Considering that I’d frozen my ass off for the Holy Grail last time, what did I really know about it? Bits of the legend, and precious little else. Joseph of Arimathea, a friend of the dead god Jesus, had brought it from Palestine to Britain. Why he’d done such a thing had never been satisfactorily explained, but I guess if we were going to search for the Grail without travelling thousands of miles to some desert land on the far side of Rome, it had to get here somehow. It was sacred either because Jesus had drunk from it or because Joseph had caught some of his blood in it as he died.
There was a less-favored rumor that Merlin had brought it back from the so-called holy lands. Seemed more plausible. And even if I’d never heard about it, I was certain there were a lot of secrets he hadn’t bothered to share with a snot-nose geeky kid who would never make much of a knight. It didn’t upset me all that much. He’d revealed the greatest of all mysteries, as far as I was concerned. Compared to mathematics, what difference did some bloody cup make?
“Cambry, get over here.” Our resident bard, having nobody left to sing for, was chatting up Gilda. I didn’t mind interrupting since he was wasting his time. Gilda was by no means opposed to a romp in the sheets, but she had a dogged preference for fighting men. “Gilda, bring us one more ale, and a half for the lad. Pour one for yourself—you’ve got nobody left to wait on.”
Pulling two silver pieces out of my purse, I traded one for the ales and handed the other to the bard. “Tell me everything you know about the Holy Grail.”
“Aye, good sir.” He strummed his lute with the back of his fingers and began to sing. “There once was a good king named Arthur whose knights were courageous and bold.”
“No, you twit. I don’t want a song, I want facts.”
“Facts, m’lord?” Cambry looked puzzled. “I don’t have any facts. I only have stories.”
“Well, summarize what the stories say. Don’t bother with the drama, just give me the details.”
“M’lord! I’ll lose my reputation if I do.”
“Well, you’ll lose that silver piece if you don’t. Not to mention the rest of that ale.”
“Ah, ‘tis a sad dilemma onto whose horns I’ve landed.” Cambry bit the silver piece, then sighed and tossed back the rest of his mug, probably so I couldn’t make good on my threat to take it.
“Well, the Grail is a large goblet, about yea big.” Cambry held his hands about nine inches apart. “The bowl is made of the purest polished gold without flaw or carving, so it catches and reflects the light, no matter how dim it is. All of the carvings are on the base, but so finely crafted that they more than make up for the unadorned bowl. Oh, and halfway up the stem there’s this ball with four big blood-red rubies stuck in it. Or so I’ve heard.”
Well, if that was all true, at least it’d be easy to recognize. “How did Jesus come by such a thing? Wasn’t he a poor carpenter? That would be like you owning a manor in Sussex.”
Cambry scratched his head. I nodded when Gilda pantomimed drinking, and she slipped off to fetch a pitcher.
“Well, m’lord, I guess I never thought of that. Maybe it turned to gold when Joseph held it up to the dying god’s side to catch his blood.”
“Why did Joseph want to catch his blood?”
“Why? M’lord, stories don’t say why, they merely tell what. Why did the gods create men in the first place? Why did Tristan drink from the drugged wine? Why did Merlin not do something when he knew that love would be the death of him? Why does man die without ever figuring anything out? Why, why, why?” He looked over at Gilda who was just returning with the ale. “Why do men have most of the lust while women have all of the cunny? Who knows the why of anything?”
“Even I know that, and I’m just a dumb waitress,” Gilda answered. “If men had half the cunny, they’d do nothing but fuck themselves the entire day until half of them starved and the rest were bored with it all, and then there wouldn’t be any more people.”
“A perfect explanation, I must say. Well played, Gilda. Maybe there was once a whole country of folk like that, but if there was, they all died off.”
“Well, there you go,” Cambry stared down into his ale. “If you want to know what, ask a bard. If you want to know why, ask a barmaid.”
“Gilda, why would Joseph of Arimathea catch Jesus’ blood in a cup?”
“Because blood is the most powerful substance known to man. That’s why women, who are supposedly the weaker sex, are really the strongest: because we bleed. The blood of a dead god would contain great power. It could cure or kill, and in the hands of a sorcerer, could probably crack the earth. Men only bleed when they’re dying, and then it comes as a big fucking surprise to them. Women know they are dying because they bleed, and so they make the most of living.”
When Gilda had been trying to seduce me, she’d never said anything remotely intelligent. Only how strong I was, and how just touching me made her knees weak, crap like that. If she’d just shown me one glimpse of her mental prowess, I probably would not only have spent the night, I’d have made her my mistress.
Wonder if she wants to learn how to read?
Kay! Keep your head in the game. You now have a beloved of your own for whom you yearn night and day. You can’t just be off teaching other women to read. It’s not proper. Plus what would the princess think if she ever found out?
Yeah, but I don’t know what to do about the princess.
So you spend a weekend boffing her sister, and now you’re considering teaching Gilda to read so she can be an adequate substitute? This is how you show your love? You cad!
Ignoring the scolding of my own disquieted conscience, I turned back to Gilda. “So why did he bring the Grail to Britain?”
Gilda didn’t hesitate. “Most things men do are either for power or to get between a woman’s legs. So most likely it was one of those, maybe even both.”
“Where would he hide it? And why?”
“He probably hid it because he feared that someone might steal it. So he stuck it somewhere where the light never shines. Men are always doing that.”
“I disagree,” Cambry spoke up. “He hid the Grail because only then would searching for it and ultimately finding it become a great story that will be told for as long as Britain survives. If he’d just stuck it up on a shelf at the entryway to the Roman baths, somebody would have filched it and then it’d just be another artifact hidden under the altar at some rude village church. What bard would bother to make up a song about that? Where’s the drama? The passion? The ultimate victory against hopeless odds?”
Cambry was pretty much a twit, but I liked his reasoning better than Gilda’s. “So he wouldn’t just bury it in a hole somewhere, because then it would never be found. Unless he made a treasure map. And why hide a map when you can just hide the cup?”
Oswald had been following all of this carefully, or at least as carefully as he could with a mug and a half of ale in him. “But who’s to say that it hasn’t been found, taken to a new place, and hidden again? By the Saxons, perhaps. Or the evil warrior of Ireland that you sing about, the one who used poison on Tristan. What’s his name?”
“Yeah, him. That would make a way better story than if it’s buried in some dead Saxon king’s hoard.”
“So you think we should go to Ireland?” I asked.
Oswald looked pointedly at Cambry and Gilda, then leaned over and whispered in my ear. “I think we should start by searching Maleagans’ castle.”
“Um, please excuse us for a few moments. My squire and I have a small personal matter to discuss.”
I dragged him to a bench a couple of tables over. “Why do you think the Grail is at The Castle Malodorous?” In the short time that I’d known Oswald, I’d already learned that you ignored his opinion at your own peril. “I mean, that doesn’t make a lick of sense. It wouldn’t be a great story like Ireland at all. Plus the castle wasn’t there when Joseph hid the cup, if indeed that’s who hid it.”
Oswald leaned close. “I don’t think the Grail is there at all. But that’s where the Princess Elaine is. So, if we’re going questing in search of a great treasure, what better place to start?”
I couldn’t find a thing wrong with his logic.