Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XVII Chapter 9

Galahad, Percivale, Bors, and Magdalena travel for an indeterminate time, eventually arriving at a waste forest.  In this remote corner of the world they happen across a magic deer and four magic lions.  The lions chase the deer and the knights (and Mags) chase the lions!  The lions and the deer lead them across the wilderness to, you guessed it, Nacien’s hermitage!

Nacien wastes no time in getting everyone into the chapel.  Soon he’s giving Mass to all the lions and the knights and the deer and Mags.  At Communion (which sort of the Act II climax of Mass, if you were unaware) the deer and lions shapechange!  Refer to this chart for more information.



Deer transforms into… a man who gets to sit in the nicest chair

First Lion transforms into… a man who doesn’t get to sit in the nicest chair

Second Lion transforms into… a different lion

Third Lion transforms into… an eagle

Fourth Lion transforms into… an ox


The lion, eagle, and ox all sit down with the man who isn’t in the nicest chair.  Once Mass is over, though, they get up and leave the chapel by passing through a stained-glass window without breaking it.  I’m not sure that Malory is still describing the Quest for the Holy Grail here; this part reads like it’s a dream he once had, maybe.

Anyway, while Mags and the knights marvel at the transformed animals walking through walls, or at least walking through windows, an angelic voice from nowhere explains that just as the animals passed through the window without breaking it, so too did Jesus come out of Mary’s womb without breaking her hymen.  Malory adds that when they heard these words they fell down to the earth and were astonished, which does not surprise me one little bit.

Afterwards they ask Nacien to explain what the heck is going on, and Nacien explains things like so:



The deer represents… Jesus, which is why the deer was shining white.  (Sorry, did Malory forget to mention that part?)

The lions represent… Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, who wrote the four synoptic gospels.  I guess matching them up to their totem-animals (human, lion, eagle, ox) is an exercise for the reader.

The walking through walls thing represents… exactly what the angel said it did, duh.


Nacien assures them that they’re on the Grail-Quest home stretch.  “I suppose from henceforth ye shall see no more of these confusing allegorical visions.  That was probably the last one.”

There’s much rejoicing!  Mags and the knights chill with Nacien for a day, before moving on to the next stage of the quest.

Posted in Le Morte D'Arthur, Primary Sources | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XVII Chapter 8

The magical ship deposits Galahad, Magdalena, Percivale, and Bors somewhere in Scotland, at a castle that men call Carteloise.

“Just so you know,” says Mags, “in a minute a bunch of guys are going to attack us because you’re affiliated with Camelot.”

“No problem,” says Galahad.  “We’re on the Grail quest!  A bunch of guys will break before us like surf on the rocks.”

Sure enough, the people here are not fans of King Arthur, and when Galahad tells the castle’s inhabitants they’re from Camelot, and next thing you know there’s a fight scene.  Long story short, the good guys suffer zero casualties and the all the enemy knights are killed.  Big pile of bodies.

“Aw, dang it,” says Bors afterwards.  “Either we’ve committed terrible sins by just straight up killing a castle full of people, or else…” Bors struggles to come up with an alternative.  “Maybe they were all people God hated, so it’s okay, and we were just delivering God’s vengeance.”

“Hey no,” protests Galahad.  “You know as well as I do that only God is allowed to deliver God’s vengeance.”

“…I’m not sure that’s a legitimate reason to dispute what I just said.”

And then Nacien shows up, ready to give the knights Mass!  Calling this particular white-bearded priest Nacien is maybe a bit of a stretch, but that’s how we roll, so let’s go with it.  Nacien is… he’s kind of taken aback by all the corpses.

Galahad kneels, and pulls off his helmet, and motions for Percivale and Bors to do the same (they do).  “I know, I know, the dead bodies thing looks bad, but it was only because we’re from Camelot.  These guys attacked us, self-defense, that sounds plausible right?”

