Wednesday 31 October 2018

The Strange Ship

'The Angel came to me on Pentecost morn, while it was still dark. "Dindrane," he called, and I woke and saw him at the foot of my bed - flashes and flickers of gold all about and a Presence and Shining in the air. And in my mind a hope and excitement that I too might be overshadowed by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit as was our blessed mother, Saint Mary.

'But no. Not that way for me. "Dindrane," he said. "The Most High God requests you to cut off your hair and place it in the gold and silver casket which I shall leave with you."

'It seemed such a little thing this request, such an odd and purposeless thing, and I was struck with sadness that this was all Heaven should ask of me. But the Angel said more ... about my brother, Percival, who I have seen not for ten years, and of Galahad and Bors, his companions on the Quest. He told me the high end my long brown hair  - which I love very much and shall greatly miss - will now help bring about. And he also spoke of  my own passing from this world, but no sooner had I felt the weight of his words than he left me and I heard the bells of the holy convent, over the mountains and by the sea, ringing out as they do every dawn. And it was the morning of Pentecost. And the bells were ringing and the task was at hand ... '


... Galahad rode fast and far through the late-summer night and all the next day. Forest, field, river, stream, valley, hill and dale sped by. Though nature rang and shone, he had an inner sense that the Wasteland and Carbonek Castle were close at hand. But he felt no desire to force the issue. He had had enough of forcing things. That approach had led him nowhere and had brought too many of his companions either to death or an ignominious abandonment of the Quest.

He came upon a round stone tower with a white cross painted on its door. As if he had seen him coming, a tall hermit with a long beard and a red robe opened the door and stood outside. 'God be with you, Sir,' he said, and Galahad brought his horse to a halt before him. 'I will stay here for a night or two,' he decided, 'and reflect and pray on how the Grail may best be found.'

So the hermit took him inside and Galahad had a bath and a supper of rice and bread. Then the hermit spoke certain secret words and took him to the chapel where he said Mass. Then Galahad fell asleep on a bed piled high with straw and would have slept long past dawn but for a hammering on the door in the middle of the night.

Something inside him knew that the hammering was for him. He got up, sped down the stairs, unbarred the door and found himself face to face with a young woman on a white horse, dressed in blue and gold. A brightness shone around her and at first Galahad thought she was holding a lantern in her right hand. But then he saw that it was a casket of some kind, but so golden and bright that it lit both horse and rider up as if it was a miniature sun. In the glow cast by the casket Galahad could see that the rider's hair was brown and short.

'Galahad,' she said. 'It is time to leave. Take your horse and ride with me to the coast that looks out onto Ireland. There you will find your companions again and the ship that will bring you to your heart's desire.'

Then Galahad took up his horse and the hermit came out and gave him his blessing. He saluted the rider, and Galahad had the sense that they knew each other already. Then they were on their way, riding side by side through the dawn and the morning and the afternoon and the evening and all through the night until they came to the sea.

They turned their horses loose and picked their way through the boulders down to the shore, where a ship with a single white sail stood waiting for them. Two figures stood on deck waving, and Galahad's heart leapt for joy when he saw that it was Percival and Bors.

They climbed aboard and greeted each other heartily. Galahad noted the affection with which Percival and the brown haired girl embraced each other. Big round tears rolled down Percival's cheeks. 'This is my sister, Dindrane,' he said, and Galahad could tell by the emotion they showed that they had not seen each other for a long time.

The sun rose, the breeze blew, the sail billowed, and the little ship moved off around the shore as if propelled by invisible hands. Galahad, Percival and Bors talked happily of times gone by and the high adventure yet ahead of them. Dindrane stood on the other side of the deck, still holding her luminous casket, watching the waves and the rocky shore go by. Galahad found it hard to take his eyes off her. There was something compelling about her - a presence, stillness and strength that he had seldom if ever encountered in man or woman before. At length they came to a little inlet and the ship ground to a halt between two banks of sand. 'Come,' said Dindrane. 'Follow me.'

