When we last saw Launcelot, back at the end of Book XIII, Nacien had been helping him do penance and repent of all of his sins. Repenting of all of his sins turned out to take three days. On the fourth day, about the hour of noon (because Malory can’t be bothered to name every character but he loves throwing in some insignificant details about timing) he left Nacien’s hermitage, equipped with a new horse and a new helmet and a new sword.
He traveled for an indeterminate time, but stopped when he saw, outside a remote chapel, an old man that was clothed all in white full richly. Nacien again!
“Whoa! How did you beat me here?” asked Launcelot. “Also, God save you.“
“Mm-hm, yes yes, God keep you and make you a good knight,” replied Nacien. He pointed at the chapel and cleared his throat.
“Okay then.” Launcelot dismounted and heads into the chapel. Inside, some guy lay in state!
Who was this guy? He was a) bare minimum 120 years old and b) he wore a white shirt of passing fine cloth which marked him as a monk/friar/priest of Nacien’s order apparently, but c) he was an oathbreaker. Nacien followed Launcelot inside and gazed sadly at the dead man for a moment.
“You knew him?” Launcelot guessed.
“I did, yeah. Now stand back, I’m going to do a thing.” And then Nacien summoned a demon! For serious: he summoned a demon. It’s an hideous figure and horrible, that there was no man so hard-hearted nor so hard but he should have been afeard.
“Thou hast travailed me greatly; now tell me what thou wilt with me!” bellowed the demon at Nacien.
Nacien asked the demon how the dead ex-monk became dead, and whether he went to heaven upon death or not.
The demon confirmed that the dead ex-monk was in heaven, which Nacien scoffed at, what with the ex-monk having been an oathbreaker and all. The demon explains. The ex-monk had a nephew named Aguarus, who was once at war with the Earl de Vale. This may seem irrelevant, but the demon was going somewhere with it. De Vale had been stomping Aguarus pretty badly, so he went to his uncle (the ex-monk) for help. The ex-monk felt he had no choice but to renounce his oaths of hermiting and pacifism, and lead Aguarus’s forces to war!
And the ex-monk was so badass that he captured de Vale and all of his friends.
“I’m familiar with the part of the story where he renounces his oaths,” said Nacien. “Speed it up, demon!”
The demon continued its tale. After the war ended de Vale promised never to make war upon Aguarus again, and the ex-monk returned to his hermitage to renew his vows. But! De Vale wanted revenge! So he sent a couple of his nephews off to murder the ex-monk.
The nephews arrived at the hermitage, as the ex-monk held a little private Mass. The nephews politely waited for the ex-monk to finish, but once it was over they tried to stab him with their swords.
“Okay, great,” said Launcelot, who had not been very engaged with this story (it was not a story about him). “They killed him, so, I’ll go avenge him I guess?”
Not so fast! The demon went on to explain that God miraculously made the ex-monk sword-proof. So they set him on fire!
“So he burned to death, check,” said Launcelot.
Not so fast! His clothes all burned off, also his hair, but the ex-monk himself was protected from all bodily harm. The ex-monk asked if the nephews would just let him go, what with the stream of miracles, but the nephews got pissed and locked him overnight in an oven. In the morning, the nephews opened up the oven and found him there, lying dead, in his shining white robes, unharmed except for being dead. So they freaked out, which makes sense. They took him out of the oven and lay him in state here in this chapel. And thus the demon had related the ex-monk’s whole story, and its obligation to Nacien was discharged, and it announced it was leaving! And it vanished in a puff of smoke.
Launcelot grunted. “Well, that was a thing that happened.”
“It was a pretty good story,” said Nacien, in defiance of the evidence of his senses. “Let’s go get some dinner.”
Malory is nonspecific as to what they ate or where the dinner came from, but he does describe their dinner conversation, wherein Nacien berated Launcelot for being sinful some more. Even though Launcelot had spent three whole days repenting! And then Sir Launcelot began to weep.
The next day Nacien and Launcelot buried the ex-monk, who never gets a name apparently, and gave him a funeral Mass. Then Nacien issued Launcelot some penance instructions!
LAUNCELOT’S PENANCE INSTRUCTIONS
Rule Zero: No sleeping with Guenever!
Rule One: Take this lock of the ex-monk’s hair and keep it as a holy relic and wear it like a pendant. (It’s possible Malory misunderstands the concept of a hair shirt.)
Rule Two: No meat!
Rule Three: No wine!
Rule Four: Mass every day! Nacien is willing to bend on this one; Launcelot isn’t penalized for being out in the wilderness where no one can say Mass for him, but if he’s able to hear Mass, he has to.
Launcelot agreed to these restrictions, and departed with Nacien’s blessing. He asked a handy damosel for directions, but she just uttered cryptic truths at him, about how he was further from the Grail that he once was, and yet also closer, and so on: “Ah, Sir Launcelot, I wot what adventure ye seek, for ye were afore time nearer than ye be now, and yet shall ye see it more openly than ever ye did, and that shall ye understand in short time. Ye shall not find this day nor night, but to-morn ye shall find harbour good, and ease of that ye be in doubt of.”
That night Sir Launcelot just pulled over by the side of the road at the next intersection. He said his prayers, then went to sleep on the ground. As soon as he’s asleep, he has a marvelous dream, which Malory describes using the word advision for some reason. In Launcelot’s advision, he saw a man covered in stars and wearing a golden crown, leading a troupe of nine knights and kings. The ten of them knelt to pray, and called out to heaven. Then God came down from heaven (Malory makes it sound like He came down on a ladder). God, just so we’re clear, looked exactly like Nacien.
God blessed nine of the ten petitioners, but berated one of them for being false and vain and violent. End of dream.