A couple of days of travel after visiting the abbot with the bizarre interpretations of visions Bors didn’t actually have, our man Bors reached a jousting tournament! It’d been too long since Malory threw one in, I suppose. (JOUSTING TOURNAMENT 38!)
This particular marvellous tournament was between the Earl of Plains and his wife’s nephew, Hervin. They each had a whole cadre of knights, and the jousting was expected to include multiple rounds, maybe a tag-team match, maybe something in a flag match or a Damosel-on-a-Pole match. Lots of knights, lots of jousting. Bors didn’t really care about the tournament itself; his one and only interest at the moment was the Grail. But he figured there were excellent odds that he would find another Knight of the Round Table there, and maybe they could sit down and compare notes.
Bors headed towards the local hermitage, where visiting knights camped. Sure enough, he found another Round Table knight. And not just any knight, but his own brother-cousin Sir Lionel!
“Lionel!” cried Bors. “Am I ever happy to see you! Man, I had this crazy vision, and you were in it! But it was all a vision courtesy the Devil. Or, no. Catherine was real. Or no, she did seem too good to be true. I don’t really know at which point the vision started. Anyway, great to see you!”
“The feeling is not mutual!” Lionel was pissed. “I was tied up in the back of a wagon, getting beaten up, which was bad enough! But then I see you, not rescuing me! Instead you went off to sleep with some chick!”
“Whoa whoa whoa,” said Bors, because Lionel was on his feet, pressing a finger hard into Bors’s chest. Bors’s hands were up and he stepped backwards. “Lionel, jeez, I’m sorry, I thought you were part of the dream. Also I didn’t sleep with Yelena, but that’s not important right now. I mean, I would have done the same thing even if it hadn’t been a complex test of my virtue assembled by the Devil, but…”
“This is what I’m talking about! This is what I mean. You’re always going off to be virtuous and succor a gentlewoman, and you just leave me in peril of death! You jerk! And for that misdeed now I ensure you but death!“
“Lionel, brother, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying,” Lionel said, his beard all flecked with spittle, “when next we meet it will be on the jousting arena floor, and I’m going to bash your head in and stomp on it!”
When Sir Bors understood his brother’s wrath, Malory told us, he kneeled down to the earth and cried him mercy, holding up both his hands.
“Apology not accepted! No mercy,” growled Lionel, and stomps off muttering something about how Bors had already lived too long a life. He was back a moment later, with his tack and lance and other jousting accoutrements.
“I don’t want to hear it, Bors! You defame the name of your and possibly my father, Bors the King of France, of Ban-and-Bors fame, last encountered waaaay back in Book V! Mount up and joust, or else I will run upon you thereas ye stand upon foot!”
“I’m not going to joust you, cousin,” said Bors. “If you’re going to kill me while I stand here, unarmed, hands up in the air, well, then you go ahead and do it. I’m very sorry about the misunderstanding, and I hope you can forgive me, but –“
Bors didn’t get to finish his dramatic speech, because Lionel smashed his skull in. Down he went, bleeding profusely.
The priest whose hermitage the knights had camped at came rushing over at this point. “Jeez, man, why’d you have to do a thing? He was truly a holy man! If he dies then you’re definitely going to hell, for murdering such a good egg.”
Sir Lionel was not thinking clearly just then. We can tell, because his response to the priest consisted of threatening the priest, on the grounds that if Lionel just intimidated the priest enough, the priest would get Lionel out of the whole going-to-hell thing.
But the priest was not having any of it! “Are you threatening my life? I’m an old man; my life isn’t worth much. Especially not compared to Sir Bors here.”
“Have it your own way!” Sir Lionel chopped the priest’s head off. “Now to pull Bors out of his armor and slit his throat! That will get me out of this predicament for sure!” Like I said, the man wasn’t thinking clearly.
Malory has definitely written himself into a corner at this point. Probably whatever actual Grail romance he ripped off for this bit had a flow to it. Events stemmed naturally out of one another, forming a cohesive narrative. But Malory’s in too much of a hurry for that! So instead a Knight of the Round Table that Malory had never mentioned before showed up! Sir Colgrevance! Yeah, that makes sense.
Sir Colgrevance was on the scene, presumably because of the jousting tournament. He noticed Lionel struggling with the dying Bors, rushed over, and took the scene in in an instant.
