Launcelot cautiously picked his way forward, through the galleries of Castle Corbin (aka Castle Carbonek; same place). He felt ready for anything, but instead of anything, he encountered nothing: a whole series of empty rooms, doors hanging open, abandoned hallways, empty spaces. Nothing stopped him from penetrating to the very center of the castle, where, in the center, he found a chamber whereof the door was shut, and he set his hand thereto to have opened it, but he might not. Then he enforces him mickle to undo the door, which is to say, he tried really hard you guys, but he just couldn’t shove it open!
From the other side of the door he heard yet another of these disembodied angelic voices that have become so common here in the tail-end of the Grail Quest. “Joy and honour to the Father of Heaven,” the angel sang.
Launcelot panicked! He dropped to his knees and prayed for guidance: he’d done all kinds of terrible things in the past, he admitted in prayer. But he had worked hard to get better, and he’d have really appreciated it if God could help him out as regards this door. If he couldn’t go in and actually achieve the Grail — and maybe that was too much to ask, Launcelot realized — maybe God could just let him get a little peek?
Miraculously, the door flew open! And from out that central chamber came a whoosh of air and a great clearness, with the whole castle lighting up. Launcelot figured this was his prayer being answered, and stood to go inside the Grail chamber.
“Flee, Launcelot, and enter not, for thou oughtest not to do it; and if thou enter thou shalt for-think it,” said the disembodied angelic voice.
So Launcelot stopped, and peered into the chamber from the doorway, getting the peek he prayed for. Inside the chamber he saw a big silver table, with the Grail on it under a red velvet coverlet. Angelic figures crowded the room, holding candles and crosses. Also Nacien was there.
Launcelot stood transfixed and watched Nacien and the angels inside. As Nacien performed Mass, this whole laser light show thing happened: images of three men, the youngest of the three sitting on the shoulders of the other two. Or maybe it was, like, a holographic image of Galahad (let’s not play games, obviously it was Galahad) and Nacien somehow plucked the image out of the air? It’s vaguely worded. It might even be that Malory is trying to say Percivale, Bors, and Galahad were up in the rafters over Nacien’s head, as Percivale and Bors lowered Galahad to within Nacien’s reach.
In any case, the incredible magical holiness of what he saw amazed Sir Launcelot! But then, either Galahad or the holographic image of Galahad or whatever, it proved to be just too much for Nacien to handle, and Nacien collapsed, right there in the presence of the Grail! All the angels just stood by, watching!
Launcelot dashed into the Grail chamber to help Nacien, muttering a quick apology to God as he went (“Fair Father Jesu Christ, ne take it for no sin though I help the good man which hath great need of help”).
Sadly, though, as soon as he was all the way in the room, despite his good intentions, Sir Launcelot burst into flame and collapsed. He lay there, immolating, for an indeterminate time, and then the angels picked him up and tossed him out of the Grail chamber and closed the door behind him.
The next morning, the various mortal inhabitants of Castle Corbin found his body. They argued about whether he had died or not, eventually settling on merely horribly injured. And so they stuck him in a bed, where he lay comatose for twenty-eight days.
A month after his near-miss as regards the Grail, Launcelot awoke up. His third-degree burns had all healed; apparently Grail-exposure plus a month of bed rest is all you really need for that. Launcelot’s first move was to complain about coming out of his coma; being in a coma had been very restful. He hadn’t worried about all the many terrible things on his mind. Asked what terrible things he was talking about, he became evasive: “I have seen so great marvels that no tongue may tell, and more than any heart can think, and had not my son been here afore me I had seen much more. Really, after this most recent incident I’d be better off just dropping dead. Anything that happens after the Grail is anticlimax.”
Of course, this wasn’t Launcelot’s first, second, or even third Grail sighting. He’d been healed by the Grail back when he was crazy, and he had a vision of it, and then there was the time Merlin came into Camelot with Galahad and showed everyone the Grail. But none of those counted.
Launcelot learned he’d been out for twenty-four days (actually twenty-eight, Malory, because you just said so man come on). He declared it penance for his twenty-four years of sinful adultery with Guenever. Pretty mild penance, I’d say, given that he’d complained about its ending. Launcelot also checked and found that he still had that hair that Nacien gave him back in Book XV, which came a huge relief and comfort to him.
