Malory starts off kind of evasively: this is the story of how Sir Launcelot had his son Sir Galahad, but don’t be mad, because Malory is just telling us what the book of French rehearseth. None of this is his fault.
Once upon some Pentecost (I get the sense that Malory’s version of the calendar has fifty Pentecosts on it) a hermit appeared in the midst of Camelot’s celebrations. Arthur welcomed this hermit and offered him a tour, perhaps because Arthur assumed the hermit was Merlin in disguise.
The first and also last stop on this Camelot tour was the Round Table. When the hermit saw it, he complimented Arthur on its roundness and tabularity.
“I know, right?” Arthur smiled at his beloved table. “This is the best table ever. I love this table more than my wife, isn’t that true dear?”
“Oh my yes.” Guenever smiled, too, but hers was a little stiffer.
“I can’t help but notice, though,” the hermit continued, “that one of these seats is labeled DANGER DO NOT SIT. What’s up with that?”
“Oh, that,” said Arthur. He looked away, shrugging. “It’s nothing. That’s the Siege Perilous. Supposedly only one guy is allowed to sit there; anyone else would get smote down through magic of some kind. But it’s all part of the wonder which is this table!”
Back in Book X, Sir Percivale sat down at the Siege Perilous, but no one mentioned that, because we aren’t talking about anything happened in Book X ever again, apparently. Book X can go take a leap, we’re saying. It was the worst book. But it’s over now, and we’re all grateful.
And in celebration of Book X being over, the hermit announced a prophecy!
I’ll just show myself out.” And he left.
“Well, that was definitely something,” said Arthur. “You think that was Merlin? Man, sometimes I almost miss Merlin. Then I remember what a jerk he was.”
Sir Launcelot didn’t know whether that had been Merlin or not, but he did think this would be a great time to get out of Camelot for a while.
And so Launcelot headed off on a strange adventure. Out over Corbin Bridge, he crossed into some foreign land, not part of Arthur’s realm. There he came to a nice little town, built up all around the fairest tower that he ever saw. And the people there waved him down!
“Hello! Sir Launcelot! Hello? Please stop! Welcome? Hello!”
“I’m stopping, I’m stopping,” said Launcelot as he wheeled his horse into a parking space. “What’s up, townies?”
The townsfolk appointed a representative to step forward and engage Launcelot in conversation. “Well, boss, it’s like this,” he said. “See, in that tower there, there’s this really sad lady? And she’s trapped in a bathtub full of boiling water? And we need a hero to save her.”
“Sir Gawaine was here the other day,” piped up another townie. “He just drank our wine and left, without saving her.”
“That sounds like him,” said Launcelot. “But really, boiling bathtubs are out of my line. Is there an ogre or an evil knight you guys need fought? I’m up for that, absolutely. I’m great at killing knights. Wicked magic, I dunno.”
But the townies insisted, and Launcelot agreed to at least look at the bathtub and the boiling water and the damosel.
Malory lets us in on a little secret: the whole boiling bathtub thing is all part of an enchantment cooked up by Morgan le Fay and her confederate, the Queen of Northgalis, because they were jealous of how pretty the boiling bathtub lady had been. They;d cast their spells and had their laughs, then moved on. Sadly for the lady in the tub, their magic continued; this poor woman had been stuck in the water for five years.
Also, Malory almost forgot this part, the spell would be instantly broken if the best knight in the world were to touch her. Because I guess that made the spell easier for Morgan to cast probably? But it’s super convenient that this is the case: Launcelot reached out to give the boiling damosel a sympathetic pat on the shoulder, and immediately the enchantment lifted! She’d been sitting there for years, but thanks to Launcelot she could get up and ask for a towel!
Despite being super wrinkly after all that time in the tub, she was extremely attractive, Malory adds. Also naked! Launcelot was totally impressed by her hotness, we’re assured.
The town threw a celebratory afterparty, which Malory really dances around describing in detail, but he mentions that some of it happens in a chapel, that it involves folks give loving and thanking and all the people, both learned and lewd, are invited. I’m not going to come right out and use the word orgy. We’re too classy for that.
One of the townies approached Launcelot at the party. “Hey boss,” he said. “Remember before, when you asked after an ogre or an evil knight you can fight? I was wondering if you’d be interested in killing this dragon that’s been messing us up.”
