Now we’re on to the third tale of Book IV, which is a fairly major one, the Story of Morgan le Fay Trying to Kill Arthur. It starts off innocently enough. One day King Arthur, his brother-in-law King Uriens, and his sister’s lover Sir Accolon are out hunting. Malory informs us that Sir Accolon is French, in case that makes a difference to anyone. Anyway, they’re riding hard, hunting, and on the second day out they go kind of overboard because first they leave behind all the rest of their hunting party, they’re riding so hard, and then they ride so hard their horses have three simultaneous heart attacks and die.
“Shoot,” says Arthur. “Those were my three best horses.”
Regardless, the hart is just ahead, so they press on, and the hart is just teasing them, constantly at the edge of their perception, and it’s getting dark and they’re no closer to catching the hart than before, and also they’re dehorsed and separated from all their men and generally for a fun weekend getaway things are going south real fast.
Arthur asks his companions, “should we turn back, or press forward?”
“We know that behind us there’s nothing but brambles and mud,” says King Uriens. “Maybe there’s a resort hotel ahead of us.”
So they press ahead, and finally they come to a beach, and on the beach there’s the hart, getting run down by hounds, and Arthur, according to Malory, blew the prise and dight the hart, which I think means he completed the enterprise (that is, killed the hart) and then butchered it as one would in preparation for eating it? Or possibly he blew his special “we’ve gotten our prize, the hart” horn and then he shouted at the hart to surrender. Both interpretations work!
After the hart is dealt with, one way or another, Arthur notices that out in the water there’s a little boat, all made of silk. As he watches, it floats towards him and beaches itself in front of him, which is a pretty good trick. He steps aboard and quickly confirms there’s no one on the boat (it can’t be that big if it can beach like that, I figure, so this couldn’t have taken him very long, but the boat does explicitly have a cabin). He calls for Uriens and Accolon to join him, and the three of them are checking this silk boat out when suddenly a hundred torches appear! The ship is all lit up now, with torches in sconces all over.
“Whoa!” says Uriens.
“Crap, I should have realized,” says Arthur. “It’s a strange adventure!”
Twelve maidens emerge from the previously empty cabin and greet King Arthur and his companions, in eerie unison. “Welcome to Arthur, King. Welcome to Uriens, King. Welcome to Accolon, knight. Come, dine with us!”
“Smile and nod,” Arthur whispers to Uriens and Accolon. “Ladies, thank you. It’s a lovely magical ship you have here…”
“Oh Arthur!” swoon the twelve maidens in unison. If only one of them were doing it, it would be a clear invitation for Arthur to come cheat on Guenever with her, but all twelve doing it at once is a little odd.
“Hey, that’s sweet,” Arthur says. He’s slowly backing away.
“Sire, please dine with us! We’ll be ever so disappointed if you don’t!” the maidens say in their impossibly kittenish voices.
“Odds this is a trap are approximately one in one,” says Arthur. “But what the hey.”
So he and Uriens and Accolon go into the little boat’s cabin, and it’s a big silk-lined feasthall with a tablecloth stretched out on the floor and a tremendous picnic of meat and wine and cheese and everything delicious spread out.
“This part’s pretty okay then,” says Arthur. He and his companions sit down and eat, and the food is delicious. It’s the best food Arthur has ever eaten, and he’s the king of England, so, lots of opportunities for good food. And there’s so much of it! He eats way more than is good for him, and Uriens and Accolon do the same, and afterwards they’re stretched out and drowsy and the maidens offer to lead them to bed, and what with all the wine and such they agree. The maidens lead them off into three different bedchambers (all large and spacious and airy, despite being inside this tiny little ship’s cabin) and Malory is completely silent as to whether the maidens climb into bed with them or not, but he does say that soon enough all three of them are deeply asleep in three separate bedrooms.
In the morning Uriens wakes up, and he’s no longer aboard the ship! He’s instead back at Camelot, in Morgan le Fay’s bed (she’s staying over while her husband and lover are doing this hunting party with Arthur, I guess?). “Wow! What a strange adventure!” he exclaims. “I was in a silk ship and there was good food and now I’m here! How wonderful!”
Meanwhile Arthur wakes up in a dark prison, too dark to see anything, but he can hear knights all around him moaning and complaining. “Saw this one coming,” mutters Arthur. “Oh, well.”