Malory has lost interest in people who aren’t Sir Launcelot or else Sir Launcelot’s son, so we cut away from Gawaine back to Galahad. It had been an indeterminate amount of time since he left the Castle of the Maidens. Out in some wilderness forest somewhere, he happened across Sir Launcelot and Sir Percivale. Neither Launcelot nor Percivale recognized Galahad, because he was in disguise for absolutely no reason.
When Launcelot saw this strange knight coming by, he leaped to the conclusion that a joust was inevitable. “May as well get it over with,” he muttered, and charged Galahad, spear at the ready. And then — are you ready for this? I really don’t think you are. Sit down, take a few breathes, try to calm yourself, because you’re going to flip out here: Galahad dehorsed Launcelot.
Boom, just like that. It happened. This speaks volumes about the relative knightliness of the two of them; younger knights were more fit and agile and better at the swordplay, but older knights were expected to be superior horsemen, since that was all skill and practice. This is all according to no less an authority than Sir Mordred, in Book IX, Chapter 4, during the pointless adventures of Breunor.
After Launcelot lost a joust for the first time pretty much ever, Galahad underlined the point by pulling out his sword and stabbing Percivale. Sir Percivale managed not to be horribly maimed, but that was just him straight-up getting lucky.
This brief action sequence took place out in the middle of nowhere, as we learned back in the first paragraph above, but now Malory has decided it also took place outside the Queen of the Waste Land’s house. You may remember the Queen of the Waste Land from the tail end of Book II, when she arranged for Balin and Balan to joust one another to the mutual death. Technically that might not have been the same lady as this; it’s unclear. Regardless, she was a powerful magical lady of some kind, that much is certain.
“Hey, check it out!” shouted the Queen, as she emerged from her house. “It’s the best knight ever! Man, I’m sure that if those two knights over there knew who you were, they wouldn’t have tried to joust you!” She glanced over at Launcelot and Percivale. “No sir,” she shouted, cupping her hands. “Definitely those two knights aren’t aware you are the best knight ever, pal!”
Crap, thought Galahad. The Queen of the Waste Land gave away his secret identity! Arrogant as he was, he assumed that Launcelot and Percivale would deduce that this ‘best knight ever’ must have been Galahad. He wanted to remain disguised, even though there is literally no rationale for it that I can think of. Launcelot started the whole go-around-disguised fashion among knights, but he at least had a reason for it: he kept getting mobbed by eager young turks who knew that if they could somehow defeat the great Launcelot, then they’d shoot to the top of the knightliness rankings as published in Jousting Arena magazine. But in this scene the only people around were Launcelot, Percivale, and the Queen. The Queen already knew who he was because she was magical, and as she just observed, Launcelot and Percivale would have been less inclined to joust him, not more, if they’d known who he was.
Still and all, he took what he thought was the only sensible option: Galahad mounted up and rode away as fast as he could.
Launcelot scratched his head, watching him go. “Was that…?”
“Yes! Jeez Louise!” The Queen just wanted these knights off her lawn. “Galahad. And no, I don’t know where he’s going. If you hurry you can catch up with him probably.”
Launcelot and Percivale tried to catch up to Galahad, but he lost them in the forest. Percivale suggested they go back to the Queen of the Waste Land and bother her some more. She was magical, so could probably point them in the right direction, Grail-Quest-wise.
“If you want to,” said Launcelot. “I’m more interested in riding around aimlessly in the woods.” And so they went their separate ways! And Malory is going to stick with Launcelot, at least for the short term.
As promised, Launcelot rode around randomly. At dusk he found a crossroads, which featured a rock he couldn’t see on account of it was dark, and also a chapel. He figured this was as good a place as any to stay overnight, so he tied up his horse and hung his shield. Then he tried knocking on the chapel door, but it turned out the chapel was disused and half-ruined. Inside, though, he saw your classic strange adventure inexplicably well-tended altar, with cloth of clean silk and a fair clean candlestick of silver. Launcelot wanted to go into the chapel and pray, but he couldn’t find a way in; the main entrance had collapsed.
