In which the Grail knights (and nun) fulfill more prophecies
Galahad, Percivale, Bors, and Magdalena traveled for an indeterminate time, eventually arriving at a waste forest. In this remote corner of the world they happened across a magic deer, like you do. It wasn’t the Questing Beast, we can be sure of that, because it looked like a deer and not like an animal that sounded like forty hounds. Four magic lions chased this magic deer and the knights (and Mags) joined in, chasing the lions! The knights (and Mags) followed the lions and the deer far across the wilderness. Hill and dale, hither and yon, over the river and through the woods. Eventually and as you probably expected, if you’ve been paying the slightest bit of attention, they arrive at Nacien’s hermitage.
Nacien wasted no time in getting the knights (and Mags) into the chapel, where he gave Mass not just to Bors, Galahad, Percivale, and Magdalena, but also to the four magic lions and the magic deer. At the Eucharist (which sort of the Act II climax of Mass, if you were unaware) the deer and lions shapechanged! Refer to this chart for more information.
Deer transformed into… a man who got to sit in the nicest chair
First Lion transformed into… a man who didn’t get to sit in the nicest chair
Second Lion transformed into… a different lion
Third Lion transformed into… an eagle
Fourth Lion transformed into… an ox
The lion, eagle, and ox all sat down with the man who wasn’t in the nicest chair for the rest of the service. At the end of Mass, the former lions and the former deer left the chapel by passing through a stained-glass window without breaking it. I’m not sure that Malory is still describing the Quest for the Holy Grail here; this part reads like it’s a dream he once had, maybe.
Anyway, while the knights (and Mags) marveled at the transformed animals walking through walls, or at least walking through windows, an angelic voice from nowhere explained that just as the animals had passed through the window without breaking it, so too did Jesus come out of Mary’s womb without breaking her hymen. Malory adds that when they heard these words they fell down to the earth and were astonished, which does not surprise me one little bit. (That’s still-current Catholic doctrine, by the way, which surprised me to learn.)
Afterwards they asked Nacien to explain what the heck was going on, and Nacien provided an explanation.
The deer represented… Jesus, which is why the deer was shining white. (Sorry, did Malory forget to mention that part?)
The lions represented… Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, who wrote the four synoptic gospels. I guess matching them up to their totem-animals (human, lion, eagle, ox) is an exercise for the reader.
The walking through walls thing represented… exactly what the angel said it did, duh.
Nacien assured them that they were on the Grail-Quest home stretch. “I suppose from henceforth ye shall see no more of these confusing allegorical visions. That was probably the last one.”
There was much rejoicing! The knights (and Mags) chilled with Nacien for the rest of the day, before moving on to the next stage of their quest.
Their next stop was a castle we’ve seen before. Specifically we left this castle way way back in Book II, Chapter 13, when its inhabitants begged Sir Balin and Susie for some of Susie’s blood. As happened the last time, a group of weirdos emerged from the castle! Rather than attack the knights (and Mags), however, the weirdos wanted to parley. Since the time Sir Balin beat them up (as recounted in Book II) they’d learned to parley first and forcibly abduct maidens second.
The lead weirdo explained their position: no lady was permitted to pass through the castle without donating a pint of blood to their sick queen. They have a phlebotomist and a silver blood-dish all ready, plus they were heavily armed and they outnumbered the visitors three to one.
Unlike Sir Balin, who was sympathetic to the desire for the blood of innocent maidens, Galahad, Percivale, and Bors were all three dead-set against Magdalena having to donate blood. The situation escalated to blows quickly! We cut away for commercial, and when we return our heroes stood over a pile of bodies. However, victory was short-lived: another sixty or so armed weirdos soon emerged from the castle, ready to avenge their comrades.
The weirdos were prepared to forgive Galahad and company for killing ten of their friends, but they’d really appreciate it if the knights would give a little on the whole bloodletting issue. Galahad’s response was that they were sure talking a lot for dead men, and then he started killing them. Malory doesn’t have time to give us a full blow-by-blow, but he assures us that Galahad did such marvels that there was none that saw him but weened he had been none earthly man, but a monster! Also Sir Bors and Sir Percivale helped.
Hours of slaughter went by, because it takes a while to kill sixty guys, and eventually it was dinnertime.
“Dinner break?” asked a surviving weirdo.
“Sure,” said Sir Galahad.
Cut to them all sitting down for dinner.
“So what’s with the blood thing?” asked Sir Bors. “You guys vampires?”
“Nah, it’s for our queen,” explained the weirdo. “She’s been in a coma for years and somebody, Merlin probably, said that the blood of a virgin princess would restore her.”
Mags cleared her throat. “As a virgin princess, I would be qualified to donate the blood, it’s true.”
“But you’d die!” said Sir Percivale. It’s not clear how he came to this conclusion, but no one contradicted him.
Mags shrugged. “Enh. I’m going to die eventually anyway, and besides, I’ll just go to heaven, which is much nicer than this dump of a world. First thing tomorrow, after Mass, I bleed to death, agreed?”
And sure enough, the next morning Mags cut herself, and as blood spilled into the silver blood dish, the comatose queen awoke. There was no transfusion into the queen or anything like that; the queen simply roused as the blood collected in the dish.
“Who gave the blood?” was her first question.
Mags, not yet dead, introduced herself. She explained that she was dying so that this queen could live. Then Mags instructed Percivale to take her body along to the next harbor he came to, and load her onto the first ship he saw. Then after they found the Grail, they would find and inter her under a tower in Sarras, which was also where they should bury Galahad. “Spoiler alert,” she said. “Sir Galahad dies.”
Percivale was weirded out by this request, but what could he do? He agreed, and Magdalena died. Then as the knights left the castle, the ground shook and the castle broke apart and the earth swallowed most of it.
The knights’ first instinct was to turn around and go back into the ruins, because maybe there were survivors inside who need rescuing! But then there was another thing that happened: they spotted a wounded knight, not affiliated with the castle at all but further up the road. He’d pulled his horse over onto the shoulder and popped the hood, the universal symbol of a traveler in distress.
“Help a guy out?” he asked, but before he could explain what his deal is, another knight appeared, in the company of Peter the dwarf for some reason. This second knight started chasing the first knight across the landscape.
So our heroes put their heads together and agreed that Bors would resolve the whole wounded-knight/Peter situation while Galahad and Percivale went back into the castle and search for survivors. Exeunt Bors, pursuing Peter.
Galahad and Percivale went back inside and picked through the ruins. Everyone was dead! Every weirdo and also the woman whose life Mags sacrificed her own to save. So that seems to have been kind of a foolish move, especially since a handy angelic voice explained (in case the knights were unclear on this) that the collapsed castle and the massacre of its inhabitants had been the vengeance of Our Lord.
They did find a mass grave of princesses, with about sixty dead maidens in it, all of whom had bled to death. And I know what you’re thinking, but they knew that the bodies were princesses because they also found an elaborate genealogy explaining every dead maiden’s bloodline. So don’t think Malory hasn’t anticipated your objection!
Then Galahad and Percivale decided to leave separately, for no reason given. Meet you at the Grail, they said, and split.
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