They walked up a pebbly hill and down the other side. There, where the waves met the beach, was another, bigger ship, with four white sails. A rope ladder reached down from the deck to the beach. Dindrane climbed up and the others followed. Once on deck, she led them down a flight of steps to a chamber underneath. Galahad saw a bed with a white pillow and silver coverings. In the middle of the bed was a shining sword partially removed from its jewelled blue and green scabbard. Its blade glowed white and fierce and the pommel was set with a wondrous green gemstone. 'Look,' said Bors. 'There is writing on the blade.' And they turned to look and saw words written in a flowing purple script:

'The man who draws me will be the noblest and purest of Arthur's Companions. His destiny it shall be to succeed the hermit Nasciens as High Priest of the Grail.'

'That can only be you,' said Percival to Galahad..

But Galahad shook his head. 'Not yet,' he said. He felt in his heart that there was something else that needed to happen first. Then Bors said to Dindrane. 'Why has the blade been left so exposed? It might only be a hands-breadth, but the sea air will still weaken it.' Dindrane stepped forth. 'I will tell you the tale,' she said ...

' ... Three decades ago, King Pelles, the Lord and Master of what is now the Wasteland, was out hunting with a retinue of followers. They were hunting the great boar, Tryn Twrch, which had crossed the sea from Ireland and was laying Wales waste as it had already laid Ireland waste.

'The hunt was a successful one. A great splashing was heard and a number of hill men came to King Pelles to report that they had seen the boar scrambling into the water and wading back to Ireland. But by the time the news came in the day had grown late and the King found himself separated from his men and the forest quite impenetrable. With one hill man to guide him, he came out upon this beach where this ship is now moored. And it was moored here that evening too. 'Rest you here for this night, Sire,' said the hill man, 'and when morning comes we shall be better able to pick our way through the forest.'

'So Pelles climbed on board, then down the staircase to this chamber. When he saw the sword he desired it greatly and strode forward to take it. But a voice rent the air and cried out, 'Do not touch the sword, O King, for you are not worthy.' But the King carried on and pulled it out by the hands-length you see here. And a spear swooped down at him, wounded him in the thigh and sent him spinning to the floor. And all his lands were laid waste. Blasted and charred.

'Pelles took the spear from his thigh, hobbled off the ship and crawled back to Carbonek on his hands and knees, his wound bleeding profusely. He lies there still with one blessing left, the presence of the Grail and the Grail's High Priest, Nasciens. That and the prophecy given hundreds of years ago by Joseph of Arimathea - that the King of Carbonek will one day suffer from an unstaunchable wound and will have to wait in penitence and faith for the Great Restorer to come - he who will heal the King, let loose the waters over the land, and become High Priest after Nasciens.

'But know this. If Pelles had not lusted after the sword, the Restorer would still have come, though not so soon as this. He will come again at the end of time and he will have enemies to fight, both now and then. He will need a sword. Here it is.'

They stood in silence for a long time. Then Galahad observed something. 'Sister,' he said to Dindrane. 'The sword belt is not in keeping with the beauty of the sword and scabbard. Let us find or make a new one.' It was true. The leather belt attached to the scabbard was worn and frayed and looked as if one touuch was all it needed for it to fall apart.

Dindrane nodded, took up her casket and opened it. They looked in and saw a belt of brown, lustrous hair, fastened with clips and brooches of the purest gold and silver. She handed the belt to Galahad, while she unclasped the old one and laid it in the casket. 'Fasten the belt,' she whispered, and Galahad leant forward and tied it to the scabbard. 'Now draw your sword,' she said. 'See, it responds to your touch. The writing has faded.'

So Galahad pulled out the sword, and his heart and mind and the whole way he thought and felt about the world were changed. For the first time, everything felt right and in its proper place. All the uncertainty and indecision were gone. He had a dim sense that people were kneeling down around him - more than three people too - but the sword was so bright and the air so dazzling that it was hard to see anything clearly. But he did notice that Dindrane was missing. And that was a shame as there was much he wanted to say. But no need to hurry. She would be up on deck looking out at the waves as usual. Plenty of time, plenty of time ...


'No, not for me the fulfilment of the Quest. Not for me the high and holy things, the voyage over the sea and the mystic city of Sarras. I have just one more task left now - to give my life as a ransom for many as soon as we touch land. For this is what the Angel told me. First my hair, then my life. It is a harsh schooling, but in my heart - the deepest, most secret, most sacred part of me - I welcome it. For I have been granted my dearest wish - to follow after our blessed mother, Saint Mary. So I can say too, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word." The Grail itself, and everything good and true that pours from it, cannot outshine the simple, holy grace of those fifteen words of trust, faith, patience, longing, love and hope.'

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