“It’s not a problem,” Nacien assures him.  “These guys weren’t even baptized.  They were basically non-people.  See, this castle used to belong to Lord Earl Hernox, until recently.  Hernox had three sons and a daughter, and those sons really loved the daughter.  I mean, they really loved the daughter, like, in the unhealthy way that I’m not going to use the word, but it rhymes with Corn Fest.”

Bors sucks the air in between his teeth, which makes a whistling sound.  “Whoa.”

“I know, right?  So, she complained to her father, then the sons killed her for telling someone, and then they clapped the father in irons and then they just started killing people randomly.  Mostly randomly.  Priests more than not.”


“I was just hearing the final deathbed confession of Hernox, in fact, before I came over here.  He was all don’t worry Nacien, God has explained to me that three holy servants of the Lord will come and slay my wicked sonsAnd by this may ye wit that Our lord is not displeased with your deeds.

“Wait, I was right?”  Bors is kind of taken aback.  He’d just been spitballing, after all.

Meanwhile, Galahad is relieved.  “I can kill bad people all I want and I remain holy!  Hurrah!”

Then Hernox himself gets led out, in chains.  He’s dying, but he recognizes Galahad immediately on account of an angel told him Galahad was coming!  He gets to thank Galahad for being so knightly, and then he dies.

Posted in Le Morte D'Arthur, Primary Sources | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur Book XVII, Chapters 5 through 7

NB in this entry Bors speaks for me.


Mags leads the knights across the room to a big bed, and shows them two swords and four wooden rods hanging on the wall over the headboard.  Two of the rods are white, one is red, and the last is green.  At first glance they look like they’ve been painted or stained, but in fact the wood is just brightly colored.

“So, this branch was taken by Eve from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,” Mags says, pointing.  “And this one she took from the tree where she and Adam first met.”

“Really,” says Bors.

Mags nods.  “Mmm-hmm.  And the green one is from the tree under which Abel was conceived, and the red one is from the tree under which Abel was murdered.  Eve collected tree branches, it turns out.”


“Now, you’re probably wondering how they came to be here.” Mags pauses, in case anyone wants to marvel at her perspicacity, but no. “The answer of course is King Solomon.”

“Of course!  That makes so much sense,” says Bors.  He elbows Galahad, who just looks at him blankly.  Bors realizes that neither Galahad nor Percivale have ever encountered sarcasm before.

This Solomon was wise and knew all the virtues of stones and trees, and so he knew the course of the stars, and many other divers things.

“Right.  King Solomon from the Bible.  Famously wise.”

“And his wife was a horrible shrew who convinced him that all women are essentially wicked animals.”

“So you’re saying King Solomon was a misogynist,” says Bors.

“Yep!  But then an angel came to him and explained about Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, the one and only good woman who has ever or will ever live.”  Mags is pretty pleased with how her lecture is going so far.  “So King Solomon felt quite the fool, let me tell you, thinking that just because all women except Mary are terrible, all women are terrible.”

“Uh huh.”

“Women suck, you guys.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“Then the angel told Solomon how eventually, the very last descendant of King Solomon, and also the last descendant of Mary, because of course, then the very best knight who ever lived, tied for first with the Solomon’s brother-in-law Josua.  Who was a very great knight, as we all know.  But the last descendant of Solomon, Mary, and Jesus will be just as good!”

Bors catches Mags’s eye, and tilts his head subtly towards Galahad, who is rapt with this story.  He clicks his tongue.

Mags nods slightly.

Bors rolls his eyes.

“Solomon was of course thrilled to learn about his descendant, but it bothered him that he didn’t know what this future knight’s name was going to be.  So naturally he did all kinds of crazy magic, trying to divine it.  His wife thought this was stupid, but she was the stupid one.  Women are dumb!”


“Also she suggested he build this boat, which he did.  Or he had it built, anyway.  Then she suggested that he take King David’s sword and refurbish it and keep it on the ship.  She also had this bed made, and these three wooden spindles…”


“These three wooden spindles, she had them made, and then she predicted that someday a maiden (that’s me) would come here and tell this story to worthy knights (that’s you).  An angel came and did all the detailing, including carving the message over the entryway.  Which freaked Solomon out, so he sent the ship out into the sea, where it has waited for us.”