“Uh, maybe,” said Launcelot. “Let me pray on that one for a bit.”
Launcelot asked the guy to fetch his shield, just to get rid of him, and then he went for a little walk-and-pray, ending up in a tomb near the chapel. There, Launcelot either had a mystic vision, or else he discovered a note Merlin wrote at some point in the past, like back in Book II when Merlin was going around writing prophetic notes everywhere. Malory is vague.
But Launcelot saw, written in gold on the walls of the tomb, a prophecy! “A royal leopard shall come here, kill a serpent (by which I mean dragon), and father a lion! Then the leopard will leave. When the lion grows up, it will be the greatest knight ever, possibly even better than the leopard depending on how you definite knightly greatness! PS the leopard’s name will rhyme with Bauncelot du Bake.”
“Huh.” Launcelot figured he may as well give the dragon-slaying a go. In a sequence Malory wastes very few words on, he totally killed a dragon. Far more interesting, to Malory, is what happened afterwards: King Pellam rode up and saw Launcelot standing there surrounded by bloody chunks of dragon. You may remember King Pellam from his previous appearance, in Book II:
FROM BOOK II:
Finally Balin burst into a chapel. This was a special chapel, this was. The Castle Corbin special castle, aka the Grail Chamber (did I mention that Castle Corbin was where the Grail was, when it’s at home?). Naturally the room was all crazy luxurious: gold and rich red and purple cloth tapestries! A chaise lounge of the most sumptuous upholstery possible to imagine, with the perfectly-preserved corpse of Joseph of Arimathea lying on it! A massive golden altar, with the Holy Grail right there! (GRAIL SIGHTING 1!)
Balin ignored all of that, however; his eye went immediately to a golden table with the silver legs, upon which sat a spear helpfully labeled +3 spear of Longinus. Balin grabbed the spear, spun around, and stroke Pellam most dolorously, right in the jimmies.
“Arglebargle!” cried King Pellam, and collapses.
“Hah!” said Balin. He felt pretty pleased with himself, and would have probably laughed longer, except that just then the entire castle collapsed, slaying almost everyone inside. Susie, the knights, Raul with the dying son, all of them, killed nearly instantly. Balin, Pellam, and the whole room they were in were all crushed. All was still and dead for three days and three nights.
“Whoa!” King Pellam cried. “Who killed this dragon? Was it you? What’s your name?”
“I’m Sir Launcelot,” said Launcelot. “You’ve probably heard of me. How about yourself?”
“I’m Pellam, king of whatever country this is,” said Pellam, and you may think this is me joking so check this out:
“And my name is,” said the king, “Pelles, king of this foreign country, and cousin of Joseph of Armathie,” which is how Malory spells Arimathea and also how he spells Pellam now (it’s the same guy though I promise, at least in Malory’s version of things).
Pellam invited Launcelot back for lunch at his home, the reconstructed Castle Corbin. Of course Launcelot accepted. When Joseph of Arimathea’s descendent invited you in, you didn’t say no!
Pellam’s new castle was way more holy and magical than his old one. For starters, they had a bird that flew in a window, and in its mouth, it would hold a little incense burner! It flapped around and spread the smell of awesome magic incense from its wee little censer! That’s pretty crazy!
Second thing, during the meal (which was a great meal) Pellam’s daughter came in holding a vessel of gold betwixt her hands. When she entered Pellam rose from the table and then knelt to her, and everyone else at the feast did the same.
“Should I be kneeling?” asked Launcelot. “Is this a quaint local custom?”
“Oh, right, you don’t know,” said Pellam. “That is the Sangreal. Also known as the Holy Grail? It’s pretty important. There’s going to be a quest, and then the Round Table will be broken.” (GRAIL SIGHTING 2!)
But Pellam didn’t want to talk about that. Pellam wanted Launcelot to get his daughter pregnant. Not because Pellam was a weirdo, Malory assures us. No, it’s just that Pellam could see the future: he knew that Launcelot and Elaine (that’s Pellam’s daughter’s name; ELAINE 4!) were going to have a son name of Sir Galahad, who would be the best and solve all problems relating to Grails. Launcelot was, unfortunately for Pellam, very cold on the whole sleep-with-the-daughter thing, and excused himself.
“Well dang,” said Pellam.
