At the dead of night, out of the shadow of the castle battlements, crept a young mother with her sleeping baby in her arms. Silently she stole across the pastureland, through slumbering villages, past outlying farms until she reached the distant forests and high moorlands. Only then did she feel safe from the conspirators who had killed her husband, the young Percival’s father. And there she raised her child, forgotten, in the high wilderness among the moorland goats.
Percival grew up as a simple shepherd, knowing nothing about his family’s past, but knowing everything about goats. So that he could look after goats, he learnt to be kindly and respectful. He was a handsome lad, strong and fearless; chasing up crags to milk his mother’s goats, and hunting wild deer across the high moors with javelins he’d cut from tree-branches.
One day three Knights-in-shining-armour rode past. Percival watched their war-horses, lances and iron armour flashing in the sun. “Ee! By my billy-goat’s beard!” he said, “Here’s something I’ve not seen the like. These must be Angels!”
The knights raced over to Percival in a great hurry, and one of them explained their quest. They were seeking three stolen maidens and the wicked knights who had taken them. Had the shepherd seen these knights? Percival stared at them with his mouth open. “Dear Sirs,” he said, reaching up to touch their lances, “What be these?”
The knight said Percival should have nothing to do with his Lance. He thought the lad hadn’t heard his question, and asked more loudly if the knights they were chasing had been seen in this open heath. Percival pointed at their helmets in wonder. “And what be those?” The knight said he saw no reason for any interest in his Iron Armour. Were the stolen maidens an hour ahead, or a day?
Percival patted the proud caparisoned war-horses. “What manner of beasts be these?” The knights despaired of a straight answer. They courteously replied that they rode Horses, and that shepherds in these parts seemed no more observant than their grazing flocks. Then they galloped off over the hills, never to be seen again, and Percival dashed quickly home to tell his mother.
“Mother! I must away and join the Angels!” When he described what he’d seen, his mother sat down with a sigh. She’d been dreading telling Percival about knights, but the time had come. If he was determined to leave home, he should go to King Arthur in Camelot, and be valiant enough to be made a Knight of the Round Table. He should do a great deed to win his spurs.
Percival picked up his holly-branch hunting-javelin, jumped up on the yard-donkey, and cut a bunch of mistletoe to plonk on his head as a helmet, and then he set off for Camelot. The wind whistled through his ribs as he plodded over the mountain passes, and the snow soaked his skin as he slept out in the forest; but happy and excited, he at last reached King Arthur’s court.
“Dear King Arthur! I would very much like to join the valiant Knights of the Round Table...” Percival got no further with the speech he’d prepared – all the knights collapsed with laughter to see this tough and earnest lad dressed up like Jack-in-the-green, in twigs and leaves.
But at that moment, a wicked Red Knight burst in, knocked all the plates and goblets off the table, insulted the Queen, and challenged any knight to fight him outside !
As the Red Knight left, Percival tried to continue his speech. But now the court had no time for him. Angrily they said they would strip the spurs from the Red Knight, and they all scrambled to put on their swords and helmets.
Straight away, Percival was outside facing the Red Knight, saying “I must have your armour!” The Red Knight thought they’d sent the court jester to return his insult, and he charged Percival, sending him tumbling from the donkey. But Percival bounced to his feet, in his shepherd’s boots. “Ey-up!” he said in surprise, “This here’s a new game!” and he hurled his holly-lance. It plunged into the red helmet’s visor, and the wicked Knight lay dead.
Percival dragged the knight around the field by the feet until Arthur’s knights came out of the castle. “This iron is stuck to him! It will never come off!” The Knights were astonished at Percival’s victory, and laughing again, showed him how to unbuckle the armour – which became his from that day.
But Percival would not take the silk shirt worn under the armour. “Nay! I’ll keep this good woollen my mother made me.” And so he joined the Round Table - in red armour, and shepherd’s boots.
In the years to come, Percival would have the strangest adventures – with the Fisher-King, and at Castle Marvellous – and when he became Sir Percival he was granted lands that were once his own father’s. He became indeed a valiant knight, as well as staying a straightforward simple soul. So when all the Knights of the Round Table went on the Quest for the Holy Grail, Percival was one of the very few to find it.