As a knight in the time of King Arthur, Perceval was an exception to the tradition which removed noble boys from their homes at the age of seven and placed them in the home of a patron. Here they were rigorously trained in the arts of chivalry, until they became knights at the age of 21. But after Perceval’s father and elder brothers had fallen in battle, his mother took him away to a solitary region and brought him up in total ignorance of arms and chivalry. In time however, Perceval saw some knights in armor riding through the forest. Entranced, he hurried home, pressed a pack into the form of a saddle on a bony piebald horse and with twisted twigs, imitated the trappings he had seen. Resigned, his mother instructed him, “Go forward then, to the court of Arthur and tell him that you are Perceval, son of Pelenore, and ask him to make you a knight.”
But when Perceval arrived at the court on his horse with its uncouth trappings the King’s guard laughed at him, saying “Ride after the knight who just insulted the Queen and if you take possession of his horse and arms you will have knighthood.” At this, all the household began to laugh. But Perceval went to the meadow and when the knight rode at him with his spear, he threw a pointed stick through his eye and killed him. When the King’s guard arrived he helped him put on the dead knight’s armor and begged him to come back to the court to be honored. But Perceval refused, saying “Tell King Arthur that wherever I am, I will be his vassal and will do him what profit and service I can.” And he rode until he came to a lake next to a castle, where he saw an old man sitting on a velvet cushion, while his attendants fished in the lake.
The old man received Perceval courteously, and asked if he knew how to fight with the sword. “I do not,” said Perceval, “but if someone were to teach me, I would learn.” And the old man said, “You must remain with me for a while to learn the manners and customs of different countries, and courtesy and noble bearing. I am your uncle, your mother's brother; called the Fisher King.” At this, two youths appeared, bearing a golden cup and a mighty spear, dripping blood. And though no one else seemed to see it and his uncle spoke not a word of it, Perceval saw that the cup was the Holy Grail*, and the Spear, the sacred spear that had pierced the Savior’s side.
* The Holy Grail was the cup from which it is said the Savior drank at his last supper, which was later carried to Europe by Joseph of Arimathea. For centuries it was visible to all pilgrims, and its presence conferred blessings on the land where it was preserved. But in time a descendent of Joseph forgot the obligation of his sacred office, and looked with unhallowed eye on a young female pilgrim as she knelt before him. The sacred lance instantly punished his frailty, by falling on him and inflicting a deep wound that could never heal. After that, the guardian of the Holy Grail was called "Le Roi Pecheur," which in French means both the “Fisher King” and the “Sinner King.”
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