aware of her angry stare stabbing into his back as he walked out the door.
Soon dinner was assembled King Bran and Sir Perceval met once again in the great hall. They sat down to eat together and passed the time with tales of battles, feats of strength, loves lost, and all the things men share in common. By the end of the evening they had become good friends. When dinner was over Sir Perceval stood up and asked permission to address the king as to a matter of some importance.

"My lord King Bran," he began, "it has been brought to my attention that an illness plagues this land, an illness which can only be cured by the Sangrail. I therefore wish your leave to undertake a quest for the Sangrail." King Bran was speechless for a moment, but soon regained composure and spoke to the knight with barely concealed excitement.

"Sir Perceval, I know not how you have come by this knowledge. In truth I had planned on discussing the subject with you myself. It makes me glad that you offer your services so. You have me leave, Sir Perceval, and the hopes and prayers of our kingdom go with you." Sir Perceval then left and began to make himself ready so that he could leave immediately. He enlisted a messenger of King Bran to bring word of his quest to King Arthur, who was expecting his presence at the Round Table soon. The next day he departed, among a crowd of cheering nobles, servants, and common people.

Time continued on its way and a year passed, and then another. Still there had been no word from Sir Perceval. The land was in steady decline. King Bran was beginning to lose hope that he would ever see his friend again. He fished less often now, and the mood of the land began to fall. A constant vigil was kept at the castle towers, in hopes of catching some sight of Sir Perceval if he returned. It was a dark night only a few weeks after Whitsuntide when one of the King Bran's guards rushed into the main hall in a panic of exuberance.

"King Bran!" He panted out. "King Bran, he is here! Sir Perceval has..." He was cur off by the sound of the wide door to the hall swinging open. Sir Perceval strode into the room in complete silence, save for the heavy footfalls of his boots. In his right hand he carried a golden chalice. The cup seemed to shine with unearthly light. King Bran could not take his eyes off it. It looked exactly as it had the last time he had seen it, when a dying man that he loved very much had held it out to him. His heart leaped within his body.

"Sir Perceval! I see you have been successful in your quest. I cannot give you the thanks you deserve for this wonderful deed! Please, bring it to me and tell me how you found it." Perceval walked slowly up to the king. There was nothing in his manner to indicate celebration. When the king reached out to take the cup Perceval held out his hand to stop him.

"Milord, with regret I tell you this tale, but before I please know that no one but I may touch the Sangrail safely. I was told this by Sir Galahad, who is now keeper of the Sangrail. King Bran, my good friend, I fear I do not bring good news. However, it is meant for your ears only." The king held up a hand a dismissed the courtiers who had been listening intently. They walked out of the room grumbling about unfairness and the rights of privilege. When they were gone the king turned again to Perceval. There was such sadness in the knight's eyes that the king became afraid of what he might hear.

"Please, my friend, continue." He said it quietly, as though he wanted nothing of the sort.

"When I found the Sangrail, Galahad asked me what my intentions were for it. I told him your tale and the tale of this land. He said he already knew all this, and something else that I did not." Perceval looked away from the king for a moment and then looked back. The expression in the king's eyes told him that he already knew what he was about to say. "King Bran, you cannot be healed. It has not been chosen for you. The stain of your sin must remain. I am terribly sorry." As he said this tears began to form in Perceval's eyes, for he hated to bring such devastating news to such a good man, but for all that, what he said next was even harder. He started again, but fell silent.
The king spoke to him softly. "Tell me," he whispered, "whatever Galahad said, you must tell me. It is all right, Perceval." Perceval started speaking again, and his voice was thick with sorrow.

"The land can be saved, Milord, but the price is high. To see this accomplished you must fill the Sangrail with your own blood and pour it our into the lake that is the center of your kingdom. This will heal your land. However, having done this, you will fall faint and die." The last word caught in Perceval's throat and he looked down again. He did not want to look up at the king, because he knew what he would find there. He did not want to lose his friend, but he knew that the king would do as he said. Again he heard the king's voice fall on him in whispers.