While Bors double-checks those wooden spindles and confirms that yes, they’re wood and they’re white and red and green, not painted or stained, just naturally those colors, Percivale finds a pile of money and also a pamphlet that has the whole story Mags just told in it.  “Look!  Independent corroboration!”

“Last thing I need to do is replace the crappy belt that the sword is on with a good one, made from my own hair,” says Mags.  She’s been carrying around three belts made from her own hair, in a little case.  “I made these when I found out that I was going to be doing this.  It meant shaving my head, but while I’m wearing this wimple you can’t tell and besides, I’m no longer a woman of this world, I’m some kind of crazy Grail-nun.”

“Wow, that’s great,” says Bors.  He isn’t sure if he’s being sarcastic or sincere.  “Your whole spiel has doubtless been very helpful.”

“So here’s the sword, the Sword of the Strange Girdles,” Mags says, passing it to Galahad. “The sheathe is called the Mover of Blood, and it was made from the Tree of Life which grew next to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Hence the name.”

While Mags ties the Mover of Blood onto Galahad using a belt made from her own hair, Galahad thanks her and compliments her on her holiness and declares that until one or both of them die, he will be her champion.

Then they leave that ship, and get back on the one Nacien gave them, and it magically propels itself to the next stage of the quest.

Posted in Le Morte D'Arthur, Primary Sources | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XVII Chapter 4

The scabbard is snakeskin, embroidered with silver and golden thread spelling out writing, and it’s on a remarkably cheap belt.

The writing reads as follows: “I am a scabbard for the very best, and the knight who earns me will never be underdressed so long as he wears me.  But only a virginal princess may remove me from about my bearer’s waist, and if she ever ceases to be virginal after so handling me, she will die.”

“Ominous,” says Percivale.  “What’s it say on the back?”

There are indeed more words on the back of the scabbard, in red and black thread.  “My bearer will regret taking me.”

“There’s a story for this one, too,” says Mags.  All the knights settle in.


Once upon a time (and around the same era as the story in Book XIII, Chapter 10), Nacien, the brother-in-law of King Mordrains, was visiting the Isle of Turnance.  He found this same ship, and the sword, and declined to draw it.  Instead he spent over a week aboard the ship.  Nine days after his arrival, the ship came to another isle by a rock, where a giant lived.  Nacien was a prayer, not a fighter, but when the giant stormed in, ready to kill him for the crime of not being a giant, he remembered the scary magic sword.

Nacien ran to the sword, and drew it, and waved it around, and then it fell apart on him as if it were some kind of trick sword.  “Ah, the thing that I praised most ought I now most to blame.  I regret taking it.”  Then he left the ship and killed the giant somehow.

The ship then transported Nacien across the sea to a different ship, one that his brother-in-law Mordrains was aboard.  They compared notes, and Mordrains expressed interest in the magic sword.  “It probably just broke because you’re sinful,” he theorized.  Mordrains found that the pieces of the sword stuck together when it was reassembled, as though the whole thing were a big rare earth magnet.  He put the sword back in its sheathe, and then he and Nacien left together on his ship, leaving the magic sword and magic ship behind.  Also Nacien stepped on a nail and hurt his foot and everyone agreed it was divine punishment for daring to draw the magic sword.


“Where are you getting these stories?” asks Bors.

In the name of God, she is right wise of these works,” says Galahad.  “Pray continue, Mags.”


Mags considers.  “What else, what else…. Oh!  King Pellas!  Labor’s son and Elaine’s father and your grandfather, Galahad.  Once he was out hunting and he got lost and turned around and he misplaced his knights and his hounds and then he and one other knight found this ship.  They saw the carving over the entryway but came aboard anyway.  And then Pellas found this sword, and drew it, and he shouldn’t have, so the other knight stabbed him, right in the jimmies, which was the second dolorous stroke.”

