“So, change of plans,” Sir Galahad says, early the next morning.
“What, are you not coming back with me to Camelot or something?” Launcelot snickers at the ridiculous thought.
“What, seriously?” To say Launcelot is hella disappointed is to undersell it. But Galahad stands firm: he wants to make a big dramatic entrance, by himself, later.
So Launcelot and Bors and Lionel ride back to Camelot without him. When they get there everybody’s at pre-feast Mass, and then everybody congratulates Launcelot on getting back in time for the feast. They clap him on the back and cheer him and so on. Plus there’s a lot of drinking!
Fortunately everyone’s seat at the Round Table has their name written on it, in golden ink as you may recall, so even though the knights are tipsy they can still get to the correct chairs. They end up stumbling around the table, checking each chair.
“SIR KAY!” they shout, and Kay takes his seat.
“SIR GAWAINE!” Gawaine sits down.
“SIR BEVIDERE!” And so on, you get the idea.
At last the group comes to the last seat, the Siege Perilous, last discussed back in Book XI as being the destined place-to-sit of the mysterious prophesied Best Knight Ever! Again I want to point out that we already had a whole sitting-in-the-Siege-Perilous scene back in Book X, chapter 23, but whatever. We’re still not counting Book X I guess. Anyway, this seat isn’t anyone’s assigned seat, and the knights would just skip it over, except that there’s a new message there, the golden ink still wet!
Four hundred winters and four and fifty accomplished after the passion of our Lord Jesu Christ ought this siege to be fulfilled.
“Whoa!” say the drunk knights. “A strange adventure just started up while we’re sitting down to eat!”
Meanwhile Launcelot is doing some quick arithmetic. The passion was in AD 33, he figures, add 454 to that and you get 487, and also I guess AD 487 is the official current year? So boom, that just happened. Things are going to get weird, Launcelot figures. In an attempt to put a damper on it all until the feast is over at least, Launcelot and Kay and some other knights throw silk slipcover over the Siege Perilous, so that no one else will see the writing.
Arthur comes in, famished after a night of vigil and a morning of church. “Out of my way, Kay! I’m gonna eat like seven turkey legs.”
Kay grabs his arm. “But Arthur, bro, you always demand to listen to a strange adventure story before the feast! It’s a big Pentecost tradition! The knights who are still sober enough to pay attention will be deeply disappointed.”
“You’re right, you’re right.” Arthur winces. “I’m just… I’m really hungry, you know? Plus there’s this whole thing with Launcelot, maybe that can count?”
Before Kay can respond, though, in comes a messenger! “Sire! I bring unto you marvelous tidings!”
“Okay, that’s cool. What’ve you got, and does it fulfill our strange adventure requirements?”
The messenger leads Arthur and his court out to the riverside, where, okay, go back and read the end of Book II. Chapter 19! There’s a bit where Merlin makes a floating stone with a sword stuck in it? That stone has drifted down to Camelot, finally, just as Merlin predicted. So yes: enormous block of red marble, floating eerily above the river, with a sword stuck in it. Written on the sword in Merlin’s handwriting and in golden ink: Never shall man take me hence, but only he by whose side I ought to hang, and he shall be the best knight of the world.
“Well, Launcelot, looks like you’ve got a new sword,” says Arthur. “You being the best knight and so on.”
Launcelot shakes his head frantically. “Oh no, no way, you aren’t pinning this one on me. This is not my sword. I’m afraid to touch it, because inexplicably I have been filled with the knowledge that this sword is for another, and also that if the wrong person picks it up, something bad will happen. Wrong guy has this sword, he’ll get stabbed with it his own self, and that wound won’t heal properly.”
Kay checks, but none of this information is written anywhere on the sword. “Where are you getting this from?”
“I don’t know!” He really doesn’t! It’s unaddressed. I’m doing the work for Malory when I theorize that Launcelot’s exposure to the Grail back in Book XII maybe filled him with this lore. “But I will tell you something else I know,” Launcelot continues. “And I will that ye wit that this same day shall the adventures of the Sangreal, that is called the Holy Vessel, begin. Heavy, I know.”