X-Men: Siege Perilous Explained
The Siege Perilous has a long and complex history in the X-Men comics.
The recent Knights of X #1 marks a new chapter in the ongoing saga of Betsy Braddock, the mutant telepath once known as Psylocke of the X-Men and currently serving as Captain Britain. The final issues of Excalibur saw the conquest of Otherworld, Marvel’s version of the realm of faerie magic, at the hands of Merlyn and King Arthur. This cut Otherworld off from Krakoa, effectively isolating Betsy and the rest of the Captain Britain Corps there. Luckily, she’s got some help! Roma, Merlyn’s daughter and a friend to the X-Men from days past, gives Betsy the chance to assemble a team for a proper Arthurian quest to find the artifact known as the Siege Perilous.
There’s just one question newer readers may be wondering…
What the Heck Is the Siege Perilous?
Originally appearing as part of a Captain Britain (Brian Braddock back then, Betsy’s brother) story in Mighty World of Marvel #13, the Portal Perilous, as it was known in that appearance, was a large portal to alternate Earths, through which the body of Merlyn was consigned (like many characters, he died, then got better) by Roma.
The first time it was known as the Siege Perilous was in Uncanny X-Men #229, once again under Roma’s power. Here, it took the form of an overlarge brooch which could be expanded into a gateway large enough for individuals to walk through. Claremont’s decision to use the name “Siege Perilous” is an interesting metaphorical one, on par with his often-grandiose artistic statements at the time; in original Arthurian lore, the Siege Perilous refers to a seat at the Round Table, reserved for the Knight who succeeded in a quest to recover the Holy Grail. As a word, we understand “siege” as a type of military assault, but it comes from the French word for seat, and so it was used historically. So why name this artifact, which seems to represent the opposite of sitting, after an old seat at the Round Table? Well, that’s part of the metaphor, as explained by Roma to the X-Men a few pages after the above, “As Avalon was for King Arthur, so may the Siege be for you.”
Avalon was the place where Arthur went to recover from his wounds, a hidden, idyllic island where he could rest (other versions of myth posited that he was interred there, which is, well, a different kind of rest). In offering here, Roma presents the Siege Perilous as a gateway to that kind of rest in similar fashion; by stepping through it, the X-Men would receive new identities, lives, even memories, forgetting who they were and being given the gift of receding into anonymity. Thus, rest.
However, that’s not all! The legend of the original seat at the Round Table included that sitting in it would be fatal to a Knight who had not completed the quest it was reserved for. Claremont extrapolated this as a magical sense of judgment and included it in his interpretation; the version presented to the X-Men would judge each person who passed through that portal and give to them the life they deserved.
Betsy Braddock and the Siege Perilous
The X-Men did eventually go through the Siege Perilous – spoilers for a thirty-year-old storyline – but here’s where its ties to Betsy Braddock in particular grow more complicated. In Uncanny X-Men #251, it is heavily implied that Betsy telepathically convinces the team to step through the portal, which leads to some interesting results; while some do indeed find idyllic lives, Havok becomes a loyal soldier to an anti-mutant government regime, and Betsy herself has her mind transplanted into an Asian woman’s body, becoming a mind-controlled assassin. The mind control didn’t last long, but she stayed in that body for the next thirty years, until 2018.
The Siege Perilous was seemingly destroyed immediately after this, and not seen for many years. It turned up in Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men, where it ended that series in the hands of evil rich child (really) Wilhelmina Kensington, a member of a new incarnation of the Hellfire Club. Later, as the Krakoa-era Marauders book saw Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw reclaim the Hellfire name for themselves, that group (again, of evil rich children) would become a new organization by the name of Homines Verendi – Latin for “people to be respected.” In a further twist, Wilhelmina herself left that group after some complicated history regarding family trauma caused her to reassess her priorities. Does she still have the Siege Perilous? Who knows! I suspect we’ll find out soon.
Knights of X
After all of that, you may be wondering, “what does this have to do with Knights of X?” Well, currently, the quest is for an artifact tied to both Merlyn and Roma, which functions as a portal between realms. It’s being sought by a band of mutants trapped in an alternate dimension where prior portals have been destroyed, isolating that dimension from Earth. Those mutants are led by a woman who last used it to force her friends to escape a metaphorical purgatory (that’s an article for another time), and now very likely faces a direct reckoning for that act.
Additionally, none of her team members from that time are a part of her current team. What happens when they find out? What happens when that bit of history gets brought up for them once again? Betsy’s got some interesting challenges ahead of her.