Clemence Housman

The Life of Sir Aglovale de Galis - Chapter VI


MY most dear Master has set down little concerning the death of King Pellinore. The Questing Beast he mentions, and the Fair Head, and that Gawaine and his brethren, to avenge their father's death, slew him secretly ten years later than the wedding of Arthur; the unhappiness of Sir Tor and the remorse of King Arthur he passes over, and the whole of that matter rests in pages lost or unwritten. This story goes on when he was dead whose will would have kept young Percivale from the hand of his brother Aglovale.

In vain the sad Queen petitioned Lamorak and Tor, with reminder of the many times Aglovale had amended, but to turn again to evil courses, and worse than before; they, in respect of how the boy had plighted love to the broken man,
had no mind to move between them.

In early days, after the death of Pellinore, Lamorak was gentle and diffident in his dealing with the brother he had supplanted. Once he asked, all in kindness and courtesy, his
company to the court of King Arthur.

"Is this bidding, my lord Sir Lamorak?" asked Aglovale.

"Far be it from me to you," said Lamorak, mildly.
"Then," said Aglovale, "I ask to be excused till a time when you shall be less ready to blush for me."

Lamorak reddened hotly at that; for in truth Aglovale had rightly read his secret heart, and in stark humility was ruthless to bring it open. Doubtless Lamorak found it a hard matter to rule his brother without offence.

Aglovale at this time held no high office in Galis, but served his brother as steward. It may be that Lamorak, intending honour and confidence, put many matters into his hands that he would purposely turn to his own disparagement. Or it may be that, knowing Lamorak's deficiencies, he honestly and indifferently lent himself for supply. Either reading finds warrant in the faults of the one or the other. Lamorak was lavish, debonair, impetuous, and hated cares; Aglovale was of an intolerable temper in these years, meeting offence half way with deference, and enduring favour with greater deference, as it were the greater offence.

With an anxious mind the Queen their mother watched the diverse lives of her two sons: Aglovale, who drudged obscure; Lamorak, who shone in court and field, famous for his deeds of valour and grace.

By degrees Aglovale assumed larger control. Seeing how disorders rose and spread for lack of a firm ruler, he took on himself office as constable, and rode down in force upon transgressors, scouring out abuses in all quarters of Galis. Then the Queen sent letters to Lamorak that at last fetched him to her, when she bade him take heed to Aglovale's practice.

"What evil has he turned to?" said Lamorak.

"None," said the Queen. "He is out of nature blameless. Yet consider how all your revenues now pass through his hands; and how he takes rule of your heritage in arms; and your castles are garnished according to his orders; and lately he has gone about with mastery, slaying and destroying whoever withstand him."

"Ah, Madam, I deem you wrong him much. At his worst he was loyal ever; and I may not grieve him by distrust."

Straightway, on Tor's advice, Lamorak set about to approve his brother. He followed up Aglovale, found him destroying and establishing, sanctioned and confirmed him in all his doings, and brought him back with him to Cardiff. But there he afflicted an unhappy temper with his open thanks and commendation.

Their mother he reassured by a pitiful token: "Aglovale makes no friends in all the land. He seeks no love, and he gets none; and I, who do little to earn any, enjoy much. I judge he is rather hated, for he is stark in his dealings."

"Percivale loves him out of measure," said the anxious mother, "and reverences him the more for some sternness. He is too young and simple to take other readings, and Aglovale ever keeps him jealously. Yet remember how he once led Durnor to folly and detriment."

Lamorak sighed impatiently. "He has had great loss, and I would not if I could put him from a little gain."

Lamorak now was minded to fulfil his part in respect of Galis, and to this purpose he was right pleased to find a treasury well replenished by the prudence and care of Aglovale. So, after leave of Arthur obtained, he took order to hold a great tournament at Cardiff, and by Tor's advice sent word namely to the King of Northgalis and his knights. So North and South gathered with great noblesse, that their best should be proved together.
Aglovale, when the day came, refused to take any part, and no argue or entreaty of his brothers could move him.

"It is great discourtesy and unkindness," said Lamorak, "and will raise scandal upon us both."

