Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Birth of Galahad

Now the birth of Galahad, the Great Restorer, happened on this wise. After the Battle of Mount Badon, the Saxons were banished from the land and Arthur reigned over the holy realm of Logres from his three great cities of Canterbury, London and York. He ordered churches to be built up and down the country, from mighty cathedrals to tiny wayside chapels. Schools and colleges sprang up across the island, and Logres became known in Europe and beyond as a beacon of faith and a bastion of learning and civilisation.

Then Arthur, the High King of Logres, acceded to an even mightier throne. In a great ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral, the Archbishop declared him Ceasar Augustus in the West and crowned him with the laurel wreaths of Rome. Missives were sent to Justinian, Emperor of the East, announcing the restoration, after a fifty year interregnum, of the Roman Empire in the West. Arthur conceived a long-term plan to occupy Gaul, push on through Italy and retake Rome itself, restoring thereby the ancient Western Imperium in almost all its fullness. But for now he was content to enjoy some years of hard-won peace and transform Logres into a harbinger and forerunner of the New Jerusalem described by Saint John the Divine in his Apocalypse.

Everything seemed set fair for the future. It looked that way, on the surface, to Merlin, the King's Enchanter, too, yet doubts and anxieties nagged at his mind. He sat on the rocks on the Gwynned coast one late-spring evening, meditating on these things and gazing out onto the Irish Sea. He knew that the Great Restorer - the redeemer of the Wasteland, the healer of King Pelles, and the next Grail Priest and King - must soon be born, but how, where and when he had no idea, nor if it would happen of its own accord or whether he, as Logres' spiritual guardian, needed to take steps to ensure that it did.

There was also a wasteland at the heart of Logres that worried Merlin more and more each passing day. For after seven years of marriage, Arthur and Gwenevere were still childless, and it seemed to Merlin that the Queen increasingly preferred the company of the King's right-hand man, Lancelot of Brittany, than that of her husband. Lancelot, Merlin had noticed, clearly enjoyed the attention. He had seen the look in his eyes and the flush on his cheeks whenever Gwenevere came close. He began to wonder, nonetheless, if it was to avoid temptation that Lancelot had started to absent himself from the Royal Cities and disappear into the mountains and woods for sometimes weeks on end, whether in prayer or on some obscure quest of arms no-one knew. But Merlin thought he knew. He threw a stone into the waters, turned his back on the sea, then walked back to his ivy-clad tower. He spent the night polishing his Stone of Vision, in which he could catch glimpses, from time to time, of anything or anyone he focused his attention on.

Two weeks later, around the middle of May, Merlin caught sight of what he was looking for - Lancelot, walking alone through a rocky, barren land of ash-grey trees and blackened soil. Somehow, by judgment or chance, he had discovered the Wasteland. The vision in the Stone faded, but Merlin knew what Lancelot, sooner or later, would find there.

And so it was that Lancelot came one evening to what must at one time have been a mighty castle but which lay now half in ruins. He was given a hearty welcome, however, and invited to dine that night with King Pelles and his household. And as they were sat at meat a strange and wondrous thing occurred. The Royal Doors slammed shut and a deep and grace-filled silence descended on the Hall, filling Lancelot's heart with peace and joy. Three women in white appeared from nowhere and walked slowly and purposefully around the Hall. The first carried a tall, thick candlestick, marked with a red cross. Its quivering flame shone upon the faces of the men and women in the Hall, so that everyone, to Lancelot's eyes, looked radiant and saint-like. The second woman bore a spear with a bronze shaft and blood-red tip. She held it point down and drops of blood fell from the tip onto the marble floor as she walked. And behind her came a light like Lancelot had never seen or imagined before - so warm, bright and cleansing that he thought for a moment that the Sun had somehow squeezed itself into a ball and dropped down into the room. Certainly what the third woman held was as dazzlingly golden as the Sun, so much so that Lancelot struggled to make out what the object was - some kind of cup or bowl, he thought.

The procession arrived at the High Table, where Lancelot was sat with Helayne, the King's daughter, to his left, and Pelles himself, stretched out on his litter, to his right. He bowed his head, closed his eyes and wept, aware of holy things and holy people close by, but feeling in his heart again, as so often in those days, the dark, compulsive power of his infatuation with Queen Gwenevere. Yet there was hope in his heart as well, and the hope, at least for now, was stronger - a bracing, refreshing, invigorating hope that blew away the choking clouds of addiction and made him feel like a little Breton hunting-boy with all the world before him again.

