Peredur’s Mistake

It’s been raining for weeks. Twice a day at high tide the rivers flood, washing in cans, plastic bottles, old tyres, cellophane. Effluence washes up from the drains. Some people blame global warming. Others say it’s a punishment from God.

Only Peredur and I know the truth. After too many JDs he blurted out how he met the Fisher King on a rickety boat on the mill pond and was taken beneath. How knights in rusty armour taught him to fight whilst the king lay recumbent, blood, lymph and putrid ooze dripping from his wounded groin.

“That’s why it stinks!” he declared, slamming his glass down on the table. “We’re cursed with the legacy of an old, chthonic, dying king whilst our so-called monarchy are eating scones and supping cream tea. It’s the fault of the witches, of course, for keeping him alive but failing to heal him. If only someone had the courage to finish him off.”

I flinched. Tossed back the last of my vodka and swallowed my remark. He didn’t mention the procession. His failure to ask the question. His lack of sympathy for his uncle and refusal to play his part. Since then he’s had therapy and doesn’t drink anymore.

I haven’t slept for nights and can’t get the stench of the Fisher King’s wound off my hands. I get home at 7am. The television, hair dryer and straighteners are still working yet I’m forced to bathe in rainwater and boil it to make a cup of tea.

I put on my skirt and blouse, spray ample amounts of perfume and force my feet into my highest heels to avoid the flood. I waste another morning at the office tapping away, crooning into headphones, answering meaningless questions: the distant blonde.

At noon two lads enter staggering beneath the weight of a heavy spear with three bloody streams pouring from its tip. A pair of women follow with a pale and waxlike head in a pool of blood on a silver plate.

Nobody turns. Nobody asks. They keep typing but have an extra cigarette at lunch break. Peredur keeps his gaze on the screen and his headphones on tuned in to another dimension. “No, I have no more questions.” He slams down the phone and types up the case. I wipe away a single tear.

After work, rain washes over my umbrella and rises over my feet. The sewers’ putrefaction is nothing in comparison to what flows from the Fisher King’s wound. Knowledge all the herbs in Britain will not cure him without Peredur’s words rankles within me like that repugnant blow.

I lose the will to touch up my roots and smear foundation over the dark circles beneath my eyes. Tainted water pools on our fourth-story floor. I wipe my screen. Squeeze out my headphones. Complaints increase. I repeat pre-set answers from my book. When the procession appears again my tears matter less.

After work, the mill pond has overflowed. Roads and pavements swim with dead fish. They wash up on my doorstep. As the Fisher King deteriorates I lose the ability to eat or drink.

The next morning I lift rotten fish from my desk; heavy, pregnant, laden with eggs, to suspicious whispers. When the procession enters at noon I cannot help but wail and weep.

Peredur can’t turn his head-phones up any louder. “Would you shut up!” he cries. “Can’t you see there’s work to be done? Questions to be answered. Reports to be filed. Targets to meet?”

“If you can answer all the questions,” I snap “why can’t you ask why this procession keeps recurring? Whose head is on the plate? What ails the Fisher King? If you’d  asked I could have healed him. Our water would be clean and our kingdom virile. We wouldn’t be trapped in office blocks, answering pointless questions, floating in the deluge of his festering wound.”

Peredur tears off his headphones. His eyes are bloodshot and crazed. He curses me “you evil witch, you loathsome hag! You and your kind are the cause of everything. I’ll bet you cut off my cousin’s head and put it on that bloody plate. It’s your fault my uncle lingers on like your fetid outdated beliefs. I’ll be back for you once I’ve killed the Fisher King and every other witch in Britain!” He pulls a machete from beneath his desk then leaps through the window.

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7 thoughts on “Peredur’s Mistake

  1. This is so clever, laced as it is with black humour and the modernization of Peredur. Its details are so crisp and precise, so well observed. It really is a dark satire of our polluted world. Is there more to the witches? How/why do they keep the Fisher King alive, yet forever wounded? The witches of your story intrigued me….

    1. My interpretation was that the witches were keeping the Fisher King alive in hope that Peredur that would ask the Noble Question. However I wanted it to remain ambiguous and I’m also most intrigued by the Witches of Caer Loyw and am aiming to find out more about them.

  2. ‘Will no-one set my lands in order?’

    So, when he gets back from Gloucester ….(however many are killed, there are always witches)

    The complex overlaps between the medieval Welsh and French versions of Peredur’s tale (and the inclusion or not of the Fisher King) are given extra layers of modern context here : a quest narrative that keeps on repeating itself!

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