Sarah Avery (dr_pretentious) wrote,
Sarah Avery

The Arming Of The Hero

The two knights were bleary-eyed from hours of vigil, and wound-washing, and laying on of hands. Around midday, Percival decided to confide in Lancelot. "I can't tell if it's working," he said.

"He's still with us," said Lancelot. "Things being what they are, I would say that constitutes 'working.' If we can get him through one more night, we'll know what story we're in."

Percival was as uncertain as he could stand to be about what story he was in, so he turned his attention back to the Grail. Still full, so all would be right with the world. That was what the Grail was for.

"Hey, Percival?"

"Yes, Lancelot."

"Can I hold the Grail for a minute? I always wanted to hold the Grail."

"It might not let you. It's picky."

"I know, I know. But still."

So he handed the Grail over, for the first time in centuries. "Got it?"

Lancelot beamed. "I have it. I really have it. Take a break, Percival. Get some air. You've earned it. I'll be right here." And he started singing the Te Deum.

The knight of purity yawned and headed out to the waiting room, where the Queen of Kayaks was typing furiously at a computer terminal. Percival had certain suspicions about her. "You're the author, aren't you?"

"Busted," said the author.

"What if I get stuck here?" he asked. "This place is starting to feel...canonical."

The bespectacled woman didn't even look away from the screen. "That's because the story you're in now is the first hit on Google for anyone who types in 'Sir Peredur.' Consider it a measure of the man you're here to help."

"In the old stories, I would just ride from incident to incident. The narrator would say everything was challenging and glorious, but it only had to be work for a sentence or two. You've got me lingering in it. Why does it have to be so hard?"

She turned to look at him then. "I think every single person here in the Grail Castle is asking that same question."

"Hope was easy when I got here. I was an innocent. What's wrong with you, that you can't write innocence without wrecking it?"

"Have a seat, kid," said the author. "When I was a girl, you were my favorite knight of the Round Table. I met you in Howard Pyle's collection of Arthurian stories, with his beautiful illustrations. Remember how you were a boy alone with your mother in the forest?"

"And I saw knights for the first time and didn't know what they were. I remember."

"I loved how you wove yourself a suit of armor from willow withes, because that was what you had to hand. You improvised, and I already admired improvisation."

"They laughed," said Percival, "when I showed up at Camelot in willow armor."

"They laughed, but the laughter bought you time, and they let you in. You were always accomplishing impossible things, because nobody had ever mentioned to you that they were impossible. Laughter, time, a way in--he could use all those things."

Percival looked at his armor, which no longer bent the coatrack double with its steel weight. The suit he'd made himself hung lightly on a wire hanger. Putting it on, he found that he was in the body of his youth. "You made me short," he protested to the author, and his voice cracked. "Couldn't you at least make me a tall, gangly youth? I hate it when Lancelot laughs at me."

The author smiled to herself and typed. "Tall enough?" she asked.

"Much better," said Percival. She'd also given him a silvery nimbus that floated behind his head. He looked as saintly and innocent as he had in any Howard Pyle illustration. "Cool!"

"You sound like my students," she said. "Fourteen? Fifteen?"

"I'd like to be fifteen, if that's all right." And it was.

Lancelot laughed when Percival made his way back to the ICU, but it was a kind laughter. "She's tweaked you again, has she? People do that to me all the time. At least she didn't try to give you a girlfriend. Do you need the Grail back, or is it too soon?"

Percival opened all the drawers and cabinets in the curtained alcove, to see what he had to improvise with. "Hang onto it a moment for me, would you?" The ceiling tiles were printed with a picture of a forest--no, it was a park--in springtime. It was someone's idea of a comforting image, someone's idea of what a person would want to see while looking up from a hospital bed. A stream ran through the park. And just at the edge of the image, a willow tree grew. He jumped a little jump and hefted himself up into the picture.

"Where are you going?" said Lancelot.

"To weave him a suit of armor. I'll be back in the blink of an eye."

As always, Percival was as good as his word. The two knights carefully, so carefully, helped the Fisher King into the willow mesh. Once it was on, all the places where Percival had nicked it with his little bronze knife burst into leaf anew. The leaves fluttered, feather-light, with the breath of the ventilator. Percival had brought also a sword whittled fresh from an oak bough, and this he placed in the patient's hands."

"The arming of the hero," said Lancelot. "Very classic. He looks pretty good like this. The Green Man?"

"Why not?" said Percival. "He's been everyone else. Maybe this will win him time and a way in."
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