“…I don’t think that’s right.”  Malory does not include Bors objecting to this, but it seems plausible that he, at least, of the group would be familiar with the story of Sir Balin, Lady-Killer from back in Book II.

“Moving on!” cries Mags, and leads Percivale, Galahad, and Bors over to a bed with some spindles of thread hanging over it, like a mobile.  “This story is about King Solomon!”

Posted in Le Morte D'Arthur, Primary Sources | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XVII Chapter 3

The magical ship sails on overnight, ultimately ending up out on the rocks near the land of Logris.  Oddly, there’s another ship of the same rich enough design, moored on the rocks.

“That’s ours,” says Mags.  “Definitely.  Let’s go.  For so is Our Lord’s will.”

“If you say so.”

“I do say so.” She leads Galahad, Percivale, and Bors across the rocks and onto the second ship.  The four of them look around.  It’s a nice enough ship, but just like the ship Nacien gave Percivale, it’s unoccupied, with neither man nor woman therein.  Bors finds a message carved above the entryway:

“If you’re aboard this ship, you’d better be virtuous; for I am the ship of Faith.”


Mags has noticed that Percivale doesn’t recognize her.  She explains she’s his sister, King Pellinore’s daughter, and that the two of them will find the Grail together.  Percivale forgot he had a sister, so this is a nice surprise!

Meantime Galahad has found the master bedroom and a bed with silk sheets and a crown of silk and also a magical sword that only he can draw.

It’s got a stone pommel studded with gemstones of every color, and its blade is two bones, sharpened together.  One is a bone from a serpent which was conservant in Calidone, and is called the serpent of the fiend.  Its magic is such that anyone who wields it will never be weary nor hurt, which is pretty good!  The other bone is from a fish found only in the Euphrates river, called Ertanax.  Its magic is such that anyone who wields will, in addition to the no-tired thing, possess tremendous capacity to focus on the project at hand and not be lost to daydreams or browsing the internet.  Also pretty good!

Percivale and Bors would both happily accept this magic sword, but it’s only for Galahad; neither of them can draw it.  Galahad doesn’t really want it, and is a little worried about a sword that Percivale and Bors can’t draw.  Is it evil?  But Mags assures him it’s okay.

She tells a story that goes like this.  Once upon a time in Logris, which is where they found the ship, there was a war going on.  This war raged between King Labor (Galahad’s mother’s father’s father), and King Hurlame.  And the war climaxed in a huge orgiastic battle on the beach, which Hurlame lost.  Hurlame fled aboard this very ship, that happened to be there.  He found this magical stone-pommeled sword and drew it, and used it to maim Labor.  When Labor went down, the very land shuddered: great pestilence and great harm befell both their kingdoms.  All the corn and grass and fish died, and the land which had once been fecund and fertile became the waste land, all thanks to that dolorous stroke.

Like Balin’s dolorous stroke, but a generation earlier.  Crazy, I know.  But that’s the story of the sword.  Afterwards Hurlame returned to the magic ship and hid there until he died.

“If you think that was a nutso story,” says Mags, “just wait until you hear about the scabbard!”

Posted in Le Morte D'Arthur, Primary Sources | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XVII Chapter 2

Galahad rides on, stopping briefly at his grandfather’s castle Carbonek, and on. One night at a cottage, he meets a woman.  Let’s give her a solid religiousy name, like Magdalena.  While Galahad sleeps, Mags comes up to the door of the cottage and knocks and tells the hermit within (Sir Ulfin, retired knight; all hermits are either Nacien or a retired knight) she’s come for Galahad.  Ulfin wakes Galahad, and Galahad seems not in the slightest surprised to see her.

“Magdalena,” he says.

“Galahad,” says Mags.  “I will that ye arm you, and mount upon your horse and follow me, for I shall show you within these three days the highest adventure that ever any knight saw.”

The strange adventure scale tops out at highest, which is up above even marvelous.  “Check,” says Galahad.  He’s already got his things together, and within minutes Galahad and Mags are riding together towards the sea.

