Clemence Housman

The Life of Sir Aglovale de Galis - Chapter XIII


NACIEN the Hermit was stricken with age and feeble, yet he came down from the height of Wenlock Edge when a child brought in word of a miserable wight below. Where first he had met with Sir Aglovale he found him again, and knew him through his disguise when he spoke.

Sir Aglovale refused consolation. "He is dead. I have destroyed him. Body and soul I have destroyed him."

"God defend! My son, what have you done? Is he your brother, Sir Percivale?"

"Brose, who loved me. Brose. He is dead and buried like a dog. I destroyed him body and soul."

He would give no clearer answer, so Nacien forsook question and lifted supplication to Heaven for them both, living and dead. Aglovale stopped his ears, cursing; and he started away when the holy man made the sign of the cross; and like a demon put to flight he took his frantic course, that ended headlong well-nigh to his destruction.

Nacien took him in charge then, and by his skill and goodness preserved his life; and sense and strength came back to him, though so slowly, that near a month passed before he was fit to bear question.

"I have lost," said Aglovale. "Trouble me no further."

"What have you done? What of your brother, Sir Percivale?"
"He has done with me."

He told all, little by little; neither for relief nor counsel, but rather as a docile child because Nacien bade. With sorrow and deep compassion the saintly man heard that grievous tale of affliction and loss; yet, for all his godliness and wisdom, he could not find the remedy for that broken heart.

"Sir, cease your pains for me," said Aglovale, "they have no use."

"Take heed, my son, lest you fall to the deadliest of sins, that is despair. Thereby perished Brose."

"Sir," said Aglovale, quivering, "need you preach to me of his damnation who loved me?"

"In the name of God," said Nacien, "I do speak as there is need; for too like his love for you has been yours for your brother insubordinate. So has the countenance of the creature been worshipped and the countenance of the Creator despised."

"There is no need to tell me so. Cease and let me be."

He answered so not sullen, but weary and indifferent. And Nacien did not discover the ground of his condition, for searching question he met with silence; and when encouragement was offered him with a measure of praise, came the same answer, "Cease, cease, there is no use."

So in patience and prayer the hermit refrained for a time, grieved and wondering that the bravest penitent that ever he
guided should have so forsaken faith and hope.

Aglovale, as soon as he was able to go, asked for his leper's
habit. Then Nacien called a child, and bade him go fetch what belonged to Sir Aglovale. An hour went before he came again.

With tramp of hoof and rattle of steel he came again; and Aglovale, disturbed, saw the blond mane of Favel and the arms he had left at the Priory. These Nacien had sent for privily, and bestowed ready for him near at hand. He refused them, saying he had no will to resume knightly condition; and still he refused when Nacien censured the leper's cover he had taken, and urged him to renew worthy living.

"I have tried and failed," he said.
Along the windy ridge came ladies on white palfreys, riding at a soft pace. With hoods and amices grey they seemed religious; but when they lighted down, and one came forward quick-step, her hood slipped back and discovered bright locks
floating free, and beneath the fluttered grey shone rich vesture, fit for the daughter of a king. Then Nacien knew her and cried welcome.

Aglovale withdrew to roam the ridge apart. Her face was solemn and eager like his sister Saint; lovelier he had never
beheld. Soon he was followed by two other ladies, who saluted him courteously, and he them.

"Sir," said one, "methinks your dress belies you; and we fain would think that yours be these arms we see here."

"Fair ladies, no. They are not mine."

"Tell us if you know whose they be."

"Those are the arms of Sir Percivale de Galis."

At that the two ladies looked one at the other and smiled.

"Fair sir, there you mistake; for we know well Sir Percivale, and have but lately departed from him; and this shield has a blazon like his, but with a difference?"

"Where have you met Sir Percivale? Where have you left him? O fair ladies, give me tidings, for I was once tutor to Sir Percivale, and loved him well."

"Sooth, sir, that is to your praise, for truly Sir Percivale is one that for knighthood has but few peers."

