Episode 33: Perlesvaus, Part Two
Updated: Nov 25, 2021
Let’s return to the strange and accursed world of Perlesvaus, where we rejoin Sir Gawain in his quest to find Sir Percival, the Good Knight. Remember, this tale is more medieval fan-fiction than anything, and boy does it deliver.
In case you missed it, here’s a short recap of Perlesvaus (and Part One):
Perlesvaus is an thirteenth century Old French retelling of Chrétien de Troyes’ unfinished Percival narrative. The tale itself fits into the wider scope of Arthurian literature, though its author took some liberties in his version of the story. His narrative choices seem like they came right out of a TTRPG campaign, so we’re excited to adapt this story for you all! Most of this section is simply Gawain’s travels through England, running into various side quests.
Picking up where we left off:
Sir Gawain has just won the tournament at Ygles’ castle, and setts off once more on his quest. After traveling for some time, he comes across an castle on an island, where a dwarf sits at the base of the drawbridge. While Gawain doesn’t trust dwarves, he asks this one whose castle this is. The dwarf replies that this is the castle of Marin the Jealous, and invites him in. Gawain accepts, and learns over dinner that Marin is away, but his wife remains in the castle. Though known for being a flirt (see our Sir Gawain and the Green Knight episode), Gawain restrains himself because he’s genre-savvy and knows he is on a religious quest.
That night, the dwarf sleeps by Gawain’s feet, but only to wait for him to fall asleep before running down to find Marin at his fishing lodge. The dwarf reports that Marin’s wife is sleeping with Gawain, and Marin, in a rage, rushes home.
When he arrives, he strips and beats his wife, despite both her and Gawain’s protestations, and then challenges Gawain to trial by combat. Gawain accepts, but when the two engage, Marin swerves out of Gawain’s path and instead impales his wife, killing her. He feels back to the castle, all the while blaming Gawain for his wife’s death.
Gawain departs, and soon comes upon a knight riding backwards on his horse. The knight recognizes him and decides he ought to ride the correct way again, and explains that he is the Coward Knight, and the Damsel of the Cart’s lost knight to boot.
As they are talking, another knight approaches and immediately challenges Gawain to combat. This knight apparently heard a highly edited tale of events from Marin, and seeks “revenge” for the lady’s death. Gawain swiftly dispatches the knight, who then swears fealty to him while the Coward Knight, being generally useless, watches.
As he continues on his journey, Gawain comes upon another knight galloping through the forest with a spear through his chest. Rather than continue to find help, the knight pauses to explain that he was going to bury Marin’s wife, but Marin attacked him. Now mortally wounded, he went to find a local chapel to confess his sins and die. Why Gawain didn’t just bury Marin’s wife himself we are simply left to wonder.
Next, Gawain comes upon Orguelleux Castle, the home of the Haughty Maiden. An old falconer knight explains the central conceit of this castle: the lady and her household do not ask any visiting knights their names, as the lady believes the other knights are not worth her time.
The Haughty Maiden invites Gawain in and gives him a tour of the local chapel. Within there are four empty tombs and three recesses within the wall, filled with shrines and gems. The Maiden explains that three of the tombs are for the best knights in the land, Gawain, Lancelot of the Lake, and Percival, while the fourth one is for her. She plans to lure them into each of their respective shrines and displays the guillotine-type blades that will behead them once they kneel in the recesses, to collect their heads and keep them forever. She even has knights constantly roaming, looking for them. Talk about a superfan.
Gawain excuses himself after mass the next morning and flees from the castle, but runs into one of the roving knights on his way out. He makes a daring escape, and the tale briefly returns to the Maiden as she realizes just who Gawain really was.
So Gawain continues on and runs into a hound following a trail of blood. When Gawain follows the hound, he finds the body of another speared knight and a lady beside him. The lady scolds the dog for bringing him to her — the hound was supposed to bring her Lancelot, not just any knight. Gawain inquires why she seeks Lancelot, and the lady explains that Lancelot killed this knight, her brother, and she intends to seek revenge. Gawain departs, praying that he might find Lancelot before she does.