"Plainly, my lord Sir Lamorak, your command I must obey; but of my own will I will undertake no courtesy encounters."

"You flinch!" said Durnor. "Why, 'tis near three years ago!"

Aglovale flinched indeed; colour and voice forsook him. He muttered at last, "I have so vowed, till I shall again repair to the Round Table."

Lamorak reddened and held silent; he could not with a clear conscience protest; for he had not yet found the heart to renew his asking.

"Fair brothers," said Aglovale, "this if it please you I will do: I will challenge one to mortal battle, and so do my part with the best might of my body."

"Who is he, and what is your cause for battle?"

"He is a knight of Northgalis, and his name is Sir Gawdelin. As for the cause, he has slain his cousin of Wales feloniously, and has taken his wife."

Painful silence ensued. He counted and sounded the deep of disapprobation by the pause before Lamorak spoke.

"I would it were another man and another cause."

"Sir Lamorak, as you please, I will wage this battle or I will forbear."

"I will not hinder you," said Lamorak, heavily.
So in due order Aglovale challenged and went to battle before all that gathering of knights, and the King of Northgalis as judge. A valiant man was Sir Gawdelin, but he was overcome after long and hard fighting. But though he yielded and asked mercy, none might he get of Sir Aglovale, who plucked his helmet from him and smote off his head. Then straightway he left the field and unarmed.

Lamorak could not approve him. "Needless have you given occasion for reproach. You should have granted him his life!"

"I redeemed my sword fairly," returned Aglovale. "Yet I doubted not to have my own deeds cast in my teeth. I tell you this is not for the first time by many."

"Fair brother, you might fall to encounter harsher strictures than mine."

"I thank you, Sir Lamorak. I know better than you how my ears had been filled this day, but for your head. You give voice for many."

Well might Lamorak complain of him: "He is incurable. His mind is diseased; he has a ravenous appetite for mortification."

It must have been about this time that Aglovale took Percivale with him to Nacien the Hermit. The boy found matter for wonder by that journey. They rode up the valley of the Usk and through the Forest Marches a way they were to go again, far off in the years, towards the cruel night of avowal.

To a fail Priory place they came, where Aglovale dismounted and knocked. One came out to ask who he was, and Percivale heard his answer: "A sinner named Aglovale de Galis." Presently came out the Prior, who blessed them, and took Percivale by the hand and brought him in. Then he saw a lighted chapel, and in it a rich chantry about a tomb; and there his brother came and kneeled. In a while the boy was led to meat and lodging, but Aglovale did not follow; and the place set for him stayed void, and so with the bed.

When at midnight a bell rang, Percivale woke alone, and rose up to find his brother. All doors stood wide, and every place was empty till he came to the chapel. There in religious clothing all were kneeling, and Aglovale still kneeled by the tomb. Then Percivale heard the Prior's voice lead, and his brother's voice after him lift up the Miserere. And when they
came to the end, and other voices joined in the Gloria, he stole away, blind with unaccountable tears, and carried back to his bed a child's misery for having profanely entered the reserve of one he worshipped.

In the morning he woke to wonder if he had but dreamed; yet the bed beside was all unpressed, and when he descended to hear Mass, Aglovale still kneeled in his place. The boy came and kneeled by him, and thrust a timid hand under his palms to take hold of the hilts of his sword. Aglovale gripped his fingers so hard that the tears stood in Percivale's eyes, and his heart was dismayed at a passion he could not understand.

Straight after Mass they took their leave and rode, and at the day's end stayed their horses at a hill where Aglovale mounted
alone. When he came again, Nacien the Hermit was with him, and Percivale, awed before the face of the holy man, kneeled meekly for his blessing. Nacien gazed long and earnestly on the boy. Of slender make, and singular beauty, with a face like a maid, no kind of resemblance had Percivale to the marred and unlovely man beside him.

Nacien turned to Aglovale and said, "God has been gracious to you, my son."

Deep into night Aglovale held talk with Nacien. Percivale, from his loft, could hear alternating murmurs, as wakeful he lay for trouble of heart. At last he covered his ears and cowered from the knowledge that he heard Aglovale sob.

