In which the Queen of the Waste Land lays some science on Percivale
Book XIV is where it gets weird, y’all. Malory explains that Book XIV is all about Sir Percivale, the other holy paladin-knight blessed and foredestined to achieve the Grail. We flash back to when he was last seen, during Chapter 17 of Book XIII. He had the idea of going and bothering the Queen of the Waste Land, you may remember, and Launcelot didn’t feel like doing that.
So while Launcelot chased off after Galahad, Percivale dismounted and stepped up to the Queen’s front window, and kneeled down (it was a low window) and knocked until she opened it.
“What now?” she asked, irritably. The Queen of the Wilderness currently, Malory explained, lived as a recluse, and didn’t want company.
“Madam,” Percivale said with careful politeness, “I am a knight of King Arthur’s court, and my name is Sir Percivale de Galis.”
The Queen perked up at that! Because, and this is something that you’d think Malory would have mentioned before, she was Percivale’s aunt! Which meant she was also Lamorak’s aunt, and Aglovale’s. There’s this whole body of scholarship out there that asserts the Pellam and Pellinore are brothers, but Malory’s silent on the topic.
Anyway, we smash cut to the next morning, after the Queen of the Waste Land and her servants (whom she still employed; she was a recluse, not a barbarian) had wined and dined and breakfasted young Sir Percivale. We know she totes neglected to mention the fact that she was his aunt, because they had a quick conversation after breakfast that ran like so:
“Ma’am,” began Percivale because he’s unfailingly polite, “thanks for your amazing hospitality, but I have a question for you.”
“Shoot,” said the Queen between bites of toast.
“I wanted to ask you this last night, but there was a smash cut: do you know who that knight with the white magic shield was? The one that was leaving as Launcelot and I arrived?”
“Euuuuugh!” This was not a question the Queen of the Wilderness really wanted to answer. “Why do you even want to know?”
“I just do!” Turns out Percivale couldn’t really give a good reason. “It’s really bugging me, you know? Just eating away at me, not knowing.”
“Are you going to joust him?” The Queen clucked her tongue in disapproval. “You’d just get yourself killed, like your father did.”
“Whoa! Whoa whoa whoa, ma’am!” Even in shock, Percivale was polite. “Everything just got real! How do you know my father and how he died? Who told you? What other family secrets are you privy to?”
“Oh, did I forget to mention? I’m your aunt.” The Queen shrugged. “The Queen of the Wilderness, they called me, and I was super wealthy and amazing. Now I’m a recluse, living the simple life. Just me and my castle full of servants.”
“Oh, wow! I’m so happy to meet you, ma’am! Aunt ma’am.”
“Right back at you, kiddo.” She got a sly look. “How’s your mother Veronica doing?”
Percivale sighed, thinking of her. “I haven’t seen her since Book XI, so I couldn’t tell you. I dream about her being alive, though.”
It’s unclear why the Queen asked after her, because she already knew how Veronica was doing. “Bad news, nephew: she’s dead. Died of grief shortly after you left her.”
“Really? Huh.” (Percivale learns his mother is dead. His reaction? Dull surprise!) “If I had it to do over again, maybe I’d do something different. Or maybe not. I don’t know, ma’am.” He paused a respectful pause. “Anyway, about the knight with the magic shield…”
The Queen threw down her toast, annoyed. “Still on that, are you?”
“Rather than ask you if he was Sir Galahad, I’m going to ask if he was the knight in red from Book XIII. Whom I was introduced to, at the time, as Sir Galahad. So I’m being a little sly here.”
In response, the Queen of the Wilderness lay down some science on Sir Percivale. Hear now five true things!
TRUE THING ONE: Nobody but Galahad should ever wear red. Going around in red is bragging that you’re the best ever, and only Galahad actually is the best ever.
TRUE THING TWO: Merlin built the Round Table originally, and it got from him to (eventually) Uther, and from him to Guenever’s father Leodegrance, and then to Arthur. He made it round like the world is round, because the brotherhood of the Round Table is catholic and all-encompassing. Rich man, poor man, heathen, Christian, they’re all alike at the Round Table. To join the Round Table is to renounce father, mother, wife, child, national flag, king, everything except the Round Table itself. At least that’s what Merlin had in mind originally.
TRUE THING THREE: The whole point of the Round Table is to achieve the Grail. That is why Merlin built it, to provide a solid platform for Grail-achieving.
TRUE THING FOUR: Back when the Round Table was new, Merlin explained this to people, and somebody asked him, Merlin, how can we recognize someone who is going to achieve the Grail? And Merlin uttered a serious bona fide prophecy: three white bulls would eventually achieve the Grail. Of these three bulls, two would be virgins and one would have merely sworn an oath of celibacy. Also, one of the bulls would be way better than his father, as much as the lion passeth the leopard both of strength and hardiness.
TRUE THING FIVE: Merlin’s anonymous audience in those ancient times (when the Round Table was new and Merlin was spouting this prophecy for the first time) responded by suggesting that instead of all this elaborate prophecy brouhaha Merlin install a magic chair that only someone destined to achieve the Grail could sit in. Much more straightforward than all this stuff about bulls and the lion and the leopard and so on. Contrary to everything established about Merlin up to this point, Malory insists that Merlin knew a good idea when he heard it, even if it wasn’t originally his. So Merlin built the Siege Perilous to go with the Round Table.
“Whoa,” said Percivale. “That explains a lot, I guess? But actually I was asking about Sir Galahad. Remember, ma’am? I’ve been trying to ask you about Galahad for like a full day now, and you keep changing the subject. Galahad. Galahad! Where is Galahad?”
“Promise you won’t try to joust him?”
“Fine then. Ride up the road there to Castle Goothe. It’s a few hours away, and its lord is Galahad’s cousin-germain. He’ll put you up overnight, and maybe have some advice for you. Afterwards, unless the cousin has better instructions, keep on to Castle Corbin, where you’ll meet… well, I’m not saying things are going to get weird and mystic, but things are going to get weird and mystic.”
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