Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XIV Chapter 10
Abruptly the tent is gone, the picnic table is gone, the hammock is gone, the cot that a moment ago had a writhing eager naked lady on it is gone. All is smoke and ruin!
Percivale panics, which is a pretty reasonable response, and drops down to his knees and prays a little prayer about how grateful he is that he didn’t make the mistake of sleeping with the strange woman, and also would Jesus mind helping him out, as regards the hellish nightmare-scape he’s trapped in?
And suddenly they’re back on the lady’s ship, and she’s there, but she’s pissed! When she speaks the wind roars, and when she moves her arms the waves of the sea move, too! It’s freaky, is what it is.
Percivale is still naked, but somehow he’s got his sword now, so, he’s got that going for him. He’s overcome with shame over getting drunk and agreeing to become this lady’s sex slave, pretty much. Because he wants to show how sorry he is, and also because he’s still drunk, he…
There is no easy way to put this. He castrates himself, right there. That happens. The word Malory uses, thigh, is plainly a euphemism and there’s a large body of scholarly analysis that agrees with me there. Castration, boom. It’s a thing he does to himself, faced with the angry naked lady and her terrible magic powers.
And on the bright side it apparently is the correct tactic to use against a naked magic lady, because she gives up is disgust and leaves.
So Percivale is alone, drunk, bleeding, castrated, naked, and on the deck of a ship that isn’t his. It’s not looking great for him.
But then! Who shows up? Nacien shows up! Nacien comes sailing in aboard his white ship, and he sees Percivale.
“Ahoy!” he calls. “How hast thou done sith I departed?”
“Ha ha,” responds Percivale bitterly. “Do you have any clothes and bandages and coffee?”
CUT TO sometime later, aboard Nacien’s ship. Percivale has just related to Nacien the whole sordid story of himself and the mysterious unnamed lady.
“Seriously? Were you not listening to her? She basically spelled it out in Chapter 8.”
Nacien smacks Percivale on the back of his head. “That was the Devil! She was the master fiend of hell. C’mon. You paid attention in Sunday school. Brightest angel in heaven, kicked out for arrogance, and I can’t believe I have to explain this to you. It really was pretty frickin’ obvious.”
Percivale is at a loss. “I almost had sex with the Devil?”
“You almost lost your fight against the greatest champion of this world, is what almost happened. But you won! And because you won, you also lost a part of yourself, as was prophesied back around Chapter 6. ‘If you lose, you won’t get anything sliced off,’ that was the prophecy.”
“Oh man.” Percivale had, in the tumult, actually forgotten about the self-mutilation part. He groans as it comes back to him. “I don’t suppose you can miraculously restore me?”
“Nope. But I did fetch your armor!”
Glumly, Percivale dons his armor. “What now?”
“Well I gotta be going.” Nacien stands up. “But whenever you’re ready to proceed to the next stage of your quest, head down below decks.” Then he beams out, Star Trek style and I am not even kidding.
That closes out Book XIV, and whoa I did not see that castration bit coming. More on that next time, in Book XIV Conclusions.
Wow, surprising stuff.
Dang, I’ve caught up already.
I was caught more off-guard by the fact that he came so close to sinning so greatly, given that he’s the other holy knight destined for the Holy Grail (I assume). That being the case, the self-castration made sense to me, as a way to repent for momentarily faltering and to prevent it from happening again. After all, dude wants the Holy Grail and he’s more serious about not sinning than all of the other not-Galahad knights.