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Authors: Gerald Morris

Parsifal's Page

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Parsifal's Page
Gerald Morris

Houghton Mifflin Company
Boston

This one is for William,
and also for Katherine Paterson

Copyright © 2001 by Gerald Morris

All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce
selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin
Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

www. houghtonmifflinbooks. com

The text of this book is set in 12.5-point Horley Old Style.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Morris, Gerald, 1963–
Parsifal's page / Gerald Morris,
p. cm.
Summary: In medieval England, eleven-year-old Piers's dream
comes true when he becomes page to Parsifal, a peasant whose quest
for knighthood reveals important secrets about both of their families.
ISBN 0-618-05509-6
1. Perceval (Legendary character)—Juvenile fiction. [1. Perceval
(Legendary character)—Fiction. 2. Knights and knighthood—
Fiction. 3. Pages, Medieval—Fiction. 4. Arthur, King—Fiction.
5. Middle Ages—Fiction. 6. England—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.M82785 Par 2001
[Fic]—dc21 00-031894

Manufactured in the United States of America
QUM 10 9 8 7 6

"'Open!'
'To whom? Who is there?'
'I wish to enter your heart.'
'Then you want too narrow a space.'
'How is that? Can't I just squeeze in? I promise not to jostle you. I want to tell you marvels.'"

—Wolfram von Eschenbach,
Parzival

Contents

I
T
HE
S
MITH'S
B
OY 1

II
 P
ARSIFAL'S
E
DUCATION 21

III
 J
EAN LE
F
ORESTIER 41

IV
 T
HE
Q
UEEN OF
B
ELREPEIRE 56

V 
T
HE
C
ASTLE
T
HAT
W
ASN'T
T
HERE 77

VI
 M
ALCHANCE,
O
BIE, AND
O
BILOT
 99

VII
 Q
UESTING 121

VIII
 T
HE
C
HâTEAU
M
ERVEILE 146

IX
 T
HE
G
ARLAND FROM THE
R
IVER 166

X
T
HE
K
NIGHT IN THE
S
NOW 184

XI
T
HE
G
RAIL
K
ING 200

XII
 T
HE
S
EEKERS
 214

A
UTHOR'S
N
OTE 230

I. The Smith's Boy

Piers worked the bellows slowly and steadily, the way his father was always nagging him to do it. The forge was hot, and his new scarlet hat with the long yellow plumes, already damp from the sweat on his forehead, only made him hotter. Piers wanted to take the hat off, but he couldn't. His father had called the hat foppish and unsuitable for man's work, and Piers would have cut his own hand off before admitting that his
gauche
and uncultured father was right. Piers's mother had given him the hat just this morning. Perhaps it was true that the hat really was better suited to a castle than a smith's workshop, but then, Piers reflected disgustedly, so was he.

"Keep the bellows steady, Piers," his father said without looking up, giving all his attention to the long knife blade he was mending.

Piers, who had slowed while he mused on his father's boorishness, resumed his chore, replying only, "My name isn't Piers. It's Pierre."

Piers's father snorted but made no other answer until he had finished the knife blade. He plunged it in a bucket of water to cool, then examined it carefully. "Bah! And they call this steel," he muttered. '"Twill surely break again in a month." Laying the knife down on the bench, he looked at Piers critically. "'Twas well enough done, lad. Soon I should be teaching you the trade. We could start tomorrow, if you like. I've a batch of long nails to make. Rough work, nothing too hard. Should you like that?"

Piers made no effort to hide his revulsion, and his father's expression darkened. Before he could speak, though, Piers's mother swept into the shop. "La! Look at you, my Pierre! But you've soot all over your clothes! And your hands!
Mordieu!
Shall I ever get them clean?" With a flutter of skirts and a flash of petticoats, she whisked Piers away from the forge and back into the neat cottage across the yard. Piers couldn't resist casting a triumphant look over his shoulder at his glowering father.