Straightway she told her tale: how on a morning as she was hawking by the water, two knights came riding and called to her from the further side; and she gave them to know that within the castle thereby they should find the mightiest man
alive, who of late had overthrown five hundred knights; and therewith she pointed where a barge lay moored; and straight
one of these knights entered with his horse, and crossed over to offer battle. And of the battle she told that she went to see:
how for more than two hours two of the best knights in the world fought equal, till with broken harness and sore wounds
they rested and enquired of each other their names and told
them. He, the young knight that came, was Sir Percivale de Galis; and the other, known heretofore in the castle as the
Chevalier Mai Fet, gave his true name: he was Sir Launcelot
du Lake.
Flushed and stammering like a drunkard, Aglovale gave thanks.

"It was his Quest; worshipfully has he achieved it. Two hours equal battle with Sir Launcelot is great worship. O happy ladies to have seen!"

"Sir, there is behind more to tell to the worship of Sir Percivale de Galis. Will you hear what high matter was told by that other knight, his fellow?"

"Yea, madam. Who was his fellow?"

"The noble knight, Sir Ector de Maris, brother to Sir Launcelot du Lake, he was his fellow. Hear in brief what he told.

"As he rode in a forest, a knight armed and ready stood in his way, even Sir Percivale. Howbeit they knew not each other for fellows of the Round Table, and both in the Quest of Sir Launcelot, for as noble knights they justed at sight. And Sir Percivale had a fall. Then he required Sir Ector to fight to an end on foot, and so they did. Fair and even they fought, for one was young, eager and strong, and one was sure, knowing, and practised. From noon to sundown they fought, till scarcely could they stand for loss of blood, as the wounds they gave were many and great. Never before had either been so hard matched, and so they fought to the death. And when they had no more strength to fight, and knew they were slain men, then they spoke together, and were known to each other with their names; and they made goodly sorrow together, and namely that they might not come by a priest to receive their Saviour at their ending. Then Sir Percivale kneeled down, and with great devotion commended them to Jesu-God.

"O fair sir! but he did not depart this life! Truly, sir, he is not dead, nor is Sir Ector. To the glory of our Maker and Saviour they have their living in this world.

"Then and there, whereas they looked to die, came and passed a moving mystery of light and sweetness; and thereupon they forsook pain and faintness and stood up whole of their bodies. And one of them had grace to see a maiden go past bearing a shining vessel; yea, Sir Percivale saw, as only the pure in heart may see, the Holy Grail that is the vessel with the blessed Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Speechless was Aglovale. He kneeled down, and the two ladies looked on his face wondering; looked on each other; took hands together and went away very softly, leaving him entranced and unaware.

All manner of sweet influences found out Aglovale where he had lost himself. There was a little patch of dim blue, a weed embedded in thyme, that rooted to unfading remembrance. The benediction of the sun, the embrace of the wind, the inspirations of fresh may, were solvents to dividual sense; a fire, an air, an essence was he, above the poor particles that walked the ridge with him, halt, wasted, feeble.

At the close of day the voice of Nacien recalled him. "Give praise to God, my son."

Said Aglovale, "He has seen the Holy Grail. Percivale. Percivale has seen the Holy Grail."

The saying of it was sweet to him; he said it over and over; he asked to hear it by the mouth of Nacien, and listened agape a little, smiling, as a child listens to old rote.

Below went the three ladies, riding through thickets of may into the lowland mist. "O happy ladies! to have seen and heard. Sir, they vanished from me. What are they?"

Right so drew near a fresh visitant. With the child to guide, an old man in religious clothing came up from below; like one of the prophets, his face shone ruddy and glorious in the evening glow on the height. Nacien hailed him with joy, and then Sir Aglovale knew him for Sir Brastias, once a noble knight, who in old age had turned to holy living as a hermit.

"Sir," said the child to Aglovale, "the lady who spoke with you sends you word that to-morn she rides for the court of King Arthur; and she prays you to go with her for the high feast of Pentecost; and this is her token for your wear." And with that he handed branches of thorn, with blossom of red and of white.

Amazed at that gracious invitation from one who seemed to him like a heavenly agent, Aglovale took the blossoming thorn, and pondered, and understood a fair significance. The two holy men passed him near, rapt in discourse on a high matter. They spoke of the Holy Grail, of the best knight of all the world, of the coming feast of Pentecost when he should be made known. A little way off upon the ridge the child began chanting his evening hymn. Facing the sunset sky, where a star glimmered, he stood; and this he chanted:

"Fairest Lord Jesu,
Ruler of all nature,
O Thou of God and man the son!
Thee would I worship,
Thee would I cherish,
Thou my soul's glory, joy, and crown.