Mags takes Galahad down to Collibe, at the seaside, and in a castle there they both get a meal and a shower and a little sleep.  But before the sun rises, Mags and Galahad are down on the beach, where Mags points out the white samite ship.

Percivale and Bors are waving frantically on the deck, trying to get Galahad’s attention.  He waves back.  “What’s the plan?”

“We swim the rest of the way.”  Mags dismounts, then removes her horse’s saddle and tack and makes a bundle out of it.  Galahad follows suit, and then they swim out with their bundles to the ship.

It had been deadly calm, but once Mags and Galahad are aboard the ship, the wind picks up from nowhere.  It hits the sails with a whump and the ship starts accelerating.  Percivale, who’s been through this a couple of times already, leads everybody down belowdecks where they won’t get blown off.

Galahad tells Percivale and Bors about his trials, mainly the Castle of the Maidens, and listens as Percivale and Bors recount their own temptations.  “Truly ye are much bounden to God, for ye have escaped great adventures. The three of us did it; we’re on our way to the Grail.  Also Mags is here.”

Bors is troubled.  “What about Launcelot?”

“What about him?”

Bors shrugs.  “I have a hard time believing that I succeeded at something he failed.  I mean, sure, you’re some kind of prophesied messiah, and Percivale here likewise sat in the Siege Perilous and also he castrated himself, which shows real dedication.  But me?  I’m just a man.  I even have an illegitimate child, named Pale Elian or Sir Helin or Elaine if it’s a girl.”

“Launcelot’s doing his own thing,” replies Galahad, and doesn’t want to talk about this any more.

Posted in Le Morte D'Arthur, Primary Sources | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XVII Chapter 1

This book is all about Galahad and the Grail, and Malory helpfully reminds us where he left Galahad: Book XIV, Chapter 4.


Though Percivale is a holy knight and a fabulous fighter he can’t handle 20+ to one odds.  He takes out a third or so of his opponents, but then they kill his horse! Oh no! Is this the untimely end of Percivale?

No!  Because Galahad springs up out of nowhere, all in red, and lays into the funeral-goers, until they break and flee into the woods.  That Galahad!  He’s so dreamy!

As he watches Galahad chase the opposition into the woods, Percivale marvels at how the target of his quest just appeared out of nowhere like that.  “Hey, Galahad!  Thanks for saving me!” he shouts.  “Come back here so I can thank you properly!”

But alas, Galahad disappears into the woods, and Percivale is left alone.


Malory continues this narrative, filling us in on Galahad’s actions since then, though he ignores the gap between that appearance and Book XIII, Chapter 17.  That was Galahad’s unlikely adventure at the Castle of the Maidens, as you may recall.  So from the Maidens’ Castle to Goothe, where he saves Percivale, and then on from Goothe.  We all up to speed?  Great.

Galahad rides away from Percivale and has all kinds of awesome adventures that Malory isn’t going to go into right now, because they don’t involve a jousting tournament.  Instead he skips to the part where Galahad stumbles across a jousting tournament in progress.  It’s outside a castle, and the teams are the knights not inside the castle, and the knights inside the castle.  The knights not inside the castle are winning; Galahad can see them just cutting down their opponents as their opponents try to sally forth from the castle gates.

Malory is not describing a siege.  He is describing a jousting tournament.  Totally different.

Anyway, Galahad decides he should help the knights inside the castle.  He pulls out his magical white shield, and throws a spear and waves his sword around, and generally does such wonderful deeds of arms that all they marvelled.

But what’s this?  Sir Gawaine and Sir Ector the Lesser!  They’re participating in this tournament as well, on the (previously) winning side!

“Man, we’re getting our butts kicked by that knight with the white shield,” complains Ector.

Gawaine recognizes the shield.  “That’s no knight, that’s Sir Galahad!  Mister Holy Blessed Dude himself!  I’d hate to be the guy next up against him!”