Next, Gawain reaches another chapel where he sees a hermit laughing with joy. The hermit invites him in, and Gawain sees a lady attending a young boy riding a lion. The hermit explains that the boy is Marin’s son, who chose to live with the hermit, his uncle, after Marin killed his mother. The hermit also mentions that the boy wants to be Gawain’s vassal and admires him as a knight. Gawain introduces himself and promises that he’ll come to the boy’s aid if he calls for help.
Moving on, Gawain meets Joseus, a young lad who is fleeing from his home after killing his mother. Despite his rush, he tells Gawain that his lord, the finest knight in the world, owns the forest. Gawain asks where he is, but the lad refuses to say. All he can tell Gawain is that his lord is called Par-lui-fete, and is in great distress.
As Gawain continues on, he meets King Pelles, dressed as a hermit, outside yet another chapel. Pelles explains that Par-lui-fete (i.e. Percival) is inside, bedridden with illness. When Gawain asks to see him, Pelles refuses, saying that if Percival saw another knight, he’d be compelled to fight him. (Remember, that is part of the curse fallen upon the entirety of England because Arthur was a bad king).
So instead, Gawain continues on to another castle with automatic crossbows at its gates. This is the palace of the Fisher King, and after watching one of the processions, he asks to be allowed in. He is denied— unless he can complete a quest. The quest in question? Bring back the sword that beheaded John the Baptist.
Discouraged but determined, Gawain rides away. Shortly after, a local townsfolk stops him on his way, tells him he needs a better horse, and mentions that Gawain is only the most recent knight sent on this quest. He thinks Gawain will die, but gives him a lead anyway: King Gergeron has the sword.
Gawain rides on in search of this sword, and comes upon an incredibly fancy pavilion in the woods. He dismounts and another dwarf, sitting outside, invites him in. Wary, Gawain accepts. Two women welcome him, and over dinner, they exclaim that they know he, Gawain, can break the “evil custom” of the tent. They then invite him to choose which of them to bed that evening. Gawain refuses, as he’s still on a holy quest, and the ladies say he must be an imposter because the real Gawain would have some fun with them.
The next morning, two knights arrive and demand payment for Gawain’s night of lodging. The ladies say this is Gawain’s chance to break the pavilions evil custom by fighting off the knights. These two knights are apparently the exes of the two women, and Gawain confusedly fights them off and kills them to the cheers of the ladies. Bemused by the entire experience, Gawain continues onward.
So, what’s the deal with these dwarves?
Arthurian dwarves are a bit of their own genre-specific creature. Unlike the Scandinavian mythos, Arthurian dwarves are not clearly supernatural creatures. However, they do have a few odd traits that characterize them as uniquely “Arthurian” dwarves. A few of these include randomly popping up to help (or hinder) quests, asking for favors, or, in this case, being untrustworthy.
As Mac notes, these dwarves are also linked to fairy mounds, celtic lore, or even real dwarves hired in medieval courts. Most notably, King Pelleus might be a euhemerized version of Bellinus, a celtic god and brother of Bran the Blessed (i.e. the Fisher King’s celtic analog).
This incredibly strange series of adventures would work for independent encounters or as one massive plot, as our author develops here. Who knows which of our mini-villains will return? And will we ever meet Percival again? We’ll see in our next Percival episode!
Remember, this part of Perlesvaus won’t have a rating or any segments, since it’s such a long tale. Instead, hold tight for our next episodes — we’ll have a lot more to cover!
Thanks for joining us in this week's episode of The Maniculum Podcast. Looking for more? Check out our Master List series for the full collection of segments at the end of our show, and for more gaming and world building ideas, check out The Gaming Table section of our blog, Marginalia!
Harward, Vernon J. The Dwarfs of Arthurian Romance and Celtic Tradition. E.J. Brill, 1958.
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