After a brief stopover in an harbour to a lady which knew him well enough, Bors fell right into his next marvellous adventure. Just a reminder, the scale goes “no adventure, adventure, strange adventure, marvellous adventure.” So this should be pretty good!
Remember Sir Lionel? Sir Lionel is either Bors’s cousin and Launcelot’s other younger brother besides Sir Ector, or else he’s Bors’s brother (and Blamore’s and Bleoberis’s brother as well) and Launcelot’s cousin. Malory can’t keep anything straight. For our purposes, at the moment, he’s Bors’s brother. That’s where Malory has landed on the issue for the moment. Anyway, he was last seen joining in on the Grail Quest, and before that he hadn’t appeared since way back in Book XII, when he and Sir Bors stopped by the home of Princess King-Brandegore’s-Daughter to visit Bors’s daughter Elaine (or son Helin, or maybe Elian; again, Malory can’t keep anything straight). I bring this up because as Sir Bors traveled down the road away from the Tower of the Hot Chick, he spotted Lionel naked in the back of a wagon, tied up, and bleeding from a multitude of small cuts. One knight had been whipping him with thorny branches while another drove the wagon, is what it looked like.
Naturally Bors took off after this wagon, intent on rescuing his brother-cousin from these oddly-indeterminate captors. But alas! Malory tosses in a sexual assault, just there by the side of the road. Some dick of a guy chased around a maiden (let’s call her Yelena) as she shouted to Mary and all the saints for rescue.
Bors saw this, and hesitated.
Yelena saw him. “Sir knight! Sir knight! Little help? Attempted rape in progress over here!”
Bors closed his eyes and tried to decide what to do. “Save my cousin, save the maid. Save my cousin, save the maid.” It was a tough call! Finally he made up his mind. “Fair sweet Lord Jesu Christ,” he prayed, “keep Lionel my brother, that these knights slay him not.” And then he spun his horse around with a tight handbrake turn! He gunned it and ran down the would-be rapist. Bors beat the crap out of him.
“Are you all right?” he asked Yelena, afterwards.
“Whew, that was a thing.” She was curiously sanguine about her assault. “Walk me home?”
“Of course, of course,” said Bors, though there was a little thought balloon over his head with a picture of Lionel in it.
While Bors walked her home, Yelena explained that the knight Bors had beat down was her cousin, who’d gone mad the day before and abducted her. “Lucky thing you happened along,” she added. “I’m engaged to a guy, which is a whole political thing. If I lost my virginity there’d be a small war. Five hundred dead, easy.”
She prattled on and on, but Bors wasn’t really listening; he kept glancing back over his shoulder at the trail the wagon went down. Bors tried to be polite, but as soon as he had Yelena back with her twelve bodyguard knights he was out of there. No explanation as to what those twelve bodyguarding jokers were doing when the rape attempt went down, by the way.
Bors rode lickety-fast after the wagon, but instead of finding the wagon he found Nacien on a big black horse. It’s kind of random. Spoiler alert: this wasn’t really Nacien.
“Have you seen Lionel?”
“Yeah, no point beating around the bush,” said not-Nacien. “He’s dead. Died just now. Here, I’ll show you where they dumped his body. I sure am Nacien, all right!”
Not-Nacien took Bors over to a thicket where Lionel’s corpse lay. Bors was very sad, but on balance he didn’t regret saving Yelena; he felt he’d made the right call. He and not-Nacien loaded the body onto Bors’s horse, and bore it to a nearby disused chapel for burial.
“You’re a priest, right?” Bors asked not-Nacien.
“I’m absolutely a priest. I’m Nacien; Nacien is a priest. Therefore I am a priest.”
“I had this dream you can maybe interpret, then.” Bors related the dream he had instead of sex, while sleeping in Catherine’s bedchamber.
“Oh, that’s an easy one for Nacien! I’m Nacien!” Not-Nacien explained that the white bird was Catherine, offering love and riches and material happiness, but not ultimate spiritual reward. The black bird and the flowers were probably unrelated nonsense. Because Bors helped Catherine (and Yelena) out, even though he didn’t sleep with either of them, he was delayed in his travels; thus Lionel had died and Launcelot would die.
“Wait, wait, Launcelot’s going to die? And I could have prevented it by ignoring ladies’ pleas for aid?”
“I thought that was obvious from the dream,” said not-Nacien. “Don’t see why you’re acting so surprised. Man, am I ever Nacien! I’ve never been more Nacien than I am at this moment!”
“I really would prefer Launcelot not die. Is there anything I can do?”
“I dunno.” Not-Nacien shrugged. “We should get some dinner at the tower here by the chapel. I’m so Nacien!”
And then he led Sir Bors into an high tower, and there he found knights and ladies: those ladies said he was welcome, and so they unarmed him, Malory tells us. Not-Nacien didn’t stick around for dinner, for whatever reason.
At dinner, Bors met the lady of the tower. If you thought Catherine was great, you haven’t seen this lady! Except you, the reader, have: she was the same lady who fed Percivale back in Book XIV. She was still the richest lady and the fairest of all the world, and she was still nothing but pleasant and friendly, and she was still the Devil.
Bors spent all of his willpower points resisting Catherine’s not inconsiderable charms, so he was pretty well tapped out when it came to resisting the Devil. She started flattering him, plying him with gifts and promises of ecstasy. When he demurred (she couldn’t offer him anything he hadn’t already rejected from Catherine), she got all pouty. “Alas, shall ye not do my will? By ‘my will’ I mean me, just so we’re clear. I have loved you long for the great beauty I have seen in you, and the great hardiness that I have heard of you, that needs ye must lie by me this night, and therefore I pray you grant it me. Sleep with me! You’d be doing me such a favor!”
To distract himself from the incredible appeal of the Devil, Bors visualized Lionel, lying dead under a bush. It was just the thing to distract, Malory tells us. “Truly,” said Bors, “it’s extremely tempting, but I shall do it in no manner wise.”
The Devil burst into tears, such that Bors felt bad about himself. “Well Bors, unto this have ye brought me, night to mine end! Ye shall see how I shall die for your love!”
“Whoa, hey now,” said Bors. “Let’s not do anything hasty!”
But the Devil ran up to the top of her tower, along with a dozen handmaidens. “I’ll jump!” she cried. “All of my handmaidens will jump, too! Won’t you, girls?”
“Sir Bors, gentle knight, have mercy on us all, and suffer my lady to have her will,” begged one of the handmaidens. “Just sleep with her a little bit? That’s all we’re asking! If ye do not we must suffer death with our lady, for to fall down off this high tower, and if ye suffer us thus to die for so little a thing all ladies and gentlewomen will say or you dishonour.“
“Aw, man,” muttered Bors. Ladies in peril! It was his one weakness. He couldn’t sleep with the Devil, or else he would lose the Grail Quest. He couldn’t not sleep with the Devil, or else he would have been partially responsible for these women’s’ suicides.
Bors dropped to his knees and prays for guidance, Stella Morris style. He fretted and he went back and forth, but ultimately he came down on the side of not sleeping with the Devil.
And anon he heard a great noise and a great cry, as though all the fiends of hell had been about him; and therewith he saw neither tower, nor lady, nor gentlewoman, nor no chapel where he brought his brother to.
“Oh wow.” Bors uttered another prayer, this time thanking God for delivering him from the Devil. “Fair Father God, I am grievously escaped!“