"Fair is the sunshine,
Fairer still the moonlight,
And all the twinkling starry host.
Jesu shines fairer,
Jesu shines clearer,
Than all the lights that heaven can boast."

Then Aglovale was left to twilight and solitude, mazing over the blossoming colours of Pentecost, swayed by the gusts of heaven.

The flowers were in his hands as late he entered from the night, and stood before Nacien, diffident, expectant, fain.

"God has been gracious to you, my son," said the hermit.

"O sir, an so you hold, seeing I have served under God, and not in vain, consider me now and stint me not! Give me to see according to your light, that I may worship more perfectly."

"In the name of God I charge you," said Nacien. "Renew your service; renew your life. Go down hence and fill up the number of the Round Table. For I tell you that at this feast of Pentecost the highest worship shall befall the fellowship of the Round Table that ever man shall see."

"One has bidden me so already. And see! here is token she has sent. Who is she ? What are they those ladies?"

"It were well that you go with that courteous lady, for she rides to forewarn King Arthur of this high matter. Also to warn Sir Launcelot that not he, but another, from that day shall take name as the best knight of the world."

Said Aglovale, aglow, "Oh, sir, name him here and now! the best knight of the world; him you foretold to me from the beginning. Satisfy me quite with his name."

Then Nacien discerned and ended his flight. "My son, his name would not satisfy you. Be content with less. I give you to know that the fairest lady of those three, she is mother to him that shall be the best knight of the world."

Aglovale fingered the thorn and plucked off a blossom.

"But go you down to Camelot to the feast; there may you see and be satisfied. For he that shall come shall do marvellously, and many marvels await and shall be achieved of him. And he shall never be overthrown ; and he shall never fail; and he shall slay no man unhappily, for the will of God shall be with his sword; and he shall be of perfect faith; and he shall be a maiden clean of life and heart; and the virtue of his touch shall win back sight and health, and his presence shall give comfort to souls in pain."

Aglovale did not lift a look as the holy man spoke, absorbed in prophecy. He shed off blossom and leaf, broke up the bare thorn, and flung it to the hearth.

"I will not go!" said Aglovale, and turned out into the night.

So on the morrow that courteous lady waited and looked for Sir Aglovale in vain, and alone she came to Camelot. Also Sir Brastias made delay, and sought him in vain that day and the next; and so he came late to Camelot with his message on the day of Pentecost. Doubtless Sir Aglovale watched their goings, for on the day following the child saw him at dawn roaming the ridge, and took him tidings that brought him again to Nacien in grief and compunction.

Nacien to his deathbed had gathered up his feet, for the weight of years was too heavy for him to carry on. Yet, when
Aglovale came in, he strengthened himself, and sat, and spoke
with him for the last time, clear in thought and speech. Earnestly he prayed and enjoined him to return to his right
place, to live worthily and knightly. Aglovale answered heavily that he could not and would not; when he had tried his utmost all that he did went amiss.

"Lo! in Galis. There I failed utterly and was hated and opposed, till I found Sir Hermind to lend himself; and he straightway won all I strove for, lightly and peaceably, and was loved and approved. Now he rules indeed, and well, and happily, so I need to trouble Galis no more. And he sits now at the Table Round, and I am dismissed.

"Yea, sir, knighthood is dead in me. My lord King Arthur said it: He is dead. And it is true. Once I kept a dream of great wars coming, when King Arthur might remember me, how I served him well against Rome. Now I know that he would remember to forget me.

"All is lost. Percivale is lost to me. And Percivale has lost by me; but for me he had been innocent of blood. He fought for me guiltily, for I ween he doubted me then. He fought for me vindictive, for he loved me then. The fault was mine, that I left him in ignorance. Now he will smite no man to death for speaking ill of me. Him will I trouble no more.

"And Brose is dead."

Nacien questioned how, if he refused to serve his fellow-man in the world, did he purpose to serve God; and questioned whether he inclined to a religious life; and put him in mind how, long ago, he had asked his prayers that he should continue ever God's true servant; and, said Nacien, he had
been constant so to pray for him since. And at last Aglovale
was brought to answer him openly, and discover his perilous

"Sir, I ask you to cease from any prayer for me as one God's servant; and for my soul pray not in this world or the next. I will not to be of the fellowship of the blessed souls, for those I have loved and worshipped have been so troubled and shamed by me in this world they would take little joy of my company in the next. Right gracious and kind would they be, but not verily glad. No, not the mother that bore me, not the father that begot me; and I will not to face them and bedim their worship. And bright Lamorak need never redden for me. And Percivale, here or there, need not nerve his heart to bear with me. And there is one who would turn away to hide from me; she loved me, and died of the shame of it. Gilleis, Gilleis, namely I will to spare Gilleis."

