"Everyone who enters this temple begins life anew," says the priestess.
Lancelot doesn't know his part, so he holds out the flowers Merlin gave him. She takes them with a nod.
"You come to us as a groom comes to his bride," she recites.
The flowers were supposed to be for the wedding (the wedding that won't happen now). He didn't expect them to be part of this ritual.
The priestess pulls his shirt over his head. At her sign, he removes the rest of his clothes as well. "You come to us as a babe comes to his mother," she says, drawing his head to rest on her chest.
The temple priestess is smaller than him, and doesn't look like anyone's mother. Her arms are pale and thin, her breasts small under her white shift. Lancelot bends.
Merlin is his friend still, he reminds himself, and Merlin knows these people. No matter how useless it all seems, Merlin sent him here in good faith. The least Lancelot can do is play along.
She shakes, and it takes him a moment to realise that she's laughing. "Don't worry," she whispers, sounding more girlish than ever, "I didn't believe it at first either. I was a monster once, would you believe it? The old me was so bad we had to drown her. But I'm good now. Do you want to drown, Lancelot?"
He can only nod.
"Good. Get on your knees now."
She scoops water from the basin and pours it over his head. "You come to us as a river comes to the sea," she intones, again with the solemn voice of a leader. "Everyone bathed in these waters has their sin washed away."
It's cool and clean and far too pleasant; not enough to get him clean, not nearly enough to drown in. But he doesn't question it, just kneels and waits and shivers, lets the cold run over him until he's numb. It gets in his eyes and ears, and it's just starting to wash into his mind as well, sweet as her quiet humming, soft white like oblivion, when she starts scrubbing him with soap and a rough brush. The lather stings, and her harsh movements make the hurt stronger. Better.
She's no gentler with his face or his nipples than with his back, but when she gets to his cock she's careful, focused. Setting the scrub brush aside and going to her knees herself, she strokes him with a soaped cloth.
"I will make you new again," she says softly, urgently, with her mouth very close to his, and he believes her. Once she's wrung his orgasm out of him she goes back to washing, but it's a cursory thing. Lancelot's washed in tears and semen and soap, more in need of a bath now than when he came in. But when she kisses his cheeks and gives him her blessing, none of that matters. She takes his hand and orders, "Rise, Lancelot the Pure."