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Sir Percivale, the Boy Knight from the Forest


TIME: in the days of King Arthur
PLACE: a castle in England

SENESCHAL.              GROOM.   
HERDSMAN.               MAIDS.   


[The SISTER sits in an armchair in the castle hall; near by sit the MAIDS. All are sewing. Enter the MOTHER from an inner room.]

MOTHER. Admit the servants, please, my daughter. They should be waiting at this hour.

SISTER. Yes, my mother.
(She opens the outer doors.)
            Thy lady will now speak with thee, and bids thee now to enter.


MOTHER. Friends, on this day, as thou well knowest, I give thee caution as to my son. 'T is thy young master's birthday. Percivale is now no longer a child: I fear greatly the coming year.

SENESCHAL. There is no need to fear, good my lady. Thy castle is far from towns and tournaments. No one passes this way.

MOTHER. I pray no one will ever find his way here! Travellers bring tales, and I would withhold from Percivale all knowledge of the world outside, with its knights and tournaments and battles.

SISTER. He knows nothing of them now, my mother.

MOTHER. He must never know! I lost my good husband and six brave sons out in that world — husband and sons all killed in tournaments. And now I would keep Percivale by my side. Herdsman, takes he an interest still in our goats and sheep and cows?

HERDSMAN. There is not one he does not know by heart, not even the least ewe of them. And there is not one he cannot lift by hand, not even the greatest ox of them.

MOTHER. What sayest thou? Lift an ox?

WOODSMAN. Aye, 'tis so! And with one blow of the ax, he can fell a great tree. 'T is most wonderful!

MOTHER. 'T is well he should know the ax of the woodsman, but never the battle-ax. Gardener, shows Percivale an interest in thy work?

GARDENER. Aye, good my lady! He uses the scythe as well as I.

MOTHER. 'T is well he should know the scythe, but never the cruel sword. Shepherd, goes thy master ever to the hills with thee?

SHEPHERD. Aye, good my lady! And always he will carry my crook, whilst I have naught but empty hands.

MOTHER. Better the shepherd's crrok than the deadly spear. Groom, complains thy master of the horses?

GROOM. No, good my lady. He knows not they are undersized and weaklings.

MOTHER. 'T is well. See to it that no great horse such as knights ride e'er meets his eye.

GROOM. Aye, good my lady.

MOTHER. Thou hast all obeyed me well. Remember thy caution throughout this perilous year, my friends. That is all. I thank thee.

[The Servants go, bowing.]

SISTER. So now, my lady mother, thou must not worry. Percivale loves this life in the forest. He would never care to leave it.

[Enter PERCIVALE, greatly excited.]

PERCIVALE. Mother, sister, come! Come to this window! Such a sight as thou wilt see! Come!
(All look out of the window.)
                  What are they, mother?
(The Mother leaves the window quickly.)
                  Look, sister! Look at those great horses! Look at those glorious creatures on their backs! Are they men, my mother?
(The Mother is silent.)
                 Whatever they are, they are covered with iron. See how it is polished! See how it glistens in the sunlight! See what gay and beautiful colors they wear! Look at their silken banners! What are they, mother? Speek, I pray thee!

[The Mother turns away.]

SISTER. Methinks they are angels, brother.

PERCIVALE. Then, by my faith, I will go and become an angel with them!

MOTHER. The world has come to us at last, in spite of all our care! Tell thy brother the truth, my daughter.

SISTER. Those riding by are knights, Percivale.

PERCIVALE. Knights? And what are they?

SISTER. Men who go forth to right wrongs, and to see that justice is done the poor and the weak and the old.

PERCIVALE. Then I will become a knight! I will ride forth as they do!

MOTHER. My son, wouldst thou leave me?

PERCIVALE. I am strong: I should protect the weak. I am young: I should protect the old. I am needed in the world outside. I must go, for 't is my duty.

MOTHER. Go then to the court of King Arthur, for his are the best and bravest and most gentle of knights. Before thou art knighted, the King will ask thy promise to be always loyal and upright, and to fight for those who need thy protection.

PERCIVALE. 'T is a promise I will gladly make!

MOTHER. Then, my Percivale, go, and may the boy from the forest be the best and truest knight of them all!



TIME: the day following.
PLACE: King Arthur's castle at Camelot: the great hall.

PERCIVALE.                   SIR GALAHAD.
SIR KAY.                       SIR GARETH.
DWARF.                        SIR BALIN.


[The KING and QUEEN sit in great chairs at the upper end of the hall. Many KNIGHTS and LADIES are seen. At the lower end of the hall, near the door, stands SIR KAY, the seneschal. A DWARF is near by. Enter PERCIVALE, carrying a wooden pole for a spear.]

