The next morning Percivale followed the Queen of the Wilderness’s instructions. A day’s ride from her hermitage he found to a remote fortress, which Malory doesn’t want to come right out and identify as Castle Goothe, but I’m pretty sure that’s where he was. There he was allowed to stay the night, and attend church services in the morning.
This is a special Mass that had been set up, seemingly just for him: a priest ready at the altar. Over on the far side of the altar, in the back of the church, Percivale noticed a rich bed and a fair, as of cloth of silk and gold, but he couldn’t get over there because it was blocked by a gate closed with iron and also there was a curtain that made it hard to see. But he was pretty sure there was someone in the bed.
Percivale was a gentleman, not some kind of looky-loo peeper; he left off his looking and hears his service. During the eucharist rite, that curtain was drawn back so that the person in the bed could receive communion, and Percivale got a total eyeful. It was a passing old man with a crown of gold upon his head and no shirt on. Thanks to the lack of shirt, Percivale could take in the man’s great wounds, both on the shoulders, arms and visage.
Percivale estimated this guy to be roughly three hundred years old.
After the service ended, the old man’s crown was placed carefully on the altar, for some reason. Percivale watched this ritual, then asked a priest what the heck is up with the old guy and the wounds and so on.
“So have you heard of Joseph of Arimathea?” asked the priest.
“Joseph converted a heathen king named Evelake,” said the priest, in case Percivale forgot. “This story was recounted back in Book XIII?”
“Well. After the events detailed in that chapter, Evelake continued to dwell in England. The Lord God wanted him to pursue the Grail, but Evelake was too busy involving himself with the secular world, like you do…”
Percivale made the wrap-up signal. “Check.”
“So, long story short, God struck him blind.”
“And then he was all, ooh, God, please don’t kill me until I meet my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson, who will achieve the Grail as I have failed to do.“
“Really. That’s a very specifically-worded request.”
“Uh huh! And then… this is the good bit, here… then God said heard be they prayers, for thou shalt not die till he have kissed thee. And when that knight shall come the clearness of your eyes shall come again, and thou shalt see openly, and thy wounds shall be healed, and erst shall they never close.”
Percivale let out a low whistle. “Wow, heavy.”
The priest nodded solemnly. “I know! And then three hundred years go by, and that brings us to the present day.”
“Here, I’ll introduce you. You don’t happen to be a knight of the Round Table, do you?”
When he heard Percivale’s name, Evelake gets all excited. While Percivale wasn’t a direct descendent of Evelake’s (that’s Galahad) he was a guy destined to achieve the Grail, which meant that surely Galahad was out there somewhere; there was finally a light at the end of Evelake’s tunnel. Also, in light of Evelake’s story, I have to wonder whether Guenever’s claim that Galahad was the nine-generations-removed descendent of Jesus Christ specifically was a misunderstanding, and that in whatever French text Malory has mistranslated, Guenever was referring to his being descended from Joseph of Arimathea and/or Evelake. Because the words Malory puts in Guenever’s mouth are pretty unambiguous.
Regardless, after the Mass finished Percivale headed out to the next stage of his strange adventure.
Half a day out from Castle Goothe, Percivale stopped when he stumbled upon a funeral. A couple of dozen men-at-arms crowded around a casket, acting as pallbearers for a knight deadly slain.
“Yo!” Percivale waved as he approached.
The men-at-arms exchanged shifty looks. “Where’d you come from, then?”
Percivale smiled in a broad, nonthreatening way. “Oh, I’m from Camelot!”
Camelot turned out to be an unpopular place of origin. “Slay him!” the armsmen shouted, and charged at Percivale. The funeral was thus put on hold.
Though Percivale was a holy knight and a fabulous fighter he couldn’t handle 20+ to one odds. He took out a third or so of his opponents, but then they killed his horse! Oh no! was this the untimely end of Percivale?
No! In a shocking twist, Sir Galahad sprang up out of nowhere, all in red finery! He lay into the funeral-goers, until they broke and fled into the woods.
That Galahad! He’s so dreamy!
As he watched Galahad chase the opposition into the woods, Percivale marveled at how the target of his quest had just appeared out of nowhere like that. “Hey, Galahad! Thanks for saving me!” he shouted. “Come back here so I can thank you properly!”
But alas, Galahad disappeared into the woods, and Percivale was left alone.