The procession passed by and the guests resumed the feast. Pelles turned and said to Lancelot, 'You must know, Sir, that I too was brought face to face with my blackened heart on the day when Balyn of Tyneside took the Sacred Spear you have just seen and struck me through the side with the Dolourous Stroke. And he was right, in many ways, to do so. For I had grown idle and corrupt and had first neglected, then forgotten my priestly vocation as steward of these holy and venerable objects. So now my Kingdom lies in waste and ruin, while I writhe in agony here, waiting for the advent of the Great Restorer.'

'Who is the Great Restorer, my Lord?' asked Lancelot.

But Pelles shook his head. 'He is not yet born,' he replied. 'Perhaps he never will be.'


And Lancelot stayed at Carbonek one whole month. He poured out his heart each day to Nasciens, the Hermit of the Grail, who lived in a little stone chapel half a mile from the castle. Nasciens gave him guidance and instruction, and Lancelot vowed not to think of Gwenevere again but to keep what he had seen and felt in the Royal Hall uppermost in his mind.

Nasciens told him the story of Carbonek too - how it had been built by Jospeh of Arimathea, the first Grail Priest and King, and how his successors had guarded the chalice and spear for almost five hundred years until Pelles, two decades before, turned his back on his holy calling. Then came Balyn of Tyneside, the Dolorous Stroke, the half-ruined castle, the three wasted counties, and a wounded but once more penitent and prayerful Grail Priest and King.

Lancelot was astonished by all that Nasciens said. He did not see the Grail procession again but felt happy and renewed in mind and body - at peace with himself and the world around him. He was attended to daily by the Princess Helayne, who read to him, played chess with him, went out riding with him, and bit by bit, day by day, fell gradually and perilously in love with him. And when Merlin caught sight of this in his Stone of Vision he knew that the time for action had come. He called to his sister, Brisen, with his mind, and she came to him from her tower on the banks of the Humber and they spoke together about what Merlin felt now needed to take place.

So one afternoon Brisen appeared in Helayne's chamber and declared to her who she was - Brisen, the sister of Merlin, the King's Enchanter. She told her that no-one on Earth, however skilled in magic, could make Lancelot love her for life but that she did know how to make him love her for one night. Helayne replied that just one night with Lancelot would be more than she ever could have dreamed or hoped for. So Brisen took her to Case Castle, seven miles from Carbonek, just outside the Wasteland. And there, by her art, she gave Helayne the likeness of Gwenevere and fashioned a ring that was the very image of the Royal Ring of Logres that Gwenevere wore on the middle finger of her right hand.

Brisen disguised herself as a wizened servant woman and called at Carbonek, showing Lancelot the ring and saying, 'Sir, the Queen resides for one night only at Case Castle and desires your company.' And Lancelot, forgetting all had happened in the Royal Hall and everything Nasciens had said, left Carbonek straightaway and came to Case Castle at nightfall. When he saw Gwenevere waiting for him it was like an enormous black power shook him all over and gave him no choice but to embrace her and spend the night with her But when he awoke next morning and saw Helayne beside him, he was overcome with remorse and flung himself out of the window, clad only in a shirt. He landed in a bed of thorns and ran out of the castle grounds, foaming at the mouth and beating himself about the head and chest.

Lancelot ran wild through the country for months upon end, eating nuts and berries and drinking from rivers and streams. Summer gave way to autumn, All Souls came and went, and by Christmas there had been neither sight nor sound of him in any of the towns and cities of Logres. When, by Ash Wednesday, he had still not appeared, King Arthur sent search parties out to scour the land, but still they did not find him.

So Lancelot's cousin, Bors - the Count of the Saxon Shore - set out alone in search of him, trusting only to his intuition and his deep-rooted knowledge of his cousin's ways. So it was, three weeks later, that Bors found himself traversing the Wasteland, and after six days and nights of feeling he was going round in circles, the semi-ruined husk of Castle Carbonek reared up above him, and Bors entered and was welcomed royally, as Lancelot had been before him, by Pelles and his household. And there was a baby at the breast of the Princess Helayne, a boy-child with jet black hair and skin that shone like beaten gold. And as they were sat at meat, behold, the Royal Doors slammed shut once more, silence descended, and the three women in white appeared again and processed slowly around the Hall, bearing aloft the Sacred Spear and Holy Grail that Joseph of Arimathea had brought to these lands five centuries before.

And after the procession had passed by, Pelles told Bors that Lancelot had come to Carbonek ten months previously and that he was the father of Helayne's child. Bors was shocked and astounded and pressed the King to tell him more, but Pelles just smiled and said that he knew no more.

Bors stayed at Carbonek for ten more days. Though Pelles had told him remarkable news, he was still no nearer to finding Lancelot, and with the great feast of Easter just two weeks away, he knew he had to be on his way again soon.

