The third tale in our triptych is the Tale of Pellinore. Again, we roll back to the moment when Sir Gawaine, Sir Tor, and Pellinore set out from Arthur and Guenever’s wedding reception; this time our camera remains focused on Pellinore, that dick.
That dick mounted up and rodes after the mysterious lady and the mysterious knight who abducted her. Out in the woods, not too far from the reception, he stumbled across a couple in trouble: a knight, all bloody and unconscious, and a damosel, waving and shouting and trying to flag down passing motorists. Pellinore slowed down and stopped.
“Pellinore! King Pellinore! For Christ’s sake, help me out here!” cried the damosel. Apparently she and Pellinore knew one another?
“No,” said Pellinore. “Questing. Back later.” He rode away before the conversation could continue.
“Why that lousy horse-stealing Griflet-jousting son of a…” the damosel shook her fist at his back. “God,” she prayed, “let Pellinore be in need just as I have been in need just now and him ignoring me like a big ol’ jackass.”
Then, just for good measure, the knight died of his wounds and the damosel took his sword and chopped her own head off. “That’ll show Pellinore” may or may not have been her last words.
If I could give one piece of advice to anyone going to Arthurian times, it would be, don’t be a damosel.
Pellinore, that dick, rodes on, ignorant of the damosel’s suicide.
In the next valley over he met a cheery serf. “Ho, knight!”
“Ho yourself,” said Pellinore. “I’m looking for a man and a woman, you seen them?”
“Oh, you bet!” The serf was happy to be of service; serviceable peasants were less likely to get their limbs sliced off. “I know just who you’re talking about, you couldn’t be clearer. The knight was on a horse and the lady was shouting for somebody, anybody, to get the knight to release her.”
“Great,” said Pellinore. “Which way did they go?”
“Funny story,” said the serf. “They’re jousting over there at the jousting field. Well, the knight is. The lady’s cousin showed up and tried to claim her.”
“Free her, you mean?”
“No, no, claim her like she was lost luggage. Anyway, the knight who had her didn’t think real well of that, so, long story short, they’re jousting right now.”
“And the lady?”
“Each knight has a squire watching over her in that tent over yonder,” said the serf, and pointed.
“You’ve been very helpful, serf,” said Pellinore. “So I won’t slice any of your limbs off.”
“Thank thee, sir knight,” said the serf. He waved good-bye as Pellinore left him, grateful to be alive.
Given the option of hitting up the jousting knights or examining the tent, Pellinore hit to the tent first. He headed inside without knocking or dismounting. Sure enough, within he found the lady in question, tied up with two squires watching her. As bondage scenarios go, it was not a terribly sexy one.
“Lady!” cried Pellinore. “I’ve come to bring you back to King Arthur’s Court!”
“You’ve come to free me?” She looked up at Pellinore on his big horse, there inside the tent.
“No,” said Pellinore. “To retrieve you.”
“Hey now.” One of the squires raised his hand. “I… we…” He glanced over at the other squire, who nodded at him. “We’re here to guard her and prevent people from stealing her. If you want to steal her you should take it up with our bosses. They’re outside jousting.”
“Fine.” Pellinore rode back out without saying goodbye. In the adjacent jousting field outside he interceded between the two knights. They’d been jousting very slowly; they’d only just then gotten to the dehorsed fighting-on-foot phase of the joust.
“Knights!” he cried. “I need a thing. What are you fighting for?”
“Well I’ll tell you,” said the first knight. “This jackass here has been holding my father’s sister’s daughter against her will, so I’m fighting him.”
“Pshaw,” said the second knight. The second knight’s name, I am not making this up, was Sir Hontzlake of Wentland. “I won her,” said Sir Hontzlake. “I won her at King Arthur’s wedding reception. King Arthur gave her to me, for being the best jouster.”
“Bull,” said Pellinore. “I was there. You just abducted her, plain and simple. Arthur sent me to bring her back and make you face justice, either by his court or my hand.”
“Yeah, well, so what?” said Sir Hontzlake.
“Okay, great.” Pellinore didn’t care enough to engage with Hontzlake. “I’m taking her back to Camelot. We’ll be back in time to get some wedding cake. So you two stop fighting each other, or don’t, I don’t care. But either accept that I’m retrieving the lady, or else team up and fight me.”
“We’ll do that, then,” said the knights, and made ready to fight Pellinore two-on-one, their prior argument temporarily shelved in the face of this interloper.
“Hold on, hold on,” said Pellinore. “Let me get off my horse.”
He started to dismount, but Sir Hontzlake, jerk that he was, jumps the gun and stabbed Pellinore’s horse in the side. With a gurgle, it collapsed and died.
“What the hell?!” Pellinore was mightily pissed by this. “I stole that horse from King Arthur!”
“Hah!” cried Sir Hontzlake. “Now you don’t have a horse at all! What’re you going to do about it, huh?”
