Episode 36: Perlesvaus, Pt. 3
Updated: Dec 23, 2021
Welcome back to another wacky week of Perlesvaus and the adventures of anyone but Percival, for some reason. Follow Gawain on his quest as he encounters fey statues that might not be statues, a magical chessboard with an advanced AI, and the Castle of Inquiry, where he rolls a Nat 20 on his Metagaming check.
A thirteenth century “completion” of Chrétien de Troyes’ unfinished Percival narrative, Perlesvaus is an Old French narrative which fits soundly into the incongruous world of Arthuriana. Our unknown author claims his work comes from Josephus, of all people, and his account of the “quest for the Holy Grail” reads more like someone’s unfinished home-brew campaign — which means it’s ripe for adaptation in your games!
We left off with Gawain attempting to find the sword that beheaded John the Baptist, so that he could enter the Fisher King’s kingdom and ask who is served out of the grail. If he does, King Arthur’s cursed kingdom will go back to normal. Let’s see how Gawain is getting on, shall we?
Along his travels, Gawain comes upon a beautiful land with a grand tower in the center of a large garden. At the top of the tower sits a crane, who cries whenever someone enters the area. The crane gave such a loud cry when Gawain entered that he was accosted by several knights of the land, who delivered him to the King of the Watch. The King allows him to leave, provided he brings the sword back with him.
Gawain continues on and stops by a small alcove with a marble fountain surrounded by pillars. A hyperrealistic statue sits atop the fountain, but as soon as it sees Gawain, it leaps away and dives into the fountain’s waters.
As Gawain watches, a priest and three women clothed in white arrive at the fountain, bearing offerings of wine, bread, and meat. The women sit by the fountain while the priest takes water from it. He tells Gawain that he is bringing the magic water to Percival, who lies wounded nearby. Gawain asks if he may see Percival, to which the priest replies no. (Remember, if any knight sees any other, they are compelled to fight one another. Gawain seems to have forgotten this detail.)
Resigned, Gawain continues on to the next town. This village is part of King Gurguran’s land, now ransacked and destroyed. King Gurguran is in search of a good Christian knight who can rescue his son, who was kidnapped by the giant who pillaged his land. In exchange, the king will give that knight the sword that beheaded John the Baptist. This sword is peculiar, as it bleeds each day at noon and is the length of a great sword until sheathed, when it shrinks to the size of a regular blade. Gawain, of course, jumps at the opportunity. After the king and his knights pray for Gawain, in their own strange religion, our knight departs.
After traveling through a narrow mountain pass, Gawain finds the king’s son sitting at the foot of a tree, playing chess with the giant. Without a single thought in his head, Gawain immediately draws his sword and charges at the giant, chopping off his arm. The giant crushes the son’s throat in his hand in reaction, grabs Gawain and attempts to run back to his stronghold. In the effort, however, the giant trips and falls. Gawain seizes the opportunity to stab the giant to death.
Having completely failed in his quest, Gawain returns to Gurguran with his dead son. The king takes this loss well. He still allows Gawain to take the sword and proceeds to carry out funeral rites for his son. In this land, those rites apparently include boiling the body of the deceased, chopping it into small pieces, and serving it to the people of the land. After this bizarre event, the king proclaims he will convert to Christianity and bids his whole land to follow suit. Should they fail, he will have Gawain behead them. Our narrator notes that this is how Albania was converted to Christianity.
Gawain leaves Gurguran and returns to the King of the Watch, as promised, only to have the King steal the sword from his hands. The King claims his ancestors were those who killed John the Baptist, so the sword rightfully belongs to him. Gawain protests, saying he needs it for a quest, and the King of the Watch allows him to keep the sword, on one condition: Gawain must help any lady who asks a favor of him. Gawain agrees, and goes on his way.
Soon after, Gawain meets the townsfolk who helped him get to King Gurguran’s land. This townsfolk also steals the sword from Gawain and flees into a “free town,” but our knight gets it back. Upon hearing the commotion, several knights of the Lord of the Ball interrupt, and take Gawain to the Lord’s castle for dinner.
As Gawain sups with the Lord, a dwarf appears in the hall and whips the Lord’s daughters. The Lord excuses this abuse, saying that the dwarf is broken up about the death of Marin’s wife.
After leaving this land, Gawain arrives at the Castle of Inquiry, where an old priest answers all of Gawain’s meta gaming questions — that is, the priest explains the exegesis of the text to the reader. All of Gawain’s adventures thus far have metaphorical meanings, however sloppily explained.
Concluding his long rest and save point, Gawain finally arrives at the Fisher King’s castle. The Fisher King invites Gawain to dinner, and our knight accepts. At the table, all of the Fisher King’s knights remind Gawain to ask who is served from the grail. A simple task, no? Gawain promises he will not forget.
After the meal, the Procession of the Grail passes by. Gawain is entranced and thinks he sees two angels, then three, and then the figure of Christ Himself each time the grail passes by. The other knights at the table cry out for Gawain to ask the question, but Gawain is too enchanted to act. After the procession, the entire court is downcast and leave Gawain to himself in the hall.
Gawain, recovering from his holy trip, plays chess against a chessboard with a magic AI and loses twice. Halfway through the third game, someone takes the chessboard from him and he falls asleep in the hall.
Having failed yet another quest, Gawain is kicked out of the Fisher King’s castle with a literal rainstorm over his head, and is drenched by the personal downpour until he crosses the river out of the kingdom.
While taking respite in a local knight’s castle, another knight shows up, stabbed through the stomach, and announces that Lancelot is in a four-on-one fight nearby and needs help. Gawain helps him turn the fight around and they return back to the castle for supper. However, because the knight of the castle is so poor, he only has one set of dining clothes. Gawain and Lancelot solve this problem by splitting the outfit — one will wear the surcoat, and the other the smock. Unfortunately, the stabbed knight dies with no one ever knowing his name, but he was pleased to know that both Gawain and Lancelot would attend his funeral.
Thus ends this chapter of Perlesvaus, with Gawain unable to complete any quest he’s given, and with Percival nowhere in sight. How hard can it be, Gawain?
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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