And then the melee shifts such that by adventure Sir Gawaine finds himself in a one-on-one with Galahad, because Malory knows one trick of dramatic irony and he uses it over and over.  Galahad doesn’t even hesitate, he bashes Gawaine’s skull in and down Gawaine goes, skull caved in, pieces of his helmet embedded in his brain, horse sliced open from Galahad’s follow-through.

“Crap, Uncle Gawaine!” I did not realize that Gawaine was the uncle of Ector the Lesser.  In fact I was pretty sure Ector was in the Bors/Launcelot/Lamorak family of knights, which is unrelated to the Gawaine/Uwaine/Gaheris/Mordred group, but that’s what Malory says now, that Ector is Gawaine’s nephew.  Never mind that Ector called Launcelot uncle back in Book VI, when he first appeared, and never mind that his appellation, Ector de Maris, fits in more with Launcelot du Lake and Lamorak de Galis.  Uncle Gawaine.  Fine.

Ector stands over Gawaine’s body and chases off the knights moving in to finish him off, as Galahad wanders off.  Then Ector and Gawaine share a touching moment wherein Gawaine thinks he’s dying and Ector assures him he’ll be up and Grail-Questing again in no time, and Gawaine is all no, I’m done, go on without me.  Malory reminds us about the bit in Book XIII, Chapter 3, where Arthur gets Gawaine to try to draw out the sword in the stone, but he can’t, and then Launcelot (who at the time was uttering prophecy because why not) asserted that Galahad would one day use the sword to bash Gawaine’s skull in.  Malory is all, PROPHECY COMPLETED 1/1.

Ector nurses Gawaine back to health, the end.  A big hand for Ector and Gawaine, everybody!  They’ll be back after the Grail Quest is over, although I can’t promise that Gawaine won’t randomly murder anyone between then and now!

Posted in Le Morte D'Arthur, Primary Sources | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XVI Conclusions

Sir Bors is an all right guy!  Like Sir Percivale, he’s a little more down to earth than Galahad.  Galahad is just weird, like he’s too good for this world.  But Bors is okay.  I mean, granted, Malory’s utter lack of characterization means that Bors and Percivale are mostly indistinguishable.  Everybody from Griftlet to Uwaine is just kind of there, excepting a few people like Pellinore (that ass!), Merlin (that ass!), Tristram (that ass!), and Gawaine (that ass!) who are all awful in different ways.

Speaking of Gawaine, Malory opens Book XVI with a little digression on how Gawaine does his best to succeed at the Quest for the Holy Grail, despite a) being told several times, by Nacien and by angels, that he’s not eligible and b) having no idea how to proceed and c) accidentally killing Uwaine over nothing in particular.  And also “does his best” does not include following Nacien’s prescriptions of careful atonement and penance and chastity.  After all, he and Nacien had basically the same conversation back in Book XIII.

But once Gawaine is out of the way, Bors’s story gets going.  He meets Catherine, who really happens to need a knightly champion, and is more than willing to ply Bors with riches and sex and accolades.  He defends Catherine against Minnie-May, or as Malory would put it “the woman against the other woman” because yet again Malory doesn’t bother to name women.  But regardless, Bors is a class act.

Then things get weird, because Bors has a vision which I honestly don’t know if it’s meant to be part of the Devil’s trickery or if it’s an honest-to-Betsy mystic vision.  Around this point Bors falls into the Devil’s trap (unless that already happened, and the Devil stage-managed his meeting with Catherine) when he meets a Nacien impersonator.

I should admit that textually it could be that the impersonator is just impersonating J. Random Hermit-Advisor, since Nacien isn’t mentioned by name here.  But if we run with the premise that all of the white-robed holy men who pop up and give knights instructions are the same guy, then the not-Nacien is definitely pretending to be Nacien.  Fake Nacien does a terrible job explaining Bors’s vision, then leads Bors into temptation. It’s very like the temptation that Percivale had to castrate himself to escape, but Bors has been around the block a few times and he knows how to resist the Devil’s wiles.

