With a wink at the shade of Sir Thomas Malory.
It was well nigh unto Pentecost in Castle Camelot in the Land of Logres, and King Arthur’s knights were sitting down to dinner—steaming venison well-hunted by burly King Pellinore—when all the doors blew open. A cold wind entered, flicking at the candle flames.
A glowing, chalice-shaped form suspended off the ground crept toward the now-silent men and floated over the Round Table. Someone cleared his throat.
“Is it a love cup?” asked Sir Tristan at length.
“A trophy?” –Sir Pellinore.
“Happy Hour?” –Sir Bors, licking his lips.
“Not until I declare it so.” –Sir Kay the seneschal.
“Something for to wear low down while ye joust?” –Sir Gawain, grinning and gesturing.
“It be a miracle of Our Lord Jesus Christ!…” –Sir Galahad, enraptured.
“….Passing from one end of the Table to the other!” –Sir Percival, who tended to carve the world into spatial categories.
“A Round Table has no ends.” –Merlyn, curtly.
“Can I kill whoever spills on it?” – Sir Lancelot.
Sir Gaheris looked nervous. Sir Gaheris always looked nervous.
“Brave knights,” announced a maid clad in white samite. The men started: no one had seen her in the doorway. “What ye see before ye is but the image of the Holy Grail brought to England by Joseph of Arimathea and hidden thereafter to keep the priceless Vessel safe. The time has finally come for it to be found, but only by those who are worthy. What say ye, knights of King Arthur?”
“I will ride forth in the name of that quest,” declared Sir Percival, getting out a map.
“As will I,” said Sir Galahad, enraptured.
“What I wonder,” pondered Sir Lamorak, who fancied himself a philosopher, “is this, to wit: Is this the historical Sangreal, or a projection of our own desires? The metaphysical issue of—”
“My mommie wud be right proud of me a-Questin!” burbled Sir Gareth. His saddle-horn-sized thumb still bore teeth marks.
“I will take up the Quest if the girl comes with it,” stated Sir Gawain helpfully.
“I will too an I encounter churls worth smiting,” declared Sir Lancelot as he snapped a wishbone.
“Ye shall find no worthier men anywhere in the world,” King Arthur assured the maid. “Tried in a hundred combats, seasoned in righting wrongs, victorious over Rome itself”—the bored look on the Queen’s face cut his speechifying habit short—“They will stand against anyone and anything in order to achieve this Quest.”
“We will see about that,” intoned a deep voice from a side door.
Prince Maleagant had been one of Arthur’s most worshipful knights until a problem with fatherly authority figures prompted him to forsake the Table Round and imprison his own father in a castle. A dozen knights clad in black armor stepped forth from the shadows and entered the room with him.
“Ye recreants would challenge us as we sup unarmored?” demanded the king in outrage.
“I will well,” replied the tall Prince, closing his visor over a rugged face split by a brown mustache. “We too desire the Sangreal, even unto spilling royal blood for it.”
“No force,” replied Queen Guinevere. “Armed louts such as he will never achieve the Grail.”
“Meseemeth ye want more than the Sangreal,” added the king.
“Camelot would make a worthy addition to my kingdom,” suggested the Prince while drawing on his dark gauntlets, “once we have moved this unwieldy Table and its occupants from out its largest castle.”
Sir Bors took a quick drink from his tankard as though the Table below it were to vanish straightaway.
“For the sake of knightly courtesy,” said King Arthur, “I should acquaint thee with a recent custom of that aforementioned Table. My knights are indeed unarmored, as you can see, but to facilitate the swearing of noble oaths and righteous quests I have recently ordered them to bring with them to dinner”—an ominous gray swishing sound filled the air—“their swords.”
“Isn’t mine pretty?”—Sir Gareth, proudly sporting a blade as thick as a meat cleaver; “Mister Lancelot give it me, but I haven’t got a chance ta try it yet.”
“Mine is getting lonely and needs company.”—Sir Lancelot.
“Mine does symbolize discernment of the widest truth.”—Sir Lamorak.
“My ex would confirm that mine is longer than yours.”—Sir Tristan.
“Is she available?”—Sir Gawain.
“No man should encounter mine without being well shriven for the life to come.”—Sir Galahad, his eyes glowing strangely.
Sir Kay was quietly trying to pull his from the venison but it was stuck in a bone.
With this a black knight who was passing wroth let out a roar, charged Sir Gareth, crashed headlong into his enormous breastplate, and fell senseless to the ground.
“Duhs this mean it’s time ta fight?” asked Gareth.
“Let’s all calm down,” suggested Gaheris nervously, “and talk this over.” Faces flushing all around the room indicated that this was definitely the wrong thing to say.
And it was on. Everyone looked around for someone to smite.