Pellinore pulled out his sword and smote Sir Hontzlake of Wentland in the head, so hard that his skull cracked open and the sword sank down into the head as far as the chin.
“I’ll do that,” he told Sir Hontzlake’s corpse. Then he turned to the other knight, who reflexively dropped to his knees.
“Okay, you can have my cousin,” he said. His name was Sir Meliot of Logris. “Take her, just don’t hurt her, okay? Don’t be a villain.”
“What, you aren’t going to fight me?”
“Yeah, no. No. I am not going to fight you after what I just saw you to to Hontzlake here.”
“Feh.” Pellinore glared at Meliot. “I can tell you she’ll be fine in my company, because I’m a true knight, not a sniveling little pansy like some people. Now I just need a horse to replace the one this guy killed. I guess I can take his, he won’t be using it.”
“Tell you what,” said Meliot. “Take my horse. It’s a better horse and gets substantially better gas milage. Also, let me buy you dinner.”
So Pellinore and Meliot and Meliot’s cousin, the lady Nimue had a nice dinner together and then Pellinore got a good night’s sleep. In the morning Nimue and Pellinore saddle dup. Meliot was about to say goodbye when he realized he never caught Pellinore’s name.
“I am King Pellinore of the Isles, Knight of the Round Table!”
“Oh, you’re with the Round Table? I can be confident you won’t rape Nimue then,” said Meliot. “Pity you never met my brother.”
“Your brother?” Nimue didn’t recall her cousin having a brother.
“Well, frat brother. He’s in the other tent over there, the one you never went into? He doesn’t like to talk to people, so he just stays in there most of the time. He’s a good knight, though. He abhors unnecessary violence, you see, so this being Malory, the best thing he can do is just avoid people. He says he’s less likely to accidentally cause the death of a damosel that way.”
“Huh,” said Pellinore. “What’s his name?”
“His name,” Meliot said grandly, “is Sir Brian of the Isles.”
Really! Meliot would end up joining the Round Table eventually, by the by. Brian of the Isles would not, though he does appear, in a subsequent strange adventure in Book IX.
Anyway. Pellinore told Meliot to bring Brian of the Isles to Camelot sometime (never happens). Nimue waved goodbye, and the two of them rode off. But this was not a comfortable ride-off, no, no. First Nimue’s horse stumbled and she was thrown from the saddle and dislocated her shoulder. Pellinore wanted to press on, because he was a heartless dick, but Nimue convinced him to stop for a bit. He stretched out under a tree and slept all day while, I guess, Nimue relocated her shoulder using magic.
That night Pellinore woke up, ready to hit the road again, but Nimue pointed out that it’s pitch dark — “ye may as well ride backward as forward,” is how Malory claims she phrased it. So, they stayed there overnight. Pellinore couldn’t sleep, maybe because he’d spent the whole day napping. Round about midnight he heard the sound of approaching horses.
“And here I thought my strange adventure was already over!” he muttered to himself, and started putting his armor back on.
So this next thing that happens is hella awesome except that it’s also hella vexing. I’ll explain after. Pellinore hid in the bushes while two knights rode up — from opposite directions! It was Pellinore’s lucky day, plainly. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time to overhear this particular conversation.
“Hey. How’s Camelot?”
“Worse than we thought. I was just barely able to get away without being caught.”
“Yeah. They’ve got a Round Table, now. It’s awful. Knights, honest heroes, far as the eye can see. No room for villains like us. Everybody loves Arthur.”
“I know! It’s the flower of chivalry, is what it is. So I’m headed North, to tell our evil lords about Arthur and Camelot and this whole Round Table nonsense. Next thing you know it’ll be so a knight can’t even randomly slay a damosel!”
“Well, good luck, pal. I’m headed South, towards Camelot.”
“Yeah. I came prepared. I’ve got this vial of poison, it’s awesome poison. I’m just going to poison everybody there. Poison food, poison wine, poison drapes.”
“Really? You’re going to do that?”
“Well, not me. We’ve got an inside man. Someone Arthur trusts. He agreed to do the poisoning in exchange for fabulous prizes.”
“Cool. Well, one piece of advice…”
“Lay it on me!”
“Two words. Mer-lin. Dude is half-demon, you know. Doesn’t age. Knows everybody, knows everything. You’d better have something planned for Merlin.”
“Oh, don’t you worry about that. I’ve got it all taken care of.”
“Well, I’d best be off. Have an ominous night!”
“And an ominous night to you!”
And then the knights rode off without Pellinore seeing their faces. Pellinore woke Nimue, and told her they needed to get to Camelot toot sweet. They loaded up and rode out, despite the darkness. Around dawn they passed the spot in the woods where the lady and the wounded knight had been — you remember, from the beginning of this story? Pellinore saw them, and the knight’s looking okay, except that he was dead. Also, wild animals had skeletonized the damosel, except for her head. Pellinore wept and wailed.