And so for Launcelot, the Quest was over. The folk of Castle Corbin of course recognized him (he’d lived there for a while back in Book XII, remember? Pretended to be a dog because he was crazy until the Grail healed him?) once he was conscious at least. They gave him a hot shower and a fresh set of clothes.
Pellam, the king of Corbin, visited Launcelot, once he heard his son-in-law had been found in the hallway outside the forbidden Grail chamber. They had a friendly reunion, except sometime since her last appearance in Book XII, Elaine had died. You may recall her last scene, in which she tearfully begged Launcelot not to leave her alone.
Hearing about the death of his wife bummed Sir Launcelot out, I tell you what. “Sir, me forethinketh the death of your daughter, for she was a full fair lady, fresh and young. And well I wot she bare the best knight that is now on the earth or that ever was sith God was born. To be fair, while she did rape me the one time, I’m ultimately okay with that inasmuch as it resulted in Galahad. And also we had consensual sex a bunch of times after that, before and after we got married and I started calling myself Mister Guilty… I don’t know. I’m sorry for your loss, let’s leave it at that.”
A few days later, as Launcelot and Pellam and the rest of the inhabitants of Castle Corbin enjoyed some lunch, a ruckus transpired. In Corbin they didn’t have kitchens or cooks or anything; instead the Grail provided a steady stream of awesome victuals via its holy power. While Launcelot didn’t get to see the Grail again, he was able to eat the Grail-provided food, so that was something.
But I digress: there was a ruckus. As they sat down to eat, all the doors of the dining chamber suddenly flew shut and locked. No one could get them open! Pellam investigated while everyone else went ahead and ate. He’d apparently seen this before, because once he established that the doors weren’t opening he called out to the hallway beyond.
“Yo! Hello? Is there a knight out there who hasn’t done the Quest for the Holy Grail attunement chain? That’s usually why these doors lock!”
Out in the hallway Pellam heard a knight shuffling his feet in a guilty fashion. “…Yeah! I guess me?” It’s Sir Ector the Lesser, Launcelot’s younger brother or cousin.
“Hold on,” Pellam told him. “I’ve Sir Launcelot in here. We were just about to have lunch.”
“Seriously? Launcelot is already there? Dang it, I’m too late then.” Ector explained about the visions that he and Gawaine had shared, back in Book XVI. “I wanted to warn him or something? But I guess it doesn’t matter now.” Ector gave a sad sigh, mounted his horse (which was there in the hallway with him) and rode out of the castle.
Pellam returned to the table, where he told Launcelot that Ector had stopped by. Launcelot found the news upsetting. Since he’d been away from home for so long (a year? Three years?), doing this Grail quest, he knew he should head back.
Along the way home, Launcelot stopped by King Bagdemagus’s tomb. Why yes, it turns out King Bagdemagus, Knight of the Round Table and good buddy to King Arthur, had died! We last saw him losing a fight to a Mystery Knight during Galahad’s early adventures, as part of Galahad claiming the magical shield of King Evelake. That fight left him wounded, maimed even, but Malory told us he pulled through. But at this point in time, he was dead! Guess who killed him? Here’s a hint: he’d killed a bunch of Knights of the Round Table already! No, the answer isn’t heart disease, it’s Sir Gawaine! Gawaine’s motivation was not given.
For a moment Launcelot was filled with rage and the intent to hunt down Bagdemagus’s killer and avenge him. But then he read on the tomb that it was Sir Gawaine, and he was like, enh, that happens. If Launcelot was going to avenge the deaths of every knight Sir Gawaine killed, he’d be at it all day.
When he returned home Camelot, Launcelot was greeted like the hero he was! They held a big party and a massive feast. The surviving Knights of the Round Table (roughly half of whom had died from Grail-quest-related or Sir-Gawaine-related injuries) toasted him.
“Any news of Percivale, Galahad, or Bors?” asked Arthur, when he got a moment alone with Launcelot. Luckily, Launcelot still had that pamphlet he’d found on Magdalena’s body, which recapped most of their adventures. Arthur read the pamphlet and marveled. “Pretty crazy! Now God would that they were all three here. I’m really looking forward to them finishing the Grail quest and coming back. Then this stupid Grail thing will be over and done with.”
“That shall never be,” replied Launcelot. “I’m pretty sure Galahad and Percivale aren’t coming back to the secular world after their quest ends. All signs point to Bors returning in honors, though.”
“Well, Bors is pretty cool.”
“Yeah, he’s a good guy.”