This is the tale of the Challenge of the Red Knight. It is an ancient tale, and I pray my telling of it be pleasing to all.
Long ago, when Arthur held his Court at Camelot, the Knights of the Round Table were gathered to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox. As was the custom at the time, many toasts were made, each Knight and Great Baron lifting a golden goblet filled with late summer cider. The Ladies of the Court too made salutes to their Lords, boasting of their feats in the last year.
Now earlier that day, a fair damsel had appeared in the Court and presented Queen Guenivere with a beautiful golden goblet, which the Queen accepted graciously. And just as the Queen rose from her throne to raise the traditional salutation to the King, the doors of the great hall were flung open, and in came a Knight clad all in red armor and carrying a golden-tipped spear.
Sir Kay the Seneschal stood and demanded to know who this Knight was that made such an entrance into the Pendragon's Hall unannounced. But the Red Knight would not reply. Instead with bold strides he stepped to where Queen Guenivere stood, stole away her golden goblet, and splashed the cider upon her gown.
Before anyone could make a protest, a loud voice boomed from within the red helm: "Let any who would avenge this act, accept my Challenge. Meet me on the field of combat outside this castle, armed and prepared for battle."
Without another word, the Red Knight turned and stomped from the hall. The stunned silence which followed the Red Knight's departure was short-lived. Soon all the Knights of the Round Table were clamoring for the right to pursue the Red Knight, and the Pendragon granted that the first knight who was armed and prepared would have his blessing to accept the Challenge.
Now as it happened, there was one knight who was not in the Great Hall at this time. Sir Percival de Galles had been detained by an adventure, and he returned to find Camelot in an uproar of activity, as each knight scrambled with his arms. When Percival learned of the reason for their haste, he quickly turned his horse again out of the castle, for he was still armed.
On the plain outside Camelot, Percival found the Red Knight waiting. Percival asked, "Are you the Knight who would dare insult the Queen?"
"I am," answered the other. "Are you prepared to undertake the Challenge of the Red Knight?"
"I am," said Percival, and he lowered the visor of his helm. Then the two knights rode at one another as fast as they could, and they met together with such violence that the Percival's lance broke against the Red Knight's shield, and they were both knocked from their horses.
Sir Percival rose to find that the Red Knight's armor had been pierced in the side, so that blood flowed from the wound. As Percival struggled to regain his senses, he saw the Red Knight mount his horse, snatch up his lance, and ride off into the forest. Percival climbed onto his own horse to pursue the Red Knight.
As he entered the forest, an Autumn storm began, and soon Percival lost the Red Knight's trail. All day Percival rode through the wood, hoping to find some sign of his foe. As evening drew near, the icy rain grew worse, and Percival began to seek shelter.
He came to a wide clearing, and in a bright flash of lightning, he saw a small, ruined chapel on the far side. From the look of the tumbled red stones and sagging roof, Percival thought the chapel must be abandoned. He spurred his horse forward and into the Red Chapel.
Within, Percival found that a single candle burned near a window on the back wall, and by its light he could see that on the altar was laying an ancient, unarmored man, blood flowing freely from his side. Leaning against the wall behind the altar was a lance, which Percival recognized at once as that of the Red Knight.
Before Percival could wonder about these things, or even dismount his horse, he heard a sudden wailing, as though dozens of voices were calling out mournfully. Then there entered into the Chapel a damsel of such beauty that Percival was pleased to lay his eyes upon her. She carried in her hands an object from which shone a light so dazzling that Percival could not look upon it.
The maiden passed before the altar, then turned to face Percival expectantly, but he was so in awe of what he had seen that he was speechless. The maiden appeared downcast as she turned again to the altar.
Before Percival could recover himself, a mysterious hand came through the window and extinguished the candle, plunging the Chapel into darkness. This startled Percival's horse, so that it turned and leaped from the Chapel, carrying the knight back out to the storm.
It took an hour or more for Percival to calm his horse. By then the storm had abated, but Percival could not find his way back to the Red Chapel. Instead he rode through the night, until at sunrise he came upon a small castle by a wide river. Cold, hungry, and exhausted, he called to the porter to ask for shelter, but there was no answer. So in desperation, Percival dismounted his horse and began pounding upon the door with the hilt of his sword.
Suddenly the door was thrown open and a woman in leather armor burst out, sword drawn. She swung at him with such speed that he was barely able to raise his shield. Then the woman struck such a blow that his helm broke into two and fell to the ground.
After that, Percival yielded and begged mercy, and when the woman saw his face, she asked to know his name. "I am Percival de Galles," he said, "Knight of the Round Table." "And who is your father?" she asked.
"That I do not know," Percival admitted with some shame, "for my mother raised me alone in the wilderness, far from the realm of knights."
"There is something I must tell you," she said, putting up her sword. "I knew your father well, for he was my own brother, and therefore I am your aunt."
So then his aunt offered to train Percival in the arts of combat and warfare, which he gladly accepted, for she was obviously a great warrior. For months he studied with her, and she taught him not only the methods of fighting, but also about the spiritual history of Britain.
She told him about the Maidens of the Wells, and how they had withdrawn to secret places throughout the land. When Percival heard about secret chapels hidden in the wild places of Britain, he asked his aunt if the Red Chapel he had visited might be such a place.
"It is indeed," she said. "The woman you saw there is one of the Maidens of the Wells, and that is not all. For you see, she is also your sister, Dindrane."
"What of the object she carried?" asked Percival. "The object which glowed with such light that I could not look upon it. What is that object?"
"That object is a Grail Hallow, one of the Chalices which have been hidden from the world since the times of King Amanagons."
"What is it's purpose? Whom does it serve?"
At this, his aunt smiled. "The Chalice is a sacred object, central to the Mysteries of the Grail. It is the same Chalice which was sent to Camelot, and the same Chalice which was taken by the Red Knight."
"What of the Red Knight? Why did he take the Chalice and insult the Queen?"
"The Red Knight was sent to Camelot," said his aunt, "for the same reason that the Chalice was sent, and that was to discover a Knight of Arthur's Round Table who was worthy to take the place of the Guardian of the Red Chapel, who has grown too old to perform all his duties."
His aunt then told Percival that he had already passed the first of the tests, for he had inquired concerning the Grail Hallow. Now, if he wished, she would direct him to the Red Chapel, so that he might begin his training as a Chaplain. This pleased Percival, for he knew that becoming a Grail Chaplain was a very noble occupation.
So it was that Percival returned to the Red Chapel, where he found that the Red Knight had recovered from the wound which Percival had inflicted upon him. Percival's sister, Dindrane, was there also, and she was very happy to learn that he had agreed to become the new Guardian of the Red Chapel and Chaplain of the Holy Grail.
After that, Percival stayed at the Red Chapel and studied the Mysteries of the Grail. And when the time came, he stood before the Red Knight and was consecrated as a Knight-Chaplain of the Grail. He was given the Red Knight's own armor as a sign of his commitment to the spiritual guardianship of the Red Chapel. Then he returned to Camelot and engaged in various quests and adventures. But he also came often to the Red Chapel to assist the Red knight in his duties. And when the Red Knight died of very old age, Percival took his place permanently as Guardian of the Red Chapel.
Here ends the tale of Sir Percival and the Challenge of the Red Knight. May his Blessed Spirit be pleased with my telling of it, and may my ancestors smile upon me, now as ever.