Percivale wakes up to discover himself washed out to sea, where he treads water, passing feeble, for an indeterminate time until he sees a boat. Actually, Malory gets cagey as regards whether Percivale has truly woken up, or whether this is more of his dream.
And what a boat! It’s covered within and without with white samite. I hardly need to remind you that samite is heavy silk, often featuring golden or silver thread. Percivale climbs aboard this ship and finds its captain, an old man clothed in a surplice, in likeness of a priest.
“So, Nacien, right?” I ask Malory.
“It doesn’t matter what his name is, he’s not a knight!” snaps Malory.
“It’s just, you described a guy in the last book, Nacien, who seems to fulfill this exact same narrative role…”
“All right, fine. Nacien. Whatever!”
Good enough for me. “Nacien!” says Percivale. “Hi there.”
“Percivale, ye be welcome. God keep you,” responds Nacien. “It’s a silly question, since I already know you to be Sir Percivale, but tell me, whose court are you a knight of, and of what order of knights are you a member?”
“Well, okay. I’m Sir Percivale, of Camelot and King Arthur’s Court. I’m a knight of the Table Round. I’m questing for the Grail, and… am I getting any closer to it? I’ve more or less lot track of the Grail. Sometime between helping a lion kill a giant snake and finding a miraculous ship made of glowing white silk… well, here am I in great distress, and never like to escape out of this wilderness.”
“Oh, don’t worry, boy,” says Nacien. “If you’re a good knight, and true to your oaths, and you don’t sleep with other men’s wives, and you don’t carry on a fifteen or twenty-year affair with your king’s wife, and so forth, if your heart is pure, then you must have faith. Faith that Jesus is on your side, faith that every step you take brings you closer to the Grail. Didn’t anyone warn you things were going to get weird and mystic?”
“Mmmmaybe,” admits Percivale. “So, what are you? A hallucination? An angel? Are you Merlin in disguise, Merlin the White, Merlin as he should have been, Merlin who was Olorin in the West that is forgotten?”
“I am of a strange country,” Nacien says simply. “I’m here to help you, that’s all.”
Percivale nods, slowly. “Do you have any food or water?”
“Huh. How are you at dream interpretation?” And Percivale tells Nacien all about the (first part of the) dream, the lion and the serpent and the ladies and so on.
NACIEN’S INTERPRETATION OF PERCIVALE’S VISION, IN TABULAR FORM
The young woman riding the lion represents… the new law of holy church, that is to understand, faith, good hope, belief, and baptism.
The lion itself represents… the resurrection and the passion of Our Lord Jesu Christ.
The old woman riding the serpent represents… Pre-Christian law and morality, eye for an eye, kill a maiden whenever you feel like it, that sort of thing.
The giant serpent represents… a giant serpent of some kind. Maybe the fiendish demon-horse that Percivale rode?
The old woman’s anger at Percivale’s killing the serpent represents… nothing at all (Nacien says this affirmatively).
The young woman’s speech about Percivale fighting a guy represents… a warning that Percivale will soon fight the most champion of the world.
The old woman’s demand that Percivale become her servant represents… a fiendish desire for Percivale to renounce the knighthood, abandon his quest, and quit the whole not-being-a-sinner thing.
Once Nacien has interpreted Percivale’s dream for him, he tells Percivale it’s time to move on, and Percivale agreeably dives back into the water. Percivale washes around he wist not whither for an indeterminate time, again, and then he finds himself back on the rock he was on before he got washed out to sea, and also his new lion friend is there.