"Perceval, I must make a difficult request of you. I want you to make ready a boat for me tomorrow at noon. You and I, and my daughter will go out to the center of the lake and perform the ceremony you have just described. I wish I could spare you the sorrow of being there, but I cannot." Perceval looked back up at the king and saw that his eyes were beginning to show tears also. "Don't mistake me," said the king in a warmer voice, "I have no wish to die. For too long now these people have paid the price of my sin. It is time I make restitution. Will you help me do this?" He looked intently down at Perceval. Slowly the knight nodded his head. "Thank you, my friend, thank you." Then the two went back to their separate chambers, each trying to find their own sense of peace.

The next day at noon a boat was launched from the docks. It contained only King Bran, Sir Perceval, and the King's daughter, the same girl who had told Perceval of the Sangrail those years before. No words were spoken and no sounds were heard on the water. When they reached the middle of the lake Sir Perceval drew his knife and the Sangrail was filled with the blood of the Fisher King. He turned and poured it out into the center of the lake. When the last drop had left the cup, a gentle rain, such as had not been known in the land since the tragic accident of long ago, fell like a soft blanket from the heavens. The people who saw this were amazed and whispered among themselves. In the boat King Bran fell faint and lay down with his head resting in his daughter's arms. Perceval knelt at the king's feet and offered up a prayer. Soon the Fisher King was dead.
Sir Perceval and the king's daughter stayed out in the boat the rest of the day, each grieving for the loss of a friend and father. When they had finished they brought the boat in and the body of the king was buried next to his brother. The daughter was crowned queen, and reigned over the land in goodness and justice as her father had taught her. Sir Perceval rode back to Camelot and the court of King Arthur. He told them of the time he had spent in the far away land. He told them a tale of tragedy, sacrifice, and redemption. He told the tale of the Fisher King.

The Sword and Grail: Objects of Meaning in Myth

By Deborah Burkum


Noting the primacy of the Sword and the Grail in Malory, I began a journey of inquiry as to why objects - the sword and grail cup in particular - were endowed with mystical and life giving powers. Originally I noticed the parallels between Old Testament objects, particularly the rod of Moses as a staff of life, and Arthurian objects, each endowed with mystical power which served to save those it served.

This journey led me to the work of Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance. A scholarly text, From Ritual to Romance explores the historical meaning of the sword, cup, lance, and shield. Because Weston's research answers my question of why certain objects in Arthurian Myth are endowed with mystical power, I will focus on the history and meaning behind the sword, lance, cup and shield.

Like other Myths, the Arthurian Myth began as an oral telling. According to C. S. Lewis, much medievalist belief was strengthened by their lack of contact with other culture, and by illiteracy. Yet the Celtic tales had an inherent syncretistic Model which meant less to the great thinkers of the day than to the great poets (Lewis, p. 17). While you may take offense at his division, "Poet-Great Thinker", the point is that 'fragments of non-classical Paganism are thought to underlie a great deal of Arthurian Romance" (Lewis, p. 7). And it is to these fragments of paganism as explained by Weston that we turn.

According to Weston, the Vegetation Ritual took on various forms on other continents, but it is universal in its essence, both in function symbols. This was the ritual of fundamental concern for people around the world, far predating Malory's rendition of the Arthur Myth. In Greek mythology, Mars was initially served as a God of Growth and Vegetation. Celebrations held on the first of March included ceremonial dances where the celebrants danced with caps, swords, shields of stretched shin and a small lance or drumstick. This ceremonial dance was 'designed to stimulate the reproductive energies of nature...the god is entreated not merely to accept the worship offered, but himself to join in the action which shall produce such results" (Weston, p. 89). The dance in The Sword at Sunset when the Lamas torches are lit at the Nine Dancers and Maglaunus was seen quite literally as the "Life of the People" (Sutcliff, p. 226) is similar in its function to the Dances to Mars. This example of how the deity Mars was worshipped is but possible example made showing common themes of deity, dance, objects which look like weapons, and the hope and promise of Fertility.

In some fashion, we may regard Arthur as an object. Certainly his involvement in the affairs of Britain were presented as requisite for the survival of Britain. Furthermore as a maimed king, Arthur may be connected to another ancient belief, that of the Fisher King. In short, a leader incapacitated by wounds brings about the demise of his land and its vitality. Alternately, the sacrifice of this Vegetation Spirit or Fisher King renews the land, and rekindles the hope of survival and fertility of His people. As both a narrative character and a symbol of this ancient tradition, Arthur follows a tradition more ancient than Malory. And as leaders sacrificed to give birth to hope and rebirth to their followers, both Christ and Arthur fulfill the fundamental hunger and concern of these ancient rituals.

