Sir Bors, having just defeated the Devil (and without resorting to self-mutilation, I might add) stood alone in the wilderness. In the distance he heard a churchbell ringing, which he took for a sign. Following the sound of the bell, he arrived at an abbey, closed with high walls.
As he approached the gate, it opened, and they looked him over. Malory is vague as to who ‘they’ were. Monks, I guess? Let’s go with that.
“I suppose you’re on the Quest for the Holy Grail,” said one of the monks. “Come on, let’s get you out of that armor and into a hot bath.”
So they led him to a guest-room in the abbey, where he pulled off his armor and stretched and scrubbed himself down and so on. It’d been a while since Bors had any kind of decent respite.
“Is Nacien here?” asks Bors, once he was done. “Any holy man in this house would do, really.”
“Sure sure.” A monk led Bors through the abbey, to a chapel where he met the abbey’s abbot. To everyone’s surprise, it was explicitly not Nacien.
Bors introduced himself and starts to recap his entire madcap adventure, but the abbot stopped him with a weary shake of the head. “Sir Knight, I wot not what ye be, for I weened never that a knight of your age might have been so strong in the grace of our Lord Jesu Christ.”
“You say you’re a Grail-questing knight, but you aren’t Sir Percivale or Sir Galahad. You’re older, you’ve had plenty of opportunities to sleep with women and father illegitimate children (such as your son Helin aka your daughter Elaine, your child by Princess King-Brandegore’s-Daughter). And yet not only have you defeated the Devil and made it this far, you did it without cutting any of your members off! That’s crazy.”
“Oh ah.” Bors wasn’t really sure what to make of this.
“Right now I’m overwhelmed and unable to converse with you,” continued the abbot, “but I expect I’ll be better in the morning. So you stay overnight and tomorrow over breakfast I’ll give you some holy-man advice. That’s why I’m here, after all.”
CUT TO the next morning. We join the scene in medias res, as Bors explained to the abbot how he could only have bread and water for breakfast, due to the strictures of the Grail Quest.
“Hmm. Bread and water it is, then. Also, I’ve put some thought into that vision you described to me,” said the abbot. “I’m no Nacien, but I think I’ve got it figured out.”
“Great, except I didn’t describe you any of my visions,” said Bors, or he would have if Malory were at all on the ball.
“The dying chicken represented Our Lord Jesu Christ,” claimed the abbot.
“I don’t remember a chicken at all.”
“Just as Christ bled His heart-blood for mankind on the cross, the blood that the great fowl bled revived the chickens from death to life. See? It makes sense.”
“Sure, but this isn’t my vision. I never told you about a vision with a chicken. I had a vision with flowers and a chair.” Bors was thoroughly confused.
“Now, the bare tree meanwhile, the one all leafless and fruitless and barren? That’s the world, without Christianity. Empty. And when Catherine appeared –“
“Okay, listen, I admit I have had a dream or two featuring Catherine, but I definitely didn’t tell you about them and they definitely didn’t feature dead trees or chickens!”
“Catherine was really Jesus.” The abbot was on a roll by this point. “And her father, King Aniause, that was God the Father. You fought for Catherine, just as you fight for Christ against the non-Christ powers. And the black bird, meantime…”
“Wait wait wait. I get it now.” Bors spoke for the audience. “You’re talking about the vision that I already had explained by Nacien (who in retrospect I realize was not really Nacien, even though he kept insisting he was Nacien). Except that you’re adding all of these extra elements, chickens and trees and Catherine, that weren’t in it at the time. So the white bird was the chicken, who was Jesus, and the black bird was what now? The Devil? Paganism?”
“The black bird was the Catholic Church, obviously,” said the abbot.
“And you’ve lost me again.” Bors sighed.
“Now, the swan…”
“How many birds are we listing? Chicken-Jesus, non-Jesus chickens who were miraculously healed by the blood of Chicken-Jesus, a blackbird, and now a swan? There were only two birds in this vision, if we’re even talking about the same vision. I don’t know any more.”
“The swan is white on the outside but black on the inside, which is to say, the swan symbolizes hypocrisy! Hypocrisy in the form of not-Nacien, who was really a demon disguised as Nacien!”
“I figured that one out, yeah. The not-Nacien thing, I mean. Not the hypocrisy thing.”
“So the third fowl betokeneth the strong battle against the fair ladies which were all demons. Also there was a dead tree which represented your brother-cousin Sir Lionel –“
“You just said the dead tree, which again I don’t recollect any dead tree, but you just said the dead tree was the world in the absence of Christianity.”
“Sir Lionel is a jerk, see. Men ought to call him the rotten tree, and the worm-eaten tree, for he is a murderer and doth contrary to the order of knighthood.“
“For serious? We have had zero reports of Sir Lionel being anything but an officer and a gentleman at any point throughout Le Morte D’Arthur.”
“And the two flowers…”
“We’re back on the flowers? When you say tree, do you mean the chair that Nacien was (for some reason, in the dream) holding the two big flowers back from?”
The abbot was on way too much of a roll to pause for clarification. “The two flowers were Catherine and some other guy who died or something, and if you hadn’t saved her then the rotten tree would have punished the flower!”
“You’re really making very little sense here, even by the standards of dream interpretation in Le Morte D’Arthur.”
“For that ye rescued them both, men might call you a very knight and servant of Jesu Christ,” concluded the abbot with a smile. “You see? It all hangs together.”
Sir Bors’s response was to thank the abbot politely and then leave the abbey as quickly as possible.