While Piers watched his mother fuss over his smudged clothing, he wondered for the thousandth time what had possessed her, the beautiful Marie de Champagne, formerly a lady-in-waiting for a French noblewoman, to marry the rough and oafish blacksmith
Giles. Piers could not doubt that they loved each other, for he could see how their faces softened when their eyes met, but all who knew them agreed that there was never a more mismatched pair. Marie was all energy and light and beauty, and she wore her homespun dresses with as much assurance as a great lady would wear a silken gown. Giles, for his part, was silent and brooding, a man of smoldering fires and heavy labor and unspoken thoughts. And yet, when they sat by the fire on winter evenings and smiled at each other, they were—in some way that Piers couldn't understand—one.

Only regarding their son did they ever quarrel. Giles wanted Piers to be a lowly smith like him, but Marie dreamed of the day when Piers, too, would know the great courts of Europe. She would tell him tales of the courts where she had lived, of the sumptuous fashions there, of the rules of courtship and chivalry among the knights and ladies. Piers remembered every word, every detail, and his dreams were full of brocade and tapestry and plumed helms shining in the sun.

But today, remembering his father's words about learning to make nails, Piers felt those dreams slipping away. "
Maman,
" he said suddenly, "am I not old enough to be a squire?"

His mother smiled affectionately at him. "But no,
petit.
You are but eleven years old. Even the youngest squire must be at least thirteen. You could be no more than a page until then."

"Then can I be a page?" Piers demanded.

She shook her head sadly. "You would be a charming page, my pet. Especially in the new hat I made for you. But it is different here in Britain than in France. The English knights use few pages. It is regrettable, but what is to be done?" Indignant, Piers opened his mouth to complain about the cruel injustice of having been born English, when there came the sound of hoofbeats outside, and Piers's mother, looking out the window, exclaimed, "
Mordieu!
A knight!"

Crowding each other at the window, Piers and his mother watched as a knight rode a great sorrel stallion and led two other horses across the yard to the forge. He talked for several minutes with Piers's father, and then dismounted. Agog with curiosity and excitement, Piers slipped away from his mother and hurried across the yard to where the knight stood with the smith.

"Mind you mar it not," the knight said, handing Piers's father his helm. "They told me in the village that you could do fine work, but I misdoubt it."

'"Twould be hard to mar this," Giles said, surveying the helm with evident disgust. "Have you no better armor, sir? For this is trash."

The knight stared at Giles, his mouth open. "I beg your pardon?"

"Look," Giles said scornfully. "Fully six inches of leather strap showing here. One cut from a sword, and your helm is loose on your shoulders, bouncing off
your ears every time you move."

The knight started to reply indignantly, but then saw what the smith was pointing at and understood. "It ... I was told it was the very best."

"I make no doubt you were," Giles said. "Well, I'll mend it for you, though I waste my time."

The knight looked thoughtful. "Where could I get some other armor? Do you—" He looked sharply around the shop and then stopped as his eyes fell on a red suit of armor against the back wall. "That armor! Is it good?"

"Ay, it's fair enough armor," Giles admitted. "But too large for you. I know another who has armor, in Chester."

"I'll have no armor but that!" the knight declared grandly. "Never have I seen such beautiful arms."

"Huh," Giles said, curling his lips. "Yes, very pretty. I was going to do more work on it, though. That red suit belonged to a knight down in Cornwall, a nasty fellow called the Knight of the Red Lands. He was killed by Sir Gareth, of Arthur's court, and one of the Red Knight's servants sold me the armor for food. I've knocked out the dents and fixed the holes, but as I say, it's the wrong size. The Red Knight must have been a strapping big fellow, and you aren't."

"Then I must tighten the straps. That armor is perfect for my quest!"

Piers, watching from the door to the shop, gaped
with awe at the knight. His mother's tales were filled with stories of quests. Giles only looked amused. "On a quest, are you, then?"

"No," the knight said, lifting his chin. "I am not on
a
quest. I am on
the
Quest."

Giles stood completely still. "
The
Quest?" he repeated slowly. "What do you mean?"

"I seek the highest prize of all. My quest is to save the land and restore the king."