On Bors' last afternoon, as he was walking along the balustrade with Helayne, a serving girl came running up and said that she had seen a strange man lying fast asleep on the rocks and stones in the ruined part of the castle. All three ran to look and as soon as Bors and Helayne saw him they recognised him as Lancelot. But he was greatly changed, clad in tattered rags and bony like a skeleton, with long, matted hair - part brown, part grey - and a wild, bushy beard.

Helayne cried out when she saw him and would have ran to him to hold him in her arms, but just then Nasciens appeared, held her back and urged her not to wake him. 'The madness might still be on him,' he said. 'And he may run wild again and attack us.'

So Bors, Helayne, and the serving girl - whose name was Annabel - carried Lancelot to Nasciens' chapel, where they laid him on the altar, lit all the candles they could find and knelt down to pray that Lancelot's mind might be restored. Nasciens went before them and lay face down in prayer on the stone floor just in front of the altar.

It had grown dark when Bors, Helayne and Annabel heard the chapel door click shut behind them. Stillness filled the air and straight ahead of them they saw the Holy Grail, hovering in the air above Lancelot's sleeping form. Rays of golden light poured out from it and none of them could hold their gaze for long. But as they bowed their heads and closed their eyes it felt to one and all like the Sun was shining in their hearts, radiating a raw, uncut beauty of pure depth and clarity from top to toe through every inch and fibre of their being.

And when they looked up again the Grail was gone and Lancelot was sitting upright on the altar while Nasciens clasped his hand. Then they came forward and took Lancelot down and sat him in their midst, as Nasciens sang a Mass for them in Latin, Greek and Cymric. As he began three women in white appeared from nowhere to assist him at the altar. The first offered him the Holy Book to read the Gospel and Epistle from; the second brought him malted bread and a beaker of wine; while the third rang a round bronze bell carved with sacred images as Nasciens lifted the Host and Chalice. And at that moment Annabel vowed silently to ask King Pelles to release her from his service and - if he agreed - to join the community of monks and nuns at Aberconwy and live a life of unobtrusive, watchful service to the greater good of God and the poor and sick of Arthur's realm.


After these things Bors sped back to London to tell King Arthur that Lancelot was safe, whole and on the mend. And there was great rejoicing in Logres as Bors' news spread. Lancelot himself remained at Carbonek for eight more weeks until he felt strong enough to return to Arthur's court at Pentecost. He tried his hardest for a while to avoid Queen Gwenevere and also, as Nasciens had advised him, not to picture her in his imagination. But whether he was in London, Canterbury, York or elsewhere he found it hard to remember what had gone on at Carbonek and why, both before and after his madness, he had felt so buoyant and rejuvenated. The Grail, especially when Gwenevere was close by, did not feel real to him. His insatiable and seemingly bottomless lust for her blotted all else out. His resolution faltered and his old ways possessed him again. But Lancelot's meetings with Gwenevere, while he felt powerless to stop them, left a bitter taste now. He began once more to take himself away from the three Royal cities, searching far and wide for the Wasteland's blackened soil and blasted trees. But no matter how far he roamed or how hard he tried he never could find again the rocks and stones of the Wasteland, still less the half-ruined castle, where so much of high import - for himself, for others, and for the realm of Logres and beyond - had so recently taken place. And Lancelot was sick again in heart and mind, bound to a wheel of addiction and desire and barred from the Paradise of new life and redemption, as Adam and Eve were before him, by an Angel with a Flaming Sword.

But while Lancelot languished, Annabel, Helayne, and the new-born child, whose name was Galahad, flourished like spring flowers. Brisen came to Carbonek again shortly after Bors' departure and told Helayne that it was the will of the Most High God that Galahad should be taken into the care of Dindrane, the sister of Percival and Abbess of the Aberconwy monastery and convent. As this was where, two days before, Annabel had taken the veil, Helayne decided to take the holy vows herself and it was there, through prayer, meditation, and the guidance and good counsel of Dindrane, that she was healed at length of her infatuation with Lancelot.

And Galahad, the son of Lancelot and Helayne, grew from a babe to a boy and a boy to a man, and in everything he did and said the monks and nuns were inspired and impressed by the stillness of his bearing and the calm attentiveness of his eyes. Galahad listened when people spoke to him, and he left those he came into contact with feeling better about themselves than before, as if their lives carried a greater depth of meaning than they had previously believed. And Galahad himself, from time to time, appeared to shine with a warm and golden light - generous and king-like - that lit up the faces of those he shared his life with and made it look like he had been born and raised not in Carbonek and Aberconwy but in the hills and valleys of the Sun itself.