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
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
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.
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
"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
"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
"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,
Silence descended upon The Circle once more.
King Arthur's return is inevitable.
Who among us is most worthy to go,
And what type of King is most needed now?"
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.
University Press: Great Britain. 1968.
Lewis, C. S. The Discarded Image. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
Loomis, Roger S. and Laura H. Loomis. Medieval Romances. Random House: New
Malory, Sir Thomas. Le Morte D'Arthur. Penguin Books: U. S. A.: New York.
Ong, Walter J. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. Methuen:
Sutcliff, Rosemary. Sword at Sunset. TOR: New York. 1987.
Weston, Jessie L. From Ritual to Romance. Doubleday: Garden City, New York.