There is in these rituals a terrible and understandable concern for the perpetuity of life. Life as a Circle of sorts has many links and many points of vulnerability. If the line of the circle is in essence Life, the symbols of lance, sword, cup and shield can be understood as objects which function as links on the line of Life. Where their use is depicted as tools of destruction, it is difficult to imagine the Sword and Lance as links within that circle. Nevertheless, their function is not merely to kill and maim. These tools lend honor or disgrace to their bearer on one level, and on a more ancient level they function as symbols of sexual reproduction or the regenerative powers of life. Not surprisingly, these two objects serve as the phallic representation of Fertility Rites. Earliest Sword Dances were an integral part of the Vegetation ritual. There, swords were not used to lop off heads, but the dancers served as both Priests and Warriors, and the swords were a symbolic reminder of Manhood. According to Weston, this is the origin of the Grail quest: as armed warriors served as both priest and warrior responsible for the perpetuity of land and humanity, this tradition assumed the status of a Mystery Cult. Thus the Grail Quest according to Weston is a hunt for Life, a pursuit of Fertility, and the Grail is the symbol for the womb or female.

Symbolizing male and female reproductive energy are the lance and cup. Linked together as symbols of sexuality long before the birth of Celtic or Christian traditions, these two are joined by the sword and dish in the ancient set of Tarot symbols. Here each suit is given its alternate symbol: Hearts - Dish, Diamonds - Lance, Spaces - sword, Clubs/Pentagonal - Dish, (Weston, p. 77). Weston asserts these symbols have been found in India, Egypt, and China, and were found several hundred years before Christ. While associated with gypsies and fortune telling, "the Cup, Lance, Dish, and Sword, in slight varying forms have never lost their mystic significance and today a part of Magicant operations (Weston, p. 79). The memory is a notation for fortune telling, but the agenda of Magic has always been the same for those serious ancients, to gain control of the sources of Life.

So vase as womb, lance as scepter of procreation, Fisher King as a portrait of a nation's prosperity...Tarot symbols, Grail Cup...St. Gregory's bones...Medieval literature owes its narrative to scops and bards of the past who collected, elaborated, and spread their stories long before secular manuscripts were readily available (Loomis & Loomis, p. viii). And these stories drew from the essential human concerns of the day. Weston alleges that Christianity merely superimposed its story on top of one that predated it, and borrowed the prestige and importance already deeply entrenched in existing traditions. To me this implies some sort of intentional fabrication or conscious manipulation. Rather, I believe the common thread of tales and even of their symbols is an expression of universal concerns which transcend time and place. In the end, Arthur's Sword is endowed with special power because it is the male symbol of life. Arthur in each story has some human weakness which requires sacrifice for the prosperity of his people or quite simply, they will die. Where Christ is a substitutionary atonement for our weakness, Arthur must sacrifice himself to save his people because of his own weakness or wounds. Lewis put it best in saying the medievals drew from a host of sources which were no longer solitary and isolated but which could now become a collection of symbols which reflected a concern and yearning over universal issues. The Circle of life, and the hope of perpetual regeneration is both old and current, and the symbols of Sword and Grail, as well as Arthur himself fulfilled the desire of the people for the hope of completeness, and life immortal.

Works Cited and Consulted

Barley, M. W. and R. P. C. Hanson. Christianity in Britain: 300-700. Leicester
University Press: Great Britain. 1968.

Lewis, C. S. The Discarded Image. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. 1964.

Loomis, Roger S. and Laura H. Loomis. Medieval Romances. Random House: New
York. 1957.

Malory, Sir Thomas. Le Morte D'Arthur. Penguin Books: U. S. A.: New York. 1969.

Ong, Walter J. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. Methuen:
London. 1982.

Sutcliff, Rosemary. Sword at Sunset. TOR: New York. 1987.

Weston, Jessie L. From Ritual to Romance. Doubleday: Garden City, New York. 1957.