Malory has lost interest in people who aren’t Sir Launcelot or else Sir Launcelot’s son, so we cut away from Gawaine back to Galahad. It’s an indeterminate amount of time since he left Maidens’ Castle, and now he’s out in some wilderness forest somewhere. Boom! Also present are Launcelot and Percivale! Didn’t see that coming, did you? Boom again! Neither Launcelot nor Percivale recognize Galahad, because he’s in a disguise for absolutely no reason!
Launcelot sees this strange knight coming by and he leaps to the conclusion that a joust is inevitable. May as well get it over with, he figures, and rides up on Galahad, spear at the ready. And then — are you ready for this? I really don’t think you are. Sit down, take a few breathes, try to calm yourself, because you’re going to flip out here: Galahad dehorses Launcelot.
Boom, just like that. This speaks volumes about the relative knightliness of the two of them, since as was established way way back in Book IX during the pointless adventures of Breunor, younger knights are more fit and agile and better at the swordplay, but older knights are expected to be superior horsemen, since that’s all skill and practice. According to Mordred in Chapter 4 of that book, anyway.
So yeah, Launcelot loses a joust for the first time pretty much ever! Then for good measure Galahad pulls out his sword and stabs Percivale, and Percivale straight-up gets lucky and manages not to be horribly maimed.
This brief action sequence takes place out in the middle of nowhere, as we learned back in the first paragraph of this chapter, but now Malory has decided it also takes place outside the castle of the Queen of the Wilderness.
You probably don’t remember her! She was big at the tail end of Book II, back when we were all so much younger. She rules a castle out in the middle of nowhere, which is near either the sea or a very wide river, and used to hold elaborate jousting competitions which were in reality just deathtraps for whatever knights wandered by. She knows Merlin and she set up Sir Balin’s tomb. She may or may not be the wife of King Pellam, according to sources.
“Hey, check it out!” shouts the Queen of the Wilderness, as she emerges from her house. “It’s the best knight ever! Man, I’m sure that if those two knights over there knew who you were, they wouldn’t have tried to joust you!”
Crap, thinks Galahad. The Queen gave away his secret identity! Because of course Launcelot and Percivale will deduce that this ‘best knight ever’ must be Galahad. And for whatever reason he wants to remain disguised, even though there is literally no rationale for it that I can think of. Launcelot started this whole go-around-disguised fashion among knights, and he at least had a reason for it: he kept getting mobbed by eager young turks who knew that if they could somehow defeat the great Launcelot, then they’d shoot to the top of the knightliness rankings as published in Jousting Arena magazine. But here the only people around are Launcelot, Percivale, and the Queen. The Queen already knows who he is because she’s magical, and as she just observed, Launcelot and Percivale would be less inclined to joust him, not more, if they knew who he was.
As Galahad rides away, Launcelot scratches his head. “Was that…?”
“Yes.” The Queen of the Wilderness just wants these knights off her lawn. “Galahad. I don’t know where he’s going. If you hurry you can catch up with him probably.”
Launcelot and Percivale try to catch up to Galahad, but he loses them in the forest. Percivale suggests they go back to the Queen and bother her some more. She’s magical, so can probably point them in the right direction, Grail-Quest-wise.
“If you want to,” says Launcelot, but he’s more interested in riding around aimlessly in the woods. And so they go their separate ways! And Malory is going to stick with Launcelot, at least for the short term.