After Bors does what no one else in the narrative has managed yet, i.e. overcome temptation, he gets a rest break at a monastery run by a guy who clearly isn’t Nacien because he has no idea how to interpret a vision.  The dude ends up dragging in all kinds of extra stuff, and misremembers other parts, and it’s a mess.

Then Lionel shows up and he’s mad at Bors for not saving him earlier, which is defensible.  He’s mad to the point of almost killing Bors and actually killing a hermit and poor Sir Colgrevance, but then Bors miraculously recovers and forgives him and rides off to meet Percivale.

The bit at the end where Bors rides his horse out along the pier and then leaps onto the deck of Percivale’s ship: pretty cool.  And now almost all the pieces are in place; we’re missing only Sir Galahad.



And now


Knights of the Round Table who have died: a list I surely won’t have to update as we go on from here!


Sir Balin, slain by Sir Balan in Book II.*

Sir Balan, slain by Sir Balin in Book II.*

Sir Accolon, slain by King Arthur as a result of Morgan’s plan failing in Book IV.*

King Pellinore, slain offscreen by Sir Gawaine sometime after the start of Book IV.

Sir Chestaline, Sir Gawaine’s youthful ward, slain by Roman soldiers during Book V.*

Sir Marhaus, slain by Sir Tristram early in Book VIII.

Sir Lamorak, slain offscreen by Sir Gawaine and his brothers around the time of Book X.

Sir Uwaine, slain by Sir Gawaine in Book XVI.

Sir Colgrevance, slain by Sir Lionel in Book XVI.


Starred entries are knights who were not, technically, members of the Round Table, but who were more or less solid Camelot-allies.  The number one cause of death is slaying by another Knight of the Round Table, even though the first rule of the Round Table is that you don’t murder other members of the Round Table.  The only exception is Sir Chestaline, who isn’t really a Knight of the Round Table and only appears in one sentence in all of Malory, when Malory announces he died.  I’m leaving out Sir Kehdyius, because he was a dip who never made it to Camelot, but he dies offscreen sometime after the start of Book IX.

Posted in Le Morte D'Arthur | Leave a comment

Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XVI Chapter 17

So there’s Bors, badly wounded but on his feet.  He’s full of that inexplicable knightly hardiness that you sometimes see in a Malory hero.  Arthur had it, when he fought Sir Accolon.  Sir Palomides had it at Lonazep, I think.  And now Bors is just too knightly to stay down!

“You’ve gone crazy for no clear reason, brother,” he tells Lionel.

“No, you’re the crazy one!” spits Lionel right back at him.  “Raaaahr!  My actions are wholly unmotivated!  Raaaahr!”


All right, all right.  Malory doesn’t have him saying that explicitly.  But come on!


Bors gives a little speech about, basically, how great he is. Then he makes to fight Lionel, who has very obligingly just stood there and let Bors speechify.  But then a miracle happens!  A great gout of flame comes down from heaven, directly between the two knights, and a voice instructs Bors to leave quietly.  However Bors is too busy screaming his fool head off, on account of the talking magic flame has lit his shield on fire!

Bors and Lionel (whose shield also gets scorched) both faint from surprise and exhaustion.  When Bors comes to, the angel (if that’s what it was) has vanished, and also Bors has been miraculously healed of his wounds.  He kneels over Lionel, and gives a prayer of thanksgiving for the awesome and crazy magic.

Then the disembodied voice tells him to go meet Sir Percivale, who’ll be waiting for him at the seaside, and not to try to deal with his brother any more.

“I didn’t get this far along the Grail Quest by ignoring miraculous voices,” muses Bors.  “So, all right.  Sorry, Lionel.  Good luck with your life.”

Lionel who had been still lying unconscious at Bors’s feet, suddenly wakes and accepts his apology and offers an apology of his own.  So, a happy ending I guess?