Her name was a gaping wound as when Nacien first heard it when that grief was young.

The saintly old man, patient and compassionate, heard him through without showing how greatly he was shocked and

Then said he, "Know you not One Who loves you more than these, Who deserves more your love?"

"Yea, yea, I know," said Aglovale. "My brother Durnor would be glad of me."

At that Nacien smiled and sighed, but let him carry on.

"Him I loved little, and regarded little while he was alive. Alas for Durnor! he was so far my nearest brother in this life that I doubt whether I may not meet him where I shall go in the next. For he was an evil liver, profane, sacrilegious, and merry withall; and he was cut off unprepared. Wherever he be, he will be glad of me, and will come brotherly, and hold my hand, and kiss my cheek, without constraint or grudge. Fain would I hold to him brotherly as he deserves."

Said Nacien, "I tell you, you do presume most grossly, and your standing is rotten. God Who made your brothers alone can judge them; and He sees not as man sees, for in His sight the first shall be last and the last first."

Said Aglovale, flushed, "An you speak of Sir Lamorak, I tell you God Almighty has made few like him. He never did baseness; no, nor thought it; he was fair and strong and true and courteous from the heart outward; and he was the most splendid fighter that ever drew sword. I deem Maker God is not as an earthly monarch, that He should let such an one go from His lists to be taken and entered to the boast of Hell power."

Said Nacien, patiently, "I speak as to Sir Durnor, putting case as to his appointed place, an his Maker regard him more favourably than you his brother."

Then Aglovale answered and said, "Yet there is Brose. Yea so! Mighty God has the heart to damn my poor servant Brose!"

Dread fell upon Nacien, for then he understood how despair was rooted; and he recalled how the wretched man had gone from him, frantic and headlong, almost to destruction, maybe to perish body and soul even as Brose. What help could avail in a case so desperate? what argument could a dying old man uphold whose faculties were yielding to the night? Nacien prayed inwardly awhile before he spoke.

"Have you forgot there is One Who calls you brother, Whose love is faster than the love of any you name, Who is more willing and faithful than ever was Brose?"

"Sir Tor!" said Aglovale, in a maze. "You mean my brother the bastard, Sir Tor!"

"No, blind man, not Sir Tor."

Then Aglovale blushed and smote down his head, and held
quiet while Nacien taught and reminded him how Christ Jesu
our Lord is the perfect Brother of poor man; Who was sorrowing after his love and worship, as he had sorrowed after
Sir Percivale's or Sir Lamorak's; Whose offered love he neglected more flagrantly than he had neglected Sir Burner's.
Gently and simply, as though he were teaching a little child,
Nacien spoke, and as Aglovale listened, Heaven rushed his

"Ah, spare to rend me!" he said faintly. "It is not for me now to raise love and worship to God; yet against my will I do love and worship indeed, as never before with all my will I could, Howbeit my will is my own, and is bound down to my servant Brose. I am guilty of his end, I curst and unkind. And he died contented in my arms. And to content him hereafter in our appointed place is but the due of his great devotion."

Now Nacien could not presume to speak any word of hope as to Brose, since his death was manifestly wilful and impenitent; but he spoke of the highest dues, and of the greatest devotion that ever was.

"Sure, He that made me will understand," answered Aglovale. " Ah, sure, a perfect Brother will know that in my heart I love and worship though I shall be outcast."

"Give me to know," said Nacien, "what you will do. Since you will serve neither God nor man, how do you purpose to spend and end your days?"

"As to ending, I have lost all wilful purpose out of mind, and have come to love life in this fair and pleasant world; and as to spending, I have no purpose. But before I go hence I do desire to look my fill on the works and ways of God Almighty, how He makes and mends in this world; and I do desire to walk the earth alive with the sun and the rain and all that grows, and to see the eyes of kindly men; and I do desire very greatly to hear and know of Sir Percivale, and how he achieves, before I have to go hence."

