Chapter 1 Meanwhile, Percivale stays with the old woman, a recluse, and tells her his name. The woman is his aunt, the Queen of the Waste Lands, and happily welcomes him. In the morning he asks if she knows the knight with the white shield, so that he might fight with him. She says he has red armor, and has no peer.
Knights are often meeting relatives in the forest by chance, especially women, since the female characters in the book are relatively static in location, while the knights are much more mobile.
Chapter 2 Here we learn that Merlin made the Round Table shaped like the world, since it reflects and signifies the world. Merlin had ordained that the fellows of the Round Table should know the truth of the Sangreal. He said that three white bulls would achieve it: two virgins, and the third chaste, and one of them should exceed his father like the lion exceeds the leopard. Merlin crafted the Siege Perilous for this knight, Galahad, to sit in. Now Percivale’s aunt tells him to find Galahad in a castle Goethe, where he has a cousin. If he knows nothing, Percivale should continue to the Castle of Carbonek, where a wounded king is lying, who will tell him news of Galahad.
In a brief flashback, we learn a little more about the Round Table and how the Sangreal quest is not peripheral but actually central to its foundation. (The fact that this is revealed only now also shows some revisionist history—this probably involves later, more Christian myths incorporating earlier, more pagan ones.)The book is not exactly consistent on the matter of who will “achieve” the Holy Grail: usually Galahad is considered to be the only one who will, but sometimes three is the total number given. This confusion may stem from ambiguity concerning what “achieve” means—whether just seeing the Grail again or actually perceiving the holy mysteries it entails.
Chapter 3 Percivale rides on to a monastery, where there is an altar by a richly adorned bed. An old man with a crown of gold is lying there, wounded, and crying that Jesus Christ might not forget him. A priest takes communion to the old man, who orders his crown to be set on the altar. Another man there tells Percivale that this is King Evelake, who was converted by Joseph of Arimathea and who had asked God not to die until he could see and kiss his distant relation who would achieve the Sangreal.
As the knights continue on their quest, they begin to encounter characters and adventures that are much more religiously inflected than before. We have heard the name Evelake before—Galahad learned about him as the man whom Joseph of Arimathea fought and converted, and who only now is about to die, as the quest will soon be fulfilled.
Chapter 4 Percivale introduces himself to Evelake (who is three hundred years old) and vows that his wish will be done. Percivale leaves and meets twenty men of arms carrying a slain knight. When he says he comes from Arthur’s court, they prepare to kill him, but Percivale fights back. They are about to overtake him when Galahad, in red colors, rides forward and strikes every man down. Percivale cries to Galahad to allow him to give thanks, but Galahad rides quickly away. Percivale follows him on foot, since the 20 knights had slain his horse. He comes across a farmer riding on a horse and leading a magnificent black horse. Percivale asks to borrow the black horse, but the farmer refuses, saying that the man who gave him this horse would kill him if he did so. Percivale sits down in sorrow, and then sees a knight riding on the black steed in the other direction.
Percivale must now realize, if he didn’t know it before, that it will not be he who achieves the Holy Grail. Instead, as an obedient and worthy knight, he goes out in search of the one who has been prophesied to achieve it. It is Galahad, however, who finds and rescues Percivale. Once Galahad gallops away, Percivale realizes that his best chance to fulfill his promise to Evelake and bring Galahad to him has been lost. Soon enough, however, Percivale is distracted by another adventure, as strange events continue to unfold throughout this quest, many of which seem connected.
Chapter 5 The farmer returns and says that knight has stolen his horse. He lends Percivale his other horse, and Percivale rides to the first knight, who kills the horse. Percivale calls him a coward, but the knight rides off with the black horse. Percivale sadly lies down to sleep. That night, a woman wakes him up and says that if he fulfills her wish, she’ll lend him her own horse. Percivale agrees, and she returns with a great horse, which he rides for several days.
Percivale now attempts to both avenge the farmer’s loss and to honor himself, but he is hardly even permitted to joust before the knight with the black horse rides off. Without a horse, Percivale has no hope of getting very far, or of finding Galahad and fulfilling his promise, so the woman’s offer is appealing.
Chapter 6 Percivale arrives at rough waters and makes the sign of the cross. The horse shakes off Percivale and charges into the water roaring. Percivale realizes the horse is a fiend, and prays to God to protect him from evil. Then he sees that he’s on a wild mountain surrounded by the sea, crossed by wild beasts. Percivale goes into a valley and sees a serpent battling with a lion. He decides to fight the serpent, giving it a deadly wound. The lion meekly approaches Percivale and stays with him for a few hours.
