Around this time Malory remembers that there’s such a thing as female characters, briefly: Guenever shows up, with many ladies, chasing down Arthur and Galahad. All the ladies coo at Galahad, much like the nuns in Chapter 1. They gather at the sword in the stone ii: this time it’s on a boat that Merlin sent downriver way back in Book II.
“So I made Gawaine try to pull it out, and he failed miserably. Then I had Percivale give it a go, but nothing doing. And I wanted Launcelot to try it but he declined,” explains Arthur.
“Well, duh,” says Galahad, snot-nosed little brat that he is. “This adventure is not theirs but mine. I was so confident in this being my quest that I didn’t even bring another sword! Check it out: empty scabbard.” He shows off his empty scabbard like everyone should be impressed, and of course they are. Then he pulls the sword out from the stone, and sheathes it in his scabbard, and quips “now it goeth better than it did aforehand. Get it?”
I don’t get it.
Arthur, too, seems a little peeved. “What’s next, is Jesus going to come down from heaven and miraculously present you with a spear? A shield God shall send you?”
Galahad shrugs, because he’s too good and pure to answer Arthur’s questions. “Well, now that I have Sir Balin’s sword that he used to murder his brother Sir Balan —”
I assume at this point there’s a brief interlude, wherein Arthur interrupts Galahad. “Seriously? I remember that sword from back in Book II.” Arthur gets a faraway look in his eyes as he reminsices. Book II was decades ago, after all. “It was stuck on a naked woman.”
Guenever doesn’t like the sound of that. “A naked woman?”
“Well, not completely naked. She had on this harness thing…”
“As I was saying,” interrupts Sir Galahad, “this is the sword that Sir Balin wore against Sir Balan, which was a great tragedy, and also which he used to strike the dolorous stroke on my grandfather, King Pellam. He hasn’t entirely recovered from that wound, nor not shall he be until I heal him. Because I’m pure and noble and sweet.”
Someone who cares about continuity breaks in. “Wasn’t there a whole thing about Balin running around through Pellam’s castle trying to find something to fight with, and eventually he found the +3 spear of Longinus in the chapel? So it wasn’t this sword that he used.”
Galahad shrugs. He’d probably say something else about how wonderful he is, but just then everyone gets distracted by a shouting woman.
A lady on a white palfrey rides up from nowhere in particular. Just as the old man in Chapter 3 was obviously Merlin, this is pretty clearly Nimue, even though Malory doesn’t specify it’s her by name.
“Arthur, Guenever, hello,” says Nimue. “Is Launcelot here?”
“Present!” Launcelot raises his hand.
Nimue sighs, heavily. “So the thing is,” she begins, then breaks off because she starts to weep. This particular errand sits very hard with Nimue. “I didn’t want to do this but Merlin wandered off before he could explain this, and you know, it’s always Nimue who has to come in and sweep up.”
“Hey, now.” Arthur puts one arm around Nimue, tries to cheer her up. “You keep doing it because you’re so great at it. You’re a good closer; it’s a thing you can do.”
“Absolutely,” agrees Guenever. She doesn’t want to get stuck with Nimue’s job if Nimue quits. “You’re a regular Rollie Fingers!”
“Thanks, you guys.” Nimue shakes her head. “No sense in putting it off. So, Launcelot, remember how you used to be the best knight in the world?”
Launcelot nods. “Yeah! Wait, what do you mean ‘used to be’?”
“As the strange adventure of the sword whereto you durst not set to your hand demonstrates, that title passes from you now to your son. You’ve moved from ‘great’ to ‘former great,’ from ‘grand druid’ to ‘hierophant druid.'”
The Man from Benwick shrugs. “Shucks, I was never ‘the best,’ I just do the best I can.”
Nimue makes a little disgusted sound, because if there’s one thing Nimue can’t stand it’s false modesty. “Yes, that were ye. You were so the best. And you’re still the best among knights who are normal and mortal and sinful and not blessed with supernatural assistance.”
“Titles mean nothing to me.”
Nimue starts to back her horse out, making a K-turn. “So that’s it from me, farewell you guys. Oh, Arthur! One more thing. You know Nacien?”
Arthur shakes his head.
“Well, he knows you. Holiest man in England, he likes to say he is. I don’t buy it. He said to say hi, and also to congratulate you on having the Grail miraculously show up and grant visions in your castle. That’s quite an honor, he says, and he’s jealous. Nimue out!” And off she goes.