Sir Tristan gutted an opponent with one hand while poeticizing Isolde’s beauty with the other, casting into doubt the old saw of pen versus sword. Sir Pellinore overturned the entire banquet table with a crash. Sir Kay threw a fit at this mess by crowning an attacker with a sturdy tankard. Sir Gawain decapitated a spear-holding knight while taking care not to muss his own hair. Sir Percival parried sword thrusts while craning his head for likely Grail hideouts. Sir Bors lifted two men and crunched their skulls together while the jester Dagonet giggled.
In the interest of education Sir Lamorak reversed his blade and struck his assailant with the pommel, which left its inscription imprinted redly upon the fallen knight’s jaw: Know Thyself. Sir Galahad’s mouth moved rapidly as he breathed prayers between swings for the eternal souls of those he dispatched: “In nomine Patris…et fillii…et Spiritus Sancti….”
With no one left for him to have ado with, Sir Lancelot balled his mailed fist and punched a hole in the drawbridge.
When four of Maleagant’s knights rushed Arthur, he unsheathed his sword (“From out ye kennel and into my hand, Faithful Blade!”) and swung Excalibur with such might and main and moralizing that its edge hacked through four foreheads, eight eye sockets, three sets of partially decayed teeth, three rib cages, three carotid arteries, two spinal cords, one solar plexus, two full sets of kidneys, at least one pancreas, a cirrhotic liver, several miles of intestine, and an injured knee joint that hadn’t done its expiring owner much good in this life anyway.
“So much for asking them to yield,” remarked Merlyn.
Therewith Arthur sprang forward as the mace-bearing Prince Maleagant made for the Queen while smiling a nasty smile. To the king’s surprise she reached behind her throne, brought out a war hammer twice as heavy as her opponent’s mace, and swung it sharply downward. A resounding cacophony; and a dead prince no longer smiling lay on the floor with head and helm caved in.
“Meseemith,” interposed Arthur, “the ungentle clash of arms should be left to–”
Guinevere made a smashing gesture with the hammer, and Arthur suddenly found another black knight to have ado with. In passing he wondered how five holes had gotten knocked in the drawbridge.
“My lord,” interposed Merlyn as Arthur paused to draw a breath, “behold thy enemies dispersed, and wit ye well that the Sangreal has drawn away. Mayhap this be the time to go find it.”
Arthur opened his mouth to give another speech, but at this everyone in the room dashed forth, Sir Gawain winking at the maid on his way out. After a moment of disappointment the crestfallen king sheathed his sword and followed suit.
With the hall now cleared except for the cooling bodies, Merlyn turned to the “maid” whose white samite was slowly blushing crimson as her hair darkened and her eyes and fingernails gleamed. “Are they all gone merrily questing?” she asked, glancing around the empty hall.
“Right so,” said Merlyn, smiling. “Even the Queen has left to put her hammer back in the armory. –How did ye manage the Grail illusion?”
“Smoke and mirrors,” replied Morgan le Fey, studying her reflection while daubing her lips with red gloss. “And a spell or two I made off with while you were ogling comely Nimue.”
“Clever. Do you think all this will help them grow up a bit? It grieveth me much that humans mature so slowly!”
“Especially those humans,” she agreed. “Dangerous because untempered. Lord, lead us not into brawny idealism.”
“What happens when they findeth nothing?”
“They’ll come home wiser men. Except for Galahad, who has a death wish anyway, and Percival, who is headed for a highly structured monastery when he’s had enough of questing and surveying. –Do ye now doubt your own plan, Merlyn?”
“No, but I sometimes doubt whether humanity will ever learn to unify itself peacefully.”
“The Round Table was a noble start. It will not last, but some day tellers of tales will report that its shape stood for that of the world.”
Lancelot poked his head in through the door. “Be there any more enemies to buffet?” he asked eagerly.
Merlyn replied, “One got away after muttering something about thy mother being his paramour.”
A final booming sound from the long-suffering drawbridge and Lancelot was gone. In a moment both mages heard the sound of rapid hoofbeats growing distant.
“Hot-headed, that one,” mused Merlyn, “galloping away at the speed of two lions and a brachet.”
“They all be hotheads. Scratch a crusader and find a cauldron of hostility looking for someone to spill on. He who believeth as they do—deserveth to.”
“Another day, another dullard.”
“Yet some may not taste death before finally coming home to themselves–and growing up. That is a grail few seek to attend!”
“Ye say well, wise Morgan. Shall we leave off philosophizing and address ourselves unto the feast they left behind?”
“Ye say sooth, wise Merlyn. It be difficult enough to mature this peace-starved realm without having ado with mine empty stomach.”
Here endeth the noble tale of Morgan and Merlyn, and of how they did devise a cunning stratagem to introduce the warlike and the unworthy in their patient charge to the quest for true adulthood, wise, peaceful, and strong, lest their thoughtless human heirs forget their place in the great green globe and disinhabit it forever. Explicit.