Fortunately Pellam’s chief advisor, an enchantress named Dame Brisen, came up with a multi-stage plan.
First, she gave Elaine instructions and sent her to the next castle up the road, Castle Case. Elaine, Malory takes pains to assure us, was 100% down with Brisen’s plan.
Second, Brisen did some magic to produce the illusion of one of Guenever’s couriers, complete with the illusion of a special particular ring that Guenever lent out to her couriers to confirm their identity.
Third, Brisen sent the illusory courier to Launcelot’s chamber, where she had the illusion show Launcelot the illusory ring and tell him that Guenever wanted to see him at Castle Case, just up the road.
Fourth, when Launcelot dropped everything in a mad dash to reach Castle Case before sunset, she arranged for a small reception to be waiting for him at the entrance to the castle, complete with a tray and on the tray, a goblet, and in the goblet, high-proof liquor magically disguised as weak wine.
Fifth, Brisen enchanted Elaine so she looked slightly more like Guenever, enough to fool a drunken knight in the dark.
The plan fired off perfectly! Launcelot rushed to Castle Case, where he quaffed a goblet of wine to be polite. In moments he was roaring drunk, and then Brisen’s people led him up to Elaine’s room. There, nature took its course!
Again, Malory takes pains to assure us that while this was Brisen’s plan, Elaine was totes on board. So one rape later (Launcelot being unable to give informed consent), Elaine was pregnant with Launcelot’s child! And then Launcelot passed out.
In the morning Launcelot, awoke, and he saw that he was in bed with a woman who wasn’t Guenever. He immediately leapt to the conclusion that he was the victim of enchantment, which is a pretty intuitive guess there Launcelot. He felt awful, says Malory.
“Alas that I have lived so long,” he muttered. “Now I am shamed.”
Then he came to his senses, more or less, and shifted from feeling ashamed of himself to feeling enraged at Elaine, on the grounds that she raped him. He grabbed his sword and shook her awake.
“Thou traitress, what are thou that I have lain by all this night? Thou shalt die right here of my hands!”
Elaine sprang out of bed, all naked Malory tells us, thanks for that dude. She’d expected this reaction, you can tell, because she had her response all planned out. Instead of shrieking and running away, she knelt down in front of Launcelot and humbly begged his forgiveness.
(Which was Launcelot’s one weakness! Need I remind you of Book VI, Launcelot and Sir Pedivere?)
Elaine explained that their child would be a prophesied messiah-figure, but Launcelot scoffed.
“Bull hockey,” he said. “False traitress, why hast thou betrayed me? Anon tell me what thou art!”
“I told you!” Elaine insisted. She repeated the whole story: she was Pellam’s daughter, their child would be magical, Brisen the enchantress, et cetera.
“Well shoot.” It sank in for Launcelot, that this was actually happening. “I guess I forgive you, since you apologized. I guess. Just… just don’t do it again, okay?”
Elaine immediately promised not to do it again, a promise I wish I could tell you she would keep. Then what with one thing and another she and Launcelot started to make out for a bit, even though mere moments ago Launcelot had been enraged about the whole rape thing (Malory reminds us how Elaine was all hot and lusty and young, I guess in contrast to Guenever, who was no spring chicken).
But Launcelot broke it off! Perhaps because he remembered Guenever existed, or maybe it was because of the rape. “Listen,” he told Elaine. “I’ve forgiven you, but you and me, that’s over. And if I find this Brisen woman, who sounds like the true party responsible? Even if she is a woman, I’m going to chop her head off. I know, I’m surprising even myself. I don’t normally talk about chopping the heads off ladies. But this whole rape thing really has me torn up.”
Elaine nodded sadly. She explained she was pretty upset herself: Brisen and her father had convinced her that Launcelot was going to be way more into this, on the morning after. “On their instructions I gave up my virginity, I’m just saying.”
Launcelot didn’t want to hear it, though. He strapped his armor back on, making ready to leave. “So I’m going to go back to your father’s castle, whatever it’s called…”
“Sure. I’ll find and kill this Brisen woman, and then I’m leaving. You stay here at Castle Case until I’m gone, and then we don’t see one another again, you got it?” Launcelot left.
“Oh, Launcelot, he’s so dreamy,” sighed Elaine, and threw herself back onto her bed.