This story was originally two pages in Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, expanded into a “what if these two characters actually crossed paths” tale. Mary Stewart has obviously proved her mettle with her line of Arthurian classics, but this one feels like a short story expanded into a movie. Get ready for some filler.
Alexander is a prince whose father was murdered by his brother when he was a baby. His mother spirits him away, vowing to tell him everything when he’s of age so he can return to his kingdom and avenge his father. Alice is the beautiful daughter of a devout rich man, who accompanies her father on various pilgrimages to shrines and holy places. It’s obvious that these two are going to end up happily ever after, but it takes a long, meandering road to get there.
First, Alexander has to learn of his birthright. On his way to Camelot to get King Arthur’s blessing to attack his murderous uncle (because gentlemen don’t just go about murdering other nobles), he gets waylaid and spends an unspecified amount of time at the Dark Tower, under the spell of the wicked queen Morgan. She woos him, turns his 17-year-old brain to hormone-addled mush, and sends him off on a quest to find the holy grail, which she thinks will help her defeat Arthur.
Alexander isn’t all that bright, and all this takes him way longer than it should. He’s not suspicious of anything at all, and abandons his original quest as soon as a pretty lady looks at him. Even his own mother doesn’t expect much from him in the brains department:
“Standing tall and aggressive-looking in the bright sunlight, he was the very picture of a splendid young fighting man. No need – Anna admitted it to herself, indulgently – no need for such a man, young and handsome and lord of a snug little castle and fertile lands, with good servants and a clever mother, to have quick wits as well.”
While all this is going on, Alice is wandering around being devout and stuff. She’s actually more interesting than Alexander, even though she doesn’t do much. She is involved in a plot to save a young prince whose family is fighting over him, and there’s some drama with her father trying to arrange a suitable marriage for her.
Eventually (more than halfway through the book), the two meet, and it’s love at first sight. From there, things wrap up quickly, and I was left to wonder why the rest of the book meandered so long before we had to zoom through the conclusion. It’s a fine story, with the prince and the lady and the quests and all that, but I can see why Sir Malory only gave them two pages.