PERCIVALE (to Sir Kay). Tell me, Sir Knight, if that is King Arthur yonder?

SIR KAY. What wouldst thou with King Arthur?

PERCIVALE. I would become a knight.

SIR KAY. Thou! Thou hast no armor! Return to thy fields and thy cows, countryman!

PERCIVALE. Again I ask thee — which is King Arthur?

SIR KAY. Begone! Begone, I say!

DWARF. Percivale, thou art welcome here! I know thee by thy father, who was one of King Arthur's knights.

[Enter a KNIGHT in red armor. Sir Kay does not see him.]

SIR KAY. Art thou seneschal here, thou dwarf?

DWARF (not heeding). Yonder sits King Arthur by the Queen's side. A page is serving him water.

SIR KAY (striking the dwarf). Be silent!

SIR LAUNCELOT. Sir Kay, canst thou tell the name of that strange knight?

SIR KAY. Strange knight? Where?

SIR LAUNCELOT. The knight in red armor there. He is approaching the King.

SIR KAY. I know him not.

SIR LAUNCELOT. Look! He takes the goblet from the Queen's hand! He throws the water in her face!

RED KNIGHT. If any here is bold enough to avenge this insult to the Queen, let him follow me! I will await him in the meadow.

[He goes out quickly. The King springs to his feet. The Knights rush forward. There is great excitement.]

KING ARTHUR. 'T was the act of a madman!

SIR LAUNCELOT. 'T was the act of an enemy!

SIR PALAMIDES. 'T is my belief that neither would have dared. The strange knight is protected by some magic, and therefore he braves us all.

KNIGHTS. Aye! Aye!

SIR GARETH. There's no armor can withstand magic!

KNIGHTS. Aye! Aye!

SIR PERCIVALE. I'll after him! There's no magic can frighten me!

[He goes out quickly.]

KING ARTHUR. Why, he is but a boy, and hath no armor, and only a pointed pole for a spear! The Red Knight will kill him! After him, Tristram! Bring the lad back with thee!

TRISTRAM. I will, my King!

[He goes.]

QUEEN (from a window). Tristram is too late! The boy is upon the Red Knight now!
(All hasten to the window.)
         The knight will kill him, Arthur!

LADIES. Alas! Alas!

SIR BALIN. But see how the lad doth handle his pole!

ALL. Marvellous! 'T is marvellous!

KING ARTHUR. Look! Look! The lad hath smote the knight! Do ye see? The lad hath smote the knight!

SIR GALAHAD. I can scarce believe mine eyes! Such courage I have never seen!

KING ARTHUR. I will make him a knight at once, and seat him at my Round Table! Who knows the lad's name?

DWARF. The lad's father was Sir Percivale.

KING ARTHUR. Sir Percivale! The lad shall be doubly welcomed here! Go to him, Balin, tell him of my affection for his father, and bring him back with thee.

[Sir Balin goes. Enter SIR TRISTRAM.]

SIR TRISTRAM. The lad hath won! I besought him to return with me, but he refused.


[Enter SIR BALIN.]

SIR BALIN. He will not come, King Arthur.

KING ARTHUR. What is this! Thou didst tell him I would make him a knight?

SIR BALIN. Even so, my King.

KING ARTHUR. And thou didst tell him of my affection for his father?

SIR BALIN. Aye, but the lad declared he was not worthy of such a father, nor worthy of thy honor, till he had proven himself, by deeds of bravery, fit to meet the seneschal here in combat.

KING ARTHUR. But why? Sir Kay hath done him no wrong.

SIR BALIN. The lad would teach Sir Kay that he cannot strike a dwarf.

KING ARTHUR. Kay! Didst thou forget thy vow of knighthood?

SIR KAY. I do acknowledge that I am at fault, King Arthur.

KING ARTHUR. I love thee greatly, Kay, but thou must prove thou art worthy of a seat at my Round Table. Go thou, therefore, and return not till thou hast made thy peace with the brave boy from the forest?

QUEEN (from window). The lad hath gone!

KING ARTHUR. Then follow him, Kay, and bring him back with thee. Show him that thou art indeed a true knight, gentle and merciful always. And now, farewell!

TIME: the same day.
PLACE: a road near Camelot, with the forest on each side.


[KING ARTHUR and his KNIGHTS are seen entering. Each wears armor he has never worn before, and each has changed his customary banner with its devices and motto, for something new and strange.]

KING ARTHUR. We will wait here while Sir Launcelot doth investigate.


[They remove their helmets. Enter SIR LAUNCELOT.]

SIR LAUNCELOT. The lad comes this way from the north, whilst Sir Kay doth approach from the south. 'T is certain they will meet here.