Nacien with the morn found Percivale awaiting him; and, while Aglovale slept late and heavy, he questioned the boy and heard him, finding him in heart and mind right true to faith and virtue, and passing meek and reverent.

"Know you," said Nacien, "for what cause your brother brings you here?"

"He has taught me," said Percivale. "But, sir, I dread lest I be unworthy to hear of high and holy matters; and, ah, sir, as I know, it is heavy dole to trespass."

His eyes so brimmed that Nacien saw, and charged him to confess his trouble freely; so Percivale unburdened his heart,
and told him he had spied upon his brother.

"Yet now," he said, "I know not certainly that I did not dream all; and what to think I know not, nor what to say to Sir Aglovale."

"What has withheld you from question?" said Nacien. "Love or fear?"

"Alas!" said Percivale, "as he teaches me I would eschew both love and fear; yet now I find that verily it is ever by love and fear that I would learn of him. Sir, in this matter no way can I face without fault; and I fear to do wrong."

Nacien sighed and pondered long; not for Percivale alone. "My son," he said, "only seek light of the countenance of God Almighty, and look not aside this way and that upon needless
inventions. Go forward to do right with all your faults upon you. As for what you have seen, whether dream or verity, doubt not your vision was ordained of God, for your guidance now or hereafter. Take heed to be faithful without presumption."

When, years later, Percivale and Galahad had passed away in the Quest of the Grail, their fellow, Sir Bors, spoke with discernment, saying that each had a countenance like an angel; but Sir Percivale was most like St. Michael, who ever watches Satan; but Sir Galahad was most like St. Gabriel, who ever watches the Most Highest. Sooth, on the life of Percivale the influence of Aglovale rested dominant, and the teaching of
Nacien failed, till he learned it anew from his sister Saint.

For eight days Aglovale left Percivale with Nacien on Wenlock Edge, then came and took him down to the world where soon he saw him tried and approved. For the first they met as they rode beyond Much Wenlock were Sir Meliagraunce and Sir Bors, fellows ill-matched, for Sir Bors of all the Round Table was at that time the knight of best life, of kindest heart to his fellow-man, and of truest worship to his Maker. First Sir Meliagraunce, with great importunity, would have Sir Aglovale to turn with him, but when he heard how Sir Gawdelin had come by his death, he was incensed and very bitter.

Said Aglovale, "I fight but to kill. So have I vowed for a term."

"Sir," said Bors, "that is pity; for good friendships and fellowships are won across swords."

"Aye," said Meliagraunce, moody. "You and I, Sir Aglovale, fought once on a certain matter that was light enough, and vain; and were the better friends for our pains."

Said Bors presently, "Sir Aglovale, when your term shall be accomplished, send me a spear of your courtesy, and I will break it against you with good will."

At that Aglovale was moved and glad. "Sir, lightly will I send to you so soon as I come again to the Court of King Arthur."

"Sir, may that be soon."

"As for that I doubt. Only it shall be no later than when this child is made a knight."

Meliagraunce looked down on the boy and laughed despitefully. He was given to ill jesting, and he chose to vent his grudge by play upon the innocence of Percivale. He set the
boy questions, exhorted him, discoursed on the high calling of
knighthood as the Devil gave him wit; for he spoke all in covert
derision and with understanding to Sir Aglovale. In vain Sir Bors sought to turn him: he became the more dangerous. But
Percivale, though harassed, distressed, bewildered under consciousness of mockery, stood ground excellently; in pure innocence he made answer so bravely and wisely that even his
brother wondered to hear him; his clear eyes and diffident bearing added singular value. Meliagraunce left off with a laugh of a little good grace. He was no bully to browbeat the boy on defeating his mischief.

Then Percivale saw Bors looking at him; and at that his heart flew wide. Bors put his hand upon him; and at that joy rushed through him. Aglovale and Meliagraunce rode ahead at such words as frayed the ties of old friendship, while Bors and Percivale, the knight of name and the unknown child, drew abreast at such words as fastened them friends for ever. What other issue came of that meeting waits to be told in the story of King Bagdemagus' daughter.

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