Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Percivale’s Angels

Percivale’s mother had taught him that devils were the vilest things in existence, God and the angels the most beautiful.

While out in the woods, the boy heard the crashing and clanking of a party of five knights, and at first thought that such a din mean devils: he determined to use his javelins against them. On seeing them in their shining armor, however, he changed his mind, deciding that the handsomest one must be God and the others angels. He promptly prostrated himself before them, whereupon they thought him fearful.

Trying to calm his supposed fears, their leader questioned him about another party of five knights, with three damsels, which they were pursuing; the boy, on being informed they were knights and not angels, answered his interlocutor’s repeated question only with questions of his own – “What is this thing? That thing?” Showing remarkable patience, the knight answered all the lad’s queries – “My lance. My shield.” – and so on, explaining how they were used, and eventually revealing that King Arthur had dubbed him knight and given him his arms less than five years previously.

His patience was rewarded when Percivale finally told him where they were – Valbone – and took them to the harrowers and ox-drivers in his mother’s oat fields, whom he questioned about the party the knights were seeking. The ox-drivers answered that they had ridden through this same pass that very day. The boy translated this information for his new idols and asked where the king who made knights could be found. The knight replied that Arthur was presently at Carlisle, after which he and his companions pursued their quarry right out of Chrétien’s romance Perceval.

Chrétien does not tell us who any of these thirteen were, though at some point someone seems to have found reason to identify the chief one with Ywaine. Nor does he tell us why the five Percivale met were pursuing the others – to rescue the damsels, simply to catch up with friends, or..? I do not, however, find much evidence of emergency or hostility in their words. It might be tempting to identify them with the thirteen pentiens who long afterward directed Percivale to his hermit uncle, but in this latter party the genders are reversed: ten ladies and three knights.