“Well dang it,” grumbled Launcelot. He went back to his horse and sets up to just sleep overnight under the stars.
As he lies there dozing (LAUNCELOT NAPS 7!), he witnessed a thing that happened! A couple of shining white horses trotted up the road, supporting a litter between them. On the litter lay a sick knight, who moped aloud about how long he’d been on the Grail hunt, and how he hadn’t seen the Grail even though he’d been looking for it, and complaining to God about how unfair that was, and so on and so on.
Then the candlestick from inside the chapel came floating up out of nowhere, levitating without support. Also there came a table of silver and the holy vessel of the Grail. (GRAIL SIGHTING 7!) Launcelot recognized the Grail when he sees it, because (Malory reminds us, in case we forgot) he saw it back in Book XII, Chapter 4. He also saw it in Book XI, but Malory doesn’t count that for some reason.
The sick Mystery Knight sat up in his litter, and plucked the Grail from the air. “Thank you God! Also I would like to be healed of my malady please.” And then, yes, he was miraculously cured of his wholly undefined malady! “Thanks again, God!”
Launcelot, lying by the side of the road, tried to jump up and nab the Grail, after that. But because he wasn’t not perfect, he failed to catch the Grail as it exited; instead he just lay there in a stupor.
Meanwhile the formerly-sick knight climbed out of his litter.
“Congratulations! How’re you feeling?” asked his squire, who Malory assumes we knew was there all the time. The squire may or may not have been Jesus.
“Pretty okay, I think. Got rid of my malady, so that’s good. What do you think about that knight over there, the one lying by the side of the road half-asleep and pretending to be completely asleep?”
“Looks like he’s got some sins on his conscience, and that’s why he didn’t leap up and embrace the Grail when he had the chance,” said Jesus. Jesus was an astute student of the human condition.
“Poor guy,” said the Mystery Knight. “I mean, obviously he’s a knight of the Round Table, which means he’s on the Grail Quest. Look at how close he came just now! I feel bad for him.”
“Enh, he’ll be fine, don’t worry about it,” said Jesus. “Here, take his helmet and his sword and his horse.”
“Isn’t that stealing?”
“Not if you have My permission! I’m Jesus, remember? If Jesus does it, it isn’t a sin!”
So Jesus and the Mystery Knight exited, with some of Launcelot’s stuff.
Once they’re gone, Launcelot struggled awake. He was unsure what had been real and what had been dream. Had he really seen Jesus? Had the squire really been Jesus at all, or maybe some lesser saint or bodhisattva, empowered to declare the mystery knight was allowed to steal Launcelot’s things but not himself a direct emanation of the godhead? Launcelot really wasn’t sure. He sat there for a while and tried to collect his thoughts.
“Sir Launcelot!” a voice boomed out.
Launcelot looked around, couldn’t find the source of the voice. That was either a good thing or a really bad thing, he figured.
“More harder than is the stone, and more bitter than is the wood, and more naked and barer than is the leaf of the fig tree, therefore go thou from hence and withdraw thee from this holy place!“
Bad thing. For the first time in all of Le Morte D’Arthur up to this point, Sir Launcelot started to bawl and feel sorry for himself. He got a good self-pity on, cursing that he was ever born, and how it really had been Jesus (or some close analogue) after all. He’d come so close to the Grail, only to lose it at the last minute. Wah wah waah.
Then he realized that at least part of the mystic experiences must have happened, because Jesus stole his horse and helmet and sword. And then he called himself a very wretch, and most unhappy of all knights.
“Poor poor me,” he said to himself. “I’m all sinful, and wicked, and dishonored, and worldly. So worldly! I did all the most awesome things, had all the best strange adventures, slew evil knights and rescued maidens and sent prisoners off to Guenever as though they were bouquets of daisies. I should have been praying! All that time, I should have been praying.”
Hours and hours passed. Launcelot paced around, monologuing at great length about his miseries and how wretched he was. He secretly hoped that Jesus would come back and forgive him and return his horse, but nothing doing. Dawn came. Eventually Launcelot wandered off on foot, like a peasant.