Mythical Monsters: The Questing Beast


In the backdrop of Arthurian legend’s epic saga of love, betrayal, and heartbreak, one determined huntsman seeks to fulfill his family’s duty to dispatch of an eldritch abomination—and in doing so, unwittingly foretells the doom of Camelot.

The Questing Beast was a unique chimera, sporting the head of a cobra, the spotted body of a leopard, the haunches of a lion, and the cloven hooves of a deer. Just “a touch smaller than a juvenile dragon,” the Beast nonetheless exhibited all the lithe grace and thunderous speed of a fine courser, making it nearly impossible for poor King Pellinore to keep up with it at all, much less capture it. It was a common occurrence for him to lose the Beast completely, coming back to his senses to find himself mired in thick underbrush and extricating himself with much embarrassed grumbling. The Beast was fond of circling back on its would-be pursuer, creeping up behind him to let out a deafening screech that likely soiled more than one suit of armor.

When once King Arthur persuaded Pellinore to bide awhile and share a cup, he disclosed the Questing Beast’s fell origins: long ago, his great-great-grandfather’s sister fell in love with their other brother, making a deal with a minor devil who promised to make him love her back in exchange for her virginity. Instead, the devil tricked her into accusing her brother of rape, causing their irate father to sentence him to a death befitting his imaginary crime: to be run down by dogs like the animal a rapist was. As the dogs ripped him limb-from-limb, so Pellinore explained, the brother prophesized that his duplicitous sister would give birth to the devil’s child—a creature that would bay and howl like the pack of dogs that devoured him, and would not rest until its own blood slew it. So far, the men of Pellinore’s line had been unable to do so—thus, the duty was passed to Pellinore himself, who was determined to draw his family’s quest of penance to a close. At his parting from the Once and Future King, he warned Arthur against the evils of violence and incest, but neither warning was heeded; after Arthur unknowingly concieved Mordred by his sister Morgana, the Questing Beast appeared to him, bringing with it a vision of Camelot’s downfall at Mordred’s hand.

As for Pellinore, he neither managed to catch nor kill the Questing Beast during the course of his life—although some say that this was a conscious decision on his part. A little-known tale, found squeezed hastily on a scrap of parchment in Alberbury Castle, details a near-fatal encounter between Pellinore and the famed Sir Gawain of Orkney, bent on avenging the death of his father at Pellinore’s hands. Renowned for his battle prowess and determined to spill blood, Gawain nearly seizes his reparation of a life for a life, but the Questing Beast had other plans:

“With the scream of a thousand daemons, the Beast charged the bloodthirsty knight. So intent on his quarry was he that Gawain did not notice until it met him with all the force of a battering ram. The brave knight, thrown from his mouth, was sorely dazed… [The Questing Beast] planted its four feet around Pellinore like stout pillars. Its lashing tail stirred the air to a dim whine, and it shrieked horrendously at any who dared to venture near… It remained long after the Bear gave up his ill-fated quest and returned to his own holdings, standing sentry until finally Sir Pellinore arose, the blood having dried in his wound. Seeing its sworn companion well, the Beast bowed its monstrous head to him before departing. Sorely astonished, Pellinore did not pursue it.”

If indeed the Questing Beast saved Pellinore’s life, the knight would have been indebted to it as per the Code of Chivalry, thus unable to honorably take its life. Such a determination would naturally extend to his sons, who would never have been born had Gawain managed to slay him. In a fitting end to generations of strife born of violence, preventing more of the same broke the cursed cycle, drawing the obligation of the Pellinore line to a peaceful end.