“Sir Lionel! Have you gone mad? Clearly whatever the dispute between you and Bors was, you were in the wrong!” He grabbed Lionel by the lapels and hauled him off of Bors.
“Dang it!” Lionel was in a hole at this point and the only way he could see clear of it was to just keep on murdering. So Lionel decided to make Colgrevance Victim 3. Technically Lionel and Colgrevance jousted, but it was the kind of joust where while one knight was still getting his sword out, Lionel bashed his helmet in.
While Lionel beat Colgrevance to death, Bors miraculously regained consciousness! He was in a bad way, but he was alert and aware of his surroundings. He watched Lionel bashing Colgrevance, and slowly got back on his feet. Bors was woozy from the blood loss, and still bleeding, but he was up!
“Bors! Save me, Bors! I’m trying to rescue you!” cried Colgrevance. This would be kind of a dick move on Colgrevance’s part, what with Bors bleeding and all, except that Colgrevance was also bleeding, even more profusely than Bors. So it was one dying guy begging another dying guy for help, not a hale guy begging a dying guy.
Bors woozily staggered towards where Lionel and Colgrevance fought. But then, he almost tripped over the headless corpse of the priest, and he reared back.
That moment of hesitation, of rearing back, was Colgrevance’s death knell. His last words were “Why will ye let me die here for your sake? If it please you that I die for you the death, it will please me the better to save a worthy man. Fair sweet Jesu, that I have misdone have mercy upon my soul, for such sorrow that my heart suffereth for goodness, and for alms deed that I would have done here, be to me alignment of penance unto my soul’s health.” As last words go it wasn’t bad, a little wordy. But then Lionel chopped his head off.
Bors, badly wounded but on his feet, had that inexplicable knightly hardiness that you sometimes see in a Malory hero. Arthur had it, when he fought Sir Accolon. Sir Palomides had it at Lonazep. Sir Launcelot had it in a couple of unfortunate scenes in Book XX. And now Bors was just too knightly to stay down!
“You’ve gone crazy for no clear reason, brother!”
“No, you’re the crazy one!” spat Lionel right back at him. “Raaaahr! My actions are wholly unmotivated! Raaaahr!”
Bors gave a little speech about, basically, how great he was and how he totally had the moral high ground. Then he readied himself to fight Lionel, who had very obligingly just stood there and let Bors speechify. But with suddenness a miracle happened! A great gout of flame came down from heaven, directly between the two knights, and a voice instructed Bors to leave quietly. However Bors was too busy screaming his fool head off, on account of the talking magic flame had lit his shield on fire!
Bors and Lionel (whose shield was also scorched) both fainted from surprise and exhaustion. When Bors came to, the angel (if that’s what it was) had vanished, and also Bors had been miraculously healed of his wounds. He kneeled over Lionel, and gave a prayer of thanksgiving for the awesome and crazy magic.
Then the disembodied voice told him to go meet Sir Percivale, who’d be waiting for him at the seaside, and not to try to deal with his brother any more.
“I didn’t get this far along the Grail Quest by ignoring miraculous voices,” mused Bors. “So, all right. Sorry, Lionel. Good luck with your life.”
Lionel who had been still lying unconscious at Bors’s feet, suddenly woke. He accepted Bors’s apology and offered an apology of his own. So, a happy ending I guess?
Afterwards Bors rode to the seaside, a few days of hard travel away. Once there, he set up a tent and went to sleep, but his new buddy the disembodied voice woke him up in the middle of the night and sent him down to the beach.
There Bors spotted Sir Percivale’s white samite ship, the one that Nacien gave him at the end of Book XIV. Bors rode his horse along a broken seawall and from the end of it he dismounted and swam the rest of the way out to the ship. Once Bors was aboard, it started moving under its own inexplicable holy power, which was kind of freaky so Bors went belowdecks and found Percivale asleep. Bors woke Percivale up. After the two of them congratulated one another on getting this far, they compared notes.
I’m guessing that Sir Percivale’s face was pretty red when he learned that Sir Bors had managed to resist the Devil’s temptation without resorting to self-castration! But anyway, it was an exciting time, and their spirits were high.
Malory closes Book XVI with a rhetorical flourish:
Then said Sir Percivale “We lack nothing but Galahad, the good knight.”