"Consider, my son," said Nacien, "that you are now but in the prime of your life, with all your faculties in hand, and with great capacity for evil or for good. Now, is it your will to give yourself up to serve the Devil as aforetime? How? Do you need telling?" said Nacien, and straight rehearsed the heads of old misdoing.

Aglovale considered the matter, and then he answered, "No. As for those sins, no. Now I find in my heart not lusting but loathing. I know not how, the Devil has lost that hold he had. Save for remembrance, I have come to be as clean in thought as in life; night and day, asleep and awake; and now no dreams trouble me. It is passing strange. I rest like the dead asleep, with never a dream."

"Would you to continue so to your life's end, it is not enough that you keep from evil and contemplate good alone; except you do good with all your might, and fill out your life, the Devil will surely enter in disguise, and make you serve again to some dreadful end."

"God defend!"

"You still do pray?"

"I do, that I may cause no harm, nor do it. For at least I may endeavour not to grieve and offend day by day Him I love and worship, though I be recusant."

"The least indeed! Would you be altogether barren of the fruits of love and worship? Rather with greater devotion and diligence should you quit yourself. Render the residue of your days to the honour and glory of God, to furthering Divine order in this world with observance and serviceableness and courage, or to enduring under adversity with patience and meekness and constancy.

"Lo! when our Lord suffered outrage on the cross, it was an offender there that friended Him with vinegar in His thirst. So you being such an offender, committing great outrage, yet assuage a little the dolorous drought of Him crucified. Dread
not that He turn away His face and refuse the taste, though all you bring of love and worship be but as sour dregs, without virtue of faith. It may be that so you shall see His face and hear Him, better than some His far-off disciples."

Then Aglovale came and kneeled down and bowed his head to the bed at Nacien's knees, dumb with sorrow, love, and adoration. When he could speak, he said brokenly, "I promise you I will do what I can till God shall put me away out of this life."

Nacien in his heart then lifted the song of Simeon, so glad and hopeful was he; for now he was assured that the wayward man was off the brink of destruction after Brose, and bent upon a good life; and that might well bring him round even to
the brink of salvation. To this effect had he wound about him
and enticed him, when he saw he could not turn him direct from his hopeless doom, for he was both wily and mild, as the
serpent and the dove.

But when Aglovale came to take thought he knew not which way to turn. Nacien was ready with counsel.

"Forsake your covering of death; do on your arms. Go hence this hour and fill up the number of your fellowship, and do your part in honour of this Holy Visitation now at hand."

"I," he stammered, "I cannot. It were a mockery and pretence for me to take part as others, knowing the Holy Blood has been shed for me in vain. And it is too late; though Favel should burst to carry me, time and space forbid, and the feast of Pentecost must pass me by."

"That is so. And you shall not see with your bodily eyes as your fellows shall see, nor be fed with sweetness as they shall taste, for you do not deserve; but you shall take up your part in bitter humiliation, and your portion shall be as dust to eat. So shall you prove your love and worship."

Aglovale rose and went out straightway, and came again armed. So weak was he yet in body and spirit that his harness
rattled upon him as he stood. He owned to cowardice.

"There be two I doubt and dread like death my brother Percivale and my lord Arthur. The face of King Arthur like a sword I do guess; Percivale's I cannot guess. Holy doom! how can I stand if he and he cast me down?"

"Now I warn you look for no help or comfort of mortal man. And if you be still set upon winning to yourself fame and favour by your deeds, then is your heart divided and your devotion without integrity. Bethink you, moreover, how, if you meet your desert, your battles shall ever prove you with loss."

"Alas! sir, how then shall my living profit?"

"The measure of battles is but according to the stand of the vanquished. Your battles may be profitable enough, though not to you; and should you be counted the worst member of your fellowship, your stay shall ground the degrees."

"Sir Nacien, is this soothsay upon me? Can you help me with no better hope?"

"My son," said Nacien, earnestly, "I have no better hope for you as you are."

Aglovale took thought and understood him. He smiled wryly as he answered back.

"Years ago one that would not consent to ransom his neck at the gallows-tree was set to slave in a galley, that the gall of that life might enforce him to sue for relief at any price. I tell you it was all in vain."

Said Nacien, "Continue your parable to the end. What came of him?"

"Ah, Sir Nacien, but the end fits not here! For I broke loose and won free; and I loosed Brose too."

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