The big final one-last-party jousting tournament complete (apparently Sir Galahad, Sir Percivale, and Sir Launcelot declined to fight one another and just declared a three-way tie instead) all the knights went home to Camelot. At supper that night yet another crazy thing happened!
First up, thunderclaps, horribly loud, such that Gawaine and the others all feared that Camelot collapsing in on them. Then, a sunbeam seven times brighter than ever they saw day lit up the room, stunning the knights. And then all the knights started to glow! They looked at one another, and marveled at how attractive they all seemed, lit up by the holy radiance. No one said anything, because it would have spoiled the mood.
And then, the Grail! It was under a silk coverlet, which either also covered the person carrying it, or else it simply levitated in under its own magical power. As the Grail appeared, a miracle occurred and the hall was full of meat and drink, the best stuff, every knight’s personal favorite dish even. (GRAIL SIGHTING 6!)
Then suddenly it was gone! All the knights were left there, in the hall, with a big pile of food. And then they all started talking at once, again. I have to say, I would find this scene more impressive if it wasn’t coming on the heels of Galahad’s big entrance earlier this chapter.
Gawaine, once he was well and properly drunk, started shouting about how awesome the Grail was, and how sad he was that he hadn’t actually seen it, because it had been under that coverlet. “Tomorrow morning,” he declared, “I will get up and I will ride out and I will go look at the Grail! I don’t care if it takes me all day, or a year, or a year and a day, or even longer than that! I’m going to go, and I won’t come back until I’ve beheld the Grail, and if I never show up again you’ll know it’s because Jesus doesn’t love me enough to show me the Grail.”
All the knights cheered at this, maybe because they were all also kind of drunk. Most of them followed Gawaine’s lead and swore the same oath, even. All the knights would ride off and Grail-hunt and never come back!
Arthur thought this was a terrible idea. He pulled Gawaine aside. “Gawaine, nephew, please. You’re breaking my heart. You and I both know that you aren’t Grail material. Launcelot, sure. Galahad, definitely. Pellas the Good, who has been conspicuously absent because his wife talked him into skipping Pentecost this year, absolutely. But Sir Gawaine? The same man who has fathered around twelve illegitimate children, who gets drunk and throws things, who got frustrated and quit his strange adventure halfway through? Who murdered or conspired to murder several guys I was fond of? You’re not going to make it. And neither are a bunch of those knights out there, the guys you got all fired up. You’ve basically ended the Round Table as a thing, you know that?” Arthur teared up, he was so upset by this.
Launcelot tried to cheer him up. “Sire, sire, listen. Are we pretty much all going to die, alone in distant lands? Yes. Will basically none of us ever come back? Again, the answer is yes. But we’re Knights of the Round Table! This is what we do! It’s our thing. We ride off to die, and we love it!”
“You’re a good man, Launcelot.” Arthur gripped his shoulders in a wholly platonic manner. “I’m going to miss you, you know?”
“I know.” And they manfully embraced.
But who was locked out of that manful embrace? Guenever was who! She’d just got Launcelot back, and now apparently he was going off again. “You’re the king!” she snapped at Arthur. “Can’t you order him to stay?” But of course Arthur wouldn’t.
Guenever was not the only lady of Camelot’s court to decry this whole “knights going away and not coming back” thing that was happening. Plenty of the ladies had knightly lovers. They started talking about how maybe they’d go out with the knights and all hunt the Grail together and it would be a nice romantic getaway, just a knight and a lady, together against the world, and of course Malory thinks this is a terrible idea.
“Then Merlin, no wait, he’s in the cave… Then some guy, some old knight, or a priest, it doesn’t matter, he tells them all that the Grail quest is a special men-only celibacy quest for men only,” announces Malory. “Women would just muck it up with their sinning and their periods and such.”
Eugh. “Who is the guy saying this, again?” I ask Malory.
“I said! Or at least I said it doesn’t matter. Nacien. No.” Malory immediately backpedals. “Not Nacien. Nacien sent him. He’s Nacien’s emissary.”
Scene change! Guenever and Galahad.
“Galahad, you’re Launcelot’s son, right?” Guenever smiled a you-can-tell-me-anything sort of smile.
“Yes’m.” Galahad winced. “I mean, it’s a secret and I’m not supposed to tell anyone.” This despite Launcelot having made a speech about it earlier, in front of all the knights.
“Are you ashamed of being Launcelot’s son?” Guenever asked with mock concern. “You don’t need to be, because he’s the best. He’s the goodliest knight, everybody knows that. And you’re pretty goodly yourself! Also you’re almost as handsome as he is.”
This line of questioning made Galahad uncomfortable. “Ma’am, since ye know in certain, wherefore do ye ask it me? If my father who may or may not be Launcelot wanted it generally known that I, Galahad, am Sir Launcelot’s son, he’d say so.”
Guenever, for whatever reason, was satisfied with this. That night she arranged for Galahad to sleep in Arthur’s bed, which was apparently a great honor, not unlike the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House, I guess. It’s unclear whether Arthur took to his own bed that night or not, but in the morning he was all exhausted because he didn’t sleep at all, he was so concerned about Gawaine leading all his knights off to die!
Arthur remonstrated with Gawaine one more time. “Ye have betrayed me.” Gawaine was very sorry but he refused to take the quest back. Arthur consulted with Launcelot, trying to find a loophole whereby he could put the kibosh on this quest, but nothing doing. So, gloomily, Arthur met up with Guenever and they went to church.
After church all the knights rode forth in a parade, leaving Camelot, mostly for the last time it seemed. Arthur was not a good sport about it; he just glared sullenly as they went. Guenever got up halfway through the parade and hid in her room and cried.
Launcelot, about to depart, went to comfort her. Alas, she just went off on a spiel about how she wished she had never met him, if he was going to just ride off again like this after so long away. Launcelot promised to come back as soon as he could, which was kind of an empty promise. Nevertheless Guenever blessed him and wished him luck.
Then all the knights, one hundred and fifty Knights of the Round Table, rode en masse from Camelot to the nearby Castle Vagon, home of Lord Vagon, and spent the night there before finally going their separate ways, in search of one hundred and fifty concurrent strange adventures.