The Laughing Maiden

When I sought the Grail:

We had stopped in a peasant village close to the border of our kingdom. Dismounting after a long day’s ride, I walked around the town. Our lord’s banner hung from the town hall. But it did not matter–those who are seeking treasure must know their surroundings.

In truth, I feared that our adversary arrived before us. That devil, the snake whose name I will not speak, who had met us on the river as we set out on our quest and delivered us to brigands.

But there was no danger. Having assured myself that the stables were empty, save for the horses that worked the fields, and the houses contained no enemies, I returned to my companions.

There was a tavern on the green, and its thatched roof was a welcome sight to knights who had slept under the stars. Sir Brunor had gone before me, and Sir Percival before him, and our pages followed once they had put the horses to stable.

They had drunk and eaten and already retired to their beds, weary from the storm of the previous night. I sat by myself. The sun was falling outside, and my aching bones reminded me that my youth was long since spent.

My stomach ailed, so I ate bread and drank water like a pilgrim. My cup reflected a sun-weathered face lit by the orange light of the candles. I hardly recognized it.

We will never find the Grail. It was lost long ago, and no person can claim it as their own. My doubt weighed heavy on my shoulders, on my body that would no longer serve its purpose without faltering.

Faint steps approached. “You are one of the knights?” I did not look up, but I could tell that the voice belonged to a maiden.

“Yes,” I said, and let a sigh linger after.

“Where are you from? I was not here when your companions arrived.”

“We have come from the King’s court.”

She laughed in response, and I lifted my eyes to see what was so humorous. But there was nothing. “Are you mocking me?”

But there was no malice in her. “No, sir knight. I do not wish to mock you. But one would have thought you had come from a far-away land.”

I did not need her to tell me why. Mud-crusted boots, down-turned eyes, haggard faces. We had lost our spirit. “Our liege’s son is sick, and we seek a cure for him. These are desperate days.”

“You seek the Grail.”

“Did the others tell you?”

She shook her head. “No. There is only one object which can so thoroughly consume men’s spirits. I saw it in your face.”

“What do you know of the Grail?”

She laughed again with a fullness that seemed out of place at the late hour. “What does anyone know of the Grail?”

I almost rose and departed, feeling that it was beneath my honor to be addressed in such a way. But once again I felt that she was being honest, and I stayed seated. “I know only what I have been told.”

“And is it true?”

“I reckon so.”

“True in your reckoning, or true beyond yourself?”

But for this I had no answer, and I would not find the answer for many years. Before I could respond the tavern’s proprietor shooed her away.

“Pay no heed to her, she is mad.”

But who is mad? The one who laughs, or the one who seeks while blind?

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