“They’re dead! They’re both dead! And it’s all someone’s fault!”
“What?” Nimue didn’t get the context on this at all, so Pellinore had to explain.
“Yeesh,” said Nimue afterwards. “Okay, here’s what we do.” (NIMUE BATS CLEANUP 1!) “We passed a quarter-mile back. We take the knight’s body there, let the hermit deal with it. The damosel, I don’t know, just grab her head and present it to Arthur.”
“He’ll get a kick out of it, sure.”
“No, I don’t…” Nimue sighed. “Whatever.”
“I’ll do it!” Pellinore did like messing with Arthur, and a woman’s head lent itself to all kinds of japes. “Did I tell you about the time I stole his horse?”
“Yes, like three times!”
“Well, you won’t mind hearing it again, then. It was at this fountain…”
When Pellinore and Nimue reached to Camelot, Arthur was out jousting, but Merlin and Guenever were there. Merlin cast zone of truth again, and Pellinore lay out the whole story, culminating in his retrieval of the damosel’s head.
“So this damosel died because you couldn’t be bothered to stop, and you ignored her requests for aid…” Guenever shook her head. “Is he leaving anything out?” she asked Nimue.
“The parts I was there for, I can confirm,” she said. “I spent a lot of this story tied up in a tent.”
“Great. Just great,” said Guenever. She rubbed her temples and sighed. “All right. Ladies!” She snapped her fingers and a host of ladies-in-waiting appeared.
“Hold on!” interrupted Merlin. “I’ll handle this one!”
Guenever shrugged. “As you were, ladies, apparently Merlin is going to actually do something today,” she said.
“This was your fault anyway,” Pellinore told Guenever.
“Really? My fault? How do you figure that exactly?” Guenever straightened up.
“It was your wedding,” said Pellinore. “And Nimue here disrupted it with her hounds, not me.”
“Am I going to get my white brachet back, by the way?” Nimue asked. No one answered her.
“Go on,” said Guenever. She was looking daggers at Pellinore. “My wedding, you said.”
“So clearly it’s your fault,” said Pellinore. “Yours and Nimue’s.”
Guenever pulled Merlin aside. “This guy is in the Round Table on your say-so, right?”
“It’s for the best,” said Merlin. “So says Merlin!”
“That line may work on Arthur, Merle, but I’m a big girl –“
“It is for the best!” Merlin insisted. “It’s got to be this way, Guenever. Ma’am. I’m not just saying this because I’m half demon.”
“Now, Pellinore,” Merlin said, turning back to him. “Truly you are a foul jackass and you should feel bad.”
“I do feel bad!” said Pellinore. “I’ll feel bad about it for the rest of my life! I’m just saying Guenever should feel worse.”
“Shut up, man, I’m trying to help you not get thrown off the Round Table here,” hissed Merlin. Then, louder, he continued. “You should feel bad, Pellinore! Feel bad! And know that this poor damosel whose head you hold is your own daughter! Yes, Elaine, daughter of the Lady of the Rule!” (ELAINE 2!)
Pellinore groaned. “Oh, man, another illegitimate child I didn’t know about?”
“Yes, Elaine, who was traveling here with her beau Sir Miles of the Launds, and a tearful reunion it would have been, were it not for her sad fate!” Merlin cried. “A foul villain, Loraine the Thug, false knight, coward, snuck up behind Sir Miles of the Launds and stabbed him with a spear! And then she slew herself out of sorrow at his passing and also because you wouldn’t help her! And because she’s now dead, you shall one day be in great trouble and your best friend will abandon you just when you need him most! This will happen! Carry this doom forward! The man you trust most shall betray you and lead you into peril and abandon you to die!”
“Well, that sounds bad,” said Pellinore. “But whatever.”
When Arthur returned from the jousting, Guenever filled him in on the situation and gave him some lines for a speech she wanted him to make. Once all the strange adventures were finally over, he gathered all his knights together and delivered Guenever’s speech.
It was about how murders, atrocities, random acts of cruelty, and treason were all forbidden, for all of Arthur’s knights. It was about how they were to always give mercy when it was asked for, upon pain of being exiled from Camelot, and it was about how they were to always help out women, damosels, gentlewomen, and ladies in need on pain of getting hunted down and slaughtered like animals. Arthur was not kidding about that part.
“PS,” he said, “no fighting for unjust causes regardless of how much money they offer you. And no fighting on opposite sides in wars. Tournaments yes, wars no.”
All the knights swore to abide by this oath which sounded suspiciously like the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons paladin’s code of conduct. And… that’s it, the end of Book III.
Here’s a postscript on Book III: remember the ominous conversation Pellinore overheard, the one that prompted him to get up early and rush to Camelot? The one that, once he arrived at Camelot, he completely forgot to mention? Funny story: it never comes up again and never pans out in the slightest.