Before Percivale could do more than collect his thoughts and marvel about how incredibly dreamy Galahad was, along came a serf with a big black horse.
“Hey, serf! Lend me that big black horse, will you? Mine is dead and I want to chase after a paladin of my acquaintance.”
“Sorry, no-can-doosville,” said the serf. “I give you this horse, what if it comes back scratched or with a broken windshield? Then its owner, a scary-ass knight believe you me, would kill me. I don’t wanna get killed, buddy.”
“Dang it,” said Percivale, which was as close as he ever got to swearing. “I really wanted to catch up to Galahad.”
“What if you mugged me and stole the big black horse?” suggested the serf. “That way my boss can’t be mad at me, it was you forcing yourself.”
“Nah, I’m not the thieving kind. It’s not worth ruining my spotless record.”
But Percivale would not mug the serf, and so they parted. The serf rode away and Percivale sat under a tree and felt sorry for himself.
Shortly afterwards, the aforementioned scary-ass knight rode past on that same big black horse. Percivale waved to him, but he ignored it.
A couple of minutes later, the serf reappeared, looking scared.
“Did you see a villain on a big black horse ride by?” he asked.
“Yeah,” said Percivale. “What up?”
“That was my boss. He’s mad at me for literally no reason Malory deigns to provide! And by mad, I mean that if he finds me, he’ll kill me!”
“Ouch. Sucks to be you, man.”
Luckily, the serf had an idea. “How about you take my horse and catch up to him and stop him from killing me by killing him? He’s totally a villain!”
“Well, I don’t know.” Percivale examined the serf’s horse with an appraising eye. “See, this here is a peasant horse. Very slow. Dishonorable for a knight like myself to ride…”
“Oh, all right.”
So Percivale climbed aboard the serf’s horse, and drove off after the knight on the big black horse. Unfortunately, Percivale was on the horse equivalent of a VW bug and the big black horse was the horse equivalent of a high-end roadster; Percivale couldn’t close with him. He got within shouting distance, but the other knight just ignored him, which frustrated Percivale so much that he dismounted and grumbled and felt sorry for himself and then he took a nap.
The preceding scene is just random incident, and I’m sorry to have wasted your time. Quick recap of it: “Percivale accomplished nothing for a while, and then he took a nap.” But it’s in Malory, so we discuss it here.
There was no explanation as to who this woman was, or how she knew Percivale, or… anything. Still, Percivale didn’t seem terribly shocked to see her. “I do neither good nor great ill,” he said, as though that were some kind of answer to her question.
“Okay, listen, you know how you need a horse? If you promise to do me a favor to be named later, then I’ll lend you my horse.”
“I don’t see any possible downside to that offer!”
SMASH CUT to Sir Percivale riding off on this mystery woman’s mystery horse. He was surprised, if not shocked, when the mystery horse turned out to be a magic demon horse! It traveled so fast that if Malory knew what the sound barrier was, then this horse would be breaking the sound barrier. This demon-horse took Percivale careening around the countryside at ludicrous speeds, until he slammed on the brakes just before the horse pitched him into a deep river, somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
“Whoa!” said Percivale. “That river sure is deep and fastmoving! It’s some boistous water.” It was such a sight, in fact, that Percivale made the Sign of the Cross to himself, just to ward off any evil that happened to arise from the river.
And then — shocking twist! — the demon horse did not like the Sign of the Cross at all! It bucked and threw Percivale flying.
“Augh! Demon horse!” cried Percivale, who I guess had assumed the magical horse was just some kind of whimsical elf-horse, rather than a hideous demon-horse. “Save me, Jesus!”
The demon horse couldn’t eat Percivale while Percivale was praying, because that is how demons work. Percivale just sat at the riverbank and prayed for hours and hours. The sun rose, eventually, and Percivale stopped praying and gets up and looked around and discovered that he’d somehow been miraculously transported to a remote rocky island, closed with the sea nigh all about, that he might see no land about him.
“And then he went into a valley,” continued Malory without missing a beat.
“Wait, wait, wait.” I hold up a hand. “Hold on. You just now said, just now, you said he was on an island surrounded by water.”
“There’s a valley on the island,” explains Malory.
“But it’s a little island, small enough that he can see the whole thing and all the water around it from his vantage point.”
“Yes, it is.”
It’s not worth it, I figure, so I just let it go. “Okay, fine. Whatever.”