KING ARTHUR. Come, then, into the forest! Now don thy helmets and close them well! They must not know us when we appear. And forget not the part thou hast each to play in thy strange armor and trappings!

KNIGHTS. Aye! Aye!

[They enter the forest. Pause. Enter PERCIVALE. He wears red armor, but no helmet. He carries his wooden pole. Enter the HERMIT from the forest.]

HERMIT. I pray thee halt, Sir Knight!

PERCIVALE. What wouldst thou, hermit?

HERMIT. There is great need of a good knight here!

[Enter the GREEN KNIGHT from the south.]


HERMIT. Not far from here, where the river rushes strongest over the great stones, dwells a poor old miller and his wife. Didst thou notice their hut?

PERCIVALE. Aye, and noticed likewise that there was not a cow, or a goat, or even a fowl about the place.

HERMIT. 'Tis of that I would speak. Only yesterday robbers came upon them and took away their every possession.

PERCIVALE. They shall be repossessed of everything that was taken! Can you point out the way to the robbers' den?

HERMIT. I will guide thee there, Sir Knight.

GREEN KNIGHT (to Percivale). I will accompany thee, and help thee repossess the miller.

PERCIVALE. I thank thee, Sir Knight, for thy offer of assistance.

[As they turn to enter the forest, KING ARTHUR and his KNIGHTS enter from the opposite side. Their helmets are closed.]

SCARLET KNIGHT (King Arthur). I pray thee, halt, Sir Knights! We go to fight for a distant king! Accompany us, and riches and honor will be thine!

PERCIVALE. I cannot accompany thee, Sir Knight.


SCARLET KNIGHT. But I tell thee thou shalt both have glory and fame. Relate, my good knights, what ye know of this.

BLACK KNIGHTS (Sir Launcelot). This distant king doth wish another kingdom: a kingdom rich with gold and jewels and many precious things.

BLUE KNIGHT (Sir Tristram). And of these treasures each knight is promised his full share, when once we've gained the kingdom.

WHITE KNIGHT (Sir Galahad). 'T will be booty worth the trying for!

KNIGHT OF THE SUN (Sir Palamides). 'T will mean a princedom for each one of us!

KNIGHT OF THE PEACEFUL RIVER (Sir Gareth). Lucky the knight who hath been bidden to this battle!

KNIGHT OF THE CLASPED HANDS (Sir Balin). Aye, thrice lucky he!

KNIGHTS (in chorus). Aye! Aye!

SCARLET KNIGHT. So come, sir strangers, come with us!

PERCIVALE. I cannot; I go to the aid of a poor miller, sir.

GREEN KNIGHT. And I, likewise.

SCARLET KNIGHT (angrily). Ye both refuse me!

BLACK KNIGHT. 'Tis not meet that one knight should refuse another!

BLUE KNIGHT. 'Tis against the laws of chivalry!

WHITE KNIGHT. 'Tis an insult to each knight of us!

SCARLET KNIGHT. Aye, 't is an insult and shall be punished! I challenge thee to battle, sirs!


GREEN KNIGHT (lifting his lance). Come! I am ready!

PERCIVALE (lifting his pole). And I!

SCARLET KNIGHT. Not I! Not against thy pole! Of that I am afraid, sir! See how I tremble 'neath my armor!

KING ARTHUR'S KNIGHTS (trembling). And we! See us!

PERCIVALE. Since it pleases thee to jest, I'll at thee now — at once! (To Scarlet Knight.) Defend thyself, sir!

SCARLET KNIGHT. Nay, lad — I am thy king!

[He and his Knights remove their helmets.]

PERCIVALE (dropping pole). King Arthur!

GREEN KNIGHT (dropping lance). King Arthur!

KING ARTHUR. I have come to take thee back to court, Percivale, and make a knight of thee. I have tested thee and tempted thee, and thou hast failed in nothing. Thou wilt make a true knight, Percivale. Come!

PERCIVALE. Nay, King Arthur, I cannot go till I have taught a certain knight that he cannot strike a dwarf.

GREEN KNIGHT (removing helmet). Thou hast already taught him that, lad; his heart is filled with shame for that base and hasty act.

PERCIVALE. Thou — Sir Kay?

GREEN KNIGHT. The dwarf has forgiven me. Wilt thou not make peace?

PERCIVALE. Aye! Gladly!

[He grasps Sir Kay's hand.]

KING ARTHUR. The peace is made! Come, good knights, let us all haste to the aid of the miller! Lead on, Percivale! Lead thou on!

The hall of KING ARTHUR'S palace is seen, with the KNIGHTS and LADIES gravely watching the ceremony of PERCIVALE'S knighting. King Arthur stands with uplifted hand before Percivale, who, clad in white, kneels before him.