The Tale of Sir Bors is easily my favorite of these Grail-quest travelogues. We begin with a flashback to Book XIII. Sir Bors, like all the rest of the knights on the Quest for the Holy Grail, rode out of Camelot and quickly found himself alone. He wandered for an indeterminate time, and then he bumped into a religious man riding an ass.
“Sir Bors!” cried Nacien when he saw him. “Listen, I’ve only got a little time before I’m due to treat Sir Melias’s wound, as related in Book XIII. You’re on the Quest for the Holy Grail, right?”
“Uh, yeah,” said Bors. “Have we met?”
Nacien shook his head no.
“Well, it is true that I am after the Grail. It seems like the kind of thing that, if you get it, people will remember your name and that you exist. And with any luck, you’ll be well-remembered and not as a strictly second-tier figure in the Arthurian mythos.”
“Could be worse; you could be Pitiless Bruce,” pointed out Nacien. “But regardless, the Grail is a fine thing to quest for, and my job right this second is to point out that it’s a religious thing, and so you really ought to confess all your sins before you try for it. Sins will just weigh you down.”
Bors couldn’t argue with that, so he let Nacien lead him to a nearby hermitage, where the two of them prayed and either confessed or listened to confession, depending. It went on all night long; in the morning Nacien fed Bors a breakfast of bread and water.
“One more thing,” Nacien told him. “You’ve got some sins in your past, unlike the holy Sir Galahad or the almost-as-holy Sir Percivale. So you’ve got to do some penance. Bread like this needs to be the only thing you eat until you find the Grail. Between now and then, you’re fasting, got it? Bread only. No meat.”
“That sounds reasonable,” said Bors. “You make it sound like my finding the Grail is a fait accompli, though.”
“Also, take off your shirt and put on this red one.”
Bors pulled off his shirt and put on a red one that Nacien gave him.
“Don’t take that shirt off until you find the Grail,” warned Nacien.
“No shirt-changing, no food, got it.”
“I really like your willingness to jump through these seemingly arbitrary hoops, just on my say-so,” said Nacien. Nacien marveled at how great a guy Bors was, what with his holding the record for Fewest Affairs in Camelot, by a Knight Who Isn’t Galahad Or Percivale. Just one affair! The one with Princess King-Brandegore’s-Daughter, which had resulted in Bors’s illegitimate child, Elaine. (ELAINE 4!)
“Or maybe it was a son, named Pale Elian,” says Malory. “Doesn’t really matter.”
“You said daughter before,” I point out.
“Shut up,” explains Malory.