Afterwards Bors rides off towards the seaside, which is a few days of hard travel away.  Once there he sets up a tent and goes to sleep, but his new buddy the disembodied voice wakes him up in the middle of the night and sends him down to the beach. There Bors finds Sir Percivale’s white samite ship that Nacien gave him at the end of Book XIV.  He rides his horse along a broken seawall and from the end of it he dismounts and swims the rest of the way.  Once Bors is aboard the ship, it starts moving under its own inexplicable holy power, which is kind of freaky so Bors goes belowdecks and finds Percivale sleeping down there.  Bors wakes Percivale up, and the two of them congratulate one another on getting this far, and compare notes. I’m guessing that Sir Percivale’s face is pretty red when he finds out that Sir Bors managed to resist the Devil’s temptation without resorting to self-castration!  But anyway, it’s an exciting time, and their spirits are high.

Malory closes Book XVI with a rhetorical flourish:

Then said Sir Percivale “We lack nothing but Galahad, the good knight.”

Posted in Le Morte D'Arthur, Primary Sources | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XVI Chapters 15 and 16

The priest whose hermitage the knights have camped at comes rushing over at this point.  “Jeez, man, why’d you have to do a thing?  He was truly a holy man!  If he dies then you’re definitely going to hell, for murdering such a good egg.”

Sir Lionel is not thinking clearly right now.  We can tell, because his response to the priest consists of threatening the priest, on the grounds that if Lionel just intimidates the priest enough, the priest will get Lionel out of the whole going-to-hell thing.

But the priest is not having any of it!  “Are you threatening my life?  I’m an old man; my life isn’t worth much.  Especially not compared to Sir Bors here.”

“Have it your own way,” says Sir Lionel, and chops the priest’s head off.  “Now to pull Bors out of his armor and slit his throat!  That will get me out of this predicament for sure!”  Like I said, the man isn’t thinking clearly.

Malory has definitely written himself into a corner at this point.  Probably whatever actual Grail romance he’s ripping off has a flow to it.  Events stem naturally out of one another, forming a cohesive narrative.  But Malory’s in too much of a hurry for that!  So instead a Knight of the Round Table that Malory has never mentioned before shows up!  Sir Colgrevance!  Yeah, that makes sense.

Sir Colgrevance is on the scene, presumably because of the jousting tournament.  He sees Lionel struggling with the dying Bors, rushes over, and takes the scene in in an instant.

“Sir Lionel!  Have you gone mad?  Clearly whatever the dispute between you and Bors was, you were in the wrong!”  He grabs Lionel by the lapels and hauls him off of Bors.

“Dang it!”  Lionel is in a hole at this point and the only way he can see clear of it is to just keep on murdering.  So Lionel decides to make Colgrevance Victim #3.  Technically Lionel and Colgrevance joust, but it’s a joust where while Colgrevance is getting his sword out, Lionel starts battering his helmet in.

While Lionel beats Colgrevance to death, Bors miraculously regains consciousness!  He’s still in a bad way, but he’s alert and aware of his surroundings.  He watches Lionel bashing Colgrevance, and slowly gets back on his feet.  Bors is woozy from the blood loss, and he’s still bleeding, but he’s up!

“Bors!  Save me, Bors!  I’m trying to rescue you!” cries Colgrevance.  This would be kind of a dick move on Colgrevance’s part, what with Bors bleeding and all, except that around this point Lionel clocks Colgrevance a good one and he too starts bleeding profusely.  So it’s one dying guy begging another dying guy for help, not a hale guy begging a dying guy.

Bors — woozy from the blood loss, remember — starts towards where Lionel and Colgrevance are fighting.  But then, he almost trips over the headless corpse of the priest, and he rears back.

That moment of hesitation, of rearing back, is Colgrevance’s death knell.  His last words are “Why will ye let me die here for your sake? If it please you that I die for you the death, it will please me the better to save a worthy man.  Fair sweet Jesu, that I have misdone have mercy upon my soul, for such sorrow that my heart suffereth for goodness, and for alms deed that I would have done here, be to me alignment of penance unto my soul’s health.” As last words go it isn’t bad, a little wordy.  But then Lionel chops his head off.

Posted in Le Morte D'Arthur, Primary Sources | Tagged , , | Leave a comment