The strange elements of these adventures begin to pile up, and there also seems to be an allegorical component to these fights and adventures. Serpent often stand for the devil in Christian mythology, and lions are seen as more valiant, holy animals.
Percivale, we learn, is one of few in these days who perfectly believed in God, so he comforts himself with faith. He sleeps next to the lion all night. He dreams that two ladies meet with him, one sitting on a lion, and the other on a serpent, and they say that the next day he’ll fight with the world’s strongest knight.
In a brief intrusion into the plot, the narrator contrasts contemporary faith and behavior to Percivale’s faith: though Percivale may not be a perfect knight, he is shown worthy in his faith.
Chapter 7 Then the other lady in the dream says that Percivale has killed her serpent, and she’ll only forgive him if he pledges allegiance to her, but he has refused. Percivale wakes up, troubled, and sees a ship sailing toward him. An old man clothed as a priest greets him, and says that if he is a true, chivalrous knight, he won’t be harmed. Percivale shares with him his dream, and the man says that the lady on the lion signifies faith, hope, and belief, and came to warn him of a battle. The lady on a serpent signifies the devil, and Percivale killed a devil when he leapt off the horse. The old man leaves. Percivale goes to the lion who keeps him company.
Now Percivale’s reality really does begin to meld with his dreams, as the lion and serpent reappear while he’s asleep. One lady with a serpent seems to continue to court Percivale’s loyalty, though it’s uncertain who she is or whether he should believe her. We are, as usual, meant to trust an old man, especially when in the guise of a priest. The lady and serpent indeed stood for the devil: the lion often symbolizes courage and goodness, as well as faith (and again women are portrayed as either saintly and pure or wicked and seductive).
Chapter 8 Percivale sees another ship riding towards him, with a beautiful, richly clothed lady on it. She says she comes from the waste forest where she found the red knight with the white shield (Galahad), and Percivale cries that he’s been looking for this knight. If Percivale fulfills her wish, she says, she’ll bring him to Galahad. When Percivale says he was cheered by an old man a few days earlier, she says that this man is an enchanter, but she will help him. She tells Percivale that she used to dwell with the greatest man in the world, but one day she said something that displeased him, so he drove her out of court. Now many of his servants have followed her, and they help her, as she is asking Percivale to do.
Percivale seems to be once more agonizingly close to Galahad, and yet again there is some kind of mediating presence blocking him. Percivale continues to meet people, ladies in particular, who want something from him. This lady freely offers advice to Percivale as well, although this advice directly contradicts that of the old man. Still, the damsel paints a sympathetic picture, one of abandonment by a knight only counteracted by continuing loyalty from his servants. In general, it seems we are supposed to trust the old men and be suspicious of damsels and ladies.
Chapter 9 The lady asks for a pavilion and stands it over the ground. She sets out food and strong wine for Percivale. Drunk, he proffers his love, but she refuses him. Once she sees just how drunk he is, she tells him to swear to be her servant, and he does so. Then the lady has a bed prepared, and she lies down naked upon it. Percivale is about to lie down beside her, but then he sees his sword on the ground with a red cross on it, and he makes the sign of the cross. Suddenly the pavilion is turned into smoke and black cloud.
As usual, alcohol in the book is used more often than not as an element of trickery, a way especially for women, who may be physically weaker, to force men into doing what they wouldn’t have wanted to do otherwise. For Percivale, the night is quickly spiraling out of his control, and it seems mostly by chance that he remembers his faith and makes the scene suddenly disappear.
Chapter 10 Frightened, Percivale cries to God, then sees from afar the lady on the ship, crying that he’s betrayed her, as the water roars and envelops the ship. Percivale strikes himself through the thigh with his sword, asking God to forgive his sin. Moaning in pain, he sees the ship with the old man approach. Percivale cries to him that a lady has led him into sin. The man says this was the devil, the great champion he was meant to fight against, who almost defeated him. The old man leads Percivale onto his ship.
The devil is shown to be adept at using any tools in his arsenal—including the most effective one of a beautiful woman—to win a vulnerable knight over to his side. Percivale only now realizes that he was close to being conquered, not through honorable jousting but through the subtle ways of devils (and women!).