Now, let’s take a second. If you’ve been reading along with Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur up to this point, you may have noticed a phrase that comes up regularly. “Strange adventures.” Knights all the time talk about strange adventures, go on strange adventures, quest in search of strange adventures. And some of these adventures have been fairly eccentric, like the time Sir Gawaine and Trixie met up and Trixie stormed off in a huff and Gawaine nearly ruined Sir Pellas’s life and then he ragequit. But a lot of them have been much more straightforward. Sir Marhaus wins a tournament. Sir Tor fetches a dog. Sir Launcelot rescues Sir Kay and others from Sir Turquine. Well, that last one is a little involved, but it’s not really strange. Where, you’ve been asking me, where is the strangeness of these strange adventures? I hear about a strange adventure, you say, I want to hear about something mightily odd and extremely peculiar and eldritch.
Well, LOOK NO FURTHER, because today Launcelot arrives at the Chapel Perilous!
Despite appearances, this is not actually the location where Sir Balin struck the dolorous stroke, it’s just a very similar cursed locale. Chapel Perilous is a craggy, weathered place, where maybe once a castle stood, but now only the castle’s chapel remains, half-ruined. Someone put up a fence around it, making a sort of motley churchyard, with a gate that creaks in the wind, and even when the wind is still. Nothing grows there; all the grass is brown and scraggly and long-dead, and the churchyard is littered with old shields, tarnished and forgotten.
Launcelot fears no evil, so he strides right in. The shields look familiar; he recognizes them as the shields of many fine knights he’s known in tournaments over the years. These knights he’s mostly lost touch with, but he wishes them no ill.
Therefore he’s surprised when their undead forms claw their way out of the ground, under the shields, which they pick up and heft. The zombie-knights, thirty of them, surround Launcelot, swords drawn, armor blackened and shields tarnished, eyes cold and dead. Malory says they “grinned and gnashed” at Launcelot, which sounds very toothy.
In for a penny, in for a pound, figures Sir Launcelot du Lake, and the Man from Benwick draws his own sword and prepares to fight thirty zombies. To his surprise, though, they part around him, opening a way into the Chapel Perilous. They say nothing, but circle around him, goading him forward into the small half-ruined chapel.
Launcelot steps on into the Chapel Perilous. Within it’s dark; the only light comes from a single dim oil lamp. In the blackness, Launcelot can make out a corpse wrapped in a silk shroud. He creeps up, and uses his sword to cut off a piece of the shroud, and he’s thrown to the floor when the ground shakes under him. For a moment it seems the Chapel Perilous will collapse with him inside! But no, it settles down, and Launcelot gets back up. He turns to leave, and spots something he hadn’t seen before: a magic sword, laid across the dead knight. Launcelot grabs the sword and hies it out of there.
The zombie knights outside are waiting for him, of course, and when he emerges they speak to him in grim unison. “Knight, Sir Launcelot, lay that sword from thee or else thou shalt die.”
“Whether that I live or die, with no great word get ye it again, therefore fight for it an ye list.”
“What?” ask the zombie knights. I don’t get it either.
“You’ll take my sword from my cold dead hands! Raaaah!” bellows the Man from Benwick, and charges the black-clad death knights.
To his surprise and considerable relief, they melt away as he runs through them, vanishing like smoke.
“Well, that’s cool,” says Launcelot. He pauses to collect himself, there outside the churchyard.