Piers felt his breast swell with the majesty of the knight's calling, and even Giles seemed moved. In a soft voice, he said, "Do you mean King Arthur?"

The knight's lips curled scornfully. "No, I speak of a greater king than Arthur."

Piers's father stared at the knight, his eyes searching the knight's face hopefully, but before he could speak again, Piers rushed into the room. "Sir!" he cried. "On this quest, do you ... do you need a page?"

Giles frowned, but the knight only laughed. With one gauntleted hand, he reached out and touched Piers's new hat. "In sooth, thou lookst the part," he said. "And it is very true that I may be needing a page very soon. But you know it is not the fashion to have English boys as pages. It is the mode to have French pages or none at all."

"
Mais, c'est bon! Moi, je suis français. Vraiment! Ma mère est française,
" Piers exclaimed excitedly.

"Eh?"

"I said that I
am
French. My mother is a Frenchwoman. Will you take me with you? I know everything that a page does! My mother has taught me!"

"But ... your parents..." the knight stammered.

"Pierre." It was his mother's voice, behind him at the door.

Piers whirled around. "Oh, mother, say I may! It is such a chance! You said that English knights do not use pages, but this one says he needs one. You can't say no!"

Marie looked across the shop at Giles, and Piers's heart sank. His father would never permit it.

"You say that you are on
the
Quest," Giles said to the knight.

"I am."

Giles nodded, his face sober. "Then my son may go with you."

The next hour Piers spent in a daze of elation. He felt no sorrow, not even at leaving his mother, for he was already dreaming of the day when he would be a great courtier, perhaps in the service of King Arthur himself, and would come back to take his mother to the splendid castle where he lived. When all his things were packed, when his mother had used up her embarrassing tears, when the knight had been strapped into his new red armor, and when Piers was settled on one of the knight's spare horses, his father came from the smith's shop holding a long bundle.

"Sir knight, we should know your name," Giles said steadily.

"My name," said the knight, pausing dramatically, "is Ither Gahaviez, the nephew of King Uther Pendragon!"

Piers gawked at the knight, unable to comprehend his good fortune. Uther was King Arthur's father. Piers was the new page to the king's cousin. But his father only nodded absently. "Then, Sir Ither, if you are truly on the Quest, you must have this." Unwrapping the bundle, he produced a long sword. The blade gleamed dully, and a few gems sparkled from the otherwise plain black haft.

"It is very kind of you," Sir Ither said politely. "But as you see, I have a sword." With a flourish, he drew his own sword and held it out for Giles to see. Giles looked at it without expression, and then, in a move almost too swift for Piers's eyes, he swung his own sword down on Sir Ither's blade. Giles's sword cut through the other blade as if it were a twig, and Sir Ither gaped at the half-blade he held in his hand.

"That will not happen with this sword, Sir Ither. It was forged over twenty years ago by a famous armorer from the land of the faeries. It was made for one reason: to be used on the Quest."

"I'll buy it!" Sir Ither said eagerly.

But Giles only shook his head impatiently. "No! If you buy it, it is worth nothing. Take it. It is a gift." The smith handed the sword to Sir Ither, then turned
to Piers. "Go with God, my son," he said curtly, and then he turned his back and walked away.

Piers watched him go and felt only shame at his father's lies. When Giles had handed the blade to Sir Ither, Piers had seen on the haft an ornate, writhing letter "T"—a mark that he had seen often on the old arms and armor in his father's shop. This blade was no faery sword. His father had been telling a silly children's story to make himself sound important.

Piers rode dutifully behind Sir Ither, waiting eagerly for his new master to speak again. From time to time, Sir Ither would utter a deep, meaningful sentence that Piers would immediately commit to memory. Once he said, "The sky is as fair as my lady love, than whom there is nothing so fair." Another time Sir Ither sighed and said, "Ah, my love! I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honor more!" This saying sounded so grand that Piers almost wept. He hoped that someday he would be able to understand it.

BOOK: Parsifal's Page
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